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Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp

Profiling the high speed rail opponents

City Lab takes a look at the people who are resisting the proposed Texas Central Railway.

Turns out you don’t need to rely on public money to be hated as a U.S. high-speed rail project. That much is becoming clear from the battering being given to a big Texas bullet train plan that’s privately funded.

A quick recap: Texas Central Railway, a private firm, is pushing a very promising proposal to link Dallas and Houston with a Japanese-style high-speed train capable of doing the trip at 200 mph. By relying on investors rather than taxpayers, the plan seemed poised to avoid a lot of the fiscal (slash ideological) squabbles that have plagued its federally-funded counterparts in California, Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

But with the project advancing toward route selection and environmental review, an intense opposition has emerged. It’s taken the form of anti-HSR groups (e.g. No Texas Central and Texans Against High Speed Rail), local legislation designed to stop the project, packed and panicked community meetings, and pleas for Congressional representatives to block any applications made by Texas Central to the Surface Transportation Board.

So far the high-speed rail pushback seems to be falling into three broad categories.

Click over and see how they were categorized. Nothing really new here, but it’s a succinct summary and a good quick reference guide if you need it.

Speaking of the legislation that has advanced out of committee, the Trib notes that its author, Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, hasn’t always been anti-rail.

Yet as recently as 2012, Kolkhorst was listed as a member of the legislative caucus of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation, a nonprofit that has advocated on behalf of cities and counties to encourage private sector development of high-speed rail in the state.

Kolkhorst’s chief of staff, Chris Steinbach, said there was no contradiction in her actions, as she is not uniformly opposed to high-speed rail.

“While she was involved with discussions about high-speed rail as a concept years ago, that is very different from endorsing the current specific route and methodology,” Steinbach said in an email. “In fact, her bill this session does not speak to the concept of rail, but rather the potential abuse of eminent domain.”

Kolkhorst was a state representative from 2001 to 2014, when she won a special election to take a seat in the Senate. The Dallas-based Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation identified Kolkhorst as a new member of its legislative caucus in 2007. Steinbach said the senator joined the corporation at the request of some of her constituents. She has not been a member of the organization’s legislative caucus as a senator.

“She lent her name as a goodwill gesture for constituents who supported the idea of researching rail projects,” Steinbach said. “While she is she known for her open-minded approach to problems, that trait should not be mistaken for any advocacy or endorsement of the current high-speed rail project being discussed in the 84th Legislature.”

The Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation launched in 2002 with a focus on encouraging private sector development of the Texas T-Bone, a proposed high-speed rail system connecting San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, according to David Dean, the corporation’s public policy consultant. The corporation has more recently encouraged private sector high-speed rail development anywhere in the state but is not officially endorsing Texas Central’s project, Dean said.

“We’re glad they’re here,” Dean said. “We hope they’re very successful because we need that true high-speed intercity passenger rail.”

Whatever. Look, people can change their minds, and they can decide that this project is OK but that one is not. As I’ve said before, there are valid reasons for folks in the affected rural reasons to oppose this project. But if this does succeed – and to be clear, I remain in favor of it – then perhaps that also-long-discussed Texas T-Bone would be more likely to finally get built, and it might very well be the kind of boon to the rural communities that TCR will be for Houston and Dallas. A little big-picture thinking would be nice here, that’s all I’m saying.

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.

Financing the Dallas to Houston high speed rail line

The way things are going, this could get built before the final pieces of the 2012 Metro Solutions plan.

Like this but with fewer mountains

If high-speed rail comes to North Texas by 2020, the bullet trains will initially rely on the area’s road system — not public transportation — to get most of the riders from the end of the line to their final destination, an official said.

“We do think that for the first few years the system is in operation, the collector-distributor system will largely be highways,” said Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central Railway, which wants to build a line featuring trains running every 15 to 20 minutes from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston.

“The mass-transit systems aren’t built out to handle the kind of transit they have in Tokyo, but that will come in time.”

On Thursday, Eckels briefed the Regional Transportation Council about plans to bring 200-mph trains to North Texas, possibly by 2020, in a partnership with Central Japan Railway Co., which operates bullet trains connecting Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

The company is seeking roughly $10 billion in private investment to build the estimated 240-mile line, and it will not seek federal or state money. Eckels stressed that $10 billion is an early estimate. Depending on factors such as the location of the Dallas-Fort Worth station, the cost could be much higher, or even lower.

