Local leaders get behind commuter rail

June 10, 2008 4:21:21 PM PDT
Commuters in the city have METRO's rail lines to help avoid the rising price of gas. And it may only be a matter of time before people outside the city limits have their own trains to get where they need to go. On Tuesday, some of Harris County's top leaders pledged their support for an idea which has been in the works for some time. It's meant to help commuters who live outside of the city get connected to the light rail and city bus routes. The first phase of the project would stretch from northwest Harris County all the way to Galveston.

And with the national average of gasoline more than $4 per gallon, those of you who have the longest commutes are taking this plan a lot more seriously.

At the Northwest Transit Center, Danny Benevides waits patiently for the public transit system to take him where he needs to go.

"It's slow sometimes, but it works," he said.

For now, he relies on the city's vast network of buses and one light rail line to get from place to place. But in a few years, people who need to head to Houston suburbs may get commuter rail. Union Pacific says it's open to the idea.

"The concept is to improve a couple of routes that are more lightly used for freight traffic, to be able to accommodate passenger operations during daylight hours," said Joseph Adams with Union Pacific.

If all goes according to plan, commuter rail would take suburban residents to transit hubs where they can get up and get on a bus or light rail to get into town.

At Tuesday's Houston-Galveston Area Council meeting, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett announced he'll spearhead the commuter rail effort, but says it's still a long process.

"The hardest piece is going to be deciding who's actually going to fund the operation and who's going to operate it," said Judge Emmett. "And until we decide that, we can't really give you a timeline."

And until then, Benevides will still have to rely on buses, light rail or just walking where he needs to go.

"Light rail works fine, so maybe the commuter rail will work fine, too," he told us.

The first two routes local leaders are looking at are the 290 route and the I-45 south route. That's because the existing Union Pacific lines would need the least amount of modification. But all of this is still a long way off.

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