August 14, 2023 - TRA Commentary -
BNSF Railway recently pulled back from plans to develop a needed 950-acre logstics park in the small North Texas town of Gunter after outcries from some of the 2,250 locals that didn't want to live near train yards.
Plans for the high-speed passenger rail line linking Dallas and Houston, in "hibernation" since last year after a long and costly fight, had been stymied by landowners over a 100-foot wide dirt footprint needed for the 240 mile bullet train.
We all want viable transportation choices for moving people and goods in Texas so we can enjoy a good quality of life, be able to access what we need and move around freely. That progress does come with a pricetag however, whether it be economic, social or environmental.
When important projects in a fast-growing state like Texas get delayed, cancelled or changed, that cost will keep escalating when Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) groups hold important projects hostage because of personal agendas. The NIMBY's have started to come out of the woodwork again to claim that the high-speed private rail project will never be completed and if it is Texas taxpayers will somehow be screwed to pay for it. We'll name some of those near the end of this commentary and you'll read about them in future news stories as well.
Railroads, like electric and water utility companies, as well as pipeline companies have eminent domain authority under Texas law. That was upheld in 2022 when the Texas Supreme Court acknowledged that Texas Central Railway was indeed a railway and could acquire land needed for a project to link two of the largest population centers in the U.S. with fast, frequent passenger trains. BNSF and other freight railroad companies have the same right when it is a project that is beneficial for the public good.
The cost of that protracted high-speed railway fight from local to district to state courts has now driven the Texas Central project up from the billion-teens to an estimated $30 billion dollar range. Does that make it too costly to build? Is that what detractors wanted as an outcome, to force the principals to fold? Or will new life with a recent announcement of a pending Texas Central / Amtrak partnership help to move the project over the finish line with investors and bring a world class rail line to Texas?
Will over-the-road commerce in North Texas, already strained wth a highway system that won't meet future needs be subject to endless lines of trucks because our freight rail terminals can't handle the load? Will railroads like BNSF, Union Pacific, CPKC and even Texas Short Line railroads be shut out of developing the land resources they need to bring us the products we require?
Not to say we don't have sympathy for anyone affected by change, but the fact of life is that our state is a fast-growing magnet for business and industry and we are attracting newcomers from all over the country that want to share in the wealth that Texas is delivering. We need good passenger and freight rail lines to serve our major corridors and we need them NOW.
You should be aware that those against high-speed rail in Texas are out and about again with the same rhetoric they have used for the last decade. This includes some landowners affected by the 100-foot-wide path the railroad requires, a couple of rural county judges and well as some what we would call state and federal "limosine legislators" that are opposed to change and don't see the big picture how Texas is expanding by leaps and bounds.
Detactors have claimed in the past that the company was a Japanese takeover of Texas, that no one will ride a high-speed train from Dallas to Houston (or to the mid-point stop for Aggieland), that land needed would be miles wide, that the private company wouldn't divulge proprietary information (and why should they?), that Amtrak is a money-pit, that cows along the right-of-way won't give milk, and so on and so forth.
Just do a search on our website for Texas Central and learn why we need transportation options. Texas will be in a state of gridlock if we only plan for the future with more asphalt and concrete highways. More trucks, more cars on the road with few transportation options. Is that what we really want?
There is overwhelming strong support in North Texas and Houston-wide communities that want to be connected by high-speed trains. The North Central Texas Council of Governments is even planning an extension of the Dallas-Houston bullet train to make its way to the mid-cities and Fort Worth where it could connect with high-speed rail service on the I-35 corridor some day. The business community in Houston sees this project as a positive outcome.
However, change has to be beneficial for both those affected by the outcomes and for those who want to make our state grow and stay strong. Texas Central was willing to pay above market price for the parcels of land needed to build their project, much more than TxDOT would ever pay when it needs land for a highway project. Those affected in the path of progress need to have their voices heard and objections addressed and their issues mitigated whenver possible.
But this project needs to move ahead.
The Texas Central project is at the 10-yard line in the 4th quarter. After years of studies, public meetings and hoopla, the path forward has been environmentaly cleared by the Federal Railroad Administration. The investors and contractors need to be lined up and ready to roll. The Texas Central-Amtrak partnership does not need to conduct any more extensive further studies. The partnership needs to be ready to move forward with a single voice and prove to the Surface Transportation Board that this project is viable and is ready for prime time construction.
Your support of this project can make a difference. Tell it to your elected State Representative and State Senator. https://wrm.capitol.texas.gov/home
We don't need excuses why this can't be done. This is Texas and we can do it. Build it and they will ride.
Photo credit: Network Rail