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Emmett on commuter rail

County Judge Ed Emmett’s op ed piece is one part an argument for commuter rail, and one part an argument for who should be in charge of it. I suppose the fact that he’s making that case is a good sign for commuter rail to actually happen – if we’re not talking about why but instead are discussing how, that would seem to indicate that “why” is a settled matter. That’s not really the case, of course – without figuring out who will lead the commuter rail effort, it won’t happen no matter how much it’s wanted. But at least it gives everyone something to work towards. Anyway, Emmett wants the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District to be on point.

No matter who manages regional commuter rail, it must tie seamlessly to the Metro light rail and bus systems. Not only schedules, but fares and other operational characteristics must work together. Metro officials have expressed an interest in developing commuter rail themselves, but that is unrealistic. Metro is limited in its jurisdiction and is widely viewed outside the city as being dominated by the City of Houston because a majority of its board is appointed by Houston’s mayor. Besides, Metro has plenty to do in completing its various approved light rail projects, plus a possible line into Fort Bend County.

The federal government, state government and the region’s representatives in Austin and Washington must know who speaks for commuter rail from our area. Just as in all transportation projects, much of the funding will come from the federal government, likely passed through the state. Getting funding for commuter rail should be a cooperative effort, not a competition.

Finally, Union Pacific officials have stated in writing that they want to work only with the Gulf Coast Rail District. No matter what anyone argues, the tracks in question belong to Union Pacific, and the railroad must be our partner in this effort. This will allow maximum coordination in bringing about improvements to the freight rail network while simultaneously converting freight rail tracks to commuter rail service.

Honestly, I don’t care all that much who wins this fight, as long as it all gets done. Christof lays out the pros and cons of each entity. I suspect some kind of hybrid will ultimately win out, since as Emmett notes any useful and usable system would need to tie into Metro anyway, and would thus need to integrate with it in some way. Again, as long as we get there I don’t much care about who drives. If we’re still arguing about that next year at this time, I’ll feel a lot less sanguine about commuter rail becoming a reality.

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