DALLAS — The first public meeting on a private company’s plan to build a bullet train between Houston and Dallas drew unanimous support for the multibillion-dollar project, but also repeated warnings from residents and local officials that the locations of the stations are vital.
More than 100 people were in attendance on Tuesday for the first of six public meetings being held jointly by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and the Texas Department of Transportation on Texas Central Railway’s plan. The FRA is leading a federally required environmental impact study of the proposed project, which aims to connect Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes or less with Japanese-manufactured trains traveling at more than 200 miles per hour.
At the meeting, federal officials revealed some details on the leading routes and station locations under consideration, though they said everything was still subject to change.
“We’re not just talking about the bugs and the bunnies and the air quality and the water quality,” James Maughan, an environmental science expect with the U.S. Department of Transportation, told attendees. “We’re talking about any aspect of the human environment that might be impacted by this project.”
That includes the way the project could affect property owners and “the archeology and cultural resources” of the region, he said.
Maughan said the federal study was also taking into account the financial viability of all the possible routes and station locations because Texas Central Railway won’t build the high-speed rail line if the company can’t make a profit.
Attendees who spoke at the meeting were almost universally focused on where the rail stations will end up. FRA officials did not reveal the exact addresses of station locations but did offer up areas being considered. For both Dallas and Houston, the locations included spots in each city’s downtown as well as some several miles outside of them.
Most speakers stressed an interest in seeing the Dallas station at or near downtown's Union Station, where it could seamlessly connect with other public transit, including the city’s light rail.
“Union Station is the opportunity for high-speed rail to engage with our area,” Dallas City Councilman Lee Kleinman said.
Ken Dublé of Dallas said putting the station downtown will make more sense if the rail line ends up becoming one piece of a larger system.
“We need to be able to think past Houston and Dallas and think to the day when we’re going to want to extend it to Oklahoma City,” he said.
No Texas Central Railway officials spoke at the meeting, though company officials did speak with attendees and reporters before and after the hearing.
Travis Kelly, the company’s vice president of government relations, said Union Station was likely “too built out” for the train to have its station there, but he added that five other downtown Dallas locations were under review. He said the company considered potential ridership demand a central factor in selecting station locations, but that other issues — such as the company's ability to develop land around a station — were also playing into its decisions.
Dallas resident Paul Carden stressed the need for the train to go “from downtown to downtown.” If the company ends up choosing a spot too far outside of downtown Houston, he said, he would probably drive or fly instead.
“I’m more concerned about the Houston side than the Dallas side,” Carden said after the meeting. “I hope they don’t underestimate what I think would be induced demand just by having a route that goes to downtown Houston.”
Carden also has relatives who own ranches in Freestone County, a likely pass-through for the train, according to the two routes that federal officials said were being seriously considered. He urged federal officials to limit the impact on farms and grazing livestock.
Those concerns were echoed by Michael Minden of Sachse.
“I have concern about farmers and ranchers being cut in half by this,” Minden said at the meeting.
Federal officials said nine possible routes between Houston and Dallas have been considered, but that two stand out in terms of minimizing impact on the environment and property owners. One would go inside or along the existing right-of-way owned by BNSF Railway, a national freight rail company based in Fort Worth. The other would travel along the routes of high-voltage electric transmission lines.
Either route would still cross significant portions of private land, said Shaun McCabe, program director with Texas Central Railway.
Concerns about how potential routes might affect property owners are likely to draw more public comments at upcoming meetings in Corsicana, Teague, Bryan and Huntsville. The final public meeting in Houston will be on Oct. 29.