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Business

Texas bullet train project pushing for Japan-friendly rules

The planned site of the Dallas station for the ultrahigh-speed rail line to Houston.

DALLAS -- Railway operator JR Tokai and an American partner will petition federal regulators to set new rules allowing an ultrahigh-speed line here to be built to Japanese bullet train specifications.

     The roughly 400km line connecting Dallas and Houston would meet the same standards used by the Tokaido Shinkansen running between Tokyo and Osaka. That line is operated by JR Tokai, formally known as Central Japan Railway. A three- to four-hour trip by car between the two cities in Texas would take less than 90 minutes on shinkansen bullet trains with a top speed of 320kph.

     Texas Central Partners, the company steering the enterprise, is plotting out the route and wooing investors. JR Tokai will set up a unit by year-end to lend the project technical support.

     In the U.S., high-speed trains use the same tracks as freight cars and conventional passenger trains. There are no dedicated tracks for high-speed service. Regulations mandate strong, heavy rail cars to minimize casualties from collisions.

     But the Tokaido Shinkansen has no railroad crossings, and centralized traffic control with an automatic braking system further reduces the odds of a collision. So its cars can be built lighter, enabling higher speeds and easing the impact on the environment.

     Texas Central Partners and JR Tokai will formally request as early as April that the Federal Railroad Administration issue the new rules. Both companies had been talking with the agency behind the scenes. Texas Central Partners hopes to begin construction in 2017 pending the new regulations and separate environmental assessments, with an aim to launch service in 2021.

     The Dallas-Houston link is a privately led effort taking no public funds. Texas Central Partners CEO Tim Keith is confident that his company can raise enough money for the rail line, whose construction costs are estimated to exceed $12 billion. There are investors around the world drawn to key U.S. infrastructure and rail projects, Keith told The Nikkei.

     The Dallas-based company has already raised more than 1% of projected costs and hopes to cover at least a third or so of the total through investments. JR Tokai will contribute less than 2%.

     Texas Central Partners' plan revolves around bringing in N700 series trains now employed on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, modified to American specifications. There is zero possibility of other models being used, Keith said. And with no public money involved, there will be no competitive bidding, minimizing the threat from Chinese and other low bidders.

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