In 2019, Japan contributed the largest share of Asian investment in Texas, contributing $1 billion out of a total $2.1 billion. This year is no different. Texas Central Railroad LLC, in cooperation with the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Tokai), will be breaking ground on the first high-speed rail system in the United States. At speeds of more than 200mph, the 240-mile train line will link Dallas with Houston in 90 minutes. Texas Central says the project will inject over $36 billion into the local economy over the next 25 years. In addition, the creation of 17,000 jobs during construction and 1,500 permanent jobs for commercial operations, can help offset the impact of COVID-19 and sharp drops in oil prices.
This new mode of transportation will fundamentally transform Texas by allowing connections between its two largest metropoles to flourish. Even during the pandemic, there was high demand for a train network with nearly 100,000 super-commuters traveling between Houston and Dallas more than once a week. Currently, this trip takes approximately five hours by car and 2.5 hours by plane, if you account for the time required to board and disembark. The new bullet train outpaces both modes of transportation and is expected to run every 30 minutes during peak hours and every hour during off-peak hour. As a result, Texas Central estimates the line will carry 6 million passengers annually in 2029 and 10 million by 2050.
Traditionally, US rail safety standards have regulated the strength of train cars to reduce potential damage to automobiles upon collision. However, the decision to model JR Tokai’s “N700S” series means trains will run on dedicated tracks isolated from roads, which eliminates the risk of hitting cars altogether. Furthermore, the Tokaido Shinkansen has been operating since 1964, yet has an impeccable safety record – zero accidents or derailments and not a single passenger fatality or injury. The project also cleared a major safety hurdle last September, when the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration issued the Rule of Particular Applicability (RPA) to establish regulatory and safety standards that the bullet train must adhere to.
To further assist Texas on the technological front, the Japan Bank of International Cooperation has provided monetary investment and JR Tokai has deployed 20 experts. For Japan, successful implementation of its second overseas high-speed railway can pave the way towards achieving economies of scale, and consequently reduced costs of train sets and enhanced technological caliber.
The Texas Shinkansen falls directly in line with the new administration’s priorities for clean energy. Not only does the bullet train outpace planes and cars, but it also diminishes the amount of carbon dioxide emissions. The Bureau of Transportation estimates that Amtrak uses 27 percent less fuel than domestic flights per passenger-mile traveled. The United States Department of Energy found that intercity trains get nearly 57 passenger-miles per gallon versus cars at about 40. On top of which, an electric-powered train system will be significantly more efficient than its diesel counterparts. This high-speed rail project will help transition the transportation system in the Lone Star State away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. Lastly, Texas’ high-speed railway has received federal approval, which verified that the chosen route is most efficient, has the least environmental cost, and impacts the fewest property owners.
Kyoko Imai is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University focusing on Asian Studies and Refugees & Humanitarian Emergencies.