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A bullet train in East Texas? Company plans to build Dallas-Houston route

By Peggy Jones pljones@news-journal,com
Aug. 16, 2012 at 10 p.m.

A Texas company is planning to build a bullet train that would move passengers from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston in 90 minutes.

The news announced this week by Texas Central High-Speed Railway was music to Griff Hubbard's ears.

Hubbard, executive director of the East Texas Corridor Council, said the group has been working for years to get "higher-speed" rail from Longview to Dallas.

"We're strictly working on higher-speed rail - traveling 80 to 110 miles an hour," Hubbard said. "Now, if we could take our trains and connect to theirs - that would be great."

The Texas company aims to have bullet trains moving at 205 mph between Houston and the metroplex by 2020 without government funding. The company is backed by a group led by Central Japan Railway Co., which handles more than 100 million passengers each year on its bullet trains in Japan.

It will be another generation before trains travel at that speed in East Texas, Hubbard said.

"I'm not saying we'll never have high-speed rail in East Texas, but it will come in incremental steps - 80 to 110 miles per hour first," he said. "(Bullet train speeds) can't happen on existing right of way, whereas 80-110 (mph) could."

The high-speed trains would have to go over, under or around car and pedestrian traffic and couldn't cross other tracks.

Linda Thomas, chairwoman of the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, said the group's rail committee has worked for the past seven years on a commuter rail connecting Longview to the Bossier-Shreveport area to the east and Dallas to the west.

"Rail is definitely one of our top priorities," she said. "And public-private partnerships are the way of future."

Robert Eckels, the company's president and a former Harris County judge, said at a high-speed rail forum Tuesday in Irving, "We are not the traditional state-run railroad ... This is designed to be a profitable high-speed rail system that will serve the people of these two great cities and in between and, ultimately, the whole state of Texas."

While the project is generating enthusiasm, Eckels acknowledged he's also heard from plenty of skeptics who predict he will eventually ask for billions of dollars in public support. But Eckels said his investors would likely walk away from a project that couldn't stand on its own.

"If we start taking the federal money, it takes twice as long, costs twice as much," he said. "My guess is we'd end up pulling the plug on it."

Previous efforts to bring high-speed rail to Texas have crumbled amid quarrels about public financing and opposition from airlines and other groups. While even a privately funded project would have to work with federal, state and local agencies, the company's shunning of public money is drawing strong initial interest.

The relatively flat, sparsely populated land between North Texas and Houston makes the project more doable than similar proposals in the Northeast or California, Eckels said.

After the DFW-Houston line is operational, a second phase would likely link Austin and San Antonio to the system with a route running parallel to the I-35 corridor, Eckels said.

<em>- The Texas Tribune contributed to this report.</em>



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