In a two year old replay of a effort to keep Texans from riding high speed trains, Texas Senator Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) filed a rider to the Senate budget bill that would stop the Texas Department of Transportation from coordinating access across state roads with a private operator that is building the Dallas to Houston bullet train. To the dismay of those who want to bring high speed rail to Texas, the rider was approved by the Senate Finance Committee.
A spokesperson for Texas Central Railway said in a statement that “working with TXDOT is critical to the project. This rider would impose arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions for a single project and sets a bad precedent.” Texas Central said they are not planning to use any state funds for the Dallas-Houston rail line and that language in the budget bill could harm the company's ability to use eminent domain to acquire right-of-way to run its trains.
"Using the Senate budget to insert language that penalizes a private company for wanting to do a massive $15 billion dollar infrastructure project in the state of Texas is not only a misuse of power by Senator Birdwell," said Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody, "but it sends a chilling message to business and industry that we don't encourage private investment in our state and we don't want our people to have transportation choices. This is a poor use of the legislative process. The budget process is supposed to be used to allocate taxpayer dollars and not to be used for a vendetta to kill high speed rail run by a private concern."
Texas Central Partners LLC said that by adding the language to the Senate spending bill it would "encourage lawsuits and is not beneficial for good coordination and planning.”
The language in the budget bill rider would tie Texas Central Railway's hands until there is a final, un-appealable court ruling on the project's eminent domain authority. Under Texas law, projects for the public good such as companies building power lines, pipelines and railroads have authority to compensate landowners for needed property. LeCody said that "Birdwell's budget rider would only target high speed rail and that's just not right."
State Senator Royce West, D-Dallas, tried to strike down the amendment and remove it from the budget during the Finance Committee session. West called a point of order on Senator Brian Birdwell’s rider which would prevent Texas Central from working with TXDOT. Unfortunately, Senator West’s point of order was overruled. Senator West then asked that the rider be removed from the budget completely. This measure was also shut down in an 8-7 vote. The Senate Finance Committee then approved the budget with the rider language intact.
The bill now heads to the full Senate. This does not mean that the rider will make it into the final budget proposal, as it can be stripped out in the conference committee that the budget will wind up in, which will be made up of panels from both chambers.
The same ploy of using budget rider language to keep Texas Central from advancing their high speed rail efforts was defeated at the last second in a conference committee vote during the 2017 session.