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Central Japan Railway

Are we ready for Texas Central?

This is more about the experience than anything else.

Texas Central said it will break ground late next year on the first bullet train line in the United States, which will connect Dallas to Houston, and the train, technology and much of the know-how is coming from Japan.

“We will start the construction next year,” said Masaru Yosano, Chief General Manager of Central Japan Railway Company.

Yosano flies to Texas once a month to help coordinate the project with partners at Texas Central Railway Company, the private firm that’s developing the United States’ first bullet train.

The Texas bullet train, which will be privately funded, has already passed multiple milestones and is currently awaiting final approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

When that last permission is granted Texas Central said it will then begin looking for financial backers. The firm said it already has options to purchase a third of the land needed and is currently negotiating for the remainder.

[…]

In Japan, the bullet train is not only a source of pride, but a fixture in the culture.

“It’s more spacious than actually sitting in a plane for me,” said Joel Deroon, an Australian living in Japan who uses the bullet train to commute daily. “For airliners you have all the extra added costs [such as] paying for luggage, paying for petrol. On a Shinkansen, no one’s going to check how much your luggage weighs or anything like that.”

So, what’s it like to be on board? Both the economy and First Class cars have high ceilings, wide aisles, and big seats. The cars are configured with two seats on each side of the aisle. Perhaps the biggest difference in the Central Japan Railway’s N700-series is the legroom in both cabins. Unlike an airliner, there’s plenty of extra space to move around.

Onboard restrooms are substantially larger, as well, with a massive handicapped lavatory.

And at 177-miles per hour, the landscape is less of a blur than many would imagine. A bottle of water easily balances on an arm rest.

[…]

One reason the bullet train is so successful in Japan is that riders can easily connect to subways. But Dallas and Houston don’t have that same infrastructure.

So, will it work?

“What happens to that last mile is an opportunity for taxi companies, for Uber, for hotels to build and businesses within walking distance of the terminus to develop themselves,” Swinton said.

The last mile can be lucrative. Not much was around when the Tokyo’s Shinagawa train station was built in the 1990s. But within a decade, skyscrapers had risen around it. Central Japan Railways also makes money leasing space at the station to restaurants, shops, and hotels.

I believe I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had the opportunity to take the shinkansen in Japan. It’s really cool! It’s amazingly quiet, and a very smooth ride. There is a lot more room on the trains than on an airplane – not a high bar to clear, to be sure – and you basically walk onto the platform and board when the train arrives. If you’ve ever taken the light rail line in Houston or Dallas, it’s basically the same as that, which means boarding is quick and efficient and once everyone is on you can just go. There won’t be any security checkpoints like there are at airports. All this means that the total travel time won’t be much more than the actual time on the train. I do think people will like it. The question is getting them to try it, and pricing it in a way that makes it worth doing on a regular basis.

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.

High speed rail opponents write a letter to Japan

Seriously?

Thirty-three East Texas officials sent a letter to the Japanese ambassador to the United States on Monday to express their opposition to a private Texas firm’s proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston that has strong ties to a Japanese company.

The letter is the latest effort by opponents of Texas Central Partners’ multibillion-dollar project since the firm’s 2012 announcement of its plan to bring Japanese train operator JR Central’s bullet train technology to Texas. Under the agreement, JR Central would sell its Shinkansen trains to Texas Central and play an advisory role on the system’s operations. A Japanese-backed government fund has also invested $40 million in the project.

In the letter to Japanese Ambassador Kenichiro Sasae, local officials argued that the bullet train would burden their communities without providing any benefits and called on Sasae to seek out a different market for the project. The signers of the letter include eleven Republican members of the Legislature: State Sens. Brian Birdwell of Granbury, Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown, and State Reps. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, Cecil Bell of Magnolia, Byron Cook of Corsicana, Kyle Kacal of College Station, Will Metcalf of Conroe, John Raney of College Station, Leighton Schubert of Caldwell, and John Wray of Waxahachie. Other signers include several county judges, county commissioners and members of sub-regional planning commissions in the rural areas that would be most affected by the proposal.

“While we respect your country’s ambitious goal of exporting the Shinkansen technology, as residents and leaders in East Texas, we remain opposed to the HSR Project because it will cause irreparable harm to our communities,” the officials wrote.

[…]

Texans Against High Speed Rail, which spearheaded the letter, touted it as a reflection of “overwhelming local opposition” to the project.

“This project is not just an issue of unwarranted use of eminent domain but also one of eventual taxpayer subsidies that will impact all Texans,” said Kyle Workman, the group’s president. “Our officials understand the full magnitude of the damage that can be done because of this, and I applaud their fortitude in standing with and for the citizens they represent on this issue.”

