The Federal Railroad Administration published a document on its website Wednesday officially kicking off a highly anticipated environmental review of a proposed high speed rail line between Dallas and Houston.
The document, called a Notice Of Intent To Prepare An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), marks the start of a process that will involve public input on Texas Central High-Speed Railway’s ambitious endeavor, which aims to connect travelers between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes or less. The company has said it plans to operate the country’s fastest and only profitable high-speed rail line without public subsidies. Company officials have been preparing for the federal review for more than a year and have quietly worked on the logistics of it with federal officials in advance, according to people involved in the discussions.
The EIS, which could take more than a year, will examine possible routes for the rail line and how each scenario would impact the region’s environment, including agricultural land, streams, floodplains and wildlife, as well as various federal regulations including the National Historic Preservation Act. The review will also investigate “the potential impacts of stations, power facilities, and maintenance facilities to support HSR operations,” according to the federal notice.
Local entities as well as the public have 90 days to submit written comments on the scope of the EIS to ensure “that all issues are addressed related to this proposal and any significant impacts are identified.”
The doc is here. As you may recall from the light rail process here in Houston, there will be public meetings, in this case organized by TxDOT and held in the affected area, which is more or less the I-45 corridor between Houston and Dallas, to present information about the project and allow for further feedback. This process will take some time and will if all goes well lead to a Draft Environmental Impact Statement, a Final Environmental Statement, and a Record of Decision. How long that takes is at least somewhat proportional to how contentious or smooth the process is.
The Chron had a preview story from the morning before the Notice of Intent was published.
“It is now more than just talk,” said Maureen Crocker, executive director of the Gulf Coast Rail District, which is supportive of passenger rail projects in the Houston area. “When they do this, it’ll give everyone a much clearer idea of what this is going to be, and lay out the plan that so far has been private.”
Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central Railway, the company proposing the line, said in a statement that the notice begins a process, “which, true to our overall philosophy, will be funded with private dollars.”
Initiation of the environmental process doesn’t lock public or private officials into anything, or set specific deadlines.
“Timelines for these kinds of projects vary widely,” said Mike England, spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration.
Public agencies, notably the railroad administration and Texas Department of Transportation, must conduct the review – including soliciting public comment and holding meetings in areas affected by the plan.
Crocker said the local rail district currently has a study examining how to bring passenger trains into downtown Houston.
“We’ve kind of kept the high-speed rail line in mind when we’re doing that,” Crocker said.
See here for my previous blogging on this, plus PDiddie and Texas Leftist for reports on a recent meeting some of us bloggers had with the TCR folks. The optimistic time frame for the start of construction is 2016. TCR will undoubtedly have a few wish list items for the Legislature next year as well, mostly to smooth out the state regulatory process, but nothing that is likely to be a big deal. I’ll keep my eyes open for announcement about the public meetings and will let you know when I know more about them. Dallas Transportation has more.