Bullet Train Dreams
The idea of high-speed rail in Texas has been around at least since the nineties, and it has reared its head again. I am skeptical that rail could work in this state. If you thought that the Trans-Texas Corridor was controversial, wait until the French or the Germans start running trains through bucolic Central Texas at 220 miles per hour. It is a multi-billion dollar project, and the eminent domain issues will be extremely difficult for landowners.
The original idea was that travelers could get on the bullet train in downtown Houston, or Austin, or San Antonio, or Dallas, and ride to DFW Airport, and from there they could transfer their baggage to a flight on American Airlines. I wrote about my 1990 trip (funded by the French National Railways) in TEXAS MONTHLY (unfortunately, I could not find that story in our archives). At one point, I called American Airlines and asked if American had any interest in participating in high speed rail. The answer came back that Texas already had the equivalent of high-speed rail. “It is called Southwest Airlines,” I was told, and it works exactly like a train. People get on, people get off, and more people get on and off. Who needs a train when you have Southwest?
The big problem for high-speed rail in this state is the cost of grade separation; that is, the train tracks must be separated from local traffic by overpasses and underpasses. It is imperative to build these structures along the route so that farmers and ranchers can access their property. The cost of grade separation is enormous. The state certainly can’t pay for it, nor could the backers of the rail line. And so the dream died. As I recall, I calculated that the train would have to run full almost 24 hours a day just to break even.
That said, riding the bullet train was a fantastic experience. Whenever two trains passed each other, the air between them became compressed, and there was a noticeable buffeting. Otherwise, the ride was almost frictionless. When we came into the station at Paris, the engineer cut the power and we could coast the last 25 or so kilometers into the station. It was a great ride, but I don’t think it is ever going to be feasible for Texas.
(AP Image by Remy de la Mauviniere )