The state of the high speed rail line

A good long read from the Trib.

Private developer Texas Central Partners LLC plans to build a train that will shuttle people between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes along a 240-mile route roughly parallel to a highway corridor that normally takes four hours to drive. This new link between two of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation — home to roughly half of the state’s 28 million residents — will help create “a super economy” says Holly Reed, Texas Central’s managing director of external affairs.

Texas Central sees the line as a mammoth example of a private entity addressing an infrastructure demand that government agencies are increasingly unable to tackle — and a chance to hook Americans on an alternative to highways that’s long connected major cities in Asia and Europe.

“There’s no doubt once people ride this train, they will want trains like this to go other places,” Reed adds.

The company’s ambitious vision has arrived just as American cities are starting to grasp the detrimental side effects and financial unsustainability of car-centric infrastructure that’s dominated urban planning since the end of World War II.

Texas Central officials say they have raised and spent at least $125 million, of which at least $75 million has come from Texas investors and individuals. In September, the company announced that it secured an additional $300 million in loans from two Japanese entities. But before Texas Central can create an interstate high-speed network in the United States, it’s got to prove high-speed rail is viable in Texas. Even as the company pushes forward with development — and brings on construction and operations partners — it faces daunting hurdles.

The company is embroiled in legal and bureaucratic debates about whether a private company can use eminent domain, a process that allows entities to condemn land it needs for a project and forcibly buy it from owners who aren’t willing to sell.

At the state Capitol, the bullet train represents the collision of two things that Republicans — who control Texas government — hold dear: private property rights and an unrestrained free market. And for two legislative sessions in a row, the free market has largely come out on top. The project has emerged relatively unscathed after bills aimed at hamstringing or killing it failed to get much traction.

“Big business is a big deal in the state of Texas,” says Kyle Workman, who heads the grassroots opposition group Texans Against High-Speed Rail, an organization that has galvanized rural Texans to lobby local and state leaders to stop the project. Workman says they’ll keep trying when lawmakers reconvene in January.

The political debate is an outgrowth of a larger question confronting a state where most people now live in urban areas: How much should rural residents have to sacrifice to solve problems born in the cities they intentionally avoided or outright fled?

We’re all familiar with the outline of the debate, so read the story for some more details and personal experiences. I do have sympathy for the folks in the rural counties who are in the path of the rail line, but if we were talking about building a new highway, or expanding I-45, no one would blink an eye. I mean, look at how much got bulldozed and paved over during the Katy Freeway widening. There’s a great unmet need for transportation capacity in this state, and given a choice between building high speed rail lines and building more interstate highway lanes, I’ll pick the former 100% of the time. I wish there were a way to do this without taking someone’s property, but until we perfect Star Trek transporter technology, there won’t be. I don’t know what else there is to say.

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2 Responses to The state of the high speed rail line

  1. Jules says:

    The release of the EIS has been pushed back to late next year with the ROD now expected in March of 2020 – a delay of more than a year. This is not unexpected as the DEIS was full of careless errors like doubling the vehicle miles traveled removed which made every emissions calculation incorrect; and stating there would be $50 billion in sales tax generated from tickets – Texas does not levy sales tax on transportation.

    Texas Central’s ridership numbers are grossly exaggerated and even if they did meet their projections of 7.2 million riders a year, that is just a few weeks worth of riders on Japan’s one profitable line. Would the Tokiado line be successful if it only ran 4 weeks a year?

    The environmental disaster of the HSR is much greater than adding freeway lanes and at ridership projections from Reason (Reason shows their work, Texas Central does not), fewer than 1000 cars per day would be removed from I45. One thousand cars per day would have zero affect on freeway lanes.

    To say that no one would blink an eye about expanding I45 is just wrong. Here in First Ward many have worked hard to keep the upcoming work from destroying our neighborhood, as no doubt others have.

  2. Jules says:

    The FRA should rescind the DEIS since Texas Central is blasting bad data from it on their Facebook page, such as the HSR would save 81.5 million gallons of gasoline per year. Since this number is based on the doubled VMT removed, it is at best half of that.

    It’s terrible that the FRA is affording Texas Central another year to trumpet bad numbers – the 81.5 million gallons was used in an editorial by Ted Poe and a letter from Carol Alvarado to the STB.

    Our elected officials are forming and spreading opinions based on bad data.


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