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A. Lee Graham
lgraham@bizpress.net

 

Zipping from Fort Worth to Dallas in 12 minutes – without speeding tickets – could become reality if high-speed rail plans reach fruition.

 

Speaking at the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition’s Oct. 2 monthly meeting, rail proponent Robert Eckels outlined plans not only to link North Texas’ most populated cities, but also establish passage from Dallas to Houston.

 

“The run [from Fort Worth] to Dallas nonstop is 12 minutes,” said Eckels, a former Harris County judge now serving as president of Texas Central High-Speed Railway, a private company joining forces with Central Japan Railway Co. to bring a 205 mph bullet train between Houston to Dallas.

 

After evaluating 97 U.S. “pair cities” – geographic corridors with two major municipalities – the Japanese firm chose North Texas and its proximity to Houston.

 

“They ultimately decided that a Houston-DFW connection was the most innately financeable project in the U.S.,” Eckels said.

 

Plans call for rail stations in Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas, from which passengers could travel to Houston. Specific station locations have not been decided. More cities statewide could be added to the rail line after the initial route is established, Eckels said.

 

A Fort Worth rail advocate called the plan great news for the city.

 

“We have to be visionaries about how we build our transportation system, and rail is part of that plan,” said District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan.

 

Though no public funds are part of the project, Jordan said that could change.

 

“We’re not going to volunteer public funds, but if it were to solve a public issue and it were cost effective (to taxpayers), then obviously a public-private partnership would be the correct way to go,” said Jordan. He suggested using existing right-of-way – by lease or contract, not through eminent domain – as constituting a public issue, for example.

 

Asked how much passenger tickets would cost, and Eckels said, “as much as we can charge,” emphasizing his company’s private business status.

 

Each train would carry between 300 and 500 passengers, seat two to three per row and run on dedicated track. Trains would run every half hour for a project expected to cost “multiples of billions of dollars,” said Eckels, noting that route selection and station locations could dramatic alter project costs.

 

“It can change your price $500 million to $1 billion just to move a station a half mile,” said Eckels.

 

Turning a profit is essential for the company due to its private status, Eckels said.

 

“We have to pay back our debt and our investors. We are particularly sensitive to issues that can drive costs,” said Eckels, referring to station location, alignment and other considerations.

 

Environmental impact studies are expected to begin in early 2014, with construction tentatively slated to begin in 2016 and trains possibly reaching operation by 2020 or 2021.

 

“That’s an aggressive schedule, but not an undoable schedule,” Eckels said.

 

 

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