February 21, 2017 – TRA Newswire – Updated

A group of rural state lawmakers have filed a slate of legislation to push back against Texas Central Railway’s proposal to construct a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston.

Senators Birdwell (R-Granbury), Creighton (R-Conroe), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Perry (RLubbock), and Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined with Representatives Ashby (R-Lufkin), Bell (RMagnolia), Cook (R-Corsicana), Schubert (R-Caldwell), and Wray (R- Waxahachie) to file a total of 18 bills on issues of eminent domain to ensuring the state isn’t later forced to bail out the private project with taxpayer dollars.

Texas Rail Advocates Executive Director Chris Lippincott, in response to the filing of bills to kill the high speed train project said “today’s bills opposing the development of bullet trains in Texas are as unsurprising as it is disappointing. Adding more government bureaucracy will damage efforts to build the train infrastructure Texans want. Our Legislature should be in the business of expanding transportation options and embracing innovation. We hope legislators don’t fall victim to a vocal minority who would have our state bury its head in the sand by ignoring our growing population and clogged roads. Texas deserves better.”

A rural State Representative, Leighton Schubert, said “this group of foreign investors is threatening to seize family farms, physically divide the state of Texas, and have a gravely detrimental impact on the citizens I represent. At a minimum, the people of Texas deserve reasonable reassurances that their private property rights will be respected and that they will not be left holding the bag if this ill-conceived project fails.”

Holly Reed, managing director of external affairs for Texas Central replied to the flurry of bill with a statement. “Contrary to the national focus on infrastructure projects that stand to create tens of thousands of jobs and benefit millions of people, it is ironic that the proposed legislation calls for more government regulation in trying to block a free market led project that will create jobs and generate economic development.”

“Since the proposed high-speed rail project stretches across Texas, we need to make sure all of the necessary data and research has been completed to ensure private property rights are being protected.” said Senator Charles Perry, a key member of the Senate Transportation Committee.

“It is not a railroad, and therefore, it does not have eminent domain authority.” added Representative Byron Cook, Chairman of the House State Affairs Committee which oversees most eminent domain legislation. “If any train were ultimately to be built, the idea of using a proprietary Japanese technology that is incompatible with other rail technologies used in our state is very problematic. If this initiative is eventually approved, Texas must require a fully vetted, statewide master plan that involves the Texas Department of Transportation.”

Representative Cecil Bell, Jr. remarked “without taxpayer dollars, the project in Texas is on track to fail. My bill would require that at the beginning of such a project, the company take steps to ensure the restoration of this beautiful part of rural Texas if the project ceases to operate.”

The group Texans Against High Speed Rail (TAHSR) has spearheaded the protest to the high speed train railroad. Kyle Workman, spokesman for TAHSR, said he remains confident in the work put forth by elected officials. “All of these offices, and many more of their colleagues, have been engaged with our team to make sure that the voices of their constituents are heard loud and clear.” said Workman. “We’re happy to have these Senators and State Representatives on our team as we make progress against the high-speed rail train.”

These are the bills filed 2/21/17:

SB 973 by Creighton/HB 2168 by Bell (Railroad Determination Before Surveys) – prohibits a highspeed rail entity from entering private property to conduct a survey unless the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) first determines that the surveying entity is, in fact, a railroad.

SB 974 by Creighton/HB 2181 by Cook (Option Contract Protection) – voids any high-speed rail option contracts held by a high-speed rail entity upon a bankruptcy initiated by or against the entity.

SB 975 by Birdwell/HB 2169 by Schubert (Security Requirements) – provides a framework of minimum security requirements to be followed during the construction and operation of a private highspeed rail line. Requires the high-speed rail authority to coordinate security efforts with state and local law enforcement, as well as disaster response agencies.

SB 977 by Schwertner/HB 2172 by Ashby (No Taxpayer Bailout) – prohibits the legislature from appropriating new funds, or allowing state agencies to utilize existing funds, to pay any costs related to a the construction, maintenance, or operation of a private high-speed rail in Texas.

SB 978 by Schwertner/HB 2104 by Bell (Property Restoration Bond) – requires a private high-speed rail entity to file a bond with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sufficient to restore property used for the rail service to the property’s original conditions if the service ceases operation.

SB 979 by Schwertner/HB 2179 by Cook (Right of Repurchase for Non-HSR Use) – prohibits an entity that operates or plans to operate a high-speed rail from using property acquired for purposes other than high-speed rail. If the high-speed rail authority doesn’t use the property for that specific purpose, the original landowner must be given opportunity to repurchase the land.

SB 980 by Schwertner/HB 2167 by Schubert (Put Texas First) – prohibits any state money from being used for any purpose related to a privately owned high-speed rail, unless the state acquires and maintains a lien in order to secure the repayment of state funds. Requires that the state’s lien be superior to all other liens, effectively making Texas a priority creditor.

SB 981 by Kolkhorst/HB 2162 by Wray (Interoperability) – requires an entity constructing a highspeed rail line in Texas to demonstrate compatibility with more than one type of train technology.

SB 982 by Perry/HB 2173 by Ashby (High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study) – upon request of a legislator, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must generate a feasibility study of a proposed high-speed rail project. The study must indicate whether the project is for a public use, whether it will be financially viable, and what impact of the project will have on local communities.