Another Step Toward the Dallas to Houston 90-Minute Train, But Don't Buy Your Ticket Yet

Categories: Transportation

Shinkansen700.jpg
Sui-setz
This is Japan, but pretend it's Texas for a minute. Pretty cool, right?

For decades, the passenger railway system in the United States has been in decline. But dreams of a high-speed railway across Texas have persisted, and with a rapidly increasing population and accompanying traffic woes, it's becoming increasingly necessary. Between a recent announcement of an environmental study and concrete funding plans, the reality of a high-speed train from Dallas to Houston could actually be happening. And it could be here within the next decade.

OK, we see you back there rolling your eyes. Stop that. No, it's not 1991 again. No, the trains won't be powered by unicorns or flying pigs, wiseguy.

This for real this time. Possibly. Hey, the third time's the charm right?

Texas Central Railway has begun a federal study into the environmental impact of the high-speed rail project, and solidified a private funding plan with the help of foreign investors. The train, in collaboration with the Central Japan Railway Co. will be a shinkansen bullet train, with speeds that top 205 mph. The train could traverse the 240-mile distance between Dallas and Houston in less than 90 minutes.

"It's a great project," Robert Eckels, president of the Texas Central Railway, said. "A lot the political challenges that would get in the way of a public project are not there for us. We're very excited at the prospect." The project has received ringing endorsements from a slew of political big-names, including the mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston.

"High-speed rail has been operating safely for decades in Japan, and Texas Central Railway has been working hard to replicate that world-class safety record right here in Texas," said Tom Schieffer, a senior adviser to Texas Central Railway and the former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, in a statement. "Transforming the way Texans move around the state starts with bringing our infrastructure into the 21st century. Texas can blaze the trail for a new America by being the first to demonstrate the value of letting the private sector lead the way on high-speed rail."

But before you buy your early-bird ticket, let's step back for a moment: We've been down this railroad before. In 1991, the Texas High Speed Rail Authority was founded to organize mostly French and British foreign investors for another privately funded railway. This plan, called the "Texas Triangle," flopped when the authority couldn't garner enough funds (the fact that airlines opposed it, as did businesses that operate along Texas highways, didn't help any). Governor Rick Perry proposed another high-speed rail project, this one a part of his Trans-Texas Corridor, but that was squashed by state legislators in 2009.

So perhaps a little skepticism is justified here. Sean Jeans-Gail, a spokesman for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, says this latest plan has a few hurdles to clear. "It's easy to say upfront that this is going to be entirely privately funded, but when you look at the cost at some point they're going to look to state or federal funding for help," he says. "I think they're probably going to look to public assistance."

If Texas Central Railway does seek public assistance -- a very likely possibility, given the roughly $10 billion price tag -- it will have to abide by federal manufacturing standards that require domestic railroad parts. If that happens, it's sayonara to Japanese and other foreign investors.

"It's certainly natural to be skeptical, given how many proposals there have been," Jeans-Gail says. But he says investment won't be the biggest issue. "The moment you figure out the route, you have winners and losers in terms of who's going to have trains going through their towns, who's going to have to move their businesses. High-speed rails have to be a straight shot, and there aren't as many turns to accommodate the human impact. There are things you can do to move around that, but that costs a lot."

Still, Jeans-Gail and most other railroad advocates agree this could be closest we've ever gotten to actually building a high-speed rail. "I do have a lot of confidence in the project. It's a great distance and when you look at the growth happening in Texas and the kind of congestion you see, it's going to be a very attractive travel option for businesses," says Jeans-Gail. "I think we're witnessing a seismic shift in the industry."

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118 comments
noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

One of the key elements to making this a success is a broad choice of transportation at the origination point, and destination point.  If people cannot conveniently and inexpensively get from the train station to their final destination, they'll just drive or take Southwest into a major airport with good transportation choices. 


DART, here in Dallas, is already discovering that transit to and from a destination station is critical to success.  As well, you need either cheap cabs ala New York, or something like Uber. 



noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

Properly outfitted with free WiFi, cell service repeaters, classroom areas where business topics and other subjects can be taught in one hour classes, attractive observation cars with good vision, and higher end rooms available for a surcharge, two-tiered meal dinning cars,  and really comfortable seats -- all at a reasonable price -- I think this can work.  

