East End Rail Route Back on Track

After a weekend meeting of the minds, it appears Metro's plan to connect its planned East End light rail line with a key transit center is back on track. Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

The plan had been stalled because Metro and Union Pacific couldn't agree to share the track crossing Harrisburg just a few blocks west of the Magnolia Transit Center. After a meeting on Friday brokered by Houston City Councilman James Rodriguez, the plan to extend the route is back. An expensive grade separation, with light rail going either over or under the freight rails, is now the likely end result.

"This whole Metro Solutions works if you're able to connect to a major transit center, so going to the Magnolia Transit Center is key for the mobility in the area. We were able to get together and stress that the city does have some funds to commit to this. We'd like Metro to commit some funding and also the Freight Rail District. The Freight Rail District agreed to take the lead in organizing all the governmental agencies."

Mark Ellis is chairman of the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District and says a grade separation could cost upwards of $20 million.

"It's my understanding that Metro is committed to 25-percent of the cost of the grade separation at Harrisburg. The Mayor has committed to 50-percent. I suspect that UP will step-up and do their 5-percent. We still have a little bit of a gap, but we're trying to work with just about everybody in the region, Harris County, the Port, the railroads, the city and Metro to see if we can't find the funding."

Without the grade separation, the East End line would have dropped-off passengers six blocks from the Magnolia Transit Center. It was a proposition that didn't sound good to residents in the area and others who planned to use the line. Mayor Bill White says the latest progress is a good sign.

"This is all good news. There was a little bit of a hiccup, a hold-up, having to do with crossing Harrisburg at the same level as street, but we're going to take care of that with a new capital expenditure."

Metro's Sandra Aponte Salazar says it's too early for Metro to talk about specific costs, but does say the progress is encouraging.

"Metro is committed to taking this light rail line to the Magnolia Transit Center and we've said it's not a question of if, but when. It's good to see this cooperation, absolutely."

Metro wants to eventually extend the East End light rail line to Gulfgate Center and beyond.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...