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Texas Legislature passes no new laws to stop high-speed rail

A Japanese bullet train similar to what Texas Central Railway officials wish to use on a proposed Dallas-to-Houston route passes through Tokyo earlier this year. (May 30, 2017)
A Japanese bullet train similar to what Texas Central Railway officials wish to use on a proposed Dallas-to-Houston route passes through Tokyo earlier this year. (May 30, 2017) Alamy Stock Photo

A proposed high-speed rail line connecting Dallas to Houston appears to be on track for development after the Texas Legislature adjourned this week without passing any new laws that would stop the project.

But, while supporters of the project are celebrating, opponents say the proposed 200 mph-plus bullet train is still far from being a done deal.

“As the Texas Legislature completes its regular session, work on the bullet train remains at high speed,” Holly Reed, spokeswoman for Texas Central Railway, wrote in a legislative wrap-up on the company’s website.

Texas Central Railway has proposed building the line with private funds — possibly up to $16 billion by some estimates. Company officials insist no direct federal or state government money would be needed, although the use of federally-backed loans would be available as a financing tool.

The plan is to open the line by 2023 or 2024, depending in part upon how quickly the developer can buy up the private land needed for the line.

“We have not and will not slow down the progress being made every day,” she wrote. “That work now only intensifies, and we are ever more passionate about it.”

The proposed bullet trains would connect Texas’ two largest metro areas with trains capable of going about 205 mph, and delivering passengers to their destination in about 90 minutes. The same trip from North Texas to Houston typically takes about four hours by car, or 65 minutes by airplane (not including time spent in parking, airport security and baggage).

Two bills that addressed high-speed rail were passed during the session. Supporters and opponents agree that neither bill is a deal killer for the project.

Senate Bill 977, which prohibits the use of state money on high-speed rail, was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott this week. Senate Bill 975, which requires railroads to take certain security measures and reimburse local law enforcement officials for security of high-speed rail lines, was passed by both houses and is on Abbott’s desk.

Question of authority

But Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, called Texas Central Railway’s celebration of the legislative session “comical.”

He said Texas Central Railway still hasn’t proven it can raise the money to build the project, and still lacks authority to take private land for the route through eminent domain.

“They didn’t pass a bill that unequivocally establishes they are a railroad,” he said in a phone interview. “They’re the ones who need to prove they can act like a railroad and use eminent domain.”

Several bills were filed during the session to take stronger steps against the high-speed rail project, but didn’t materialize. One bill would have specifically prohibited the use of eminent domain for the project.

Another would have required the project to use technology compatible with other rail lines around the world. As it stands today, the proposed Texas Central Railway line would use technology provided by the Central Japan Railway, which operates the world-famous Shinkansen line that connects Tokyo and Osaka.

Officials from rail lines in France, China and other countries that wish to bid on the proposed Texas high-speed rail line have argued that using the Japanese technology would essentially give Texas Central Railway a monopoly on bullet train services across the state, because Japan’s technology cannot be shared by railroads from other countries.

Separately, North Texas planners are working aggressively to build another high-speed rail line connecting Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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