Texas Central and City of Houston Sign Agreement to Develop High Speed Railway

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, representing the city of Houston, and Texas Central Rail Holdings signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on 17 August 2017 to work together on developing the 240 mile (386 km) long Texas Central High Speed Railway (HSR) project in Texas.

The High Speed Railway will allow commuters to travel between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth in less than 90 minutes.

As part of the agreement Texas Central, at its sole cost and expense, will have the right to prepare environmental surveys, conduct environmental impact testing and civil engineering and utility feasibility studies (Due Diligence Testing).

Texas Central will also coordinate with the City of Houston, Harris County, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (METRO), the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Gulf Coast Rail District (GCRD) to plan and create the design of the Hempstead Corridor. The 44 mile corridor runs parallel to US 290 through northwest Harris County to the City of Hempstead in Waller County and has been targeted for operating the project’s commuter trains.

The signed agreement also states that Texas Central will ensure that the Houston Terminal Station is highly integrated with local transit systems. The Houston Terminal Station will be located in the general area south of U.S. 290, west of Loop 610, and north of I-10, near major employment centers including the Galleria, Medical Center Energy Corridor and Downtown.

Tim Keith, President of Texas Central, noted that “over the project’s entire history – from conception to development, and now into the construction phase – Texas Central has had a strong partnership with the city of Houston.”

“As I shared in my State of Mobility address, Houston needs a paradigm shift – a comprehensive approach to mobility that includes all forms of transportation,” Mayor Turner said. “Certainly, a high speed train to Dallas is a glowing idea among the options, especially when state transportation officials project traffic congestion on Interstate 45 between Houston and Dallas will double by 2035, increasing travel time from about 4 hours to more than 6.5 hours. Simply building more highways is not the answer.”

“A high speed train to Dallas is a glowing idea among the options”

On 14 August 2017, only three days earlier, Texas Central had announced an agreement with Fluor Enterprises Incorporated, the primary operating subsidiary of Fluor Corporation and with Fort Worth-based The Lane Construction Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Salini Impregilo for working together on refining and updating the project’s construction planning and sequencing, scheduling and cost estimates, procurement and other design and engineering activities related to the project civil infrastructure. Under the agreement, after the development phase and financial close, Fluor and Lane would be the preferred Design & Build partner for the project.

Texas Central Rail Holdings, a private company, proposes construction and operation of a private, for‐profit, high speed passenger rail system connecting Dallas and Houston using the Japanese N700‐I Tokaido Shinkansen HSR technology. The Tokaido Shinkansen technology has operated for over 50 years in Japan and boasts a perfect track record of zero passenger fatalities or injuries due to train accidents.

Central Japan Railway Company (JRC) intends to provide long-term and continuous technical support for the system, applying years of experience to act in an advisory capacity to ensure the success of the project.

The project objective is to implement reliable, safe and economically viable passenger rail transportation using proven HSR technology between Dallas and Houston, thus providing a convenient and competitive alternative to automobile travel on Interstate 45 or air travel between the two major metropolitan areas and introduce rail capacity in the vicinity of the corridor.

Nearly 50,000 already Texans travel back and forth between Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth more than once a week. Due to increasing congestion on Interstate 45, automobile travel times between the two regions are projected to increase as travel speeds decrease.

Flights between the two regions take approximately 65 minutes, in addition to the recommended airport arrival time at the gate approximately 60 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

Texas Central is currently working with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and TxDOT to develop the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The Draft EIS is expected to be released by the end of the year.

A fully sealed, dedicated corridor has been proposed with grade‐separated crossings and dedicated right‐of‐way that is approximately 76 to 200 feet wide in order to accommodate a two‐ track railroad and an access road.

The preliminary operating schedule for service is planned to be 5:30 AM to 11:30 PM with the peak periods occurring from 5:30 AM to 9:00 AM and from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Current plans call for trains to run every 30 minutes during peak hours and every hour during off-peak times, with 6 hours reserved each night for maintenance and inspection of the system.

A fleet of between eleven and fifteen 8-car trainsets will be utilized to support the operating plan. Each trainset will seat approximately 400 passengers.

The proposed HSR system will typically consist of a two-track right-of-way (ROW) with additional tracks added at stations, maintenance of way (MOW) facilities, and maintenance yards. The ROW will be raised slightly above the surrounding grade on an embankment, with elevated sections on viaducts as required to suit topography, to minimize environmental and property impacts and to provide for grade separated rail and road crossings.

The trains will be powered by electricity which would require up to 10 traction power substations distributed along the alignment at approximately 40 km spacing.

A desired and conservative maximum operating speed of 330 km/h has been chosen to be consistent with N700-I technology.

Logical termini for the project have been identified as downtown Dallas in the vicinity of Dallas Union Station and downtown Houston. Such identification maximizes opportunities to connect to other existing or proposed intercity, regional and local rail facilities and other transit services, furthering FRA’s connectivity goals for rail network development. A midway station would also be built in the Brazos Valley near Bryan/College Station.

Passionate about effective Public Transport and keen on learning about new technologies, John C. Ottaviani is currently a Senior Engineer at Egis Rail Saudi Arabia. He collaborates with engineering and railway news magazines and has published a number of public transport related articles.

Writer: John Carlo Ottaviani

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