Texas Plan to Build Shinkansen Bullet Train
With more than 300 daily departures, the Shinkansen bullet train covers the 300 miles between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan’s two largest metro areas, in as little as 2 hours and 25 minutes. To an American tourist, the journey can feel futuristic. But the world’s first high-speed line, which now carries nearly 400,000 people a day, actually began running half a century ago.
It’s a galling fact to consider upon returning home, where the fastest American train is Amtrak’s comparatively pokey Acela Express, plodding 400 miles from Washington to Boston in about 7 hours. While bullet trains now race across Europe and Asia, American high-speed rail has a long history of delay and disappointment. President Obama’s plan for a national network stalled when Republican governorsrefused to accept federal money. A $68 billion project is underway in California, but that line, which voters approved six years ago, isn’t slated to connect Los Angeles with San Francisco until at least 2029.
Richard Lawless, who as a C.I.A. officer posted in Tokyo in the 1980s was a frequent Shinkansen passenger, has long found America’s failure to embrace high-speed rail “mind-boggling.” But today the former Bush administration official is in a position to change things, as chairman and CEO of Texas Central Railway, a private company that plans to link Dallas and Houston with a 200-mile-per-hour bullet train as soon as 2021. The venture just might be high-speed rail’s best hope in the United States.
“The project has been progressing below the radar, very quietly, very deliberately, over the last four years plus,” says Lawless. It’s now undergoing an environmental impact study that will take between two and three years, but Texas Central, whose backers include Japan’s JR Central railway, has already conducted its own extensive research. The company, originally called U.S.-Japan High-Speed Rail, looked at 97 possible routes nationwide before concluding that Texas was the ideal place for a high-speed line — and that healthy profits could be made in long-distance passenger rail, a travel mode that for the past 40 years has existed only with the help of massive government subsidies.