MaxConcrete

High Speed Rail / Texas Triangle

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MaxConcrete    294

http://www.dot.state.tx.us/insdtdot/orgchart/cmd/cserve/profserv/notice/83-2SDP5002.htm

This is burning up money allocated by the federal government for high speed rail. It looks like a comprehensive study and we can expect to see public meetings in the next couple years.

I don't think high speed rail can come anywhere close to being economically viable, but I will be interested to see the recommended alignment and cost estimates. The minimum top speed of 150mph will surely necessitate new track, most likely on new alignments (rather than exclusively following existing corridors.) That will drive up the cost - I'm guessing a minimum of $10 billion.

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VicMan    46

If it IS deemed to be cost effective, I could think of some of the stops (not every trip would stop at every stop)

Which stops do you think would be viable?

Terminus: Houston

Suburban Houston: Aldine/Greenspoint, Spring, The Woodlands, Conroe, Willis

In-between (Houston to Dallas): New Waverly, Huntsville, Madisonville, Centerville, Buffalo, Dew, Fairfield, Streetman, Richland, Angus, Corsicana,

Suburban Dallas: Ennis, Palmer, Ferris, Wilmer-Hutchins

Terminus: Dallas

Of the in-betweens, I certainly think Huntsville and Corsicana would be fairly important. Not sure about the others.

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MaxConcrete    294

Which stops do you think would be viable?

I say there should be zero stops between Houston and Dallas. The stops will increase the trip time, and it will be critical to make the trip as short as possible (ie top speed all the way) to attract riders.

Also, there is no city between Houston and Dallas that would have decent patronage. Huntsville seems like the only possibility. Forget about suburban south Dallas - it's not a market either. The recommended alignment may follow US 290 to the northwest and in that case Bryan/College Station could be on the path.

So the stops would be: central Houston, one suburban north Houston stop (maybe Woodlands) and central Dallas.

Of course, due to cost and ridership issues they will probably recommend using existing tracks with much lower speeds. In that case the train will be serving a different market (not the premium and business markets) and more stops could be accommodated.

Edited by MaxConcrete

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mfastx    469

I don't think high speed rail can come anywhere close to being economically viable, but I will be interested to see the recommended alignment and cost estimates.

What makes you say that? Many high speed rail systems around the world make money, and even our lone high speed rail line (Acela Express) is profitable. It is proven around the world that people would rather take a high speed rail line between ttwo close cities than fly, or drive. It's much more convenient. Do you even wonder why Southwest Airlines lobbied so hard to stop high speed rail in Texas in the 1990s?

I say there should be zero stops between Houston and Dallas. The stops will increase the trip time, and it will be critical to make the trip as short as possible (ie top speed all the way) to attract riders.

So the stops would be: central Houston, one suburban north Houston stop (maybe Woodlands) and central Dallas.

I agree with all of this. Maybe the northern Houston stop could be Bush Intercontinental Airport.

There is so much talk about this but nothing ever happens. Now there are multiple proposals out there. What happened to that Japanese company that was going to build 220 mph service between Houston and Dallas by 2020? I think we really need to get the ball rolling on this, this would be a great convenient service, and people would be silly not to use it.

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ricco67    382

I don't see a reason why the airport should be connected at all. They could just as easily FLY to dallas if they're at an airport (unless for some reason either airport shuts down for weather), Huntsville is really the only reasonable stop along the way and its mostly because of the University there.

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CSOM    0

Agree very few, if any stops between downtown to downtown. I would compare it to the Eurostar between London and Paris. There is one stop on either side of the chunnel (Dover UK, Calais FR) and they are building another just for the station near Olympic park. Plus there are non-stop options as well. Only a few trains a day stop at the alternate stations.

If I were designing I'd have maybe a stop for The Woodlands, and possibly Huntsville, and only stop there maybe twice a day, while the rest run non-stop. If you want to add other options to DFW, have a direct line connection/continuation either into FW or up to Frisco/Plano at slower speeds, but the main terminus being city center Dallas.

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77006    0

I would say Dowtown Houston, IAH (because people want a quick alternative from the airport to the city), The Woodlands. From there straight to Dallas unless it is routed through Bryan, then Bryan/College Station, Dallas. Since Dallas is already building a light rail line to the airport I would say Dallas city center should be the final stop.

