Y’all aboard

Texas bullet train

I admit I was surprised to learn that a private company is planning a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, and construction is expected to start as early as this year:

  • Texas Central Partners could begin construction on its $12 billion Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail project in late 2019 or early 2020, according to The Houston Chronicle. The developer also has tentative plans for a midway stop near Texas A&M University in College Station or Bryan.
  • The bullet train will be modeled after Japan’s Shinkansen high-speed train system because of its safety and efficiency track record. Texas Central says that the train’s two-track system — one northbound and one southbound — will not share tracks with freight lines.

This looks like a far better place for America’s first high-speed rail line than, say, LA to San Francisco, as the land between the two Texan cities is mostly flat, making the construction far simpler and therefore cheaper than the $77-98 billion California project.

From developer Texas Central’s website:

The main challenge, as noted in the press releases, is connecting the Central Valley to the main centers of population in the Bay Area and Los Angeles. This is why the current range of expected cost in California is between $77 billion and $98 billion. Out of this figure, the tunnels required to link the valley to San Jose (Pacheco Pass) and Los Angeles (Tehachapi Mountains) collectively, could cost well over $20 billion with significant underground risk.

To put this in perspective, the potential cost of these tunnels alone, is more than the total projected cost of Texas Central’s 240-mile project to link Houston and North Texas.

More about the project:

Nearly 50,000 Texans, sometimes called “super-commuters,” travel back and forth between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth more than once a week. Many others make the trip very regularly. The approximately 240-mile high-speed rail line will offer a total travel time of less than 90 minutes, with convenient departures every 30 minutes during peak periods each day, and every hour during off-peak periods – with 6 hours reserved each night for system maintenance and inspection.

[…]

Capable of operating at speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour and moving passengers between Dallas and Houston in less than 90 minutes

[…]

JRC’s Series N700 rolling stock features 16-car trains running between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. To serve the Texas market, Texas Central anticipates an eight-car train with seating capacity for an estimated 400 passengers, and the room necessary to provide them the comfort, amenities and service options they will expect and deserve.

And more background on the selection and financing of the project:

Our project is in Texas intentionally. After reviewing over 90 pairs of cities to determine the most commercially successful place to deploy a high-speed train, Houston to Dallas was the answer. The Houston to Dallas/Fort Worth region is by far, the most rapidly growing region in the nation. In 2018, Dallas and Houston combined added 224,700 jobs, compared to number two city, New York, at 115,500 jobs. No other region even comes close.

This generates significant congestion in roads and air travel infrastructure, which gives rise to a third choice: high speed rail. At the right distance, with the right economic links between Dallas, Houston and the Brazos Valley, and without the complexities now evident in California, our approach is more financially feasible.

As an investor owned project, not a government project, our financial discipline is rooted in the economic model and timelines for significant, public use infrastructure. Given economic realities, this is the right way to build this large-scale infrastructure for the public good, at the right time, to alleviate the growing congestion growth is bringing to our area, and so reduce public investment in other infrastructure.

We know the market and economics between North Texas and Houston match and exceed those of successful train routes globally. We are confident the Texas line will provide the ridership to sustain the operations, repay the debt and provide a return to the investors.

Sounds great. I hope they actually build it.