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Rail council updated on feasibility study

By East Texas Community Newspapers
Feb. 16, 2011 at 6 p.m.

KILGORE - A progress re port on the East Texas passenger rail study was provided in a meeting Wednesday of the East Texas Corridor Council.

"Our purpose is to better coordinate passenger with freight rail on existing lines capable of 80 miles per hour," said Chairman Richard Anderson for the ETCC.

The council's stated purpose is seeking higher speed rail along the Interstate Highway 20 corridor from Dallas-Fort Worth to Arkansas and Louisiana border connections.

A feasibility study has been funded with $740,000 in federal grants for determining what is possible along this route. Its scope will include input from Union Pacific Railroad and Am trak.

Wednesday's meeting was at the East Texas Council of Governments headquarters in Kilgore with about 20 present. It was also on the heels of last weekend's gathering for Texas Eagle Marketing and Performance Organization in San Antonio and an announcement that President Barack Obama's budget includes $53 billion for rail.

"We're trying to determine what the implications are, but we are encouraged," said Texas Department of Transportation Rail Director Bill Glavin.

"We will be applying to get as much money for passenger rail into the state as we can," Glavin said.

Glavin and Jennifer Moczygemba, Rail System Section director, were invited to the meeting as guest speakers and provided insight into ongoing studies around the state as well as the local study.

"We should have a new time line with Amtrak by next week," said Ms. Moczygemba, who also informed the council about similar groups and activities along other portions of the current Texas Eagle route.

"There are a lot of people encouraged about rail, but many see it as public subsidizing," said Glavin. "Everything except freight rail is subsidized."

He noted that Union Pacific's ownership of its line means it pays $70 million annual in local and state property taxes.

ETCC Executive Director Griff Hubbard commented that "if Amtrak were to go away, freight carriers have said they will not negotiate with any other" passenger rail company.

Ridership increases in the area have also surpassed rural airports, Hubbard said.

Another primary topic was reaching others who are interested in the development of high speed passenger rail.

Amtrak talking points were handed out and given emphasis in reaching others about the cause. Among these are that both airports and highways have trust funds and have been given government subsidy.

In large part, the talking points are a way for passenger rail proponents in the United States to assert rail development as a step forward.

"In regards to transportation, it's not a step into the past but to the future," said Anderson.

Another initiative for improving awareness and for raising money is to develop personalized license plates.

Representatives from Hope, Ark., and Shreveport, La., were also in attendance.

State Sen. Steve Harrelson of Arkansas has also secured $900,000 from the state to study the portion of track from Texarkana to West Memphis, Ark.

"With two states working together between congressional delegates in these three states, we should have more bargaining clout than in a single state," said Anderson.



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