The long-awaited Texas “bullet train” has cleared an important hurdle with the Federal Rail Administration releasing a draft environmental impact statement identifying a preferred route between Dallas and Houston as well as potential passenger station locations.
The FRA analysis, which took roughly four years to complete, kicks off a consultation and land acquisition process that could eventually link the state’s two largest urban and economic centers with a travel time less than 90 minutes at more than 200 mph, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley near College Station.
“This is the biggest milestone to date that we’ve crossed so far,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Partners, the company developing the project. “This is actually the beginning of a document that will allow us to build the bullet train.”
The completion of the draft environmental impact statement last week opens a public comment period that runs through late February. Texas Central and the FRA will take those comments into consideration in moving toward a final statement.
The project is expected to cost $12 billion. Texas Central has said it will not use federal or state grants to build the project, though it might obtain federally supported loans open to private companies. The Irving-based Fluor Enterprises and The Lane Construction Corp., based in Connecticut, were selected in August to handle the construction and engineering of the project.
The route for the train, selected out of a half-dozen options, follows transmission lines in a utility corridor between North Texas and Houston. The train lines would incorporate viaduct structures and would not include any existing road crossings, so as to not interfere with pedestrians, cars or wildlife.
The analysis lists three options for the Houston station, to be determined at a later date. The station could be placed in the general area south of U.S. 290, west of Loop 610 or north of Interstate 10 — near major employment centers, including the Galleria, Texas Medical Center, the Energy Corridor and downtown.
The Dallas station would be in the Cedars area south of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. The Brazos Valley Station in Grimes County would be near Texas 90 and Texas 30 and would serve Bryan-College Station with direct shuttle service to Texas A&M University.
The company has already acquired 30 percent of the land parcels it needs to complete the project, with about 50 percent of the parcels it needs in Grimes and Waller counties.
“We’ve done well in the areas that we’ve had certainty of alignment,” Keith said. “Now we’re able to move out quickly on additional purchases.”
With the release of the draft statement, the typical timeline for a final decision on permitting is less than 12 months. If all federal approvals are obtained, construction could begin as early as late 2018 or early 2019, with an expected completion in 2023.
The draft statement was released last week, before Monday’s derailment of an Amtrak train traveling an estimated 80 mph south of Seattle on an inaugural run on a new bypass built on an existing inland rail line. Several people were killed and dozens injured in the accident.
The new route was part of a $180.7 million project designed to speed up service by removing passenger trains from a route along Puget Sound that’s bogged down by curves, single-track tunnels and freight traffic. The tracks previously had been used for occasional freight and military transport.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.