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SNCF America

SNCF has qualms about Texas Central

Who is SNCF? They’re another passenger rail company, one that has also expressed an interest in building lines in Texas, and they have offered some negative feedback to the Texas Central high speed rail line.

One of the world’s largest train operators says that its proposal of a passenger rail network that includes the Interstate 35 corridor would be a better fit for Texas than the $15 billion Dallas-to-Houston bullet train that’s on the table.

“Look at the state as a whole. Instead of creating a link, create a network,” said SNCF America president Alain Leray, who is visiting Dallas, Austin and Waco this week on the heels of filing his company’s eight-pages of commentary on the Federal Draft Environmental Statement for the Dallas-to-Houston line.

Maryland-based SNCF America, a branch of the French National Railway, pitched its “Texas T-bone” idea to the Federal Railroad Administration in 2008 and 2016. The plan calls for “higher speed rail” service of 125 mph.

The railroad administration has instead proceeded to work with Texas Central Partners on a Dallas-to-Houston bullet line featuring speeds up to 210 mph and using Japanese technology.

[…]

If Texas Central Partners is first on the ground in the U.S., SNCF officials feel it may be game over for their firm and any other competition.

Currently, federal regulations do not address equipment requirements for train speeds above 150 mph. Texas Central Partners has petitioned for what is known as a rule of particular applicability (RPA). If the RPA is accepted and Texas Central successfully builds the nation’s first bullet line, it will be creating the standard.

“I think they have done a remarkable job. They are fighters and go-getters,” Leray said Monday of Texas Central. “Their chances of getting an RPA elsewhere becomes so much greater if they get this.”

See here, here, and here for more on SNCF, which has proposed a version of the “Texas T-Bone that would connect both San Antonio and Houston to D/FW. They have also expressed concern about that RPA in the past, which I can understand. As someone who wants passenger rail to be a success in Texas, and who wants to see as much of it built as possible, I’d say that if SNCF or some other rail company has a viable proposal for an additional line in Texas that depends on a standard that doesn’t lock them out of the market, then that should be taken into account when evaluating Texas Central’s RPA. Building the first line should not be a pathway to monopoly. On the other hand, if SNCF or whoever else doesn’t have anything remotely close to being in the pipeline, then I’m not sure what the fuss is about.

The bottom line is that I support maximizing the potential for passenger rail in Texas. It’s been my hope that if the Texas Central line is successful, it was generate demand for extensions and additions to it. Whatever furthers that goal is fine by me, and whatever hinders it should be avoided.

There’s more than one player in the Texas high speed rail game

Cool.

What a weird map of Texas

A company that operates France’s national high-speed rail network is exploring possible involvement in Texas bullet trains.

“We’re here to listen, learn and evaluate,” Alain Leray, president and chief executive of SNCF America Inc., said Monday during a visit to downtown Fort Worth.

Leray and a colleague with SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company, attended a two-hour meeting of the Texas high-speed rail commission and later met privately with officials planning the project.

The high-speed rail commission was formed a little more than a year ago by the Texas Department of Transportation to plan for a possible bullet train network connecting Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

[…]

Leray said his firm’s emphasis is on providing high-speed rail services to multiple destinations, including downtown areas. That philosophy could be in contrast to that of the Japan-U.S. partnership, which is emphasizing only a point-to-point connection between Houston and Dallas.

Some critics say the proposed Houston-to-Dallas service will do little more than fill a void for airline service between the cities now that flight restrictions at Dallas’ Love Field have been removed, allowing Southwest Airlines to concentrate on long-distance service.

“Right now, all you have is a connection from outside Houston to Dallas,” Leray said. “My question is, is that what the people of Texas want?”

Texas Central Railway is on course to have its draft environmental document released by the middle of this year, and a federal record of decision by mid- to late-2016 allowing construction to begin on the Houston-to-Dallas line. During a handful of public meetings, some residents, especially in rural areas, have criticized the proposed Houston-to-Dallas line, saying they don’t want a rail service that primarily benefits urban areas cutting through their lands.

Texas Central Railway is trying to do a better job communicating the project to the public to assuage those concerns, spokesman Travis Kelly said.

Kelly said his firm would also welcome involvement by SNCF or any other companies into the planning efforts.

However, the involvement of multiple companies raises questions about connectivity. For example, as it stands now, there are no plans by either SNCF or Texas Central Railway to share technology or allow one entity’s trains on the other’s tracks.

That would seem to create a dilemma for North Texas planners, who have said all along they would support a high-speed rail system in the Metroplex only if there were stops in Arlington and Fort Worth, in addition to Houston and Dallas, and only if a rider could travel among all those cities without changing trains.

But Bill Meadows, a former Fort Worth City Council member who is chairman of the high-speed rail commission, said he is confident questions about connectivity can be addressed.

See here for some background. There are tons of unanswered questions here, about potential routes, funding, and timing, but it’s good to know someone is talking about this. Given the multiple roadblocks that Texas Central High-Speed Railway has encountered so far, it would be wise to take all this with a healthy dose of skepticism. Still, despite the friction Texas Central has come a long way, and there does seem to be real interest in this, so who knows. I’ll keep an eye on it.