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e streeter    2

i just spent 2 weeks traveling through the northeast on trains and it was great. it was so nice to sit in a comfortable seat with leg room and being able to walk down the aisle and not bump into elbows and shoulders. i purposely took this trip to take trains. i have traveled on trains through europe and wish i could take a train to go to dallas or san antonio. i know i could get there faster on the train than flying with all the plane delays. you have to get to the airport over an early to get through security and then you hope and pray your flight is on time (last time my flight to dfw was 2 hours late), then it is about 30 minutes from the time you land to taxi to the gate to get off and then get your luggage. all in all from the time i leave my house to get to my destination in fort worth it is usually 4 hours. i can drive it in 4.5. i try to drive whenever possible, but sometimes my trip up there is so short, that i fly in hopes that my flight will be on time. and now that it gets dark earlier, i really hate driving so long in the dark.

after my first trip to europe that i took trains, i came back and took the train from houston to dallas, it took longer than if i would have driven, but i enjoyed it. i know that my parents would rather ride even a slow train than drive to fort worth to see their grandchildren. driving takes too much out of them at their age. just think where we would be if we had built the high speed rail in the 90's. i don't understand why the northeast has such great rail service and we have zero in texas.

i am a native houstonian and according to popular folklore am married to my car and would never ride rail, that is the furthest thing from reality. i promise you if they build it, people will ride it.

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ricco67    382

Agree very few, if any stops between downtown to downtown. I would compare it to the Eurostar between London and Paris. There is one stop on either side of the chunnel (Dover UK, Calais FR) and they are building another just for the station near Olympic park. Plus there are non-stop options as well. Only a few trains a day stop at the alternate stations.

If I were designing I'd have maybe a stop for The Woodlands, and possibly Huntsville, and only stop there maybe twice a day, while the rest run non-stop. If you want to add other options to DFW, have a direct line connection/continuation either into FW or up to Frisco/Plano at slower speeds, but the main terminus being city center Dallas.

I'd disagree. If you live in the woodlands or conroe, suck it up and drive to Huntsville. They already live in BFE, at least the students at SFA have an excuse to be up there.

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RedScare    1,639

While the I-45 corridor might be shortest, I think a route running through College Station and Waco would draw more traffic, and additionally, lower the cost of routes to Austin, in that the Houston leg would share the track to College Station, and the Dallas leg would share track to Waco. I don't think the additional distance and stops would make it prohibitively long. Dallas-Houston is 240 miles, while Dallas-Waco-College Station-Houston is 275 miles.

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TheNiche    961

I'd disagree. If you live in the woodlands or conroe, suck it up and drive to Huntsville. They already live in BFE, at least the students at SFA have an excuse to be up there.

Montgomey County has nearly seven times the population of Walker County, and whereas Walker County is stagnant, Montgomery County adds the population of Walker County about every five to seven years. **** Walker County.

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editor    674

Who cares if the rail line makes money? Freeways don't make money. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year subsidizing roads. I don't understand why people think that rail should be held to a higher financial standard.

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TheNiche    961

Who cares if the rail line makes money? Freeways don't make money. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year subsidizing roads. I don't understand why people think that rail should be held to a higher financial standard.

Toll roads make money and provide a price mechanism to manage congestion. The latter issue requires economic analysis in dollar denominations to quantify the benefit even though the savings are less tangible, the opportunity cost of time. Similar analytic techniques can be used for rail, but they are not typically favorable to rail (as we think of it).

I would propose that human proximity in terms of the opportunity cost of time is valuable enough that high speed rail as it is currently being contemplated should be dismissed in favor of the kind of transit that makes a Houston-Dallas trip accomplished with no greater inconvenience than a commute between The Woodlands and downtown Houston. It would be expensive, but joining the four big Texas cities as such would create a situation where just about as many people were within a reasonable time from one another as they currently are in the New York City metropolitan area...but with the low real estate prices and business-friendliness of Texas.

It'll never happen, obviously.

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mfastx    469

I don't see a reason why the airport should be connected at all. They could just as easily FLY to dallas if they're at an airport (unless for some reason either airport shuts down for weather), Huntsville is really the only reasonable stop along the way and its mostly because of the University there.

I think there should be an airport station, but that wouldn't necessarily mean all trains would stop there. Most trains would be express, and a few would run between IAH and downtown since we do not currently have any transit service connecting the two (besides the 102 bus, but that takes about an hour to get to downtown).

Edited by mfastx

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JamesL    91

I think there should be an airport station, but that wouldn't necessarily mean all trains would stop there. Most trains would be express, and a few would run between IAH and downtown since we do not currently have any transit service connecting the two (besides the 102 bus, but that takes about an hour to get to downtown).

The way they've gained the support of the airlines is by promising stops at the airports and keeping open the possibility of allowing them to operate the trains. By diverting short-hop flights to rail they can open up landing slots for more profitable, long-haul flights.

