September 30, 2023 - TRA Newswire -

(editor's note: Texas Rail Advocates addresses and debunks the letter. See below)

Two U.S. Congressman from Texas don't want to see a penny of proposed passenger rail funding used for grants to build a high-speed rail link between the Dallas-Fort Worth area and Houston.

In a  Sept. 28 letter to the Federal Railroad Administration,  Republicans Rep. Jake Ellzey and Rep. Michael McCaul said a joint grant application between Amtrak and Texas Central Railway should be rejected because of the potential use of federal backed funding.

This follows an announcement in August when Amtrak and TCR announced a potential partnership to revive the stalled bullet train project. The project finally got the nod from the Texas Supreme Court last year that grants the railroad eminent domain rights to acquire a narrow strip of land 240 miles long to connect the two mega-regions by fast train. The FRA had previously green-lighted Texas Central on the approved right-of-way. 

Texas Central, a private company, had previously said it might require Private Activity Bonds (PABs), issued by or on behalf of the government for part of their project. PAB's have been issued for many projects that carry special financing benefits. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) signed into law in November 2021 increased the available PAB authority from $15 billion to $30 billion.

The letter to FRA Administrator Amit Bose, opposes the proposed North Central Texas Council of Governments’ FY22 Corridor Identification Program application and three applications to the Federal Railroad Administration, submitted jointly by Amtrak and Texas Central Railroad.

Elzey and McCaul had previously filed objections trying to kill the high-speed TCR project, which is expected to run trains at 200 miles per hour on a 90-minute trip between Dallas and Houston. McCaul had even voted against funding for Amtrak's conventional national network that serves the Austin station within his district, and other nearby rural Texas towns. Ellzey has towed his party's line in voting against funding for Amtrak's Texas Eagle and Sunset Limited, even with a station serving McGregor/Waco, just outside his district boundary.

"What I don't understand is why these two Congressmen want to see conventional train service funding on the Texas Eagle cut to their constituents, citizens that are already underserved by transportation options and also turn down high-paying local jobs that would be created by building and operating a high-speed rail line," questioned Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "Texas is a business-friendly state and we are busting at the seams with growth, especially in the Texas Triangle. We need more transportation options like high-speed rail and more conventional passenger rail service. Sorry, but these two 'limousine legislators' are not attuned with the times and frankly, parts of their letter are not based on reality and they contain falsehoods." 

Here is the text of the letter to FRA Administrator Bose (with TRA debunking those comments in italics):

Letter: "If approved, these applications will result in taxpayer money being used by a private company to take private land from landowners through eminent domain. Landowners deserve to have their land rights protected against the unrealistic and financially infeasible rail project proposed to be funded through these applications.  By partnering with Texas Central, organized as a private limited liability corporation, Amtrak will funnel federal taxpayer money to a private corporation for what was initially proposed as an exclusively privately funded venture." (note: the Texas Supreme Court affirmed that Texas Central has eminent domain authority. The extent of a proposed partnership is yet to be solidified and the letter has no basis to judge it. Texas Central has had other agreements in place with Amtrak for several years now)

Letter: "The project has received fierce pushback from rural landowners as well as county and local governments along the proposed route.  Furthermore, despite initial public declaration and promises to be exclusively privately funded, Texas Central Railroad has been overwhelmed by costs and publicly stated it needs federal funding. Total estimated project costs have ballooned to over $30 billion. Additionally, Texas Central has yet to even apply for the myriad federal, state, and local permits required for a project of this scope." (note: The FRA has already approved the right-of-way for the high-speed line. Costs will continue to go up as rurals fight and delay the project. Texas Central has indicated it might seek Private Activity Bonds, as other major projects have done. The major obstacle to overcome will be approval from the Surface Transportation Board showing financial viability.) 

Letter: "Since 2009, when the project was first proposed, Texas Central has secured very few parcels of property and is attempting to acquire private property using eminent domain. It will exclusively run a type of train manufactured only in Japan using a unique track that is incompatible with any existing system in the United States. At its core, this project is intended to take land from American citizens and put it under the control of a Japanese company, which is itself subsidized using money from U.S. taxpayers." (note: Texas Central indicated that they have secured a number of parcels working with landowners happy to receive an offer larger than the state of Texas would allow for a highway through eminent domain. The track gauge is standard like other U.S. railroads and other trains and equipment could work on the same tracks. The thought of Texas Central being a Japanese company is ludicrous. It is a Texas company, registered in the U.S.) 

Letter: "For these reasons and many others not mentioned here, we respectfully request the Federal Railroad Administration deny the above-referenced North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) grant application as well as the three Amtrak/Texas Central grant applications." (note: the NCTCOG grant is for a 'Dallas to Fort Worth high-speed connector' that would eventually allow seamless travel between the two cities, and link to high-speed rail on the I-35 [DFW-Austin-San Antonio] and I-45 [DFW-Houston] corridors. Apparently the two Congressmen see the 'connector' as threat to their ploy to kill high-speed rail). 


Jake Ellzey, Member of Congress                             

Michael McCaul, Member of Congress