With $15 Mil From Feds, TxDOT Is Seeking Bids for Dallas-to-Houston High-Speed Rail Study

Categories: Transportation
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It's been quite some time since last we discussed the long-proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, which Jennifer Moczygemba, who oversees the Texas Rail Plan at the Texas Department of Transportation, called in April "definitely a priority" for TxDOT. This morning, she reiterates: It still is. So much so that at this very moment, TxDOT is looking for a firm to "evaluate potential routes and identify a preferred alternative that meets the identified service level requirements for [the Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston] corridor, including a top operating speed of at least 150 mph." That will be paid for, says Moczygemba, with $15 million in Federal Railway Administration High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funds awarded two months ago.

I called Moczygemba because I noticed that on Thursday, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board and reps from the Regional Transportation Council will meet to discuss high-speed rail's potential impact on DART. I asked Morgan Lyons, DART spokesman, what that means, to which he responded via email that while the discussion of a Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail line "has picked up in the last few months," there are still myriad unknowns, including, he wrote, "route, stops, project time-line, funding, etc." Said his note:
One of the elements of interest to us is the desire to connect high speed rail to the DART system. The goal would be for customers to get off an inter-city train and go right to us to continue their trip. Tomorrow's conversation is just to make sure RTC members in our service area understand how the high speed trains would affect our system. For example, HSR train platforms are typically longer than ours and the trains carry more people than light rail. We have to look at possible operating schedule implications. It's quite likely some of those trains would arrive during our peak hours of service.
Moczygemba says it'll take four years for a firm to complete its engineering and environmental study; during that time, there will be many public hearings. And, of course, there's no money at present to fund high-speed rail. Not yet, anyway.

xDOT and the RTC aren't sure if and when there will be. They're still waiting to see how the feds will dole out some $100 milllion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funds. But should the dough come free, then TxDOT wants to be ready: "This request [for bids] will cover actual engineering and gets you to where you can do the final design and construction," Moczygembasays.

And, incidentally, this has nothing to do with Central Japan Railway Company's expressed interest in building high-speed rail in Texas. Says Moczygemba, "They're independently pursuing it to see if they can do it with wholly private funds. Our process, when we look at the environmental impact and engineering, we are going to be looking at it technology-neutral. We won't prefer Japanese over European technology."

Besides, she reminds with a small laugh: "There's a long way to go -- a review of every detail, lots of public involvement. This is a long, detailed process that covers a 250-mile corridor. There are a lot of things to cover between now and then."

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34 comments
md
md

Meanwhile, in Calfiornia, they announced today that the projected cost of their first high-speed rail line will now be an "estimated $98.5 billion to build over the next 22 years, A PRICE NEARLY DOUBLE ANY PREVIOUS PROJECTION...In a key change, the state has decided to stretch out the construction schedule by 13 years, completing the Southern California-to-Bay Area high speed rail in 2033 rather than 2020."

And: "Californians...got some more unsettling details Tuesday: The high-speed trains will attract fewer riders and less revenue than originally promised. And more than half of the money needed to build the rail line would come from federal funding that currently doesn't exist."

And:

"The $98 billion price tag of the first phase of California's high-speed rail system would not be enough to link two key cities—San Diego and Sacramento—to the line...Connections to Sacramento, which draws lobbyists, interest groups and others from throughout the state, and San Diego, California's second most-populous city, are included in a second phase of the planned high-speed rail system...Just when those connections might be made is anyone's guess."

Paul
Paul

This will not happen in the forseeable future for a number of reasons.

1) The NIMBYs and the BANANAs will be out in full force2) The "Save our American Heartland" or some such similar organization will be out in full force.3) The minor cities along the way will demand that the trains stop in their towns thus lengthening a Dallas to Houston trip to some 8 to 10 hours.(Remember the old Amtrak service between Dallas and Hosuton?  It stopped in Ennis, Corsicana and College Station and took ten hours.)4) Existing transportation companies will do their best to block the underwriting by the government entities (i.e., the various companies such as SWA and the bus companies).5) The political payoffs for the general contractor, the material suppliers and the trainset builder.6) Various unions will be players to ensure the payment of 'prevailing wages".7) The "Buy American" faction

Other than that it sounds like a great idea.  When can I buy a ticket?

Juan Valdez
Juan Valdez

"The goal would be for customers to get off an inter-city train and go right to us to continue their trip."