This is also part of the idea behind the California HSR and HS2 in England. Shifting those flights to rail will cut congestion at the airports and save billions on airport expansion that would otherwise be necessary.

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asubrt    280

I know it will probably never happen and even if it does it is lightyears away, but does anyone have any idea of roughly how much a ticket from Houston-Dallas (or Austin, San Antonio, whatever) would cost? I've been on a few trains in Europe but never really in the US and wasn't sure how cost effective it is compared to driving/flying.

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LarryDierker    3,169

I know it will probably never happen and even if it does it is lightyears away, but does anyone have any idea of roughly how much a ticket from Houston-Dallas (or Austin, San Antonio, whatever) would cost? I've been on a few trains in Europe but never really in the US and wasn't sure how cost effective it is compared to driving/flying.

Just checked the Amtrak web site and a ticket for 1 adult coach seat to New Orleans from Houston departing tomorrow is 49$.

That is a 9 hour ride too! ouch.

To San Antonio is $32. At 5 hours.

From Houston to Dallas on Amtrak is 64$ with a layover in San Antonio for a total of 13 hours 30 minutes.

also From Boston to New York, which I believe to be a 4 and a half hour drive, Amtrak is much faster with prices ranging from 68$ to $244 (first class). And times ranging from 3 hr 20min to 4 hrs.

These times are much better than the Texas times.

Not sure if these are comparisons worthy of noting.

Edited by LarryDierker
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e streeter    2

I know it will probably never happen and even if it does it is lightyears away, but does anyone have any idea of roughly how much a ticket from Houston-Dallas (or Austin, San Antonio, whatever) would cost? I've been on a few trains in Europe but never really in the US and wasn't sure how cost effective it is compared to driving/flying.

i just took several trains through the northeast. here are the rates for purchasing a month ahead first and the day before and length of trip

washington dc to philadelphia - $34 vs $49, 2 hours

philadelphia to nyc - $34 vs $49, 1.5 hours

nyc to boston (took the acela) - $75 vs $99, 3.5 hours (it would have been cheaper and an hour longer to take the regional)

even if a flight would have technically been shorter, it would have taken a lot more time getting to the airport at least an hour early and then the plan probably being delayed, etc. i was able to take an earlier train to nyc because i got to the train station early and there wasn't a fee to take the earlier train.

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Slick Vik    449
Who cares if the rail line makes money? Freeways don't make money. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year subsidizing roads. I don't understand why people think that rail should be held to a higher financial standard.

This is 100% true

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MaxConcrete    294

I think there should be an airport station, but that wouldn't necessarily mean all trains would stop there.

An airport station makes no sense for high speed service between Houston and Dallas because both Houston and DFW are major airline hubs. After all, who wants to take a train to DFW when you can get a non-stop to virtually all the same locations from Bush or Hobby? Same logic holds true for DFW dwellers.

Now, the situation is totally different for a high-speed track along the Interstate 35 corridor serving San Antonio, Austin, Waco and the other cities (San Marcos, Temple, New Braunfels). Neither Austin nor San Antonio are hubs, and a large percentage of travelers from those cities are already connecting through Bush or DFW. A fast train straight into DFW would be very attractive to those folks. Any true high-speed rail is unlikely to actually happen anywhere and Houston-Austin or Houston-San Antonio is most unlikely, so I don't think there's any point in contemplating high-speed service from Austin or San Antonio into Bush.

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SkylineView    1,260

Before I completely lose everyone, let me start by saying that I love rail. I lived in the UK for 8 years, and trains were a key part of my formative years.

That being said...

Basic economics pretty well 'derail' the Houston-Dallas high speed rail debate. You can fly Hobby-Love or IAH-DFW for about the same price... ~$150 each way. Flight time is a flat hour. The sad reality is that regardless of where rail departs, most Houstonians will be driving there... much like they would to IAH or Hobby... and you'll likely have to drive on the other side. Assuming you show up 45 minutes in advance, and drive 30 minutes on each side, it's a 2:45 commute vs. about 4:30 if you drive it.

There could be some downtown to downtown commutes, but given the largely decentralized nature of both cities, it is reasonable to consider that people would be adventuring outside the urban core. Consider the jobs hosted in the Woodlands, Memorial City, Greenway, Galleria, Woodlands etc... And in Dallas... Las Colinas, Fort Worth, North Dallas etc...

Amtrak will get you from one side to the other, though not rapidly. Using their trip planner it looks like 10 to 16 hours and will cost $64. Greyhound will do it in ~4:30 and $44. I'm not a huge fan of riding on busses, but $44 to go 241 miles is obviously the time to beat. Driving my car would probably cost that in gas.

