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Only

the Right Vision Can Lead to


The Right Plan
Comments to the
Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail Draft Environmental Impact Statement

by

SNCF America, Inc.

March 9, 2018

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement


(EIS) for the proposed Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail Project. The project would connect
Dallas and Houston with a dedicated High-Speed Rail (HSR) system proposed by a private
company, Texas Central Railway (TCR). The FRA in furtherance of this EIS is soliciting
comments on the project.

SNCF, the French National Railway, is one of the largest operators of high-speed, as well as
traditional passenger rail services, in the world. With 270,000 employees, it transports
approximately 14 million passengers on an average day. SNCF, through its various subsidiaries,
carries almost twice the number of daily passengers in the U.S. as Amtrak does. Subsidiaries of
SNCF currently employ approximately 15,000 people in the U.S. producing more than $2.2
billion in annual revenues.

SNCF America, Inc. offers the following comments to the Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail
Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS):

A Modern Texas Passenger Rail System Must Be Planned as a Network

Modern passenger rail services can only be successful if they are conceived and planned as
networks. For this to be a credible EIS, it is necessary to determine what is the best transportation
system for the people of Texas who live on the Texas triangle defined as the Dallas/Fort Worth
(DFW) Metroplex to the north, San Antonio to the southwest and Houston to the southeast.
Further, the primary and secondary environmental impacts on this same geographical area must
be considered as well. Given the enormous costs involved in building rail infrastructure, it is
crucial, before making a decision, to analyze and disclose the financial/economic parameters and
environmental and societal implications of the proposal for the entire Texas triangle area. The
Draft EIS starts off on the wrong foot by adopting an artificially constrained framing of the
project’s “purpose and need” – one that assumes a need for high-speed rail connection between
Dallas and Houston, rather than examining that corridor in the context of the rail transportation
needs of the Texas triangle as a whole. See, e.g., Draft EIS ¶ 2.4.3 (Corridor Screening

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Methodology) (concluding that higher speed and conventional speed passenger rail service will
not meet the project’s purpose merely because they “would not be able to employ the N700
Tokaido Shinkansen HSR system as proposed” by TCRR). Furthermore, by viewing the Dallas-
Houston corridor in isolation, rather than as one link of a larger interconnected network, the Draft
EIS’s “purpose and need” section arbitrarily narrows the range of alternatives to be studied,
contrary to NEPA’s directives.1

To ensure as high a return as possible on the infrastructure investment to both the citizens of
Texas as well as private investors and owners, the customers traveling between the DFW
Metroplex and the southeastern and southwestern corners of the triangle should use the same rail
infrastructure between the DFW Metroplex, through Waco to Temple. From Temple, a
southeastern track should go to College Station continuing to Houston. A southwestern track
should go from Temple to Austin and then San Antonio at conventional speeds. With this indirect
routing, the additional traveling time required between the DFW Metroplex area and Houston
would be slightly less than 30 minutes at high speeds. However, the advantages of this "T-Bone"
network configuration are numerous:
• All major cities on the Texas Triangle (Houston – College Station – Dallas – Fort Worth –
Waco – Temple – Georgetown – Austin – San Marcos – San Antonio) would be
connected with 480 miles of tracks instead of 763 miles of tracks if the entire Texas
triangle were to be built.
• At $45 million a mile, the savings are (763 – 480) X 45 = $12.7 billion.
• By having a common “backbone” for travel from the DFW Metroplex to the southeast and
the southwest, the Federal Government I-35 project becomes financially more viable.
Without the southeastern traffic, the I-35 corridor most likely cannot financially stand on
its own and cities located on the I-35 corridor will not be connected by rail to Houston and
the DFW Metroplex.
• Utilizing the Texas Triangle would provide high-speed rail access to 2.6 million more
Texas residents than the Dallas-Houston route. It would also provide for future linkage to
points further south.


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For example, the NEPA guidance issued by the Department of Transportation, Federal Highway
Administration, explains that the purpose and need section of an EIS “should clearly
demonstrate” – and not just assume – “that a ‘need’ exists and should define the ‘need’ in terms
understandable to the general public. This discussion should clearly describe the problems which
the proposed action is to correct.” In particular, in demonstrating and articulating the need for the
project, the agency should take into account issues such as Capacity (“Is the capacity of the
present facility inadequate for the present traffic? Projected traffic? What capacity is needed?”);
Transportation Demand (including relationship to any statewide plan); System Linkage (how
does the proposed project “fit in the transportation system”); and Modal Interrelationships (how
will the facility interface with and complement other transportation services). FHWA
TECHNICAL ADVISORY
T 6640.8A, § V.D. (October 30, 1987), available at:
https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/legislation/nepa/guidance_preparing_env_documents.asp
x#pn

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The cities of College Station, Fort Worth, Waco, Temple, Georgetown, Austin, San Marcos, San
Antonio and even points south, would be severely disadvantaged with the proposed TCR point-
to-point system.