High-speed rail was studied by a work group in Dallas, and by a state committee that contained former Gov. Connally, Ben Barnes, representatives from Southwest Airlines, and others.  While the engineering worked, and practical aspects and ridership were sufficient, the costs for acquiring right of way and build-out were rather risky unknowns.  One interesting idea was following the example of high speed rail systems in Europe, and have Southwest Airlines operate it. That way, the most successful airline in America would have to worry about competition. 

Given higher ridership potential, more modern methods for track and bed building, improved legal requirements for land acquisition, and better trains like those in Japan, it *appears* to be a good idea and one that is workable and affordable. 

There is no reason Texas would need federal subsidies, and no reason for the federal government to get vary involved. 

In short, it's a great idea whose time has come if we can make all the pieces fit. 

 

muttley
muttley

There is exactly ONE stretch of rail in all of Europe that makes enough money that it doesn't need to be subsidized.  That's the 11km stretch that takes cars out to the vacation island of Sylt - they have a monopoly, there's no other way to get out there with your car.


Everything else, all the passenger rail lines Americans like to recall fondly from their college summer of love in Europe, has to be propped up with great whacking amounts of taxes.


We already have a high-speed line from Dallas to Houston, it's called Southwest Airlines.

Catbird
Catbird

There were several "Robber Barons" who made their fortunes putting in the railroads in the late 1800's. The way it worked is that the "Jay Gould" types buys out the majority of the state legislature that grants him the right of eminent domain in return for a piece of the pie. Jay Gould then goes out and condemns the right-of-way for his railroad with a 20, 30 or more mile width. The Robber Baron pays as little as possible for the land and cuts up the state so that anyone wanting to cross the rail line or locate next to a rail stop has to buy the right...you can figure out the rest for yourself.


This whole thing is a reprise big dollar political fraud.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Can you imagine Texans paying $7.73 a gallon for gas?  That's the average in France today.  Were it to go that high the holdouts on this comment board would be clambering for massive public transportation works.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

Every civilized country in the world has high-speed rail. Even China -- China! -- is putting down tracks as fast as it can. Texans fly to Europe and come back raving about great European trains. So what's holding us back?

The horse.

We have not yet managed to get outr minds beyond the one-man one-vehicle mindset. When we step into the garage, we see a stable, a fine thoroughbred just waiting to be saddled up and ridden somewhere. We'll give up the motorcar when they pry the reins out of our gnarled hands.  

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

Less reliance on individual transportation? check

Less chance of idiot drivers killing me with their individual transportation? check

Could I Uber both to and from the stations at either end? check

Less reliance on dangerous, aggravating and time-consuming air travel? check


I'm in.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@muttley Southwest would be a perfect contractor to operate the rail system, and their intimate involvement would also mean they didn't have another competitor. 

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Catbird Jay Gould made his money, not by "puttiig in" railroads but by speculating in railroad securities, buying up railroads that somebody else had already "put in,"milking them dry and selling the husk. 

Your grasp of railroad finance and history is barely at the high-school level.

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz And subsidizing and building this railway is one effective way to drive the gas prices (taxes) to those levels.  It will be an interesting scuffle, to say the least.

Catbird
Catbird

@bmarvel  driverless electric cars are on the way...we won't need the trains.

Chattering_Monkey
Chattering_Monkey

@bmarvel And Chinese are buying vehicles like crazy.  Its a reason GM and Ford are spending money over there, there are like a billion people over there who want to buy vehicles.  In fact, luxury cars are at the top of the list of vehicles being imported in to China

Chattering_Monkey
Chattering_Monkey

@bmarvel Hi bmarvel, are the chattering monkeys bothering you again?  What is wrong with loving your car.  What is wrong with loving to drive and enjoying the thrill of pressing that gas pedal, slamming the shifter into 2nd then 3rd then 4th and feeling the thrill and excitement of the  roar of the engine translate back through your foot, up your body and into your brain. man, that is an excitement I just cant get riding on a train next to a bunch of bmarvels.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@CogitoErgoSum Have you done the Acela.  Even though it's not as fast as Euro trains it will get you from Penn NYC to 30th Street Philly in one hour and ten minutes.

Catbird
Catbird

@bmarvel @Catbird  I said "Jay Gould Type". Defending your masturbatory fantasy about bullet trains will not make them anything other than a multibillion dollar taxpayer bilk.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@bmarvel @Catbird And, the :robber barons" made their money on smart right-of-way decisions and securing industrial shipping and transporation contracts. Nothing succeeds like a practical monopoly. 

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@bmarvel @Catbird Does anyone remember Jay Gould's prophet threat that "Grass will grow in the streets of Jefferson" upon their refusing to put in rail? 


