The global high-speed rail operator has submitted comments in response to the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) draft environmental impact statement (Draft EIS) for the Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail project, proposed by Texas Central Rail (TCR). SNCF is one of the largest operators of high-speed rail in the world.
SNCF America president and CEO Alain Leray said: “The Texas Central Rail project has been designed around the best interest of a single company, not what is best for Texans or the state’s rail transportation future. If the federal government allows the Texas Central Rail project to move forward as proposed, it would likely close the door on the future of high-speed rail in communities like Austin, San Antonio, Waco and Temple, while placing huge risks on the shoulders of local, state and federal taxpayers.”
According to SNCF America, modern passenger rail services can only be successful if they are conceived and planned as networks. In a state of 28 million people, TCR’s proposal to construct a high-speed line that is limited to Houston and Dallas will deprive other Texas cities of high-speed rail options, it said. A network approach generates demand from many different cities, while the TCR approach is dependent on ridership only on the I-45 corridor to sustain the profitability of its proposed high-speed rail service, said SNCF. It argues that, if the TCR line is built, Texas will lose the opportunity to develop a network that serves cities along the congested I-35 corridor, as well as the critical combined ridership from all of these cities, which would share large portions of track infrastructure and improve the prospects of running a more financially viable operation.
SNCF America supports a “T-Bone” network configuration, which it said would provide high-speed rail access to 2.6 million more Texans. The “T-Bone” network would serve Houston, College Station, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Temple, Georgetown, San Marcos, and San Antonio. If the proposed TCR is constructed, an enormous “Texas Triangle” of track covering 763 miles would be required to serve these cities, which SNCF America said is a far less efficient and more expensive configuration than the 480 mile “T-Bone.”
It added that operational revenues will likely not be sufficient to cover debt service. SNCF America is aware of only two high-speed systems in the world 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.
“No country in the world operates a fully privately-funded high-speed rail infrastructure,” said SNCF America. “Whether China, Germany, or Morocco, government funding is required to build the infrastructure.”
It added that the concept of private financing, while seductive, is virtually impossible to achieve with the financial debt-service burden of infrastructure that costs US$45m per mile to build.
SNCF America went on to say that the Draft EIS is flawed because it fails to address the comparative advantages and disadvantages of high-speed (125-210 mph) versus higher-speed (max 125 mph) technologies for the Dallas-Houston corridor. Instead, it focuses on a single technology available from a single company.