Updated May 8, 2021 - TRA Newswire / Rail Passengers Association -
A U.S. House hearing on high-speed rail Thursday provided evidence that Congress is finally getting serious about a federal high-speed rail program. Spearheaded by a younger generation of elected officials, members of the Committee discussed the “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to build this truly transformative form of transportation in the U.S.
As reported by Rail Passengers Association, the House Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, heard from two panels of railroad operators, labor, local officials, tech evangelists, and even opponents to look at the opportunities and challenges facing high-speed rail in the U.S. Throughout the hearing, there was a sense—expressed by both committee members and panelists—that if done right, high-speed rail could shape America’s development over the next 100 years to the same degree that prior investments in highways and aviation shaped the 20th century.
Witnesses testifying before the panel included Bill Flynn, chief executive officer of Amtrak; Carlos Aguilar, president and CEO of Texas Central, which is developing a Dallas-to-Houston HSR system; and Michael Reininger, CEO of Brightline Trains, which operates and is expanding a HSR system in Florida and between Las Vegas and Southern California.
In the day’s strangest development, the Committee’s Republican members chose to provide a platform for a critic of the Texas Central project. The Dallas – Houston project embodies many key GOP principles—it’s been developed with over $700 million private-sector funding; it has nimbly cleared all the regulatory hurdles, working with local communities and the FRA to achieve all major permitting and engineering milestones needed to begin construction; it has committed to using American products and manufacturers, with the project estimated to use more than 1 million tons of steel supplied by US steel manufacturers. However, the GOP witness, Judge Carbett “Trey” Duhon III of Waller County, Texas, spent his time attacking the project—often on truly strange grounds.
In his documentation, Duhon attempted to “debunk” the 90-minute trip time Texas Central is proposing for the 240-mile corridor: “Around 90 minutes allegedly, but that assumes top speeds at over 200 mph and doesn’t include security screening. There will have to be TSA-level security due to terrorist and other threats. As just one example, in 2015, there was a suicide attack on a high-speed rail in Japan. The terrorist immolated himself, and smoke filled the train coach. The windows on a high-speed train can’t be opened, and the doors can only open once the train fully stops, which takes several minutes. Any fire creates an imminent risk of death by smoke inhalation. Not to be overly dramatic, the point is you won’t be able to hop on and off like it’s a bus, so the ‘back and forth between Dallas to Houston in just 90 minutes’ is misleading, to say the least.” Duhon also objected to a statement made by former Texas Central President Robert Eckels about the fare structure: “We’re a private company. It’s going to cost as much as we can afford to charge you and you’ll be willing to pay.”
Rail Passengers Association commented that "to put it mildly: it’s unusual to hear a GOP witness objecting to market-based pricing. But high-speed rail derangement syndrome is real, and it is powerful."
Fortunately, Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) adroitly demolished Judge Duhon’s arguments against the project. We’ve queued up the exchange, and we’ll leave you with one of the most succinct rebuttals of anti-passenger rail sentiment we’ve ever seen: Want to know what a passenger rail advocate in Congress looks like? Hit play on the video below and watch MA Rep. @sethmoulton use his allowed 5 minutes in spectacular fashion in defense of #HSR. @TransportDemshttps://t.co/CfiSnvbtqD Texas Central's President Aguilar was asked by the committee what communities will gain along the route from the high-speed rail services. “We will provide some additional services, broadband being one. Our plan is to have broadband alongside our alignment for up to 30 miles on either side of it offered to the population,” said Aguilar. Aguilar went on to say “We have secured the station sites and another land for the project. This is why we’re ready to get shovels in the ground and to help transform American transportation and fulfill the process of high tech jobs in the economy.” Y0u can watch the entire four hour Congressional hearing: https://transportation.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/when-unlimited-potential-meets-limited-resources-the-benefits-and-challenges-of_high-speed-rail-and-emerging-rail-technologies