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Houston-Dallas Bullet Training starting in 2020


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IRVING – The leaders of Texas Central High-Speed Railway sound very confident for a company expecting to succeed where scores of state planners, elected officials and private interests have failed.

The firm hopes to have bullet trains moving Texans at 205 miles per hour between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston by 2020.

The bit that has raised eyebrows: The company plans to do it without seeking public financing.

“We are not the traditional state-run railroad,” Robert Eckels, the company’s president and a former Harris County judge, said at a high-speed rail forum in Irving on Tuesday. “This is designed to be a profitable high-speed rail system that will serve the people of these two great cities and in between and, ultimately, the whole state of Texas.”

Backing the Texas-based company is a group led by Central Japan Railway Company, which handles more than 100 million passengers each year on its bullet trains in Japan.

“They’re spending real money on high-speed rail to try and get things done,” said Gary Fickes, chairman of the Texas High-Speed Rail and Train Corporation, a nonprofit coalition of public and private leaders that for years has been advocating for a high-speed rail system in Texas. “I think they’re the real deal.”

While the project is generating enthusiasm, Eckels acknowledged he’s also heard from plenty of skeptics who predict he will eventually ask for billions of dollars in public support. But Eckels said his investors would likely walk away from a project that couldn’t stand on its own.

“If we start taking the federal money, it takes twice as long, costs twice as much,” Eckels said. “My guess is we’d end up pulling the plug on it.”

Previous efforts to bring high-speed rail to Texas have crumbled amid quarrels about public financing and opposition from airlines and other groups. While even a privately funded project would have to work with federal, state and local agencies, the company’s shunning of public money is drawing strong initial interest.

The relatively flat, sparsely populated land between North Texas and Houston makes the project more doable than similar plans that have been proposed in the Northeast or California, Eckels said. One approach that could reduce costs considerably is using existing rights of way for freight rail to build the new track. For the system to work, the high-speed trains would have to go over, under or around car and pedestrian traffic and couldn’t cross other tracks, Eckels said.

“This train doesn’t perform well if you have to stop it many times,” Eckels said. “It works great if you stop it midway, maybe up at College Station, maybe a couple of other places.”

The company is advertising the project as a way to move passengers from North Texas to Houston in 90 minutes. Eckels said the trip could be significantly shorter once the trains are up and running.

After the DFW-Houston line is operational, a second phase would likely link Austin and San Antonio to the system with a route parallel to the I-35 corridor, Eckels said.

Fickes, who is also a Tarrant County Commissioner, said more people are talking optimistically about high-speed rail coming to Texas now than just two years ago. The Texas Central Railway seems more promising, Fickes said, than a previous Obama administration offer of $8 billion to jumpstart high-speed rail projects around the country.

“I predict Texas will be the first state that has high-speed rail because it’s private-sector driven,” Fickes said.

At a day-long forum on the future of high-speed passenger rail in America, other attendees agreed that Texas was likely to be first out of the gate with a true high-speed rail system, often defined as one with trains that travel 185 miles per hour or faster.

During a presentation on the array of financial and regulatory hurdles blocking the success of high-speed rail in the country, Richard Arena with the Association for Public Transportation said Texas is a possible bright spot.

“You guys are not waiting for things to happen,” Arena said. “You’re making it happen.”

Arena said the state’s strong economy and growing population make high-speed rail a more likely proposition than in other regions. But he was highly skeptical that the rail project could come together without public funding.

“My numbers say it’s going to be a stretch,” Arena said. “There was a reason why all the passenger railroads went bankrupt 50 years ago. I just don’t know.”

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You can probably include private landowners in this deal as people who will not want their property criss-crossed by high speed rail. It would take an awful lot of money for someone to allow a train traveling 205mph to cross their property....since private groups do not possess the same condemnation powers in Texas as we just recently learned with the Denbury Green pipeline - it would be very interesting to see the route this train would have to take.

I cant see many ranchers letting it cross through a pasture....and I cant see any homeowner wanting it near their house...a train at 205mph would obliterate cattle and I doubt any homeowner would want to be anywhere near it. Its a pipe dream unlikely to ever be realized. Just wasted resources in my opinion.

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You can probably include private landowners in this deal as people who will not want their property criss-crossed by high speed rail. It would take an awful lot of money for someone to allow a train traveling 205mph to cross their property....since private groups do not possess the same condemnation powers in Texas as we just recently learned with the Denbury Green pipeline - it would be very interesting to see the route this train would have to take.

I cant see many ranchers letting it cross through a pasture....and I cant see any homeowner wanting it near their house...a train at 205mph would obliterate cattle and I doubt any homeowner would want to be anywhere near it. Its a pipe dream unlikely to ever be realized. Just wasted resources in my opinion.

