June 11, 2008
Commuter rail lines recommended

Get ready for some commuter rail proposals.

A commuter rail study for the Houston area, unveiled Tuesday, recommends starting with five lines -- but none would provide direct service to Sugar Land, The Woodlands or Kingwood, or to Bush and Hobby airports.

Alan Clark, who heads transportation planning for the Houston-Galveston Area Council, where the plan was presented, said conflict with heavy freight rail operations would prevent commuter rail to those destinations in the near future.

But that does not mean the areas cannot be served by light rail or other transit such as dedicated bus lanes, he said.

The commuter rail plan would cost about $3 billion -- although no funding plan was included -- and the trains would share tracks that have light freight traffic, said consultants Sam Lott and Joe Wilhite, of Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc.

The five recommended routes are:

  • U.S. 290, with a passenger terminal and maintenance facility near Metro's Northwest Transit Center. This would connect to Metro's planned Uptown light rail line.

  • Texas 3 to Galveston

  • Texas 249 to Tomball with "back door" service to The Woodlands

  • Texas 35 to Pearland

  • Almeda Road, later turning west and providing an indirect route to Fort Bend County

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said he will push for commuter trains to start running as soon as possible on the U.S. 290 and Texas 3 routes, even though the overall plan may not be developed yet.

Lines to Galveston and along 290 have been in the works for awhile, and ought to have a fairly quick start if they get approval, since there are existing tracks that can be used. The story says it's not been determined who would operate these lines - Union Pacific says it's not interested. I'm pretty sure that there'd be some demand for this service, since commuter rail boardings are on the rise (via), thanks to the ever-rising price of gas. There'll be a public hearing at H-GAC headquarters on July 1, so we ought to learn more by then.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 11, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

I'm glad to see the potential for this to move forward. We've needed commuter rail for a long time and I think at the very least we should have commuter rail service along all the major arteries leading in and out of the city.

While I generally support light rail within the city, I think commuter rail is the better expenditure in the short term, because we get more impact for our tax dollars.

In addition to commuter rail service, I think it would be nice to see connectivity to the major Texas cities like Austin and Dallas, as well as areas that would be likely to utilize it for longer commutes like College Station and other college towns.

Posted by: Noel on June 11, 2008 9:41 AM

I'm all for commuter rail, but are they sure they want to refer to the 249 line as having "back door" service to The Woodlands? Maybe just a change in verbage to make it sound less prostitute-y. :)

Posted by: Jeff on June 11, 2008 10:16 AM