Mike Norman

February 6, 2014

Editorial: Fast-moving trains may be headed for Fort Worth

All that talk about high-speed rail in Texas is quickly turning to action.

All of a sudden the idea of high-speed rail travel in Texas is moving fast.

In North Texas, a route into Dallas/Fort Worth Airport is now out of the picture, downtown Dallas (maybe the old Reunion Arena site) is in and — the biggest news — Arlington and Fort Worth are in if they can help pull their part of the project together.

For something with decades of talk and not much action behind it, Lone Star State bullet trains now look like they have a good chance of becoming reality.

As with all big projects in Texas, big money and big profit potential are at stake.

Throw in some futurist-type talk about trends in the world of transportation (short-hop air travel not-so-likely, highway expansion too costly and high-speed rail technology well-developed and ready) and you can see yourself on a bullet train headed for Houston (maybe one day Austin, San Antonio — even Monterrey, Mexico?).

To get a quick idea of what may be headed this way, check out the website for Texas Central Railway ( http://www.texascentral.com/).

This is the company that wants to invest $10 billion in private money (no taxpayer costs) to build a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas. They say they’re “working closely with” (they’re a private company, so they don’t have to provide details) JR Central, a Japanese company that the website says “operates 333 high-speed trains daily between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, transporting an average of 391,000 passengers daily.”

OK, so they know how to do this. But that part’s not new; we’ve known for several months that the company had a Houston-Dallas route (a 200 mph, 90-minute trip on one of the Japanese trains) in mind.

But previously they talked about the route’s northern terminus being in south Dallas.

Now the company describes its plan as being a route “between Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston.”

Bill Meadows, the former Fort Worth City Council member and former Texas Transportation Commission member who last month was appointed to head a North Texas high-speed rail advisory body for the commission, says that’s because plans have changed.

The Regional Transportation Council, which controls the flow of federal and state transportation dollars in North Texas, has adopted a “three-station” policy for high-speed rail in the region. The three stations are to be in downtown Dallas, near Arlington’s entertainment district and downtown Fort Worth.

Texas Central Railway has “committed” to the downtown Dallas station, Meadows says.

But the company is not willing to build the Dallas-to-Arlington-to-Fort Worth segment, at least not all by itself. Estimated cost for an elevated rail line over Interstate 30: $4 billion.

If Fort Worth and Arlington want to see that part come true, they have to find some innovative ways to help finance it. One idea: special taxes on real estate near the stations, where new development would be likely.

The Texas Department of Transportation is already conducting a $15 million study of the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth route.

Another word of caution: There’s not much time to put this together.

Texas Central Railway is pushing to start construction of the Houston-Dallas portion in 2017 or 2018.

If Fort Worth and Arlington want to be part of it, they don’t want to be some nebulous second phase. A second phase could languish forever.

Better to be designed, engineered and constructed as part of one project.

Texas Central Railway wants to see its fast-moving trains operating by about 2021.

It’s easy to get all breathless about something like this and jump on board without proper study. The studying is already well underway and will be happening pretty fast.

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