Get ready to hear more about Texas high speed rail

I for one can’t wait.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway has spent the last few years privately — very privately — looking at how to connect Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston with a bullet train moving upwards of 200 miles per hour. But soon, they say, those private plans will become quite public when they issue a notice of intent. That in turn will trigger an environmental impact statement evaluating the would-be, could-be rail alignment and the proposed stops between here and down there.

“It’s almost like jumping out of the frying pan into another frying pan when the public process starts,” says Travis Kelly, the director at Texas Central High-Speed Railway tasked with handling the marketing.

Kelly says the private operator — a consortium that also includes Central Japan Railway Company — hopes to reveal its preferred and alternative alignments this summer. At least, he says, “That’s when we expect to be ready.” But it’s also up to the Federal Railroad Administration, which will oversee the project — even though it’s not funding it. There also needs to be a determination of “which state agencies will play a role” in the line, he says, referring, of course, to at least the Texas Department of Transportation, which also hopes to see high-speed rail travel between Houston and the DFW.

Kelly says Texas Central High-Speed Railway got on board with DFW-Houston long before TxDOT applied for its federal grant. He says the group studied 97 city pairs throughout the U.S. Some, he acknowledges, would generate higher ridership than the Texas route. And some, he says, would have been cheaper to build.

“But we saw a significant need for high-speed rail in the state,” he says. “You have two large metropolitan areas on either end of a flat undeveloped piece of the state and no legacy carrier, and we saw a good opportunity to fulfill a need and make a profit. I wouldn’t say we’re doing it because TxDOT can’t … but Dallas-Houston was right in that sweet spot where we thought we could build it cheap enough and pay off construction costs over time. We talk frequently about our model not being one-size-fits-all. We think this approach is custom-made for Texas.”


And, finally, The Big Question: Is Southwest Airlines standing in the way of the bullet train as it did in 1991, when the Texas TGV Consortium tried to tie together Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio only to run into the Love Field carrier’s giant fist clenching a fat wallet?

“We’ve briefed them,” Kelly says. “We haven’t tried to hide from them. But we have been observing the changes in the aviation market in the state over the last 15 years, and the distance between Dallas and Houston is such that a lot of business travelers have decided not to fool with security and just drive. More people drive than used to. We don’t feel like it’s as much a head-to-head with the airline. The state is growing in such a way that there’s plenty of market for both us and Southwest. To date they’ve been neutral on the project, as far as their last statement, which is an upgrade form where they were 20 years ago.”

See here for the last update I had on this particular rail project, which is not the only one being studied in Texas. I think the last paragraph above is the key to understanding why this sort of thing seems to finally be getting some traction. Air travel is increasingly expensive and a hassle; by the time you factor in getting to the terminal and going through security, the total time for a short hope such as Houston to Dallas is comparable to driving. Or at least, it would be comparable under conditions of no traffic or construction, and what are the odds of that? Put it all together, and taking a train to and from more-convenient central city locations starts to look pretty appealing. Cheaper than flying, faster than driving, less stressful than either – what’s not to like? Despite all that it’s still a bit hard to believe that it’s actually happening, since we’ve been hearing about high speed rail in Texas since about five minutes after the ink on the first draft of the state constitution was dry, but here we are. We’ll be able to see for ourselves what this might look like very soon.

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One Response to Get ready to hear more about Texas high speed rail

  1. G3V says:

    If they want to have any credibility, they’re going to have to update their website more often than once every six months. Looks pretty moribund right now.

    And they do need to move fast. People are predicting self-driving cars within 7 years that will make a drive to Dallas a comfortable snooze. At typical bureaucratic rates, and ignoring the prospect of lawsuits from cattle frightened by all the big whizzy objects and swirling airstreams, it will take a rail project that long just to acquire right of way.

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