TEXAS VIEW: New life for high-speed rail in Texas?

Can you imagine getting from Dallas to Houston in just an hour and a half? With the Texas high-speed rail project slowing to a halt over the last 10 years, this seemed like a pipe dream.

Change may be rolling in though, because last Wednesday, Amtrak announced that it is looking into a collaboration with Texas Central, the private company that was spearheading the high-speed rail project in the state. The details aren’t clear yet, but Amtrak and Texas Central have applied for federal grants to fund the project.

After so many setbacks over land rights, funding and leadership changes, skepticism is warranted. We declared this project all but dead last summer. Well, that all but maybe meant something. If Amtrak can breathe new life into it and perhaps encourage some of the original private funding to trickle back in, that’s great.

The benefits of high-speed rail to Texas are undeniable. The 205-mph train uses the technology that Japanese bullet trains do. It would go between Dallas and Houston with just one stop in College Station and shave off two hours of what is normally a torturous four-hour drive on Interstate 45, one of the most dangerous highways in the country. It’s estimated to get 12,500 cars off the road each day, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 100,000 tons per year and saving 65 million gallons of fuel.

Despite all these benefits, the project has been plagued by every sort of issue. The biggest of these were disputes over buying land for rights of way. Some landowners along the alignment filed suits against Texas Central. Even though the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Texas Central in the end, landowners scared off the project’s private investors through persistent litigation. The company’s then-CEO ended up resigning in 2022, saying that it was difficult to serve all the stakeholders.

Our optimism is measured. The federal programs that Texas Central and Amtrak have applied to like the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements Grant Program, the Corridor Identification and Development Program and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Program are geared towards developing the right alignment for the project.

This approach is more realistic. Florida’s Brightline 130-mph train has already been tested and is funded through a mix of grants and private funding. California’s ambitious state-funded bullet train is flailing, struggling with unrealistic cost estimates and political pressure.

Texans deserve more efficient transportation that will link two of our state’s most important economic engines together. Amtrak could be the thing to help get Texas Central chugging along again.

The Dallas Morning News