Referencing this for #'s (it's getting late)... http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/cyfair-news/article/Fast-rail-may-link-Houston-Dallas-in-2020-RAIL-2157909.php

At $6 billion, a 4% interest rate, and $100 per ticket, the route would require slightly more than three million users a year to repay the loan over a 30 year term. This seems somewhat optimistic. The benefit, though I hate flying, of what Southwest can do, is that they can easily scale capacity up or down. While they may be running flights every 30 minutes out of Hobby, they could ramp it higher or lower on demand. Rail requires such a large fixed cost that regardless of ridership, you're saddled with interest payments on the original investment. Air travel doesn't suffer this. Also, I counted about 30+ flights from Houston to Dallas each day on Expedia, which does not include Southwest, so may 50+ total? We can assume that's at least 5,000 seats. While air and rail do not necessarily overlap (you're less likely to take HSR to Dallas and then fly to Phoenix... that being said, how many people connect through Dallas from Houston?), they will compete for point to point travel. I would guess that Southwest could cut prices if competition increased.

Finally, a caveat. One thing we should consider is that both Dallas and Houston are forecast to consider to grow over the next 25 years. If both cities add a million a decade, as both Houston and Dallas (ok... almost) did over the past decade, the viability of HSR will increase. A business friendly environment, job growth, and immigration all lean in favor of Texas. If the cities grow by 20%, expand local public transit, and increase high-density development, it's possible HSR will be viable... just not today.

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mfastx    469

An airport station makes no sense for high speed service between Houston and Dallas because both Houston and DFW are major airline hubs. After all, who wants to take a train to DFW when you can get a non-stop to virtually all the same locations from Bush or Hobby? Same logic holds true for DFW dwellers.

I was talking about having a fast way to get to IAH from downtown, the current METRO service takes about an hour, having a stop at IAH would allow people to take the train to the airport (at very little cost per ticked) and then fly. One way or another, we need better transit service to our airports.

That being said...

Basic economics pretty well 'derail' the Houston-Dallas high speed rail debate. You can fly Hobby-Love or IAH-DFW for about the same price... ~$150 each way. Flight time is a flat hour. The sad reality is that regardless of where rail departs, most Houstonians will be driving there... much like they would to IAH or Hobby... and you'll likely have to drive on the other side. Assuming you show up 45 minutes in advance, and drive 30 minutes on each side, it's a 2:45 commute vs. about 4:30 if you drive it.

I would have to disagree. Around the world it has been proven that people would rather take a high speed train than a plane. If it is "basic economics" that a high speed rail line wouldn't be viable, then why did Southwest Airlines lobby so hard to stop high speed rail construction in the 1990s? If you are so sure people would rather take planes, then why would Southest Airlines care?

There is plenty of public transit in Dallas. If we start high speed rail construction soon, it probably won't be complete until around 2020. Hopefully, by that time Houston will have light rail lines built which would help the transit situation here. By the time high speed rail construction is finished (if it ever starts) Houston and Dallas will have changed and become more denser by then.

Edited by mfastx

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woolie    117

Attitudes and cultural habits are shifting. And even Texas cities are going to become much denser in the urban cores over the next 30 years. Alot of young people today find the idea of a big suburban house with >1 cars per person as antiquated as a horse and buggy. These things are huge commitments that eat up valuable personal income and are anchors that chain a person to a specific place in an economy that increasingly requires mobility. Post-War America was the product of a very specific geopolitical and economic situation and brought into fashion alot of ideas that contradicted thousands of years worth of knowledge about human settlements. But much of this was created and marketed as a product and a lifestyle, without any regard to sustainability or long term quality of life over the lifespan of a city (hundreds or thousands of years -- think about how new Houston in that context). So, I don't think the current trend towards urbanity is anything new, but rather the predictable passing of a fad and reversion to the mean of what was carefully sorted out over hundreds of generations.

Anyway, Houston and Dallas are already both in the top 5 statistical metro areas for population at 6m and 6.5m people. Austin and SA add another 2m a piece and completes a natural triangle. HSR from downtown to downtown isn't just viable, it's a prudent and proven solution. And these investments are cooperative; the more urban transit and intermodal connections exist, the higher the return on infrastructure investment. We've spent many decades now and trillions of dollars to build out our automobile infrastructure, expecting endless exponential improvements in automobile technology. But instead it's become incremental improvements -- a little better gas mileage, a little safer in a crash, etc. Perhaps we've reached a point of diminishing returns and re-open some settled questions.

Edited by woolie
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