The Federal Railroad Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation have started work on an environmental impact statement for the Texas Central Railway, a proposed 240-mile high-speed rail system between Houston and Dallas.
Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central Railway, said the FRA and TxDOT issued a notice of intent June 25 to begin the environmental study. Eckels said the study will consider possible routes for the railway and the effects on the surrounding community as well as possible stops and alternative route options.
Three routes are being considered including rights of way along I-45, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe path through Tomball and a Union Pacific path along Hwy. 290, he said. Stops are being considered near Bryan-College Station and possibly at Beltway 8 or the Grand Parkway.
"All [routes] have their strengths," Eckels said. "The main thing we're looking for is the cost of construction and to minimize the impact on the communities."
He said public meetings will be held in the next two months to receive input on how the project might affect nearby communities and gauge what residents want.
Eckels said safety standards of the project will be concurrently examined throughout the environmental study. TCR is looking at using trains similar to ones used in Japan, which have run for 50 years without fatalities due to train errors.
"You don't have wrecks on these trains like you do on other trains," he said. "It's a quiet train. It's a safe train. It's extremely fast. That's a message we need to get out to people to understand."
Depending on how long the environmental study takes, Eckels said the project could break ground by the end of 2016 or early 2017. A high-speed train could hit 205 miles per hour, making a trip from Houston to Dallas in less than 90 minutes.
In contrast to existing freight lines, the railway would be grade separated and not intersect with other rail tracks or roads.
Eckels said the project will not be constructed with federal or state funding. Instead a number of private investors would fund the multibillion dollar project through debt and equity and be repaid through ticket sales.
Tickets would likely cost less than commercial airfare, Eckels said.
"We think the ridership will return a profit to the investors," he said. "There's also some money to be made in transit-oriented developments along the stops."
Eckels said a car trip from Houston to Dallas along I-45 today is roughly four hours and could increase to six hours by 2035. Not only could a high-speed rail be an alternative to additional taxpayer-funded construction along I-45, but he said he believes it will aid in economic growth in the state.
"Both the Houston and Dallas/Forth Worth areas are the big economic drivers for Texas," Eckels said. "This will make it so much easier to capitalize on the assets in both communities and continue economic growth for Texas."
For more information on the high-speed rail, visit texascentral.com.