Follow the Money - Local Politicians Campaign Contributors
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Flattened by freight carriers, fleeced by slick operators and dumbfounded by the audacity of the Rail Roads
The railroads and regional and Arlington city officials have been meeting, discussing plans and seeking funding to relocate the Union Pacific tracks which run through the heart of Arlington and Grand Praire. Toxic chemicals carried on those tracks pose risk to large populations, but that does not seem to be the major consideration for relocation of the tracks. There is now much community support for commuter rail. Arlington, one of the three cities in this 16 county NCTCOG region, with a population which places it in the top 50 most populous cities in the nation, combined with neighboring Grand Prairie, are the largest cities in Texas not to have mass transit. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have no transportation alternative except private automobilies which contribute to air pollution.
Failure of the region to meet EPA clean air standards by the year 2010 may lead to Federal funding sanctions. Increased gas drilling has also skewed previous air pollution forecasts even further into the negative column. Cities of Arlington and Fort Worth rushed to permit gas drilling without accounting for increased carbon dioxide emmissions from generators on gas drilling units. This is cited by the EPA as reasons for rejecting the regions Clean Air Plan.
The dialogue about relocating the Union Pacific tracks irritates me. For decades cries of concerned citizens over shipment of dangerous chemicals on freight trains through major population centers have been ignored. Now, as the freight lines want to improve their bottom lines and reap the profits from shipment of tonnage from China through Texas to Kansas City and Canada, there is a big push to get the taxpayers to underwrite relocation of rail lines. Despite how the rail roads, regional planners and groups like NASCO attempt to sell it, I doubt that protection of civilian population groups or promotion of passenger rail is prompting these inititives. The rail carriers want the tax payers to pay to upgrade rail infrastructure owned and controlled by private rail corporations.
Gee... does this seem familar? Private rail promoters acquire massive segments of American real estate to build railroads and provide passenger and freight services to the American people. Rail road promoters get rich, decided that oil and gas is more lucrative than running rail roads and hauling freight is less bothersome than providing passenger service. Passenger rail is discontinued by most carriers. Eventually public transit authorities develop passenger rail and the US government leases use of the tracks from private rail roads to provide AMTRAK passenger rail service to American citizens. Oil and gas makes land developers rich. Citizens sit for hours while freight trains have priority to the tracks over passenger trains. The energy sector gets richer and richer and citizens pay higher and higher electric, residential gas and automobile gasoline rates.
Somehow it is insulting to think that the public is being expected to pay for upgrading rail road infrastructure for freight shipments! Then comes the push to get the public sector to pay for relocating the UNION PACIFIC tracks which run between UTA and the new Cowboy Stadium in Arlington!
It makes absolutely no sense to me to relocate the Union and Pacific tracks that run through the heart of Arlington. What better location could there be for PASSENGER rail tracks? They run a few blocks north of the University of Texas at Arlington and a few block south of the new Cowboys Stadium.
Why is it that lawmakers and RTC members rush to convert highway transporation project to PRIVATE PUBLIC PARTNERSHIP while ignoring rail which has been a private partnership from its inception?
Why are public dollars tapped for improving privately owned and rail road controlled rail lines? One of the biggest obstacles to effective passenger rail in Texas (AMTRAK) has been the control of privately owned tracks. Freight carriers grant right of way to freight trains while AMTRAK passengers sit for hours, unable to estimate reasonable arrival or departure times.
BSNF, KCS (de Mexico), and Union Pacific want the benefits but do not intend to fork out the cash to maintain and improve their infrastructure. Most train derailments in the US have been attributed to the railroads refusal to properly maintain their tracks. It's time that the rail industry and elected officials (such as County Judge Glen Whitley and the RTC) face some realities. Ownership comes with responsibility. If the railroads refuse to maintain the tracks and pay for desired infrastructure upgrades, they should GIVE the tracks to the government and allow them to be coverted to passenger lines. If they want straighter routes from Mexico to Oklahoma to ship freight at better profit margins for their companies, they should pay for the right of way and construct their own straighter routes. They should not expect the citizens of Texas to underwrite their schemes to improve their bottom lines through prioritization of the TTC over more critical transportation projects designed to solve Texas's most critical transportation bottlenecks. Moving freight is a commercial enterprize. Freight haulers should pay for upgrades to commercial infrastructure.
Moving people is the governments responsiblity. If private public partnerships are called for, there is an excellent opportunity running right straight through the center of Grand Prairie and Arlington. The Union Pacific track passes within walking distance of Grand Prairie's downtown business district, Arlington's downtown business district, the University of Texas at Arlington, the Cowboy's Stadium and Glory Park. There is not enough money left in the sales tax cap (after citizens underwrote the Cowboy Stadium) for Arlington to underwrite rail as a city initiative. However, there is a great opportunity for a private partner to step up to the plate, negotiate a deal for use of existing Union Pacific tracks and provide passenger rail service to citizens of Grand Prairie and Arlington.
The rail roads should devote the effort they've expended on lobbying to change the Texas Transportation Code and changing the eminent domain law to favor exercise of eminent domain for private gain in their push for the construciton of the Trans Texas Corridor into pursuing existing opportunities to provide transportation solutions in passenger rail.
The rail roads (and regional transportation planner) have focused on getting the laws changed so that the public underwrites improvements to privately owned rail infrastructure. It is time Union Pacific, KCS, BSNF and other rail conglomerates step up to the plate and carry more of the civic repsonsiblity. Hey, maybe Mr. Jones might underwrite some of the expense. After all, passenger rail in Arlington located near his stadium would be a definite plus for transporting fams to all games -- not just a one time trip to the Super Bowl.
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A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have. - Thomas Jefferson