Aggieland hopes to be railroaded

February 16, 2012 6:56:15 PM PST
State transportation officials have completed a feasibility study into launching passenger rail service from Austin to Houston via Bryan-College Station.

The Texas Department of Transportation says the study is a first step toward making the idea a reality. Ridership and profitability studies and funding decisions lie ahead.

The public and local governments have shown strong interest in passenger rail, said Jennifer Muczygemba, rail systems director for Department of Transportation.

The state has prioritized lines from Dallas to Houston and San Antonio. However, a Houston-Austin line could receive a high priority, and Aggieland could find a place on it.

"The main reason for the line would be Austin to Houston, but when you look at the potential ridership numbers that would come from Bryan-College Station, we needed to at least look at that," Muczygemba told The Eagle of Bryan-College Station.

Houston-area transportation planners already are considering a commuter rail link with Hempstead, 40 miles northwest of Houston. Also, Capital Metro in Austin already owns some old rails that could be hooked up to the Houston-Austin line.

Of the four options being considered, one would pass through Giddings, Bryan-College Station and Navasota before linking with a Hempstead-Houston line. That line would cost an estimated $1.2 billion to build, according to the Transportation Department study.

The other three options would:

-- Run directly from Austin to Houston, with a spur running from Brenham to Bryan-College Station, at an estimated cost of $1.26 billion.

-- Run directly from Austin to Houston, with a spur running from Bryan-College Station to Hempstead, at an estimated cost of $1.26 billion.

-- Run directly from Austin to Houston, bypassing Bryan-College Station, for an estimated cost of $972 million.

Bryan-College Station transportation planners say state officials will brief them on the plan at a meeting Thursday.

"Right now, any additional mode of transportation besides highways is a good thing to have," Bryan transportation director Dale Picha told The Eagle. "I can't say we would support it or not until we learn more, but I am anxious to hear what they have to say."

One point of disappointment is that the rail line, designed for a maximum speed of 93 mph, would not facilitate high-speed service of 200 mph and faster.

"I really don't feel like we are studying something that would be antiquated before it could be ever built," Brazos County Commissioner Kenny Mallard, vice chairman of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., told the newspaper.

However, Texas Transportation Institute researcher Curtis Morgan says conventional service would do well to remove traffic from the roads. "I don't think at this point that we can rule out any options," he told the newspaper.