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Commuter to rail to Galveston

The Chron reports on a study that makes the case for a commuter rail line between Houston and Galveston.

The Galveston-Houston Commuter Rail Study estimates it would cost between $380 million to $415 million to revive commuter service on the 140-year-old Galveston-Houston and Henderson rail corridor that parallels Interstate 45.

That’s a bargain compared with the estimated $2.2 billion cost of a two-way bus lane carrying the same number of passengers, according to the study.

“If people ask if we can do it, I say it’s impossible for us not to do it,” said Barry Goodman, whose Goodman Corp. conducted the study.


A commuter rail line would carry about 11,480 passengers per year when it is completed in 2030, reducing travel by vehicles by 51.7 million miles per year, the study says. That translates into a 509-ton annual reduction in air pollution, the study says.


The study offers two choices for the first phase of the commuter rail line, which is projected to begin operations in 2012 with trains traveling as fast as 79 mph.

One choice would connect Clear Lake with Galveston, hauling an estimated 1,263 passengers daily. The other would connect Dickinson with downtown Houston, carrying about 2,970 passengers daily, according to the study.

Goodman said the Clear Lake-to-Galveston section would likely end at the University of Texas Medical Branch during rush hours and at the Galveston Railroad Museum, housed in the former Galveston rail passenger terminal, during off-peak hours. A station also could be built to serve the cruise terminal, he said.

Cruise ship passengers would cross to the cruise line terminal in a covered walkway from a rail stop surrounded by restaurants and retail shops, according to one possible scenario, Goodman said.

The Dickinson to downtown Houston alternative could end at a Metro transportation hub that is being considered in the vicinity of Harrisburg Boulevard and Magnolia Park, or continue up the I-45 corridor and end at a transportation hub downtown at Congress Yard, Sharpe said.

The route down I-45 would cost about $25 million more because of greater engineering challenges such as grade crossings, Goodman said.

Several points:

– I presume when it says the rail line “would carry about 11,480 passengers per year” they mean “per day”, since 11,480 per year is 31 per day, and none of the rest of the numbers make sense if this is the case.

– I’m a little puzzled how you can get a Clear Lake or Dickinson to Houston portion of the line in place by 2012, but the whole thing wouldn’t be done till 2030. Is this another typo, or am I missing something?

– As Christof has pointed out, commuter rail can intersect with light rail at various places, and it enhances the value of each to ensure passengers can get from one to the other easily. Basically, taking advantage of existing transit makes good sense.

– That would be true on the Galveston end as well, but there isn’t much there to take advantage of. One thing you could do, however, is work with some of the bigger tourist attractions to encourage them to provide shuttle service between the Galveston terminal and their locations. I’m thinking specifically of Schlitterbahn Galveston here, but Moody Gardens and the Strand as a whole should be in on this as well.

– I forget if he’s blogged it or just mentioned it to me in person, but Christof has also noted that there’s a case to be made for tying this Houston/Galveston line into the planned 290 Corridor commuter line, and extending it as far west as College Station. I’d like to see some feasibility study on that.

– While I’ve said before that I think a Houston/Galveston line makes sense, I don’t quite understand the comparison of its cost to that of a “two-way bus lane”. Has anyone seriously proposed such an alternative, or was this just added to make the rail cost seem cheaper? Maybe I’m missing something again, but this data point feels like a plant to me.

That’s what I think. What do you think?

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  1. Charles Hixon says:

    back when i-45 to galveston was a dirt road, there was rail service from houston to galveston. It was called the Interurban. Before we build it again, we better understand why it was shut down before.

  2. Justin says:

    So this is like Caltrain? Clear Lake to Houston – all suburbs to Houston – would be spectacular.

  3. Rob says:

    They already know why the interurban was shut down. The masses started driving their own cars (which became more affordable after WW2), and eventually they replaced it with I-45. The interurban was already a fading technology at the time anyways.

  4. Charles Hixon says:

    They already know why the interurban was shut down. The masses started driving their own cars (which became more affordable after WW2), and eventually they replaced it with I-45. The interurban was already a fading technology at the time anyways.

    I don’t know who “they” is, and cars were not particularly more affordable after WWII. Inflation ate up earnings. A pre-war car was fading technology in the ’40’s too. If the Interurban was fading technology in the ’40’s, what makes the same passenger rail service today? New and improved? We’d better understand why it didn’t work before or we’ll be shutting it down again.