US Surface Transportation Board Chairman Charles D. “Chip” Nottingham met with Mayor Bill White at the Port of Houston Authority to take a helicopter tour of the region’s rail network. Later, Nottingham engaged in a discussion at the PHA’s Executive Office Building with Mayor White, Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia, Houston City Council Member Carol Alvarado, PHA Chairman James T. Edmonds, PHA Executive Director Tom Kornegay, members of the Gulf Coast Freight Rail District, and community and local transportation industry leaders about freight rail and other mobility issues that impact the Houston metropolitan area.

The Surface Transportation Board (STB) has jurisdiction over railroad rate and service issues and rail restructuring transactions and other transportation issues.

In his introduction, Mayor White explained the urgency of the matter and the reason for Nottingham’s visit to Houston.

“There are always tragedies when trains are parked across streets,” White said. “The city and county don’t have the authority to address this issue. We wanted to look to Chairman Nottingham to see what to do to impress the rail transportation system to do its part. Why now? It’s an issue of respect to the people in neighborhoods affected by rail. No neighborhood is more important than another.”

Nottingham said the challenge was enormous, but the solution lies in teamwork.

“Houston is at the epicenter of global commerce,” he said. “Few cities in this nation have the same issues of rail and transportation. On our tour today, for example, we saw a train that had stopped four lanes of traffic, with commuters and a city bus making U-turns around it. That is a thing you hate to see from the fourth largest city in the country.

It’s a giant challenge for Houston. But any tough problem can be solved by a team approach.”

Studies sponsored by Harris County, the City of Houston and the port identified more than 750 public at-grade crossings in Harris County and over 1,200 public at-grade crossings in the eight-county region. The crossings in Harris County are estimated to cause more than 30,000 vehicle hours of delays per day, which significantly affect the region’s air quality. In addition, the blocked crossings have generated safety concerns for children climbing onto trains to cross a blocked intersection in order to get to school.

During the 79th session of the Texas Legislature, House Bill 2958 passed allowing Harris County, the City of Houston and other surrounding counties to form a Freight Rail District. The district will have multiple benefits to the region including reduced roadway congestion; reduced idling at crossings and its associated air emissions; reduced vehicle - train interaction, improving safety; reduced instances of children crossing rail lines to get to their destinations; and improved movement of freight trains through the Houston area, creating greater economic development. (PRIME NEWSWIRE)