COLLEYVILLE -- Heavy diesel freight traffic could dramatically increase on the old Cotton Belt line in Northeast Tarrant County, say opponents of a proposed commuter rail line from southwest Fort Worth to Grapevine.
"It turns a line that has been used for the nostalgic Tarantula train into a high-speed freight corridor," said Chris Whitaker, a Colleyville resident who on Tuesday presented to city officials a petition with 693 signatures opposing the commuter rail line.
The grass-roots group, which began gathering signatures just months ago, is asking Colleyville's leadership to rescind its February vote of support for a regional rail system. Instead, the group of residents who mostly live near the railroad tracks is asking for an in-depth study of a less impactful passenger rail service.
The proposed rail service, which would connect rail traffic from Fort Worth to the north end of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, is undergoing federal environmental review. But officials at the Fort Worth Transportation Authority haven't seriously explored options such as using electrical rail instead of diesel locomotives, and depressing the tracks into a trench to avoid at-grade crossings with roads, Whitaker said.
But most importantly, he said, the track improvements that would have to be made to accommodate full-fledged commuter rail service would also clear the way for a dramatic increase in freight traffic, he said. That's bad in the thriving suburbs, he said, where property values are among the highest in Dallas-Fort Worth.
The tracks are owned by Dallas Area Rapid Transit -- the T's development partner -- and mostly are used by the Fort Worth & Western, a locally owned freight railroad that runs only small trains through the corridor a few times per day -- mostly at night, actually. Traffic is limited to 25 mph because of aging track conditions.
But track improvements would enhance freight service to 79 mph northbound and 59 mph soundbound, according to Whitaker's understanding of a draft environmental impact statement.
At the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, executive director Dick Ruddell declined to comment on the Colleyville petition, saying it was a municipal issue. But Ruddell did say he doubted that freight traffic would increase much, even if the tracks were improved, because the Cotton Belt line no longer provides a desirable freight connection for the nation's railroads.
But even if freight service increased, Ruddell said, "It'd probably be quieter and get through town faster. And that would be good, right?"
In Colleyville, City Council members approved the regional rail concept in February. The plan calls for development of 10 or more rail lines connecting cities across North Texas by 2030 -- and it includes provisions for counties that don't want to focus on rail to instead use a menu of new taxes and fees for road work.
"It's a lot more than just a commuter rail line," city spokeswoman Mona Gandy said.
-- Gordon Dickson