Big news from Texas: Amtrak wants to partner on Dallas to Houston high-speed line

A Shinkesen train on a viaduct over a field

Amtrak has announced that it seeks to partner with a private company, Texas Central, to advance the planning and analysis for a roughly 240-mile high-speed line between Dallas and Houston. The line would cut travel times between the cities by more than half (versus driving), to 90 minutes. The main artery between the cities, I-45, is among the most congested and deadly in America.

Until Wednesday’s announcement, there had been few updates and little obvious activity since Texas Central won a big legal victory in June 2022. But the project is environmentally cleared, and Texas Central and Amtrak have applied for grants from several federal programs to continue design work. They include the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail program.

In an Alliance webinar last week, a program manager with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, Brendon Wheeler, described their efforts to gain environmental clearance for a potential extension from Dallas to Fort Worth.  He noted that the organization had provided a letter of support for Amtrak’s grant applications, especially as they relate to the Fort Worth-Dallas segment “and seeing success in both of those corridors.”

The next step is for Amtrak and Texas Central to obtain approval from the Surface Transportation Board to build a new railway.

Amtrak’s senior vice president of high-speed-rail development programs, Andy Byford, noted in the press release that U.S. cities “deserve more high quality, high-speed, intercity rail service, and we are proud to bring our experience to evaluate this potential project and explore opportunities with Texas Central so the state can meet its full transportation needs.”

Texas Central’s CEO, Michael Bui, said that the company “has the opportunity to revolutionize rail travel in the southern U.S., and we believe Amtrak could be the perfect partner to help us achieve that.”

The partnership could be pivotal to moving HSR toward a tipping point in the U.S.

For starters, it’s a promising initial move by Byford, who became Amtrak’s first advocate for HSR in March. Previously, he was the head of the New York City subway, where he was nicknamed “Train Daddy.” The New York Times noted that he “earned praise from riders and transit enthusiasts for improving an antiquated system that had been plagued by breakdowns and delays.” It’s still very early in his tenure, but the news from Texas suggests that Byford is building the kind of relationships and partnerships that will create stronger momentum for HSR.

And make no mistake: that momentum is growing. California’s San Francisco to L.A. line continues to move forward, and construction on Brightline’s Las Vegas to L.A. line will begin later this year, with a launch planned for sometime before the 2028 L.A. Olympics.

So, we are poised to have at least one high-speed line operating (and potentially two more well underway, if not running) by the end of the decade. And train service is steadily improving in every part of the country. Amtrak has new Acela trains on the way for the Northeast Corridor; Brightline Florida is extending its line from Miami to Orlando (then Tampa); and Illinois stakeholders are pushing to upgrade Chicago’s Union Station, which will increase the speed and reliability of passenger-train travel throughout the region. Meantime, studies for a high-speed rail system in the Pacific Northwest are ongoing.

The potential Amtrak/Texas Central partnership could be pivotal, as well, because it marks the first time Amtrak has taken the initiative to help develop a true high-speed line. It’s also significant that the line is in Texas—where everything is bigger, as they say. Dallas and Houston are the fourth and fifth-largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., respectively. And they’re growing rapidly. Together, they’re home to more than 15 million people. Connecting them with HSR—and bringing Amtrak into the mix—could be the start of something very big indeed.

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