See here, here, and here for some background. Dallas and Houston are just far enough apart to make the drive unpleasant and inconvenient, but once you factor getting to and from the airport and going through security, there’s not much gained by flying. That’s the main reason why a high speed train connection has always made sense. Surely those poor souls who commute between the two towns would love to have this option. But it has to be done right, and I think this is a mistake to be avoided:

Within the Metroplex, it’s still not clear where a station should be. Many elected officials favor putting a hub in or near Dallas/Fort Worth Airport or the CentrePort development just south of the airport.

I say that having the terminals in or near the destination city centers will be a big advantage for the rail line. Even at top speed, this train will take longer to get from Dallas to Houston, but if you don’t have to spend a half hour or more at each end getting to and from the terminal as you do with the airport, that will make total travel time much more favorable for the train. I agree the transit infrastructure isn’t there yet at either end, but it will be, and when it is you don’t want to be stuck with one terminus out at D/FW Airport. Whoever it is that favors this now really needs to give that some more thought. Dallas Transportation 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.

Harris County rejoins Texas High Speed Rail group

Harris County is once again a part of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation after Commissioners Court voted to start paying its dues again.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry Eversole put high-speed rail on Tuesday’s agenda, saying Harris County needs to actively lobby for a direct link between Dallas and Houston.

“How can you get something if you’re not even part of the organization that’s putting it together?” Eversole said. He said he hopes some day to see an alternative to “airports and concrete” that could get people from Houston to Dallas in an hour.

[…]

“I don’t see this corporation as the entity that’s going to make it happen, but they’re going to be the driving force that gets the legislators’ attention and gets the governor’s attention,” said [County Judge Ed] Emmett, former CEO of a national transportation trade group. “If we don’t start on high-speed rail now, then we’re going to look up 20 years from now and be kicking ourselves for not doing what we needed to do.”

One could say the same thing now about what we didn’t do 20 years ago, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I hope this small step makes it just a bit more likely that Texas will fare better in the next round of funding for these projects.

The Chron on the lost SUPERTRAIN opportunity

The Chron is none too pleased with the way Texas fared with federal funds for high speed rail.

Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Lippincott stated the obvious: Texas needs to have more plans in that “shovel-ready” shape. Lippincott says the near shutout in federal funding was “not a surprise.”

It certainly surprised us. We had assumed that Texas’ business of making its case before the federal bureaucracy was being handled capably and almost routinely. That was the impression given on a visit here awhile back by members of the Texas High-Speed Rail Authority, a nonprofit group composed mostly of former public officeholders.

On the merits, Texas has an utterly compelling case for high-speed rail connecting Houston with Dallas-Fort Worth and the Austin-San Antonio area. That is what makes this failure to lead, to get organized, however you want to describe it, such a vexation.

I think we all get what the problem was. The path forward, that’s a harder thing to figure out. I’ll say again, the necessary first step is new leadership for Texas, but I’m not laboring under the illusion that that’s a sufficient step. Still, if we don’t take that first step, we can’t get anywhere else.

The SUPERTRAIN passes us by

We knew we weren’t going to get much in the way of funding for high speed rail in Texas, but it still kinda stings to see just how little we got.

The $3.75 million that the Lone Star State will receive is a sliver of the more than $8 billion distributed, mostly to states that have plans and other funding ready to go.

The goal is to build a coordinated national high-speed-rail network that could help relieve road and air congestion. Plans range from upgrading Amtrak tracks to help trains move at more than 100 mph to building elevated tracks for European-style bullet trains, which could shuttle travelers across long distances at more than 185 mph.

Long-standing plans call for the high-speed network to pass through the Metroplex, linking North Texas with St. Louis and Chicago to the north and San Antonio to the south.

Let’s just say we’re a long, long way from that. The DMN puts it in context.

Consider what others are doing. Take Florida, which has, like Texas, a Republican governor and GOP-controlled Legislature:

  • In October, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Florida lawmakers to get their “act together” if they wanted stimulus money Congress authorized for high-speed rail.
  • In December, those lawmakers passed a high-speed rail bill in special session to address governance and funding.
  • Thursday, President Barack Obama went to Florida with Amtrak-riding veteran Joe Biden to announce a $1.25 billion grant to develop Tampa-to-Orlando service for 168-mph trains.

In California, voters had already embraced bullet-train development by approving a $10 billion stake in financing. Illinois, aside from having close friends in Washington, had pledged support to modernize current Chicago-to-St. Louis service.

