April 26, 2022 - TRA Austin -
The Infrastructure bill that Congress passed last fall can make an impact on future freight and passenger rail projects in Texas, if the state will only find the means to fund a state match for its share of $33 billion over the next five years.
"We have a unique opportunity and we should be prepared to get our fair share of funding", according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody, called to offer testimony on rail at the interim House Transportation hearing in Austin. "Lawmakers at the Capitol can play the most important part with a kickstart appropriation so we can pony up a match of 20% or better to participate in federal competitive funding programs," according to LeCody. "Texas missed out on a share of over $19 billion dollars in federal grants over the last decade because we did not have a state match and that is a shame."
One potential source to match federal programs is the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund (RRIF), which voters approved in 2005 but had never been funded. The RRIF could be used to enhance safety at rail crossings, build overpasses and underpasses, expand convention passenger rail service and bring opportunity to small and medium size Texas towns and cities through developing freight rail infrastructure. Another is the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) that now funnels $90 million a year to TxDOT. Those funds could be used in non-attainment regions for rail projects to improve air quality issues.
"Rail Relo could help relieve congestion on I-35 between Austin and San Antonio, where you will need more than concrete and asphalt to move people" said LeCody. "I want to thank Representative (John) Bucy, serving on House Transportation, for signing on to a bi-partisan letter from 20 state representatives in 2019 to look at rail in that corridor."
LeCody indicated "we have a number of freight rail studies in the Texas Rail Plan that will not move forward without additional cooperative funding. They include studies in North Texas and the Houston-Beaumont region."
Paul Treangen, CEO of TNW Corporation and President of Texas Short Line and Regional Railroad Association echoed that the recent federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is "a once in a generation opportunity and Texas will miss out if we are unable to engage our legislature, TxDOT and short line railroads to improve our rail network. Texas is one of the few states that has not actively participated in Federal Railroad Administration funding options to assist and encourage short line capital investment to relieve growing pressure on highway networks."
On passenger rail Texas Rail Advocates President LeCody aid "I met with Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner last month and he sees the growth in Texas and wants to bring frequent conventional speed rail service to key routes like the I-35 corridor between Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio. With federal funding available for capital improvements like track and signals and Amtrak picking up 90% of operating costs the first year we've never seen a program like this before that's a win-win for Texas." In five years as ridership and revenue increase, the share of Amtrak federal subsidy would decrease."
It was also pointed out that Texas and Oklahoma currently partner on one daily round-trip train between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. With lawmakers in Oklahoma and Kansas wanting to extend service northward toward Kansas City, a second Fort Worth-Oklahoma City roundtrip would fit nicely into the equation.
"The state fiscal forecast is calling for a rainy day 'overflow'," according to LeCody, referring to a bright economic forecast that means the Texas Rainy Day fund will be over its cap next year and excess monies will go to general accounts. "Why not take advantage and maximize what the Infrastruture Law will make available to us."
The Texas House Transportation video can be viewed here: https://tlchouse.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=46&clip_id=23210
Testimony starts at 3:32:20 with TRA President Peter LeCody and continues with Texas Short Line and Regional Railroad Association President Paul Treangen until 3:46:00.