Gulf Coast Rail District to conduct future of rail study
By Karen Daniels
Last Monday the Gulf Coast Rail District signed a contract to report on the next level of work concerning the future of rail in Fort Bend County. Some say mobility in and around Houston is moving toward crisis level and our traffic could soon equal Los Angeles. Two options have been mentioned as potential solutions in Fort Bend County: 1) passenger rail or 2) the double-decking of Hwy 59. Recently, Chanel 2 analyzed 200 commute times from outlying suburbs and found that 85% of the routes have had an increase since 2011. In 2013, Houston was identified by the U.S. Bureau of Statistic as the #1 U.S. city for job creation. For these reasons, mobility alternatives need to be examined.
Maureen Crocker, Executive Director of the GCRD said, “the ‘Southern Bypass’ is one piece of the puzzle” they will consult on. The freight bypass would begin just prior to the Richmond/Rosenberg area and “would remove the opportunity for a rail/vehicle accident” along the current Hwy 90A track, also known as the Glidden Subdivision. The freight rail traffic would then reconnect to existing tracks on the east side of Houston. “There are three options,” Maureen explained. “Two rails currently belong to BNSF and would require upgrading.” The third option is green field that does not have a track. This study will record the costs involved, travel times, safety, quality of life, benefits to rail and benefits to the public. If freight rail is moved, the current track on Hwy 90, after receiving updated grade separation, could be available for passenger rail.
Mayor Leonard Scarcella is on the GCRD Board and pro passenger rail. “Fort Bend County has an extremely promising future. One of its most significant challenges will be mobility for its residents. While no panacea, the most significant benefit to address the looming congestion presented by the exploding population is passenger rail.”
The GCRD was created in 2007 by the City of Houston, the Port Authority of Houston and five surrounding counties: Harris County, Fort Bend County, Galveston County, Montgomery County, and Waller County. The report is expected to be completed by the “end of summer” 2014, and according to Maureen Crocker, “the next big challenge will be how to pay” for it.
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