Amtrak pushes for Texas Central

I like the sound of that.

Booming demand, Texas’s rapidly expanding population and growing political will have converged to create the right environment to move high-speed rail ahead, Amtrak leadership said Tuesday.

Andy Byford, Amtrak’s senior vice president of high-speed rail development, told participants of the 20th annual Southwestern Rail Conference in Hurst that the Dallas-to-Houston corridor “ticks all the boxes” for a high-speed rail project. It would connect two large population centers, it has straightforward topography and “suboptimal alternatives” for travel, pointing to congestion on Interstate 45 and area airports.

“If you put together all those characteristics, and then you figure out okay, which route would you build? There’s one that really stands out, and that is Dallas to Houston,” Byford said.


The U.S. Department of Transportation and Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism welcomed Amtrak leadership of the rail project following a State Dinner between President Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida last week.

Byford was not present at the meeting but said there is “huge interest” in the project among Japanese and American leadership.

“I did have a meeting with Secretary Buttigieg, the Secretary of Transportation, and he said he himself is very committed to the project, that the president himself is very committed to the project,” Byford said.

Federal Railroad Administration administrator Amit Bose, who gave a keynote address at the conference, did not give specifics on the meeting when asked about it Tuesday but emphasized the federal government’s openness to exploring more transportation options in the state.

“From a federal perspective, we cannot overlook how big of a state that Texas obviously is and how much growth is happening here, especially in the Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas,” Bose said. “We always look for opportunities to give people who want to travel between these two metropolitan areas [and] not just rely on I-45, not to just have sit in traffic on I-45, so we want to explore options.”


Byford acknowledged the hurdles, including that right-of-way for the project has not been fully obtained, particularly around Dallas, and that the project lacks funding. But if the project successfully gets through the Corridor ID process, leadership can apply for a federal-state partnership for grant funding. That process would take about a year, with service projected to begin in the 2030s.

“There’s still a long way to go but exciting times nonetheless,” Byford said. “If we’re ever going to introduce high-speed rail in the U.S., now’s the time.”

See here for more on the Amtrak-Texas Central connection, and here for more on that state dinner with Japan. NBCDFW adds some details.

According to Andy Byford, details of the agreement between Amtrak and Texas Central are subject to a non-disclosure agreement but much of the work previously done has been helpful for planners. Amtrak staff is now doing intense due diligence over where the project stands and the next steps. The transition includes working through federal environmental approval, the sign-off for the Japanese technology behind the bullet train, and a court decision giving the project eminent domain authority.

Many significant hurdles remain for the idea but Byford said he’s optimistic about what he’s seen so far. Amtrak joined the project with Texas Central in 2023 and submitted it to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor ID program. That program acts like a pipeline of projects to get priority funding. Tuesday, the Amtrak leader gave a full-throated endorsement of the project, arguing it’s the next best route in the country for high-speed rail.

“I think the alternative is to condemn Americans to ever more crowded interstates; to condemn taxpayers to ever widening of highways,” said Byford.

The Southwestern Rail Conference gathered rail advocates across the state to hear Byford’s presentation along with a speech by Amit Bose, the Federal Railroad Administrator, and other advocates and train operators. With a train-friendly Biden Administration in Washington and a huge influx in new transportation money coming from the bipartisan infrastructure law passed in 2021, rail advocates say the time is now to get major projects off the ground.


Amtrak estimates the project may be north of $30 billion and over the next eighteen months Byford said he will be putting together a public and private funding package “the likes of which has not been seen before.”

Amtrak taking over the project gave the idea a shot in the arm. Amtrak’s board is appointed by the President of the United States. The Biden Administration recently threw its support behind the Dallas to Houston rail project.

“We believe in this. Obviously, it has to turn into a more specific design and vision but everything I’ve seen makes me very excited about this,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on Lone Star Politics, NBC 5’s Sunday morning public affairs show.

Last week, President Biden and the Prime Minister of Japan released a fact sheet detailing their support for the project after their state dinner.

“The successful completion of development efforts and other requirements would position the project for potential future funding and financing opportunities,” staff for the two leaders wrote.

Amtrak is currently working on a Service Development Plan to then pitch the project to the Federal Railroad Administration for priority funding. Recently, a train between Los Angeles to San Francisco and another form Las Vegas to Los Angeles just received $3 billion each in federal funds.

There are some obvious obstacles here, from the total cost and need for funding to the continued opposition from mostly rural areas in which the tracks would run and a variety of Republican lawmakers. This is still by far the most optimistic news I’ve heard about this project in years. I’ve fallen for such things before, and those projected opening dates keep slipping into the future, but at least now there seems to be a plan. I’ll take it.

