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High speed rail opponents go to Congress

Here’s a press release from Texans Against High Speed Rail:

Lawmakers in Austin who represent thousands of Texans along the proposed Dallas Houston high-speed rail project being promoted by Texas Central Railway (TCR) have officially requested opposition to the project from the Texas delegation in Washington, DC. With an application to the federal level Surface Transportation Board (STB) likely, all five state senators and nine state house members who represent the areas between Dallas and Houston called on the federal delegation representing those areas to preemptively oppose any application for public convenience and necessity by the high-speed rail company at the STB.

Texas State Senators Brian Birdwell, Brandon Creighton, Lois Kolkhorst, Robert Nichols and Charles Schwertner, as well as State Representatives Trent Ashby, Cecil Bell, Jr., Byron Cook, Kyle Kacal, Mark Keough, Will Metcalf, John Raney, Leighton Schubert and John Wray, signed the April 10 letter siting TCR’s intent to use eminent domain to acquire land, loss of property value, project viability concerns and widespread opposition as their reasons for opposing the proposed bullet train.

“For the rural counties impacted by the proposed routes, this project would only serve as a detriment. Although rural counties may benefit from a few jobs during the construction phase, the long-term costs far outweigh any temporary benefit. This project holds real consequences for rural constituents, their property and their livelihoods. Private property interests will be taken by eminent domain. Farm and ranchland, often held by families for generations, will be divided, creating a loss in access and a loss in revenue for those who rely on farming and ranching to make a living. The value of nearby land will decrease due to sight, noise and restricted use of property caused by the high-speed rail.”

The letter went on to state, “We appreciate any assistance you can provide in opposing any TCR application at the STB…As duly-elected officials representing our constituents at the federal level, each of you has a unique opportunity to have an impact on this project before it is unilaterally advanced by the appointees who comprise the STB.”

The federal government is your enemy until you need it to do something for you, I guess. The link comes via Rodger Jones of the DMN, who analyzes it thusly:

What that tells me is this: These 14 rural lawmakers who oppose high-speed rail in Texas fear they’ll fall short of blocking the project in the Legislature, so now they’ve opened up a second front. That makes a better show of things for the folks back home.

Even if Sen. Lois Kolkhorst gets her rail-killing SB 1601 through the Senate, it would have to survive the choke-points in the House.

I agree with his view of the prospects for Sen. Kolkhorst to get her bill passed. The fact that two Republicans on the committee, both from the Metroplex, suggested this would be a tough fight for her, as she couldn’t simply count on partisan advantage.

If you follow this link from Jones’ piece, it’s about the invocations by rail opponents of the much-hated Trans Texas Corridor. While there are some parallels between these two projects, there are some major differences as well, with the amount of right-of-way needed – about 100 feet for Texas Central Railway versus nearly 1000 feet for the TTC – being a key one. I have some sympathy for these rural counties, as there’s not much the Texas Central Railway project will do for them, but I don’t care for fearmongering. To address the allegations that high speed rail opponents have been making, TCR released Texas Central Rumor vs Reality, which is included in Jones’ post. I’ve had the experience of riding the shinkansen in Japan, so I can speak directly to the noise issue: That train is actually amazingly quiet. It’s no louder than Houston’s light rail line, and in comparison to, say, truck traffic on a highway, it’s barely noticeable. There’s more in the document, so go check it out. There are arguments to be made against the TCR, and opponents in rural areas have a point when they argue that they are not beneficiaries of this project. But they lose me when they start making stuff up. The Star-Telegram has more.

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One Comment

  1. Jules says:

    Charles, thanks for posting this and the link to the Rumors vs Realities.

    I’m interested in seeing their sound and vibration calculations when they are ready.

    I’d like to see the actual widths on the ROW – not just “about 100 feet”. The fenced-off grassy-hill sections of the pass-through berms look pretty wide. And Eckels has recently said that some of the ROW will only be 50 feet wide. How is this possible? Are they only going to reimburse for the width of the supports on the viaduct sections?

    I’d like to see how frequent the pass-throughs will be. Will every single landowner get one? Will every private road get one?

    The Rumor v Reality report says this: “Traffic flows for commuters and school bus routes will often actually improve.” but it fails to say how this will occur.

    It says that they will fund a lot of “first responder” training and equipment, but doesn’t say how this will be enforced.

    It says that the ROW taken will be low but the tax benefits brought to rural counties will be “dramatic”. This seems contradictory.

    It says that eminent domain will be used only as a last resort. This is absolutely false. The project cannot work if TCP isn’t granted eminent domain. They will have eminent domain power before they make the first offer. They are conflating eminent domain and condemnation proceedings. Of course TCP hopes that landowners will take the first, low-ball offer. Of course TCP hopes that condemnation proceedings can be avoided. And FYI, landowners have to pay for their own appraisals and lawyers.

    And this: “Perhaps most importantly, project investors remain convinced of the viability of this project. They have seen the numbers and have much at stake in getting it right.” We don’t know if a single investor has invested a single dollar for construction. And in the state that produced Enron and R. Allen Stanford, we know that investors can lose their life savings. Yet this is TCP’s “most important” argument for the train. That some unknown investors have invested some unknown amount of money so therefore it is a good deal.

    TCP says they agree with the Reason Foundation Report. The Reason Foundation Report states: “Based on data from Europe and Asia, most HSR lines in the United States are expected to lose substantial amounts of funds. Only the Northeast Corridor could potentially break even.”

    My guess: TCP will end up requesting 100% of the funds to construct this train from the taxpayers; either through federal loans, state and local subsidies, abatements or other taxpayer monies.