Texas high-speed bullet train has some fresh financial fuel. Photo of the N700 courtesy of © JR Central

Amtrak and its partners will receive more than $2.1 billion in a federal program to improve existing routes and expand Amtrak service across the U.S.

That includes $500,000 from the Federal Railroad Administration awarded to the long-in-the-works high-speed rail project between Houston and Dallas, as well as another $500,000 awarded to the I-20 Corridor Long-Distance Passenger Rail Project.

The funding is via the newly-passed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act and includes multiple grants that will go to Amtrak and partners. This includes:

  • $108.5 million to Amtrak for station and service upgrades;
  • $2 billion to Amtrak partners in North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maine for infrastructure upgrades
  • $34.5 million to 39 states and localities for planning and development of 69 new and improved intercity passenger rail corridors

These grants were awarded through the Federal Railroad Administration’s Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail Program for projects located across the National Network, as well as the Corridor Identification and Development Program (Corridor ID).

FRA Administrator Amit Bose says in a statement that these will be "transformative rail projects" that will provide climate-friendly alternatives to congested roads and airports.

“Today’s investments in passenger rail nationwide, made possible by the President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, are another step forward as we expand and modernize our country’s rail network, providing more Americans the world-class passenger rail they need and deserve," Bose says.

Amtrak was awarded funding on a variety of projects, including four Corridor programs, designed to create a pipeline of intercity passenger rail projects.

Those include:

  • Texas High-Speed Rail Corridor. This proposed corridor would connect Houston and Dallas, Texas, with a new, dedicated and grade separated high-speed passenger rail service. This would provide new service on a new alignment, with station stops in Dallas, Brazos Valley and Houston.
  • Long Island Northeast Regional Extension. This proposed corridor would extend three existing daily Northeast Regional round trips between Washington, DC and New York City east to Ronkonkoma, NY, with stops at Jamaica (Queens, NY) and Hicksville, NY. This would entail track, station and infrastructure upgrades to accommodate these trains and better integrate Amtrak service with Long Island Rail Road commuter service.
  • Daily Cardinal Service. This proposed corridor would increase Cardinal service to operate daily, versus three days per week currently. This route operates between New York City and Chicago via Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.
  • Daily Sunset Limited Service. This proposed corridor would increase Sunset Limited service to operate daily, versus three days per week currently. This route operates between Los Angeles and New Orleans via Houston, San Antonio and El Paso, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.; and other communities.

The release does not say exactly how the $500,000 will be used. According to TxDOT, the current estimate for construction of track between Houston and Dallas is approximately $16 billion.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The high-speed train project, which is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 tons per year, is back on track. Photo courtesy of JR Central

Houston-Dallas bullet train gets back on the rails, races greener Texas travel

speeding back

In the latest chapter in the saga of the high-speed bullet train between Houston and Dallas, Amtrak is now involved.

According to a press release, Texas Central Partners and Amtrak are exploring a partnership to work together on the proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail project that's been under consideration for more than a decade.

Amtrak has cooperated with Texas Central on various initiatives since 2016 and the two entities are now evaluating a potential partnership to determine the line's viability.

“If we are going to add more high-speed rail to this country, the Dallas to Houston Corridor is a compelling proposition and offers great potential,” says Amtrak senior VP of High-Speed Rail Development Programs Andy Byford. “We believe many of the country's biggest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas, like Houston and Dallas, deserve more high quality high-speed, intercity rail service, and we are proud to bring our experience to evaluate this potential project and explore opportunities with Texas Central so the state can meet its full transportation needs.”

The route being proposed would span approximately 240 miles, going at 250 mph, resulting in a trip that would take less than 90 minutes between the two cities.

Texas Central has been working towards getting a train rolling since 2013, including lining up a potential builder in 2021. But the project has had pushback from Texas politicians and landowners along the route; a lawsuit against the project was filed by six rural counties in 2021, and the Texas Legislature passed a law prohibiting the state from spending any funds on the project.

Facing a seeming dead end, Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar and its board members resigned in June 2022; Michael Bui, a consultant, has been serving as CEO since then.

Texas Central and Amtrak have submitted applications to several federal programs in connection with further study and design work, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (FSP-National) grant program.

