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Tokaido Shinkansen

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.

Japan rules, please

The people behind the proposed high-speed rail line in Texas would like for it to be built under the same rules as existing Japanese high-speed rail lines.

Railway operator JR Tokai and an American partner will petition federal regulators to set new rules allowing an ultrahigh-speed line here to be built to Japanese bullet train specifications.

The roughly 400km line connecting Dallas and Houston would meet the same standards used by the Tokaido Shinkansen running between Tokyo and Osaka. That line is operated by JR Tokai, formally known as Central Japan Railway. A three- to four-hour trip by car between the two cities in Texas would take less than 90 minutes on shinkansen bullet trains with a top speed of 320kph.

Texas Central Partners, the company steering the enterprise, is plotting out the route and wooing investors. JR Tokai will set up a unit by year-end to lend the project technical support.

In the U.S., high-speed trains use the same tracks as freight cars and conventional passenger trains. There are no dedicated tracks for high-speed service. Regulations mandate strong, heavy rail cars to minimize casualties from collisions.

But the Tokaido Shinkansen has no railroad crossings, and centralized traffic control with an automatic braking system further reduces the odds of a collision. So its cars can be built lighter, enabling higher speeds and easing the impact on the environment.

Texas Central Partners and JR Tokai will formally request as early as April that the Federal Railroad Administration issue the new rules. Both companies had been talking with the agency behind the scenes. Texas Central Partners hopes to begin construction in 2017 pending the new regulations and separate environmental assessments, with an aim to launch service in 2021.

Seems reasonable to me. There isn’t an existing model for this in the US, so I don’t know how likely this is or how difficult it will be to get these new rules. Bureaucracy can be a strange thing, and as we know this sort of request won’t happen in a vacuum. The various opponents of the project will surely try to get this request denied. So who knows what will happen. With a favorable ruling, I’d assume Texas Central will remain on schedule to begin building in 2017 and running in 2021. Without it, we’ll just have to see.