Study says Texas highways would accommodate high-speed rail

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor

A University of Texas, Arlington (UT Arlington), feasibility study of high-speed rail in Texas shows that trips between most city pairs that use existing Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) right-of-way can be made in less than two hours, making it competitive with air travel and superior to highway driving.


Steve Mattingly, a UT Arlington civil engineer who conducted the case study, evaluated routes between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, San Antonio and Houston and Houston and Waco. He also investigated a high-speed rail stop in Austin. The case study also examined dedicated freight service in the designated corridors.

Mattingly found that each of the routes, which include Interstates 20, 35 and 45 and Texas 6, could contain high-speed rail within existing TxDOT right-of-way, which would greatly reduce the capital cost of building the system.

“Using existing right-of-way not only helps bring down the total cost of the project, but it also shortens the time in which the project can realistically be built,” Mattingly said. “Right-of-way land negotiations would be kept to a minimum. Environmental and community impacts would be minimal, as well.”

Texas Central Railway has been working to bring a high-speed rail line between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston by 2021.

TxDOT awarded a contract to Mattingly in 2010 to conduct the feasibility study of the corridors for high-speed rail. The University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Texas and Texas Southern University also participated in the TxDOT study.

Mattingly said TxDOT faced significant impediments against right-of-way acquisition when the state began plans for developing the Trans-Texas Corridor. He said the agency wanted to avoid that conflict as much as possible this time.

Ali Abolmaali, chairman of UT Arlington’s Civil Engineering Department, said Mattingly’s work will help shape important high-speed rail decisions that will affect Texans and Texas travelers for decades to come.

Mattingly’s case study found that steel wheel, high-speed rail technology would be the least expensive, but that magnetic levitation technology could alleviate some concerns related to horizontal curves and constrained urban right-of-way and interchanges along the routes.

The study said 186-mph versions of both technologies, the high-speed steel wheel and maglev, could be built within existing TxDOT right-of-way. However, the steel wheel-steel rail technology would require significant braking at most curves in the right-of-way while the maglev would be able to operate at its maximum operating speed a significant proportion of the route.

While the UT Arlington case study didn’t pinpoint exact costs of a high-speed rail system for Texas, it did outline some possible funding mechanism to support construction, including federal involvement, state and local funds, tax increment financing districts and public/private partnerships.


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