Texas Lawmakers Take Action to Block Bullet Train PDF  ICON_SEP Print ICON_SEP  E-mail
Written by Karen Leidy   


Last week, a group of key state lawmakers filed a slate of legislation to push back against Texas Central Railway’s controversial proposal to construct a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston.  Senators Birdwell (R-Granbury), Creighton (R-Conroe), Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), Perry (R-Lubbock), and Schwertner (R-Georgetown) joined with Representatives Ashby (R-Lufkin), Bell (R-Magnolia), Cook (R-Corsicana), Schubert (R-Caldwell), and Wray (R-Waxahachie) to file a total of 18 bills addressing a number of concerns ranging from protecting landowners threatened by eminent domain abuse to ensuring the state isn’t later forced to bail out the private project with taxpayer dollars.

“This group of foreign investors is threatening to seize family farms, physically divide the state of Texas, and have a gravely detrimental impact on the citizens I represent,” said State Representative Leighton Schubert.  “At a minimum, the people of Texas deserve reasonable reassurances that their private property rights will be respected and that they will not be left holding the bag if this ill-conceived project fails.”

Critics have also raised grave concerns about the overall financial viability of the project, noting that without some form of government subsidy, Texas Central will find it virtually impossible to meet their stated ridership estimates at prices competitive with existing modes of transportation.

“This legislation will ensure that the property rights of our constituents are respected and state taxpayers aren’t asked to bail out this project when costs inevitably exceed stated projections and ridership fails to meet expectations.” said Senator Charles Schwertner, expressing his serious doubts about the long-term financial viability of the project.  Schwertner went on to cite a recent independent study by the Reason Foundation which indicates a proposed high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston will lose over $537 million a year and could cost taxpayers up to $21.5 billion.

“I won’t stand by while good people are forced to give up their private property rights for a rail project that will bring little to no economic benefit to our region,” Representative Ashby stated. “The opposition to this project has been loud and clear in my district, and I’m proud to stand by the people I represent in fighting for more transparency and thoughtfulness when it comes to projects that affect Texas.”

Holly Reed, managing director of external affairs for Texas Central, had this to say about the proposed legislation: 

“Contrary to the national focus on infrastructure projects that stand to create tens of thousands of jobs and benefit millions of people, it is ironic that the proposed legislation calls for more government regulation in trying to block a free market led project that will create jobs and generate economic development.  The effort to take away a safe, reliable and productive transportation choice runs counter to the values and principles of so many Texans who are clamoring for it.”

“Transportation is a critical issue for our state, which requires thoughtful and pragmatic solutions for today and the future,” said Representative Wray.  “Texas Central has failed to demonstrate a viable or comprehensive plan addressing the real mobility needs of our state, and the legislation filed today seeks to address the legitimate issues posed by this project.”
In July, the Surface Transportation Board determined the federal government lacked the authority to grant eminent domain powers to TCR or otherwise regulate the proposed high-speed train.  Since then, it’s become unclear whether TCR has the actual legal authority to take land from private property owners along the train’s proposed path or regulatory framework necessary to operate a high-speed train in Texas.

“It is not a railroad, and therefore, it does not have eminent domain authority,” added Representative Byron Cook, Chairman of the House State Affairs Committee which oversees most eminent domain legislation. 

“Texans have always had a deep respect for the land and for the law,” added Senator Lois Kolkhorst.  “That’s why the Legislature must tread lightly when property rights are at risk.”
The following bills were filed:

--SB 973 by Creighton/HB 2168 by Bell (Railroad Determination Before Surveys) - prohibits a private high-speed rail entity from entering private property to conduct a survey unless the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) first determines that the surveying entity is, in fact, a railroad.

--SB 974 by Creighton/HB 2181 by Cook (Option Contract Protection) - voids any high-speed rail option contracts held by a high-speed rail entity upon a bankruptcy initiated by or against the entity.

--SB 975 by Birdwell/HB 2169 by Schubert (Security Requirements) - provides a framework of minimum security requirements to be followed during the construction and operation of a private high-speed rail line. Requires the high-speed rail authority to coordinate security efforts with state and local law enforcement, as well as disaster response agencies.

--SB 977 by Schwertner/HB 2172 by Ashby (No Taxpayer Bailout) - prohibits the legislature from appropriating new funds, or allowing state agencies to utilize existing funds, to pay any costs related to the construction, maintenance, or operation of a private high-speed rail in Texas.

--SB 978 by Schwertner/HB 2104 Bell (Property Restoration Bond) - requires a private high-speed rail entity to file a bond with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sufficient to restore property used for the rail service to the property’s original conditions if the service ceases operation.

--SB 979 by Schwertner/HB 2179 by Cook (Right of Repurchase for Non-HSR Use) - prohibits an entity that operates or plans to operate a high-speed rail from using property acquired for purposes other than high-speed rail.  If the high-speed rail authority doesn’t use the property for that specific purpose, the original landowner must be given the opportunity to repurchase the land.

--SB 980 by Schwertner/HB 2167 by Schubert (Put Texas First) - prohibits any state money from being used for any purpose related to a privately owned high-speed rail, unless the state acquires and maintains a lien in order to secure the repayment of state funds.  Requires that the state’s lien be superior to all other liens, effectively making Texas a priority creditor.

--SB 981 by Kolkhorst/HB 2162 by Wray (Interoperability) - requires an entity constructing a high-speed rail line in Texas to demonstrate compatibility with more than one type of train technology.

--SB 982 by Perry/HB 2173 by Ashby (High-Speed Rail Feasibility Study) - upon request of a legislator, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must generate a feasibility study of a proposed high-speed rail project.  The study must indicate whether the project is for a public use, whether it will be financially viable, and what impact of the project will have on local communities.