If high-speed rail is to exist in Texas over the next several decades, it won't be the work of the federal or the state government. Though the state has been exploring the idea for close to three decades, there's no money on the table and little political will to put it there. Instead, it will be the work of a private company like Texas Central Railway, which is predicting that the lure of a 90-minute, hassle-free connection between Dallas and Houston will attract enough development and ridership that the $10 billion project will pay for itself.
That's not to say that the government isn't involved. The Texas Department of Transportation has been quietly conducting feasibility and environmental-impact studies for high-speed rail. The big one, which explores the possibility of a Texas-Oklahoma connection, is due at the end of 2014. And recently, a team of University of Texas at Arlington researchers published a study advocating for high-speed passenger and freight rail to be built alongside major highways.
"I'm really pleased at the times that were achievable," UTA civil engineering professor Stephen Mattingly told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram over the weekend. Alongside roads built for cars going 75 or 80, Mattingly's team concluded that trains could go up to 186 mph.
That speed would be possible along four corridors in the state: along Interstate 20 between Dallas and Fort Worth; I-45 between Dallas and Houston; I-35 between Laredo and Dallas-Fort Worth; and State Highway 6 from Houston to Waco.
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The travel times with a 186 mph maglev train would be low. From Dallas, it would be 15 minutes to Fort Worth, 97 minutes to Houston, 70 to Austin. If wheeled trains were used, the times would be slightly longer.
Mattingly's team singled out the four routes partly because of population and ridership calculations, partly because they are relatively straight, and partly because they already contain sufficient right-of way to accommodate a bullet train. No one wants a repeat of the Trans-Texas Corridor.
The study will have be of limited use to the Texas Central Railway, which the Star-Telegram reports is using freight right-of-way. They hope to be finished with the project by 2021.