The Draft EIS ignores reality by not considering any comprehensive network-based alternatives,
notwithstanding the obvious environmental advantages and economic efficiencies of a more
compact rail footprint for the Texas triangle area as a whole. The Draft EIS omits consideration
of network-based alternatives because it unreasonably limits the purpose and need for the project
based on an assumed need for high-speed rail on this one segment. This unduly narrow
perspective renders the Draft EIS fundamentally flawed. See Citizens Against Burlington, Inc. v.
Busey, 938 F.2d 190, 196 (D.C. Cir. 1990) (“an agency may not define the objectives of its action
in terms so unreasonably narrow that only one alternative from among the environmentally
benign ones in the agency's power would accomplish the goals of the agency's action, and the EIS
would become a foreordained formality”). FRA should correct this problem by broadening the
purpose and need to facilitate analysis and consideration of reasonable network-based
alternatives.

The Appropriate Passenger Rail Technology Must be Selected: Higher-Speed or High-


Speed

High-speed passenger rail trains operate from 125 to 210 miles per hour. Higher-speed train
systems operate at speeds no higher than 125 miles per hour. These are very different
technologies.

In the United States, any discussion about new passenger rail infrastructure most always defaults
to the more expensive high-speed technology. In some cases, due to passenger ridership, the
distances between stations, and other factors, high-speed technology serves no logical purpose,
cannot be justified by the potential market and may be impractical, if not impossible.

The Draft EIS is flawed because it fails adequately to address the comparative advantages and
disadvantages of high-speed versus high-speed technologies for the Dallas-Houston corridor,
whether considered in isolation or as part of a larger Texas triangle rail network. Indeed, the Draft
EIS fails to consider the relative environmental, economic and social impacts of any alternatives
that involve rail technology other than high-speed. As with the Draft EIS’s failure to consider any
network-based alternatives (discussed above), the omission of any non-high-speed alternatives is
grounded in the myopic definition of the project’s “purpose and need,” which assumes the need
for high-speed rail from Dallas to Houston and hence arbitrarily excludes other technologies from
its array of alternatives.

Eminent domain is always a difficult issue when building a new high-speed infrastructure. High
speeds can’t be accommodated on tight curves and steep slopes. However, higher speeds (max
125 mph) can take tighter turns and can use much more of the existing rights of ways, thus
reducing the need to use eminent domain. The Draft EIS fails adequately to consider the potential
for higher-speed technologies to reduce eminent domain impacts, because it omits consideration
of any higher-speed alternatives.

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When the terrain along a route is flat and stable, it is relatively “cheap” to build new rail
infrastructure. But cheap means $23 million per mile for two conventional electrified tracks,
compared to $45 million per mile for two high-speed tracks.

A higher-speed train would take three hours to go from Dallas downtown to Houston downtown
through Temple. The present driving time from DFW to downtown Houston is four hours.
Before doubling the infrastructure costs and using abundant eminent domain, there should be a
hard look at whether high-speed is possible, needed or expected for each segment of a proposed
route. FRA should correct this flaw in the Draft EIS by broadening the purpose and need to
facilitate analysis and consideration of reasonable alternatives based on higher-speed
technologies.

This Draft EIS Ignores Previous Texas Passenger Rail Policy

The Texas Central Partners, LLC (TCP)/Japanese project would only connect the outskirts of
Dallas to the suburbs of Houston roughly along the route of Interstate 45.

In 2008 and again in 2016, the USDOT and the FRA issued at the request of the U.S. Congress a
Request for Expressions of Interest (2008)2 and a Request for Proposals (2016)3 for high-speed
rail systems within 11 corridors in the United States. In these requests responders were asked to
study a new rail infrastructure along the Interstate-35 (I-35) corridor.

The first phase of the Texas Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study was completed in November of
2017. Sponsored by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT), the study determined that
upgraded passenger rail service between Oklahoma City and South Texas using the I-35 corridor
was feasible.

This $7 million Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study sponsored by Texas Department of


Transportation covers an 850-mile corridor broken into three segments going from Oklahoma
City to Dallas-Fort Worth; Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio; and San Antonio to South Texas.

