Updated 8pm CST - December 9, 2023 - TRA Newswire - 

Texas Rail Advocates learned that the Federal Railroad Administration has awarded planning grants to the Texas Department of Transportation, Amtrak, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Southern Rail Commission. These federal grants will be used to develop and expand passenger rail corridors that will change the way people travel by rail in the state and beyond. 

The long awaited announcement on the FRA Corridor Identification and Development program now puts the Rail Division at TxDOT and the other agencies in high gear to plan out what passenger rail corridors would look like in the future. Each sponsoring agency was awarded up to a $500,000 planning grant per corridor. 

These "first step" grants are a result of some $66 billion dollars available for passenger and freight rail projects through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that was passed by Congress two years ago. These grants will speed the development of new services on routes that haven’t performed the required permitting or done sufficient design and engineering work to start construction.

Grants include the high-speed rail corridor between Fort Worth-Dallas and Houston, conventional rail service from Dallas via College Station to Houston, and passenger service from Houston to San Antonio.

The Corridor ID also included planning grants for expanded Amtrak service on the I-20 corridor from Dallas-Fort Worth to Meridian, Mississippi to connect with the daily Crescent service to Atlanta and the East Coast, giving Texans a future 1-seat direct route to the Atlantic region. Grants were also made available to extend the Fort Worth-Oklahoma City Heartland Flyer to Kansas and to go from tri-weekly to daily service on the Sunset Limited along the I-10 corridor.

Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker noted that the grants will benefit her city and the region. “I am grateful for TxDOT's leadership in prioritizing intercity rail.  Fort Worth is the busiest Amtrak station in Texas, and as people continue to move to our city and suburbs, travel reliability, mobility choices, and regional connectivity will be key to our economic competitiveness" according to Mayor Parker.  "These grants are investments that position Greater Fort Worth and the Texas Triangle for continued success as a global destination.” 

Congressman Colin Allred (TX-32) said “Bringing home the resources and investments we need to grow our economy and create jobs will always be a priority of mine in Congress. These rail services will do just that as well as offer new transportation options, promote tourism and reduce traffic on already congested highways,” said Allred“These awards are a huge win for Texas and will help folks get around better as well as further connect our region to growing economic opportunities across the South. I was proud to support them and will continue working to help move them forward.”

"This is a big step forward for Texas, and if we have the full cooperation and buy-in from our state legislature, TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission this would give Texans a daily travel choice we do not have at present, " according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "This would benefit a lot of smaller Texas cities with few transportation choices and help them promote their cities for tourism, business and economic development." 

Missing from the selection of today's FRA Texas recipients is the I-35 Lone Star Rail Corridor, or any of the I-35 travel segments from the DFW Metroplex through Austin to San Antonio and Laredo. "It's disappointing that this high-volume traffic corridor was passed up in this round of FRA funding for conventional passenger rail," according to LeCody. "We're just going to have to build a bigger, stronger coalition of mayors, cities, counties, the business community and the public to let the FRA know this is a critical corridor that needs passenger rail."

The other point-to-point conventional rail line grants, Houston-San Antonio and Dallas-Houston, requested by TxDOT to the FRA were approved. A service development plan called the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study (TOPRS) was completed five years ago that showed passenger rail would be viable in the heavily travelled I-35, Lone Star Rail Corridor. TxDOT has not moved that service development plan forward to a project level, would would mean moving up to an actual construction phase. 

The FRA will hold at least one more round of project applications with selections expected next year.  Projects that didn’t apply or weren’t selected this year have another chance, but projects selected in this first round are a step ahead and likely will reflect federal priority. 

A total of 69 corridors in 44 states have received planning grants for future development from the FRA along with 10 projects in 9 states that were identified as "shovel ready".

To date a total of nearly $30 billion has been announced for investment in America's nationwide intercity passenger rail network.  

Here is a summary of 7 federal rail grants that will benefit the traveling public in Texas:

First up...... a pair of applications were approved by the FRA for high-speed rail from North Texas to Houston

The North Central Texas Council of Governments submitted the Fort Worth-to-Houston project (via Dallas), and Amtrak submitted a separate application for the Dallas-to-Houston line; both applications propose using the corridor that Texas Central received a Record of Decision on from the Federal Railroad Administration between Dallas and Houston. These were among seven high-speed rail projects nationwide awarded planning funding as part of the Corridor ID Program. Up to $1 million in planning funds will be provided for the proposed high-speed line.  

1-A. Dallas-Houston High Speed Rail - Applicant: Amtrak

High speed rail from Dallas to Houston is now back on the table with a planning grant directed to Amtrak, and we presume the partner they have been courting recently, Texas Central Railway. The proposed Corridor would connect Dallas and Houston, TX with a new, dedicated and grade-separated high speed passenger rail service. The proposed Corridor would provide new service on a new alignment, with station stops in Dallas, Brazos Valley, and Houston. The Corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan. Much of the groundwork for the Dallas-Houston corridor had already been accomplished by Texas Central. 

