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Wanted: firms to build Fort Worth-Dallas high speed rail

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North Texas leaders are touting the region’s corporate, recreational and economic appeal in persuading passenger rail operators to build a high-speed rail line between Fort Worth and Dallas.

“You’re dealing with a big area of the United States and Texas is on fire right now,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, referring to the state’s economic strength and population growth.

Price and other elected officials shared their perspective at a June 20 meeting held to garner interest among the world’s top rail operators. Representatives from Chinese and French firms attended the meeting at North Central Texas Council of Governments offices in Arlington to learn the latest on proposed routes, rider demand and whether building in Texas is worth it. To hear Price and others tell it, it most definitely is.

“It is a game changer,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, borrowing what’s become one of Price’s top catch phrases. The project would feature rail stations in Fort Worth, Dallas and Arlington and connect to a Dallas-Houston rail line.

The Dallas-Houston project, spearheaded by Texas Central Partners, would be privately funded. Funding for the Metroplex rail plan has yet to be determined, as officials are only beginning to request proposals from firms such as SNCF of France and China Railway Corp., both of which had representatives at the meeting.

Prospective builders must submit proposals by Aug. 31.

The plan has drawn attention in recent months as the Commission on High-Speed Rail: Dallas/Fort Worth and other supporters have held several meetings on the issue. The commission gathers and shares data with statewide transportation partners and community leaders.

One of its meetings brought Price to Washington, D.C., in late 2015 for a chat with Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

“It was a lengthy meeting focused on the DFW high-speed rail project. There was a tremendous amount of interest,” said Bill Meadows, chairman of the Dallas-Fort Worth commission.

Despite Foxx’s interest in the project, Meadows emphasized its local focus. And the system would follow a public-private funding framework, Meadows said.

While no public opposition has surfaced regarding the Dallas-Fort Worth rail line, several property owners along the potential route between Dallas and Houston have cited noise and safety concerns.

North Texas leaders have cited rail as good news as freeways become more congested and the local population surges. By 2035, Tarrant County is expected to gain about a million new residents. That’s a 50 percent surge, according to information from the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.

“We really feel like we will never pour enough concrete to accommodate the growth we’re having,” Price said. “We already struggle with air quality and we believe high-speed rail can go a long way to helping us with that.”

But any relief will cost – and cost big, Price, Williams and others have acknowledged. For that reason, high-speed rail connecting downtown Fort Worth, downtown Dallas and Arlington’s entertainment district likely would be funded through private and public dollars.

Rail is especially needed as airlines reduce domestic flights while pursuing international travel, Williams said.

“Airlines are flying fewer flights and yet our communities are growing,” Williams said.

A Tarrant-Dallas county rail route has not been decided, but a possible path would run from a proposed new station along Interstate 30 near downtown Dallas along the existing Trinity Railway Express route to near the CentrePort Station south of Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.

Service also would reach south, possibly along Texas 360 to Arlington’s entertainment district straddling Interstate 30 and then west to downtown Fort Worth.

After project proposals are reviewed, a preferred route is expected to be selected in late 2016 after a public hearing.

“Hopefully in the later part of 2017, our record of decision [will be confirmed], allowing us to proceed with construction,” Meadows said.

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