The three-and-a-half-hour drive from Houston to Dallas on Interstate 45 is a humdrum inconvenience — even on the prettiest of days. Miles of asphalt carve through the Texas landscape only to be intermittently interrupted by itty-bitty towns, which are there and gone in the blink of an eye.
This trip could be spruced-up by taking an alternate route: Highway 290 to Highway 6, passing through Cypress, Hempstead, Bryan-College Station and Waco, then Interstate 35 East into Dallas. Although this route offers a busier scenery and the Czech Stop in West, the drive-time increases almost an hour.
One-way flights from George Bush Intercontinental Airport into Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport start at $100. Where is the better alternative?
Charting A Course
Enter Texas Central Partners, LLC and Texas Central Railroad and Infrastructure, Inc.
Two summers ago, Texas Central kicked off its $10 billion project — a high-speed rail linking Houston and Dallas — and raised $75 million of Texas-based money.
Rebecca Cowle, an outreach manager for Texas Central, feels the high-speed rail will set a new precedent for rail travel in the United States.
“This will be the first true high-speed rail in the western hemisphere,” Cowle said. “We get to set the tempo and lead the nation for this kind of technology.”
The project is a completely private venture with private investors. Once completed, 240 miles of track will connect two of Texas’ largest metropolitan cities with an intermediate stop located between Hunstville and Bryan-College Station.
The Japanese-style bullet train will be able to travel up to 205 mph and complete the journey in less than 90 minutes.
A New Frontier
“This is such an exciting opportunity for Texas,” Cowle said.
Cowle was the fourth person hired in Texas Central’s Dallas, Texas, office three years ago.
“I’m one of the OGs,” she chuckled.
Cowle leaned into the webcam with an eagerness to share the Gospel of High-Speed Rail.
The new rail option would not only benefit business travelers. Students traveling to and from home would no longer have to worry about falling asleep behind the wheel after a long day of classes or visiting.
Cowle leaned back.
“One of my friends at Texas A&M was hit and killed by a driver that fell asleep at the wheel on 45,” Cowle said.
Any travelled Texan can recall a time when a long trek between any of the five major cities resulted in drowsy driving.
The Lay of the Rail
The 100-foot right-of-way required by the double-track setup will be elevated for free access underneath and take up the same amount of space as a typical two-lane farm-to-market road. The slightest change in alignment has the potential of adding miles of track.
The project will use three times more concrete than the Hoover Dam and 15,000 full rail cars of aggregate. During construction, as many as 10,000 Texans will be hired to complete the project. Once the trains are operational, a minimum of 1,000 jobs will be created to maintain the rail with annual payroll from Texas Central equaling $80 million.
In the next 25 years, the direct cumulative economic impact for Texas could equal up to $36 billion and Texas Central will pay nearly $2.5 billion in taxes.
“It’s time to upgrade our transportation systems in the United States,” Cowle said.
The N700-I bullet train is a product of Japan and boasts a 52-year-and-counting safety record.
“It has gotten better, lighter, faster and safer over the years,” Cowle said.
Along with the impeccable safety record, the train also touts and on-average annual delay of less than one minute.
Houston to Chicago
According to a Surface Transportation Board filing, The National Railroad Passenger Corporation — Amtrak — supports the development of high-speed rail throughout the nation.
Joe McHugh, vice president of government affairs and corporate communications, addressed Texas Central in a reply to the company’s Petition for Exemption.
The bullet train would provide a link between two major Amtrak lines: The Texas Eagle in Dallas, which runs from Chicago to Los Angeles, and the Sunset Limited in Houston, which connects New Orleans and Los Angeles.
McHugh wrote, “Enhancing connectivity between our trains, and with other transportation services that serve routes and destinations we do not directly serve, is one of our most important objectives.”
Blowing the Whistle
Texas Central’s necessity of nearly 3,000 acres in rural Texas between Houston and Dallas has not been met with arms wide open.
According to the Facebook page for Texans Against High-Speed Rail, Inc. — which boasts over 10,000 likes — the organization is comprised of citizens, land and business owners, and elected officials dedicated to defeating a tax-subsidized railway.
Tim Keith, chief executive of Texas Central, published an op-ed piece on Texas Central’s website. The CEO listed three reasons — it’s not legal, it’s not good for Texas and it’s not how the market works — to emphasize the improbability of a tax-payer funded bailout.
“The project does not need, does not want and will not ask for government grants for construction or public money to subsidize operations.” Keith wrote.
Keith has lived and worked in Texas for a combined 20 years. His wife, Susan, is Texas born and bred, and his two children are sixth generation Texans.
Texans Against High-Speed Rail also argue that the Japanese-funded project is ill-conceived.
The project is not Japanese-funded nor ill-conceived.
“We have done all the financial models, investment-grade ridership studies and are constantly revising numbers to make sure we’re not over confident,” Cowle said. “Our investors want a return on their money.”
Texans Against High-Speed Rail posted a video to Facebook after Grimes County Commissioners Court set regulations to require Texas Central to provide proof of Eminent Domain granted by state or federal government before construction can begin.
In the video, Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, approaches the podium and thanks Grimes County Commissioners.
Workman pauses and leans into the mic. His gaze is conflicted between his notes and the audience.
“Texas Central, hear me when I say, ‘We, the land owners you are intimidating and harassing, are prepared to challenge you at every available juncture.’”
The Show Must Go On
Despite retaliation, Texas Central is optimistic that construction will begin as early as late 2017 or early 2018. The project will take roughly four years to complete and will be fully operational by 2022.