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Government Tracking Rail: High-speed trains on track despite rural opposition

Tracking Rail: High-speed trains on track despite rural opposition

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Facts and Figures

• Texas Central High-Speed Railway (TCR) is a private Texas company working to build high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston.

• Central Japan Railway Company (JRC) is a publicly traded, private company that operates 323 high-speed passenger trains each day on the line between Tokyo and Osaka, Japan.

• N700-I Bullet trains are capable of running at 205 mph.

• Estimated trip time between Houston and Dallas is under 90 minutes.

• Travel time by car between Houston and Dallas is expected to increase to more than 6.5 hours in the next 20 years.

• Service is expected as early as 2021.

• Ticket prices are expected to be competitive with airline tickets over the same route.

• Current plans call for trains to run every 30 minutes during peak hours, with 6 hours reserved each night for maintenance and inspection.

• The bullet train system has operated for more than 50 years in Japan with no passenger fatalities or injuries from train accidents.

• The Series N700 rolling stock operating between Tokyo and Osaka consumes 1/8th the amount of energy per seat and expends 1/12th less carbon dioxide than a Boeing 777-200.

• Unofficial projections predict creation of about 10,000 jobs each year over the project’s four-year construction period. More than 750 full-time jobs will be created along and at each end of the corridor for the railroad’s operations.

• The project is a private, market-led project, which means if the rail system can’t pay for itself, it will be unable to attract the investors necessary for construction. The proposed project will not require federal grants or operating subsidies.

Source: Texas Central Railway (texascentral.com)

Proponents of high-speed railroads that have been prevalent in Europe and Asia for decades won the first skirmish with rural opponents who are determined to stop the “bullet” trains from coming to Texas.

But high-speed rail supporters acknowledge that their campaign to speed passengers between the state’s major urban areas could be derailed if they don’t address private property and funding concerns voiced at the recent session of the Legislature.

“Clearly legislators were concerned about high-speed rail. Most of the concern was rural,” said Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which helps governments in 16 counties plan and execute regional projects.

The newly formed Texans Against High-Speed Rail helped draft legislation to prohibit a Japanese-backed Texas company from using eminent domain to seize land or from using state funds to build a proposed rail line between Houston and Dallas.

That legislation, attached to other bills by rural legislators, ultimately failed, but it emphasized the need to communicate more with the public, Morris said.

“We were able to make sure that high-speed rail continues,” he told Fort Worth Business. “But the lesson for us was to spend more time with the public, what we’ve been trying to do. Not just the general public, but individual landowners about how they might or might not be harmed.”

The Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and other opponents are targeting the rail line between Houston and Dallas being developed by the privately funded Texas Central High-Speed Railway because that project is furthest along.

Funded by a Japanese business that has operated high-speed rail for 50 years, the Texas company is preparing an environmental impact study that could pave the way for rail construction to begin by 2017. By 2021, the 200-mph trains could be transporting passengers between Houston and Dallas in 90 minutes, supporters say.

William Meadows, a member of the Texas High-Speed Rail Commission formed in 2014 to consider additional high-speed routes, said the state Transportation Commission he once chaired assigned him to develop a route between Dallas and Fort Worth.

In partnership with NCTCOG and the Texas Department of Transportation, the commission has identified two possible routes – along the Interstate 30 or the Trinity Railway Express corridors, he said.

An environmental impact study for the Dallas-Fort Worth route also is expected to be completed by 2017, he said. Meanwhile, Meadows said he plans to put out “requests for information” within six months for entities from the United States and other countries interested in helping develop this route.

He said proposals could come from Japan, China, France and other European countries with high-speed rail as well as from U.S. companies.

As the Dallas-Fort Worth project gains speed, Meadows said, a federally funded study could add a third high-speed rail route – along Interstate 35 between Fort Worth and San Antonio, with the possibility of extending it to Monterrey, Mexico.

Any of those projects could be waylaid by continuing efforts to derail high-speed rail again, he said.

Supporters are right to be worried, said Ben Leman, the Grimes County judge who chairs Texas Against High-Speed Rail, and Saginaw rancher Pete Bonds, president of the cattle raisers group.

“We’ve said from the beginning that this is a long-term fight,” said Leman, who founded the group in February. “They don’t anticipate breaking ground until the latter part of 2017.

“Our goal this session was to introduce legislation that would slow the process down and give legislators and citizens a chance to review the project and hopefully implement some things to stop it.”

While the legislation failed, Leman believes that lawmakers sent a message that state money would not be spent for the project. His group intends to monitor the environmental impact process and continue to encourage public dialog about high-speed rail, he said.

Bonds, whose family ranches do not lie within the proposed routes, said he will continue to represent other ranchers and property owners who oppose eminent domain seizures and government spending for private projects.

“They say they’re going to accommodate people but that is to be seen,” he said. “I just don’t see people using it that much. Once this thing is built and is not making money, what are you going to do with it? I don’t know of a passenger rail line in the U.S. that is not subsidized.”

Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan and Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes agree that elected officials need to encourage more dialog about high-speed rail.

“I think this is a healthy dialog,” said Jordan, who represents Fort Worth on the 43-member Regional Transportation Council. “My position is to ensure that public dollars are going to the transportation that will do the most good. If public resources are involved, the public needs to be at the table.”

Fickes, who chairs the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., a nonprofit government advocacy group, agrees.

“It’s not our job to build anything,” he said. “We’ve been advocating for high-speed rail in Texas for 12 or 13 years. We work with local governments to get them to see the benefits of high-speed rail. Ten to 20 years from now, it will be a major transportation outlet for tens of millions of people.”

But James Riddlesperger, a Texas Christian University political science professor, said bringing the two sides together may be difficult because the issue is more complex than funding and right-of-way.

“We’re in a divide between urban and non-urban,” he said. “Non-urban people say there are plenty of highways, but urban people say it’s no good to have a car if there’s no place to park it. It’s not liberal vs. conservative. It’s different experiences and different views of government.

“Urban people see government as something to fund these things. Non-urban people see it as something that should be funded privately. It’s really a microcosm of American politics,” he said.

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