Friday, August 15, 2014

Harris County MTA eyes UP right-of-way

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Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Tex, (Houston's METRO) has filed a motion with the Surface Transportation Board to formally acquire nearly 58 miles of right-of-way from Union Pacific Railroad .

STB Docket No. FD 35846, published Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, notes METRO is making the move "to acquire from Union Pacific Railroad Company (UP) the right to restore rail service over a rail-banked right-of-way between milepost 3.48 near Bellaire Junction in Houston to milepost 61.2 near Eagle Lake, a distance of 57.72 miles, in Harris, Fort Bend, Austin, Wharton, and Colorado Counties, Tex."

A METRO spokesperson on Friday, Aug. 15, told Railway Age "that METRO is not buying this property. This is related to a sale to Fort Bend County of all rights in the corridor from the county line with Fort Bend out to Eagle Lake."
  

METRO, based in Houston, currently operates light rail transit and bus services primarily within Harris County, but has been exploring regional passenger rail ("commuter") options for the past few years.

With STB approval granted in August 2000, UP "was authorized to abandon the line," STB noted. But, STB added, "Subsequent to that filing, UP and METRO reached an agreement for rail banking of that segment of the line. The agreement was accompanied by a deed without warranty, pursuant to which UP conveyed the railroad easement, together with all of UP's other rights, title, and interests in the right-of-way to METRO, subject to certain conditions and exceptions."

A follow-up pact between METRO and UP to railbank the route for future use "was likewise accompanied by a deed without warranty, pursuant to which UP conveyed the railroad easement, together with all of UP's rights, title, and interests in the right-of-way to METRO, subject to certain conditions and exceptions," STB said,

"Thus, METRO is the interim trail user and obtained from UP its consent to seek Board approval to acquire the rights to restore rail service over both segments of the line. METRO explains that it did not know, at the time, that Board authorization was necessary for it to acquire the right to restore rail service. METRO now, after the fact, invokes the Board's authorization for that acquisition through a notice of exemption," STB said.

Though STB cautioned that, per earlier cases, "the right to reactivate a rail-banked line is not an exclusive right," it does note that "here, the notice indicates that UP did not wish to retain rights related to the line because, by a deed without warranty, UP conveyed to METRO both the right-of-way itself and the right to restore service over the right-of-way. The transaction is expected to be consummated on or after August 28, 2014 (30 days after the exemption was filed)."