Dallas to Fort Worth in 20 minutes? What to know about North Texas’ high-speed rail plan

North Texas officials are moving forward with their push for a high-speed rail linking Dallas and Fort Worth with a stop in Arlington, but don’t expect to board a bullet train any time soon.

A proposal by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, already years in the works, is moving into a new phase, which includes a deeper look at plans related to engineering, environmental impact, ridership estimates, operations and maintenance and costs. The process is expected to span the next year and a half.

The connection of Dallas and Fort Worth by a train that can reach 250 mph comes with a number of challenges, but could bring economic opportunities, said Allan Rutter, a senior research scientist at Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

“There’s a lot to be said for the sort of economic benefits to both cities by the growth of each other, even though historically Amon Carter would never agree to that,” Rutter said, referring to the legendary Star-Telegram publisher and Fort Worth booster who would occasionally as a joke carry a sack lunch with him to Dallas rather than spend money there.

The council is hosting a series of open houses starting Tuesday where members of the public can learn more about the project and offer suggestions.

The idea is to ultimately link the route to a proposed high-speed rail line that would connect Dallas and Houston in less than 90 minutes.

The route and travel time

The trip from Dallas to Fort Worth would take about 20 minutes along a route that follows Interstate 30.

The Fort Worth stop is expected to be near Fort Worth Central Station. In Arlington, an elevated station between North Center Street and North Collins Street or an underground tunnel station between AT&T Way and Ballpark Way are recommended, according to a report outlining the findings from the first phase of the study.

The Dallas stop would be south of downtown by the Interstate 30 and Interstate 35E interchange or beneath a station proposed as part of the Dallas to Houston rail being explored by Texas Central.

The Texas Central plan has been in the works for about a decade. It has faced pushback from opponents whose concerns include land rights and potential costs to taxpayers. Texas Central and Amtrak announced a potential partnership on the route earlier in August.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments, an association of local governments to help with regional development, seeks to extend that line to Fort Worth.

“Why would you want the end of the line to be in Dallas County and then everyone has to transfer to the TRE, which would take an hour, or transfer to some other mode of transportation,” said Michael Morris, the director of transportation for the council, in a Aug. 11 interview with the Star-Telegram.

Texas Central and Amtrak declined to comment.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments recently applied for a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration to help develop the potential Fort Worth to Houston route. The proposal, which Texans Against High Speed Rails obtained through an open records request and shared with the Star-Telegram, includes several letters of support from state and local officials, including Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, Arlington Mayor Jim Ross, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

Potential challenges

One key question is how the rail would be funded, said Rutter, with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. He expects those discussions will happen in the study’s second phase. The private sector will likely get involved, but there are also federal dollars available that could help with the project, Rutter said.

The United States trails other countries on the construction of high-speed rails, though several projects are in the works, and Amtrak’s Acela runs between Boston and Washington at 150 mph.

Rutter attributes that delay to the “steep price tag.”

“Other decisions or other choices have been made,” he said. “We’ve chosen to invest an awful lot of money into commercial aviation and giving people the freedom to have highways open up travel opportunities for both peoples and goods movement.”

Texans Against High Speed Rails has raised concerns about potential costs to taxpayers associated with the Houston to Dallas Project. Texas Central has previously said the project would be done without public funding, according to The Texas Tribune. But Texas Central and Amtrak said they’ve applied for federal grants to study and design the proposed project in a August news release announcing their potential partnership.

There are also questions of land rights and the physical construction of the Dallas to Fort Worth rail. For instance, it would likely have to be elevated given the soil type in North Central Texas and the need for a flat service, Rutter said. That can be expensive, but could also minimize the amount of space needed to build the project along I-30.

“We’re almost all in public sector right-of-way,” Morris said. “So there isn’t a big right-of-way element. We’re in the interstate 30 corridor, and we’ll just have to see if we can get consensus in the environmental process to move forward toward implementation.”

Were it to come to fruition though, the project could open new possibilities for the Metroplex as it booms.

“Now that comes with a price tag, but that kind of speed of travel between those two city centers could open up all kinds of possibilities for people to work in one city and live in the other, people to business between each other,” Rutter said. “It just might open up Fort Worth and Dallas to grow even closer.”

Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, president of the advocacy group Texans Against High-Speed Rail, said the group is not against high-speed rail in general, but that any project has to make sense and be feasible. He said it does seem strange to have a high speed rail connecting two cities that are only 30 to 40 minutes apart.

Questions he’d ask of the project include ridership projects, ticket prices and potential revenue. Ridership estimates are expected in the plan’s second phase. Preliminary estimates of travel demand project 27,100 to 54,300 daily rail passengers, depending on the project’s connectivity to other possible high speed rail routes, according to the grant proposal.

“Everybody should be transparent,” he said. “Because if this is something that the taxpayers in Dallas-Fort Worth are going to underwrite, even if they’re not directly impacted — like I’ve always said, it may not come through your backyard but it may go through your pocketbook — those people have a right to know how those numbers work,” Duhon said.

No matter one’s stance on a North Texas high-speed rail, there’s still time for the project to come to fruition or fizzle out.

Morris said it’s premature to outline a timeline to construction. Rutter predicted construction is still years away, at the very least.

Open Houses

  • Aug. 29 from 5-7:30 p.m. at the North Central Texas Council of Governments (616 Six Flags Drive, Arlington)

  • Aug. 31 from 4-7 p.m. at the Fort Worth Central Station Community Room (1001 Jones St., Fort Worth)

  • Sept. 6 from 5-7:30 p.m. at the Tony Shotwell Life Center (2750 Graham St., Grand Prairie)

  • Sept. 7 from 4-7 p.m. at the West Dallas Multipurpose Center (2828 Fish Trap Road, Dallas)