In the rail sweepstakes, no smart money was on Texas – certainly not after Karen Rae, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said in Austin this month that there “has been no central vision, no common vision for rail in Texas.”

With that assessment, we agree.

Ouch. I don’t know when the next opportunity will come, but I sure hope we can do better than this.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for SUPERTRAIN funds

The DMN throws a little cold water on the hopes of high speed rail advocates in Texas.

This month, at a speech in Austin, a top federal rail administrator charged with managing the distribution of the new grants said Texas’ application lacks the kind of political support from the governor and the Legislature that would help it compete against other states where that support has been stronger.

“There has been no central vision, no common vision for rail in Texas,” said Karen Rae, deputy commissioner for the Federal Railroad Administration. “And that kind of vision, that kind of support from the political leadership, is critical to success in our program.”

[…]

The first $8 billion of what could be several times that much money over the next five years is expected to be awarded in the next several weeks. And Texas, with its flat landscape and bulging urban populations just far enough away from each other to make high-speed rail attractive, is home to two of the eight rail corridors the U.S. government has identified as likely places to invest.

Texas has requested $1.8 billion in the current round of funding, most of it to fast-track a bullet train proposal – dubbed the Texas T-Bone – that would run trains at 220 mph from Fort Worth to San Antonio, and from Temple to Houston.

Rae said other states have done much more than Texas has to enhance their funding requests.

“Immediately after we announced this [funding] program, the state of Florida called a special session of its Legislature – and they set about addressing their laws specifically so as to make their application as strong as possible. In the Midwest, eight governors and the mayor of Chicago have formed a formal compact to work together to bring high-speed rail.”

The good news is that this is not the only time such money will be available, and we have at least taken some steps forward. Maybe seeing other states get into a position to actually start building out their networks will act as a catalyst to spur us farther along. But as with many things, a change in leadership at the top would help, too. Thanks to EoW for the link.

SNCF proposes high-speed rail route for Texas

It’s not the Texas T-Bone, but it’s a start.

Last December, Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters and Representative John Mica (R-FL) announced that the Federal Railroad Administration would begin accepting Expressions of Interest for the development of high-speed lines in the United States. By February, more than 80 groups, including a number of states, train operators, and train constructors, had sent letters describing their interest in being part of the development of American fast train travel. Final responses were due on September 14th.

I’ve obtained documents that show that SNCF, the French national railroad operator made famous by its development of the TGV system, has responded with detailed descriptions of potential operations in four U.S. corridors, all to benefit from train service at speeds of up to 220 mph. The organization refers to this service as HST 220 (220 mph high-speed trains). With the exception of a description of plans by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, SNCF appears to be the only group that submitted a serious, corridor-based response to FRA’s demand, though infrastructure companies Vinci, Spineq, Cintra, Global Via, and Bouygues all sent in letters promoting rather vague interest in involvement.

There is no funding associated with this call for expressions of interest; it is unrelated to the stimulus. Nonetheless, SNCF’s large response — totaling 1,000 pages — exemplifies the degree to which it sees American corridors as a good investment and suggests that the French company is planning an all-out assault on future U.S. rail operations.

[…]

SNCF has an entrenched interest in Texas high-speed rail, having been the majority member of theTexas TGV project of the late 1980s and early 1990s. That proposal collapsed in flames after intense opposition from Southwest Airlines and subsequently state legislators. The company has a sincere interest in moving forward with a new project in the state, and has chosen to focus on a Ft. Worth-Dallas-Austin-San Antonio link, rather than the Dallas-Houston link that’s been much-discussed in recent weeks. The company argues that building the former line first would allow further consideration of the connection to Houston; it is clear that SNCF still considers the Texas Triangle an option, despite recent efforts to promote the T-Bone corridor, portrayed on the map above.

At $13.8 billion in construction costs, SNCF expects benefits to outweigh public infrastructure costs by 170% over a period of 15 years. This project would have the highest rate of return of any of the corridors profiled in the studies presented here. The study projects 12.1 million annual riders by 2026 and 15 million by 2040. After predicting 11.4 million annual riders for the Dallas-Houston corridor last month — far higher than the 1.5 to 3 million economist Ed Glaeser assumed in his study of the line — I feel vindicated.

Dallas and San Antonio would be connected in 1h50, with links between Dallas and Austin in 1h13 non-stop. Seven new stations would be built, five in traditional downtown hubs and two located adjacent to airports in Dallas and San Antonio.

