Do not let trickery block high-speed rail

Japan Central Railway is the model for Texas Central Railway’s proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line.
Japan Central Railway is the model for Texas Central Railway’s proposed Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line. Courtesy

Several bills attempting to block a proposed privately financed high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas — and possibly one day linking to Arlington and Fort Worth — having failed in the House and Senate, a few lawmakers have worked behind closed doors to erect a new barricade.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, has added a rider to the Senate budget saying the Texas Department of Transportation cannot use any of its money on planning for the project.

A conference committee is working to reconcile differences between the House and Senate budgets.

Texas cannot afford to be so short-sighted as to reject this $10 billion private project out of hand. To condemn it to oblivion by refusing to explore its details — through back-room shenanigans, no less — is outrageous.

The conference committee has little choice but to reach a compromise budget. The state constitution requires a new budget every two years, and the session ends June 1.

When the compromise budget is presented to the House and Senate, it requires an up-or-down vote, no changes.

Schwertner’s budget rider must not emerge from the conference committee.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, who represents part of Tarrant County, has the power to stop it. She chairs the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee.

The opposition to Texas Central Railway’s proposal has sprung from rural counties between Houston and Dallas. Many residents there say they’ll see no benefit from high-speed trains zipping across the countryside, and they don’t want it.

That’s understandable, and they deserve their say. But so do the urban areas, which could benefit greatly.

High-speed rail is not a project for the Texas of today. It’s a project for the Texas that’s still a few years away, perhaps a decade.

It anticipates continued population growth along patterns already established, which means millions of people in the state’s largest cities. Transportation between those cities will be crucial.

Airlines have already shifted their business models away from city-to-city hops to long-haul flights. Building new highways and expanding current roads is prohibitively expensive — and it’s disruptive to rural areas.

Into this mix has stepped a company willing to invest $10 billion or more into a private-enterprise solution.

And Schwertner and some crafty allies want to block the state from exploring that idea? Utterly ridiculous.

Nelson must remember that she represents an urban area with a lot at stake here.