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The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) late last week signed key environmental documents for privately funded, high-speed passenger-rail projects in Florida and Texas. The agency on Dec. 15 issued a record of decision for Brightline's second phase, which will run from West Palm Beach to Orlando, Florida. The decision marks the final federal environmental approval needed to build that segment of the system, Brightline officials said in a press release. "This is the most critical and final step in the extension of Brightline's service to Orlando, and we are excited to move forward with Phase 2," said Brightline Chief Executive Officer Dave Howard.In the record of decision, the FRA formally selected a preferred alignment, which includes a new rail corridor extending north through Orlando International Airport to Florida State Route 528. The route will use existing Florida East Coast Railway right of way from Cocoa to West Palm Beach.The project is now "moving full speed ahead," Brightline officials added. Over the next few months, the company will finalize the design for the rail infrastructure and a 70-acre vehicle maintenance facility located on Orlando International Airport property. Brightline soon will announce the launch date for the start of introductory service between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. By early 2018, the company expects to become fully operational and extend service into downtown Miami.Meanwhile, the FRA issued a draft environmental impact statement for Texas Central Railway's plan to build a bullet-train line between Houston and Dallas. Completed after nearly four years of work, the FRA's analysis provides a path for the project's planning, design and pre-construction phases."Thousands of hours have been spent to ensure the Texas bullet train will be constructed and operated in a way that gives Texans a choice for the safest mode of transportation in the world," said Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar in a statement. "This process ensures issues identified are addressed in the best way possible for communities and the environment. We will respectfully follow this public consultation process to ensure legitimate concerns from all stakeholders are addressed."The environmental statement also outlines a preferred route, which mostly follows transmission lines in a utility corridor between Houston and North Texas. The route would include passenger terminal sites in Dallas and Houston, with only one midway stop in Grimes County.The report also notes that Texas Central's new high-speed rail line could result in ridership increases for local transit services in Dallas and Harris counties."Safe, accessible and efficient regional rail systems are an important component in the transportation networks of many areas," U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in a press release announcing the approvals for both projects. "As proposed, these rail projects would increase travel options and promote economic growth in their regions of the country."
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