You can see their map for Texas here (large PDF). It’s about 275 miles from San Antonio to Dallas, which would be about a four hour drive under ideal conditions that don’t exist, and as I recall a bit more than an hour’s flight. If your destination is downtown, you’d make up quite a bit of time by not having to get there from either airport.

The DMN Transportation blog has more on this. Obviously, I’d like to see Houston connected to Dallas, whether via Austin (which would fit in well with existing commuter rail proposals) or directly. Regardless, seeing an actual proposal from a private company is pretty exciting. What do you think?

On a related note of good timing, neoHouston is embarking on a detailed exploration of high speed rail in Texas and how to make it successful. I look forward to seeing his impression of the SNCF proposal.

More on Glaeser and high speed rail

I mentioned before some analysis done by the New York Times’ Ed Glaeser on the economics of high speed rail between Houston and Dallas. His series has come under a lot of criticism – see that post, along with these two from Ryan Avent for some of that – along with some support from his fellow Times blogger Eric Morris. Now that his seris is complete, here’s a more in depth critique from The Infrastructurist, which uses the Texas T-Bone instead of Glaeser’s hypothesized Houston-Dallas line. The good news is that The Infrastructurist sees a high speed rail line as paying for itself. The bad news is that he’s basing his analysis on a fully built system in the year 2030. I sure hope we can get to where he’s projecting a bit faster than that.

Commuter rail update

Christof has some surprisingly good news for those who want to see commuter rail in the Houston area.

There hasn’t been much public movement on commuter rail since the HGAC’s study was released a year ago. But quietly, gears are meshing, and we may have commuter rail to Galveston and Hempstead as early as 2012.

On Thursday, the North Houston Association hosted a high-powered group: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, METRO CEO Frank Wilson, Gulf Coast Freight Rail District (GCFRD) Chairman Mark Ellis, Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation (THSRTC) chairman (and former Harris County Judge) Robert Eckels, and Union Pacific’s Joe Adams. Introducing them was former Harris County Judge and State Senator Jon Lindsey, father of the Harris County Toll Road Authority. If there was ever a visual demonstration of the political will that’s aligning behind commuter rail, this was it.

Color me pleasantly surprised. As Christof notes, there are still some big questions to be answered about things like who would implement and run it, how much it would cost and how it would be paid for, and where it would connect to the existing Metro system and the city’s core, but just knowing that all these players are on board and pointing in the same general direction is reason for a lot of hope. From the interviews I’ve done so far, I feel confident that Houston City Council at least would be ready to work on this. Getting it in place would greatly enhance the existing Metro system, and would give momentum for the case to expand further. Keep yout fingers crossed.

Oklahoma gets on the SUPERTRAIN

Welcome aboard!

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation said Friday it has taken an initial step to apply for high-speed rail funding that, if successful, could return passenger service to Tulsa.

ODOT spokeswoman Terri Angier said top speeds between Tulsa and Oklahoma City would be more than 150 mph with an average speed of more than 110 mph.

Top speeds for the Heartland Flyer, which provides servicefrom Oklahoma City to Texas, would be 90 mph, with an average of more than 60 mph.

The Heartland Flyer now can travel only up to 79 mph, but the speed is lower on much of that route.

A cost estimate for the project, which would include improvements from Tulsa to the Texas state line, has been put at just under $2 billion.

This would be part of the South Central Corridor that also includes the Texas T-bone and Little Rock, Arkansas. Nice to see the other states involved are doing their part. I hope their prospects for getting the funding are better than ours.

We may miss the SUPERTRAIN

Dammit.

As we have reported here often, the federal government is about to dump a lot of money on states to develop a handful of high-speed passenger rail corridors, and the good news for us is that Texas is home to two of the 11 routes highlighted for special focus. (Click here for the feds’ plan: hsrstrategicplan.pdf.)

The bad news? As I wrote in a short piece for the newspaper this morning, Texas is so poorly positioned to build its rail lines, it’s all but certain to be shut out of the big money. (Another take on the same theme, from San Antonio, is here.)

The reason for this, in short, is that other states are way ahead of us in laying the groundwork for building rail infrastructure and dealing with the funding issues for same. Christof gave a to-do list awhile ago. And we did at least get a bill passed and signed to authorize a study of high speed rail. But that’s just a baby step, and several other states are far ahead of us. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do, or we’ll lose out on a lot of federal dollars in the next few years. That would be a huge missed opportunity, and a real shame.

