Can commuter rail and Union Pacific share the same rail lines?

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Rad Sallee and Patrick Kurp have a story in today’s Chronicle about Metro’s commuter rail plans:

If everything falls into place, Metro President and CEO Frank Wilson said recently, at least one of three proposed commuter rail lines could be built by 2012, the agency’s deadline under a 2003 referendum for completing its next five light-rail extensions.

“The real estate is there. Upgrading the track shouldn’t take very long. Depending on what equipment you use, you could get it fairly quickly,” Wilson said.

The three commuter rail lines in the Metro Solutions plan are, in order of their likely completion dates: alongside U.S. 90A to Fort Bend County, along Hempstead Highway or U.S. 290 to beyond Texas 6, and along Old Galveston Road to NASA and Clear Lake.

Unlike the light rail projects, none is assigned a date. Each would use right of way leased or more likely purchased from Union Pacific Railroad, Wilson said.

However, there are logistical problems with the railroad’s right of way:

But Joe Adams, special representative to UP Chairman Dick Davidson, said the [90A] line is part of an essential freight artery. The single track now carries 25 to 32 trains a day, he said.

Adams said it would be almost impossible to have Metro run trains on the same track.

”Because of their speed and frequency, it is very difficult to mix commuter trains and freight trains,” he said.


“We are willing to cooperate,” Adams said, ”but there are a whole host of issues.”

Once again we are left to shake our heads at the short-sightedness that was shown when railroad tracks along the Katy Freeway were torn up instead of used for commuter rail. Now that’s a route that’s begging for a commuter rail line!

My favorite part of the piece is this:

Although Metro’s service area and 1-cent sales tax end at the Fort Bend County line, Wilson said there are ways to get around the border issue. For instance, private investors and public entities, such as the Texas Department of Transportation and cities hoping to benefit from the line, could enter a partnership to pay for track outside Harris County.

Those are two words I would like to see more often in any news story related to Metro.

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.