From the windows of Texas Central Railway’s downtown office, it’s easy to imagine a high-speed train shooting out of Dallas, building up to 205 mph, and then—BOOM—arriving in downtown Houston 90 minutes later.
The dream? That’s easy. Convincing nine counties, Japanese investors, and countless property owners along the way? That’s not so easy.
But Tom Schieffer—former U.S. ambassador to Japan and Texas Rangers president, and now senior adviser for TCR—thinks it will work. And a $1 million feasibility study by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation says it might work. And the mayors of Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston hope it will work. So, what if it actually does work?
“If we can get this line built, it’s not only going to be a source of pride for our communities and state, it’s going to be transformational to the United States,” Schieffer said hours after Mayor Mike Rawlings called it a “game changer.”
Maybe, but Schieffer knows the “if” is still a major hurdle. Twenty years ago, a similar project was attempted. But costs, landowner opposition, and an aggressive campaign from Southwest Airlines stifled the plan. Even though it’s a private project, TCR is about to undergo a federal environmental impact review, which will help the company determine its route. (It has three options, ideally using as many existing rights-of-way as possible.)
One thing the project has in its favor: topography. Because all possible routes are flat, the trains can hit top speeds quickly, and construction will be easier than similar projects, federal transportation officials say. And while Dallas and Houston are the main priorities—Fort Worth would be a separate project, not built by TCR—expansion along the line is possible.
“What we’re hearing from people along the route is that while the train might not stop there today, in 10, 20, or 30 years it might,” says Robert Eckels, former Harris County judge and TCR’s president. “But if the track isn’t there, there will never be an opportunity for a stop.”