Houston, Texas, USA : The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) signed the Draft Environmental Impact Statement review and in documents released Friday, identified the likely route a planned Dallas-Houston bullet train will take through rural counties as it connects the state’s two largest urban areas.
The draft environmental impact statement identified a preferred route between Dallas and Houston as well as potential passenger station locations, clearing a hurdle and marking a major step toward getting federal clearance.
The environmental assessment is the latest advancement on the train project, including the recent selection of Irving, Texas-based Fluor Enterprises Inc. and The Lane Construction Corp. as the preferred design/build team, with WSP USA conducting engineering work on their behalf.
The proposed Texas Central High-Speed Railway (TCR), a privately funded $15 billion project could transform 3-5 hours of start-and-stop traffic into a 90-minute train ride.
The FRA analysis will kick off a consultation and land acquisition process that could eventually link the state’s two largest urban and economic centers with a travel time for the 240-mile trip at less than 90 minutes while traveling at up to 205 mph, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley near College Station.
“This is the biggest milestone to date that we’ve crossed so far,” said Tim Keith, president of Texas Central Partners, the company developing the project. “This is actually the beginning of a document that will allow us to build the bullet train.”
The FRA determined that train’s route should be located in what’s known as the “utility corridor,” which follows existing electrical infrastructure easements between Dallas and Houston. The area is relatively flat, straight and has soil conditions that would support the rail infrastructure, the documents say.
It favors a more westerly route that runs through Navarro, Freestone, Leon, Madison and Limestone counties.
The study also provided new details about stations planned in Grimes County and Houston. The Grimes County station is planned for State Highway 30 between Huntsville and College Station.
There are three potential Houston station locations: land where Northwest Mall currently sits, an industrial area across from that shopping center and an industrial area closer to the nearby Northwest Transit Center.
The Dallas station would be in the Cedars area south of the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. The Brazos Valley Station in Grimes County would be near Texas 90 and Texas 30, and would serve Bryan-College Station with direct shuttle service to Texas A&M University.
“The real work is just beginning,” Texas Central President Tim Keith said Friday.
The next step is a public comment period on the Draft EIS, followed by the Federal Railroad Administration addressing any substantive comments in a Final EIS. The 60-day public comment period will begin when the Draft EIS is published in the Federal Register. The Railroad Administration will hold 10 public hearings in the affected counties in Texas.
Other next steps include finalizing design and costs and acquiring other necessary state and local permits.
With Friday’s approval, construction could begin in late 2018 or early 2019. The build-out is expected to take four to five years, putting the train on track to roll by 2024, Keith said.
The proposed electrified high-speed train technology will be built incorporating viaduct structures on a significant part of the alignment to maintain existing road crossings and allow for economic activity to continue. There will be no “at grade crossings,” removing the risk of intersecting with vehicles and allowing for free movement of wildlife, pedestrians and cars.