Numbers Game: Predicting Ridership On the Dallas-Houston Bullet Train

When it comes to the anticipated numbers, proponents and opponents of the high-speed rail project don't exactly see eye to eye.

During the recently completed session of the Texas Legislature, opponents threw everything they had against the wall trying to stop a proposed, high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston. In the end, though, not much stuck. So, the bullet-train concept would seem to be hurtling ahead.

The Dallas terminus of the privately funded, $12 billion venture would be on 60 acres in the Cedars district. There, the owner of the acreage—developer Jack Matthews—says a mixed-use project he’ll put up would include office, residential, hotel, and retail space. Before that ever happens, though, a larger question about the train needs to be addressed. Namely, how many passengers are expected to ride it every year?

The line’s proponents contend—very confidently—that annual ridership will reach nearly 5 million by the mid-2020s. But a study by the libertarian Reason Foundation disputes that as wildly optimistic, guessing the actual figure might be closer to 1.5 million by 2035. It’s an important question because, if ridership does not pan out as promised, taxpayers might have to ride to the train’s rescue. The flap is also the subject of this story in the June issue of D CEO.