Written by Phil Cerroni
At the 15th Annual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit presented at the Irving Convention Center Aug. 14-17, one of the most widely discussed topics was the plan to install a high-speed rail in Texas … by 2020.
Irving City Council Member, Roy Santoscoy, enumerated on the benefits a high-speed railroad would have on Irving.
“I think because of our location here in Irving being right next to an international airport, being halfway in the middle of the state of Texas, halfway between the two coasts, we have a logistic spot that transportation and infrastructure both are interested in. Whether it’s commuter traffic automobile or airplanes or rail line or waterways, I think Irving needs to stay abreast of everything that’s going on. By having the summit here we’ve been able to bring leaders from across the country and even internationally, which gives us a perspective that’s not just national and also it exposes Irving to people from across the country.”
Travis Kelly is the director of Lone Star High-Speed Rail, LLC. To date, the company has not laid any rail, and they are using their time to educate government officials and potential partners of the benefits of building a high speed railroad in Texas.
“We think it’s a great solution for Texas,” Kelly said. “At the end of the day we don’t expect to put the auto out of business; we don’t expect to put the airline out of business; we just want to provide a third option that will meet the travel demands as Texas continues to grow.
“High speed rail is a huge driver of economic development, and this has been shown in countless markets around the globe. Transit oriented development is something that is really starting to catch on in America. When you fly into Washington, D.C. you can see there are clusters of economic growth all around the metro stations, and we would expect the same thing for our major terminals in Texas.”
High speed rail not only brings economic benefits with it, but it is perfect marriage of efficiency and sustainability.
“It’s all electricity; it can be a completely free transportation system,” Kelly said. “You can essentially plug the system into nuclear power or renewable energy, or it can also run off the existing grid.”
The summit’s opening address was given by Paul Priestman, Director of PriestmanGoode, a consulting firm that designs the interiors of trains and airplanes. His plans for high-speed rail go far beyond simply adding a new, convenient means of travel. He wants to create a completely new way to travel.
In his opinion, the greatest hindrance to current rail travel is rail travel itself.
“A lot of the railroad design you see currently is very agricultural. It’s very strong and quite crude when really it could be much more elegant,” Priestman said. At the conference, he presented some very interesting concepts to make rail travel more appealing to travelers, in particular, businessmen.
“Here you have a first class area that’s also a lounge,” he said while showing a slide of a very well-appointed cabin. “It’s more like a lounge you get at an airport – to appeal to the business customer, probably the one sector we have to appeal to most because they tend to drive around in cars, alone, taking up a lot of space.”
Rail travel is not only about comfort and efficiency, however. Priestman says it is a national symbol.
“Trains can be an absolute beacon of a country’s presence, an example of great design and engineering,” he said.
This is not just some ideological selling point. Priestman brought up examples of how an eye for national identity makes trains more attractive to travelers.
“It has to have the right characteristics, the right cultural understanding. If you’re designing a train in China, you always have to have hot water in the vestibules at the ends of the trains because everybody likes drinking tea. When designing a train in New Zealand, we weren’t designing bike racks, we were designing surfboard racks,” Priestman said.