FRA delivers major breakthrough for U.S. high-speed rail with Texas safety standards

The Federal Railroad Administration has given Texas Central’s proposed high-speed line between Dallas and Houston the go-ahead. The line received its final environmental clearance this week, and the FRA released a set of comprehensive safety standards to govern its operation.

The standards mark a major breakthrough, since this is the first time the FRA has published comprehensive rules for trains that exceed 160 mph.

Running at speeds of up to 205 mph, the trains will complete the Dallas-Houston trip in roughly 90 minutes. Texas Central plans to begin construction next year, pending approval by the Surface Transportation Board, and the line will begin operation by 2026. Texas Central Railroad CEO Carlos Aguilar said “this is the moment we have been working toward.”

Planned as a stand-alone system adapted from a Japanese model, the Texas line will be totally fenced off, will have no highway crossings, and will not share tracks with freight trains. These safety features allow for lighter than regulations currently allow.

Lighter trains lead to lower operating and track-maintenance costs and better acceleration—improvements that will increase the system’s overall performance and economic viability. That progress sets the stage for new FRA standards permitting lighter trains on a wider scale, which is key to the adoption and flourishing of high-speed rail across the U.S.

Texas Central is planning 18 daily departures in each direction, and it anticipates 6.5 million riders annually by the end of the decade. The line’s ticketing system will link into Amtrak’s system, and its endpoint stations will allow easy transfer to Amtrak trains. That was the basis for the Surface Transportation Board’s ruling in July that the project is tied into the national railroad network and thus under its jurisdiction. The STB has can exempt projects on a case-by-case basis from local and state regulations—meaning projects under its authority are protected from local political pressures.

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