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High-speed rail hopes to unclog Texas roads
In the Fast Lane

High-speed rail has gotten off to a slow start in Texas, but the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corporation (THSRTC) hopes to get it on the fast track.

THSRTC proposes building a corridor, the "Texas T-Bone," that would connect the San Antonio, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth regions with elevated high-speed freight and passenger rail that would travel at more than 250 miles per hour.

Population explosion
Texas is among the fastest-growing states in the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

THSRTC predicts Texas' growing population will further burden the state's already overcrowded roads.

Of Texas' more than 23 million residents, 69 percent live along the proposed Texas T-Bone corridor, said David Dean, THSRTC's spokesperson. By 2040, THSRTC expects 78 percent of the total state population will live along this corridor.

"Those of us [working] in highways would love to see something attract some of the highway demand from the highways," said Randy Machemehl, director of the University of Texas at Austin's Center for Transportation Research.

Connecting the dots
Previous high-speed rail proposals like the Texas Triangle and the Trans Texas Corridor proposed connecting these three regions with a triangular formation: Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston, Houston to San Antonio and San Antonio to Dallas-Fort Worth. That formation requires 764 miles of rail, according to THSRTC. The Trans Texas Corridor proposal, which plans to circle outside the cities, requires 1,150 miles of rail.

THSRTC plans to connect these cities with 440 miles of rail by using two lines, Dean said.

The group's Texas T-Bone corridor would extend from San Antonio to Dallas-Fort Worth, with an offshoot, the Brazos Express, extending from Killeen to Houston.

Grassroots support
Opposition to previous high-speed rail projects, like one proposed in 1990, stemmed from a lack of local support, said Allan Rutter, former deputy executive director of the Texas High Speed Rail Authority. The authority's functions were transferred to the Texas Railroad Commission in 1995.

"In 1990, the high-speed rail project was primarily driven by manufacturing companies who make high-speed rail," Rutter said. "The recent Texas T-Bone proposal is being driven now by the local government-political side."

The Texas T-Bone project has support from local elected officials, military installations, hospitals and universities within the proposed corridors, Dean said.

Not everyone, though, is on board. Obtaining rights of way for high-speed rail may upset landowners, Machemehl said.

"I remember getting a lot of calls [in 1990] from people who were along the proposed corridors in rural areas," Machemehl said. "They didn't want the trains whizzing past their farms."

Airlines also may be opposed to high-speed rail, said Michael Bomba, research associate with CTR.

"High-speed rail can create a competitive mode with air, which is one of the reasons it was killed last time," Bomba said.

In committee
Before high-speed rail in Texas can gain speed, Texas must compete for money for a demonstration project that would study the logistics of the plan. THSRTC is requesting a portion of $300 million a year in federal transportation dollars that might be available to fund three to five demonstration projects across the nation, Dean said.

THSRTC won't know whether the federal government will fund the demonstration projects until May 2005, when Congress votes on whether to reauthorize the Transportation for Equity Act for the 21st Century.

Angela Freeman