Monday, July 10, 2006

The T-TC is a done deal for east Travis County, except for one aspect. Since SH 130, which is T-TC 35 through Travis County, has no room for T-TC auxiliaries like pipelines and rail, these facilities will probably be built somewhere between Manor and Elgin.

This should be the focus of any T-TC discussion in east Travis County. More farms will be cut up. More noise and air pollution will be created. Communities will become isolated.

The presentation must include environmental justice. People west of I 35 give us their landfills, prisons, tank farms and sewage plants. Now they want to give us their freight trains, too. We don't want them and won't tolerate new assaults on our way of life.

- Vince May

http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/03/30rail.html

Spanish Road Builder Weighs In on Rail
Cintra-Zachry wants to spend $5 billion-plus on Dallas-to-Mexico freight line

By Ben Wear
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Cintra-Zachry, the Spanish and American partnership already working with the state on a cross-state toll road, has offered to build a 600-mile, high-speed freight rail track from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Mexico.

Numerous details remain to be worked out, including the route, and competitors (including any of the state's three major freight carriers) could in the end build the line instead. But Cintra-Zachry has offered to build a railway that could cost $5 billion or more, officials say, and open the line to any freight rail company interested in paying to use it.

The state's contribution to the project, as currently envisioned, would be to buy the right of way that the rail line — or lines — would pass through. And the state would pay the considerable expense of getting environmental clearance from the federal government. The project, officials said, would be built in the median or alongside the toll road that Cintra-Zachry is in the early stages of designing as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

It would also include what amounts to a giant loop around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, allowing cross-country freight to bypass the Metroplex' clogged rail system.

"We estimate that over 10,000 18-wheelers a day would be removed from the I-35 footprint," Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said. In 2004, the highest Texas count for trucks on Interstate 35 was in Austin: 20,588 a day.

The proposal, as outlined by Texas Transportation Commission members Wednesday, would not require Union Pacific to remove any freight traffic from its track through the heart of the the Austin-San Marcos area. For years, transit advocates have been hoping that all or most of Union Pacific's two dozen or more daily freight trains could be routed around Austin, freeing up space on the line for passenger rail.

However, Williamson said companies such as Union Pacific, BNSF Railway and Kansas City Southern would no doubt be attracted to the line's anticipated top speed of 70 mph, considerably faster than existing routes. And, as proposed by Cintra-Zachry, the line would have no "at-grade" crossings — spots where cars and trucks have to drive over railroad tracks, allowing trains to maintain their speed.

"Common sense dictates that if Cintra-Zachry builds a high-speed rail line from Fort Worth to the Mexican border, all three railroads are going to be negotiating with them to locate their freight on that line," Williamson said.

Union Pacific, for its part, was noncommittal about what the proposed deal might mean to its Texas operations, or whether it would even be interested in paying to run freight on a Cintra-Zachry track.

"This is the first time we've heard about this proposal," said Joe Arbona, a Houston-based Union Pacific spokesman.

Several months ago, Union Pacific and BNSF signed agreements with the state to work to move the bulk of their freight operations out of urban centers.

Arbona cited five points in Union Pacific's agreement with the state, among them that relocation would be voluntary, that the railroads would pay only to the extent that it benefits them and that they would be involved in the planning. An agreement between the state and a third party — Cintra-Zachry — to build what amounts to a competing line throws those agreements into limbo.

"It's just going to take us a little time to work through this," Arbona said.

And there will be time, it appears.

The state is in the first stage of a two-step environmental approval process for the Trans-Texas Corridor segment paralleling I-35. The first step will take at least another 18 months, and the second stage two to five years. That means that work on the road, and the railway, could begin no sooner than late 2009. Who would build it, meanwhile, could be decided in only a year or two.

The Trans-Texas Corridor is the centerpiece of Republican Gov. Rick Perry's transportation policy for the state, and Perry is up for re-election. Given that, it was not surprising that politics entered into Wednesday's events.

Jim Dillon, an independent candidate for governor, repeatedly disrupted the Williamson's news conference, hinting darkly that the state was involved in creating concentration camps and was building the railroad mostly for WalMart and Halliburton.

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, running for governor as an independent, released a statement saying Perry should not give the Spanish company control of another transportation project.

"Whether it is a foreign company running our roads, our rails, or operating our ports, it's wrong," she said.

In a statement, Perry's campaign fired back: "The Texas population is expected to double in the next 40 years and Gov. Perry has put forward a plan to address the transportation needs of Texas for the next century. Ms. Strayhorn, where is your plan?"

The rail proposal
What: 600-mile freight line from Dallas-Fort Worth to Mexico.
Who: Cintra-Zachry, comprised of Spanish toll road builder Cintra and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio.
When: Groundbreaking no sooner than late 2009.
Cost: $5 billion to $6 billion, not including right of way and regulatory costs to be borne by the state.
Worth knowing: Railway would have no at-grade crossings with roads and would allow steady speeds of 70 mph.

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