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Texas Central opponents see an opportunity

Never waste an opportunity.

Examination of a planned high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas should be halted as the country addresses the new coronavirus pandemic and the company rethinks its financial shape, 30 elected officials in Texas told federal regulators.

In two separate letters to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, 28 state lawmakers and two members of Congress said work by the Federal Railroad Administration on the Texas Central Railway project — which has faced stiff opposition for six years even as Dallas and Houston officials showed support — should stop entirely.

“It has become clear Texas Central simply does not have the financial resources required or expertise employed to continue with this project,” state lawmakers, led by state Rep. Ben Leman, R-Anderson, wrote. “To proceed otherwise would be an inexcusable waste of taxpayer dollars and jeopardizes the integrity of the rules making process.”

Leman, a long-time critic of the project which rural residents have assailed as a boondoggle that will ruin the Texas countryside and never be financially sound, said the aim of the letter is to stop all analysis of the project’s safety procedures and environmental effects, which the FRA has been working on since 2014 with Texas Central. Federal regulators must approve the safety of the trains — unlike any other trains in the United States — and apply federal soil, air, noise and species protection rules to the construction and operations.

Texas Central last month said COVID-19’s effect on financial markets could impact the project, tightening its ability to secure the $15 billion or more necessary to build a 240-mile sealed corridor along a utility alignment between Houston and Dallas. Global response to the pandemic hits every sector of the company’s plans, which rely on Japanese trains, a Spanish rail operator and engineering from Italy. Within Texas, the company has laid off 28 employees.

It was also last month, right before the coronavirus shit hit the fan, that Texas Central was expressing hope they would begin construction this year. That sure seems like a no-go at this point, regardless of what effect this may have on their finances. As far as that goes, I would expect the process would take into account the financial solvency of the firm in question – certainly, Metro’s finances were closely scrutinized during its journey to get funds for the light rail expansion – so I don’t see why this would carry any more weight than that. This seems more like a signal from the prominent bullet train opponents to their supporters that they’re still out there fighting the good fight than anything else, but you never know.

Speaking of which, the signers of this epistle are for the most part the usual suspects who have opposed the high speed rail line all along. The two names on there that caught my eye are Rep. Tom Oliverson, whose HD130 in northwest Harris County would be on the path of the train, and Sen. Joan Huffman, the one legislator in there from a mostly urban area. I’d think at least a few of her constituents might actually want to ride this thing some day, so my eyebrows went up a notch upon seeing her name. Make of that what you will. The DMN has more.

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8 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    Why anyone supports this project is beyond me. It isn’t green – it will never even overcome the energy to build the tracks.

    Texas Central are obvious liars – there is no way that 60-90% of people driving I45 will opt for the train instead. The highest diversion rate is 18% in Spain, and Houston does not have a robust transportation system.

    If anyone is trying to take advantage of the coronavirus, it’s the FRA, trying to push telephonic meetings on the RPA instead of waiting until it is safe to have public meetings. There is no rush, Texas Central has no money.

  2. Jules says:

    “ As far as that goes, I would expect the process would take into account the financial solvency of the firm in question – certainly, Metro’s finances were closely scrutinized during its journey to get funds for the light rail expansion – so I don’t see why this would carry any more weight than that.”

    Your expectations are wrong. Nobody, not the FRA, not the STB, not you, has taken a look at Texas Central’s secret financial plans. While the FRA did use financial excuses to eliminate routes Texas Central did not want, it then completely dropped financial considerations from the DEIS.

    The DEIS didn’t even examine the ridership report, just took Texas Central’s word for a few select numbers.

    Leman and them are the ones looking out for us.

  3. Jules says:

    https://www.bizjournals.com/dallas/news/2020/04/15/texas-central-high-speed-rail.html?fbclid=IwAR3UyDmx694CCOYnfXYmiqbUEcFNgfof2nE02Bd4i33A3xJOuuacY0iG__o

    This is a fairly comprehensive article on the project.

    I really don’t understand how people don’t understand that others don’t want to give up their land for a doomed project. Yes, it would make money for certain investors even while going bankrupt (think Trump casino) but is a terrible project on all levels.

  4. Adoile Turner III says:

    I’m very pro transit big infrastructure, so this project was very much one i wanted to see through to fruition but as the years have gone by i’m starting to think they’re fleecing Austin into what they’re really doing because according to them it was supposed to be done next year and what nothing but that same Alignment map and and a few schematics of a hub in Dallas and Houston. Let me go draw some posters up to scam tons of investors, dozens out of their land and get eminent domain rights from the state since it’s that easy.

  5. C.L. says:

    Jules, this whole high speed train thing sure does seem to be rubbing you the wrong way/stuck in your craw. Why the hate ?

  6. Jules says:

    A long time ago, they said my neighborhood would be a great place for a train station, so I actually learned about the project, instead of just reading Texas Central Press releases that the Chronicle pretends are articles.

    The FRA told them that my neighborhood was not actually a great place for a train station, but I have still kept up with the project.

    The ridership projections are ridiculously overstated, the DEIS is fatally flawed, and the project is an environmental nightmare.

    The DEIS has a $51 billion dollar error – it states that Texas Central will generate $51 billion dollars in sales tax from ticket sales – Texas does not levy sales tax on transportation.

    The DEIS also miscalculates vehicle miles traveled removed by using round trip miles instead of oneway miles, among other issues in their calculations. We will see if any of this is corrected in the EIS, but a supplemental/corrected DEIS should have been issued long ago for this issue and the sales tax issue.

    The city of Houston is poised to gift them tax breaks or infrastructure or something – Turner’s chief of staff used to work for Texas Central but has not recused herself from dealings with the project.

    It annoys me that people think it will be environmentally friendly, but even pre Corona real ridership projections show it would never recover the energy cost to build.

  7. C.L. says:

    So the hate stems from their press releases and ridership projections ?

    I don’t worry about the ‘environmental disaster’ aspect too much as almost every big development is an environmental disaster in one form or another.

  8. Jules says:

    No, because they threatened my house.

    And they are stupid lying idiots who tell stupid lying lies.