NPP: State News

AUSTIN — Backers continue to move along on plans to build a bullet-train route between Dallas and Houston, but it’s not the only high-speed passenger rail project on Texas drawing boards. 

With a proposal to run between cities such as Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo, the project recently got a green light for new money to do further study.

“We’re still an embryo,” said Kevin Feldt, a North Central Texas Council of Governments program manager overseeing the high-speed rail project regionally. “We’re still in the first week or two of pregnancy.”

Nobody has begun buying right of way or buying trains, let alone figured out funding and finance — topics that can fire skepticism about the passenger rail’s ability to break even or turn a profit — but there’s now an environmental impact statement, and potential investors have come calling.

“Suffice it to say, there’s interest in developing (from) Fort Worth southward, possibly to Monterrey, Mexico,” Feldt said. “We’ve had the French and Chinese and Spanish come to us and meet with us to talk about it.

“Some wanted to do one piece; we had others who wanted to do everything.”

The proposed line from North Texas cities — Dallas and Arlington included — is part of an 850-mile project called the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Program Corridor.

In the project’s central section, reaching from Fort Worth to San Antonio, would be aimed at several problems.

“Multiple transportation, land use, socioeconomic and environmental considerations drive the need for the Program in the Central Section,” according to the 2017 environmental impact study. 

Specific needs for the central section are the following:

• Changing transportation demand of an increasing transit-dependent population requires an alternative mode.

• Inefficient and infrequent rail service limits ridership.

• Increasing congestion and unreliable travel times on both the existing highway and rail services require an alternative interregional service.

• Poor and declining air quality requires more sustainable modes of travel.

While state and federal agencies signed off on the EIS, a different set of eyeballs were also on the so-called Texas Triangle — Dallas/Houston/Laredo — when it became one of 10 winners in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge last year.

The challenge drew proposals to build Hyperloop networks connecting cities and regions around the world.

Conceived by inventor Elon Musk, “Hyperloop consists of two massive tubes ...” according to digital trends.com. “Pods carrying passengers would travel through the tubes at speeds topping out over 700 mph.

“For propulsion, magnetic accelerators will be planted along the length of the tube, propelling the pods forward.

“The tubes would house a low pressure environment, surrounding the pod with a cushion of air that permits the pod to move safely at such high speeds, like a puck gliding over an air hockey table.”

According to hyperloop-one.com, “The US Dallas-Laredo-Houston proposal would create a system of cities that unify Texas’ prominent urban centers and serve the many Texans commuting long distances every day.

“This route has the opportunity to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and gridlock by connecting the communities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Laredo.”

The 640-mile corridor would “connect five of the top eight fastest growing cities in America,” with 19-minute travel time between Dallas and Houston, according to the Hyperloop website.

Feldt said that whatever comes out of the next round of study, actually building a high-speed passenger rail — not to mention a Hyperloop system — will be “a lot more complex” than the challenges the private company working to roll out the Dallas/Houston passenger train has encountered.

The Dallas/Houston corridor is not only flatter and easier to run a high-speed train across, but less populous.

Still, like Feldt, Bill Meadows, who chairs the Commission for High Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region, noted the interest from Chinese and French rail representatives in discussing a public-private project here.

And, said Meadows, “They like the (Interstate) 35 corridor better than the (Interstate) 45 corridor.”

 

John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI newspapers and websites. Reach him at jaustin@cnhi.com.