The company that already provides passenger rail cars for the A-train in Denton County and a commuter line in the Austin area is Stadler Rail Group of Switzerland - a firm that should have the inside track to providing cars for the proposed TEX Rail/Cotton Belt line. But does it? Check out this story I wrote last weekend about prospective rail car manufacturers.
North Texas transit agencies are playing a huge role in redefining federal rules regarding passenger train safety on commuter lines. Agencies such as the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Denton County Transportation Authority for years have pushed for new federal rules allowing self-propelled cars that look like light-rail cars to operate on freight lines.
In October 2011, the Federal Railroad Administration approved a set of technical criteria for manufacturers to use in building rail cars that look like light-rail vehicles but can withstand a crash on a freight line. For those who wish to read the FRA's guidelines, here's a copy for you to peruse. There's a lot of good information about energy absorption, with an emphasis on keeping the occupants of a rail car safe during a crash as the metal and plastic around them disintegrates.
On May 31, 2012, the Denton County Transportation Authority was granted a waiver to operate Stadler GTW cars on its 21-mile line from Denton to Carrollton. Stadler was the first - and remains the only - company to build a vehicle that meets the new federal criteria for operating on freight lines while still offering passengers the comforts of a streetcar or light-rail line. To read a copy of the letter announcing the waiver, click here.
Here's how the Stadler GTW cars are built, and how they function, in Stadler's own words.
All that said, it doesn't necessarily mean that Stadler will be the vehicle provider when the Cotton Belt line is finally built. The North Central Texas Council of Governments is about to receive an unsolicited proposal by unnamed developers to build the rail line, and those developers could choose from among a handful of manufacturers who have the ability to deliver the cars.
But that unsolicited proposal will trigger a competitive process, giving Stadler or other manufacturers another chance to compete for the Cotton Belt project.
For more information about the Cotton Belt project, watch for a story in the Sunday Star-Telegram.