Can Texas make high-speed rail work? California can’t


For the last few years, I’ve been critical of California’s attempts to link Los Angeles to San Francisco with a high-speed rail line.

It’s not that I’m reflexively against passenger rail. It’s just that California is such a political zoo, I don’t think they can do anything well when it comes to the bread-and-butter responsibilities of government, like infrastructure. And the news on the Golden State’s high-speed rail project only gets worse day by day.

But Texas? This could be interesting.

The two projects share similarities. Los Angeles to San Francisco is a five-hour drive. Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston about four and a half hours. Interstate 5 links the California cities. Interstate 45 connects the two in Texas. Both are heavily traveled and no fun to drive.

But I think Texas has the edge in three areas:

1. Both DFW and Houston have relatively compact downtown business areas. You can walk to a lot of the places you need to go, and both downtowns are well served by taxis. Los Angeles is a massive, metastasized sprawl. You can cab around but it’s going to cost you.  San Francisco is less spread out, but because of the hills it’s no fun to walk, even short distances. (Houston sprawls with the best of them, but most of the business traffic goes straight downtown.)

2. Interstate 45 in Texas is flat and low density. This would make construction and engineering less complicated and acquisition of land rights much less problematic.

3. Texas isn’t eaten up with environmental zealots. Trust me, as soon as they find an endangered mugwort, the California bullet train will come to a screeching halt while the state conducts 10 years of environmental studies.

So it will be interesting to see what Texas does with this. Outgoing governor Rick Perry has been thumbing his nose at California’s poor business climate lately. I’d be almost willing to overlook his unstatesman-like conduct if he could make the high-speed rail dream a reality in Texas, when it is so obviously going to be a failure in California.

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I think Texans, especially business travelers, might come to appreciate the merits of rail travel. No TSA lines, baggage claim woes and all the rest. And no mind-numbing drives across the flatlands either. On a train you can read, work, even have meetings if you want. It really is nice.

What a hoot that would be. If SUV-loving, oil-well drilling, redneck Texas develops the country’s first robust, functional passenger rail system while California’s progressive pipe dream flounders on the shore.