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UT Arlington study shows high-speed rail trip to Houston could take less than two hours

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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A UT Arlington feasibility study of high-speed rail in Texas shows that trips between most city pairs that use existing Texas Department of Transportation right-of-way can be made in less than two hours, making it competitive with air travel and superior to highway driving.

Stephen Mattingly

Stephen Mattingly, associate professor of Civil Engineering.

Steve Mattingly, a UT Arlington civil engineer who conducted the case study, evaluated routes between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio, San Antonio and Houston, and Houston and Waco. He also investigated a high-speed rail stop in Austin. The case study also examined dedicated freight service in the designated corridors.

Mattingly found that each of the routes – which include Interstates 20, 35 and 45 and Texas 6 – could contain the high-speed rail within existing TxDOT right of way, which would greatly reduces the capital cost of building the system.

“Using existing right of way not only helps bring down the total cost of the project, but it also shortens the time in which the project can realistically be built,” Mattingly said. “Right-of-way land negotiations would be kept to a minimum. Environmental and community impacts would be minimal as well.”

A private company, Texas Central Railway, has been working to bring a high-speed rail line between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston by 2021.

TxDOT awarded a contract to Mattingly in 2010 to conduct the feasibility study of the corridors for high-speed rail. The University of Texas at Austin, the University of North Texas and Texas Southern University also participated in the TxDOT study.

Mattingly said TxDOT faced significant impediments against right-of-way acquisition when the state began plans for developing the Trans-Texas Corridor. He said the agency wanted to avoid that conflict as much as possible this time.

Ali Abolmaali, chairman of UT Arlington’s Civil Engineering Department, said Mattingly’s work will help shape important high-speed rail decisions that will affect Texans and Texas travellers for decades to come.

“Dr. Mattingly’s case study in these corridors shows planning agencies and potential investors that high-speed rail can successfully be developed in Texas and that it can be a significant, alternate transportation corridor,” Abolmaali said. “The UT Arlington Department of Civil Engineering is pleased to offer our expertise and help shape these important transit corridor decisions.”

Mattingly’s case study found that steel wheel, high-speed rail technology would be the least expensive, but that magnetic levitation technology could alleviate some concerns related to horizontal curves and constrained urban right-of-way and interchanges along the routes.

The study said 186-mph versions of both technologies, the high-speed steel wheel and maglev, could be built within existing TxDOT right of way.  However, the steel wheel-steel rail technology would require significant braking at most curves in the right-of-way while the maglev would be able to operate at its maximum operating speed a significant proportion of the route.

While the UT Arlington case study didn’t pinpoint exact costs of a high-speed rail system for Texas, it did outline some possible funding mechanism to support construction, including federal involvement, state and local funds, tax increment financing districts and public/private partnerships.

Mattingly said the study’s findings showed that stations or depots could be located within existing TxDOT right of way but could cramp highway access and space for vehicles. The study did not recommend station locations, but it did say that central locations with access to other transport modes and locations near densely populated areas are preferred because they can encourage ridership.

Sia Ardekani, UT Arlington civil engineering professor, was co-principal investigator. Doctoral candidate Sunil Madanu, Faculty Research Associate Antonio Massidda and doctoral student Farhan Khan also provided support for the studies.

Mattingly joined UT Arlington in 2002 and has engaged in research supported by TxDOT, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the National Science Foundation, the Federal Aviation Administration and DFW Airport.

Mattingly’s work is representative of research excellence at The University of Texas at Arlington, a comprehensive institution of more than 33,300 students and 2,200 faculty members in the heart of North Texas. Visit to learn more.


The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.