I wonder how they were able to build such trains in Europe then? Of course I know the laws are different... so how does land ownership/compensation work there?

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Yeah I know. Southwest effectively killed HSR in Texas in the 90s. They know that more people will want to take the train.

I think they mainly advocated for a level playing field subsidy-wise. Nobody wants a taxpayer-subsidized competitor. This plan should alleviate that problem.

As far as the land: I'm pretty certain that even if they don't ask for subsidies, they will definitely be counting on eminent domain for fair land prices, just like pipelines, utilities, and railroads do (I believe). It will certainly be awkward handling grade separations and risks like wayward cattle.

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I think they mainly advocated for a level playing field subsidy-wise. Nobody wants a taxpayer-subsidized competitor. This plan should alleviate that problem.

The facilities that Southwest Airlines uses are heavily subsidized. All airlines benefit from massive taxpayer subsidies. That is the reason rail travel has fallen so far behind here in the US.

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The facilities that Southwest Airlines uses are heavily subsidized. All airlines benefit from massive taxpayer subsidies. That is the reason rail travel has fallen so far behind here in the US.

I'm not sure that's really true. Airports are self-supporting on their own passenger, gate lease, parking, and other fees. Not as sure on the FAA, but it's a relatively small part of the cost of the system.

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I think they mainly advocated for a level playing field subsidy-wise. Nobody wants a taxpayer-subsidized competitor. This plan should alleviate that problem.

As far as the land: I'm pretty certain that even if they don't ask for subsidies, they will definitely be counting on eminent domain for fair land prices, just like pipelines, utilities, and railroads do (I believe). It will certainly be awkward handling grade separations and risks like wayward cattle.

It probably meets the common carrier requirement of serving the public, but I can certainly see landowners challenging it.

Also unless this thing runs on a highway right of way, the rail would have to buy a lot of land...wayward cattle are not as big of an issue as a track cutting through a large pasture...split one pasture and the rancher no longer has access to the other side in some cases...that makes things very complicated. Its a lot of land, alot of fencing, alot of crossings, its alot of everything.

I don't see this happening....not with airline lobbies and landowners fighting it.

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I'm not sure that's really true. Airports are self-supporting on their own passenger, gate lease, parking, and other fees. Not as sure on the FAA, but it's a relatively small part of the cost of the system.

The 2012 budget gave almost 20 billion to the FAA. Many billion dollar airport expansions are paid for by taxpayer dollars. For example, Atlanta, which will be one of Southwest's biggest hubs, has had a $6 billion expansion that was funded by taxpayers. That's just one example.

It's disingenuous to assume that Southwest, especially when they first started out, didn't take advantage of subsidies.

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The 2012 budget gave almost 20 billion to the FAA. Many billion dollar airport expansions are paid for by taxpayer dollars. For example, Atlanta, which will be one of Southwest's biggest hubs, has had a $6 billion expansion that was funded by taxpayers. That's just one example.

It's disingenuous to assume that Southwest, especially when they first started out, didn't take advantage of subsidies.

But I think both of those are covered by fees paid by passengers and airlines, not by taxpayers.

Here's a story on how the Feds even want to use airline fees for general deficit reduction, beyond just covering the costs of the aviation system:

http://www.executive...-passenger-fees

And here's an web page on how the FAA budget is paid for by user fees, not taxpayers.

http://www.faa.gov/a...fices/apl/aatf/

And here's how the overall national air system is paid for by user fees, not taxpayers.

http://www.tcpilots.org/funding.html

Edited by ToryGattis
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But I think both of those are covered by fees paid by passengers and airlines, not by taxpayers.

Here's a story on how the Feds even want to use airline fees for general deficit reduction, beyond just covering the costs of the aviation system:

http://www.executive...-passenger-fees

And here's an web page on how the FAA budget is paid for by user fees, not taxpayers.

http://www.faa.gov/a...fices/apl/aatf/

Interesting. However if I am reading that second article right, it says that the proposed increase in fees would pay for the FAA system. It never said anything about those fees already paying for the FAA.

And let's not forget how heavily initial airport construction was subsidized in the 1950s-1980s. The first massive large scale airport expansions were unquestionably subsidized.

EDIT: Even on that third link you posted, if you click "history of Government airport funding" it clearly states that throughout the 1950s federal funding was used to fund numerous airport infrastructure.

Edited by mfastx
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As long as we are going back to ancient history...

Rail was first subsidized considerably more when it first came out. Go look up how much land the federal government gave to the railroads to plow through the West. I think it was something like 10 sq miles of land for each mile of track they laid.

