March 13, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

A transformative bill filed in Congress this week could help propel Texas into the high-speed rail arena, if it can gain a bi-partisan nod at the federal level and filter down to positive response at the state level.

Monday, two U.S. Representatives, Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced the American High-Speed Rail Act (AHSRA) of 2024. If enacted into law, the bill would provide $205 billion over five years for the planning and construction of a national high-speed rail network.

Moulton has an actual background in high-speed rail, as he was a Managing Director of Texas Central Railway over a decade ago and comes across with a vision of what connecting cities with high-speed rail would do for the economy of the country in general, and Texas in particular.

Moulton and DelBene, along with co-sponsors of AHSRA, offer a big picture vision with plans and priorities spelled out in the bill. 

The bill, if passed, would help build a national high-speed rail system by investing $41 billion annually in high-speed and higher-speed rail through grants administered by the Federal Railroad Administration over 5 years, with incentives for $38 billion or more in nonfederal funding;

  • prioritizing the evaluation of high-speed rail grant applicants based on equity, resilience, sustainability, economic development potential and climate; 
  • prioritizing high-speed rail grants for regions not serviced by the aviation industry or where the government subsidizes aviation routes; 
  • creating funding flexibility and transit-oriented development incentives for non-federal partners, including state and local transportation agencies and private partners; and developing comprehensive, performance-based safety regulations and standards for high-speed rail to reduce project costs and expedite development.

The high-speed rail bill would provide the country with a number of transportation improvements, by better connecting economic megaregions along high-speed rail corridors to increase productivity and global competitiveness, with a return on investment that far outweighs the cost of capital investment; 

  • Creating a coordinated, national transportation strategy that creates competition and reduces strain on our highway and aviation networks as high-speed rail serves high-volume corridors up to 750 miles; Creating clean, reliable, and safe transportation from city centers to city centers, with less time in security lines and waiting in terminals, fewer weather disruptions;
  •  Building more walkable communities with economic development around train stations in city centers; connecting hot job markets to communities where it is more affordable to live;
  • Increasing national security and exports through increased U.S. independence from imported fuels; making America more competitive with China’s use of high-speed rail in its Belt and Road Initiative; and 
  • Creating of new American industries, such as manufacturing and high-grade steel production, even in communities that are far from the proposed new transportation corridors.

Filing of the Act comes as plans for connecting Dallas and Houston by high-speed rail have again started to percolate after Texas Central waded through years of rural landowners filing lawsuits, pandemic delays, leadership issues and financing issues. 

Now that Amtrak has taken an interest in the project in a big way, what will happen next? 

Amtrak was granted a $500,000 planning grant from the Federal Railroad Administration and has brought in its "big gun" to oversee the project.

Andy Byford, Amtrak's EVP High Speed Rail Development Programs leader, will be speaking at the 20th Annual Southwestern Rail Conference April 16th at Dallas-Fort Worth's Hurst Conference Center. Byford has a history of turning projects around, as he did to bring the $ 25 billion dollar Elizabeth Line in London to completion. The line, only open since mid-2022, has carried well over 200 million passengers. 

Last fall, in an Amtrak press release, Byford said “If we are going to add more high-speed rail to this country, the Dallas to Houston Corridor is a compelling proposition and offers great potential. We believe many of the country’s biggest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas, like Houston and Dallas, deserve more high quality high-speed, intercity rail service and we are proud to bring our experience to evaluate this potential project and explore opportunities with Texas Central so the state can meet its full transportation needs.”

There have been no other news releases since then and it's hoped Byford, known to rail aficionados as "Train Daddy", from his days running the New York transit system, will shed light on what the future holds at the April 16 conference.

Texas Central and Amtrak have submitted applications to several federal programs in connection with further study and design work for the potential Dallas to Houston segment, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (FSP-National) grant program.

Jim Mathews, President and CEO of DC-based Rail Passengers Association commented on the high-speed rail act "“Rail Passengers Association’s polling shows that 78 percent of Americans want a bigger, better passenger rail network. People should have the freedom to choose safe, reliable, fast, environmentally friendly trains as an alternative to congested and dangerous highways and expensive airlines. Investing new Federal dollars, coupled with Rep. Moulton’s policy innovations around streamlining project delivery and tax incentives for freight railroads, will produce results. The American High Speed Rail Act will not only improve the experience of riders, it will also connect long-neglected communities to the economic benefits fast, safe, efficient mobility brings. Rep. Moulton’s leadership on this issue has been visionary and steadfast, and we support his efforts to give Americans the transportation network they deserve."

The proposed approximately 240-mile Dallas-Houston route would offer a total travel time of less than 90 minutes between two of the top five major U.S. metropolitan areas The fast-link would complement future, new and improved corridor and long-distance services in the southern region that are planned by Amtrak.

In addition, a draft map of future conventional daily intercity services was issued recently by the Federal Railroad Administration. The agency is required by the Infrastructure Act of 2021 to determine the feasibility of additional long distance service to more towns and cities, especially those underserved or with less than daily passenger rail service. If Congress allocates funding for those daily services, the Dallas-Fort Worth area would likely become a mega-hub for new intercity passenger rail service.