“Amtrak ridership is soaring and we’re advancing plans to further enhance and expand our services across the United States with our various partners, thanks to these grants,” said Amtrak CEO Stephen Gardner. “We’re eager to bring the benefit of Amtrak’s network and experience to support states and local communities as they work to bring intercity passenger rail to new communities across America.”

1-B. Fort Worth-Dallas to Houston High Speed Rail Connector - Applicant: North Central Texas Council of Governments

NCTCOG has been planning the North Texas line, which would run along Interstate Highway 30 from Fort Worth to Dallas, with a  stop in Arlington, and connect to the Dallas-to-Houston project. Through the Dallas-Fort Worth High-Speed Transportation Connections Study, NCTCOG examined 43 potential alignments, with high-speed rail along the IH 30 emerging as the preferred method to connect people seamlessly from throughout the region to the planned Dallas-to-Houston route via a one-seat ride.

The DFW High-Speed Transportation Connections Study is set to move into a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysisfocusing on route alignment, possible station locations and potential social and environmental impacts. NCTCOG is working with the Federal Transit Administration on final steps before the Dallas-Fort Worth corridor can advance to the formal NEPA process. In addition to the planning funds, inclusion in the Corridor ID Program is considered an acknowledgement of the need to advance project development and explore partnership opportunities as well as positioning the project for future federal funding to support design and construction.

NCTCOG has been planning how the "connector" would interface between the DFW metroplex to Houston and also with future service on the I-35 corridor to Austin and San Antonio. The Corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan.

Representative Jasmine Crockett (TX-30) commented on the grant. “Texas is growing, and Dallas is growing even faster. More new Texans means more public transportation needs, including and especially high-speed rail. I’m excited we’re bringing $500,000 home to Texas for development of a Texas High-Speed Rail Corridor, which could lower transportation costs for commuters, ease traffic congestion on our roads, cut down on carbon pollution, and boost economic integration between Dallas and Houston – two of the largest metro areas in the country. The future of Texas is coming at HIGH-SPEED!”

2. Dallas to Houston Conventional Speed Passenger Rail - Applicant: TxDOT 

The proposed Corridor would connect Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston, Texas with a new conventional intercity passenger rail service over an existing alignment over which Amtrak discontinued service (between Dallas and Houston) in 1995, leaving Texas A&M and College Station with no passenger rail service. The proposed Corridor would have additional station stops in Corsicana, Hearne, College Station, and Navasota, TX. The Corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan.

3. Houston to San Antonio Conventional Speed Passenger Rail - Applicant: TxDOT

The proposed Corridor would connect Houston and San Antonio, TX with a new conventional intercity passenger rail service using the route of Amtrak’s existing long-distance Sunset Limited service, which at present only operates a tri-weekly train in each direction. The proposed Corridor would have additional station stops in Rosenberg, Flatonia, and Seguin, TX. The Corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan.

Representative Joaquin Castro's (TX-20) office is a stone's throw away from the San Antonio Amtrak station, which would see increased trains. “I’m glad to see the Department of Transportation prioritizing routes in Texas as part of the largest federal investment in passenger rail since Amtrak’s creation. This investment will get Texans where they need to go while creating good-paying jobs and growing our economy. Investing and expanding in our transportation infrastructure does good for our entire nation, and I’m glad we are moving towards expanding services.”

Here is TxDOT's official response to the rail grant announcements: "TxDOT guides projects that improve the efficiency of moving people and goods. This federal grant funding includes up to $500,000 for the development of a scope, schedule and cost estimate to prepare Service Development Plans for two corridors. These plans will then look into how passenger rail could potentially be provided on existing rail corridors between Dallas – Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio and will engage stakeholders to assess opportunities, constraints and feasibility of possible rail improvements."

4. I-20 Corridor Dallas-Fort Worth to Meridian MS Conventional Speed Passenger Rail - Applicant: Southern Rail Commission 

The proposed Corridor would connect Dallas, TX to Meridian, MS and plans to serve the following cities in Texas: Fort Worth, Mineola, Longview, and Marshall; the following cities in Louisiana: Shreveport, Ruston, and Monroe; and the following cities in Mississippi: Vicksburg and Jackson. This route would mean a second frequency to serve cities between Fort Worth and Marshall, Texas on the Texas Eagle route to Chicago. The proposed Corridor would provide new service on existing alignment. The Corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan. The proposed corridor to be studied has completed prior feasibility studies funded by FRA. Additionally, FRA anticipates including portions of the proposed corridor within the ongoing Amtrak Long Distance Study.

