Japan, France, China eye Texas bullet trains


A China Railway high-speed bullet train heads out of the Shanghai South Railway Station in Shanghai, China.
A China Railway high-speed bullet train heads out of the Shanghai South Railway Station in Shanghai, China. AP

Nobody should have thought high-speed passenger rail service in Texas would be easy, even if a private company and its investors want to pick up the $10 billion tab for the initial Houston-to-Dallas segment.

There are local and international complications.

Some landowners along the Houston-Dallas route are fighting hard against bullet trains.

Last week, state Rep. Bryon Cook, R-Corsicana, asked Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue a legal opinion on whether Texas Central Partners, which has ties to the operator of high-speed trains in Japan, would have the power of eminent domain to take land it needs for the Houston-Dallas tracks.

And Monday, a complication of another sort came up at a high-speed rail forum sponsored by the Texas Commission on High-Speed Rail in the Dallas-Fort Worth Region. The commission, chaired by former Fort Worth Councilman Bill Meadows, is exploring ways to expand on the Houston-Dallas proposal.

The good news is that representatives of companies that run high-speed rail systems in France and China attended Monday’s meeting.

Meadows says the French and Chinese companies have shown interest in running bullet trains between Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio along the Interstate 35 corridor.

SNCF, France’s state-owned railway, was represented by Alain Leray, president of SNCF America.

After the meeting, Leray told Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson that if Texas Central Partners is allowed to build the Houston-Dallas line using the technology found on trains in Japan, it won’t be compatible with trains built by other companies.

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

Meadows confirmed that high-speed trains in Japan are incompatible with those in Europe and China.

It would be a problem if one day a passenger were to ride a French train from Fort Worth to Dallas but then had to switch trains to ride on to Houston. More passengers are attracted to a “one-seat ride” for their trip.

These issues are not deal-killers, just problems to be worked out.

Beyond potential political roadblocks, the biggest problem facing a future high-speed rail system in Texas will be cost. Estimates say a Dallas-Fort Worth connection alone could cost $3 billion.

The right combination of public and private investment will be crucial.