Efforts to bring high speed rail to Texas are chugging along. The Texas Department of Transportation this week formally applied for $1.8 billion in stimulus funding to improve existing passenger rail service in Fort Worth and other areas, and begin planning a world class system – in which cities may someday be linked by 185 mph trains. Historically, Texans have cast a skeptic eye toward passenger rail – at least during the automobile and aviation eras. In the 1990s, state officials rejected a proposal to build a bullet train-style system between big cities such as Dallas and Houston. This time, the key to success will be including smaller cities such as Temple in the early planning process, members of the advocacy group Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation testified Thursday during a Texas Transportation Commission meeting in Austin. Grass roots support is crucial if state leaders want to avoid a repeat of the Trans Texas Corridor, a sweeping plan to build toll roads and utility lines across the state that became widely opposed by Texans who feared that too much private land would be seized, and projects would be built with too much foreign involvement. The seven-year-old Trans Texas Corridor plan was shelved earlier this year.
“One of the lessens we’ve learned is, we really need to start there at the community level,” transportation commissioner Bill Meadows of Fort Worth said of the rail plan. “When we start talking about alignment, it has the potential to do great, but it also has the potential for impact. We really do want to start communicating, and more than anything else listening.”
If rural interests can be brought aboard, the proposed Texas T-Bone high speed rail line connecting Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio has the potential to revolutionize how people live and work, supporters said. Cities such as Waco and Bryan-College Station would suddenly be just a short hop from the state’s major metro areas. For now, the plan is to hire a rail director within the transportation department by next month, and take the necessary bureaucratic steps to begin governing the process, transportation department executive director Amadeo Saenz said. One option is to create a corporation within the transportation department that would be equipped to juggle public and private interests. The state hopes to get either its $1.8 billion stimulus request, or a comparable Federal Railroad Administration grant, he said. The transportation commission also renewed its agreement with Oklahoma to subsidize the Amtrak Heartland Flyer, which offers daily trains from Fort Worth to Oklahoma City. The states split the cost of covering Amtrak’s operating losses, and for Texas it will amount to $1.95 million for the next year. Kansas officials are pushing for the Heartland Flyer to be extended to Kansas City. Fort Worth also is served daily by the Texas Eagle, which connects San Antonio to Chicago.