Amtrak previously entered into an agreement with Texas Central to provide through-ticketing using the Amtrak reservation system and other support services for the planned high-speed rail line.

"This high-speed train, using advanced, proven Shinkansen technology, has the opportunity to revolutionize rail travel in the southern U.S., and we believe Amtrak could be the perfect partner to help us achieve that,” says Bui in a statement.

Despite its detractors, the project is forecast to provide social, environmental, employment and economic benefits including reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 tons per year, saving 65 million gallons of fuel and removing 12,500 cars per day from I-45.

The release from Amtrak has statements from both Dallas Mayor Eric L. Johnson and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who calls the collaboration between Texas Central and Amtrak "an important milestone for the City of Houston and this project."

Byford joined Amtrak in April 2023 to begin developing a team focused on high-speed opportunities throughout the U.S. In his newly created role, he will develop and lead the execution of Amtrak’s long-term strategy for high-speed rail throughout the country, including the extension of the Crescent from Mississippi through Louisiana and Texas; Kansas DOT’s Heartland Flyer Extension Corridor Identification and Development (Corridor ID) connecting Wichita to Oklahoma and Texas, and TxDOT’s applications for the Texas Triangle (Houston — Dallas – Fort Worth – San Antonio) routes.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston initiative selected for DOE program developing hubs for clean energy innovation

community focus

Houston has been selected as one of the hubs backed by a new program from the United States Department of Energy that's developing communities for clean energy innovation.

The DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the the first phase of winners of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, Round 3. The local initiative is one of 23 incubators and accelerators that was awarded $150,000 to support programming for energy startups and entrepreneurs.

The Houston-based participant is called "Texas Innovates: Carbon and Hydrogen Innovation and Learning Incubator," or CHILI, and it's a program meant to feed startups into the DOE recognized HyVelocity program and other regional decarbonization efforts.

EPIC was launched to drive innovation at a local level and to inspire commercial success of energy startups. It's the third year of the competition that wraps up with a winning participant negotiating a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT worth up to $1 million.

“Incubators and Accelerators are uniquely positioned to provide startups things they can't get anywhere else -- mentorship, technology validation, and other critical business development support," DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT Vanessa Z. Chan says in a news release. “The EPIC program allows us to provide consistent funding to organizations who are developing robust programming, resources, and support for innovative energy startups and entrepreneurs.”

CHILI, the only participant in Texas, now moves on to the second phase of the competition, where they will design a project continuation plan and programming for the next seven months to be submitted in September.

where they’ll implement their programming and design a project continuation plan over the next 7 months. In September they will submit their plans with the hope of being selected to negotiate a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT, worth up to $1 million each.

Phase 2 also includes two national pitch competitions with a total of $165,000 in cash prizes up for grabs for startups. The first EPIC pitch event for 2024 will be in June at the 2024 Small Business Forum & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last fall, the DOE selected the Gulf Coast's project, HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, as one of the seven regions to receive a part of the $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The hub was announced to receive up to $1.2 billion — the most any hub will get.


The DOE's OTT selections are nationwide. Photo via energy.gov

Law firm's Houston office expands energy expertise

new hire

Leading adviser to energy companies, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, has announced a new energy transactions partner in the firm’s Houston office.

Ian Goldberg will advise clients on various energy transactions, which will include project development, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, and financial transactions that will involve oil and gas assets, energy transition investments and rare earth mineral deposits.

He previously led the energy transactions practice at Hunton Andrews Kurth.

“Akin has a top-tier integrated platform across the entire energy value chain,” Goldberg says in a news release.” I’m excited to be joining a growing and dynamic team.”

He will be joining recent additions to Akin’s energy practice that include projects & energy transition partners Ike Emehelu (New York), Alex Harrison, Matt Hardwick and Dan Giemajner (London), energy regulatory partners Emily Mallen and Stephen Hug (Washington, D.C.), tax equity partner Sam Guthrie (Washington, D.C.) and projects & energy transition partner Vanessa Richelle Wilson (Washington, D.C.)..

“Ian adds depth to our energy team with extensive experience in the onshore and offshore upstream and midstream sectors, and his current representation of clients in the carbon capture, utilization & storage and hydrogen spaces further strengthens our growing projects & energy transition practice,” corporate practice co-head Zachary Wittenberg adds in the release.