How High Speed Rail Could Change Texas

Proposed high-speed rail lines in Texas could "transform the state" as "a hub for business," according to one prominent academic as the Lone Star State wrestles with what could be some of its biggest infrastructure projects in decades.

There are preliminary plans to construct two new high-speed rail lines in the state, with one connecting Dallas to Houston, and the other Dallas to Fort Worth, in moves supporters claim will slash journey times between the key cities.

Speaking to Newsweek, Republican Senator John Cornyn said "we certainly need more transportation infrastructure in Texas" but warned the projects are "controversial" due to the concerns of landowners.

His GOP colleague Ted Cruz said the proposed high-speed lines would "create jobs and support the economy," but noted their permitting and finance has yet to be finalized.

The past few years have seen a renewed interest in high speed rail networks, which are already common in Western Europe, Japan and China, across the United States. In April, construction began on a new 218-mile line between Las Vegas and southern California which Brightline West, the company behind the project, claims will be the "first true high-speed passenger rail service" in the United States. The law school at Cornell University defines "high-speed rail" as services that are "reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour."

In April, plans to build a 240 mile-per-hour high-speed railway between Houston and Dallas, using Japanese Shinkansen technology, received a significant boost when it was endorsed by both President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

According to developers, if completed, the rail line would cut the travel time between the two cities to just 90 minutes, making it quicker than flying once time at the airport is factored in.

The proposal is being worked on as a joint project between Amtrak, America's national passenger railroad company, and Dallas-based company Texas Central.

A study published in June 2021 by Webuild SpA, an Italian engineering company, estimated the Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line would produce $36 billion in "economic direct impact for the region" over the next 25 years if constructed.

The report also claimed it would reduce the number of vehicles per day on the I-45 between Houston and Dallas by an average of 14,630 and slash CO2 emissions by 700,000 tons per year.

Separately, the North Central Texas Council of Government (NCTCOG) is pushing for a high-speed rail line connecting Dallas and Fort Worth, though details remain vague.

Addressing a meeting on May 13, NCTCOG transportation planning manager Brendon Wheeler said the agency is looking for an outside partner to join the project, and said they hope to get National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) clearance in early 2025.

Speaking to Newsweek, Professor Ian Savage, director of the transportation and logistics program at Northwestern University, argued high-speed rail could be a good fit for Texas due to the state's geography.

He said: "Like many transportation economists, I have been skeptical of the case for high-speed rail in a geographically large and spread out country like the United States. However, I feel that there is a stronger case for it in the Texas triangle (Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, San Antonio) than in many other parts of the country. The distances are about perfect for rail travel at about 250 miles."

Savage continued: "The congestion on the highways between these cities has made driving increasingly undesirable at many hours of the day. The engineering challenges are far fewer than in, say, California due to generally flat terrain and a lack of mountains or river valleys to cross. The challenges are that there is extensive air service in these markets at generally attractive prices, and an increased presence of bus lines at all price points."

Joshua Blank, director of research for the University of Texas at Austin's Texas Politics Project, told Newsweek high-speed rail could have a substantial impact on the state's business environment but warned it could spark tensions with rural property owners.

He said: "High-speed rail does have the potential to transform the state, if not in a global economic sense, at least as a hub for business by connecting two or more of the largest cities in the state and country.

how high speed rail could change texas

Stock photo showing the high-speed Deutsche Bahn ICE3 InterCity Express train at St Pancas International station on October 19, 2010 in London, England. New high speed rail lines in Texas could “transform the state” according to one academic expert. Dan Kitwood/GETTY

"At the same time, the establishment of a rail system raises traditional conflicts in Texas that will be hard to overcome, including the interests of rural property owners whose land would be needed for the rail line against the interests of the major urban centers; the state's commitment to property rights and its related aversion to the perception, real or imagined, of government taking of land; and even the presence of potential foreign interests engaged in the construction of a high-speed rail line in Texas given a political climate notable for its recent hostility to foreign investment and influence in the state."

Speaking to Newsweek congressional correspondent Alex J. Rouhandeh, Senator Cornyn said: "We certainly need more transportation infrastructure in Texas. We're a big, growing state, and while the Texas Department of Transportation has done a lot in trying to build enough roads and highways to keep up, I think invariably things like high-speed rail come into play.

"But, as you know, there's some controversy associated with it because of concerns about landowners, eminent domain, and that's been something that's had to be sorted down. But now, I understand Amtrak and the federal government are the ones that are principally responsible, and I don't know how that's gonna play out, honestly. It's a very controversial topic."

Senator Cruz said the proposed high-speed rail lines "would create jobs and support the economy, but it needs to get the permitting and capital to go forward. But, If the project is completed, I'm sure a great many Texans would use it and appreciate an easy and fast way to travel between Houston and Dallas."

However, he added Texas would likely retain its car-focused culture, stating: "We Texans love our cars, love our trucks, but the trip between Houston and Dallas is one many Texans make regularly. My family is divided between Houston and Dallas, so I've made that trip my whole life. It's not a terrible drive, but it would certainly be more convenient to get on a high-speed rail."

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