City Council Balks at High-Speed Rail Alignment

city council
Amtrak train | Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Dallas City Council members expressed their support for a high-speed rail connecting two of the state’s largest cities, but they balked at a proposal that would link Dallas to Fort Worth.

During a five-hour presentation at Wednesday’s council meeting, the discussion primarily centered on the proposed high-speed rail alignments between Dallas and Houston and Dallas and Fort Worth.

Michael Morris, the director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, answered dozens of council members’ questions on the necessity and cost of the two alignments and high-speed rail technology, public input, and the design process.

“Since the [Kay Bailey Hutchison] Convention Center has come on board and you, this council, selected the [Eddie Bernice Johnson] Union Station as the hub, we propose to extend the pedestrian lobby of high-speed rail all the way to the EBJ Union Station — both in sidewalk and potentially with a people-mover system underneath the high-speed rail,” said Morris.

The Dallas-to-Fort Worth route was the less popular proposal before council members.

“There are two main issues that I see with regard to this connection between Dallas and Fort Worth that make me highly skeptical of its practicality and, indeed, [the] basic need for it,” Council Member Paul Ridley (District 14) said.

“First one is the Federal Railroad Administration 2017 study, in which they looked at a high-speed corridor along the I-30 alignment between Dallas and Fort Worth and concluded that it would cost $12 billion and would save only 30 seconds as compared to the Trinity Railroad Express if the Railroad Express hardware was enhanced to 125 mile-an-hour speed. That, to me, does not justify the I-30 corridor,” stated Ridley.

“But the second issue I have is what I call ‘CS’ — common sense,” Ridley said. “Does this make sense to anybody that we would spend this much money to achieve so little gain just because, in 2015, this body passed a legislative agenda that called for a one-seat ride? You know what’s happened since then? A lot, but principally, the FRA, 2 years later in 2017, said this is not a preferred route. And I think we have a responsibility nine years after that legislative agenda was passed to look at whether it still makes sense today.”

One-seat rides are when direct-trip passengers do not have to transfer before reaching their final destination.

“I want the one-seat ride,” Council Member Chad West (District 1) said. “I want it all. All of us on here like the concept. What bothers me about the current alignment and design is how it cuts off part of downtown. I don’t like that.”

However, Council Member Jesse Moreno (District 2) indicated he was “extremely disappointed in the lack of communication” between multiple agencies involved in the proposed alignments.

“The topic of the prospect of high-speed rail is absolutely exciting,” Moreno said. “We should all want to be good partners here in the City of Dallas. We want to be partners to our region, but as Dallas’ elected leaders, we must look out for what’s in the best interest of the City of Dallas. We must put Dallas first. If Arlington were to be in the mix, would they be joining the regional system as well?”

Morris noted that Arlington’s involvement is limited — for now — because it is not part of any of the area’s three transit systems.

“For Arlington to get a station, they have to either join a transportation authority or join a local government corporation of a transportation authority,” said Morris. “So, there are three transportation authorities in the region. Arlington is now on the clock. They have 365 days.”

The Dallas-to-Fort Worth connection along the I-30 corridor would deliver an elevated rail line through Downtown Dallas and include a seven-story station built near the new Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center. Morris said that the station in the Cedars has received environmental clearance, making it unlikely that this part of the project will be altered.

“The alignment between Dallas and Fort Worth, what are we [trying to solve?]” Council Member Gay Donnell Willis (District 13) asked. “Is it for stops at the airport? Is it for stops at Arlington? I’m trying to understand why this route versus any of the other ones.”

Morris explained, “The benefit of connecting Fort Worth to Dallas is you would be able to have more seamless connections from Houston to Dallas by going to Arlington or going to Fort Worth,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of people — this may surprise you [because] I’m trying to be funny — there’s a whole bunch of people that live in the Dallas-Fort Worth region that are not residents of Dallas. It is our way to get to DFW Airport … [and] get to Love Field. The state’s plan is an upside-down ‘U.’ You go Houston-Dallas-Arlington-Austin-San Antonio-Laredo, Monterey, Mexico, some day. It’s an upside-down ‘U.'”

Morris added that Fort Worth “would get the benefit” of the Dallas-to-Houston connection with “the economies of scale of more ridership when you add Austin and San Antonio to that particular mix.”

Council Member Adam Bazaldua (District 7) was not convinced.

“I think a lot of concerns have been raised,” Bazaldua said. “I don’t think that it’s a matter of supporting the notion of high-speed rail. I think that we want to see that technology. What are we solving for? I feel like the answers were really skated around. I also think that something that hasn’t been explicitly said, and maybe [it’s] an elephant in the room, if you will. I think this seems really intentional to include Arlington. I think that’s what this is all about. We already have a connection from the City of Dallas to the City of Fort Worth.”

Morris responded, “I’ll answer this somewhat sarcastically. You can take the TRE between Dallas and Fort Worth, and it only takes you two days to make that trip. It’s over 65 minutes on TRE between Dallas and Fort Worth. It stops several times, and it does not directly interface with the high-speed rail station. You’re going to want a seamless connection of 12 million people to high-speed rail to go to Houston, to go to Austin, and to go to San Antonio.”

Andy Byford, senior vice president of Amtrak, said that a bullet train may travel at speeds over 205 miles per hour from Dallas to Fort Worth.

“High-speed rail provides a massive opportunity to take cities and regions forward,” Byford said. “You only have to look at the instances where high-speed rail has been successfully deployed, starting with Japan in the 1960s, then through Europe … and now progressing through China, in Russia, [and] in Africa. It’s complementary to other modes, such as the car and aviation. But the key point is to make sure that you choose routes and that you choose city pairings of the right characteristics. Texas can be at the very forefront of that rail revolution that Amtrak is leading as we look to double our ridership by 2040.”

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