Transportation issues figured prominently at the third annual Texas Tribune Festival, held Sept. 27-29 in Austin.
Bill Stockton, executive associate director of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI), joined three other panel members for a session examining the potential future of high-speed rail in Texas. TTI is currently conducting work for the Texas Department of Transportation to examine several aspects of high-speed rail operations, including the potential roles for the state.
Central to the panel’s discussion was a private firm’s plan to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas. The project could be transformative, making it possible for travelers to make that trip in as little as 90 minutes. Robert Eckels, president of Texas Central High Speed Railway, shared the company’s vision for the Houston-to-Dallas line, much of which the firm hopes to develop along existing freight rail rights of way.
Stockton addressed questions from the audience concerning the state’s potential role in a private rail development. “It’s a privately funded project,” Stockton said. “But the state still has a role in the sense that connections with public infrastructure — streets and highways, for instance — need to be considered in the overall project planning.”
Eckels stressed that his company was looking for private investors, not public dollars. “We don’t want operations subsidies,” he said. “We do need regulatory help, and we may need help with infrastructure relating to our project.”
Eckels and Stockton were joined on the panel by Gary Fickes, Tarrant County Commissioner and President of the Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Commission, and Peter LeCody, President of Texas Rail Advocates.
Audience interest was significant, with attendance for the festival’s transportation track more than triple that of the previous year. Most of the day’s sessions drew standing-room-only crowds.