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How high-speed rail died in Texas, thrived in Spain

(The following appeared on the Miller-McCune website on June 8, 2011.)

Once upon a time there was sharp controversy in Spain over a plan for a high-speed rail line from Madrid to somewhere in Andalusia, which lies southeast of the capital, toward Morocco. Critics derided it as “train to Africa,” meaning no one would ride it, anticipating the “train to nowhere” jokes about bullet trains in California.

And when then-Prime Minister Felípe González finally routed it to his hometown of Seville, the Andalusian capital, critics called it a vanity project for the ruling class, which would ride on the backs of the Spanish people.

This was in the late ’80s and early ’90s. At the same time, an ambitious plan in Texas for bullet trains to link the state’s main cities had enough support that a special consortium called the Texas TGV was trying to drum up private investment.

By 1992, the Madrid-Seville line was finished, at great expense. It now makes up the first half of Spain’s huge, and hugely popular, AVE (Alto Velocidád Española; ave in Spanish means “bird”) system. The bullet trains run through the center of Spain from Andalusia to Madrid to Valencia, and they’ve revolutionized a previously decrepit rail system in less than 20 years.

The TGV in Texas, meanwhile, folded in 1993. What killed it was not just a lack of private investment but also Southwest Airlines, the Dallas-based carrier, which noticed a threat to its home turf and launched a “sweeping, aggressive public relations campaign throughout the state to discredit TGV and prevent the company from meeting its fundraising deadlines,” according to the Austinist website.

Full story: The Miller-McCune website

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

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