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— by Pat Foran, Editor
While other U.S. transit agencies in recent years have postponed, ratcheted back or deferred projects in the recession's wake, North Texas transit agencies — Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), Fort Worth Transportation Authority and Denton County Transportation Authority — and regional planners have kept on keepin' on with respect to planning passenger rail in, around and between the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, as Assistant Editor Julie Sneider reports in this month's cover story. Planners and agency execs say they have no choice but to expand the region's transportation options: Population is expected to climb 48 percent during the next two decades.
Rail isn't the only transport option North Texas planners are pursuing — if you're heading to the 2012 American Public Transportation Association Rail Conference, which will be held June 3-6 in Dallas, you'll see they're also continuing to expand the highway system.
What the transportation choice menu will look like a few years down the line is anybody's guess. As DART President Gary Thomas told Sneider: "When you have transit authorities like DART that are growing as fast as we are and still can't keep up with [the area's growth], I think the challenge for our regional leaders and visionary thinkers is to determine what is the next step."
In the meantime, the current step suggests rail's on something of a roll in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
In the first quarter, rail-car orders totaled 12,500 and assemblies totaled 16,800, resulting in a modest backlog decline of 4,400 units, according to a rail-car market report issued May 1 by Economic Planning Associates Inc. (EPA). At current production rates, car builders still have 3.6 quarters of deliveries in their backlogs, the report states.
Tank cars continued to drive demand. First-quarter orders of 6,479 tank cars brought backlogs as of March 31 to 32,843 units, more than nine quarters' worth at current production rates. "While orders for small-cube covered hoppers moderated, first-quarter assemblies of 5,134 cars and backlogs of 9,131 cars ensures a healthy level of deliveries this year while continued growth in oil and gas exploration should keep deliveries at a high level next year," EPA officials said in the report.
Meanwhile, box-car demand continues to rise as TTX Co. upgrades its aged 50- and 60-foot general service cars, and a three-year rise in manufacturing activities has prompted strong growth in mill gondolas and steel coil cars, which should translate into healthy delivery levels this year and next, the report states. Conversely, first-quarter orders for GT gondolas and hoppers were extremely weak because of reduced coal consumption by utilities, and demand for grain service cars was soft due to fewer grain haulings.
Based on first-quarter assemblies and current backlogs, EPA hasn't changed its initial estimate of 58,000 rail-car deliveries in 2012.
The American Association of Railroad Superintendents (AARS) is seeking applicants for its annual Frank J. Richter Scholarship. Through the program, AARS awards $1,000 scholarships to promising full-time undergraduate or graduate students. Co-founder of Progressive Railroading, Richter is a quintessential student of rail, as well as transportation as a whole.
AARS currently is seeking applications for the 2012-13 academic year. To be eligible for consideration, applicants must:
Applications, which must be postmarked no later than July 1, are available via the AARS website (www.railroadsuperintendents.org — see "AAR Scholarships") or via mail: AARS, P.O. Box 200, La Fox, IL 60147. Winners will be notified by Sept. 1.
For more information, call 331-643-3369.