Then when cars came into their own as personal transportation (finally got cheap and reliable in the mass production of the late 40's/50's) the government subsidized them with interstates. (like we really need that many emergency landing strips for the air force) and are still doing it.

That's what the government does for new technology.

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Interesting. However if I am reading that second article right, it says that the proposed increase in fees would pay for the FAA system. It never said anything about those fees already paying for the FAA.

And let's not forget how heavily initial airport construction was subsidized in the 1950s-1980s. The first massive large scale airport expansions were unquestionably subsidized.

EDIT: Even on that third link you posted, if you click "history of Government airport funding" it clearly states that throughout the 1950s federal funding was used to fund numerous airport infrastructure.

They want to increase fees to pay for a new FAA air control system that will cost billions of dollars but allow GPS based free flight, increasing efficiency.

I can't speak for history, but I suspect even a lot of those early airports were paid for up front by governments then had fees recover the money over time (probably by issuing bonds). Even if not, if you assume a typical 30 year capital life before renewal, the system we're flying on today has been pretty much fully paid for by users of the system.

This post of mine has more on the beneficial network economics of airports over rail.

http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2012/04/new-reasons-to-be-skeptical-of-high.html

Still, none of this should matter if the new proposal is truly private. They obviously think they can cover their capital costs out of passenger fees (note they won't have to pay any of the aviation taxes/fees).

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As long as we are going back to ancient history...

Rail was first subsidized considerably more when it first came out. Go look up how much land the federal government gave to the railroads to plow through the West. I think it was something like 10 sq miles of land for each mile of track they laid.

Then when cars came into their own as personal transportation (finally got cheap and reliable in the mass production of the late 40's/50's) the government subsidized them with interstates. (like we really need that many emergency landing strips for the air force) and are still doing it.

That's what the government does for new technology.

Hmmm.. in that case then the government should heavily subsidize HSR, since it's a new technology. At least here in the states it is, lol.

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As long as we are going back to ancient history...

Rail was first subsidized considerably more when it first came out. Go look up how much land the federal government gave to the railroads to plow through the West. I think it was something like 10 sq miles of land for each mile of track they laid.

Then when cars came into their own as personal transportation (finally got cheap and reliable in the mass production of the late 40's/50's) the government subsidized them with interstates. (like we really need that many emergency landing strips for the air force) and are still doing it.

That's what the government does for new technology.

You're kidding right? The reason cars became big is because GM bought up rails all over the country and tore the tracks out forcing people to buy cars and drive. At one time only 10% of people drove and autos were considered a bust and too expensive.

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They want to increase fees to pay for a new FAA air control system that will cost billions of dollars but allow GPS based free flight, increasing efficiency.

I can't speak for history, but I suspect even a lot of those early airports were paid for up front by governments then had fees recover the money over time (probably by issuing bonds). Even if not, if you assume a typical 30 year capital life before renewal, the system we're flying on today has been pretty much fully paid for by users of the system.

This post of mine has more on the beneficial network economics of airports over rail.

http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2012/04/new-reasons-to-be-skeptical-of-high.html

Still, none of this should matter if the new proposal is truly private. They obviously think they can cover their capital costs out of passenger fees (note they won't have to pay any of the aviation taxes/fees).

So we are right and the rest of the world is wrong?

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You're kidding right? The reason cars became big is because GM bought up rails all over the country and tore the tracks out forcing people to buy cars and drive. At one time only 10% of people drove and autos were considered a bust and too expensive.

I assume you are the one who is kidding here. We all know it was the Reptilians who plotted the demise of of rail to ruin the dreams of mass transit aficionados. They are the only ones truly capable of such evil.

At one time trains were considered a useless contraption when they were trundling across the prairie and Native Americans were shooting arrows at them. So what's your point?

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You're kidding right? The reason cars became big is because GM bought up rails all over the country and tore the tracks out forcing people to buy cars and drive. At one time only 10% of people drove and autos were considered a bust and too expensive.

History learned from the great historical documentary "Who Framed Roger Rabbit".

A few facts:

GM indeed bought a bunch of electric street car lines beginning in the 1930s. Many of the streetcar lines were in fact failing financially. But more to the point, GM was converting them to buses. GM sold buses. It had nothing to do with "forcing people to buy cars". People were already buying cars in droves. Nobody needed to be forced to buy them.

No doubt, at one time only 10% of people drove. That tells us nothing. At one time only 10% of people had electricity in their homes. At one time only 10% of people had indoor plumbing. Relative to the great "GM destroyed public transit to force people to buy cars" conspiracy theory, it is important to note that by 1929 (before GM started buying up electric streetcar systems), 4 out of 5 families already had a car.