A high-speed rail to-do list for Texas

Catching up on some stuff now that the Lege is (I hope) gone from Austin till 2011, Christof noted a meeting in town of the Federal Railroad Administration last week, and put together a list of things that will need to happen in order to bring the SUPERTRAIN to Texas. One piece of good news I can add to his effort is that despite the legislative train wreck at the end, the House did manage to approve SB1382, which calls for the state to create a long-term plan for developing a statewide passenger rail system. It’s a small step, but as you can see in Christof’s list there’s a whole bunch of small steps that need to be taken, so getting this one done now is helpful. Check it out.

More on the SUPERTRAIN

Are the stars really aligning to bring a SUPERTRAIN to Texas? Maybe so!

Current plans for a Texas system envision a “T-bone” track shape connecting Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and other towns. But much remains vague: where exactly the route would go, who would build it, the price and funding sources.

“We clearly don’t have a project that is ready,” said Alan Clark, transportation programs manager for the Houston-Galveston Area Council. “There’s no alignment, no one has done any environmental work. It’s all a concept right now.”

The federal government has not yet issued guidelines for how to apply for the money, and it’s unclear if the Texas Department of Transportation — or another agency or group — would lead the project. Plans are further along in other states, including California and Florida.

Nevertheless, Texas has natural advantages conducive to high-speed rail, advocates say. The terrain is relatively flat and land is cheaper than in California and Florida.

“We have the ability to produce a system that is reasonably priced,” said David Dean, a former Texas secretary of state. Dean is working as a consultant for the main advocacy group, the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp.

Dean estimates the T-bone would cost $10 billion to 20 billion and could be completed by 2020. It would ease highway congestion and pollution, attract more Fortune 500 companies to the state, and help in an Olympics bid, he said. The Houston route could even help during hurricane evacuations, he added.

[…]

In 1994, state plans to bring high-speed rail to Texas collapsed after a French company could not get sufficient funding for a system that would have linked Dallas, Houston and San Antonio in a triangular track pattern.

The T-bone shape, requiring 440 miles of track, would be 40 percent smaller than the triangle plan. Technology has also advanced, making construction and operation easier and less expensive, Dean said.

[Former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, who is chairing the High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp,] said airlines operating in the state, which vigorously lobbied against the 1994 plan, are now open to the idea, provided the routes connect to major airports.

So I wouldn’t look to buy the Texas version of a Eurorail pass just yet, but prospects are brighter than they’ve ever been. I think the prospects for the HSRT Corp will improve if the big cities on the endpoints have more robust rail systems for its passengers to connect to, including commuter lines like what’s been proposed for Houston to Galveston. Being able to leave the car at home when traveling this way will be a huge boon. I have my doubts that they can really make anything happen in the next decade, but I’ll be more than pleased to be proven wrong about that.

A SUPERTRAIN for Texas?

It could happen.

The idea of high-speed rail is being pushed again in a big way in Texas, and backers hope to have $12 billion to $18 billion high-speed trains running by 2020. This time, they say they have taken care to ensure the idea won’t fall flat the way a bullet-train push did some 15 years ago.

“In the past, high-speed rail was not completed in Texas primarily because it was a top-down model driven by lobbyists out of Austin,” former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, chairman of the nonprofit Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., told lawmakers at a Wednesday transportation briefing.

This time, he said backers from the consortium — which includes elected leaders, cities, counties and two airlines among others — reached out to past opponents to try to solve their concerns. Among them: Southwest Airlines, which fought the last high-speed rail project as a potential competitor. Southwest spokesman Chris Mainz said the airline is neutral on this proposal.

The high-speed trains — with an average speed of 200 mph — would run to airports, allowing rail to work in conjunction with airlines by ferrying in passengers catching longer flights.

[…]

The rail would run along the so-called “Texas T-Bone” — from Dallas-Fort Worth through Austin to San Antonio, and branching off in Temple to Houston. More than 70 percent of Texans live in the area that would be served.

Lawmakers and those pushing the project said it’s crucial to come up with alternative transportation since the state population is expected to reach 40 million to 50 million by 2040.

You know I love me some trains, and I’ll be happy to see this come about, if it really is possible. I don’t think I’d prioritize this kind of rail construction over commuter or light rail in urban areas, and even if I did prioritize this I’d be sure to continue pushing for urban rail transit so as to take full advantage of the network effect. But I’m still happy to see this sort of thing on the drawing board, and I hope it gains traction.

(SUPERTRAIN is a registered trademark of Atrios.)