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With $15 Mil From Feds, TxDOT Is Seeking Bids for Dallas-to-Houston High-Speed Rail Study

It's been quite some time since last we discussed the long-proposed high-speed rail line between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, which Jennifer Moczygemba, who oversees the Texas Rail Plan at the Texas Department of Transportation, called in April "definitely a priority" for TxDOT. This morning, she reiterates: It still is. So much so that at this very moment, TxDOT is looking for a firm to "evaluate potential routes and identify a preferred alternative that meets the identified service level requirements for [the Dallas/Fort Worth to Houston] corridor, including a top operating speed of at least 150 mph." That will be paid for, says Moczygemba, with $15 million in Federal Railway Administration High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funds awarded two months ago.

I called Moczygemba because I noticed that on Thursday, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit board and reps from the Regional Transportation Council will meet to discuss high-speed rail's potential impact on DART. I asked Morgan Lyons, DART spokesman, what that means, to which he responded via email that while the discussion of a Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail line "has picked up in the last few months," there are still myriad unknowns, including, he wrote, "route, stops, project time-line, funding, etc." Said his note:

One of the elements of interest to us is the desire to connect high speed rail to the DART system. The goal would be for customers to get off an inter-city train and go right to us to continue their trip. Tomorrow's conversation is just to make sure RTC members in our service area understand how the high speed trains would affect our system. For example, HSR train platforms are typically longer than ours and the trains carry more people than light rail. We have to look at possible operating schedule implications. It's quite likely some of those trains would arrive during our peak hours of service.

Moczygemba says it'll take four years for a firm to complete its engineering and environmental study; during that time, there will be many public hearings. And, of course, there's no money at present to fund high-speed rail. Not yet, anyway.

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xDOT and the RTC aren't sure if and when there will be. They're still waiting to see how the feds will dole out some $100 milllion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program funds. But should the dough come free, then TxDOT wants to be ready: "This request [for bids] will cover actual engineering and gets you to where you can do the final design and construction," Moczygembasays.

And, incidentally, this has nothing to do with Central Japan Railway Company's expressed interest in building high-speed rail in Texas. Says Moczygemba, "They're independently pursuing it to see if they can do it with wholly private funds. Our process, when we look at the environmental impact and engineering, we are going to be looking at it technology-neutral. We won't prefer Japanese over European technology."

Besides, she reminds with a small laugh: "There's a long way to go -- a review of every detail, lots of public involvement. This is a long, detailed process that covers a 250-mile corridor. There are a lot of things to cover between now and then."

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