Okay let me go ahead and provide the answers for your original questions and then I will send you an additional e-mail to answer the updated #5 and the new question, #8.
DART has completed a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and received a Record of Decision (ROD) from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for the rail project. The Cotton Belt FEIS/ROD is posted on DART’s Cotton Belt Website (www.DART.org/Cottonbelt). Please review the FEIS/ROD. Many of your question are addressed in this document.
Cotton Belt Questions
1) Why Diesel Train? Are there plans to convert to electric? Have you seen the Volkswagen scandal, I do not understand why diesel? I looked through the environmental impact and no mention? The train will go through neighborhoods. My only thought is diesel was a cheaper alternative.
The FLIRTs are driven by electric traction motors with power provided by the "Power Pack". The Power Pack is a special car located in the middle of each trainset that can contain up to 4 diesel generators which provide the electricity used to drive the train. Because of this diesel-electric design, when the Trillium Line is eventually electrified, the FLIRTs can be easily converted to fully electric trains by removing the Power Pack car and installing pantographs.
The selected vehicle is discussed in Section 2.3.2 of the FEIS/ROD. Vehicles operating in the Cotton Belt Corridor must be compliant with FRA requirements since the passenger rail will share much of the corridor with freight operations. As such, overhead catenary cannot be used as they are incompatible with freight clearances. Air Quality is discussed in Section 4.13 of the FEIS/ROD. The diesel engines will be compliant with EPA Tier 4 ultra-low emission standards.
2) Freight – I was told these trains might be used for freight. How can a potential commuter line be turned into freight? I do not want freight being shipped through my neighborhood. This is important because based off of my math below, I find it nearly impossible for ridership to support this train.
Freight operations are discussed in Section 1.3, Section 2.3.1 and Section 5.3 of the FEIS/ROD. Freight operations are depicted in Figure 2-3. Freight will continue to operate in most portions of the corridor, but the selected vehicle cannot carry freight. Additionally, On January 22, 2010, the Surface Transportation Board (STB) approved freight abandonment in the north Dallas area from Knoll Trail in Dallas to Renner Junction in Richardson. Freight cannot operate in North Dallas.
3) Hillcrest and McCallum – Will the road or train go below the other one? This is a very high traffic street and there are plenty of kids in the neighborhood.
Will the train go below the road? Makes most sense and safest because of neighborhoods.
Highway and Roadway impacts are discussed in Section 5.2 of the FEIS/ROD. At Hillcrest Road, the roadway will be depressed under the Preferred Alternative. The City of Dallas requested this configuration.
4) To me, the Cotton Belt is effectively a costly Airport train. It is not near a highway which is vital for transport improvement since most businesses are near a highway. There are only 9 stations and 10 including DFW Terminal B. Can you please explain how this is effective?
As discussed in in Section 1.4 of the FEIS/ROD. the Project’s primary purpose is to provide passenger rail connections that will improve mobility, accessibility and system linkages to major employment, population and activity centers in the northern part of the DART Service Area and support sustainable growth, local and regional land use visions, and economic development.
Ex: I live near Brentfield elementary.
Knoll Street Station – Keller Springs and tollroad. There will be NO parking. How is this station supposed to function? Is it just going to benefit the apartment complexes near there?
Addison - This would be closest but there is no new parking.
The Knoll Trail Station was located as the result of a 2006 City of Dallas Resolution. There is limited available space in the area to provide parking, so it is designed as a neighborhood walkup station. We will continue to work with the City of Dallas to identify opportunities to provide parking. The City of Dallas requested the elimination of the other City of Dallas Station (Coit Road) that provided parking. DART is working with the City of Addison on Station area plans that would include additional future parking at the Addison Station.
5) Return, Cost, Funding – Is the cost $1.135bn? 80% debt funding? This is a crazy amount of debt? I looked and the revenue from light rail (all the light rails) is about $30mm for 93 miles. This project will be 26 miles so my example is 25%. Taking $30mm * 25% = $7.5mm / $1.13bn = <1% return. Can you please explain how this project makes any economic sense? What are the current forecasts from revenue for this project, the cotton belt?
Capital financing for the Cotton Belt project is backed mostly by sales tax receipts from the 13-city service area, rather than operating revenues.
6) Do you know what changed for a project that was estimating to take a long time to being rapidly sped up?
DART was able to accelerate the Cotton Belt project in the financial plan because the economic recovery in the service area following the last recession brought sales tax receipts back to levels that make the project feasible in the more immediate timeframe. Also, financing costs have dropped precipitously, allowing the project to be financed at a relatively low interest rate.
7) Compensation – I looked through the financials and could not find management or board of director compensation. Do you know where in the financials it is provided, executive management compensation and incentive targets, just like public companies’ proxy? Does management get compensated heavily on under-writing large capital projects?
Executive compensation is not explicitly highlighted in DART financials. DART board members receive only a small stipend as compensation.
8) Some thoughts: Since 2008, passenger revenue up only $16mm. while operating expenses are up materially so in reality negative earnings (big time). Depreciable capital assets up $3.5bn. This is massively negative return on capital. This does not make any sense. Economics are not driving the business and planning.
While DART does charge fares to recoup operating costs, it is essentially a public service entity, utilizing sales tax revenues to finance capital improvements.