Given that the partnership between Texas Central and JR Central is a private one that does not directly involve the ambassador, Texans Against High Speed Rail is primarily hoping that Sasae will help facilitate further discussion with all interested parties, according to Judge Ben Leman of Grimes County, one of the signers of the letter.

“We want Japanese officials to know first-hand directly from the elected officials of the state of Texas how we feel about this project,” Grimes said. “Because there are so many Japanese sources of the funding, we’re hoping that not only will the ambassador read it and engage in communication with us directly and the aspects of the Japanese government that we need to speak with, but also engage with the United States government as well.”

Okay then. I guess it’s unclear to me what the letter writers hope to accomplish with this. Do they think the ambassador will pick up the phone and call Texas Central and tell them “Hey, you guys may not be aware of this, but some folks don’t like your project”? Or maybe pick up the phone and have the same conversation with some of the actual or potential Japanese investors in Texas Central? Has any business venture in another country that was backed by US-based companies been affected by the penning of a letter to the US ambassador in said country? I really have no idea what, other than getting a story written in the Trib (for which I say, well done), this was supposed to do that a letter to the editor of one’s local newspaper wouldn’t have done. I suppose one must do something during the legislative off-season to keep the momentum. The Press 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.

The Woodlands wants to be on the high speed rail route

Can’t blame ’em.

The Woodlands Township is urging federal and state officials to take another look at the potential benefits of adding a high-speed rail corridor along Interstate 45.

Last month, the Federal Railway Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation revealed two potential routes for a proposed bullet train that could one day connect Dallas and Houston by rail, but neither of the routes under review would come down I-45 in fast-growing Montgomery County.

Miles McKinney, legislative affairs and transportation manager for The Woodlands, said there is still time for it and surrounding communities to have some influence on the direction of the project.

“We’ve taken and written a letter asking them to reinstate the I-45 corridor for consideration and to think about it one more time and at least assess it before condemning it,” he said.

State and federal transportation officials recently narrowed the list of potential routes from nine to two. The excluded lines seemed a bit longer, which could prove more costly for a project that already has a price tag of more than $10 billion.

The route that local leaders wants transportation officials to explore is referred to as the Green Field Route. It would begin in Dallas and travel along I-45, passing through Huntsville and Montgomery County before ending in downtown Houston.

The interstate highway runs the length of Montgomery County, whose population is projected to increase from 500,000 to 1.1 million by 2040.

Given the growth of the area, McKinney said, it may be wise to ask transportation officials leading the project to consider adding a rail station north of Houston, near the Grand Parkway and The Woodlands.

See here for the background, and click the embedded image to see all of the proposed routes. I can’t argue with the logic, and in fact in past conversations I’ve had with the Texas Central Railway folks, I myself have suggested that a Woodlands-area station might make sense for them. The two “recommended” routes were chosen because they were the lowest cost, which is a non-trivial consideration in a $10 billion project. A big complicating factor is how routing the trains along I-45 might effect the cost and feasibility of bringing the trains to downtown Houston, where the terminal ought to be and is most likely to be. One possible route into downtown involves the same corridor as a proposed commuter rail line along 290, which obviously isn’t compatible with a Woodlands-friendly location. I don’t know what the best answer is, and unfortunately not everyone can be accommodated. Good luck figuring it all out.

By the way, the Central Japan Railway Company, one of the backers of Texas Central Railway, recently began test runs of a maglev train that can reach 300 miles per hour. By the time this line is finished, it could provide an even quicker ride between Dallas and Houston. Yeah, I’m excited by the prospect.

Financing the high speed rail line

A long story in the Trib about Texas Central High-Speed Railway and its ambitious Dallas to Houston rail line. It’s a good primer if you haven’t been paying close attention to the story and want to cover all the basics. A couple of points:

Central Japan Railway Co., also known as J.R. Central, sees a huge opportunity for exporting its technology to America, where the busiest passenger rail line takes about seven hours to slog the 400 miles between Washington and Boston.

Today, there are only three significant high-speed rail projects in advanced development in the U.S. — in Texas, Florida and California. At some point during the early planning of all three ventures, J.R. Central offered to sell its trains to those states but only found sure footing in Texas. The Texas project, led by a private local company working with J.R. Central, is by far the most ambitious.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway is promising to connect Houston and Dallas with the fastest trains at 205 mph, developed on a relatively snappy timeline with little support from taxpayers. By contrast, the California train will be heavily subsidized and take years longer to develop. Texas Central Railway has set a 2021 target date for beginning operations while the California line isn’t expected to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco until 2029. In Florida, a privately funded project could begin service between Miami and West Palm Beach as early as 2016 but is projected to be the slowest of the three, traveling at less than 100 mph through some areas, and run on a congested century-old right-of-way, including a portion that will run on a converted freight line.

