Today I’d like to look at the main routes for a Texas High Speed Rail system. The question of where to route a high-speed train in Texas is probably the most widely discussed aspect of the subject. There have been a number of proposals, from the fairly straightforward Texas TGV (following the basic route of the Interstate Highways between the Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston), to the outright asinine Trans-Texas Corridor (with high-speed rail looping 40 and 50 miles outside of the major cities as part of a vast ‘bypass’ network).
There is one plan that has recently been gaining a lot of traction. The “Texas T-Bone” plan, pushed by the Texas High Speed Rail Transportation Corporation, suggests connecting the three points on the triangle by taking a straight shot through the heavily populated I-35 corridor from Dallas to San Antonio, then intersecting it with a “Tee” that would extend from Fort Hood to Houston. See the image below for an appoximate representation.
The T-Bone is designed to shave 250 miles of track off the “triangle” route, and therefore offer the possibility of much cheaper construction. The T-Bone also seeks to connect to Texas A&M by passing through College Station on it’s way from Houston to Temple.
I appreciate the T-Bone idea, and I think it’s a smart alternative to the Interstate Triangle, mainly because there’s more population along the route. However, I see a few major drawbacks to this plan.
First of all, there’s no direct linkage between Houston and the other major cities. Now, if the train is going 200+ miles an hour, it could still be faster to go from Houston to Temple to San Antonio than to drive from Houston to San Antonio. But, psychologically, the idea of going to a train station in Houston, riding to Temple, transferring, and riding to San Antonio sounds overwhelmingly inefficient. The psychological impact matters.
Secondly, any HSR route will be more effective if it can overlap with commuter routes inside the city proper (designed in such a way that the commuter trains don’t slow down the intercity trains, of course). The T-Bone misses certain opportunities to pair with commuter rail, which I’ll discuss in more detail in a moment.
In an attempt to combine the best elements of the “Triangle” and the “T-Bone” into a single system, I’ve come up with an alternate plan. I call it the Mini-Triangle.
The Mini-Triangle (MT) plan results in direct express routes to and from Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. These routes branch in Austin, Waco, and College Station. If a high-speed train averaged a modest 150MPH (including stops), the travel time from Houston to Dallas would be 1:45. This represents about a 20-30 minute savings over the T-Bone if you factor in travel and transfer times. The savings would be about 25-35 minutes going from Houston to San Antonio.
But where this plan offers the most substantial new benefits is in Central Texas. The “Mini Triangle” of Austin, Waco, and College Station holds three of Texas’ largest Universities. If you you count one more station south of Austin (San Marcos) you’ve got four of the state’s largest Universities. Creating direct links between the University of Texas and Texas A&M would be a significant asset to the state by facilitating joint research projects. Adding in a direct, non-stop service from Baylor, UT, and A&M to Houston and the Texas Medical Center would be another tremendous advantage.
The other big benefit is that the branches create a logical concentration of service where it is needed most. For instance, trains leaving San Antonio would alternate between Galveston and Fort Worth as their final destinations. This means there would be twice as much service between North Austin and San Antonio as there was between North Austin and College Station or North Austin and Temple.
Military service from Fort Hood to the Port of Houston would still be quick, with a spur serving the Temple / Killeen / Fort Hood area. The spur could be operated as a regional shuttle on a day-to-day basis, either operating from Killen to Temple, or from Killen to Waco through Temple. If rapid deployment from Fort Hood was required the trains could easily run directly from the Fort to the Port.
Most importantly, the trains would run directly to major hubs on compact, elevated guideways. Therefore the train would not be taking you from a parking lot to a parking lot, but from Downtown Houston to the Capitol, or from the Texas A&M campus to the Strand, or from the American Airlines Center to the Riverwalk.
This basic framework could serve as the central spine, with numerous opportunities for future branches, extensions, and supplementary commuter rail service. The idea is to build a fast, efficient network that gets people to and from the places they want to go in the shortest amount of time.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be zooming in on different segments in these corridors and discussing more specific routes and connections. In the mean time, I’m looking forward to your feedback on the general outline!