09 Apr Airo AV Suggest: Critics urge feds to pull plug on Texas bullet train, citin
Examination of a planned high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas should be halted as the country addresses the new coronavirus pandemic and the company rethinks its financial shape, 30 elected officials in Texas told federal regulators.
In two separate letters to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, 28 state lawmakers and two members of Congress said work by the Federal Railroad Administration on the Texas Central Railway project — which has faced stiff opposition for six years even as Dallas and Houston officials showed support — should stop entirely.
“It has become clear Texas Central simply does not have the financial resources required or expertise employed to continue with this project,” state lawmakers, led by state Rep. Ben Leman, R-Anderson, wrote. “To proceed otherwise would be an inexcusable waste of taxpayer dollars and jeopardizes the integrity of the rules making process.”
Leman, a long-time critic of the project which rural residents have assailed as a boondoggle that will ruin the Texas countryside and never be financially sound, said the aim of the letter is to stop all analysis of the project’s safety procedures and environmental effects, which the FRA has been working on since 2014 with Texas Central. Federal regulators must approve the safety of the trains — unlike any other trains in the United States — and apply federal soil, air, noise and species protection rules to the construction and operations.
GREAT DIVIDE: Bullet train sparks fight as old as Texas
Texas Central last month said COVID-19’s effect on financial markets could impact the project, tightening its ability to secure the $15 billion or more necessary to build a 240-mile sealed corridor along a utility alignment between Houston and Dallas. Global response to the pandemic hits every sector of the company’s plans, which rely on Japanese trains, a Spanish rail operator and engineering from Italy. Within Texas, the company has laid off 28 employees.
The company, which did not elaborate on its current financial situation, cited the jobs construction of the project would create.
“It’s disappointing that some lawmakers are focused on killing more than 17,000 jobs in this time of need considering the economic hit we’ve taken,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a statement.
Since 2017, the company has said construction is imminent, once it secures federal approvals.
“This project has the ability to launch quickly and make a significant difference,” Aguilar said.
Critics said the recent comments from the company regarding the pandemic’s effect on its financing and contractors around the world are proof the project is kaput.
“This project, which has never been financially sound, has become financially impossible,” wrote Reps. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands and Ron Wright, R-Arlington.
Leman said if the project is no longer possible, Texas Central should say so to save taxpayers the cost and relieve a lot of stressed rural residents.
“If this project is over, they need to know it is over,” Leman said of residents who have organized and worked to oppose it.