Rail is all the rage around Texas these days. Light rail, commuter rail, high-speed rail. Rail, rail, rail, that seems to be all we hear these days. Soon to be former state Rep. Mike Krusee even wrote an Op-Ed recently praising Houston’s aggressiveness on rail and bashing Austin’s passivity.
“We’re going to be the most aggressive builder of light rail lines of any community in the United States for the next three years.”
â€” Houston Mayor Bill White
Austin is among the most passive.
While Krusee makes three interesting points on rail in Austin – A downtown circulator, Use existing rail lines to connect more suburbs, and Get to the airport. Here’s the part to look out for.
But gas prices have changed things. We no longer have the luxury of time. The prospect of $5 or $6 gas has created a consensus in Austin that is begging for leadership on transit. The need for alternatives is so great that even a limited plan is better than none at all.
Austin and the state have been begging for leadership on this issue for a while, that’s true, and why Krusee will no longer be in the legislature. But beyond that there is no consensus in Austin, and this sounds awfully close to saying any plan is better than no plan at all. Which isn’t what’s needed.
Going back to Houston, their current discussion is similar to what’s going on in most big cities.Â But some there understand, and are cautioning, that while speed is of the essence, even more important is how useful the actual implementation turns out to be. Commuter rail: fast but right, (link via Kuff):
The sooner trains are running, the sooner we begin to see benefits. But there are pitfalls as well. The most dangerous of these is political. If a quick commuter rail implementation is ineffective â€” if it results in long, inconvenient trips, if it carries low ridership â€“ it might cause riders and voters to give up on commuter rail altogether. So while itâ€™s nice to be quick, itâ€™s equally important to be good. Whatever the first line is, it must be effective.
The future of rail in any city depends on it’s first implementation(s), and how effective they are perceived to be by the voters. If the projects are duds, then it doesn’t matter how fast they’re implemented they’ll doom rail in that city.Â With Austin’s already checkered past on rail, this is of great importance.
But it’s not just in and around cities where rail is being discussed.Â It’s also being discussed for connecting cities all over Texas. Pct. 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman is in on the planning of a commuter rail line that would go between Georgetown and San Antonio. Also the project by the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation (THSRTC) named the Texas T-Bone Corridor, High speed rail plan put to sniff test.
The rail corporation is proposing that two high speed rail lines be built: one from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to San Antonio and the other from Houston to Fort Hood. The lines would cross in the Temple area.
The term “corridor” has significant baggage these days and up in Bell County they’re not so sure, despite the apparent support the corridor has of many elected officials, including Congressman John Cater.
Eddy Lange, commissioner in Precinct 3, spoke with the most passion against high speed rail.
â€œThe timing could not be worse coming right off the tail of the Trans-Texas Corridor,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m open (to new ideas) but right now Iâ€™m not coming out in support of this. It would be political suicide for any of us.â€
Lange said he felt sure his constituents in eastern Bell County would be against selling their land so that rail infrastructure could be built. He said his constituents would even be against an above ground rail that would help preserve farmland.
In its promotional materials the rail corporation identifies more than 20 congressional and legislative supporters – including U.S. Rep. John Carter – but it is unclear the level of support of these state and national leaders.
Some have written letters supporting the concept of high speed rail, encouraging the rail corporation to combine private and public resources to see if it has potential to benefit Texas. Others believe high speed rail is coming and want it in their state or district first.
Sounds familiar. What’s important in all of this is that the implementation of rail is something people will actually use. Not something done willy-nilly. Not something that will bring in money to a politicians district in the short term, but become an albatross around taxpayers necks in the long-term. It’s more important it gets done right, than fast.