Updated April 11, 2020 - TRA Newswire -

A group of rural Texas state lawmakers are desperate to shut down construction of the state's first privately-financed high speed rail project as the days roll toward approval of the line between Dallas and Houston by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The rural lawmakers, unable to kill the high-speed rail line with dozens of bills filed in Austin for the past three sessions, have now signed a letter urging U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to stop the project.

In a rather odd comparison to the Coronavirus crisis, the letter stated that further dealings with Texas Central “is simply a waste of taxpayer dollars and resources ... that could otherwise be utilized combating the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“It’s intellectually dishonest to make the claims that these legislators are making,” said Rail Passengers President and CEO Jim Mathews. “This is a group of dyed-in-the-wool opponents who are dissatisfied with the normal public-participation process for assessing large projects and have now turned to disinformation and specious claims to try to get their way. Open discussion of pros and cons usually helps mitigate downsides while enhancing gains, and legitimate policy disagreements should be welcomed. But this goes well beyond disagreement. Projects should rise and fall on their merits, and the merits of the Texas Central project are considerable.”

Texas Central expected to get federal approval for the project this summer, before the virus pandemic. The current national and international situation may push back the start of construction.

The U.S.D.O.T. letter, which was written by State Representative Ben Leman said that the project developer, Texas Central, "“simply does not have the financial resources required or expertise employed to continue with this project." Leman has repeatedly tried to stop the high-speed rail line even before he was elected to the Texas House, when he was Grimes County Judge. The letter was signed by Texas Senator Lois Kolkhorst, Charles Schwertner of Georgetown and Representative Kyle Kacal of Bryan, all of whom have been active in trying to stop approval of the project.  “To proceed otherwise would be an inexcusable waste of taxpayer dollars and jeopardizes the integrity of the rules making process at the Federal Railroad Administration,” according to the letter that the lawmakers signed.

The Rule now under consideration has been in the works since 2016, developed by an FRA working group and later examined and refined by the FRA Railroad Safety Advisory Committee’s Passenger Rail Working Group, of which CEO Mathews is a member. It’s designed to clear the way for the high-speed train’s unique equipment and operating model to run in the U.S. where current standards are only written for conventional systems operating on shared right-of-way with freight railroads. Although FRA in September approved Texas Central’s petition to issue an RPA, the full text of the proposed RPA was posted last month for 60 days of public comment.

Texas Central furloughed 28 employees in March due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar indicated the project would be delayed because they are dealing with world-wide companies and partners based in Japan, Spain and Italy. Aguilar said “unfortunately, like many other companies and organizations around the world, we have been forced to make hard decisions in an effort to make the best use of our current funding,”Our core team of experts and planners remain actively engaged and prepared to move this project forward when we have our permits and the financial markets have stabilized.”

The company said in previous statements that they are not seeking state or federal subsidies for the $20 billion project, which was expected to be open in 2026, whisking passengers at 200 miles an hour between the two major metropolitan areas in just 90 minutes.

The high speed rail project is opposed by a well-financed non-profit organization called Texans Against High Speed Rail. Many of the legislators named in the letter have had close ties to the anti-high speed rail group.

Texas Rail Advocates estimates that the cost to Texas taxpayers for the dozens of bills filed by anti-high speed rail lawmakers over the past six years may well run into millions of dollars. That would include figuring Austin staff and legislators time, hearings on bills, as well as not allowing more urgent state bills to be heard, passed and enacted into law.
TRA is asking interested citizens that want to see high-speed rail in Texas to read the FRA rulemaking on safety standards https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/03/10/2020-03521/texas-central-railroad-high-speed-rail-safety-standards#h-9 and then post a positive statement at https://www.regulations.gov/searchResults?rpp=25&po=0&s=FRA-2019-0068&fp=true&ns=true

Here is the list of rural Texas elected officials that have signed on to the latest letter to stop Texas Central from building the nation's first high-speed rail line:

State Rep. Ben Leman (R) Anderson
State Rep Cecil Bell (R) Magnolia
State Rep Will Metcalf (R) Conroe
State Rep Tom Oliverson (R) Cypress
State Rep Steve Toth (R) The Woodlands
State Rep Dustin Burrows (R) Lubbock (not even close to the proposed line)
State Rep Kyle Kacal (R) College Station
State Rep Mike Lang (R) Granbury (not on the route of the proposed line)
State Senator Brandon Creighton (R) Conroe
State Senator Joan Huffman (R) Houston
State Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R) Brenham