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History learned from the great historical documentary "Who Framed Roger Rabbit"...A few facts...Relative to the great "GM destroyed public transit to force people to buy cars" conspiracy theory, it is important to note that by 1929 (before GM started buying up electric streetcar systems), 4 out of 5 families already had a car.

Don't think we haven't noticed the eerie resemblance between R Rabbit and Obama - the ears are a dead giveaway. Obama bailed out GM. METRO LRT is a type of electric streetcar. The Obama FTA took METRO down for trying to buy more electric streetcars from those nice Spanish people. Obama secretly is destroying both METRO and Tx HSR.

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As long as we are going back to ancient history...

Rail was first subsidized considerably more when it first came out. Go look up how much land the federal government gave to the railroads to plow through the West. I think it was something like 10 sq miles of land for each mile of track they laid.

Then when cars came into their own as personal transportation (finally got cheap and reliable in the mass production of the late 40's/50's) the government subsidized them with interstates. (like we really need that many emergency landing strips for the air force) and are still doing it.

That's what the government does for new technology.

The railroad bill that granted 10 square miles per mile of track was signed in 1862 to encourage construction of a transcontinental railway. The government also issued bonds, which were repaid by the railroads, to fund some construction. Without those subsidies, the railroads would have been built, but not as quickly. Keep in mind that the land was owned by the government, so there weren't any eminent domain issues.

The biggest subsidy to air travel in the early days was air mail contracts.

The interstate highways were built as a defense measure to facilitate military travel. Eisenhower was a major force in bringing them into existence.

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Anybody think that this passenger rail traffic would work better if there were a new airport in the middle, so that Houston and Dallas could both do their business in the same aerotropolis?

Bush is so far north, i feel like I'm half way to dallast by the time I get there.

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Anybody think that this passenger rail traffic would work better if there were a new airport in the middle, so that Houston and Dallas could both do their business in the same aerotropolis?

Um, nope. Houston and Dallas have two of the top 4 hubs in the country. What would be the point of consolidating that and adding a 1 hour train ride and $100 ticket to every flight? (these trains aren't free) Especially when DFW and IAH already exist as mega-airports and are paid for?

I did consider something similar for San Antonio and Austin (along with sports stadiums between them to attract professional teams - "Hill Country Honchos" baseball or football? ;-). If they did it, they might attract a major airline hub (probably Delta, given United and American are already set in Texas). But it just doesn't make sense that they both already have fully functioning airports with plenty of capacity. Austin's is a relatively new converted Air Force base. If they ever reach their capacity limits and need a new one, then maybe it's something worth talking about, but I don't see it happening anytime soon.

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Anybody think that this passenger rail traffic would work better if there were a new airport in the middle, so that Houston and Dallas could both do their business in the same aerotropolis?

Absolutely, but not unless we're talking about vacuum-sealed maglev that serves all four of the big cities in Texas. At that point, we're also talking about centralized terminals inside of urban cores and 360+ mph cruising speeds that make the trip feel like a ride between terminals on the airport tram. With a single large airport serving a market as large as NYC or LA, but situated in the middle of the continent, it would no doubt be a hub to multiple major domestic airlines and force them to compete with one another on fairly severe terms. It would also eliminate a lot of air congestion, noise pollution, and would cause a more normalized pattern of traffic flow within cities and much less traffic in rural areas. Freed up capacity at our existing urban airports could be filled with general aviation and air cargo users; most have freight rail nearby, so market them to the world like Ross Perot marketed Alliance Fort Worth. And where tourism is concerned, there's not any single city in Texas that has the potential to be a big national destination...but as a regional destination, Texas would be a bigger place made smaller, and would be able to effectively market itself.

Internal to the state, imagine a boring but well-off Dallasite--deprived of sensory gratification--living in a rigidly zoned, flat, boring place with only churches and liquor stores. It's not much of a stretch to imagine such a person, really. There are millions of them. Now imagine if they can have hop on a maglev train and make it to Galveston for dinner on the Strand and a walk on the beach, and get back to Dallas before the Houstonian that drove for the same experience. And that Galveston would be made into a better destination for tourists within the state and from outside of it would cause additional economic growth and make it a better destination for Houston, too. As places like Austin, San Antonio, and Galveston become more and more popular and accessible, New Orleans withers.

So yes, subsidies would be a given, I think, but they'd be offset with cost savings, economic development potential, and lifestyle enhancements. How much so? I don't know, precisely. But I'd like to find out. It merits a good hard look.

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