Texas Central officials have said the project will be privately funded and not require any public funding to subsidize its operational costs. If the private financing can be secured, the Houston-Dallas connection would be the fastest high-speed rail line in the nation and among the first successful private passenger rail projects in recent American history. It would essentially be the modern Sun Belt’s first new intercity passenger rail line of any sort in over a decade. If successful, it could mark a turning point in the urbanization of the U.S., and a high-profile rebuff to more progressive coastal cities that have struggled to modernize transit systems with the high-speed technology that has already reshaped Asia and Europe.

The Texas project would also be a huge feather in J.R. Central’s conductor’s cap. The company is about to start construction in Japan on a nearly unsubsidized cutting-edge maglev — short for magnetic levitation — train line, connecting three major metropolitan areas and powered by electromagnetic propulsion rather than a fossil-fuel-powered engine. Yet much more expansion is unlikely in Japan, where low population growth means less demand for new infrastructure. To keep growing, the company must look abroad.

As the Texas proposal has drawn more attention, supporters are framing it as a key opportunity for the state to burnish a reputation as a trendsetter on the national stage.

“As Texans, we take great pride in blazing a path for the rest of the country to follow,” the mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth wrote in a letter endorsing the project in April. “This project will do just that.”

Over the last year, officials with Texas Central have traveled around the state, touting their plan to profitably ferry passengers from Houston to Dallas in 90 minutes or less, with as many as 34 trips a day in each direction. In explaining their confidence that the plan will become reality, Texas Central officials have pointed to the state’s regulatory framework, which Gov. Rick Perry often proclaims as more predictable and less burdensome than those in other states. Texas also has a history of embracing the private sector for infrastructure projects, particularly toll roads.

The best-known of those projects, a privately financed, 41-mile stretch of State Highway 130 in Austin that sports an 85 mph speed limit, the fastest in the country, technically defaulted on its debt in July, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Yeah, maybe not the ideal association for this project.

While Texas Central knows where it won’t get the money for its train lines, it’s less clear where it will get the needed backing. Texas Central Railway says it intends to raise most of the money in the U.S., but so far, its ability to draw the billions of dollars in investment is merely speculative.

The experience of All Aboard Florida could be instructive. The company is in the process of cutting a number of land deals with various levels of government for stations and transit-oriented developments around them, and has won a commitment from the state to build its terminal at Orlando International Airport. The Texas project is expected to follow a similar approach to development, though company officials have already nixed the idea of developing stations at airports.

Just recently, All Aboard Florida took its biggest step yet to realizing its passenger project, one that Texas Central will eventually have to emulate: It sold $405 million in debt to private investors to finance the initial South Florida leg, from Miami to Fort Lauderdale.

All Aboard Florida offered investors a 12 percent annual return on the five-year bonds. The high-yield offering sold quickly, surprising observers who predicted investors would be scared off by the fact that All Aboard will have no cash flow until the railway is operating, which won’t be for at least another two years. But while the success of the sale could bode well for Texas Central, the projects could also be received very differently. In its coverage of the All Aboard bond sale, Reuters reported that private investors were attracted to the project in part because it involves repurposing and expanding an existing freight railway and doesn’t require as much higher-risk, ground-up construction as the Texas project. Another draw for investors, Reuters reported, was the possibility of government financing down the line, again something that the Texas project doesn’t offer.

This is not the first time a private firm has attempted to build a high-speed rail line in Texas. Back in the late 1980s, two European-backed firms were competing to win a state franchise to connect the so-called Texas triangle of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines waged an aggressive campaign against the awarding of the franchise, arguing that it would force the carrier to severely scale back its operations in Texas. State officials ultimately granted French-backed Texas TGV a franchise, only to see the company give up on the project after failing to come up with enough capital.

This time around, Southwest Airlines has said it is neutral on the Texas Central Railway project. Eckels and airline industry experts have predicted that the airline will maintain its neutrality, as Southwest has diversified its business enough that it would not likely view a high-speed rail project as a threat to its business.

Hard to know what to make of the past history here. This project is different in many ways, and there really isn’t a good analogy for it. I’m a fan of this project and I’m rooting for them to succeed, but I find myself a little queasy at the animosity that exists, mostly on the Republican side, for public financing of rail projects, and increasingly of any non-road-oriented transit project at all. That’s not TCR’s responsibility, it’s just another unfortunate sign of the debasement of Republican politics. Other than a change in attitude from that side, I suppose the best thing that could happen would be for TCR to be a big success and be the starting point for additions, extensions, and connections that will be part of the public investment in infrastructure. We’re going to solve our problems by doing things that work, not by doing what we insist is the only thing that can work.

