Federal officials have allocated up to $2.5 million to advance passenger rail service in Texas, particularly focusing on potential stops in Houston. The funds, including $500,000 for Amtrak, aim to initiate the initial stages of developing high-speed rail service connecting Houston and Dallas through a new corridor. This corridor mirrors the existing but unrealized private service.
The allocated funding, part of the Corridor ID Program by the Federal Railroad Administration, emphasizes the early phases of developing high-speed rail service between the two metropolitan areas. The funds, earmarked for Amtrak, are dedicated to preparing, completing, or documenting the service development plan. It does not commit to financing the estimated $25 billion-to-$35 billion project.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg clarified that the objective is to create a pipeline for potential passenger rail projects. The announcement included 69 projects, with critics expressing concerns while acknowledging the need for increased scrutiny.
Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, representing the advocacy group Texans Against High-Speed Rail, stated, “The amount of the grant is inconsequential when compared to the $40 billion-plus that will be required to construct the project.”
Apart from the high-speed rail project, Texas is advancing other long-sought rail projects. The federal announcement includes four additional development studies, each receiving up to $500,000:
- Potential Expansion: Exploring the addition of a stop in Fort Worth and extending service into Dallas, Brazos Valley, and Houston, sponsored by the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
- Enhancing Service: Making Amtrak’s Sunset Limited service from Los Angeles to New Orleans daily, which would mean daily train service for Houston to San Antonio and New Orleans.
- Intercity Route: Creating a new daily intercity route along the Sunset Limited’s path for service between Houston and San Antonio, with stops in Rosenberg, Flatonia, and Seguin, sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation.
- Connecting Major Cities: Restoring conventional passenger rail service in the “Texas Triangle” by connecting Houston and Dallas, with stops in Corsicana, Hearne, College Station, and Navasota, also sponsored by TxDOT.
Advocates of increased passenger rail service welcomed the announcements, emphasizing the potential benefits for smaller cities and improved connectivity. Federal officials noted that the overlapping projects were intentional, offering Texas a range of options for future rail development.
Transportation Secretary Buttigieg acknowledged that while all projects need more work and planning, they indicate the strong potential for both high-speed and conventional rail in the state. The major metro areas in Texas, acting as the state’s economic engine, are seen as ideal candidates for rail connectivity, despite the longstanding controversies surrounding such projects.
The private Texas Central Partners’ high-speed rail plans, although facing challenges from rural landowners and delays, received favorable federal environmental reviews. The project, initially planned in 2013, aims to build a 240-mile sealed railroad corridor for Japanese Shinkansen trains between Houston and Dallas, with a stop near College Station. The recent funding boost and partnership with Amtrak indicate ongoing efforts to bring the project to fruition, though it remains behind schedule.