Amtrak seeks partnership with Texas Central

Hey look, a sign of life!

The largely stalled initiative to construct a high-speed railway between Houston and Dallas is up and running again.

Amtrak and Texas Central, the Dallas-based company behind the long-planned project, announced Wednesday they are exploring a potential partnership to further study and possibly advance the idea of building a 240-mile railway that could transport passengers between the state’s two largest cities in a matter of about 90 minutes. The companies said in a joint news release they have submitted applications with several federal grant programs to pay for additional analysis and design work, which has been funded by private investments since the bullet train plan was hatched a decade ago.

“This high-speed train, using advanced, proven Shinkansen technology (from Japan), has the opportunity to revolutionize rail travel in the southern U.S., and we believe Amtrak could be the perfect partner to help us achieve that,” Texas Central CEO Michael Bui said in the news release. “We appreciate Amtrak’s continued collaboration and look forward to continuing to explore how we can partner in the development of this important project.”

The project appeared to have fizzled out last year, because land acquisitions along the proposed railway reportedly slowed and previous Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar resigned. The plan has gotten significant pushback from rural landowners along the proposed route, but a Texas Supreme Court ruling last June gave Texas Central the legal authority to acquire land through eminent domain, offering a glimmer of hope to supporters.

The news release issued Wednesday included endorsements from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. The potential collaboration between Texas Central and Amtrak also drew praise from the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development organization for the region.

If the bullet train comes to fruition, it is expected to create thousands of jobs while also benefitting the environment. The project would lead to the removal of 12,500 cars per day from Interstate 45 and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 tons per year, according to Amtrak and Texas Central.

The planned Houston station for the railway is the site of the former Northwest Mall at the convergence of U.S. 290, Loop 610 and Interstate 10.

“The Houston business community continues to believe the best way to achieve economic growth and lower the cost of transportation for consumers is to foster innovation and competition,” Bob Harvey, the president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, said in a statement. “Faster, safer and more reliable connections between our region and other parts of Texas are vital to our continued economic growth. We are hopeful this new partnership will accelerate the development of this project, and we look forward to working with all stakeholders throughout this process.”

See here and here for some background. This press release from Mayor Turner adds some details.

The City of Houston is supportive of the announcement of a landmark agreement between Amtrak, the national rail operator, and Texas Central Railway (Texas Central) a high-speed rail service, marking a significant step forward in the development of a state-of-the-art rail system between Dallas and Houston. This agreement will facilitate crucial planning and analysis associated with the implementation of the highly anticipated high-speed rail service, connecting two major economic hubs in 90 minutes, and promoting sustainable transportation solutions for the region.

This development signifies a significant commitment to advancing transportation infrastructure in our great state. By leveraging the expertise and resources of both entities, we can harness the full potential of this ambitious project, which will have far-reaching benefits for the city of Houston and the entire region.

“This collaboration between Amtrak and Texas Central is a momentous milestone for the City of Houston,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston. “Our city is committed to advancing transportation initiatives that support economic growth and enhance quality of life for our residents. This agreement will accelerate the planning and analysis necessary for the successful implementation of a modern, efficient, and environmentally sustainable rail system connecting Houston and Dallas. I commend all parties involved for their dedication to this transformative project.”

Our understanding is Texas Central and Amtrak have worked together since 2016, when the two entities entered into an agreement to provide through-ticketing and other support services for the high-rail service. They have already submitted applications to several federal programs, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (FSP-National) grant program.

Reading this made me realize that there was a similar Amtrak/TCR partnership announcement in 2018. Not clear to me what’s different this time around, but here we are anyway. There have also been discussions of possible expansions of existing Amtrak service in Texas, and again it’s not clear to me how any of that ties together. At this point, I’m just glad to see something that looks like forward motion. We’ll see what it means from here. The Chron, Axios, and CultureMap have more.

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