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Feds approve a preferred corridor for the high speed rail line

One more step in the process.

The Federal Railroad Administration announced this month that the general route preferred by the project developer of a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston is indeed the best choice.

Known as the “utility corridor,” it runs somewhat along high-voltage electrical transmission lines and capitalizes on relatively straight, existing easements.

“It’s of interest to us because it provides a source of power for our system, is straighter for a larger portion and therefore more suitable for the engineering,” said Tim Keith, chief executive of Texas Central Partners, the developer.

The utility easement runs only to about Palmer in Ellis County. Between Dallas’ Union Station and the Trinity River, the path follows a railroad corridor.

The federal report issued Aug. 10 does not outline a specific route but a broad path with many possible alignments. Corridor choices were wide swaths. Elements of each could still make it into the final plan.

“There’s not a whole lot of clarity even with the declaration of the corridor,” said Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High Speed Rail.

But Texas Central Partners says it’s enough of a definition to host open houses in towns along the line.

“As we identify that final alignment, we will know which parcels are effective and which landowners we will engage with,” Keith said.

See here for the background. It’s a little hard to tell from the picture I have embedded above, even if you click on it for the larger image, but if you look at the picture in this Houston Business Journal story, it’s the gold-colored line, not the red one. as to what actually happened, the Press dug a little deeper:

Basically, what happened is that Texas Central agreed to fund the environmental impact study, but the FRA is the one actually conducting said study. The FRA had simply reviewed the four proposed corridors for the bullet train. Texas Central had concluded that three of the four corridors were not viable options for various reasons, but the fourth corridor, which will run along or nearby high-tension utility lines, met the company’s criteria.

So yeah, two weeks ago the FRA posted a report stating that it had checked Texas Central’s information and reported that it was accurate and that Texas Central’s preferred line was the one option of four submitted that fit various criteria. But that doesn’t exactly mean the FRA approved anything. Now the FRA will simply continue with its environmental impact study of Texas Central’s proposed route. Agency reviewers are set to look at alignments, meaning they’ll consider the specific route instead of a broad swath of land — such as scouting specific locations and property near nearby the proposed line, along with tackling right-of-way issues. When you get to the alignments stage you have to know exactly where things will be in a fairly precise way, according to the FRA staffer. Texas Central is responsible for doing the proposals and approaching landowners and the FRA is responsible for reviewing these options and figuring out the best options and alternatives.

Once the alignment study is done, the FRA will finish up its environmental impact study – there’s months of work to do so it won’t be completed until next year at the earliest. Then there will be meetings and feedback and the FRA will issue it’s findings.

So, to sum it all up: The FRA didn’t so much approve the utility route as a corridor as it agreed that based on Texas Central’s work, and information reviewed by the FRA, that they would take Texas Central’s word that the utility corridor was the most viable option. Also, this happened two weeks ago. Also, Texas Central reps don’t seem to know when it actually happened.

Got all that? The utility corridor is preferred because the freight rail corridor has too many curves to accommodate the speed of the bullet train, and because there were issues in sharing tracks. Some of that will still need to be done under this alignment, as the utility corridor doesn’t run all the way to Dallas, but this will minimize that. Either way, the Houston end of the corridor is currently northwest of downtown, near 610 and 290. Whether the train continues into downtown or the terminal is built there – assuming all of the political opposition is overcome, of course – remains an open question, one that I hope the Mayoral candidates have given at least a passing thought to. Be that as it may, the next step in the process is the draft environmental impact statement. According to the Chron story, that’s about halfway done, though as noted above it’s still months away. That’s the point at which things start to get real.

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