The Citizens Transportation Coalition is currently giddy with dreams of 90 MPH commuter trains speeding from Galveston and down 290 into the city...possibly by 2012, which sounds like the far future but is only three years away.
There hasn't been much public movement on commuter rail since the HGAC's study was released a year ago. But quietly, gears are meshing, and we may have commuter rail to Galveston and Hempstead as early as 2012.
On Thursday, the North Houston Association hosted a high-powered group: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, METRO CEO Frank Wilson, Gulf Coast Freight Rail District (GCFRD) Chairman Mark Ellis, Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation (THSRTC) chairman (and former Harris County Judge) Robert Eckels, and Union Pacific's Joe Adams. Introducing them was former Harris County Judge and State Senator Jon Lindsey, father of the Harris County Toll Road Authority. If there was ever a visual demonstration of the political will that's aligning behind commuter rail, this was it.
Oh, someone's going to get money to study the idea? Where can we buy our tickets for the grand 2012 opening?
We'd love the idea of rail into the city -- we still mourn those tracks torn up to make room for yet more Katy Freeway lanes -- but even the CTC admits there are a whole lot of questions to be answered.
One of the key ones is how Metro plays a role. They're not likely to give up any rail power without a fight, which probably means at the least that new rail lines would have to hook up with the most outlying Metro light-rail station near the line.
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But "near the line" may be a problem.
The third question is far from resolved. Each of the speakers emphasized the need to connect commuter rail to METRO's system to get riders to their final destination. But neither of the lines described in the studies actually connects to light rail. One could rely on shuttle buses to connect out-of-the-way commuter rail stations to employment centers, but that's a recipe for low ridership. Alternately, the Uptown and East End light rail lines could be extended two miles to meet commuter rail; that adds cost and still results in a fairly long ride to Downtown. Ideally, the commuter rail would get close to the major employment centers, but that will take major construction since the freight rail lines inside the loop are congested.
The words "that will take major construction" are right up there with doing a study when it comes to dampening our hopes of a 2012 launch.
So yeah, give us the over on 2012.