April 13, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

The Rail Division at the Texas Department of Transportation has some initiatives underway to improve the flow of goods and people through rail improvements and to show how rail benefits economic development.

"We've really done a good job of ranking all the rail crossings in the state and we have a top 300 list of crossings that we would like to see go away," according to TxDOT Rail Division Director Jeff Davis, speaking at the Southwestern Rail Conference in Hurst last week. "This year the Rail Division put in for three federal grants: U.S. 90 in Dayton for a grade separation; Bonds Ranch Road in Fort Worth and for the entire Amtrak corridor. We've put in one grant for the entire Amtrak corridor. Ideally we would like to close the Amtrak corridor since they are operating at higher speeds," said Davis. "We'd like to apply for more than three grants next year, specifically in the Houston area." 

A Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvement (CRISI) application has been filed to reduce Amtrak and Union Pacific delays in San Antonio, according to Davis. There would be a new switch installed, a turnout and reinstallation of a wye to improve train movements through the Alamo city. 

The Rail Division has commissioned Texas A&M Transportation Institute to compile a report on how the states' 55 short line railroads mesh in the states' economy with their first-mile, last-mile movement of goods. The rail chief said "short line railroads are very important to the state. They connect the rural community to the major cities and really provide economic development for those rural areas." TTI staff has been in the field doing surveys with the short lines to determine the economic benefit to Texas. Reports are being compiled this spring.

Davis said that a liaison between TxDOT and the short lines has been hired "to make sure we are capturing their needs." Davis said "a lot of the short lines are mom and pop operations that don't have a lot of money to reinvest in their infrastructure but they are very important to the local economy."

At the Port of Victoria, a rail bridge owned by the port authority is used by Union Pacific and CPKC (Canadian Pacific-Kansas City) and is in need of replacement, but funds will have to be sought for the project. The Rail Division is asking for a study to determine the cost and potential funding sources. "These are ways we are helping ports and short lines to identify sources of funding and how we can help them", according to Davis.

Davis said "We've written eight letters of support to local communities in support of IIJA (Infrastructure Law) rail funding and this is a different position than TxDOT has had in the past, so I think this is a great thing we are doing to support the local municipalities, the MPO's and counties."

$6.8 million has been spent so far to replank short line railroad crossings, according to Davis' report. 15 short lines have benefited from 28 crossing projects.

Photo credit: TRA video