Amtrak Is Pushing Ahead for the Houston-to-Dallas Bullet Train

Amtrak is “all in” on making the long-delayed Houston-to-dallas high speed rail line a reality, according to a video posted on social media last week—and the plan has supporters even higher up the federal ladder.

Once upon a time, way back in 2022, it really looked like Texas Central’s grand plan to construct a 240-mile-long high-speed rail line that would haul passengers from Houston to Dallas in roughly 90 minutes was dead as a doornail.

Sure, the Texas Supreme Court had awarded the company the right to use eminent domain to get the project built – a crucial win since landowners in between the two cities have been battling the project for years now. But a day later the company’s CEO resigned, and it soon leaked out that the board had dissolved itself weeks beforehand.

After more than a decade of effort, it really looked like the grand plan to see the famed Japanese Shinkansen trains zipping between two of the state’s largest cities had come to nothing.

Or at least that’s what everyone thought until Amtrak – and Andy Byford, the Amtrak leader in charge of high speed rail — got involved.

🚄 America's high-speed rail era is here! We operate America’s fastest train (Acela up to 150 mph) and see big potential for HSR beyond the Northeast.

Discover why we believe Dallas ↔️ Houston is a prime candidate for HSR, from Amtrak President Roger Harris and SVP Andy Byford.

— Amtrak (@Amtrak) April 29, 2024

Byford — who was dubbed “Train Daddy” by New Yorkers when he was running, and rapidly improving, the city’s beleaguered subway system — climbed aboard Amtrak back in March 2023 focused on making high speed rail a reality in more of the country. He quickly zeroed in on the Houston-to-Dallas project.

Why? “You’ve got to have the right characteristics,” Byford said in the video, ticking off how you need cities with large populations a good distance apart from each other, limited stops, few curves in the route and fairly smooth topography. “The one that stands out – and to be fair it was already being looked at when I got here but we’ve taken it to the next level – and that’s Dallas and Houston.”

Thus, last August Amtrak threw Texas Central a lifeline. The duo announced, via press release, they were exploring partnering up to examine finally making the Shinkansen rail line a reality. The partnership with the quasi-public corporation that oversees American passenger rail quickly produced results. By December, Amtrak was awarded a $500,000 federal grant to further study the project.

Since then, as Byford stated at the Southwestern Rail Conference in Hurst, Texas last month, Amtrak and Texas Central have signed a nonbinding agreement to further explore the project. Amtrak officials have been doing their due diligence about the actual state of the project.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that the Biden Administration is backing the plan. (Not exactly a shock considering President Joe Biden’s famed love of trains and long history with Amtrak.)

“We believe in this,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said of the project while appearing on the DFW-based Sunday morning show, Lone Star Politics, in early April. “Obviously it has to turn into a more specific design and vision but everything I've seen makes me very excited about this.”

The following week, Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida issued a fact sheet voicing both governments’ support for the project during Kishida’s state visit. "The successful completion of development efforts and other requirements would position the project for potential future funding and financing opportunities," the White House said, while both countries’ transportation departments hailed Amtrak getting involved with the project.

However, this isn’t a done deal. Amtrak plans to spend another 18 months examining  the project – and the hurdles that still need to be jumped, including getting Japan’s Shinkansen technology approved and obtaining federal environmental approval. Only then will Amtrak actually make a call about the project.

On top of that, although Texas Central had secured about 30 percent of the required land by 2022, there’s still the other 70 percent to go, while Texans Against High Speed Rail, the nonprofit organization of mostly rural landowners who to oppose the project, is still decidedly against it, warning that “there is still a lot for the Biden Administration to understand” about it before committing to getting it built.

In other words, Amtrak hasn’t magically whisked away every issue the bullet train was facing before it got involved. But, at the same time, now that Amtrak and “Train Daddy” Byford are in the mix who knows what might happen or how far this bullet train plan may go.


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