The calls to kill a $10 billion dollar high speed rail project in Texas seemed to come fast and furious.... until now.
In a news story Monday, April 4 in the Waco Tribune Waco and McLennan County leaders came out in support of Texas Central Railway and their project to link Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes with ultra-fast trains. These futuristic-leaning officials said it would lay the groundwork for a larger network that would someday reach Waco.
McLellan County Judge Scott Felton was quoted as saying that Texas Central Railway would “set an example” for future high-speed rail in Texas, hopefully including a separate line from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio to relieve Interstate 35 headaches. “Transportation is a very important issue,” he said. “I spent Friday afternoon trying to get to Austin, and it took more than four hours to get to the northwest side of Austin. I’d pay plenty not to have to do that.”
The top state office holder, Governor Abbott, and all other high level state officials have been strangely silent about support for the plan that would create over 10 thousand construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs once trains are running. It's expected that Texas Central would boost the Texas economy by $36 billion dollars and would show a strong tax benefit for all counties in its path. The project would be privately funded and not dependent on state or federal grants.
Texas Central has indicated that the rail line would follow electric utility corridors for most of the 240 mile route with a 100 foot wide right-of-way next to the tall electric power line towers. The private company has indicated that it would only use eminent domain rights as a last resort and is free to compensate landowners at a higher rate than if the state build a roadway or railroad.
In the past 12 months we have had a few Texas Senators and Representatives from rural counties between Dallas and Houston try to derail the bullet train project with legislation during the past session in Austin. All attempts failed at least this time. Conservative Georgetown Senator Charles Schwertner placed a rider in the Texas state budget that would have prohibited TxDOT from even talking with Texas Central about the project. The Brazos Valley Council of Governments and the Heart of Texas Council of Governments passed resolutions to kill it. Transportation leaders in Austin didn't do Texas Central any favors either. Texas Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) who Chairs the Transportation Committee voted in favor of a bill which would have stopped Texas Central while House Transportation Chair Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) expressed his concern that the bullet train would ever be built. Not a glowing recommendation for a private company to invest in the Lone Star state.
Some legislators such as Texas Senator Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) were actually for high speed rail before it became fashionable to be against it. A group called Texans Against High Speed Rail hired a Dallas attorney and organized meetings in counties up and down the corridor to fight Texas Central. One of the leaders of the anti-rail group, Grimes County Judge Ben Lehman, even convinced the Aggie Student Senate to issue a resolution opposing the high speed line when there would be a Bryan-College Station / Huntsville rail stop that would benefit the university students. Texans Against High Speed Rail have already filed lawsuits against the Texas Attorney General and TxDOT to find out proprietary information about the private project (that's like asking Coca-Cola to divulge what ingredients are in their syrup) .
But watch out! The nay-sayers are just getting warmed up. Expect the anti-rail rant to build leading up to the next legislative session that starts in January 2017. Expect more bills to be filed against Texas Central. Expect lawsuits to fly. Mis-information to rein supreme.
If you believe that Texas should come out of third world rail status and get into the 21st century, you can do some things to help. Go to www.TimeToRideTX.com and send a message to your elected leaders. If enough of you do, they might just pay attention. Another is write a letter to the editor of your local paper and express the need for a modern transportation system for our state. Get your friends involved. Call your state senator or representative. If investors see that Texas is a hostile state for building a world-class passenger rail line it will leave the state with one long term transportation black eye.