September 19, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

In order to better serve the public and focus on regional rail issues, the Texas Department of Transportation is imbedding a rail division employee in five district offices around the state.

These five new full-time position employees will help coordinate rail activity in some of the busiest TxDOT districts. A lead coordinator will be based in TxDOT Rail Division offices in Austin and the Austin, Beaumont, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio district offices will each have a division employee to handle rail issues. 

This innovative program to place rail division employees in key TxDOT district offices will mean that local and regional elected and appointed officials and municipal planning organizations will have a direct link when they need to share information or need assistance. 

According to TxDOT, "the rail division rail responsibilities focus on planning and implementing freight and passenger rail projects and programs, coordinating statewide passenger rail system activities, and managing state partnership and state-owned rail facilities, such as the NETEX Line (in Northeast Texas) and the South Orient Rail Line (in deep Southwest Texas), respectively. TxDOT also provides oversight of state and federal rail safety compliance, inspections, and operating practices throughout the state, and is responsible for the oversight of rail transit safety."

With a total of 10,539 miles of track, Texas maintains the most rail lines of any state and the most public highway-rail grade crossings, with a total of 9,179 at grade crossings. Three Class I railroads and 55 Class III short line railroads serve the state. Texas’ short line railroads operate on nearly 2,031 miles of the over 10,000 miles of track, providing critical links and serving as last-mile connectors.

While Texas’ extensive rail system is an asset to the state, “bottlenecks” along the system, including at-grade highway-rail crossings, sections of single-track along double-track lines, and bridges with weight and speed restrictions, can severely limit freight rail capacity and mobility and affect the efficiency of the system. Connectivity between north-south rail connections in West Texas is also a challenge for freight movement.

TxDOT monitors potential rail line abandonments and coordinates the state’s involvement in and response to abandonment filings. If a rail line owner abandons a rail line due to low traffic volumes, TxDOT analyzes whether the abandoned line could serve the state as a rail facility, future roadway, or expansion of an existing road. TxDOT is responsible for administering lease and operating agreements on state-owned facilities and operating agreements on state-supported passenger routes. TxDOT also manages state and federally-funded construction project contracts on state and privately-owned rail facilities.

Under Chapter 201, Texas Transportation Code, TxDOT “shall coordinate activities regarding the planning, construction, operation, and maintenance of a statewide passenger rail system as well as with other entities involved with passenger rail systems, including governmental entities, private entities, and nonprofit corporations.”

Passenger rail categories include high-speed rail, intercity rail, commuter, and regional rail, light rail, trolley, and tourism rail. While definitions may vary, high-speed rail runs at speeds greater than 110 mph on a dedicated track. Intercity rail primarily provides commuter service and operates at speeds slower than high-speed rail. Commuter and regional rail serve customers on daily trips between suburban and urban areas and may run on freight corridors. Light rail generally serves commuters typically within urban areas on dedicated corridors with specialized equipment.

Currently, six Rail Transit Agencies (RTA) are subject to the provisions of the State Safety Oversight program in Texas:

1. Dallas Area Rapid Transit;

2. Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County;

3. The Dallas Streetcar;

4. McKinney Avenue Transit Authority;

5. El Paso Streetcar; and

6. Galveston Island Trolley

Photo credit: Railway Age