High-speed rail, not hyperloop, will be continued between Dallas and Fort Worth

As part of its ongoing plans to develop the Interstate 30 corridor between Dallas and Fort Worth for high-speed transportation, last week the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) of the North Central Texas Council of Governments approved a review of its policy that eliminates the hyperloop from consideration and focuses solely on high-speed rail.

The RTC is made up of locally elected officials and serves as the policy-making body for the region.

The routes to be assessed run along I-30 between Dallas and Fort Worth (DFW), with a stop in Arlington, according to the RTC website. The envisioned high-speed rail technology can operate at up to 250 miles per hour.

Brendon Wheeler, RTC’s lead transportation planner, told the group that as the hyperloop is still a technology in development with no current pathway for approval and use, it could delay development of the corridor.

RTC members voted unanimously to move forward with the application for environmental approval for the high-speed train.

The next step will be to meet with federal agencies to determine whether the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) or the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will take the lead in advancing the environmental scan.

The analysis could take up to two years, depending on the level of environmental review required, Wheeler explained to The Texan. A full environmental impact statement might be required, or the federal government might require a less complex environmental analysis since the corridor is intended to be developed within the I-30 right-of-way, he said.

Similar to the California high-speed rail analysis, Wheeler said the environmental assessment will encompass the full range of possible high-speed rail technologies. The California project was in trouble since voters approved bond financing in 2008, most recently a $5 billion increase in costs.

Funding for the high-speed corridor analysis, which will likely total about $11 million for all phases, came from the FTA, Wheeler said.

He said ridership estimates are not currently available, but would be further investigated during the environmental process. However, he thinks ridership will be heavily influenced by whether the DFW high-speed rail project will connect directly to a completed Texas Central project from Dallas to Houston and a future project between Fort Worth and Laredo.

Wheeler thinks the RTC is doing something groundbreaking by paving the way for possible private investment in high-speed rail between Dallas and Fort Worth in the future. Although there is no current funding for the construction of the project, he believes that once the corridor receives environmental approval, it will pave the way for investment.

Environmental clearance is often an obstacle for private investors. He pointed out that Texas Central had been trying their project for a decade. He is currently involved in a Texas Supreme Court case to determine its eminent domain authority.

“We are trying, as a public planning sector, to help minimize risk and attract private investment,” he said, noting that the project could end up being a public-private partnership similar to an airport.

Hyperloop could still come to the area, Wheeler said, as companies continue to express interest in building a development and test facility in the area.

The DFW region sought to bring Virgin Hyperloop in the region in 2020, but ultimately a site in West Virginia was chosen.

Hyperloop is an autonomous transportation system that could move people or goods by propelling pods of magnetically levitated vehicles through low-pressure tubes at speeds approaching 700 mph. It claims to be safe, fast and energy efficient.

Jose P. Rogers