Bullet Train is a Great Idea, Just Not Inside the Downtown Inner Loop

A bullet-train terminus will be immense, gobbling up enormous acreage. Why would we put it inside the downtown loop?EXPAND
A bullet-train terminus will be immense, gobbling up enormous acreage. Why would we put it inside the downtown loop?
"JR East Shinkansen lineup at Niigata Depot 201210" by Rsa - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday’s announcement in The Dallas Morning News of a new Dallas-based $75 million private bullet-train fund was not actually about a new Dallas-based $75 million private bullet-train fund. It was about screwing southern Dallas.

Not since southern Dallas got screwed out of the Richard Allen Inland Port opportunity  — a political heist now figuring in the federal indictments of top Dallas politicos — has anything come along that offered the sheer paradigm-changing power of high-speed rail. If a Dallas terminus were placed south of downtown where land is cheap, southern Dallas instantly would become the northern hub of a direct linkage between the Houston and Dallas economies.

As I pointed out to you five months ago,  the early concepts for the bullet train included a southern Dallas terminus. That idea was dropped as soon as powerful interests at the southwest corner of downtown got interested. Instead of bringing the train to southern Dallas where there is room for the kind of immense infrastructure required for one of these stations, they want the trains to come right into the corner of downtown where they own land.

When I brought this up before, some commenters objected that the passengers coming from Houston will want to go to downtown, not southern Dallas. But that idea completely misses the immense scope of this opportunity.

It’s not that people will have to go from the bullet train to downtown. It’s that downtown will go wherever that bullet train ends.

You heard me. Wherever we put the terminus for the bullet train, a brand-new downtown of vertical development will spring up out of the ground like Jack’s beanstalk. We’re talking about a place where Houston will be 80 minutes away by train, a place that will serve as an umbilical between the Houston and Dallas markets.

The vertical development there will be fast and furious, and the territory between the station and downtown will fill in faster than it took to fill in the Dallas North Tollway north of the Galleria in North Dallas.

Remember. This deal doesn’t even try to pay off by selling train tickets. From the beginning, backers have been frank about the fact that they will make their money on the real estate development around the stations. Putting the station south where the land is cheap will accelerate that development.

So why wouldn’t the backers go for a southern Dallas station? Because the backers are people like Ray Hunt, Jack Matthews, the owners of The Dallas Morning News, who own most of the land at the stubbornly moribund southwest corner of downtown. That's why they say they are willing to put 75 million bucks into this. And therein lies the second great opportunity cost for Dallas.

These are the same people who are going around town talking about bringing the Texas Rangers to a new stadium at that same corner along with other destination attractions, all of which will become arguments for the other big gleam in those same eyes — the Trinity River toll road.

Oops, there goes the park. In fact, oops, there goes the river. In fact there goes the entire direction of downtown and nearby neighborhoods as a tightly woven walkable community instead of a spoke-and-hub freeway interchange for suburban entertainment-seekers.

Bringing the bullet train into downtown will lock in the big honking freeway on top of the river that Mayor Mike Rawlings just said he was going to get rid of. The kind of major destination development envisioned by these guys will argue for a dedicated ingress and egress, and that will be the toll road.

Meanwhile the other opportunities here are so marvelous, it’s hard to see how we could think of anything else. The bullet train itself is a wonderful opportunity for Dallas. Putting it south of downtown is a wonderful opportunity for southern Dallas. And keeping it out of downtown will prevent it from vandalizing the whole thrust of inner-city development just now getting a head of steam in Dallas.

Let me tell you something. That 75 million bucks they announced in the News yesterday? Allow me to make a prediction. The minute anybody in elected office even suggests that the bullet train terminus not come to the southwest corner of downtown — to Hunt/Belo/Matthews-land — every penny of that money will get yanked back off the table so fast we won’t even remember it was there.

But guess what. This deal is worth billions in development money. Billions. And the world is full of people who would put down some option money on an opportunity like that. We need to keep looking before we get married. We need to be better than that. And by the way on that $75 million? Could we see a photo of the actual money, please?                   

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