Road tolls to pay for Texas high-speed rail planning – what a concept!

This is installment No. 3 in the wasted gas and congestion-delay series: A price too high to pay.

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According to a Star-Telegram article (“North Texas puts up more high-speed rail money”), $4.5 million (through year 2018) raised from collected highway tolls will be put toward planning for a proposed Dallas-Fort Worth high-speed rail connector. It should be noted that the Dallas-to-Fort Worth corridor is independent of Texas Central Railway’s planned system, which proposes to connect the Texas cities of Dallas and Houston together on about 240 miles of track, with trains reaching speeds of at least 205 miles per hour, the distance between those two cities covered in a proposed 90 minutes’ time. Population by 2040 in the Dallas Metroplex region is expected to grow to ten-and-a-half-million residents. A 2040 population similar in size to that of the Dallas area’s is likewise expected for Houston as well, information in the same source revealed.

Along with population growth is an expected increase in congestion. Worsening roadway congestion isn’t just some trivial matter. It causes delay, lost productivity, and wasted fuel that can result in increased air-pollution emissions. Experts – planning, transportation, logistics – have been hard-pressed to solve the congestion dilemma for decades, even as far back as the 1950s. Sixty years later the condition continues.

So, taking four-and-a-half million dollars of toll monies and allocating such for bullet train planning in the Lone Star State whose major urban centers experience some of the heaviest snarls of traffic in the United States may, at first, seem counterintuitive. However, in the long run when it comes to transportation-infrastructure development, building dedicated high-speed rail track in corridors for dedicated high-speed trains, just may make the most sense.

The line being planned between Dallas and Fort Worth is estimated to cost $4 billion; TCR’s Dallas-Houston rail line has a cost estimation, at minimum, of $10 billion. Backers are hopeful the latter system will be available for public use in six years, according to the Star-Telegram article in question.

Ten billion dollars for 240 miles of double track high-speed railway comes out to a little less than $41.7 million per mile. Comparing the cost of construction for the almost 1,740-mile-long Spanish high-speed-rail network which cost $60 billion and built as of 2002, breaking down to about $34.5 million per mile,1 the $10 billion figure, if the line can realistically be constructed for that amount, is not an unrealistic cost estimate by any means.

If you’re wondering whether or not Texas’ high-speed train line, if built, will put a dent in traffic congestion between Dallas and Fort Worth and between Dallas and Houston, from Spanish railway operator Renfe, consider that on the Seville-Madrid line before 1991, 44 percent of travel was roadway-based, 16 percent of travel was (conventional passenger) rail-based, and 40 percent was air-travel-based. After 2002, and with Seville-Madrid high-speed-train service in operation, roadway-based travel dropped to 30 percent (a 31.8 percent decrease), conventional passenger rail-based travel fell to 1 percent (a 93.75 percent decline), air-based travel plunged to 8 percent (a 80 percent retreat), with high-speed-rail-based travel enjoying a very healthy 61 percent share.2 Total percentage reduction for roadway-, conventional passenger rail-, and air-based travel was a whopping 61 percent after 2002 when the Seville-to-Madrid line opened for service. In terms of high-speed rail providing relief from congestion – roadway- and air-travel-based, anyway – the numbers speak for themselves. Seville-Madrid high-speed train ridership, incidentally, by 2002, reached approximately 4.8 million passengers.3 Japan’s high-speed Shinkansen network, meanwhile, carries 151 million passengers annually.

Without such services provided, not only would there be an added burden placed on the other available modes, but emissions coupled to that increase would also be significantly higher as well.

This concludes this three-part series.

To read Parts 1 and 2 go here  and here.

Notes

  1. Tim Sheehan, “Tracking Spain’s bullet train: Spanish Lessons – What One Country’s High-Speed Rail System Can Teach California,” Special Installment, a joint effort among California news organizations The Bakersfield Californian, California Watch, The Fresno Bee, KQED, The Merced Sun-Star, The Modesto Bee, The Orange County Register, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, The Sacramento Bee, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo, and U-T San Diego, Jan. 15, 2012, p. A14 of The Fresno Bee.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid

Department of corrections: As originally reported, in the Seville-Madrid corridor, roadway-based travel after 2002 dropped by 14 percent, conventional passenger rail-based travel after 2002 fell by 15 percent, air-based travel after 2002 retreated by 32 percent and the percentage reduction of all of these modes combined was 39. The percentage figures have been revised accordingly. I stand corrected.

2 thoughts on “Road tolls to pay for Texas high-speed rail planning – what a concept!

  1. The fractional reduction in ridership by mode, using the numerical values presented, should be reported in units of “percentage point decrease/decline/retreat”. This is appropriate if, for example, you are comparing the 44 percent to 30 percent change for roadway-based travel. If you choose to report the changes as “percent decrease/decline/retreat”, then the numerical values should be 32 percent for roadway-travel (= (44% – 30%)/44%), 94 percent for conventional passenger-rail travel (= (16% – 1%)/16%), 80 percent for air-based travel (= (40% – 8%)/40%), and 61 percent for the combination of roadway, conventional passenger rail, and air-based travel (= (100% – (30%+1%+8%))/100%).

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