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Q: What’s all this about a high-speed rail line, and how does it affect Houston neighborhoods?
A.  A private company, Texas Central Railways (TCR), is planning a high-speed rail line connecting Dallas to Houston.  Some of the routes initially under consideration would have routed the line through existing Houston neighborhoods in order to reach downtown.  Although current plans no longer envision the train going all the way downtown, so that neighborhoods are no longer under imminent threat, there is always the possibility that this scenario could arise again in the future. 

Q: There are already freight train lines running through these neighborhoods.  Why would putting in a high-speed rail train be any worse?

A.  High-speed trains can’t run on conventional rails; they require specialized infrastructure.  According to TCR, this infrastructure would be elevated and enclosed for security and to avoid at-grade crossings; the platform would probably be 25 or so feet high, with overhead catenary-system superstructure adding another 20 feet or so of height.  For bidirectional service, right of way of about 80 feet is required.  Note also that the high-speed rail system would be in addition to, not instead of, the existing freight lines, which would have to continue to run either next to or below the HSR track.  Installation of this massive infrastructure would be devastating to a residential neighborhood, with loss of character and property values a certain result. 

 

Q: Why all the fuss?  I thought the Washington Corridor, at least the eastern end of it, was all industrial.

A:  That may have been true to a significant degree years ago, but it is certainly not the case now.  The area’s proximity to downtown has led to a great deal of redevelopment and revitalization in the last 10 years, with considerable new residential construction on or near the freight-rail line.  The old Riviana rice plant has been shuttered, and that land is also slated to be redeveloped.  Several large commercial and institutional spaces have been converted to artists’ studios or live/work spaces.  The area’s thriving art community, reflected in its recent designation as a state cultural district, has made it a rising cultural hub within Houston.

 

Q: Houston needs more public transportation, not less.  Why would you oppose high-speed rail?

A:  What we oppose is the decimation of vital neighborhoods.  We don’t necessarily oppose the Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line per se.  That said, the line will probably be much less beneficial to Houston than many people reflexively suppose.  With no stops along the way, and high fares (comparable to airfare according to TCR), all it does is provide another transportation alternative to the very small percentage of people in the region who travel between Houston and Dallas for business.  Other modes of public transportation would be much more beneficial to the populace as a whole.

Q: So what are you advocating?
A.  We have not taken a position either for or against the high-speed rail line itself.  But if the line is built:

     • Connectivity from the station at 290/610 to downtown is needed.
     • Neighborhoods must have a seat at the table as this connectivity is planned.
     • Coordination with the various agencies (such as TxDOT) is essential.
     • Under no circumstances should HSR infrastructure be placed in neighborhoods.
 

Q: Why are you proposing that the line should end around 610 and 290?  We need the line to go downtown.

A:  According to figures from the Department of Labor, only 5% of jobs in Houston are in the downtown area.  That means if the station were placed downtown, most riders would need to travel there from some other location.  So rather than alleviating congestion, the train would be likely to make it worse.  With the other business hubs in Houston (such as the Energy Corridor, Uptown, and Greenway Plaza) located mostly to the west, it makes sense to locate the station closer to the center of business activity in Houston.

 

Q: What’s the difference between the high-speed rail train and the Texas Bullet Train?

A:  They are the same thing.  “High-speed rail” is a general term that applies to many such projects around the world.  Initially, TCR referred to its project as the “Dallas-Houston High-Speed Rail” project.  More recently, they have rechristened it the “Texas Bullet Train”.




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