August 29, 2017 – TRA Commentary –

Not satisfied with his earlier anti-Texas bullet train rants and filings, Congressman Kevin Brady (R) Conroe, has filed an amendment to the Omnibus Appropriations Bill to derail the project. And we always thought that Brady, a conservative free-market thinker, would have embraced a private company (NOT a government built project) bringing high speed rail to Texas. Gee, were we ever wrong about this guy!

August 25th was the final day for submission of amendments and Brady’s insertion stated that “none of the funds made available by this Act may be used for high-speed rail in the State of Texas for the development or construction of high-speed rail with non-interoperable technology, nor may any be used by the  Federal Railroad Administration to administer a grant or loan agreement for the development or construction of high-speed rail with non-interoperable technology.”   AMENDMENT TO DIVISION H OF THE RULES COMMITTEE PRINT 115-31
OFFERED BY MR. BRADY OF TEXAS.

The non-interoperable technology argument was previously used in an unsuccessful bill filed during the Texas state legislative session earlier this year. Brady is now apparently trying to make a run with the amendment at the federal level during budget discussions. Hanging in the balance is a $10-15 billion dollar private enterprise project that would employ 10,000 workers to build the high speed rail line between Houston and Dallas and the 1,000 some permanent jobs once the two-track electrified line is built. Add to that the private company said it would not accept state of federal handouts.

So what is the big deal about non-interoperability?

The U.S. has zero experience operating or building true high speed trains and we must import the technology, whether it comes from Japan, France, Germany, Asia or elsewhere.  That’s the sad fact. Our leaders have turned a blind eye to high speed rail and that’s why the private sector is stepping in to fill the gap to build and operate the trains. Union Pacific and BNSF Railway don’t want to run high speed trains and Amtrak has no funding to do it. That leaves private investors with a vision to take up the challenge.

What Congressman Brady doesn’t understand is that the track gauge (the distance between the two rails) is standard in the U.S so any type of passenger or freight car could operate on those tracks if agreements were forged between operators. Check one box for interoperability.  The line would be electrified so it could handle either electric or diesel powered locomotives and equipment that is in common use today. Check off box #2 for playing nice in the sandbox. And then there’s the signaling and dispatching of trains. That can be handled under new Positive Train Control or Crash Avoidance technology. That’s good to check off box #3.

So if Texas Central Railway, the railroad that will build the Dallas-Houston bullet train, wanted to forge agreements with other operators or entities, they could. Or, since it’s a free-market driven private enterprise project, Congressman Brady, they could tell others who wanted to use their railroad to take a hike. Isn’t that what free enterprise allows? And that’s exactly what any railroad operating in the U.S. can do today.

Brady’s amendment goes on to state “None of the funds made available by this Act shall be used by the Surface Transportation Board to take any actions with respect to the construction of a high speed rail project in Texas with non-interoperable technology unless the permit is issued by the Board with respect to the project in its entirety.

We understand the resistance of some landowners against the bullet train but the majority of Texans now live between I-35 and I-45 from North Texas to South Texas. That’s where the transportation needs exist. Connecting two major metropolitan areas with a bullet train that would cover 240 miles in 90 minutes would bring 21st century technology to a state starving for transportation options.

Is Brady, who is up for re-election again next year, trying to look good for a small but vocal part of his constituency by showing he’s a tough guy that can kill a $10-15 billion dollar private enterprise project? Or is he just wasting our tax dollars with a frivolous amendment to delay or kill the project? You make the call.

The rules committee will be conducting a meeting to determine the rules the week of September 4, 2017. We will not know what amendments have been submitted until after the rule is published. Stay tuned.

One final thought: According to plans, the bullet train is to be elevated above ground on it’s approach to the Houston area. If the bullet train was already built and in operation today how many people could have been safely evacuated from the Houston floods and brought to safety? Something Congressman Brady should think about the next time there is a hurricane brewing.