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Dallas Morning News
Possible high-speed rail quickens Dallas transit plans
By Brandon Formby
Published: 09 November 2014 10:55 PM
Updated: 10 November 2014 11:28 AM
A private company’s plans to connect Dallas and Houston with a 90-minute high-speed train ride is prompting Dallas Area Rapid Transit to fast-track plans for increased transit options downtown.
The region’s largest transit agency is working on a three-pronged approach to increase rail lines, streetcar routes and downtown train capacity by 2021, when Texas Central Railway’s trains could arrive in Dallas.
And DART now has something that’s long eluded them in dramatically expanding downtown service: a rough financing plan that officials believe could turn the $983.4 million in projects into reality. But a key component currently missing is Texas Central Railway’s decision on the location of its Dallas station.
DART leaders will discuss the situation and their plans during a joint meeting with the Dallas City Council’s transportation committee Monday.
Texas Central last month announced three possible locations for its high-speed rail line. One is on the southwestern corner of downtown. The other two possible end points are along Interstate 45. One is near Loop 12 and the other near Interstate 20.
Texas Central officials say they want to pick a spot that connects passengers with public transit. A downtown station could put the line’s terminus within walking distance of Union Station. That station serves two DART lines, the TRE to Fort Worth, Amtrak, existing bus routes, the under-construction streetcar line to Oak Cliff and taxis.
But if the company goes with one of the I-45 spots, such infrastructure and transit routes would have to be built or moved.
“To relocate all of that would just be financially infeasible,” said Stephen Salin, DART’s vice president of capital planning.
Officials and residents who attended a meeting about the high-speed rail project last month unanimously favored a downtown terminus. That included City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill, who chairs the transportation committee.
“We strongly urge that the train comes into downtown Dallas, and more specifically, Union Station,” she said at the meeting.
Texas Central is expected to pick an end point by the end of the year. Salin said that could be delayed, as project timelines often are. Even if it is, DART is moving forward with the first part of three-phased approach downtown.
The agency plans to spend about $184.4 million to lengthen 28 stations so it can add a third car to trains. That would allow the agency to move 493 people per train as opposed to 329 riders. The downtown platforms can already handle three cars, but the Red and Blue Line stations outside of downtown can’t. That means all Red and Blue trains are currently limited to two cars.
Agency officials believe they’ve identified funding needed for that project.
“We want to keep a couple of things moving so we’re always able to make progress on some front,” said agency spokesman Morgan Lyons.
The next two additions to expanded downtown service include installation of the first phase of a second light-rail track and expansion of the city’s streetcar line. The additional downtown light-rail track is something Dallas has wanted for years. The first phase would connect Victory Station to Union Station with an underground line. It would cost about $706.8 million.
The city next year plans to open a streetcar line from Union Station to Oak Cliff. DART’s downtown expansion plans call for extending that line through downtown and connecting it with the M-Line trolley that serves Uptown. That would cost about $92.2 million.
The key to getting those two pieces in place is securing a $400 million federal grant. Agency officials say it’s hard to predict the likelihood of getting the grant and pinpointing how much they could garner because federal officials are still developing guidelines.
Salin said the agency is working closely with federal transit authorities on those guidelines. He said the agency is volunteering itself as a “guinea pig” for the grant program. The goal is to keep the momentum up so all the pieces are in place if high-speed trains arrive as hoped.
“We want to keep moving forward,” Lyons said. “That’s essential.”
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