AN UPDATE FROM TEXAS RAIL ADVOCATES
(Austin) - June 24, 2009. The good news: The Texas Transportation Commission got their first look at a proposed Rail Division for TxDOT at a workshop today along with a briefing on funding for several rail projects. The bad news: Legislative wrangling with the language of the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund means no money allocated for the next two years.
In a presentation on the development of rail for Texas, TxDOT Assistant Director Phil Russell outlined why the Transportation Commission should focus on both passenger and freight rail planning for the future. He outlined what a proposed Rail Division would look like. With a Rail Division Director, there would be four departments under that to-be-named person's perview including Operations, Railroad Crossings, Safety and Project Development. Commissioners indicated that it would be a wise move to create a Rail Division. Commissioner Bill Meadows (Tarrant County) voiced that "the Commission needs to take a leadership position on rail", citing that other states are far ahead of Texas on rail planning and development.
The Commission also heard that $3 million dollars will be spent on rehabilitation projects on the state owned South Orient Railroad north of San Angelo and that $8.7 million has been allocated toward to the Austin-San Antonio passenger rail project.
Grim news came from TxDOT Chief Financial Officer Jim Bass who indicated that the way the legislature structured the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund this year, there are three financial tests that must be met before funds are available. It does not look like Rail Relo will meet the test and will probably lose out on $182 million toward worhtwhile projects for the next two years.