Plans for a bullet train that would link Dallas to Houston in 90 minutes took a big step forward this week: North Texans got their first chance to see the proposed routes. About 100 people chimed in on where the train should stop in Dallas -- and they were united in their choice: Union Station in downtown.
Texans love their cars and planes, especially when heading to other big, distant cities like Houston. On Tuesday, people got nearly giddy over the possibility of taking a high-speed train.
“Because you can talk on a cell phone, you can work while you’re commuting between both cities,” says Raquel Olivier, a businesswoman who sometimes makes the Dallas to Houston trip each week.
“And it would be phenomenal for someone like me because I’m pretty sure it’ll be less expensive than taking the airlines,” Olivier says.
Texas Central Railway wants to build a Dallas-to-Houston corridor for a 200-mph electric train, like the ones that operate in Japan. It would be faster than any train operating in the United States.
High-speed rail advocates in Texas believe the private project could jump-start a network of high-speed routes across the state. The U.S. Department of Transportation is already talking with mayors in Austin and San Antonio about connecting their cities.
Texas Central Railway officials promise it’ll at least be competitive with flying, but it’s too soon to talk fares for this privately-funded venture.
But where should the train stop?
Consultants offered three Dallas options: the intersections of Interstate 45 and Loop 12; I-45 and Interstate 20; and the southwest edge of downtown Dallas. This crowd was united behind one choice.
“We want the train speeding into Union Station,” declared Dallas City Council member Vonciel Jones Hill, who spoke for the mayor and city at the meeting.
Fort Worth resident J.R. Price chimed in for the station.
“For expansion to DFW [International Airport], to Oklahoma City, Fort Worth,” Price said, “it would be so short-sighted to end it anywhere but Union Station because of all the connections that are already built in there.”
Multiple options are being considered for Houston’s stop, as well.
Two north-south options will now be studied for the preferred track route.
“It’s very straight, flat, undeveloped," rail consultant Jerry Smiley said. "As you add mountains or anywhere you have to do tunnels, it becomes very cost prohibitive.”
The two routes under consideration run parallel and to the west of I-45. As this project continues, computer programmer Michael Minden of Sachse wants the rail company to protect rural Texans as much as possible.
“I hate to see someone’s farm or ranch cut in half," Minden said. "You know, I see this too much on the freeway. Farmhouse on one side, land’s on the other side, and a railroad like this you just cannot cross. Essentially, would kill a farm or ranch.”
Texas Central Railway officials say they’re working to avoid that and will continue to take public comment. Environmental impact and informational meetings continue around the state through October.
With an estimated cost north of $10 billion, they’re also looking for more investors.
If all goes well, the first train will carry passengers by 2021.
From Dallas to Houston, two potential routes for high-speed rail
Meet the man who wants to bring the bullet train to Texas
Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central Railway, is determined to bring the bullet train to Texas.
"We’re not looking for grants or operating subsidies," he told KERA. "It also lets us do it in a way that makes financial sense and doesn’t put a burden on the taxpayers and the state.”
But Eckels knows he's competing with cars and airplanes.
"TxDOT’s estimates are 50,000 people that make this commute [from Dallas to Houston] at least three days a week," Eckels said. "The market has changed for airlines. They’re a hassle – you have to go through the security systems, you have to get in there way in advance. In the mornings, when I’m coming out of Houston and flying to Dallas is fine, but often in the afternoons, you’re delayed – maybe not for weather in Dallas, but weather for St. Louis. I can’t speak for the airlines, but they’re not really fighting us on this project."
Watch a very fast bullet train in Japan
Explore the bullet train: Dallas to Houston in just 90 minutes
Read our story from last year about plans for the bullet train -- it was one of KERA's most-read stories in 2013. "Imagine waking up in Dallas, going to Houston for lunch, and being back in Big D for a 3 p.m. meeting. Sound like a fantasy? It could be reality in just a few years, thanks to a fast-moving Texas company that plans to deploy fast-moving trains."
Learn more about the bullet train
KERA's Shelley Kofler contributed to this report.