New way to get from Houston to Dallas?

HOUSTON - What is quiet, electric and goes more than 200 miles per hour? It could one day be the way you travel from Houston to Dallas. 

Local 2 Investigates is getting more details about a private plan to build a high-speed train system between the Houston area and Dallas-Fort Worth.

Right now, it takes around four hours to drive between the two cities, or it means spending three hours getting through the airport and sitting on a plane. On a high-speed train, that same trip could take less than 90 minutes. 

"It's smooth, fast, comfortable and safe," said Robert Eckels, former Harris County Judge and President of Lone Star High-Speed Rail. "Our particular train runs about 205 miles per hour."

Lone Star High-Speed Rail is a company hoping to bring successful Japanese bullet-train technology to Texas. With ticket prices projected around $100, Eckels said he believes not only would riders immediately flock to the trains, he thinks it could become the preferred way for business travelers, and even some families, to get between Houston and Dallas.

"We do believe we will be competitive with cars and capture a portion of that market," Eckels said. "We think there's enough traffic today that would readily jump to this train that are either driving or flying. It would make sense for this market."

Right now, California is building its own high speed rail system using billions of federal and state tax dollars. Initial estimates put construction costs at $45 million, but reports said new estimates show the price tag could be closer to $100 billion.  

Texas is using federal railroad administration money to study rail service between Houston and DFW. The state study will be used to gather public interest, determine engineering requirements and decide on the route any high-speed train system would take, said Bill Glavin, director of the rail division at the Texas Department of Transportation.  Glavin said early estimates show the cost of the rail system could be anywhere between $20 million and $80 million per mile. At a distance of 240 miles, that could mean a possible price tag between $5 billion and $20 billion. 

"My hope is by the time they (the state) finish their plan, we're under construction," said Eckels.

Eckels said he thinks his group can build high-speed rail in Texas primarily with private investors and not taxpayer dollars. Eckels said his experience shows construction could be done in half the time, with half the cost, if it's run by a private company and not the government. 

"We're looking at it more from a business perspective and looking at where we can make this system make economic sense," Eckels said. "We do believe we can build this largely with private funds in a business model that makes sense for Texas. Today's traffic, we do believe, does generate enough traffic to make the project viable. It's a bet on Texas and a bet on the technology. We think it's a pretty good bet at this point."

Eckels admitted the biggest pitfall in a project this size is getting initial financing. The price tag for construction and set-up could be somewhere around $10 billion. Eckels remains optimistic investors will be interested and believes it is possible to have trains running by 2020.

But would Texans really ditch their cars for the train?

"I think people would ride it immediately," said Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

Emmett is also a long-time transportation expert who said the state just can't keep building freeways. He believes mass transit is the future.

"We're going to have to find a way to go between major city pairs," Emmett said. "And the Houston-Dallas pair is one of the best in the country for potential high-speed rail."

Emmett said he thinks the rail solution may be some form of a private-public partnership similar to the airline system. He said the key to ridership is a sensible route that connects to transportation systems in both cities. 

"It doesn't do any good to take a high-speed train to Dallas and then you're dropped off in the middle of nowhere to still catch a cab," Emmett said.


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