The Path of Commuter Rail

THE PATH OF COMMUTER RAIL Which area freight rail routes might share their tracks with commuter rail lines? Probably not the Union Pacific line along U.S. 90A to Sugar Land. “But two other freight lines have less traffic, and Union Pacific is working with government planners to free them up for commuter trains. One runs out the U.S. 290 corridor and one runs along Texas 3 to Galveston. TxDOT is considering granting $2 million in stimulus funds for two engineering studies on those routes. ‘My goal is to have trains running in three years,’ said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett. The engineering studies will design routes that bring suburban commuters to the 610 Loop, but no farther. The freight traffic inside the Loop is still too busy, and although there is an abandoned rail line, it runs right through the Heights — a politically vocal neighborhood. ‘That’s not something I want to take on,’ said Emmett. The compromise is to build some commuter lines now, connect them to light rail or bus lines, and figure out later how to get them inside the Loop, to downtown.” [Houston Chronicle]

14 Comment

  • I don’t know about commuter rail along 59 South, but I have noticed that the railroad along 59 between Laredo and Houston has been rebuilt (taking back their original right of ways) and so far I haven’t read anything about this in the Houston media.

    Is this part of the 69 Corridor or just some Mexican/Kansas City coalition planning ahead?

  • Which abandoned line thru the Heights is he talking about? Certainly not the new bike path? Although I guess that shouldn’t surprise me given several months ago I read a quote from someone from the city that had no idea this has been planned to be a bike path for a decade and was proposing the land be used for light rail. Brains must be in short supply downtown…

  • The term “hippy-crites” gets thrown around a lot these days, and mostly by overly-political conservative pundits discussing climate change, but the old politically vocal neighborhoods full of “progressives” that oppose public transit really are an increasingly frustrating urban element. Transit development is real progress, and these people and their Volvos covered in bumper stickers are not.

  • Heights progressivism is hit or miss. When I lived over near Yale, I heard a lot of grumbling about the new apartment building at 2125 Yale – even though that seems like a good, totally appropriate addition to the neighborhood (high density housing on a main street near shopping and bus lines). (Though it would have been even better with street facing retail, but oh well, you can’t have everything.)

  • miss_msry,

    You are right. The reconstruction of the rail line from Houston to Laredo is part of the I-69 transit corridor (not technically called TTC anymore, but still the same thing).

    From Laredo, Del Rio, and the Valley areas, the future I-69 and current I-35 corridors are the main lines to get goods from Mexico to the Kansas City distribution point.

    Also, the rail through the Heights concept was shot down years ago will not happen. Every previous study discarded the idea.

  • Commuter rail that dumps pedestrians at the loop, in three years? It will either never happen, will fail miserably, or will get redesigned. I bet on the former, I hope for the latter.

  • miss_misry:

    The line you’ve seen rebuilt along US 59 is a line that Kansas City Southern has reactivated. Rebuilding this line allows KCS to use their own lines instead of running on Union Pacific lines on the route fron Mexico and cuts 90 minutes off their time route. KCS owns a couple of railroads in Mexico to the west coast ports, so improving the line allows them a more effecient route to bring in Pacific imports.

    Commuter rail on freight tracks is a long shot. The lines in Houston are already close to capacity when the economy is good and what little capacity is left will get used up when the Panama canal improvements are done and the port has more traffic. No real way to squeeze in a commuter train and get it the priority it needs to be effective. Also, I don’t think getting people to the loop will be enough, unless it can provide a direct link to light rail. I don’t think anyone wants to take a train, then bus, and then light rail.

  • Well maybe Ed Emmett can just put in autotrains and you can just ride along with your car to Loop 610 and then drive the rest of the way.

    Our “leaders” leave much to be desired. Ed Emmett in particular. Thank god we will be rid of Bill White in January. Although god knows what will replace him.

  • The only abandoned rail line through the Heights that I can think of has just been converted at great expense to a bike path. To go back and put light rail through there would seem a little pointless and would require the rebuilding of at least one viaduct.

    Surely Ed Emmett wouldn’t try and palm of his inability to get something done on a phantom neighborhood menace would he?

  • Let’s see, bike path or light rail? Which one carries more people and is a greater good for the community? Bring on the light rail.

    If not there, through the rail right of way north of Washington Avenue; just get some quality transit to true destinations, not stopping somwhere around 610…that’s a severe lack of leadership

  • Clarification: (as discussed on HAIF) The commuter rail proposed is different from light rail. Commuter rail is a standard, diesel train. Light rail is, well, that thing hits cars.

    Yes, it it was proposed that diesel trains go down the path of the MKT bike trail. Diesel rail within ten feet of your house is a choice, preferable by those who buy townhouses on the UP tracks. Many people inside the loop, regardless of the former example, think that is a crappy way to live. Further, being forced to live that way at the convenience of people living in unsustainable, cookie-cutter housing in Cy-Fair pisses off people in the Heights. Go figure.

    That being said, I think commuter rail on the 290 corridor could be very valauble. I urge Metro, TXDOT, and Ed Emmett to figure this out. One idea: Northwest Mall is an essentially dead property that would make an excellent intermodal for Downtown and Uptown transit.

  • mark in montrose:
    If not there, through the rail right of way north of Washington Avenue; just get some quality transit to true destinations, not stopping somwhere around 610…that’s a severe lack of leadership

    The track owner has already stated that the rail line is too busy to be used for transit purposes. The severe lack of leadership you mention should be directed towards METRO not Harris county. UP ended up having a news conference stating that METRO had not contacted then for the use of their track to support the proposed Intermodal Terminal. That’s a lack of leadership.

  • Why is there two of me?

  • Not specific to this issue, but why don’t we hear more about “autotrains” or roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) trains in Texas? They would seem to solve the last-mile problems while still getting cars off of congested/polluting highways. It’s not the perfect solution, but it would be better then just building more roads.