Cotton Belt Program to Enhance North Texas Rail Service

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is turning to a WSP USA-led joint venture to oversee its 26-mile Cotton Belt commuter rail extension project from Dallas to Plano, Texas.

The $1.135 billion Cotton Belt Program will extend the rail corridor from the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, through the northern portion of the DART service area, and end at Shiloh Road in Plano. The plan also calls for the construction of 10 rail stations along the route.

“The Cotton Belt Corridor will provide passenger rail connections that improve mobility, accessibility and system linkages to major employment, population and activity centers in the northern part of the DART service area, as well as support sustainable growth, local and regional land-use visions, and economic development,” said Bob Brown, Dallas area manager for WSP.

DART chose as its program manager/owner’s representative (PMOR) a joint venture team that includes WSP and Arredondo, Zepeda & Brunz, which will provide oversight of the Cotton Belt line to ensure it is built to specifications, within budget, and provide safe and reliable in-revenue service. The Federal Transit Administration is the lead agency, Federal Aviation Administration is serving as a cooperating agency, and Federal Railroad Administration is also a participating agency.

The PMOR role requires WSP to augment DART staff in a variety of roles, including support for funding and financing, asset management, procurement assistance, verification of quality programs, program controls, and testing and systems integration. The commuter rail project will be delivered through a design-build contract, and the PMOR will have oversight responsibility of the design-build team.

WSP personnel leading the project include Kevin Cox, program manager; Lindsay Wood, regional transit and rail market lead; Mike Zeitz, resident construction manager; and Ruben Landa, public involvement lead. Those assisting in the pursuit include Karen Block, pursuit manager; Tracy Owens, marketing manager; and Jim Hinshaw, graphic designer.


The Cotton Belt Program will provide commuter rail service along a 26-mile corridor between Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Plano, Texas.

Crosstown Connection

Work on the Cotton Belt Program began in January, and completion of the extension is targeted by the summer of 2023.

“The Cotton Belt commuter rail will link seven cities in north Texas with DFW International Airport,” Brown said. “It will be the region’s first crosstown connecting facility, thus improving connectivity of DART’s current system hub and spoke system.”

The Cotton Belt Program will interface with 3 DART light rail transit lines: the Red Line in Richardson/Plano, the Green Line in Carrollton, and the Orange Line at DFW Airport. The program would also connect to the TEX Rail Regional Rail Line to Fort Worth and the DFW Airport Skylink People Mover.

The Cotton Belt Commuter Rail will implement positive train controls (PTC) on its rail system, as it shares line segments with active fright operations. PTC is an automated system designed to improve the safety of railway traffic by detecting and halting unsafe movement.

DART has already implemented PTC for the Trinity Railway Express that DART jointly operates with Trinity Metro – the transit authority for Tarrant County.

In addition, the PMOR team will manage vehicle assembly and the equipment maintenance facility, and will also be assigned future additional projects associated with commuter rail in the DART service area in north Texas.


The Cotton Belt Program includes plans to construct 10 new rail stations along the route.

Good Neighbors

While the region overall has been supportive of the Cotton Belt program, the project did meet with some resistance from concerned residents in neighborhoods located next to the planned rail corridor.

“The project is adjacent to large residential areas, so noise abatement is a significant concern of project stakeholders,” Brown said. “DART staff has made tremendous commitments regarding project aesthetics, sounds abatement walls through the residential areas, sound attenuation, landscaping and improvement, and station siting. In addition, tire-derived aggregate will be used to assist with noise abatement.”

He said these commitments have improved perception of the project in the surrounding communities, and residents in the north suburbs of Dallas, who will benefit from improved access to commuter rail service, have become the biggest supporters of the project. “DART will continue to be very proactive in communicating with the neighborhoods.”

The PMOR team is involved with the coordination of multiple project stakeholders, including businesses and residents throughout the region; approval of project design by third parties from seven cities, the Texas Department of Transportation, the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) and freight railroads; utility coordination and relocations; and coordination with active freight railroads.

Building Diversity

The subconsultant team for the joint venture includes more than 40 percent minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE), as well as five percent small business enterprise (SBE) firms.

“During our advance pursuit meetings with DART, we began to understand the agency’s values concerning diversity and capacity building, and it was important to us as well that we built a diverse team to reflect those shared values,” Brown said.

The subconsultant team includes: Foster CM, Iconic Group, McKissick and McKissick, Kimley Horn, and Mas-Tek (African-American owned); K Strategies and Swayzer & Associates (African-American/Woman owned); and Raul Bravo & Associates and VAI (Hispanic owned).

“Our team will ‘keep the end in mind,’” Brown said. “That is, we will take an operations and service perspective from the earliest point in the project, and in all we do.”

He said that from by taking an operator’s view, the team can integrate and manage each of the technical, commercial, and organizational interfaces effectively and efficiently.

“For DART, this means having a PMOR that can bring deeper understanding of what needs to happen during delivery to ensure a system is created that operates well on opening day, experiences fewer delays along the way, and requires less re-work later,” he said.

Brown and WSP have played key roles on several essential mobility projects in the north Texas region, including the Dallas Horseshoe and Southern Gateway, the North Central Expressway, LBJ Express Lanes, the DFW Connector, and the North Tarrant Express. “This project will add to WSP’s portfolio of significant transportation projects in the region and across the U.S.,” he said.

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