DART, The T want to partner with private companies to fund Cotton Belt Rail Line
06:24 PM CDT on Friday, May 22, 2009
DART and Fort Worth’s The T want to partner with private companies to build a 68-mile passenger rail line that would stretch from Fort Worth to the airport to Addison to Plano and onto Richardson, with service beginning as soon as 2013.
The unusual partnership with private firms would speed up the long-planned project known as the Cotton Belt Rail Line. DART has planned to build portions of the Cotton Belt for years, but its current financial plans allocate no money to do so until 2027. Agency officials said Friday that private firms’ involvement could speed construction by 15 years or more, and that some services on the new line could open within four years.
“This is new territory for us and for a lot of people,” Lyons said. “So we wanted to send this request out to see who is interested.”
Public-private partnerships have become more common in Texas in recent years, as Gov. Rick Perry has pushed their involvement as a way to fast-track the building of toll roads throughout the state. Private companies are set to rebuild LBJ Freeway and the Southwest Parkway in Fort Worth, for instance.
But that approach has only rarely been used for other types of major transportation infrastructure — and all but non-existent among American transit agencies. A proposal to privatize Midway Airport in Chicago fizzled earlier this year, and their use in passenger rail lines has been extremely rare within the United States.
Still, DART has been studying the approach for more than a year, and is using a watered-down version of public-private partnership to hasten the completion of the Orange Line to Irving. That approach, called a design-build agreement, allows a private company to bid on both the design and construction phases of a contract at once, with the result that the project can be completed more quickly but with less oversight by the public entity.
But what the agencies have in mind for the Cotton Belt is far more aggressive, and would involve private firms investing in, and operating at least for a time, rail lines in a way that remains extraordinarily rare in this country. That’s partly because unlike toll roads, rail lines aren’t profitable without enormous public subsidies.
In general, DART is hoping that a private form will agree to build and operate the rail line between now and 2027, when DART and The T would have their own money to take over both capital and operations cost. One idea for how to compensate the private companies — in addition to given them fare revenue — is to share with them some of the property tax revenue generated by the new development expected along the line.
An open-house on the project has been scheduled for June 12 at 9 a.m. at DART’s Union Station in Dallas.
The three segments of the rail line include:
• Segment 1: This line extends from the airport to downtown Carrollton, moving east from Carrollton to connect with DART's Red Line Bush Turnpike Station. It would connect with the DART Green Line and perhaps the proposed Denton rail line. This line would serve DART member cities Farmers Branch, Addison, Dallas, Richardson and Plano, according to DART.
• Segment 2: This begins at Sycamore School Road southwest of Fort Worth, and would continue along the Fort Worth & Western Railroad corridor toward downtown Fort Worth, DART said. It would connect with the TRE commuter rail line service at the T&P Station.
• Segment 3: This would extend north from downtown Fort Worth’s ITC Station, and include stations in Haltom City, North Richland Hills, Colleyville, Grapevine and the D/FW International Airport.