We’re like a magical land of opportunity for high-speed rail interests.
For more than three years, Japanese-backed Texas Central Partners has drawn attention with its plans to develop a Dallas-Houston bullet train. While that project is furthest along, French and Chinese rail interests are more quietly discussing the prospects for rail projects with state and local officials.
“There comes a time when adding lanes is not a solution anymore, and that’s when you realize you need more public transportation,” said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, the U.S. subsidiary of French rail operator SNCF. The company has been talking with Texas officials in earnest for about a year about potential rail projects, Leray said.
Chinese-backed rail interests have also approached some transportation officials in Texas about future projects, several transportation officials confirmed.
If passenger rail projects take off in Texas, many international firms will be logical partners, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
“The people you want to talk to are the people with extensive experience with high-speed rail,” Morris said. “High-speed rail isn’t built in our country, so most of the people with experience in high-speed rail are from other countries.”
Morris has heard from foreign rail firms for years, but solicitations have picked up over the last 12 months, he said, as state and federal studies of the environmental impact of rail projects in Texas have moved forward. The Federal Railroad Administration is studying Texas Central’s proposed Houston-Dallas project and the Texas Department of Transportation is studying the prospects of passenger rail as far north as Oklahoma City and as far south as Monterrey.
“Everyone in the world knows you can’t complete anything without an environmental clearance,” Morris said.
Ross Milloy, executive director of the Lone Star Rail District, which is trying to build a passenger rail line between Austin and San Antonio, said he has also noticed increased interest from international rail firms over the last year and a half.
“I think they view Texas as fertile ground,” Milloy said.
Just because multiple international firms are looking at Texas doesn’t mean they’ll all work together. Leray said he has talked to officials about the importance of developing a robust high-speed rail network in Texas, rather than just the Dallas-Houston segment. Among the concerns he raised in a Texas Tribune interview is that Texas Central’s line would be built specifically for Shinkansen trains and wouldn’t be able to accommodate other trains. SNCF operates rail systems in Europe that support trains by multiple manufacturers.
“If you choose a system which is not technologically neutral, you’re locking the people of Texas into being served by a monopoly,” Leray said. “And I ask, is this what the people of Texas want?”
In response, Keith pointed to the Shinsaken’s safety record — no collisions or derailments in more than 50 years of operation.
“By operating a single train technology, signaling and core operating system, Texas Central can leverage the history and record of the high-speed rail experience in Japan to ensure the safe, predictable operation of its trains,” Keith said.
Beyond Texas Central Partners’ Dallas-Houston line, the project appearing to draw the most interest is a rail line between Dallas and Fort Worth. TxDOT created a special commission last year to look at the prospects for such a project. Bill Meadows, chairman of that commission, said the assumption is that such a project would develop with a private partner.
“The state doesn’t want to be in the high-speed rail business,” Meadows said. “There’s enough private sector and regional interest that I see it moving forward in that fashion.”
The Dallas-Fort Worth line has outsized importance, Meadows argued, because it could someday connect a Dallas-Houston line with a train that travels along the state’s crowded I-35 corridor to Austin and San Antonio.
“It is the linchpin that ties the two corridors together,” Meadows said.
Didn’t know there was a fight over what kind of train technology to use on the line. When the lobbyists start getting involved, that’s when you know it’s gotten real. I don’t have anything to add, I’m just glad to see all this action. The Press and Paradise in Hell have more.