President Obama's plan for a network of high-speed passenger trains across the U.S. isn't going anywhere fast. After billions of dollars — and a 2010 trip to Tokyo by his first transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, to check out Japan's famously fast and safe bullet trains — there's not much to show except upgrades to existing Amtrak lines and a 520-mile bullet train line from Los Angeles to San Francisco progressing at a crawl and bogged down in court challenges.
There are also two other proposed, mostly privately financed high-speed rail projects: All-Aboard Florida, connecting Miami to Orlando, and the Texas Central High-Speed Railway, attempting to connect Dallas to Houston via a Japanese-made Shinkansen bullet train. The Florida line will likely be the first one completed, with the first leg projected to begin service in 2016, but it will hardly be a bullet train, traveling less than 100 miles per hour in some parts along repurposed freight lines.
The Texas route, if it gets enough capital, aims to be up and running (at 205 mph) in 2021, The Texas Tribune says, a full eight years before the L.A. to San Francisco line. "At first blush, Texas may not seem like the ideal place in the U.S. to debut high-speed rail," The Texas Tribune's Aman Batheja and Stephen J. Smith note dryly, but the project actually has a lot going for it: The area between hugely populous Houston and Dallas is flat and sparsely populated, the cities are an ideal distance apart, and as long as there's no public funding involved, Texas officials are pretty supportive.
"This could be the turning point" for high-speed rail, in Texas and nationwide, Texas Rail Advocates president Peter LeCody tells The Texas Tribune. "If you can show a return on your investment, I think people will be more open-minded." Ray LaHood appears to agree, if generally. "Once something gets built, then we're going to see more projects get going," he told The New York Times. And that something may very well get built in, of all places, Texas.