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Saturday | May 26, 2001 E-mail staff Metro
DART buys 70 miles of rail lines to expand options


By Tony Hartzel / The Dallas Morning News

Dallas Area Rapid Transit took the first step Tuesday toward a possible expansion of its rail network with the purchase of 70 miles of rail lines to places including Denton, Sherman and Rockwall.

The agency has no plans or financing to extend train service to those locations, but having options is paramount as the region grows, board chairman Jesse Oliver said.

"We don't know definitely that we'll use them," he said. "If we decided later to use some rail line and the railroad knows we're going that way, the price is going to be pretty high."

The purchase includes:

39.6 miles from Spring Creek Parkway in Plano north to Sherman.

19.6 miles from Frankford Road in Carrollton north to Denton.

4.2 miles from Kirby Road in Rowlett across the Lake Ray Hubbard bridges to the outskirts of Rockwall.

About 4 miles of rail spurs off the former Union Pacific main line along Interstate 35E.

About 2 miles of the former Santa Fe line near Tenison Park in East Dallas.

Two unused bridges across Interstate 30 in the downtown Dallas canyon area.

The purchase does not include a 5.5-acre parcel of land in Plano known as the Cotton Belt connector.

Union Pacific is selling all the rail lines to DART for about $560,000 per mile. That compares favorably with previous purchases about a decade ago, when DART bought 141 miles of track for an estimated $1.25 million per mile.

Those purchases also included rail lines outside of DART's 13 member cities. DART already owned lines that reached Duncanville, Fort Worth and Wylie.

"It's no coincidence these lines parallel I-35, U.S. 75 and I-30," said Lonnie Blaydes, DART's vice president for commuter rail. "Rail corridors in an urban environment are rarities. If we ever go to Rockwall, for example, do you realize how much it would cost to go across the lake on our own?"

Building a separate rail bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard would cost at least what DART has paid for the entire package of railroad tracks, Mr. Blaydes said.

DART probably will lease all the lines to the Dallas, Garland & Northeastern Railroad, which runs a short-haul freight service around North Texas, he said.

"By manipulating all these pieces in the future, we will be able to lower the cost of light-rail construction and operation," Mr. Blaydes said.

A good example of that is the American Airlines Center project. DART and arena developers haggled for months about how to run rail lines through the property. The transit agency's bargaining position was enhanced greatly by a small piece of rail line that it owned on one corner.

The two sides eventually swapped some parcels and cash.



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