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US-Japan High-Speed Rail

Japanese high-speed rail operator to open Dallas office

To be close to the action, no doubt.

The Dallas Regional Chamber announced Thursday afternoon that Central Japan Railway Co. will station about 20 employees in Dallas.

The company’s technical and operations experts will help privately-backed Texas Central Partners with the development of what could be America’s first high-speed rail line. Texas Central plans to use the same train and rail technology that Central Japan uses on its Tokaido Shinkansen line that connectsTokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

“This new train service will drive continued economic growth across Texas, relieve congestion along Interstate 45, and connect our business community with the Houston market in a highly efficient manner,” Dallas chamber president and CEO Dale Petroskey said in a prepared statement.

Plans for a Dallas-Houston bullet train have drawn cheers from federal officials and the state’s two largest urban areas. But it’s fiercely opposed in the rural counties that sit between the two regions.

The Dallas station is planned to be near or atop Interstate 30, just south of downtown. That station and development around it are seen as a way to reconnect downtown to theburgeoning Cedars neighborhood.

Texas Central has some opponents in Congress, too, primarily from suburban areas in between Dallas and Houston. No one ever said this would be easy. Central Japan Railway has been involved in other ways as well, no surprise given the technology and their significant investment in the project. I don’t know that having a Texas presence for CJR will help, but it can’t hurt.

Japan rules, please

The people behind the proposed high-speed rail line in Texas would like for it to be built under the same rules as existing Japanese high-speed rail lines.

Railway operator JR Tokai and an American partner will petition federal regulators to set new rules allowing an ultrahigh-speed line here to be built to Japanese bullet train specifications.

The roughly 400km line connecting Dallas and Houston would meet the same standards used by the Tokaido Shinkansen running between Tokyo and Osaka. That line is operated by JR Tokai, formally known as Central Japan Railway. A three- to four-hour trip by car between the two cities in Texas would take less than 90 minutes on shinkansen bullet trains with a top speed of 320kph.

Texas Central Partners, the company steering the enterprise, is plotting out the route and wooing investors. JR Tokai will set up a unit by year-end to lend the project technical support.

In the U.S., high-speed trains use the same tracks as freight cars and conventional passenger trains. There are no dedicated tracks for high-speed service. Regulations mandate strong, heavy rail cars to minimize casualties from collisions.

But the Tokaido Shinkansen has no railroad crossings, and centralized traffic control with an automatic braking system further reduces the odds of a collision. So its cars can be built lighter, enabling higher speeds and easing the impact on the environment.

Texas Central Partners and JR Tokai will formally request as early as April that the Federal Railroad Administration issue the new rules. Both companies had been talking with the agency behind the scenes. Texas Central Partners hopes to begin construction in 2017 pending the new regulations and separate environmental assessments, with an aim to launch service in 2021.

Seems reasonable to me. There isn’t an existing model for this in the US, so I don’t know how likely this is or how difficult it will be to get these new rules. Bureaucracy can be a strange thing, and as we know this sort of request won’t happen in a vacuum. The various opponents of the project will surely try to get this request denied. So who knows what will happen. With a favorable ruling, I’d assume Texas Central will remain on schedule to begin building in 2017 and running in 2021. Without it, we’ll just have to see.

Riding that (privately funded) train

Another story on the vaunted high speed rail line for Texas.

Like this but with fewer mountains

The leaders of Texas Central High-Speed Railway sound very confident for a company expecting to succeed where scores of state planners, elected officials and private interests have failed.

The firm hopes to have bullet trains moving Texans at 205 miles per hour between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston by 2020.

The bit that has raised eyebrows: The company plans to do it without seeking public financing.

“We are not the traditional state-run railroad,” Robert Eckels, the company’s president and a former Harris County judge, said at a high-speed rail forum in Irving on Tuesday. “This is designed to be a profitable high-speed rail system that will serve the people of these two great cities and in between and, ultimately, the whole state of Texas.”

Backing the Texas-based company is a group led by Central Japan Railway Company, which handles more than 100 million passengers each year on its bullet trains in Japan.

