June 6, 2016 - TRA Newswire UPDATE

CORRECTION: In the original story, Congressman Jeb Hensarling was mis-identified as opposing Texas Central's high speed rail plan. We apologize for the error. Congressman Joe Barton of a nearby district had filed a comment with the Surface Transportation Board opposing a Texas Central request before the agency.

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The 28,000 member National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) has issued a letter of support directed to the Surface Transportation Board (STB) while two Texas Congressmen submit filings that opposes a private high speed rail (PHSR) project between Dallas and Houston.

In the STB filing dated May 24, NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews said "Most of the objections to this project are ill-founded and don’t survive close scrutiny. Despite claims by some parties opposed, nothing in the Texas Central petition will shunt public comment on Texas Central’s STB petitions, nor will it change or remove protections afforded to Texas landowners under Texas law. STB’s decision can’t and won’t let Texas Central use condemnation to acquire land it doesn’t need for the rail right-of-way."

Meanwhile, Congressman Joe Barton joined fellow lawmaker Kevin Brady in opposing the Private High Speed Rail (PHSR) project. Brady had been clamoring to shut down the bullet train, which would connect the two mega-regions with a 90 minute ride over the 240 mile line.

NARP's Mathews went on to say "like any business, Texas Central is simply turning to regulators before it begins work to seek clarity on how the federal rules enforced by STB will relate to the first steps of acquiring land under the processes outlined in Texas law. NARP strongly encourages the Board to take jurisdiction over this project as an important element of the overall interstate rail network, and to expedite Board review of Texas Central’s application so this exciting project can move forward and the traveling public can realize the benefits of high-performance rail without delay."

Other letters of support for the Texas Central PHSR project in the latest round were filed with the STB from Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, Vice Chair of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee Don Huffines, Texas Senator Kirk Watson and Houston State Senator Sylvia Garcia.

Rural county officials and some Texas office holders have filed motions to kill the PHSR effort, which Texas Central said would not require taxpayer funding.

Mathews indicated " connecting these two regions by passenger rail for the first time will have a significant, positive effect on the entire interstate rail network. Credible studies underscore the impressive benefits this project will bring to the region’s economy, injecting $4.3 billion into the region during the 2018-2021 construction phases and $352.4 million each year once operation begins in 2022. Moreover, this privately held operation can be projected to contribute $3.11 billion in city, county, state, school and transit taxes through 2040."

Letter opposing the PHSR project have been filed by Delta Troy Interests Ltd, Leon County Judge Byron Ryder, Madison County Commissioner Carl Cannon, Ellis County Judge Carol Bush, Limestone County Judge Daniel Burkeen, Texas State Representative Leighton Shubert, Freestone County Judge Linda Grant and Texans Against High Speed Rail.

Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold, who serves on the House Transportation Committee issued this statement that is pro the PHSR project with reservations.  "A private, Texas-based company, Texas Central has already invested millions of dollars towards bringing a high-speed rail option to our part of the country. With the population of Texas growing rapidly and highway congestion getting worse every day, rail, of all types, is becoming an attractive option for both passengers and freight. The United States lags way behind many other countries on utilizing rail. In fact, there are no true high speed rail operations in the U.S. The closest thing we have is Amtrak's government subsidized Acela Express, with an average speed of around 85mph, and a maximum speed of 150mph. Worldwide speeds of 180mph are common. As a transportation advocate, I'm intrigued by the possibilities of this rail link between Texas' two largest metropolitan areas. There are, however, significant obstacles the rail line must overcome, not the least of which is obtaining right-of-way. Texas has a long history of respecting private property rights. It is my hope the line can be built without the railroad having to resort to using eminent domain to acquire reluctant landowner's permission to build across their property. With the SIB' s involvement, this project will not only foster innovation and private sector investment in the transportation sector, but also protect the interests of the State of Texas, taxpayers and the traveling public. "

These elected Texas leaders filed a joint letter to the STB in opposition to privately funded high speed rail:

Senator Brian Birdwell , Senator Brandon Creighton , Senator Bob Hall, Senator Lois Kolkhorst, Senator Robert Nichols, Senator Charles Perry , Senator Charles Schwertner, Representative Trent Ashby, Representative Cecil Bell, Jr., Representative Byron Cook, Representative Travis Clardy, Representative Kyle Kacal, Representative Mark Keough, Representative Will Metcalf, Representative John Otto, Representative John Raney, Representative Leighton Schubert, Representative James White, Representative John Wray




demonstrated their members’ support for the Texas Central project. In a letter from NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews to the STB Representing tens of millions of fare-paying rail passengers nationwide, NARP’s long-term goal is to put 80% of Americans within 25 miles of a rail station within 25 years, using a combination of high-speed/high-performance, long-distance intercity rail, commuter trains, light rail, transit and even bike share. This is our vision for A Connected America, in which U.S. entities, including public/private partnerships and private industry, invest appropriately to create a 21st century network to power the economy of the new century. NARP believes the Texas Central initiative is an important demonstration of the role private capital can and must play in building our new transportation economy, and is thus an important private project of national significance, introducing a new high-speed rail option between the two largest metropolitan regions in Texas.  Sincerely, Jim Mathews President & CEO cc: Parties of Record