March 29, 2019 (Updated) - TRA Newswire -

This week's rail  news under the capitol dome in Austin revolved around required access to private property and a bill with a good sounding title that actually had been described by its author as a way to kill a private venture bullet train project.

Two bills that Texas Rail Advocates does not support passed the Senate and are awaiting movement in the House. Senator Charles Schwertner’s SB 553 (relating to the acquisition of certain real property in conjunction with the acquisition of real property for a public use through eminent domain procedures) passed the Senate via a voice vote where all members were deemed to have voted “yea” on Monday. It has been received by the House and is awaiting a House committee hearing. SB 552 (relating to notice of a property owner's rights relating to the examination or survey of property by an entity with eminent domain authority) passed the Senate on Tuesday in the same fashion as SB 553 and is awaiting a House committee hearing.

Language in Senate bills 552 and 553 have the intent to slow down or kill high speed rail with claims that the private investor, Texas Central, does not have eminent domain authority.

In previous legislative sessions, Schwertner filed anti-high speed rail bills and attached a slick rider that would have been detrimental for development of high-speed rail in Texas if it had passed. "The good senator from Georgetown needs to be watches carefully again this session," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "There are a few rural lawmakers that are intent on denying Texans a transportation choice with high-speed rail between our cities. Texas is expanding at a rapid pace and we need to find ways to move people and goods in an expeditious manner to keep our economy humming. Senator Schwertner's backhanded moves at killing high-speed rail reminds me of how the Koch brothers have tried to kill other rail transportation projects around the country. I wonder if he's using their playbook?"

LeCody reported that "another suspect is Senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury. Birdwell has placed a budget rider through the Senate Finance Committee that would prevent the Texas Department of Transportation from working and communicating with private railroad company Texas Central. To deny a private company access to coordinate their work with the transportation department is a sham. Birdwell is carrying the water on the rider this year and should be censured for this type of nonsense. There's no money tied to this budget rider and Texas Central said they don't want state funds so it should be stricken."

The Senate’s budget-writing committee had been set to vote on its spending proposal, Senate Bill 1, on Thursday. However the Committee Chair Jane Nelson (Flower Mound) opted to leave it pending until next week after a dispute arose over the provision that would have banned the use of state funding for high-speed rail.

House Administration heard one of Representative Cody Harris’ bad rail bills, HB 1370 (relating to the creation of a joint interim committee on high-speed rail development) on Monday. There was no testimony for or against the bill and it was left pending in committee. Harris, a freshman representative from Palestine, stated in his own press release “The purpose of this bill (HB 1370) is to put up more roadblocks on the HSR by evaluating the feasibility of creating a statewide high-speed rail initiative through a public-private partnership.”  As innocuous as HB 1370 sounds, Texas Rail Advocates does not support the bill.

Want to protest against the budget rider that is detrimental to high-speed rail, SB 552 and SB 553 that is now waiting to be heard in the House or House Bill 1370? Find out who your district State Representative is and call them or send an email.