Or they can do like the Love Field station which is like 3 miles away from the freaking airport!! Let's spend 15 Million for a consultant to tell us the nearest station to Dallas will be in Arlington, by the Stadium. Because there is no space in the city.

I truly have no faith anymore. So many smart people in this city, so many bad decisions.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

It is going to take about $25 million to get a street car from Reunion into Oak Cliff.That is less then X miles . This is Gazillion dollar project ..Houston, Dallas.? That distance hasn't changed and we know how to get there . Say, Is there going to be a side study to see how this whole project will impact the backslid Southern Baptist who is willing to move to some FAR AWAY PLACE ?NO ?Can I have a little cash to find out ?

Andrew in Ezo
Andrew in Ezo

"RTC members in our service area understand how the high speed trains would affect our system. For example, HSR train platforms are typically longer than ours and the trains carry more people than light rail. We have to look at possible operating schedule implications. It's quite likely some of those trains would arrive during our peak hours of service."

Wow, are they afraid that they will actually get more business than they can handle?  If only most transit systems would be so lucky.  Anyway, not everybody is going to transfer from the train to DART- there are things like taxis, buses, rental cars (Hertz@the station), and oh, yes, walking.

RTGolden
RTGolden

4 years and $15mil to find out if it's feasible to build it?  I'd say it's already cost and time prohibitive.  Although it is instructive if one is trying to point out examples of fraud, waste and abuse of government funds.

TMB
TMB

Maybe everyone I talk to is a psuedo-intellectual that waxes nostalgically about the better sides of New York, but nearly everyone I have spoken to (I also realize how "scientific" this sounds) has said they would pay up to $75 each way for a train that took you from Downtown Dallas to Downtown Houston in 2.5 hrs or less. If we can do this, then let's do it. $15MM for a study is ridiculous. Get out the hammers and railroad ties and make this thing happen. If we can spend $4.4Billion on I-35, why not a few hundred million to make this happen? Trains bring people closer together, density produces higher property tax revenue, higher property tax revenue means better schools, better schools means a better America. It's linear. Make it happen. 

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

We all might know that but just think now many pockets will get lined as they have to wheel and deal to stop it Nudge Nudge wink wink.

Adam from East Dallas
Adam from East Dallas

Politically, Southwest Airlines is never going to let this happen. That route is SWA's bread and butter.

Fletch
Fletch

I'd like to see a high-speed line running from Collin County to rural southeastern Archer County to make visiting family more convenient.  Who can I talk to in order to get that going?

Scruffygeist
Scruffygeist

The real questions are if the concessions contract at the station can be corrupted and if JWP's palms have to be greased for it to run through south Dallas.

Might as well make it a monorail and get Leonard Nimoy to cut the ribbon.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

As the great Yogi supposedly said, it's like deja vu all over again.  Edward Glaeser did an excellent four part series on high speed rail for the NYTimes a couple of years ago.  In addition to the economic challenges of high speed rail pointed out by Glaeser, do not underestimate the political obstacles, principally Southwest Airlines' formidable lobbying against rail.  My recollection is that SWA offered free flights between Dallas and Houston in return for the subsidies that were being discussed to promote rail.

GAA
GAA

Support this  mass transportation project so that I can save money on my commutes!

tony
tony

Give me $10. I'll do it this weekend. Seriously stop the stupid studies and just build us some effing transportation.

Anon
Anon

You know, normally I'd say that there will be lots of time between the study itself, the debate over its findings, the funding of the project, construction, and completion of the trains. So that's lots and lots of time for a local public transportation system to react without worrying about what it does to peak hour traffic. But this is DART we're talking about here.

Anon
Anon

So the government should just get out of the transportation business? The fraud, waste, and abuse in the highway construction business puts rail to shame. 

md
md

Yes, if we build high speed rail from Dallas to Houston, it won't be long before Centerville has its own Uptown!

Just look at all the density along the Trinity Railway Express!

LogiRush
LogiRush

Minor problem, TMB: You can't even build one mile of high-speed dual track with $15 million. So you wouldn't even reach Fair Park from downtown Dallas.

If the study actually recommends dedicated track for 150+ mph trains, you're probably looking at around $40 million per mile or a minimum of $10 billion for construction. So go ahead and wipe that idea of "a few hundred million" out of your mind.

Bob
Bob

Why would SWA give away flights to get subsidies that would promote a potential competitor?  That makes no sense.

