The effort to build high-speed rail in Texas will likely come down to an eleventh-hour battle between supporters and opponents in this legislative session, which ends June 1, officials said.
For now, supporters of bringing 200-mph-plus trains to Fort Worth, Arlington, Dallas, Houston and other cities are working behind the scenes to remove language from House Bill 1. Because of a backroom maneuver by high-speed-rail opponents, the catchall appropriations bill recently passed the Senate with language that effectively bars the Texas Department of Transportation from using state money for bullet-train planning.
Such a ban would kill efforts to build bullet trains in the region by 2021, supporters have said.
Supporters now must persuade a few appointed House conferees to remove that provision during final negotiations leading up to the Legislature’s June 1 conclusion. Such moves by conferees are often done in the final hours of a session, with little public debate.
“High-speed rail is one of those issues that’s been developing in Texas for decades. I think we’re getting much closer to that particular mode of transportation having a real possibility of being a reality,” said Bill Meadows, a former Fort Worth councilman who heads a high-speed-rail committee formed by the Transportation Department.
Meadows said Southwest Airlines and other air carriers opposed efforts to build a bullet train connecting Texas’ major cities in the 1980s, but the airlines have taken no position on the latest plan.
Two environmental reviews are underway, including one funded by Texas Central Railway, to open a privately funded high-speed line from Dallas to Houston by 2021.
Opposition has been particularly sharp in the state Senate, especially among members who oppose the use of rural land between Dallas and Houston.
But House members seem to have more interest in at least exploring the idea, one observer said.
“The House is pretty interested in high-speed rail and a lot more positive,” said Amanda Wilson, who tracks legislation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s official planning body.
She said House supporters may be able to “spend some capital” — call in political favors — to remove the language so planning can continue.
Meanwhile, the council of governments’ Regional Transportation Council is continuing to plan for high-speed rail, including issues such as what land-use policies to create around proposed stations in the downtowns of Fort Worth and Dallas, as well as Arlington’s entertainment district.
By 2040, the Metroplex is expected to have 10.5 million residents — compared with 7 million today — and Houston will have a similar-size population, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the council of governments.
Morris said planning might be delayed by anti-bullet-train action in the Legislature but won’t be killed off.
“The need for high-speed rail in a region of 10.5 million people by 2040 is not going to go away,” Morris said Thursday at the conclusion of a planning meeting in Arlington.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796
In the latest Air, Land & Sea podcast, now available for download, reporters Gordon Dickson and Andrea Ahles interview Bill Meadows about challenges facing the development of high-speed rail in Texas, as well as the latest news at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and how North Texas is dealing with floodwaters.