WEST COLUMBIA — The Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District will work with the relevant agencies to “slow down, stop and pause the effort that we’ve been working on for a railroad,” Director Earl Shipp said Friday.
The potential short-line railroad from Freeport to Kendleton in Fort Bend County is not going to be a “bankable solution” to transport the significant amount of cargo and freight going in and out of Port Freeport, Shipp said.
The decision follows a meeting Thursday between the district’s engineering committee, HDR Engineering and the three sponsoring agencies, Brazoria County, Fort Bend County and Port Freeport, Shipp said.
That meeting is when the rail district board first saw a complete enough product — referring to HDR’s feasibility study — to make a determination, he said.
“I think what you just heard is we’re deciding to kill the project,” said Quartus Graves, a rail district director from Fort Bend County.
The district’s focus will shift to memorializing the effort to remember what has been learned, Shipp said. The district might disband altogether, but that has yet to be decided, he said.
Before the announcement, 10 attendees, including elected officials, from Wharton, Matagorda, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties spoke out against the potential project, citing concerns regarding the environment, drainage, business sense and lack of communication.
One resident called the announcement the rail project won’t move forward an early Christmas present.
Residents especially felt uninformed in Matagorda and Wharton counties, resident Louis Peter said at the meeting. He first learned the railroad could potentially go through those counties when The Facts reported on potential segments in October.
“It’s destroyed trust with these counties that you’ll never regain,” Peter said to the board.
Fort Bend County officials initiated the effort after a study in 2014, Port CEO Phyllis Saathoff said, adding they were invited to sponsor and appoint directors to the board.
The purpose of the district was to discover whether a short-line rail was feasible, Saathoff said. The board undertook that task and the port respects what they’ve done, she said.
Growth will continue in the region as officials want to see it develop, grow, create jobs and spur economic opportunity, she said. The rail line was one opportunity to be explored to manage that growth, but those at the port “certainly respect the verdict,” Saathoff said.
She also appreciates the public engagement, which is vital in making decisions like this, Saathoff said.
The port has gotten “all the blame” for this project, but that is misplaced, district board member Gary Basinger said.
“This thing needs to be put to bed and at some point in the future revisited,” Basinger said.
It will likely take another month to work with HDR, Texas Department of Transportation and other sponsors to close out contracts and satisfy state conditions, Shipp said.