I say, award the HSR contract to SWA, and watch them build it fast and make money on it.

md
md

If you found a new job in Dallas or moved to Houston it would be cheaper for us all.

md
md

Your bus is ready.

Anon
Anon

Sure, there's probably more than enough waste in that $15 million figure, and the contract probably will go to someone based on a political back room deal. But people do understand that the legal issues, logistical issues, and the amount of money they'd spend on this rail system are all huge, right? And the success or failure of the system would basically determine future funding of expansion of the system around the region with major economic implication. You can't just play connect the dots. How many of you people have worked at a company where you were responsible for putting $15 billion to work on a project? How much do you think the private sector spends doing diligence and planning when it spends that kind of money? It sounds wasteful on a Dallas Observer blog posting but you people need to get a clue.

Bob
Bob

Sure, get the government out of the transportation business.

All roads will be private, toll roads.  You want the Jerry Jones's of the world setting your rates to drive their streets and highways?  You want to pay money to drive to Wal-Mart?

All airports will be private.  You want the BP engineers and the Exxon Valdez ship captains running the air traffic control system?  You want to have unlimited flights out of Love Field?

Since the founding of this country (for you Constitution originalists) transportation has been a government function.  If the governments are doing a bad job, fix 'em.  A bad government road is still better than a road owned by a foreign corporation.

md
md

The California High-Speed Rail Authority just announced the projected cost of their high-speed rail system has risen to nearly $100 billion -- triple the estimate given to voters.

So figure $40 to $50 billion to construct such a system in Texas, then add the subsidies that will be needed to run it.

James the P3
James the P3

Southwest said that if it were to receive the subsidies necessary to build high-speed rail (rather than spending the subsidies on the construction and operation of the rail line), then it would be able to offer free flights in perpetuity.

RTGolden
RTGolden

I'm pretty sure he means.....If the government gives the subsidy money to SWA instead of to subsidize HSR, then SWA will give free flights Dallas-Houston...... right?

Anon
Anon

I'm not even sure how to respond to that. I do actually prefer a consumption-based method of funding infrastructure that takes into account usage when setting prices so that people recognize that their choices have consequences. But I recognize that no transportation system in history has ever paid for itself without government subsidy. I don't want highways to be private but I do think the government (not some shadowy quasi-government agency like NTTA) should own and operate them and charge tolls. I think the government is supposed to provide outsized subsidy to the most efficient means of transporting its citizens, which is public transportation. Cheap, mass air transit is a dying industry based on government regulation and low oil prices. I don't think it can survive sustained $100 oil, and it certainly can't survive anything higher than that. Airlines will continue to operate, but they will be outside the affordability of most Americans and small business customers, at which point the government subsidy will look more and more like what it actually is - a transfer payment to the small regional markets and subsidy to those already wealthy enough to afford air travel.As a side note, you do already pay money to drive to Wal Mart. It's called gasoline and vehicle wear/depreciation. The fact that you consider it "free" is the problem to begin with. 

Andrew in Ezo
Andrew in Ezo

Actually, as an intellectual exercise (and to shut up the blathering of anti-goverment types), I'd like to see all highways and interstates, as well as airports, funded and run by private enterprise.  It would quite possibly make for a more balanced transportation mix, as passenger rail would be be given a level playing field, once you remove the massive subsidies given to roads and government construction of airports.

TMB
TMB

Meant to say 250%

TMB
TMB

California line is 800 miles long, has to deal with multiple elevation changes, and oh by the way it's in California, a state not exactly known for being fiscally responsible.If you do straight line mile to mile cost conversion, ours would be around $30B, so your math is not terrible, but your cost estimates are insane. Initial estimates are for around $1B. You can probably expect this to run at least 150% higher than that. You are still talking about a 2.5B line that gets you from Downtown to Downtown in 96 min. That is pretty damn good. I have family in Houston, but I live in Dallas, if there was a cheap and easy way to see them more, I would. You probably would say why dont you drive? I hate driving. It takes a long time, its dangerous, and lately it is more expensive than I want to pay for it. Lets get back to the money side of things. 2.5B to make us move faster, more efficiently, less dependent on foreign oil, etc. vs. 4.4B on another highway? 

Anon
Anon

An easy claim to make when oil was cheaper. Trains run on energy as well, hug my understanding was that they run on electricity. That cn be generated any number of ways. Jet fuel is pretty much forever tied to oil.

Bob
Bob

Oh.  OK, then.

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