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High-speed rail

Houston to Dallas in under 90 minutes

n700a02Texas Central Railway (TCR) is a private for-profit company working to bring high-speed rail to the Houston to Dallas/Fort Worth corridor.  We beat 96 other US routes that were evaluated.  Why? Because our route has an almost optimal distance of 240 miles, is relatively flat, Texas has a pro business environment, and the route has an existing commuter market. Despite our rivalry, the country’s 4th and 5th largest metropolitan areas share significant business interests and are among the nation’s fasted growing.  Public transportation funds cannot keep pace with current growth.  Houston traffic should convince even the most ardent skeptic that expanding road-lanes ad nauseum is both expensive and temporary; e.g., drive the Katy Freeway at rush-hour(s).  Enter Central Japan Railway Company (JRC) and their bullet train.

2012_0915_163819The train is to be a third-generation Japanese bullet train, N700a, from the Central Japan Railway Company, who’ve been running bullet trains for almost 50 years without a single accident.  The N700-I will be used in Texas and refers to an eight-car trainset, versus a sixteen-car trainset commonly used in Japan.   It’s touted as having a top speed of 205 miles per hour, but Texas Central Railway’s speaker for the event, Executive Vice President Kathryn Kaufman. said the Houston to Dallas run will probably allow 230 mph, which will be the fastest in the country and among the top in the world.  Seats will be 4 across with a center isle; more spacious than the Japanese seats, which are split 3/2.

Kathryn said that there will be a station at either end with 30 minutes between trains at peak travel times and about a 77-minute trip.  As an Aggie, she said that it was fitting that the route swing by College Station.  Although she didn’t say that there would be a stop there, probably not initially, anyway, it does give us an idea about which side of town they might try to enter Houston.  Generally, Texas Central Railway was very hush-hush about their real estate needs. 

A common talking point is that the rail line will need a 100-foot ROW, however, Kathryn says that they can build it in a 40 ft ROW.  The train itself is 11 feet wide.  Although riding on the same gauge size as US rail, the speed of the train requires smooth and stable track that is completely fenced in. No other trains will be allowed on TCR track.  Track will likely be elevated around both cities to get the needed grade separation.

img_0TCR’s goal is to service about 20% of the 100,000 Texans commuting along the route with a ballpark number for ticket costs at about 80% of the least expensive airfare.  TCR doesn’t think that Southwest Airlines will try to block them because shorter routes are becoming less profitable for airlines.  Houston/Dallas is within the sweet spot for trains where they can out-compete both automobiles and airplanes, so success of the rail line may actually allow SW to reduce some low-margin flights.

TCR says they learned a lot from the failed Texas T-Bone idea, so will provide culverts for ranchers and farmers to get farm machinery and animals between pastures.  They’ve also gotten blessings from the federal government, state and, of course, local.  As they’ve reached out to ranchers and farmers, they also surveyed Texans attitudes about high-speed rail and found overwhelming support.

The train is lightweight and all wheels are driven by electric motors with regenerative braking.  As a result, it is extremely efficient and substantially reduces emissions per passenger mile versus auto or airplane.  The Japanese have continued to evolve the train to reduce energy, lower noise and improve the ride quality.  Rail cars tilt into the curve so that the effects of centrifugal forces on the passenger are minimized. The newest trainset incarnation uses semi-active vibration dampening as well as noise absorbing flooring materials, making it the most comfortable yet.

Their service promises to be customer friendly from start to finish: no waiting lines at the terminals, an “Apple Store-like” check-in environment, high speed internet service, beverage and food service provided, and wide comfortable seating.  Seats have three times the legroom as airline seats, have plugs for electronic devices, work/eating surfaces and high speed Internet service.  TCR also hopes to make the process climate comfortable, with A/C cooled parking lot-to-terminal walkways; App friendly, with smart phone access to reservations, short wait times, and integrated transportation connection options (zip cars, Uber, Metro, etc.).  Metro Board member, Christof Speiler, also a guest, promised that Metro would modify their service to ensure good connectivity with bus and rail service.

Rail travel is inherently safer than airline so there will be no lines for metal detectors.  Nevertheless, non-intrusive surveillance and plainclothes security personnel will be employed to ensure safety.  Although there are drivers for the trains, computer control systems will automatically override the driver if one trainset is approaching another trainset or a station stop too fast.  These systems have been perfected on Japan’s bullet trains, which 330,000 passengers ride daily.  JRC has also had to deal with earthquake survival.  Tracks are specially designed to prevent high-speed derailments.

Project cost would be approximately $11B  and estimated completion will be in 2021.

Bullet train

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