THE TEXAS TRIANGLE – It’s the stuff Texans only dreamed about as kids: A high-speed train connecting Dallas and Houston. Rather than spending four or five hours driving on a crowded highway, passengers would sit in air conditioned cars and travel between the cities in 90 minutes or less at speeds upwards of 200 miles an hour. Texas Central Partners, the private, Texas-based company that is developing the train, would use the same high–speed railway technology used for decades on the Shinkansen system that links Tokyo and Osaka. To find out more about the ‘bullet train” Realty News Report talked with Texas Central CEO Tim B. Keith.
Realty News Report: When will Texas’ first high-speed passenger railway between Dallas and Houston actually begin service?
Tim B. Keith: We expect to begin construction on the nation’s first truly high-speed train system as early as next year. We expect that construction will last about four years, and that 2022 will be the first full year service.
Realty News Report: Has any land been acquired yet?
Tim B. Keith: Overall, the response to the project’s ongoing work with landowners has been positive. We have recently begun a voluntary land purchase program. As a result of personalized conversations with landowners we are encouraged with the progress. Our conversations with landowners are in various stages of the process, including those who have fully agreed to sell their land.
Realty News Report: There’s a massive amount of right-of-way to be acquired between Houston and Dallas and eminent domain will be employed. Can you please tell us about your plan for undertaking this?
Tim B. Keith: High-speed rail has one of the smallest land footprints per user of any method of transportation. We estimate that the train will operate on a very narrow footprint at approximately 100-150 feet wide in areas where the tracks will run. The project’s land purchase program has recently begun and we are encouraged by its early results. Texas’ Constitution and state statutes have long granted eminent domain authority to railroads such as Texas Central, as well as pipeline companies, electric power companies and other industries. All support the creation of infrastructure necessary to serve the public efficiently and enjoy a healthy economy. The development of a high-speed train that will bring widespread benefits to Texans is built on positive relationships directly with property owners, and any use of this legal authority would be as a last resort. Our goal is to work with landowners and never have to use the court system in this process. With the growth of population over time, high-speed rail is the most efficient way to move the most people using the most efficient amount of land.
Realty News Report: Do you have a specific site selected for the Houston station?
Tim B. Keith: Specifics haven’t been finalized but the Houston passenger station will be in the area along the 610 Loop between 290 and Interstate 10.
Realty News Report: Your website says the station will be in “the area along the 610 Loop between 290 and I-10.” Why there instead of downtown, which is more accessible to ground transit and major workplaces?
Tim B. Keith: The Northwest station location serves riders in a sweet spot of in that part of growing Houston. It is conveniently located among the Galleria, the Energy Corridor, the Medical Center and the Central Business District. In addition, the Federal Railroad Administration’s environmental impact review determined that a downtown station would cause significant community and environmental impacts and add significant costs.
Realty News Report: If located in northwest Houston, how will the train station impact the surrounding Northwest Houston real estate? Are there development opportunities?
Tim B. Keith: High-speed train stations have a history of creating significant economic impacts in the areas where they are located, similar to other transit oriented development. When you connect people and ideas in a safe, productive and efficient manner you drive economic growth.
Realty News Report: The train will have an impact on the Texas economy. Can you give us your thoughts on this?
Tim B. Keith: This project is estimated to produce more than $36 billion in economic benefits over the next 25 years, according to an independent study by Insight Research Corp. The study stated the project will likely power a “substantial and long¬lasting” economic benefit to the state. This is a transformational multi-billion dollar private investment in the state’s future. The overall economic impact is incredible, and it’s real. As a privately developed public project, it will also pay taxes. As a result, it will be infrastructure funding other infrastructure. Texas Central is providing tax revenue that could provide raises for municipal employees, put more teachers in schools, build new roads, hire more police and firefighters or improve facilities in all of the counties where we’ll be operating. The project will directly benefit each of the counties along the route and provide additional resources to the state and local communities to help fund transportation or any other needs and ambitions they choose to support. As a result it will have lasting effects for generations
Realty News Report: You previously co-founded and served as chief investment officer of HKS Capital Advisors, a boutique investment advisory firm. How will your experiences there help you in your current position?
Tim B. Keith: As the first high speed train in the country, this is a historic project that has the potential to transform transportation not only in Texas but in the country. Texas Central will not take federal grants for construction or subsidies for operation, a model for how privately developed infrastructure can provide significant and long-lasting benefits to the public. In my experiences throughout my career, I have worked in real estate, infrastructure and finance. These are all critical components in this project that will help us bring this train to the riders who want a new choice in transportation.
July 30, 2016. Copyright 2016 Realty News Report.
Realty News Report is a Texas-based publication edited by award-winning journalist Ralph Bivins.