Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Carona's rail bill allocates scarce funds to an effort that is unworkable--at least in the Austin area

The Houston Chronicle editorializes in favor of pouring scarce resources into the empty Rail Relocation Fund.

SB 383 filed by Sen. Carona, Dallas Republican, would take $200 million a year from the state sales tax on vehicle sales and rentals and put it into the Rail Relocation Fund. The bill was referred to the Finance Committee yesterday.

Companion bill HB 564 by Rep. McClendon was referred to Ways and Means today.

The Chronicle advocates using the funding in the Houston area to relocate freight rail out of neighborhoods and reduce at-grade crossings. This might make sense for Houston. Where the argument falls apart is where the editorial wants to "free up existing trackage for eventual use as commuter rail. The public funding would be accompanied by enhanced investment by the industry."

This argument has already been rejected out of hand by Union Pacific in the Austin area. UP has said it is satisfied with its existing routes and has no desire or need to move. Also, UP has said that if it is to even consider such relocation, it would put NO money into it. UP requires that public funding completely cover all costs of relocation, including a fully completed new route. In addition, UP has said that it will refuse this alternative if it in any way hurts its service to its customers. I assume that includes the many rock quarries that are convenient to UP's current route that parallels IH-35.

The Chronicle does admit that there may not be the budget for moving freight rail, but it hopes that some money can be found--from existing taxes that are already needed for highway funding. The railroads will not fund it, and the citizens of Texas don't have the money for such a huge undertaking.

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