The Gulf Coast Rail District (GCRD) is leading local efforts to plan and develop a regional commuter rail system. Many of the region's highways and toll roads are reaching capacity. Commuter rail is a reliable travel mode with greater carrying capacity than additional highway lanes. In some corridors, commuter rail can be less intrusive and more economical than additional highway lanes.
Previous work to define a regional commuter rail system focused on use of the existing freight rail tracks. However, in light of the region's strong growth, the Class I railroads indicated that the freight rail network will not have adequate capacity to include passenger trains. With the assistance of regional planners/engineers and technical analysis by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), GCRD concluded that new passenger rail infrastructure on new right-of-way (ROW) will be required.
GCRD is pursuing a two-pronged approach to identification of commuter rail corridors.
- Initially, GCRD has assessed right-of-way availability adjacent to freight rail lines and within abandoned freight rail corridors that extend into Fort Bend County and Waller County. Previous work identified potential ridership in these corridors. Based on the freight rail corridors, these routes are relatively well-defined.
- US 290/Hempstead Highway (UPRR Eureka Subdivision)
- Westpark (former SPRR Bellaire Subdivision)
- US 90A (UPRR Glidden Subdivision)
- Separately, GCRD is trying to identify routes for passenger trains to access the existing Amtrak station in downtown Houston. Dense development and existing freight rail operations near the central business district are significant challenges to be addressed. Compared to the long-distance routes, the downtown routes are very conceptual.
GCRD is encouraged by the interest shown in the possible route along IH-10 which provides a connection to the METRO Northwest Transit Center and also minimizes impacts on residential properties. Additional analysis will be required to identify the optimal route.
Hempstead Commuter Rail
The Gulf Coast Rail District has undertaken the Conceptual Engineering Study for Hempstead Corridor Commuter Rail to determine the feasibility of operating commuter trains along the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) Eureka Subdivision. The 44 mile corridor runs parallel to US 290 through northwest Harris County to the City of Hempstead in Waller County.
Commuter rail in the Hempstead corridor has been contemplated for several years. According to the 2008 H-GAC Regional Commuter Rail Connectivity Study, the high level of commuter demand and low level of freight rail operations in the corridor make it a prime candidate for commuter rail operations.
The GCRD study, funded under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA), will provide data regarding potential ridership, station locations, connectivity to local transit and essential capital improvements. With the addition of data from UPRR regarding potential impacts on existing freight rail operations that may require mitigation and costs associated with use of the track, the Gulf Coast Rail District will have defined the requirements for commuter rail in the Hempstead corridor.
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