Texas High Speed Rail Project: Progress Or Waste Of Money?

The proposed Texas high speed rail line between Dallas and Houston has gained traction over the years. It was shot down many times because of financing. However, with the formation of Texas Central, a private company, will build the line themselves without taxpayer money (or at least so they say). The original cost of the bullet train line was $8 billion dollars. This cost is now at more than $15 billion dollars. Is it still worth it? Let’s take a look at the plan.

The Texas high speed rail line is the first of its kind in the country, using the exact same technology and rail cars the Japanese Shinkansen use. The train will travel up to 205 mph and take less than 90 minutes from arrival to departure. It will depart every 30 minutes during peak hours and every hour during non-peak hours, with 6 hours of down time each night for maintenance.

Most of that doesn’t sound too bad yet. It’s probably the closest true high speed rail proposed yet. Combined with using private funding and no taxpayer money is certainly off to a good start. Now let’s take a closer look at the route.

So you’d assume that the bullet train stations are in the city and close to mass transit right?

Well… not quite.

The Houston stop is 8 driving miles northeast of the city where the Interstate 610 and Interstate 10 (Katy Freeway) interchange is. There are few mass transit connections nearby. Houston’s current Metrolink system comes nowhere close to the station. And that also adds to the fact that the Metrolink is not well connected (and inefficient) to the metropolitan area. That’s another topic for another day. However, there are buses that do run close where the station is proposed to be.

So that pretty much leaves Houston residents to drive to the station in order to use it. Houston has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country along with Dallas. Since the proposed bullet train station is in the heart of some of the worst traffic in Houston, are people really going to ditch their car and take the train to Dallas? Well, let’s look there now.

The proposed Texas high speed rail line in Dallas also doesn’t go to an area that’s well connected to mass transit. Many will say DART trains and buses stop at the convention center (the proposed site of the station), which is great, but in another post, I’ll explain how bad the DART is in Dallas. Advocates for the project wanted the station at Union Station, however Texas Central said the platform there was not big enough to handle the train, as well as the volume of freight train traffic and DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) trains so they had to settle for a location a mile south just past the convention center.

So in essence, it suffers from the same problem as Houston in that there’s few mass transportation connections at the station.

Now bus lines could adapt and create new bus lines to the rail terminal, or adjust existing routes to stop. That is a possible scenario. The only other way to get around without a car is using Uber or Lyft, or similar service. Again, that’s another legitimate scenario and people will use it. The question is, will the masses use it?

People would still choose driving on Interstate 45 (as bad as it is) because there’s no significant time gain using the train, and the small time increase is worth having your car to drive wherever you want to. It’s important to mention that the route from Dallas to Houston is not a direct route. The train will make a stop halfway between the cities somewhere in the Brazos Valley by Texas A&M. Any time a train has to stop significantly increases (but does not guarantee, though) that the train will not run on time. To me, that doesn’t make economic sense for people to use it.

And that’s a sad thing coming from me because I am an advocate of a bullet train, just not this bullet train. With the way the Texas high speed rail project is currently setup, I believe it will fail. Could it succeed? Of course it could. I could be wrong. I hope in a way that I’m wrong. But I have a strong feeling that I’m not.

The Texas Central website did mention that the downtown to downtown station was a possibility, but due to significantly increased costs they couldn’t do it. As if already spending $15 billion wasn’t enough. However, in Houston there would have to be a lot more land acquisition and potentially thousands of people and businesses needed to be forced to move and close their doors. So there would be significant savings from not doing that and from potential lawsuits.

How Could The Texas High Speed Rail Project Succeed?

Increase the speed of the train. 200 miles per hour sounds great, but it’s not fast enough for people to consider it. The train would have to go at least 250 mph, but ideally (in my bullet train model) it would go 300 mph or faster. If it could go that fast, that would almost certainly be a lock for people to start using it.

Eliminate the stop in the middle. Make the route continuous between Dallas and Houston without stops. An airplane traveling between the cities doesn’t stop at a local airport that hardly anyone uses. People would expect nonstop service and they should get it.

And the big reason why  Texas high speed rail won’t work? (That’s (somewhat) out of Texas Central’s control):

Horrible mass transit options in Dallas and Houston. Of the three reasons, I think this is the top reason why this bullet train will fail. It’s not necessarily Texas Central’s fault per se, but they did have to keep that in mind when they designed it, and they’re still moving forward with the Texas high speed rail project. Dallas and Houston are 2 of the biggest and fastest growing cities in the country. These cities desperately need a subway system. This is part of my proposal alongside the bullet train.  

Yes, it’s a lot more expensive to do, and just 1 subway system will cost more than the bullet train network itself, let alone 2 systems. But it’s necessary, it has to be done.

As I conclude this post, I know I’ve heavily criticized this particular bullet train, but I do believe the Texas high speed rail project is on the right track towards what should be built. But it’s not quite there just yet. It will get there, which will probably take decades, but it will. It’s just sad to watch billions of dollars of private investment, people who are legitimately trying to invest and make this work to pull in a  profit, go right down the drain. However, I do have a master plan to help build and develop a high speed rail project through the entire country include one from Dallas to Houston. Check it out and see if you like my plan better. 

Brian Cole

I'm Brian and I'm the founder of TransportationOfTomorrow.com. I have a strong passion for fixing America's transportation infrastructure problem and traffic flow issues. I ultimately want to see the American economy grow as far as it will go, create massive amounts of jobs, and in that way help the quality of how people live.

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