Feds Roll Out $15 Million to Begin Studying Feasibility of DFW-to-Houston High-Speed Rail

About a month back we looked at docs the Texas Department of Transportation submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration in the hopes of landing some federal money dough for that loooooong-discussed Dallas-Fort Worth-to-Houston high-speed rail line. Long story short: The state wanted $18 million so it could begin ID'ing possible routes for such a line and "determine the potential social, economic and environmental effects of the proposed route alternatives." Let's go to the grant application for a refresher:

The general location of the project is within the state of Texas between the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston parallel to the I-45 corridor and along two existing freight rail corridors. At this time there is not direct passenger rail service between these two locations. However, they are connected indirectly with Amtrak's Sunset Limited route, a three day a week service, and the Texas Eagle route which runs daily.

Entities involved in the project's planning process include freight railroads (BNSF Railway, Union Pacific Railroad, and Houston Belt & Terminal Railway), National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), FRA, TxDOT, and other regional and local stakeholders such as Houston METRO, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), Trinity Railway Express (TRE), the Gulf Coast Rail District (GCRD), North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), and the Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC).

Completion of the preliminary engineering and NEPA documentation will result in the identification of a preferred alternative; the identification of the environmental effects of the preferred alternative and the mitigation measures required to offset the effects of the project; and an estimated probable cost of the project. This will allow the project to move into final design, with the ultimate goal of construction of a core express high speed rail facility between the two largest metropolitan areas of Texas.

TxDOT has the authority to enter into comprehensive development agreements (CDA) or public private partnerships for rail projects. TxDOT intends to pursue a long term Public Private Partnership for operation of the Houston to Dallas High Speed Rail project, which will require a standard of operating service in excess of 90% reliability.

Well, today U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the FRA's putting $15 million toward the Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston Core Express Service project, a fraction of the $2 billion in high-speed rail grants being awarded. Said LaHood, "President Obama and Vice President Biden's vision for a national rail system will help ensure America is equipped to win the future with the fastest, safest and most efficient transportation network in the world. The investments we're making today will help states across the country create jobs, spur economic development and boost manufacturing in their communities."

Mark Werner, a rail engineer at TxDOT, tells Unfair Park today that, hey, "$15 million's better than nothing," but don't hold your breath. This is gonna take a good, long while before they can start getting started. But, hey, it's a start.

"It gets pretty involved," Werner says. "I'd be nice if we could get the money in six months and start working on it, but it takes a while to get all the papertwork submitted to and approved by the FRA." Still. It's better than nothing.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky