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Private firm proposes bullet train from DFW to Houston

ARLINGTON – If high-speed rail comes to North Texas by 2020, the bullet trains initially will rely on the area’s road system - not public transportation - to get most of its riders from the end of the line to their final destination, an official said.

"We do think that for the first few years the system is in operation, the collector-distributor system will largely be highways," said Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central Railway, which wants to use private investment to build a line featuring 200 mph trains running every 15 to 20 minutes from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston. "The mass transit systems aren’t built out to handle the kind of transit they have in Toyko, but that will come in time."

Eckels on Thursday briefed the Regional Transportation Council about its plans to bring 200 mph trains to North Texas possibly by 2020, in a partnership with Central Japan Railway Co., which operates bullet trains connecting Toyko, Nagoya and Osaka. The company is seeking roughly $10 billion in private investment to build the estimated 240-mile line, and would not seek federal or state money. Eckels stressed that the $10 billion is a very early estimate, and depending upon factors such as where the Dallas-Fort Worth station is located the cost could be much higher, or even lower.

But once the train stops in Dallas-Fort Worth, lots of public money may be needed to get riders from the high-speed rail station – a precise location hasn’t been identified – to their final destination within the region, planners say.

Texas Central Railway’s proposal could vault Texas to the forefront of the nation’s effort to build high-speed rail lines comparable to what’s already available in Europe and Asia. But the momentum is catching Metroplex planners a bit off guard, as they now realize they need to speed up preparations of the Dallas-Fort Worth area transportation system.

“If we’re going to keep up with our partners, we need to get more skin in the game and make sure we’re not sitting at the curb,” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. He said he will ask the RTC next month to set aside $1 million in federal transportation funds so his staff can accelerate the planning for high-speed rail. Precise station locations haven’t been identified. The tracks would likely be built on existing rail corridors and possibly some highway right-of-way, running roughly parallel to Interstate 45.

Trains would run on exclusive tracks, and would have no crossings or other interactions with automobiles or freight trains.

The region does have a long-term goal to build a mass transit system that reaches most area cities by a combination of buses, commuter rail and light-rail.

There are many other options for connecting to high-speed rail, including bicyles, walking and, of course, automobiles. Cities also could benefit tremendously from development around high-speed rail. Morris described three revenue sources associated with bullet trains: “Fares, parking and economic development.”

At the state level, planners are juggling several different proposals for high-speed rail, said Bill Glavin, Texas Department of Transportation rail division director. Federal funds have been awarded to study a proposed high-speed rail line from Oklahoma City to Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio, roughly running along a corridor already used by Amtrak.

Within the Metroplex, it’s still not clear where a high-speed rail station should be located – although many elected officials favor putting a high-speed rail hub in or near Dallas Fort Worth Airport, or CentrePort development just south of the airport. Other rail supporters are working to take smaller steps, including the expansion and modernization of Amtrak service to Fort Worth.

Texas Central Railway wants to be a good neighbor and build a bullet train line that blends in nicely with the rest of the North Texas region’s transportation system, Eckels said, but its current business model doesn’t incorporate services beyond a direct Dallas-Fort Worth-to-Houston line. “The system we are working on is a city pairing,” he told RTC. “We are not working on a national rail plan.”

As for the bigger picture, that’s up to the mayors, county commissioners and other public officials that make up the RTC.

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