April 4, 2016 - TRA Newswire - The Texas Senate Transportation Committee will hear five bills Wednesday morning that can either cripple or kill one of the largest transportation projects proposed for Texas. According to the private developer of the Texas Bullet Train project, Texas Central, the bills would kill tens of thousands of jobs, more than $10 billion of investment, economic development and billions in tax revenue to state and local entities. It would also deny Texans what they have been clamoring for – a safer, better alternative when traveling between North Texas and Houston. The five Senate bills (#975,977,97,980 and 981) are all authored by rural legislators among a slew of other bills filed this session against Texas Central building a 100 foot wide right-of-way, about the width of a two lane country road with shoulders, to run high speed trains between Dallas and Houston. The bullet train project is supported by many groups in North Texas and the Houston metro areas. Texas Central has supplied a link to those who are in favor of the bullet train project so that you can send a message directly to your elected officials: http://www.texascentral.com/advocate/dont-stop-the-bullet-train/ Here are the five bills to be brought before the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday morning, April 5. The Senate Transportation Committee is chaired by Senator Robert Nichols, who has not been a friend to passenger rail projects in the state. SB 975 (Senator Brian Birdwell - Austin office 512-463-0122) imposes several requirements related to the safety and security of high-speed passenger rail stations, including mandating the involvement of the DPS. Texas Rail Advocates opposes this bill because it requires redundant security measures that no other high speed rail project would require. Texas Central's take: As Texas plans multiple passenger rail systems, it’s important that the safety/security of these systems be coordinated and implemented according to the operating environment and needs of each carrier. SB 975 prohibits meaningful cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and the implementation of global best-practices intended to keep Texas train passengers safe.
SB 977 (Senator Charles Schwertner - Austin office 512-463-0105) would prohibit the legislature from appropriating money to pay for planning, facility construction or maintenance, or security for or operation of private passenger rail. It would also prohibit a state agency from receiving funds for these purposes and require a quarterly report of any expenses falling under these categories. Texas Rail Advocates opposes this bill because TXDOT is required to interact with any private company involved in transportation projects and to not have them in the loop on engineering, roadway intersections with railways and safety overview planning would potentially kill the bullet train project. Texas Central's take: A voter-approved constitutional amendment already prevents any dollars from the state fuel taxes from being used for anything other than roads and highways. Any state money intended for building high-speed rail facilities would have to be specifically appropriated and allocated by the Legislature. There is no appropriation in this state budget and there is no request for one. This bill is unnecessary now, but sets a bad precedent for future projects, which may need the state to play a helpful role.
SB 979 (Senator Charles Schwertner - Austin office 512-463-0105) would eliminate eminent domain for private high-speed rail companies and institute unique requirements for high-speed rail companies impacting all land purchased for high-speed rail, whether acquired by eminent domain or not. Texas Rail Advocates opposes this bill because it is specifically aimed at high speed rail and not any other form of transportation. It is designed to KILL any present or future high speed rail project in the state. Texas Central's take: While the project’s goal is not to have to use its eminent domain authority, and will only do so as a last resort, eminent domain was provided by the Legislature long ago to make possible the development of critical infrastructure. This authority, helped make possible a network of more than 10,000 miles of freight track and more than 1700 miles of passenger train infrastructure in Texas that contributes to our continued economic growth. This bill creates restrictions unique to high-speed trains and a new, unnecessary roadblock for Texas’ emerging high-speed train industry.
SB 980 (Senator Charles Schwertner - Austin office 512-463-0105) would require the state to acquire a lien or other security interest in property or other assets of a private high-speed rail entity receiving money, credit or guarantees from the state. Texas Rail Advocates opposes this bill because it it only aimed at high speed rail projects and no other form of transportation. Not highway projects, not airport projects, not waterway projects. Texas Central's take: This bill does not directly impact the Texas Central project or other rail projects not requiring a state grant or credit guarantee. For other projects around the state, however, it creates an unsolicited and potentially problematic partial foundation for how the state might participate as a co-owner or co-developer of a passenger rail project. SB 981 (Senator Lois Kolkhorst - Austin office 512-463-0118) would require high-speed train facilities constructed by private entities to be compatible with more than one type of technology. Texas Rail Advocates opposes this bill because high speed trains must operate on totally separate right of ways for safety reasons. You don't want high speed trains at ground level with railroad crossings interacting with cars and trucks. You don't want high speed trains mixing with freight rail traffic. This is a stupid bill designed to kill high speed rail projects. Texas Central's take: Rather than using the safest, most reliable high-speed train technology in the world, this bill would require Texas Central to water down its system to accommodate competitors’ trains, robbing it of the many safety features that are the hallmark of the world’s safest transportation mode – the Bullet Train.