Before building a direct link between the outskirts of Dallas and the outskirts of Houston, the
Federal Government’s Interstate-35 Corridor and the full Texas T-Bone passenger rail network
must be an alternative that is seriously considered.

Moreover, the draft EIS is flawed because it does not adequately analyze the various
interrelationships between the proposed high speed rail project between Dallas and Houston and
the I-35 rail corridor alternatives analyzed in the Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study,
Combined Service-Level Final EIS and ROD (2017). NEPA prohibits a decision-making agency
from viewing proposed projects in isolation; rather, the agency must take a hard look at both the

2
- Vol. 73, No. 242, 76443–76448 on December 16, 2008, by the U.S. Department of
Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Railway Administration (FRA).
3
Vol. 81, No. 51 / Wednesday, March 16, 2016 (“RFP”) by the U.S. Department of
Transportation (USDOT) and the Federal Railway Administration (FRA).

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“indirect effects” and the “cumulative effects” of the proposal.4 Yet the Draft EIS fails to
consider, for example, how moving forward with the Dallas-Houston high speed rail project
could alter, modify or foreclose options for the I-35 rail corridor; how a network-based approach
that combines certain aspects of both projects could produce more economically efficient and
environmentally beneficial outcomes (see discussion of network-based alternatives above); or the
cumulative environmental, economic and social impacts of proceeding with the Dallas-Houston
high-speed corridor and the I-35 rail corridor as separate and independent projects.

The FRA should correct this flaw by expanding its analysis to take a hard look at the cumulative
impacts, indirect effects and interrelationships of these projects in the context of Texas Passenger
Rail policy as a whole.

To our Knowledge, the Draft EIS is Not Supported by a Published Investment-Grade


Ridership Study

Given the enormous costs involved in building rail infrastructure, it is crucial, before making a
decision, to fully analyze and disclose the financial/economic parameters of all alternatives. Such
measurement can be achieved by performing investment-grade ridership studies where the total
market can be assessed and reasonable market share estimated. To our knowledge, these
investment-grade ridership studies have not been done and/or made public.

Investment-grade ridership studies for each possible alternative must be made a part of this EIS
public process.

This Project Fails the Crucial Interoperability Test

Interoperability is a broad array of passenger-rail infrastructure standards that allow conventional,


higher-speed and high-speed rail operations over common rail networks within urban areas. The
Draft EIS fails adequately to address these issues.

The Amtrak Acela Express operating in the Northeast Rail Corridor is a perfect example of an
interoperable network. It is highly successful because it serves the hearts of Boston, New York
City, and Washington, DC. Going to city centers allows a rail system to be time-competitive with
air travel that operates from the outskirts of cities. If the trains also depart from the outskirts of
the cities, they can’t compete with air travel, which also departs from the city outskirts.

A new passenger rail system must be able to use existing tracks into the city center. Obviously, at
high speeds, the rolling stock must be operated in a fully sealed rail corridor, but this is not true

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CEQ regulations define “indirect effects” as effects “…which are caused by the action and are
later in time or farther removed in distance, but are still reasonably foreseeable. Indirect effects
may include growth inducing effects and other effects related to induced changes in the pattern of
land use, population density or growth rate, and related effects on air and water and other natural
systems, including ecosystems.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.8. Cumulative impacts are defined as “the
impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to
other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency (federal
or non-federal) or person undertakes such other actions.” 40 C.F.R. § 1508.7.

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of the “last miles” when penetrating into densely populated areas. The Acela express shares the
same tracks as commuter trains when penetrating in the three densely populated urban areas cited
above. The Acela Express is an interoperable system.

If such tracks do not exist, they must be built at substantial costs. Construction costs close to and
within city centers are financially extravagant, and it is doubtful that any private funding can be
found. If the taxpayers provide the funding, then these urban infrastructures must be made
available to the highest number of people aggressively managed for the highest efficiency
possible. If high-speed intercity trains are the only trains using the new infrastructure penetrating
in the city center because of monopoly technology, the new infrastructure system will only serve
a selected few but will have been paid for by a vast majority.

New and old infrastructure must be able to accommodate commuter trains as well as long-
distance high-speed trains on the “final miles” located within urban areas.

