Thanks to $8 billion of stimulus money set aside for a high-speed rail network in the United States, proponents of a Texas passenger rail system have renewed optimism about the possibility of a project in the Lone Star State. That optimism was expressed by speakers and attendees of the Texas/European Union High-Speed Rail Symposium, held last month in College Station.
The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) acts as a resource agency for the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation (THSRTC), which has long proposed a high-speed rail (HSR) plan called the Texas T-Bone Corridor. The proposal consists of 440 miles of track (shaped like a T-bone steak) connecting San Antonio to Dallas and intersected with a route from Houston to Temple.
“High-speed rail would create tremendous energy and environmental benefits as well as a safe alternative to highway transportation,” TTI Director Dennis Christiansen, who was part of a panel discussion at the symposium, told attendees. “The most immediate issue is having a plan that everyone can get behind.”
Should the train stop at smaller communities along the route, which would act to slow down trip times for big city commuters? Will everyone back a public/private partnership to pay for the estimated $24 billion price tag? Should the track be elevated? Will land owners give up their property easily?
“We don’t know a lot of things right now, but we are getting there,” Christiansen said. He credited THSRTC with keeping the high-speed rail plan alive over the last 10 years since the potential impact “is so significant.”
Proponents are hoping for a better outcome than in 1994, when high-speed rail plans were abandoned because of opposition, especially from airlines, who felt that rail projects would hurt their business.
“I think we are in a different frame of mind now,” said Steve Clark, a rail expert for Arup, a consulting engineering firm. “I think we are going to see more high-speed rail in the United States.” Clark said there is currently just one high-speed project in operation, located in the northeast corridor connecting Boston to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Much of the symposium was led by a delegation from Ciudad Real, Spain, which first began high speed rail operations in 1992. Through an interpreter, the visitors credited the construction of the Spanish HSR network with the population and economic growth of the city. They said Spain will have more kilometers of high-speed rail than any other country in the world by 2012.
Other speakers at the symposium included Executive Director of the Texas Department of Transportation Amadeo Saenz, Chairman of THSRTC Robert Eckels, and Temple Mayor William Jones, who is also the vice chairman of the Executive Committee for THSRTC.
“There are very few people in Texas talking about high-speed rail,” Jones said during the panel discussion. Even so, he hopes to see it operational by 2020.