April 18, 2021 - TexasTribune.com podcast -
Texas Senate Transportation Chair Robert Nichols (R) Jacksonville, interviewed by Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith on his Point of Order podcast this week, did not speak highly of public transportation as an important component of moving people in the future throughout the Lone Star state.
In the podcast Nichols was keen on any potential federal infrastructure funding for rebuilding roads and bridges, on new electric and autonomous cars, airports and ports but had no positive statements to say about public transportation and, as he has in the past, dismissed the idea of bringing high speed rail to Texas.
About federal plans to double the investment in public transit Nichols said "we have some public transit but the great bulk of the mass transit money will go to the East Coast. We'll get just a tiny fraction of that."
Another $80 billion dollars is proposed to strengthen the Amtrak national network and Amtrak wants to add more services between DFW, Austin and San Antonio and also between San Antonio and Houston in the company vision for 2035. Nichols answered Smith's question about Amtrak by saying "they're taking our tax money from all over the nation and they're putting in that program and hardly anybody rides it. I rode on it one time myself and I chose not to ride on it again. That's not going to help Texas".
Amtrak reported that even with their skeletonized Texas service, total state station usage in fiscal year 2019 accounted for 363,873 passengers. Fort Worth Central Station had the highest count with over 107,000 passengers passing through.
CEO Smith noted that over 1,000 new Texans move to the state every day and one scenario shows 54 million residents will make the state their home by 2050.
When asked about high speed rail Nichols continued to have no enthusiasm as he does for other modes of transportation. "It's a matter of how much you want to spend to build it, " said Nichols. "How do you maintain and operate it and break even or even make a profit? I don't think anybody can show me high speed rail that is not subsidized. We're all gonna have to pay for it even if you don't ride." Nichols, who comes from Cherokee County in rural East Texas said that all rural members will stick together. "The only benefit for rural landowners will be the privilege of watching a train go by".
Full podcast interview: https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/13/point-order-king-road/