Grass almost did grow in those streets until historic Jefferson was revived as a tourist and visitors point of interest.

Chattering_Monkey
Chattering_Monkey

@bmarvel @Catbird There he is on his high horse.  dishing out insults to the youngsters and people below him again.  your grasp of current events is at a very low level

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@Catbird You're going to drive a glorified golf cart from Dallas to Houston when you need to take a trip?


The luggage for a week in Galveston for three people would be enough to cause you to recharge about every 50 miles.  As well, how much time to you have?


I think HSR is a great idea if we can work the kinks out of routes, right-of-way acquisition, and infrastructure.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@Chattering_Monkey @bmarvel

Seems the tobacco companies are having a field day there, as well.

Cars & smokes, pedal to the metal in a drop-top puffing on a Pall Mall.

China 2015 = USA 1965

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@Chattering_Monkey

Well put.

I'm all in favor of opening the highways up for the likes of me. I can't drive 85!

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

@Chattering_Monkey  So where in our area are you able to do all that, what with continuous road construction, tie-ups, stop lights, and speed limits?  Or are you talking about the proving grounds in Nevada?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz @CogitoErgoSum Oh, but that requires rubbing elbows with -- strangers! Other people. 

And you can't whip into somebody else's lane or be the first away from the stoplight on a train, And everybody gets to their destnation at the same time. What fun is that?  

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@Catbird @bmarvel Who in the world would be a Jay Gould "type," Catbird? He was pretty much a type unto himself. Could you name some names?

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas @bmarvel @Catbird The Robber Barons made their money speculating in railroad stocks and bonds. Those who actually built the roads lost their shirts and were forced to sell out to the money men. The money, the money ones had figured out, was not in operating railroads. It was in taking over the contracts from failed builders, inflating costs and pocketing the difference.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@noblefurrtexas @bmarvel @Catbird 

That's always puzzled me, noble. Gould's own Missouri Pacific was built along the town's west edge and the Kansas City Southern runs right through the center of town. Where did folks get the idea Jefferson refused rails?

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

@Chattering_Monkey @bmarvel @Catbird Jason "Jay" Gould (May 27, 1836 – December 2, 1892) was a leading American railroad developer and speculator. He was long vilified as an archetypal robber baron, whose success at business made him the ninth richest U.S. citizen in history, though modern historians working from primary sources have discounted his portrayal by the contemporary press.  Condé Nast Portfolio ranked Gould as the 8th worst American CEO of all time.  


According to trade unionists, he said at the time, "I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half."

Chattering_Monkey
Chattering_Monkey

@TheRuddSki Rudd, look at these 2 clowns, they cant even answer simple questions, and when taken to task with facts, both dont have shit to say.  Like down below where old man b talks about shoes, and coats at TSA,  

Chattering_Monkey
Chattering_Monkey

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz considering we are talking about travel to Houston by train, I could do all that, oh i dont know, on the country roads on the way to Houston!

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas

@bmarvel @noblefurrtexas @Catbird It's a critical part of Jefferson's history. 

The short version is that Jefferson enjoyed an excellent economy and, thanks to an Army Corps of Engineers refusal to clear a blockage up stream on the waterway, Jefferson had a large and very profitable turn basin for steamships for passenger service and war materials.

When Jay Gould came to town, he wanted to sell Jefferson on the idea of his running the train track by Jefferson so they could ship goods and people more easily.  But, the City Council of Jefferson voted it down because the were already a point of departure because of the turn basin. 

Jay Gould left Jefferson very angry and left the prophetic words on the sign-in book at the historic Excelsior Hotel.  (You can see this page of the book on display.)


Not much later, the Army Corps of engineers dynamited the blockage that created the dam, the water ran out of the turn basin and left Jefferson without a port of any kind. 


Consequently, commerce and the population of Jefferson seriously declined, and Gould's threat that grass would grow in the streets of Jefferson turned quite true for many years.

 

 

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@bmarvel @noblefurrtexas @Catbird 

What really killed Jefferson was Colonel Shreve dynamiting the logjam on the Red River which lowered Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou which in turn made river traffic infeasible to Jefferson.


I think Jefferson got the last laugh on Gould as they have his personal railroad car on display.

Sotiredofitall
Sotiredofitall topcommenter

@Chattering_Monkey @TheCredibleHulk @bmarvel I'm not sure I'd want to go to Houston even if they had a Star Trek Teleporter.    

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