Support for 220-mph bullet trains in North Texas is on the fast track.
On Thursday in Austin, appointees from Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas were approved as members of a high-speed rail commission, which is led by former Fort Worth Councilman Bill Meadows.
And in Houston, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and Houston Mayor Annise Parker gathered to show unified support for high-speed rail.
“Our residents have historically relied on traveling to Dallas-Fort Worth by air or car, but I am excited to support a clean, safe and fast commute for millions of our residents who frequently visit Dallas-Fort Worth for family, friends and business,” Parker said.
The high-speed rail commission is overseeing the state’s role in a proposed high-speed rail line that would connect Houston, Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth — with the Houston-Dallas connection possibly opening in 2021.
Meadows was appointed chairman of the high-speed rail commission in January. On Thursday, six other commission members were named.
They include: Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley; Fort Worth lawyer Dee Kelly Jr.; Fort Worth resident and interim NAACP chief executive Lorraine Miller; Arlington civil engineer Jeff Williams; Dallas Councilwoman Vonceil Jones Hill; and Dallas energy executive Jere Thompson.
Other members could be appointed later, state officials said.
I-30 could be involved
The group will operate in an advisory role, helping the statewide Texas Transportation Commission understand how these corridors, which could be mostly privately funded, are developing and how state laws affect the project. The group would also determine how any state funding might be used in a high-speed rail project, although transportation commissioners are careful to point out that to date no public funding commitments have been made.
“We’re going to produce some good work,” Meadows told state transportation commissioners Thursday.
Meadows said he and many other Metroplex transportation officials were consulted by state officials about the appointees, but the decision about who to put on the high-speed rail commission was left entirely to the Texas Transportation Commission.
A company known as Texas Central Railway, in a partnership with Central Japan Railway, has proposed building the Houston-to-Dallas connection and opening it to the public by 2021. The group says it can build that line for roughly $10 billion in privately raised funding — without public subsidies.
A federal environmental impact study on that proposal is set to formally kick off this spring.
Meanwhile, in North Texas, regional planners have insisted that if bullet trains are to serve the area there should be at least three stops — not only in Dallas, but at least one each in Arlington and Fort Worth. A separate environmental study is planned for later this year on that segment, where a high-speed rail line could be built along Interstate 30.
‘A game-changing catalyst’
The Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday approved the high-speed rail appointments. Commissioner Victor Vandergriff of Arlington said that if the privately funded bullet train comes to fruition, “I think it’s a game-changing catalyst that can take place in Texas.”
Vandergriff said it’s also important to consider other proposed rail lines including one connecting South Texas to Monterrey, Mexico.
Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley of Houston added that many of the state’s late civic leaders would be proud to see representatives of various cities working together on such a project.
“I think John Carpenter and Amon Carter would be pleased to see this initiative,” he said.
Transportation commission Chairman Ted Houghton of El Paso noted that high-speed rail could fill a void left by airlines. With the Wright Amendment restrictions scheduled to be lifted from Dallas’ Love Field in October, airlines are expected to focus on serving more out-of-state destinations, possibly leaving unmet demand for trips to Houston.
“The flights between Houston and Dallas, passenger load over the last 20 years have not increased,” Houghton said. “We’ve increased this population by millions. They’re not flying. If they’re not flying, they must be driving. This will give them an alternative way to get across the state, and less pollution, obviously.”
Transportation commission member Jeff Austin of Tyler added: “If people are going to continue moving here, we’ve got to find different ways to move them.”
Connecting our cities
In Houston, the trio of mayors — Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck was traveling and unable to attend — pointed out that nearly 50,000 Texans travel between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth on Interstate 45 more than once a week. The four-hour trip is expected to increase to seven hours by 2035, mostly because of population growth and congestion, according to Texas Department of Transportation estimates.
“Not only will high-speed rail significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion for Dallas and Houston area residents, but it will also create new, high-paying jobs and stimulate economic growth,” Rawlings said.
Price added: “Thanks to the leadership of our friends at Texas Central Railway, my fellow mayors, and our state and federal partners, we have a remarkable opportunity to change the way we travel and connect our cities.”
Texas Central Railway has proposed building a high-speed rail line that could cut the trip between Houston and Dallas to 90 minutes, using the N700-I trains popularized in Japan. The bullet trains travel up to 220 mph.
“The support of Mayor Parker, Mayor Rawlings and Mayor Price is crucial to the development of the Texas Central High-Speed Railway project,” Tom Schieffer of Fort Worth, Texas Central Railway senior advisor, said in a statement. “A high-speed railway from Houston to Dallas-Fort Worth will bring economic opportunities and another form of transportation to Texans looking for relief from congested roadways.”