Rural Residents Not on Board With Texas Bullet Train Plan

A proposal for high-speed rail from Houston to Dallas is highlighting the state’s social and political divisions.
October 30, 2018, 9am PDT | Camille Fink
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Brandon Formby reports on a proposed bullet train project that would connect Houston and Dallas. Texas Central is the private company behind the plan to build the 240-mile rail system. In addition to speeding up travel time, proponents are touting the project as a huge economic development boost for both regions.

However, opponents are concerned about the possibility of eminent domain if Texas Central starts acquiring land along the rail route. Formby says the issue is bringing to the surface a clash of ideologies in Texas state politics:

At the state Capitol, the bullet train represents the collision of two things that Republicans—who control Texas government—hold dear: private property rights and an unrestrained free market. And for two legislative sessions in a row, the free market has largely come out on top. The project has emerged relatively unscathed after bills aimed at hamstringing or killing it failed to get much traction.

Formby says this controversy is also about urban-rural tensions in the state. “The political debate is an outgrowth of a larger question confronting a state where most people now live in urban areas: How much should rural residents have to sacrifice to solve problems born in the cities they intentionally avoided or outright fled?”

The state is feeling the pressure as its transportation budget struggles to keep up with the needs of the growing populations of these metropolitan areas. While funds have largely gone into road and highway projects, the state in recent years has backed more projects by private companies, such as toll roads, and it has worked to attract the private sector.

However, Texas Central’s lead in the bullet train project has proven controversial as eminent domain looms on the horizon, says Formby:

Texas law allows railroads to use eminent domain to take land for projects. But opponents frequently argue that Texas Central doesn’t count as a railroad because it’s not currently operating any trains. Company officials counter that the $125 million they’ve already spent developing, designing, and seeking federal approval constitute operations.

Texas Central says it is conducting outreach to landowners in the proposed corridor of the rail line. “[Holly] Reed, the company executive, said they talk extensively with homeowners about how Texas Central can minimize the impacts of the project. For example, it has promised to add pass-through culverts for livestock and farm equipment in portions that will be bermed.”

Still, landowners are opposing the project and the possibility of eminent domain action. Some have refused requests to survey their properties, one landowner has sued Texas Central, and many say they have no interest in selling their land. 

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Published on Wednesday, October 24, 2018 in Curbed
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