When California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in February that the state was putting on hold plans for a high-speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco, it seemed like the latest nail in the coffin for superfast trains in America. The country’s fastest train, Amtrak’s Acela Express, reaches 150 mph, well below the 160-mph mark at which trains are considered high-speed in Europe, Japan and China. But a project in Texas is offering an alternative model that’s at the heart of a quiet revival of high-speed rail plans.
The Texas Central Railway, a private firm, could as soon as later this year break ground on the nation’s first high-speed train, connecting Houston to Dallas — a route with similar population density to the Los Angeles–San Francisco corridor. The train, with a speed expected to top 200 mph, will cut travel time between the two cities to under 90 minutes, compared to the three-and-a-half-hour drive required today. What’s making supporters optimistic about success is that, unlike past efforts, the project is financed entirely by investors employing a market-led approach to infrastructure construction. No state or federal grants are involved.
That approach is inspiring other projects too. Last September, Virgin Trains announced the ownership of a federally approved rail corridor called “XpressWest” between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, where it plans to develop America’s second high-speed train line, Ben Porritt, the firm’s senior vice president for corporate affairs confirmed. The company is also actively exploring a dozen other routes across the nation, including St. Louis to Chicago and Charlotte, North Carolina, to Atlanta, contingent on the success of its upcoming project.
BECAUSE OF THE CURRENT POLITICAL DYNAMIC, WE ARE IN A SWEET SPOT.
HOLLY REED, MANAGING DIRECTOR, TEXAS CENTRAL RAILWAY
The model is catching on beyond what is strictly considered high-speed trains. Earlier this year, the Brightline, backed by Fortress Investment Group, launched between Miami and West Palm Beach in Florida, reducing a two-hour journey down to just one hour. The route will get an extension to Orlando and possibly to Tampa. While its maximum speed of 125 mph is below the 160 mph mark for high-speed trains, the Florida route is still the second fastest in the U.S. alongside three other lines in the Northeast.
This private funding strategy is attractive to fiscal conservatives who consistently advocate for less government intervention. At the same time, it’s appealing to liberals arguing for environmentally friendly transportation options. High-speed trains are a key component of the Green New Deal authored by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her colleagues.