“The Southern Rail Commission has been steadfastly committed to expanding passenger rail service across our three states and this grant allows us to continue our efforts in a more robust way as we get closer to the start of service along these corridors,” said Knox Ross, Chairman of the Southern Rail Commission. “We are immensely grateful to our partners at the local, state, and federal level, especially Senators Cassidy, Wicker, and Hyde-Smith, along with Congressman Graves and Carter, that have championed this work and advocated for the funding allocations that keep our projects moving forward.”

5. Heartland Flyer Extension - Applicant: Kansas Department of Transportation

The proposed corridor would connect the existing Heartland Flyer intercity passenger rail service between Fort Worth and Gainesville in Texas, and Oklahoma City, OK, with an extension north to Wichita and then Newton, KS. The proposed corridor would include new station stops in Edmond, Perry, and Ponca City, OK, and Arkansas City, Wichita, and Newton, KS. The Heartland Flyer is a partnered service of the Oklahoma and Texas Department of Transportation and runs one daily round trip. The corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan. 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly announced Friday that $500,000 in federal funding has been allocated for the state’s proposal to extend Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer. “In south-central Kansas and across the state, the call to renew this passenger rail route has been strong, unified and clear,” said Kansas Department of Transportation secretary Calvin Reed. “The result is another step forward in bringing this vital passenger rail line back into service.”

“The extension of the Heartland Flyer Passenger Rail would further connect Kansans to Oklahoma City and north-central Texas, unlocking business, educational, and cultural opportunities to Kansans and enabling our neighbors to the south to add to the Kansas economy,” Kelly said. “One of Kansas’ greatest assets is that we are in the center of the country, which is why my administration has supported rail projects like this to build on that strength.”

6. Daily Sunset Limited Service - Applicant:  Amtrak

The proposed corridor would provide improvements to the existing Amtrak long-distance Sunset Limited service between Los Angeles, CA, and New Orleans, LA, by increasing service frequency from thrice weekly to daily. Texas cities served include Beaumont, Houston, San Antonio, Del Rio, Sanderson, Alpine and El Paso, and other intermediate cities including Tucson, AZ. The corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan.  

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turned commented “I am also happy to see funding approved to study new passenger rail service between Houston and San Antonio, as well as increasing the existing Sunset Limited service connecting Houston to New Orleans and Los Angeles to daily service.  Houstonians will greatly benefit from all of these alternatives to congested highways and crowded airports.”

7. Louisiana Corridor ID grant - Applicant: Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development

Our friends to the east of the lone star state in Louisiana also picked up a Corridor ID grant. The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development's Baton Rouge-New Orleans Corridor made the cut. The proposed corridor would connect Baton Rouge and New Orleans, LA. The proposed  corridor would provide new intercity passenger rail service on an existing alignment that last hosted passenger trains in 1969. The corridor sponsor would enter Step 1 of the program to develop a scope, schedule, and cost estimate for preparing, completing, or documenting its service development plan. 

Construction, equipment procurement and other corridor costs would require future federal, state, regional and local funding as well as working with freight railroads and the private sector. 

Other Corridor ID grants announced this week include the proposed passenger rail corridor linking Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville and Memphis. Congressman Steve Cohen (TN) said “Passenger rail service linking Tennessee’s major cities will be a major economic shot in the arm and will invigorate travel and tourism across our state. I was pleased to submit a letter of support for this project and am glad that the FRA has heeded my repeated calls to prioritize this important project. Once this service is in operation, much of the country will be accessible by rail from Memphis. This is a very big deal, and I look forward to working with stakeholders in all of the route’s proposed cities to continue to move this project forward.”

Also these awards were announced Tuesday: Asheville, N.C., to Salisbury, N.C.;  Charlotte, N.C., to Washington, D.C.; Charlotte to Atlanta; Charlotte to Kings Mountain, N.C.; Fayetteville, N.C., to Raleigh, N.C.; Raleigh to Wilmington, N.C.; Raleigh to Winston-Salem, N.C., Cleveland-Columbus-Dayton-Cincinnati, Cleveland-Toledo-Detroit; Chicago-Fort Wayne, Ind.-Columbus, Ohio-Pittsburgh; Chicago-Indianapolis-Cincinnati-Washington-New York (Daily Cardinal service); Nashville, Tenn.-Chattanooga-Atlanta; Scranton, Pa., to New York; Reading, Pa., to Philadelphia. 

Meanwhile, on the West coast, the Biden administration approved $6 billion in grants to fund two high-speed rail projects, one a public-private partnership mix and one in the public sector. Brightline West gets some $3 billion for their fast-tracked Los Angeles area to Vegas line, which is a public-private partnership. Brightline is the operator of their own high-frequency passenger rail service in Florida between Miami and Orlando built by the private sector. The other $3 billion goes toward the over-budget, mismanaged and long delayed California public high-speed  rail project being built between San Francisco to Los Angeles. Those funds come from the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program.