There was a lot of buzz back in May when a group led by the Central Japan Railway Co. and former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels announced plans to raise $10 billion in private funds to establish a bullet train linking Dallas and Houston. TxDOT, too, has been looking at high-speed rail, and is in the midst of a preliminary analysis of the Houston-Dallas corridor.
The Regional Transportation Council was expecting progress on that front when it drafted its long-range transportation plan, Mobility 2035, last year -- just not so much quite so soon, said Tom Shelton, a planner with the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
"We had a little bit of money in our previous budget, $640,000 already approved (for high-speed rail planning)," Shelton said. "But, based on this heightened level of interest we're getting ... we don't believe that level of funding will be sufficient."
So NCTCOG is asking the RTC to double that amount.
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The extra cash is needed to provide interested parties, both public, like TxDOT, and private, like the Texas Central Railway, with the information they need when they need it, which, considering that TCR has expressed hope of beginning service by 2020, is soon.
For one, NCTCOG needs to establish basic guidelines for how it will handle proposals to build high-speed rail to the region from whatever direction so that it won't be totally winging it. Also, planners will need to gather data on why travelers are coming to Dallas from Houston and where in the DFW are they are going so developers can know where to locate rail stations. Mobility 2035 called for a three-pronged approach, with stations in downtown Dallas, DFW Airport, and downtown Ft. Worth.
And, by the way, Shelton mentioned that the $2 billion Cotton Belt Rail Corridor, which will stretch nearly 70 miles from southwest Ft. Worth to DART's Red Line in Plano but has been stalled for lack of funding, is also attracting potential investors from Europe and Asia.
"I'm not at liberty to share names," he said. "Just Google 'regional passenger rail' on the global scale, and you'll get the cast of characters. Basically, the answer is that all of them have expressed some level of interest."