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Dallas-Fort Worth high-speed rail plan draws worldwide interest

AP

High-speed rail is a touchy subject in much of Texas, where some politicians and landowners are concerned about train tracks cutting across private property.

But local leaders in Dallas-Fort Worth, where traffic congestion is a near-universal concern among many of the region’s roughly 7 million residents, want the world’s biggest passenger rail operators to know that if they’re willing to build the super-fast trains in North Texas they will find a more-than-receptive audience.

“You are not trying to sell yourself to us today. We are trying to sell our region to you,” Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, told officials from both French and Chinese railroad companies Monday during a meeting in Arlington. “Regardless of what our national government does, we are reaching out to the congressional delegation to fund high-speed rail.”

Those French and Chinese officials were among several dozen people who attended a high-speed forum hosted by the Texas Commission on High-Speed Rail in the Dallas-Fort Worth Region. The commission was put together more than two years ago, with former Fort Worth councilman Bill Meadows as its chairman, to explore ways to build a rail system with trains capable of going up to 220 mph.

Big dollars

Texas Central Partners, a private company armed with technology from Japan’s largest rail provider, has already proposed building a high-speed line from Dallas to Houston. That project, which could cost $10 billion or more but would be privately funded, is on course to be completed in 2022 — although it is opposed by many elected leaders. Last week, state Rep. Bryon Cook, R-Corsicana, asked the attorney general’s office to rule on whether Texas Central Partners would have the power of eminent domain, to take land needed for the bullet trains.

Meadows’ commission is working on expanding the system beyond Dallas and Houston, to also include stops in Arlington and Fort Worth and eventually Austin, San Antonio and possibly cities in adjacent states. So far, there has been little or no vocal opposition to the concept of high-speed rail in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

Of course, money is the key concern, as any high-speed rail project connecting downtown Dallas to Arlington’s entertainment district and downtown Fort Worth would likely cost billions of dollars.

But North Texas officials, including Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price and Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, said Monday they are looking for private-sector partners to bring their own dollars to the project and bring down the public’s cost.

“The private sector has a great opportunity here to move this ahead and make a lot of money and make a real difference in our community,” Williams told the foreign guests. Williams said high-speed rail is important for bringing visitors to his city for events not only at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium but also at a new $1 billion ballpark planned for the Texas Rangers baseball club.

Texas needs trains that can fill a void left by airlines, who are putting more emphasis on international and other long-distance flights and less emphasis on intrastate travel, Williams said.

Global interests

Officials from Texas Central Partners who are planning the Dallas-Houston route also attended the two-hour meeting, as did officials from the Lone Star Rail District which is working on a proposed rail line from Austin to San Antonio.

Also attending were four officials from China Railway Corp. Wing Chun, a spokesman for the group and president of the US-China Chamber of Commerce Dallas, confirmed that the group was interested in possibly bidding for the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth rail line, but first wanted to compile information on what kind of rail project the region wants.

Another company that has consistently shown interest during the past two years in possibly building the Dallas-Arlington-Fort Worth line is SNCF, France’s state-owned railway. However, Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, said after Monday’s meeting he is concerned that if Texas officials allow Texas Central Partners to build the Dallas-Houston line using the same technology found on trains in Japan then Texas’ system won’t be compatible with trains built by other companies.

Rail companies in other countries use “neutral” technology that can be used by competing companies, but the Japanese technology isn’t compatible, he said.

“If Texas goes with the Japanese technology, it will create a monopoly in the process,” Leray said. “Anytime you need to replace train sets, you will have only one supplier, and that will drive up the price for Texans.”

Texas Central Partners officials have said they are open to building other rail lines in Texas, but for now are focused almost entirely upon getting the Dallas-Houston component built.

Proposed routes

In North Texas, the high-speed rail line would connect at a proposed new station either just south of Interstate 30 or perhaps straddling the freeway on the southeast end of downtown Dallas. From there, the proposal believed to have the most support calls for high-speed rail lines to follow the Trinity Railway Express route to near CentrePort Station just south of DFW Airport.

Then the high-speed rail trains would extend south, either along the Dorothy Spur freight railroad tracks or the Texas 360 highway corridor to Arlington’s entertainment district, where the bullet trains would then continue along the I-30 corridor to downtown Fort Worth.

There are other proposals for alternate high-speed rail routes, including one option to follow the TRE line from Dallas to Fort Worth, although that option is not believed to be popular because it would bypass Arlington.

Another option would be to run the entire high-speed rail line in the median of I-30, although that option would be tricky because I-30 is packed into a tight right-of-way space in Dallas County.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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