One more point:

Addressing concerns about the Houston terminus being slated for the former Northwest Mall site at the convergence of U.S. 290, Loop 610 and Interstate 10 – as opposed to a downtown location – Byford said the more outlying site was selected because of logistical reasons and also because ridership is projected to be higher there. He also spoke to why people who don’t plan to ride a bullet train from one city to the other, or don’t want their tax dollars going toward the project, might still benefit from it and see value in it.

“There’ll be 12,500 fewer cars on the I-45 once this thing opens, so I would argue that there’s benefit for you,” Byford said. “If you are, for example, an airline and you might argue what’s in it for you, well, you can free up gates slots and planes to operate much more revenue-generating medium-to-long-haul routes than what is typically not very profitable, short-haul routes.

“And even if you’re say, for example, a resident of Central Texas who might think, ‘Well, I don’t go to Dallas, and I don’t go to Houston, so what’s in it for me?’ Well, if our forecasting is correct, and the ridership is what we predict it will be, which is very healthy levels of ridership and a very healthy return. … Those are riches that can be disseminated throughout the whole state, so I think there’s something in it for everyone.”

In theory, by the time this line and that terminal are built (yes, I’m making that assumption here, work with me), the Inner Katy BRT line would also be built, which would connect the Northwest Transit Center to downtown, as well as to the Galleria via the Silver Line and from there to the Universities line. In the ideal world, it would be easy to get to this train from plenty of locations in Houston without having to drive to the station. Or maybe take a flying taxi, I dunno. Point is, it’s fine that the terminal will be where it’s planned to be. You will be able to get there. KERA and KBTX have more.

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11 Responses to Amtrak pushes for Texas Central

  1. David Fagan says:

    Everyone who’s home is taken by eminent domain, or is affected by eminent domain should have an ownership stake of a similar percentage in the privately held company that wants to put this in. They should be paid continually their share of ownership and it should be able to be passed down through generations.

  2. Jonathan Freeman says:

    David, I’m sure the company would be more than happy to pay for the land in some form of equity instead of cash. That would allow families to pass it down and receive some small portion of any profit the line may generate. I doubt the land owners would want such a speculative investment given few believe the projected numbers in ridership are credible.

  3. David, Amtrak has never made a profit and, without government subsidies, would have gone bankrupt a long time ago. In short, without any profits, an ownership stake in this $30B (!) boondoggle won’t be worth anything.

    If the federal government has an extra $30B in transportation money to spend, can we please just fix our existing, crumbling roads? As far as improving the Houston/Dallas route, we could just add some lanes to I-45 (north of FM1960) at the bottleneck points for a lot less than $30B. For those concerned adding more traffic lanes will cause more vehicle emission pollution, I submit to you that the vehicles are already there – they are just idling in traffic instead of moving. If we could add some more I-45 lanes in strategic areas and get those idling vehicles actually moving again, they will spend a lot less time on the road and therefore emit less pollution. For this short of a trip, people are not going to give up the convenience and flexibility of their vehicles and be restricted to a train schedule, especially since they would still have to rent a car, taxi, Uber, etc. once they got off the train.

    Rather than drive their car or ride a greyhound bus, people in a hurry could just fly. In short, there is no pressing public need for a $30 billion dollar Houston-Dallas bullet train. After wasting the $30B, it would just end up being another unprofitable, underutilized, Amtrak route that taxpayers have to subsidize.

  4. voter_worker says:

    I recently shopped for a potential IAH-DFW flight and was surprised at the number of daily flights available. This would have been the perfect scenario for me to have used this proposed train instead of an airline or driving. I gave up the idea of the trip altogether because I consider having to drive or fly to the Fort Worth area to be too high of a bar. I’m therefore in the category of “probable customer” if this thing ever gets built during my lifetime.

  5. Joel says:

    How are all the profit-shares for I-45 working out?

    Dies the tern “common good” mean anything to you? Anything at all? What if I told you they would only use the train to transport firefighters to collect big piles of money?

  6. Joel says:

    The next time you want to pretend to be a Green Party member, please just read this back to yourself instead.

  7. mollusk says:

    It’s no longer 1995, when you could park right outside the door, poke a credit card into the wall at Hobby, and sail onto a partially full plane with 35″ seat pitch that left every half hour; also, the speed limit is now a lightly enforced 75 0r 80 rather than a 65 mph small town revenue maker. “People in a hurry” to get to Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio from Houston no longer fly, they drive or take one of the executive class busses.

  8. If the mission is to benefit the “common good”, there are much better ways to spend $30 billion dollars than a bullet train to Dallas.

  9. C.L. says:

    Enough with the pearl clutching. We’ll all be dead and dust in the wind by the time the first train rolls out of the Northwest Mall parking lot.

  10. Pingback: More on Amtrak and Texas Central | Off the Kuff

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