Trains For America

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Texas looks to Spain’s high speed rail development

Clayton M. McCleskey is a Dallas native and free-lance writer. He has an excellent item in the Dallas morning news highlighting, in great detail, the beginning of Spain’s high speed rail program about 17 years ago,. Yes, it has critics who said nobody would ever use a flashy amusement park ride. Of course they were very wrong.

I hate to think that Southwest Airlines is part of the problem,especially since this is one of the world’s great transportation companies and ought to be one of the operators of any Texas HSR lines.

For years, the Madrid-Barcelona route was one of the world’s busiest air corridors. But now after just one year of operation, the passenger split between trains and planes is already 48-52. On the original Madrid-Seville route, the AVE now carries 89 percent of passengers between the two cities.

At the same time Spain launched its project, Texas also approved plans for a high-speed rail network. However, a coalition that included the airlines managed to kill the project.

But with $8 billion in federal stimulus funds designated for high-speed rail, there’s new hope that Texas will be able to get it right this time.

“What we need in Texas is money,” explained Dickey, who said Texas needs $250 million for an investment-grade study in order to lure private investors.

A true European style HSR in Texas would carry people between Dallas and Austin in about one hour. On the s0-called “Texas T-bone” the economic influence would be enormous.

The idea is getting a big push in the state legislature and the federal stimulus money is floating around out there. All that is needed now is leadership and a corporate decision that allows for the good of society over short-term profits.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

7 Responses

  1. Rafael says:

    There are $9.5 billion in HSR funds on the federal table, all of it reserved for projects in the 11 formally designated corridors. Of the total, $1.5 billion was attached to HR 110.2095, the other $8 billion to HR 111.1 a.k.a. the stimulus bill (cp p136 of the Joint Explanatory Statement Division A).

    http://www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/203
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h110-2095
    http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1
    http://www.rules.house.gov/111/LegText/hr1_cr_jes.pdf

    Speed is a second criterion for eligibility:

    “The term ‘high-speed rail’ means intercity passenger rail service that is reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour.”

    Over on cahsr.blogspot.com, we use the term “Rapid Rail” for speeds up to 125mph, for which the FRA still permits grade crossings. The French refer to true bullet trains running – at least out in the countryside – on dedicated LGVs (lignes a grande vitesse) as Very High Speed Rail (VHSR). These days, that means top speeds of 186-224mph, trend upwards.

    I’d like to see the $9.5 billion available right now split three ways:

    ~1/3 for NYC-DC to raise *average* speed to 110mph
    ~1/3 for the California bullet train project (max 220mph)
    ~1/6 for one rapid rail project in the Midwest (Ohio CCC ?)
    ~1/6 for one rapid rail project elsewhere (VA-NC ?)

    This is not intended as a sleight to other worthwhile projects around the country. Rather, it reflects proven demand and project maturity, respectively. It’s better to focus funds fairly narrowly on a few projects and make those successful, such that Congress has a reason make available additional funds in the future. There’s little point in throwing $250 million in federal funds at states (FL, TX) that have previously canceled HSR projects. Let’s see them invest some state funds in planning a second attempt first.

    The California system will take the longest to come to fruition (start of operations 2018-2020) but break new ground in FRA rulemaking on very high speeds, noise issues etc. Also, California voters have approved $10 billion in state bond authority and the project is the only one with a certified program environmental impact statement.

    New FRA rules will also be required for interoperable positive train control systems (mandated by HR 110.2095) and, a path toward FRA-compliant freight and lightweight non-compliant modern passenger trains safely sharing track. See appendix C here:

    http://www.caltrain.com/pdf/project2025/Interim_Report_on_Mixed_Traffic_March-2008.pdf

    Finally, a federal program to enable terrestrial WiFi on Board (e.g. based on WiMax = 802.16e) would be very welcome. Local trials in California (ACE, Caltrain, Amtrak Capitol Corridor) have proven feasibility and demand. What’s needed now is economies of scale to bring down the cost.

  2. NikolasM says:

    The T-Bone is good, but a version of the Texas Triangle would be better and really would only add at most 90 more miles of track. The triangle should be between Austin, Waco, and Bryan-College Station with legs off of each end to the three major population centers of Texas; San Antonio, DFW, and Houston. It would make for much more rational routings for Houston to San Antonio than traveling north all the way to Temple before heading south again. An Austin-Waco-B/CS connection would be great for college students as well, with 2.5 major Universities connected there [Baylor only gets a 0.5 ;-)].

  3. Andrew in NorJpn says:

    I’m all for HSR in Texas, but can we leave Southwest Airlines out of a lineup of potential operators? Southwest should be left to do what it knows best: running a low-cost airline. It has zero experience in high speed rail operations. Instead, any operation of a future Texas system should be left to the experts with proven track records in high speed passenger rail operation- enterprises like France’s SNCF, Germany’s DB, or Japan’s JR Tokai.

  4. viva_sevilla! says:

    I’m in favor of high speed rail in Texas. I’m a student that attends Texas Tech University and dreads the 6 hour drive every few times a semester to visit family. Most of the time I have used Southwest, flying home, however, I would use high speed rail or rail after living in Spain for study abroad. I have used high speed rail to travel from Madrid to Seville, Seville to Malaga, and other places. I cannot begin to tell you the ease and efficiency of these trains are. From Madrid to Seville is around 6 hours, the time it takes me to drive from Dallas to Lubbock going the speed limit. On a high speed train, Dallas or Lubbock could be reached in 2 1/2 hours. High speed rail to the major urban cities and to the major college towns would be a definite boost to the economy and decrease cars on the road.

    I agree with a Texas Triangle corridor, but a link from East-West and North-South and the major urban centers as interchanges for the other destinations.

    As inefficient as the Spaniards are sometimes with their “manana” attitude, they know rail service with RENFE and the AVE.

  5. NikolasM says:

    Viva, I hate to break it to you but Lubbock will never get 200+ mph rail. There is definitely not enough population between it and DFW to make it worth the cost. Perhaps a line from DFW to Denver via Wichita Falls and Amarillo would be worth it (with feeder bus connections to Lubbock from Amarillo).

  6. patlynch says:

    Exactly the point, NikolasM. Lubbock does not need European style HSR, but getting ANY passenger rail service operating in the 90 mph range is very important to the rural communities in the region. Relying on memory, Lubbock is on BNSF mainline of some sort.

    I would bet that Lubbock is on NARP’s Gateway map that was released last year.

    Improving CONVENTIONAL rail service is as important as HSR.

  7. NikolasM says:

    90 mph can’t compete with car traffic that goes at least that fast already. A feeder into a HSR line such as this: http://img171.imageshack.us/my.php?image=hsrnetworkjx3.png would seriously be more realistic. There are bigger fish to fry in the state of Texas than this line to nowhere.

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