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SNCF

When train companies fight

Can’t we all just get along?

A competitor of the company trying to build a Dallas-to-Houston bullet-train connection has blasted the notion that a high-speed rail line can be built without public money.

“The whole thing is just a dream,” said Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, the Maryland-based arm of the French national railway company. “It’s not going to happen on private financing.”

Those remarks came after Texas Central Partners announced last week it had secured a loan of up to $300 million from Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corp. for Transport & Urban Development and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation. Both institutions are backed by the Japanese government.

That drew the ire of SNCF, which has a rival plan to bring speedy rail service to the state. The Texas Central “project is right for Japanese companies subsidized by Japanese taxpayers and wrong for Texas,” said Scott Dunaway, spokesperson for SNCF America, in a statement Tuesday. “Nowhere in the world have high-speed rail projects become reality without government participation.”

SNCF America leaders also called on the Texas Legislature to give direction to the high-speed rail policy debate. The company last spring lobbied state legislators to consider its plan to serve the Interstate 35 corridor with “higher-speed” rail, rather than bullet-train technology.

See here for some background on SNCF and their counter-proposal for high speed rail in Texas. I don’t have the technical knowledge to evaluate their claims about the merits of their system versus TCR’s, and whether one thinks “Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corp. for Transport & Urban Development and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation” count as “public money” when none of it came from US taxpayers is a matter if taste and semantics. What I do know is what I’ve said before, which is that I wish both SNCF and TCR would build their proposed rail lines so that we can get as much of it as possible. The Dallas Business Journal has more.

Everybody wants in on the rail action

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.

SNCF proposes high-speed rail route for Texas

It’s not the Texas T-Bone, but it’s a start.

Last December, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and Representative John Mica (R-FL) announced that the Federal Railroad Administration would begin accepting Expressions of Interest for the development of high-speed lines in the United States. By February, more than 80 groups, including a number of states, train operators, and train constructors, had sent letters describing their interest in being part of the development of American fast train travel. Final responses were due on September 14th.

I’ve obtained documents that show that SNCF, the French national railroad operator made famous by its development of the TGV system, has responded with detailed descriptions of potential operations in four U.S. corridors, all to benefit from train service at speeds of up to 220 mph. The organization refers to this service as HST 220 (220 mph high-speed trains). With the exception of a description of plans by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, SNCF appears to be the only group that submitted a serious, corridor-based response to FRA’s demand, though infrastructure companies Vinci, Spineq, Cintra, Global Via, and Bouygues all sent in letters promoting rather vague interest in involvement.

There is no funding associated with this call for expressions of interest; it is unrelated to the stimulus. Nonetheless, SNCF’s large response — totaling 1,000 pages — exemplifies the degree to which it sees American corridors as a good investment and suggests that the French company is planning an all-out assault on future U.S. rail operations.

[…]

SNCF has an entrenched interest in Texas high-speed rail, having been the majority member of theTexas TGV project of the late 1980s and early 1990s. That proposal collapsed in flames after intense opposition from Southwest Airlines and subsequently state legislators. The company has a sincere interest in moving forward with a new project in the state, and has chosen to focus on a Ft. Worth-Dallas-Austin-San Antonio link, rather than the Dallas-Houston link that’s been much-discussed in recent weeks. The company argues that building the former line first would allow further consideration of the connection to Houston; it is clear that SNCF still considers the Texas Triangle an option, despite recent efforts to promote the T-Bone corridor, portrayed on the map above.

At $13.8 billion in construction costs, SNCF expects benefits to outweigh public infrastructure costs by 170% over a period of 15 years. This project would have the highest rate of return of any of the corridors profiled in the studies presented here. The study projects 12.1 million annual riders by 2026 and 15 million by 2040. After predicting 11.4 million annual riders for the Dallas-Houston corridor last month — far higher than the 1.5 to 3 million economist Ed Glaeser assumed in his study of the line — I feel vindicated.

Dallas and San Antonio would be connected in 1h50, with links between Dallas and Austin in 1h13 non-stop. Seven new stations would be built, five in traditional downtown hubs and two located adjacent to airports in Dallas and San Antonio.

You can see their map for Texas here (large PDF). It’s about 275 miles from San Antonio to Dallas, which would be about a four hour drive under ideal conditions that don’t exist, and as I recall a bit more than an hour’s flight. If your destination is downtown, you’d make up quite a bit of time by not having to get there from either airport.

The DMN Transportation blog has more on this. Obviously, I’d like to see Houston connected to Dallas, whether via Austin (which would fit in well with existing commuter rail proposals) or directly. Regardless, seeing an actual proposal from a private company is pretty exciting. What do you think?

On a related note of good timing, neoHouston is embarking on a detailed exploration of high speed rail in Texas and how to make it successful. I look forward to seeing his impression of the SNCF proposal.