Interoperability Failure Multiplies Consequences and Risks

The Draft EIS fails to take a hard look at the full array of environmental, economic, and social
impacts that could result if the proposed project fails to account for these critical interoperability
issues. While the Japanese N700 Series Shinkansen technology is safe, reliable and comfortable,
the interoperability standards currently used in the United States, the United Kingdom, and in the
European Union are not compatible with this Japanese technology. Should the U.S. abandon
these pending interoperability FRA Tier III standards for this project in Texas, there will be
consequences and risks.
• There are operational consequences. New train sets won’t be able to use existing tracks
and rights-of-way to penetrate the urban-core or commuter trains will not be able to use
newly built urban rail infrastructure.
• There are significant economic consequences. Accepting an incompatible proprietary
technology creates a monopoly. Local populations will face an element of monopoly
pricing since only the proprietary technology used can be operated on the newly built
track infrastructure.
• There are taxpayer risks. If a privately funded system with incompatible infrastructure and
rolling stock, financed with government loans or loan guarantees, becomes financially
troubled, the taxpayers are left with no choice but to pay for the monopoly technology.
The probability of financial weaknesses is significant considering that, unless we are
mistaken, and to our limited knowledge, worldwide there are only two high-speed systems
that cover infrastructure amortization with the revenues they generate. These two systems
(Tokyo-to-Osaka and Paris-to-Lyon) have low infrastructure amortization costs because
they were built approximately a half-century ago.
• There are national security risks. It could be dangerous to allow incompatible
infrastructure and rolling stock engineered and manufactured by foreign entities to be
used for critical transportation. If the entities supplying the monopoly technology decide
to stop providing the technology or block the systems with software changes, passenger
traffic between major Texan cities could be severely disrupted, and the remedy would be
extremely costly and time-consuming (measured in years, rather than months).

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The EIS Must Consider the Characteristics of Interoperability

On April 5, 2017, at a hearing in the Texas State Senate, Senator Lois Kolkhorst asked Tim
Keith, president of Texas Central Partners (TCP), the company developing the Dallas to Houston
high-speed rail project, “These tracks are compatible with multiple types of trains, correct?”
Keith responded: “Correct. Would also. Standard gauge of 4 feet and 8.5 inches.”

For tracks to accommodate different train technologies, track gauge, or more precisely, the width
between the two rails of a track, is only one of many technical parameters that must be met.
While Mr. Keith’s response was factually correct, it was not complete and perhaps purposefully
left the impression that track gauge is the only important factor.

Other parameters must be taken into consideration for a rail technology to be interoperable:
• Spacing between two sets of tracks
• Width of rolling stock
• Space between the tracks and station platforms
• Electromagnetic compatibility
• Crashworthiness specifications
• Signaling systems
• Safety systems such as Positive Train Control (PTC)
• Communications systems
• Door mechanisms (an issue in conventional train stations with the Japanese technology)
• Power supply specifications

This Project Does Not Serve City Centers

Neither higher-speed rail systems (maximum 125 mph) nor high-speed rail systems (above 125
mph) should be expected to be successful and profitable if they do not serve city centers of their
primary destinations or connect to established commuter train networks serving city centers.

To address these issues, SNCF America makes the following recommendations:


• Ensure that high-speed trains are compatible with the pending FRA Tier III standards.
• Ensure that urban infrastructure to be built can be used by long-distance trains as well as
commuter trains.
• Ensure that downtown residents who wish to travel long distance by rail can avoid city
traffic by using higher- and high-speed trains from downtown locations.

At a minimum, the FRA must consider, analyze, and disclose the potential environmental,
economic, and social impacts of the project’s failure to serve city centers.

A Realistic Funding Plan Must be Considered in this EIS

On its website, TCP is very straightforward by declaring that: “As for federal loans, the project
will explore all forms of capital available to private companies to finance debt for the project,
including federal loan programs like RRIF and TIFIA.”

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While TCP may be 100 percent privately funded as long as the loans are being repaid to the
lenders, should future revenues not allow for the lenders to see their loans (principal plus interest)
being repaid in compliance with the initial plans, Federal taxpayers could end up being liable if
the loans were contracted under RRIF and/or TIFIA as cited in 1.1.2.2 of the Draft EIS. This
would result in taxpayer funding of equipment and infrastructure not obtained through
competitive methods, that would have been required if federal funding had been initially used,
even though there could be a funding activity which “constitutes a major federal action.”

As previously stated, revenues from high-speed rail operations are seldom sufficient to pay back
infrastructure costs. Under such circumstances, claiming that the project is not backed by public
funds seems daring. As with the other issues discussed above, the FRA at a minimum must
supplement its Draft EIS to consider, analyze and disclose the risks and potential impacts of an
inadequate private funding plan.

###

SNCF America, Inc.


+1 (301) 338-3002