Here’s a look at how commuter rail along 290 might work.
Commuter trains from Hempstead to Houston could start running by 2019 if the Gulf Coast Rail District can secure $300 million and if Union Pacific Railroad lets passenger cars use its track along Hempstead Highway.
It would be the Houston area’s first commuter rail service between cities in at least 50 years and would help ease severe traffic congestion on U.S. 290, a major route for rapidly growing northwest Harris County.
At the outset, the service would operate only between Hempstead and Loop 610 near Northwest Mall. From there, express buses would carry passengers to four employment centers – downtown, the Texas Medical Center, Greenway Plaza and the Galleria/Uptown area.
To succeed, however, the project must extend the track from the loop into downtown, according to a report on a year-long study by Klotz Associates and TranSystems. Commissioned by the rail district, the report was presented Tuesday to the board.
The study was commissioned last March. All of the documents related to the Hempstead rail project can be found here. The initial presentation was made last November. The report that was given to the GCRD this week is here. Of interest is that one of its operating assumptions is that the METRO Solutions Phase II plan has been “Fully Implemented” by the projected start date of 2019. It’s not clear to me if this includes the Uptown Line, which would conveniently have an endpoint at or near the Northwest Mall, which is given as one of the possible terminal locations for the Hempstead line. There is a slide with the title “Interim Terminal Bus Needs (Peak)”, which says two buses to the Galleria/Uptown area would be needed, so presumably at least at the outset the Uptown Line is not assumed to be in the mix.
I would think that having the Uptown Line running would have a positive effect on ridership projections – who wants to get stuck in traffic on a bus after getting off a commuter train? – but the study doesn’t explicitly mention that. What it does discuss is continuing the line into downtown, which would have a huge effect:
By 2035, the time reference used in the Houston-Galveston Area Council’s, regional transportation plan, the commuter service would see about 6,000 daily boardings without an extension to downtown.
If the track is extended, ridership is expected to jump to as many as 22,578 daily boardings by 2035.
I will note that the Super Neighborhood 22 comprehensive transportation plan explicitly discusses a commuter rail connection from Northwest Mall into downtown, so there is a basis for planning that extension. I’m sure the SN22 folks will be happy to talk to the GCRD about how this can be made to happen, with maybe a few of their other ideas thrown in for good measure.