Schieffer ready to play ball with high-speed rail

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 07, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Former Texas Rangers baseball club President and prominent Fort Worth lawyer Tom Schieffer has agreed to join the effort to bring high-speed rail to North Texas, officials say.

Schieffer, whose résumé also includes stints as U.S. ambassador to Japan and Australia, is joining Texas Central Railway as a senior or strategic adviser, several people attending the Texas Transportation and Infrastructure Summit in Irving said Wednesday.

Texas Central Railway is a company formed to build a proposed high-speed rail line from North Texas to Houston. The group is collaborating with Central Japan Railway to bring trains capable of going 220 mph to the region by 2021.

Texas Central Railway director Travis Kelly declined to comment on Schieffer’s hiring. Schieffer couldn’t be reached for comment because he was traveling.

But Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley and Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes of Southlake have been briefed on Schieffer being brought onboard.

Texas Central Railway officials say they’ll seek no federal or state money to build the train service, which would resemble high-speed trains that currently operate between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan. Building the rail line from Houston to Dallas is expected to cost at least $10 billion.

But the project — futuristic as it may be — has been a sore spot for Dallas-Fort Worth regional transportation planners. Several officials have said they were told that the bullet trains would stop only in Houston and Dallas. Officials in the western Metroplex cried foul, saying they’ll support the train system only if it also stops in Fort Worth and either Dallas/Fort Worth Airport or Arlington.

Schieffer’s presence could address some of those concerns, officials said. Schieffer is coming aboard not only because he knows business people in Japan who can help make the project happen, but also because he is a respected leader in Fort Worth-Arlington who may be able to ensure officials in those cities that they will eventually be served by high-speed rail, even if Texas Central Railway’s initial plan was to serve only Dallas, they said.

“He knows the lay of the land up here, and he knows our concerns,” said Whitley, who said he hasn’t spoken with Schieffer about the project but was told of his hiring by those directly involved. “It’s got to stop in Dallas and Arlington and Fort Worth on Day One, or I’m going to be hard-pressed to support it.”

Ongoing dialogue

Fickes said he was briefed about Schieffer’s hiring by officials at Texas Central Railway.

Fickes has been on the front lines of criticism of the proposed Houston-to-Dallas line. He is co-chairman of the Texas High-Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., which aims to ensure that whatever modern trains come to the Metroplex must have a terminal at the airport.

Officials briefed on Texas Central Railway’s proposal say that plan didn’t initially include a DFW Airport connection.

Fickes’ group favors bringing high-speed rail into North Texas up the Texas 360 corridor and into the airport from the south entrance. Some Dallas officials, on the other hand, have favored running the trains up BNSF Railway Co.’s Teague line, which runs roughly parallel to Interstate 45, and stop in downtown Dallas or perhaps even south of the city center.

“We’ve got a dialogue going on this,” Fickes said. “We haven’t given up on the 360 corridor.”

Regional Transportation Council officials have said they’ll do whatever is necessary to extend the line to the region’s midsection, as well as to Fort Worth, though no source of funding for the project has been identified. One option is to extend the train service from downtown Dallas to Arlington and Fort Worth along the Interstate 30 corridor.

More details of the plan including station locations are expected to be released by the year’s end as part of a federal environmental study.

Broad connections

Schieffer was president of the Texas Rangers baseball club from 1991 to 1999. Under President George W. Bush, his former partner at the ball club, he was U.S. ambassador to Australia from 2001 to 2005 and to Japan from 2005 to 2009.

He was briefly a Democratic candidate for governor in 2009.

In 2011, he briefly oversaw the Los Angeles Dodgers’ business operations on behalf of Major League Baseball, before the club filed for bankruptcy protection.

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson

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