The announcement last month that the proposed short-line railroad from Port Freeport to Kendleton in Fort Bend County would not move forward was called a Christmas present by one of its opponents. Much like some items found under the tree, however, there is a chance it will be returned.
That’s because as poorly communicated some of the ideas for this particular project were, which contributed to its failure to gain public support, the need for improved infrastructure is not going to go away just because of one ill-conceived plan.
And when talk of a rail line from Freeport to the rail yard off Highway 59 inevitably resurfaces, it is unlikely any of the initial complaints will have been resolved.
Where the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District failed most was transparency. People whose land would be needed for the line didn’t learn they were in the way until they read about it in The Facts. Since they didn’t live in either of the two counties putting the plans together, keeping residents of Matagorda and Wharton counties in the loop proved to be an afterthought.
That doesn’t mean people in the member counties were jumping on board. Issues of potential noise, damaged property values and noise affecting quality of life were among common concerns. Questions about the sloppy handling of information by rail district leaders continued to undercut any faith the public might have had.
All of which contributed to derailing a project that, handled properly, could provide an effective, palatable way to move cargo from the port to the rail hub. It is an idea with enough merit as to find it feasible its demise is only temporary.
The logic of it is too substantial to ignore.
Port Freeport will continue to expand in the years to come, importing more cargo that will need to be sent to other places in Texas for distribution throughout the country. With Highway 36 still predominantly two lanes and heavy congestion for traffic trying to pass through Houston and its outlying areas, moving all of that cargo by truck is inefficient and expensive. Loading it on rail cars straight off the ship makes much more sense.
Looking at the maps, it’s also pretty clear what general area a short-line railroad would have to occupy. The shortest distance always will be a straight line, and running rail parallel to Highway 36 is about as straight of a line as people will find from Freeport to Kendleton.
That leaves the main problem being how to convince people that having a train rumbling nearby is safer and less inconvenient than following caravans of 18-wheelers through Brazoria, West Columbia, Damon, Neeville and other small towns.
Opponents of the Brazoria-Fort Bend Rail District deserve to celebrate their victory, but they should do so with the understanding the war likely is not over. District board members effectively said the final chapter has yet to be written.
“This thing needs to be put to bed and at some point in the future revisited,” board member Gary Basinger.
If supporters of the rail line want a different outcome in the next battle, they will need to more effectively communicate their plans and the merits of such a project.