Some heavy hitters from the business world have climbed aboard the effort to build high-speed rail in Texas, a project that just a few months ago was threatened by opposition in the state Legislature.
Fort Worth fund manager John Kleinheinz, Dallas developer Jack Matthews and Houston entrepreneur Drayton McLane Jr. head the list of new investors who have agreed to chip in a collective $75 million to build the proposed Dallas-to-Houston bullet train system.
Two of those three men — Kleinheinz and Matthews — will serve on a board of directors for Texas Central Partners, a company formed to oversee the development of the proposed Texas Central Railway project. The company is Texas-based but has a partnership with Central Japan Railway to share bullet train technology in use on the Toyko-to-Osaka line.
Another related but independent company, Texas Central High-Speed Railway, is a promotional entity and is also overseeing the environmental and regulatory process for the project.
“This is a really big day,” said Fort Worth resident Tom Schieffer, a former diplomat and Texas Rangers baseball club president who is a senior adviser to the high-speed rail project.
Schieffer said the project, which others have estimated could cost more than $10 billion, is still on track to open to the public possibly as early as 2021, although no actual start date has been announced. A federal environmental review of the project is underway and must be completed before construction can begin.
The rail line would provide travelers an alternative to flying between Texas’s two largest metropolitan areas. The trains would travel at speeds of roughly 220 mph, making it possible for riders to get to and from Dallas and Houston in roughly 90 minutes at a fare comparable to the price of an advanced-purchase airline ticket.
A station would be built in downtown Dallas. Future connections to Arlington’s entertainment district and downtown Fort Worth are also being studied.
“I think the fact that we’ve been able to go to the marketplace and raise $75 million to get high-speed rail going is extraordinary,” Schieffer told the Star-Telegram in a phone interview Wednesday. “For me it’s proof in the pudding that we can raise the capital needed to do this with a private company. If we can get this train built in Texas and financed privately, I think it is going to be transformational not only to the state but the country.”
Efforts to stop the project
The moves come after Texas Central Railway survived numerous efforts during the legislative session earlier this year to slam the brakes on high-speed rail. Grass-roots groups mainly representing residents in rural areas between Houston and Dallas have sprung up in opposition to the plan, saying high-speed rail would cut through their pristine lands with little or no economic benefit — and those groups are continuing to speak out in public settings.
But efforts to pass laws banning high-speed rail fell short during the regular legislative session that ended June 1, clearing the way for investors to feel comfortable putting their dollars into the project, Schieffer said.
“I don’t think anybody wanted to invest in a project that couldn’t be done,” he said.
“The strong growth of our state’s economy and population requires significant infrastructure investments and I believe Texas Central will pay dividends for the state of Texas, its citizens and its environment for decades to come,” Kleinheinz said in a statement.
McLane, a former grocery supply and logistics businessman who for years owned the Houston Astros baseball club, added: “In Texas, we work hard, and we dream big. The Texas Central high-speed rail project connecting Dallas and Houston is transformational to Texas, and ranks as one of the most visionary solutions to future transportation challenges our state faces. I am honored to be part of this organization that is an opportunity of a lifetime and am confident Texas Central’s executive team, led by Tim Keith, has the right skills to turn this vision into a reality.”
Matthews is Canadian-born but known for many area developments, including the new Omni Dallas Hotel in downtown Dallas, which is within walking distance of that city’s proposed high-speed rail station.
Texas Central Partners also announced Wednesday that Tim Keith of Dallas is its new chief executive officer. He will be responsible for the finance, development, construction and operation of the rail line, according to the company’s news release.
Keith has more than two decades of experience in real estate and infrastructure projects, including his role as global chief executive officer of RREEF/Deutsche Bank Infrastructure Investments.
Elected officials from North Texas were pleased with Wednesday’s announcement about new funding for the high-speed rail project.
“Today’s news that investors from Fort Worth and across the state have joined the effort to connect North Texas to Houston by high-speed rail means that this bold vision is getting closer to reality each day,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said in an email. “I have been to Japan and witnessed firsthand the comfort and sophistication of high-speed rail and look forward to the day when Texans have the opportunity to travel conveniently and safely between our state’s wonderful cities.”
Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams added: “As a member of the Commission for High-Speed Rail: Dallas/Fort Worth, I have been following the Texas Central project very closely. Today’s announcement is clearly an important one for Arlington, the North Texas Region and the entire state, as it demonstrates that high-speed rail is one important step closer to becoming a reality in Texas.”
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796