“They’re spending real money on high-speed rail to try and get things done,” said Gary Fickes, chairman of the Texas High-Speed Rail and Train Corporation, a nonprofit coalition of public and private leaders that for years has been advocating for a high-speed rail system in Texas. “I think they’re the real deal.”

While the project is generating enthusiasm, Eckels acknowledged he’s also heard from plenty of skeptics who predict he will eventually ask for billions of dollars in public support. But Eckels said his investors would likely walk away from a project that couldn’t stand on its own.

“If we start taking the federal money, it takes twice as long, costs twice as much,” Eckels said. “My guess is we’d end up pulling the plug on it.”

[…]

During a presentation on the array of financial and regulatory hurdles blocking the success of high-speed rail in the country, Richard Arena with the Association for Public Transportation said Texas is a possible bright spot.

“You guys are not waiting for things to happen,” Arena said. “You’re making it happen.”

Arena said the state’s strong economy and growing population make high-speed rail a more likely proposition than in other regions. But he was highly skeptical that the rail project could come together without public funding.

“My numbers say it’s going to be a stretch,” Arena said. “There was a reason why all the passenger railroads went bankrupt 50 years ago. I just don’t know.”

We’ve heard about this before. I don’t care how it is ultimately funded, I want to see it happen. It just makes sense. Who knows how many more super-commuters we may have in this state if one could easily travel from Dallas to Houston in an hour and a half? I wish them the best of luck, and I hope that by the time they’re done there’s a more robust local rail network to help move the passengers to their final destinations. Burka, who remembers the last time someone tried to build a high-speed rail line in Texas, has more.

SJL talks high speed rail

The dream lives on.

I've been on this train

Officials in Japan and South Korea told Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee that they are interested in helping Texas build a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas.

The Houston Democrat said the foreign officials described their interest to her during an official congressional visit to Japan, South Korea and China.

“This is absolutely the right direction America should be moving toward,” said Jackson Lee, who traveled between Osaka and Tokyo on Japan’s world famous high-speed rail system.

[…]

Officials in Houston will make the next push for federal funding in 2013, Jackson Lee said.

I daresay the outcome of the next election will have a significant bearing on the odds of success for that push. Be that as it may, I presume these are the same officials in Japan that have expressed interest in this project before. All I can say is that it sure does take a long time for anything to happen with these ideas. Tune in next year and we’ll see if anything is different by then.

Dallas-Houston high speed rail update

The people working on this sure do sound optimistic, even if what they’ve got is still basically vaporware.

A trip from Houston to Dallas could take travelers 90 minutes if former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, president of Lone Star High Speed Rail, is successful in connecting the state’s two largest urban regions with a high-speed rail.

Eckels spoke to members of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce mobility committee Sept. 1 about the plausibility of constructing a high-speed rail between the two regions, which have a combined population of nearly 7 million.

LSHSR is affiliated with U.S.-Japan High-Speed Rail and its partner, Central Japan Railway Company, which created the N700-I Bullet train that travels at 200 mph and will take passengers between Dallas and Houston when the rail is complete, which could be by 2020.

The corridor between Houston and Dallas was selected for the first high-speed rail line because nearly 93 percent of the land in between the two cities is rural and flat, and there are few stops in between, Eckels said.

LSHSR is studying several routes between Dallas and Houston for where the rail line will go, but the selection will come down to where there is right-of-way, land already granted for transportation purposes.

“The goal is to be as close to the current rights-of-way as possible,” Eckels said.

LSHSR is currently considering engineering, public outreach and funding factors related to the project. The rail line will be, in large part, funded by the private sector in Japan. The cost of the project is approaching $10 billion, but will ultimately reflect where the rail line ends, whether it is in downtown Houston, near the Galleria, or near Beltway 8, Eckels said.

We first heard about the possibility of Japanese companies investing in a Texas high speed rail line a year ago. Eckels had previously been the Chair of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp before moving over to LSHSR in March. I wish them all the best in getting this done. I also wish that Houston’s light rail system – you know, the 2012 Solutions plan – is fully built out by then. Check back in a decade and we’ll see. Thanks to Houston Tomorrow for the link.