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Amtrak, Texas Central enter into agreement to study feasibility of Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail line

August 18, 2023

News, Passenger Rail

With the help of Amtrak, Texas’ high-speed rail plan appears to be back on track.

Texas Central Partners (“Texas Central”) and Amtrak said earlier this month that they are seeking opportunities to advance planning and analysis work associated with the proposed Dallas-to-Houston 205-mph high-speed rail project to further determine its viability.

Artist rendering of Texas Bullet Train in Texas – Courtesy Texas Central Railway

Amtrak has cooperated with Texas Central on various initiatives since 2016 and the two entities are currently evaluating a potential partnership to further study and potentially advance the project.

“If we are going to add more high-speed rail to this country, the Dallas-to-Houston corridor is a compelling proposition and offers great potential,” Amtrak senior vice president of high-speed rail development programs Andy Byford said. “We believe many of the country’s biggest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas, like Houston and Dallas, deserve more high quality high-speed, intercity rail service and we are proud to bring our experience to evaluate this potential project and explore opportunities with Texas Central so the state can meet its full transportation needs.”

The proposed approximately 240-mile route would offer a total travel time of less than 90 minutes between two of the top five major U.S. metropolitan areas and would complement future, new and improved corridor and long-distance service in the southern region.

Texas Central and Amtrak have submitted applications to several federal programs in connection with further study and design work for the potential Dallas to Houston segment, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (FSP-National) grant program.

Texas Central, Amtrak collaboration is an important milestone

Seven years ago Amtrak entered into agreements with Texas Central to provide through-ticketing using the Amtrak reservation system and other support services for the planned high-speed rail line.

“This high-speed train, using advanced, proven Shinkansen technology, has the opportunity to revolutionize rail travel in the southern U.S., and we believe Amtrak could be the perfect partner to help us achieve that,” said Texas Central CEO Michael Bui. “We appreciate Amtrak’s continued collaboration and look forward to continuing to explore how we can partner in the development of this important project.”

When complete, the project is forecast to provide significant social, environmental, employment and economic benefits to the people of Texas. As an example, the project is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by over 100,000 tons per year, saving 65 million gallons of fuel while removing 12,500 cars per day from I-45.

“Dallas is the engine of the fourth largest and fastest growing region in the nation,” Dallas Mayor Eric L. Johnson said. “It is bold, innovative endeavors like this that will propel Dallas toward an even more prosperous future. A high-speed rail line would revolutionize transportation in our region, serve as a catalyst for economic growth, and enhance connectivity among Texas residents and businesses.”

“The collaboration between Texas Central and Amtrak is an important milestone for the City of Houston and this project,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston. “Our city is committed to advancing transportation initiatives that support economic growth and enhance quality of life for our residents. The potential partnership of these two companies will accelerate the planning and analysis necessary for the successful implementation of a modern, efficient, and environmentally sustainable rail system connecting Houston and Dallas. I commend all parties involved for their dedication to this transformative project.”

Construction and operations of the proposed high-speed rail line would bring significant economic benefits to the region, including thousands of well-paying construction jobs and nearly one thousand long-term, skilled operations and maintenance positions.

Texas Central getting second chance through Amtrak’s involvement

Byford joined Amtrak in April to begin developing a team focused on high-speed opportunities throughout the U.S. In his newly created role, he will develop and lead the execution of Amtrak’s long-term strategy for high-speed rail throughout the country.

Amtrak’s involvement marks the first serious movement of the embattled Texas Central since last year. The project, unveiled in 2009, stalled after being embroiled in legal battles with land owners who opposed the high-speed train along the planned route paralleling the I-45 corridor between Houston and Dallas.

At issue was whether the railroad had eminent domain to acquire land. In June 2022, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Texas Central may acquire land by eminent domain.

Before the ruling, CEO Carlos Aguilar resigned, citing an inability to get key players on the same page; his resignation followed staff layoffs during the pandemic and reports that Texas Central was behind on its taxes.

Initial plans called for service to start around 2019.

In addition to current Amtrak service in Texas and planned station improvements, Amtrak submitted grant applications for daily Sunset Limited service and the extension of the Crescent from Mississippi through Louisiana and Texas. Amtrak supports Kansas DOT’s Heartland Flyer Extension Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) application that will connect Wichita and communities across Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to the Amtrak network. Amtrak also supports Texas DOT’s applications for the Texas Triangle (Dallas – Fort Worth – Houston – San Antonio) routes.

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