Texas Central Railroad got the federal approvals it needed to construct a high-speed railway between Houston and Dallas, which in the coming years could transform travel in the Lone Star State.
The Dallas-based company announced this week that the Federal Railroad Administration has issued a Final Rule of Particular Applicability, which is a series of safety and operational standards that apply specifically to the bullet train, as well as a Record of Decision that solidifies a route. The planned Houston station is the former Northwest Mall site near the intersection of U.S. 290, Loop 610 and I-10.
The federal action marks a significant milestone for Texas Central, which hopes to start construction of its planned 240-mile railway in the coming months. The train would take passengers between Texas’ two largest cities in a matter of about 90 minutes.
“This is the moment we have been working towards,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a news release from the company. “The release of the final RPA and ROD by the Federal Railroad Administration represents years of work by countless individuals, affirming a very thorough and careful regulatory process that will make the Texas Central Railroad the first high-speed rail system to be implemented in the United States.”
The news drew praise from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who said the city supports the project that has been years in the making. But Texas Central continues to have its detractors, particularly in some of the more rural areas that are part of the proposed route.
State Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., whose district includes Waller County and part of Montgomery County, sent out a statement last week accusing Texas Central of misleading landowners during negotiations and putting up the land it has acquired as collateral for a loan from the Japanese government. The privately funded company has said it has international investors and plans to utilize the same technology as the Shinkansen trains in Japan, which have an impeccable safety record and can reach speeds of more than 200 mph.
When asked to respond to Bell’s claims, Aguilar said Texas Central has been forthcoming with landowners and “provided a security interest on its acquired property to its lender, which is customary practice in real property transactions.” Aguilar said in June that Texas Central had secured about 40 percent of the land it needs for the rail route, which will have one stop in Grimes County.
“Texas Central has lied over and over to Texans,” Bell said. “Texas Central said this project would cost $10 billion. Now we learn their estimated costs have ballooned out of control to $30 billion.”
Raising enough money to fund the project, which is expected to take six years to construct, could be a significant hurdle for Texas Central during the economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The company laid off 28 employees, about half its staff, in March, and Aguilar said in June that Texas Central may try to utilize public funding.
The project cleared a significant legal hurdle in May, when a Texas appellate court ruled that Texas Central could utilize eminent domain to secure the land it needs to construct the railway. Texans Against High-Speed Rail, a group opposing Texas Central, said at the time that it planned to take the matter to the Texas Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the bullet train has the support of Turner, who called it a “landmark project.”
“The construction of high-speed rail will have a generational impact, creating thousands of jobs right here in Houston and injecting billions of dollars into our local businesses,” Turner said in a statement. “Once operational, the system will create connections and opportunities never before thought possible. The city stands with Texas Central and looks forward to continuing our work together to make this project a success for the City of Houston and our state.”