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Texas high-speed-rail plan on collision course with opposition

Bullet trains like those used in Japan soon could be running from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston.
Bullet trains like those used in Japan soon could be running from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston. Courtesy

High-speed rail in Texas is in trouble before it pulls out of the station.

Supporters of high-speed rail acknowledge that they’re concerned about legislative and other efforts to block a proposed bullet train from Dallas to Houston that a private company, with backing from a Japanese rail company, wants to open in 2021.

A bill under consideration in the Legislature would bar railroads traveling 185 mph or faster from using eminent domain to take private property for tracks. If approved, the law would make high-speed rail cost-prohibitive, according to a representative of Texas Central Railway, the company that wants to build the project.

Also, 14 elected leaders have asked Texas’ congressional delegation to block any federal effort to approve high-speed rail in the state.

The opposition comes primarily from rural areas between Dallas and Houston. High-speed-rail supporters said killing the project could delay attempts to bring ultramodern trains to all of Texas by years — if not decades — and could end the efforts altogether.

Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley noted that the proposed Dallas-to-Houston route, which could cost $10 billion or more, can reportedly be built with private investment and no public funding. The project would be built by Texas Central Railway using technology from Central Japan Railway.

“If it was a manufacturer bringing in $10 billion, they [state leaders] would be falling all over themselves to bring them in,” Whitley said before attending a 35W Coalition meeting Wednesday at Texas Motor Speedway. “Instead, we’re hitting them over the head.”

The 35W Coalition consists of business and political leaders who meet periodically to talk about transportation needs in the western Metroplex, particularly along the Interstate 35W corridor through Fort Worth.

Separately, the state Transportation Department has created a high-speed-rail commission to explore extending the proposed Houston-to-Dallas line to Arlington and Fort Worth. That commission, headed by Fort Worth businessman Bill Meadows, is just beginning environmental reviews for the proposed route, which could run along the I-30 corridor in North Texas. Stopping the work now would waste years of research into high-speed rail, he said.

“Just give us a chance to go over our options,” Meadows said.

Meanwhile, opponents are cheering the bill to remove eminent domain powers, which passed a state Senate committee days ago.

The nonprofit Texans Against High-Speed Rail sent a letter to Texas lawmakers in Washington, D.C., to oppose any efforts by Texas Central Railway to get operating permission from the federal government.

“Although rural counties may benefit from a few jobs during the construction phase, the long-term costs far outweigh any temporary benefit,” the letter says. “Farm and ranch land, 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.”

Group President Kyle Workman said in a news release that he is “overwhelmed by the support of our state legislators” and hopes that “Senators Cornyn and Cruz and Congressmen Barton, Flores, Brady and McCaul will represent our best interest in Washington by opposing an application by [Texas Central Railway] to the Surface Transportation Board.”

Texas Central Railway spokesman Travis Kelly addressed the 35W Coalition during the meeting at the speedway. He was a late replacement for Tom Schieffer, a senior adviser to Texas Central Railway, who canceled his scheduled appearance.

Kelly said Texas Central Railway intends to continue with its planning efforts and educational outreach to areas where opposition is strongest. For example, he said, the company needs to clarify its intention to build the line mostly along an existing utility corridor.

But during a break in the meeting, Kelly acknowledged that if the state removes eminent domain power for the project, “it would be cost-prohibitive.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796

Twitter: @gdickson

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