High speed train still a ways off

High speed train still a ways off

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Jul. 25—The proposed high speed rail line from Dallas to Houston with a stop in between Huntsville and College Station made headlines last week as planners selected an operator — but people should not be planning their trips any time soon.

“This project is still no more ‘shovel ready’ than it was years ago when Texas Central Railroad announced construction would begin soon—and failed,” Congressman Kevin Brady said after the Supreme Court’s decision.

The line has been in the planning phase for over seven years, with no construction permits issued. Texas Central, the company behind the project, expects construction to begin in 2021, but a recent Texas Supreme Court decision has freed up the company to use eminent domain authority along the route.

Here’s what to know about the project, the cost and the hurdles.

OPERATOR AND CONTRACTORS SELECTED

Earlier this month Texas Central named Renfe as the early operator for the bullet train.

Renfe is one of the world’s most signicant railways operators, running 5,000 trains daily on 7,500 miles of track. The company is integral to the transport system in Spain, its home base, handling more than 510 million passengers and 17 million tons of freight moved in 2019.

“Renfe has an established reputation for excellence in railroad operations in Spain and across the world,” said Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar. “With their decades of expertise, they were a natural t to join our team of best-in-class global experts setting the foundation for this new jobs-creating industry we are bringing to Texas.”

As the early operator, Renfe will work alongside Texas Central on the design and development of the commercial aspects of the high-speed train system.

The decision came just weeks after Texas Central announced it named the multinational firm Webuild to lead the civil construction consortium that will build the passenger line. Webuild will be responsible for all work up to the top of the rail, including viaducts, embankments and drainage.

Renfe will also provide advisory and consulting services to Texas Central on final design, execution, construction, testing and commissioning of civil, station and buildings.

The high-speed train from Texas Central and Webuild will be similar to this N700 bullet train that runs from Tokyo to Osaka.

CHALLENGES IN THE WAY

The Texas Supreme Court’s decision not to hear a lawsuit against Texas Central seemed to clear the way for it to build the bullet train on private property. A district court in Leon County initially ruled in 2019 that the company was not a railroad, and therefore could not use eminent domain to seize property it needed to build the route. However, Texas’ 13th Court of Appeals reversed that decision last year.

Texans Against High-Speed Rail, an organization that has challenged the construction of the train, is hoping that a newly appointed justice to the Texas Supreme Court may change the decision.

The last major hurdle for Texas Central will be with its application to the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that has jurisdiction over the construction. Brady says that the “arduous and lengthy permitting process could take years.”

Texas Central says that the railway will minimize disruptions to landowners by following “existing utility corridors and public rights-of-way as much as possible,” according to public plans The company says it plans to use eminent domain “only as a last resort.”

The company estimates that 17,000 jobs will be created during six years of construction, while also adding over 20,000 supply chain jobs and 1,400 permanent jobs when the train is fully operational. A total economic impact of $36 billion is being estimated.

IMPACT ON HUNTSVILLE

The near-240 mile bullet train will transport passengers in between Houston and Dallas with a midway station in Roans Prairie — midway between College Station and Huntsville.

The ends of the line will connect the fourth and fifth largest metropolitan regions in the country, while also providing four quicker transportation to Sam Houston State University and Texas A&M University.

From the Brazos Valley station, it will be a roughly 50-minute ride to Dallas or a 30-minute ride to Houston. The Dallas station is scheduled to be constructed in the Cedars neighborhood of Dallas, just south of downtown, near the Interstate 30 and Interstate 35 interchange. Meanwhile, the Houston station is set to be at the site of the former Northwest Mall near the interchange of US 290 and Interstate 610 in northwest Houston.

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