Eckels' endeavor isn't the first foray into high-speed rail in the state. In the 1990s, the state had a high-speed rail authority and even chose a French company to deliver a line. Eventually, the project fizzled, in part because of opposition from Texas-based Southwest Airlines. Today, things are different. Eckels says the airline  -- no longer just a regional carrier -- won’t oppose the project, and unlike other private rail lines (such as a proposed high-speed rail line on the East Coast), this project wouldn't compete with an existing route.
 
According to Eckels, Texas is the perfect place for high-speed rail, and the distance between Houston and Dallas -- which takes about four hours to travel by car -- is “the sweet spot” for a bullet train. The drive is just long enough to be tiring, and the flight is just short enough to make passengers question whether it's worth the hassle.
 
There's poised to be an increasing demand for connections between the region. Harris County and Dallas County have more workers traveling long distances -- known as “super-commuters" -- than anywhere else in the country, according to a report published earlier this year.
 
From a geographical standpoint, the area is also attractive, Eckels says, because it’s largely rural and flat.
 
One challenge Texas Central still needs to figure out is how passengers would get from their train stations to other locations. Both the Houston and Dallas areas have growing public transit systems, but neither is as extensive as those of major East Coast cities, where commuters can easily connect from trains to subways. Eckels says his line will partner with area transit agencies, but his stations will need easy access to freeways.

Using Federal Help, But Not Money

Though Eckels' project would be privately funded, the federal government had already invested $15 million for the state Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to study a route between Houston and the Dallas/Fort-Worth region. A spokesman for TxDOT said the agency is in touch with Eckels’ group and sharing information with it.

 
TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson has said his agency will “try to assist them as best we can, along with anybody else who can bring this same type of initiative to us.”
 
Tom Shelton, senior program manager with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, says the state’s goal is to eventually secure environmental clearance for a high-speed rail route and then turn it over to a private-sector entity to design, build and operate.
 
Shelton says his organization, which conducts regional transportation planning, is coordinating with both Eckels and TxDOT, particularly with analyzing potential ridership and providing data used to determine where stations might be located.
 
There are at least one or two other private entities interested in pursuing work on the same corridor, Shelton says, though Eckels' group is furthest along. “We have no allegiance to this current entity,” Shelton says. “Our interest is to get high-speed rail implemented.”
 
And, he adds, “Whether it’s through a public-sector model or a private-sector model, we don’t care, quite frankly.”

This article was originally published by Governing.

Ryan Holeywell  |  Contributing Writer