New high-speed rail route may serve Arlington, DFW Airport

A proposed high-speed rail route cutting through Dallas-Fort Worth would go slower than previously planned but would include a station south of DFW Airport, according to a newly unveiled plan.

The proposal, which is being studied by a state-appointed commission, would bring passengers from downtown Fort Worth to Arlington along the Interstate 30 corridor, then cut north roughly along the Texas 360 corridor to the CentrePort-Dallas/Fort Worth Airport area. From there, rail passengers could connect with other transportation to the airport to catch flights.

The line would then follow the Trinity Railway Express commuter line from CentrePort to downtown Dallas, according to a conceptual map made public Monday. TRE would keep operating on its tracks, and a second set of tracks — possibly elevated — would be built in the same right of way or adjacent property for the futuristic bullet trains.

The top speed would be around 125 mph — far below the 220 mph that the trains are capable of traveling — partly because of the serpentine shape of the route and the relatively short distance between stations.

But the new route would make high-speed rail accessible to more people in North Texas, a region of about 7 million people that’s expected to grow to 10.7 million by 2040.

“Certainly with the proximity to DFW Airport in this option, I think it’s important to note there is an opportunity there,” said Bill Meadows, chairman of the Commission for High-Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region.

Meadows said following the TRE line from Dallas to the airport would probably require far less upfront money than if trains were placed along I-30 in Dallas County, which has hills, turns and other geographic challenges. Transportation planners have estimated the cost of the line between Dallas and Fort Worth at $4 billion.

The stretch of I-30 in Arlington and Fort Worth is straighter and less developed, and the general feeling is that it has more room for a rail line.

The commission and its consultants haven’t provided details about specific project costs.

Hybrid plan

The new route is a hybrid of two previously unveiled plans for high-speed rail, each with supporters and detractors. One option was to run rail entirely along I-30 from Dallas to Fort Worth, and the other was to run bullet trains entirely on the TRE line.

The commission was set up nearly two years ago by the Texas Department of Transportation after private investors announced they wanted to build a 220-mph rail line from Houston to Dallas with no public funding.

That line is tentatively scheduled to open by 2022, but construction can’t begin until an environmental study, now underway, is complete.

Because the investors, doing business as Texas Central Partners and Texas Central Railway, wished to connect only Houston and Dallas, the commission was set up partly to ensure that cities such as Fort Worth also have a station.

Although the commission’s main purpose is to provide planning for the Metroplex, Meadows maintains that its work is actually the initial steps in setting up high-speed rail that will connect Houston, Dallas, Arlington, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and other cities.

There is even interest in extending the lines north to Oklahoma City and south to Monterrey, Mexico, although that would likely take years to materialize, if not decades.

Western influence

Several officials from the western side of the region serve on the seven-member commission, including Meadows, lawyer Dee Kelly Jr., former U.S. House clerk and Fort Worth native Lorraine Miller, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams.

For Arlington, one key is figuring out how to pay its share of high-speed rail. The city is the largest in the U.S. without full-fledged mass transit, and it has been courted in the past by Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority.

The city will study its transit options this fall, Williams said.

“We are also going to be talking with our council and forming a citizens group to talk about our connection to rail and transportation within the city,” Williams told other commissioners. “We realize what an important project this is. A lot of our citizens do not realize how much of a game-changer high-speed rail can be for our region.”

Consultants and the North Central Texas Council of Governments are working on computer models to forecast potential ridership.

The next two years are likely to bring a lengthy public process in which residents can view maps and drawings and make comments for or against the project.

“We will be very sensitive to looking at which communities will be impacted,” said Erik Steavens, rail division director for the Texas Department of Transportation. “We will tell them why we’re doing this. We want to know how many people will use this service.”

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson