DALLAS - Developers are showing off what a proposed bullet train running from Dallas to Houston may look like.
The privately financed $15 billion Texas bullet train has been in the works for several years. Developer Texas Central said it will carry passengers between the two Texas cities in just 90 minutes.
The Federal Railroad Administration has already selected a route that it believes has the lowest impact on sensitive environments, would displace the lowest number of businesses and would not have a significant impact on the Texas agricultural economy.
Texas Central hopes to start construction in 2019. They’re planning to put a station in Dallas in the Cedars area south of the Kay Baily Hutchinson Convention Center. The 240-mile route would also have a stop along the route to Houston between College Station and Huntsville.
But before construction beings, the FRA is requiring Texas Central to listen to residents. Several public hearings are scheduled this week for people to give input, ask questions and raise any concerns about the project.
Developers revealed on Monday the first renderings of the Dallas station. It would be on a 60-acre plot with multiple levels and platforms. The plans call for a pedestrian bridge linked to the convention center, the DART light rail station and parking for cars.
There are also plans for a high-speed rail between Dallas and Fort Worth with a stop in Arlington. That construction is expected to begin as early as 2020.
"The Dallas station location is designed to make sure that you can get to your ultimate destination location, whether that's on DART Light Rail or whether that's on ride-share,” said Holly Reed with Texas Central. "The train never crosses a road at grade. So you never have a chance to intersect with a vehicle or a pedestrian,” Reed explained. “It is also mostly elevated, and it also has unique safety features unlike any other transportation systems in the United States."
Developers say the station would increase property values and generate more local tax revenue with surrounding retail stores, restaurants, and parks. They also say the high-speed rail will reduce interstate traffic and make it safer and easier for the 14 million Texans who travel between North Texas and Houston each year.
"Building the train every day will be 10,000 people doing construction,” Reed said. “At the conclusion, this will be a brand new high-tech industry that doesn't exist in the United States, and it will be right here in Texas."
Some rural Texans have raised questions about eminent domain, especially with a private company leading the project. While the exact route has yet to be decided, the FRA released a four-year environmental impact statement last month that shows the 10 counties the high-speed rail will span.
“The draft environmental impact statement is a huge step forward on the timeline,” Reed said. “As that environmental work goes forward, that will inform the schedule. And the earliest you will probably ride the train will be 2024."
Monday night’s hearing at Wilmer-Hutchins High School was one of the first of 10 public hearings scheduled to discusses the high-speed rail. It drew several hundred people, both for and against.
“All you taxpayers, you wait,” warned Roddy Caldwell. “They're going to come after you when it fails. It cannot be profitable."
Texas Central claims it will be funded with private money though it is seeking government loans. It says most of the track will be on existing right-of-way, limiting the need for eminent domain.
"The train is not going to be built along existing right-of-way,” said Patrick McShann with Texans Against High-Speed Rail. “They plan to use eminent domain to involuntarily take private property from Texas landowners."
A lawyer for Texans Against High-Speed Rail says dozens of lawsuits have already been filed between Texas central and landowners.
Caldwell owns a ranch near Palmer, Texas. He bows to fight any route that takes the train across his land.
“They’re going to have to come and take it,” he said. “It's our land, and they have no right to it."
There will be another meeting on Tuesday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Ennis High School in Ellis County. More hearings will follow.
The FRA will not be answering questions but rather documenting public comments and concerns. The developers are required to listen to public opinion, but they are not required to act on those opinions.
Texas central hopes the train could be on the track and running by 2024.