The Mayors love high speed rail

As well they should.

The mayors of Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth announced Thursday their unified support for the construction of a privately funded bullet train between the two metropolitan regions.

“If successful, Houstonians will have a reliable, private alternative that will help alleviate traffic congestion and drastically reduce travel times,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said at a press conference at Houston City Hall.

Texas Central Railway announced in 2012 its plans to build a 200 mph rail line that would transport passengers between Dallas and Houston within 90 minutes. The company has said it will not require any public subsidies to fund the multi-billion dollar project, which it is developing in partnership with a Japanese firm, Central Japan Railway.

The mayors praised the project and predicted it would aid the state economically and environmentally by reducing the number of people traveling by car.

“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said.

The endorsements come as the Federal Railroad Commission is “30 to 60 days” away from formally launching an environmental impact study of the project, said Robert Eckels, a former Harris County judge and president of Texas Central Railway. The study, which will be funded by Texas Central Railway, is a critical step on the project’s path to drawing approval from federal regulators.

Mayor Parker’s press release for this is here. As you know, I’ve been following – and a fan of – this project for some time. What’s especially exciting about this is the news that Texas Central Railway will be getting the EIS process started soon, because from there is where it begins to get real. I had the opportunity along with a couple of my blogging colleagues to meet with Eckels and other TCR folks and ask them some questions about the project; PDiddie wrote up some notes from the meeting. I don’t have a whole lot to add to that except to say that you should check out TCR’s latest presentation about the state of their business, and then go look at Eckels’ presentation at a recent HGAC brown bag lunch, which is on YouTube. It’s an exciting time. Dallas Transportation and Texas Leftist have more.

Let’s not get the private high speed rail line bogged down in politics

I’m always interested in stories about the Texas high speed rail line.

The company, Texas Central High-Speed Railway, drew attention last year when it announced plans to develop a high-speed rail line without public subsidies. Texas transportation officials took the project seriously, noting the pedigree of the investors: Japanese financiers behind a profitable bullet train line in Japan. Interest has only increased in recent months as the company has added former Texas Rangers president Tom Schieffer and Peter Cannito, former president of the New York-based MTA Metro-North Railroad, as senior advisers.

At the recent Texas Tribune Festival, Texas Central High-Speed Railway President Robert Eckels provided new details about the timeline for the company’s plans.

“We expect to go out in the field after the first of the year with our notice of intent and our environmental impact statement,” said Eckels, a former state legislator and Harris County judge.

[…]

While Republicans may favor the company’s free-market focus, that doesn’t mean the project won’t be completely free of public costs. During this year’s legislative sessions, some lawmakers opposed the allocation of any new transportation resources unless they were dedicated to road construction and maintenance.

“We don’t want operations subsidies,” Eckels said. “We do need regulatory help. We may need help with infrastructure relating to our project.”

Democrats may find themselves questioning whether low-income Texans will be priced out of the service if tickets are priced to cover expenses and make a profit without subsidies.

And both Democrats and Republicans may feel a sense of déjà vu as they draw questions about whether Texas Central High-Speed Railway should be permitted to acquire private Texans’ property. Though the firm hopes to develop most of the line along current freight line rights-of-way, Eckels acknowledged that those won’t cover the entire route. The idea of a foreign-backed private company employing eminent domain for a major transportation project could draw comparisons to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a political headache of a project that lawmakers had to repeatedly declare dead in order to appease angry voters.

See here and here for some background. I think it would be a useful debate to have about operations subsidies for inter-city rail transit like this. Given the tens of billions we are told we need to spend to ensure sufficient road capacity for our growing state, it may well be the case that building and partially subsidizing the operation of a bunch of rail lines is no more expensive and more scalable. For better or worse, we’re not going to have that debate, and as a private venture like the Texas Central High-Speed Railway is likely to be the only kind of rail we get built here, I’m happy to see it make progress towards that goal. I hope the Legislature will be open to hearing what Texas Central needs, and finds a sensible way to work with them to overcome obstacles. It is possible, maybe likely, there will be some Trans-Texas Corridor-style backlash against this, but I’m reasonably optimistic there won’t be. Texas Central is an idea that originated in the private sector rather than with Rick Perry, and from what I’ve seen they’ve been engaging with locals, whereas the TTC was basically an edict from above. There is a foreign company involved so there’s always room for paranoia, but this project is much smaller in scope and shouldn’t require that much in the way of right-of-way acquisition. We’ll see if that makes a difference. By the way, speaking of foreign companies, it is my understanding that Central Japan Railway Company, referenced in this linked story is not an investor in Texas Central High-Speed Railway. The two are cooperating in this effort, but one does not have a direct financial stake in the other. Whether that will have an effect on public and/or legislative opinion of this I couldn’t say, but we should at least all be clear on the facts.

