Texas Central Railway has reached a major milestone in its quest to connect Houston and Dallas with an all-electric, privately funded high-speed rail line. After four years of analysis, the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) just released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (the “DEIS”), a document required by the National Environmental Policy Act any time a project or action will significantly impact the environment. While the release of the DEIS does not mean shovels will hit the dirt tomorrow, clearing this administrative hurdle represents a significant step in the initiative’s journey from conception to reality. Texas is now closer than it has ever been to building high-speed rail.
For years, Texas Central has been working with Central Japan Railway Company to bring its proven “N700-I Bullet” high-speed rail system to the Lone Star state, connecting Houston to Dallas with a third stop in the Brazos Valley near College Station, with plans to eventually extent the line to Fort Worth. The completed project promises to transport passengers between the two population centers in just ninety minutes, providing a safe, fast, and convenient alternative to sitting in traffic on I-45 or sitting in the TSA line at Hobby Airport.
Efforts to bring high-speed rail to Texas in the early 1990s ultimately failed due to a lack of funding and intense opposition from Southwest Airlines, among other reasons. But the political climate is different today—intrastate flights are no longer the lifeblood of the Dallas-based low-cost carrier, and the public’s appetite for high-speed rail is palpable. The Texas high-speed rail line was even shortlisted by the Trump administration as an infrastructure priority. That is not to say the project is without its detractors. Some landowners along the proposed route remain fiercely opposed, and their representatives have attempted to undercut the initiative at the congressional level. But so far, support from the cities of Houston and Dallas and their respective suburbs remains strong, and Texas Central has emerged from two legislative sessions relatively unscathed.
In the DEIS, the FRA considered the environmental impact of six different route options, comparing each to a “no build” option. A path that tracks closely along existing utility easements ultimately emerged as the preferred route, as it “would have fewer permanent impacts to the socioeconomic, natural, physical and cultural resources environment.” By endorsing this route over the “no build” option, the FRA sent a strong signal to Texas Central that the high-speed rail system will not be stalled by environmental concerns. After the public has an opportunity to comment on the DEIS, the FRA will ultimately issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement.
A site just south of I-30 near downtown has been chosen for the Dallas station, while the Brazos Valley station will be located at SH-30 between Huntsville and College Station, primarily serving Texas A&M University. The Houston station will sit somewhere in the general area north of I-10, south of US-290, and west of I-610, but three different sites remain contenders for the final specific location.
The “Industrial Site Terminal Option” would occupy an industrial site south of Hempstead Road, west of Post Oak Road and north of Westview Drive.
The “Northwest Mall Terminal Option” would be located at the abandoned site of the Northwest Mall near the intersection of US-290 and I-610.
The “Northwest Transit Center Terminal Option” would sit north of Old
Katy Road, east of Post Oak Road and west of I-610.
While we are still years away from a train actually arriving at or leaving from any of these proposed Houston station locations, the dream of high-speed rail in Texas seems less and less quixotic as Texas Central continues to hit its milestones. According to their press release on the DEIS, “The project is expected to generate $36 billion in direct economic activity over the next 25 years, create more than 10,000 direct jobs per year during construction and up to 1,000 jobs permanently when operational.”