Amtrak has shut down its Texas Eagle train service between Fort Worth and San Antonio for two months and is using buses to ferry passengers through Central Texas because of massive construction at the Tower 55 railroad intersection near downtown Fort Worth.
"I think everyone knew this was coming. The problem is that Fort Worth's Tower 55 is at the center of the railroad universe," said Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates, a group that follows passenger rail trends closely. "It's going to be a long, hot summer for passengers transiting through Fort Worth. Let's hope there are orderly plans in place to minimize the inconvenience."
Some freight shipments for Fort Worth-based BNSF Railway and Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Railroad also are being diverted around the huge railroad interchange, which lies in the shadow of the Interstate 35W/I-30 "Mixmaster"on downtown's southeastern edge.
Tower 55, one of the most congested rail intersections in the western United States, is the point where north-south and east-west tracks owned by BNSF and UP intermingle. The area is being revamped with a $100-million-plus makeover paid for by the railroads, along with state, federal and local funds. The project, which includes the addition of a third north-south rail line through downtown Fort Worth, has been years in the making and is scheduled to be completed in September.
The project is considered vital for public safety because in some neighborhoods along the tracks — including the area near Nash Elementary School north of downtown — children have been known to climb under and over rail cars to get to school. Trains often block residential or industrial streets for long periods.
Amtrak is scheduled to resume normal rail service Sept. 4, according to information on the its website. The Texas Eagle offers daily service from Chicago to San Antonio, connecting through Fort Worth.
During most of the construction period, Amtrak will use the Trinity Railway Express commuter line cutting through Irving and Northeast Tarrant County — a route that allows Amtrak to avoid Tower 55. Once the train gets to Fort Worth, passengers will be unloaded and get on long-distance buses for the rest of the trip, including stops in Cleburne, McGregor, Temple, Austin, San Marcos and San Antonio.
There will be one exception, Sunday, when the TRE line will be closed for maintenance. On that date, Amtrak will stop in Dallas and passengers will be taken by bus from there to Fort Worth, as well as the other Texas Eagle cities on the route to San Antonio, Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari said.
About a third of the Tower 55 traffic — more than 100 trains per day at times — belongs to BNSF. The company will continue running some of its trains through Tower 55 during the heavy construction period but will also reroute some trains to other tracks in North Texas, spokesman Joe Faust said.
Union Pacific controls the dispatch of trains through Tower 55.
The options for rerouting trains are limited because railroads abandoned many branch and secondary lines in the mid- to late 20th century, when the industry was in decline, LeCody said.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson
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