Get ready to hear more about Texas high speed rail

I for one can’t wait.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway has spent the last few years privately — very privately — looking at how to connect Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston with a bullet train moving upwards of 200 miles per hour. But soon, they say, those private plans will become quite public when they issue a notice of intent. That in turn will trigger an environmental impact statement evaluating the would-be, could-be rail alignment and the proposed stops between here and down there.

“It’s almost like jumping out of the frying pan into another frying pan when the public process starts,” says Travis Kelly, the director at Texas Central High-Speed Railway tasked with handling the marketing.

Kelly says the private operator — a consortium that also includes Central Japan Railway Company — hopes to reveal its preferred and alternative alignments this summer. At least, he says, “That’s when we expect to be ready.” But it’s also up to the Federal Railroad Administration, which will oversee the project — even though it’s not funding it. There also needs to be a determination of “which state agencies will play a role” in the line, he says, referring, of course, to at least the Texas Department of Transportation, which also hopes to see high-speed rail travel between Houston and the DFW.

Kelly says Texas Central High-Speed Railway got on board with DFW-Houston long before TxDOT applied for its federal grant. He says the group studied 97 city pairs throughout the U.S. Some, he acknowledges, would generate higher ridership than the Texas route. And some, he says, would have been cheaper to build.

“But we saw a significant need for high-speed rail in the state,” he says. “You have two large metropolitan areas on either end of a flat undeveloped piece of the state and no legacy carrier, and we saw a good opportunity to fulfill a need and make a profit. I wouldn’t say we’re doing it because TxDOT can’t … but Dallas-Houston was right in that sweet spot where we thought we could build it cheap enough and pay off construction costs over time. We talk frequently about our model not being one-size-fits-all. We think this approach is custom-made for Texas.”

[…]

And, finally, The Big Question: Is Southwest Airlines standing in the way of the bullet train as it did in 1991, when the Texas TGV Consortium tried to tie together Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio only to run into the Love Field carrier’s giant fist clenching a fat wallet?

“We’ve briefed them,” Kelly says. “We haven’t tried to hide from them. But we have been observing the changes in the aviation market in the state over the last 15 years, and the distance between Dallas and Houston is such that a lot of business travelers have decided not to fool with security and just drive. More people drive than used to. We don’t feel like it’s as much a head-to-head with the airline. The state is growing in such a way that there’s plenty of market for both us and Southwest. To date they’ve been neutral on the project, as far as their last statement, which is an upgrade form where they were 20 years ago.”

See here for the last update I had on this particular rail project, which is not the only one being studied in Texas. I think the last paragraph above is the key to understanding why this sort of thing seems to finally be getting some traction. Air travel is increasingly expensive and a hassle; by the time you factor in getting to the terminal and going through security, the total time for a short hope such as Houston to Dallas is comparable to driving. Or at least, it would be comparable under conditions of no traffic or construction, and what are the odds of that? Put it all together, and taking a train to and from more-convenient central city locations starts to look pretty appealing. Cheaper than flying, faster than driving, less stressful than either – what’s not to like? Despite all that it’s still a bit hard to believe that it’s actually happening, since we’ve been hearing about high speed rail in Texas since about five minutes after the ink on the first draft of the state constitution was dry, but here we are. We’ll be able to see for ourselves what this might look like very soon.

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.

Privately funded high speed rail?

From Houston Tomorrow:

A possible Houston to Dallas high-speed rail line was the topic of a Monday morning breakfast meeting featuring Yoshiyuki Kasai, the chairman of Central Japan Railway, Japan’s largest rail company and maker of the famed Japanese “bullet trains.” Kasai was hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership (GHP).

The company is developing plans to build a Houston/Dallas high speed rail (largely privately financed) as the first phase of a Texas system, according to the GHP invitation. Kasai used the meeting to brief the region’s business leaders on the details and opportunities that Houston-Dallas high-speed rail service would bring to the Houston region.

This sounds exciting, but it’s hard to know what a timeline for this might be, assuming it really is on track (no pun intended). The potential cost is pretty high, and while there may be federal funds available to offset some of those costs, there are many obstacles that could delay construction. I’m delighted to hear this is happening, but it’s way too early to get too worked up. Dallas Transportation has more.