The Central Texas High-Speed Railway (aka, the Texas bullet train) proposed to run between Houston and Dallas continues gradually clearing hurdles, its officials hoping to begin construction in 2020 with an eye on the first trips in 2026. It has hired a builder, was granted an important petition from the Federal Railroad Administration and has secured financing for the privately-funded project.
Still, fairly significant impediments lay ahead, not the least of which is a ruling they are appealing to allow them the use of eminent domain in gaining the property they need for laying the tracks. But, most believe the train is far closer to being a reality today than it was even a year ago.
In a conservative state like Texas where trains are regarded at best with skepticism and at worst as some sort of a gateway drug to an Ayn Rand-like dystopian future, it's remarkable the project has made it this far. But, there are good reasons for a rail system like this one in Texas. Here are five of them.
Texas is flat.
For once, not having mountainous regions in central and east Texas isn't a bad thing. Unlike California, where one estimate suggested digging tunnels for their high-speed rail could cost more than the entire project, in Texas we have wide open prairies to cross making laying tracks much easier than other terrain. Sure, it doesn't make for much to look at when you're staring out the window, but at least you won't have to worry about being lulled to sleep by the boring scenery, falling asleep at the wheel and, well, you get it.
The project is private, not public.
One of the oft-cited concerns by the biggest critics is that a project like this is destined to fail only to be bailed out by taxpayers. Admittedly, privately-funded rail rarely works, but because the state of Texas eyeballs its purse strings the way Heimdall watched the bifrost bridge (yes, that was a reference to Thor...you're welcome), the legislature is already on high alert. Numerous bills and riders aimed at killing the entire project failed to pass in this last legislative session, but that doesn't mean the die hasn't been cast. Clearly the state isn't dropping a penny into the project.
But if anyone were overly concerned, consider the fact that the project is to be backed by investors. People don't bet their investment dollars, particularly in un-tested transportation projects in places like Texas, without feeling more than a little secure in their decision. It's one of the reasons why Vegas remains undefeated.
The station locations could spur economic growth.
The Houston station is planned for where Northwest Mall slowly crumbles near the intersection of the North Loop and 290. Since the completion (cough) of the 290 construction, the entire area is experiencing rather rapid development along the populated corridor. The mall sits adjacent to Hempstead Highway where there is already a rail line running northwest toward Austin, so infrastructure is in place and the area around it is primed for development. Frankly, economic growth is coming to the area anyway, but the promise of a new regional transit hub could certainly help speed that up, particularly if it came attached to a light rail or rapid bus line ferrying passengers into the Galleria and/or downtown.
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Expansion to Austin and San Antonio seems almost a given.
The only stop on the line is purported to be in the Brazos Valley near College Station, which makes a lot of sense considering there isn't really another city along the route that is bigger than Brenham or Bryan. Additionally, with College Station only an hour from Austin, a spur that connects the Interstate 35 corridor between Austin and San Antonio — something that has already been discussed — feels like a no brainer. If 90 minutes to Dallas sound good, imagine 45 to the ACL Festival or an hour to the River Walk. Hell, Texas A&M students will practically be able to commute from Houston.
Driving and flying to Dallas sucks.
From traffic on the roadways, never mind the three-plus hour drive, to airport TSA stops and lost luggage, very little about a quick trip to Dallas (or Austin or San Antonio) is actually quick. It's a huge pain, in fact. Taking either option for work is an inconvenience you deal with. Taking them for entertainment purposes is out of the question unless you are planning to stay the night (or are a glutton for punishment). But, taking an Uber to a train station less than two hours before you're in Dallas grabbing dinner or going to a Cowboys game (not us, obviously, but someone might) sounds downright reasonable.