The Federal Railroad Administration and the Texas Department of Transportation have begun work on an environmental impact statement for the Texas Central Railway, a 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 environmental study will consider the possible routes for the railway and the effects on the surrounding community as well as possible stops along the way and alternative route options.
Three routes are being considered for the train, Eckels said, including rights of way along I-45, north along Hwy. 249 through Tomball and along a Union Pacific path along Hwy. 290. Stops are being considered near Bryan-College Station and possibly along 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 could affect nearby communities and what residents would like to see. Meetings will likely be held in the north Houston region.
Eckels said he believes getting the message out to the community about the project could be one of the biggest obstacles in getting it constructed because of how new it is to the United States. There are no similar rail projects in the U.S.
As the environmental process continues, Eckels said examining the safety standards of the project will be concurrently examined. Using state-of-the-art echnology, these high-speed trains have run in Japan for 50 years without any fatalities due to train errors, Eckels said.
"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 process takes, Eckels said the project could break ground by the end of 2016 or early in 2017. The railway would be grade separated, meaning it would not intersect with rail tracks or roadways.
About four years ago, the Central Japan Railway Company worked with the U.S.-Japan High Speed Rail Association to study 97 city pairs across the country on possible locations for a privately funded high-speed rail project. Houston and Dallas were selected as the best possible city pairing, Eckels said, because of the high population between the two metropolitan areas, the flat land in between, existing rights of way options and friendly business environments between the two cities.
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, he said.
"There's also some money to be made in transit-oriented developments along the stops," Eckels said.
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 Eckels said he believes it will aid in economic growth in Texas.
"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."