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Texas Central gets federal approvals

A big step completed.

Federal officials have issued final approvals to backers of a Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail line, clearing the way for construction of the proposed line, in a move almost certain to face challenges from opponents.

Texas Central Railroad, the company planning to operate trains from Houston to Dallas with a stop near College Station, said early Monday that the Federal Railroad Administration had issued both the Record of Decision that ends the environmental analysis and the Rule of Particular Applicability that governs the safety standards the Japanese-developed trains must use.

“This is the moment we have been working towards,” said Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Texas Central Railroad.

Railroad administration officials did not confirm the approvals, with the company saying the details and specifics of the rules will be released soon.

Company officials — who less than a decade ago expected construction to cost $10 billion, now say building it will cost “around $20 billion,” with construction possibly starting in the first half of next year.

[…]

With the two approvals in hand, Texas Central can begin final designs and construction of the project. A consortium of companies, including Italian construction giant Salini Impregilo, Central Japan Railway — builder of the Shinkansen bullet trains that will be the basis for the Texas trains — and Spanish rail operator Renfe, are all hired to handle various parts of the building and operations of the system.

Though development involves global companies, Texas Central and supporters, including elected officials in Houston and Dallas, note the company is based in Texas and the companies will hire thousands of locals to build and operate it. Some, such as Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, said new travel modes will define how the metro areas grow and cooperate.

“The construction of high-speed rail will have a generational impact, creating thousands of jobs right here in Houston and injecting billions of dollars into our local businesses,” Turner said.

Texas Central had previously hoped to start construction by the end of this year. I presume, though the story doesn’t indicate, that the COVID situation may have slowed things down a bit.

Most of the rest of the story is given to Texas Central opponents, and I think we can recite most of what they have to say by heart. I don’t expect the opposition to ease up any time soon, but the opponents are beginning to run out of tools in their bag, especially after a favorable court ruling on the “are they really a railroad” question. I’ve said repeatedly that the best thing TCR can do for their own future is to get those shovels in the ground and start constructing before the Lege has the chance to take any further action. They’ll be at the very beginning stages of that during the session this spring, so maybe this is the end of the line for serious peril.

Of course, we don’t know how demand for this kind of travel will change in a post-COVID world. One could argue that with fast boarding and roomier passenger spaces, TCR will be better placed than before to compete with the airlines. They may have a harder time competing with people driving themselves, however. All this assumes there will be the same kind of demand for mostly business travel going forward. We just don’t know what that effect will be in the longer term, but any argument that the Zoom-and-Teams world we’re in now obviates the need for big rail projects like TCR would apply to big road projects as well. We may very well make some inaccurate guesses about this. We’re going to have to live with that until we do know better. The Trib has more.

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7 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    They still have the full STB application to submit, which includes financials. They apparently have no money – they had to lay off about half their workforce, so that should be interesting.

    No doubt their ridiculous ridership projections need to be redone due to covid.

    And the eminent domain issue – are they really a railroad – has been appealed to SCOTX.

    “One could argue that with fast boarding and roomier passenger spaces, TCR will be better placed than before to compete with the airlines. They may have a harder time competing with people driving themselves, however. All this assumes there will be the same kind of demand for mostly business travel going forward. ” The FEIS claims 94% of hsr passengers will divert from autos. This is wrong, but it’s the info the FRA used to issue the ROD.

    Don’t understand why anybody is for this environmental disaster.

  2. Ross says:

    Jules, how would this be an environmental disaster? Trains like this run successfully all over the world with no real issues.

  3. Jules says:

    Ross, it won’t have the ridership to overcome the energy spent building it. Compared to Japan’s Tokaido line, Texas Central’s way overstated yearly projections are still just a few week’s of the Tokaido line’s ridership.

    And if the ridership projections are correct, it will bring millions more cars into Houston every year – people that are starting or ending trips in the Woodlands, for example; and the millions of induced riders Texas Central claims.

    More realistic projections show less than 1,000 cars removed from I45 a day – that’s unnoticeable.

    The track itself will be a wall across Texas – 40% will be on a berm, with almost all of that being in rural Texas. There will also be an access road built along 100 miles of it, so no, cattle and wildlife won’t be grazing peacefully underneath – the road will be fenced. Flooding is an issue.

    Texas Central has bragged that it will use three times the concrete of the Hoover Dam. It’s a big project.

  4. C.L. says:

    Yup, let’s get rid of planes as well, what with the pollution spewing from their engines and all, the cost to build them and the upkeep of this nation’s airports, etc. Time to go back to the horse and buggy.

  5. C.L. says:

    And F the space program as well. 3-6 astronauts per mission on one giant rocket ? #NotEnoughRidershipToJustifyCost

  6. Jules says:

    CL, cogent as always. I’ll have to look into the space program, but some think one reason HSR is green is because it will get rid of the pollution spewing planes. What does the FEIS say about this?

    “Travel by bus and aircraft constitute minor portions of the existing travel mode at 2 percent and 9 percent, respectively, based on ridership and travel mode projections” … “On a relative basis, shifting to HSR from bus or aircraft travel would result in minor reductions of criteria pollutants.” … “Accordingly, emissions reductions were not calculated for bus and aircraft travel modes.” p 3.2-14

    So, not even worth doing the math.

  7. Manny says:

    Amish seem to do quite well with horse and buggy.

    It is great for engineers, lawyers, and such, keeps the political givers happy. Great job creator, wonder if they will hire union or pay union wages?

    Most developed countries do have much better transportation systems, heck even less developed countries have much better transportation systems. If they had so many automobile plants in their countries I am sure they would be where we are.