Texas bullet train proposal pits rural landowners against urbanites

About 100 miles north of Houston, the landscape is dotted with sprawling farms and remote ranches.

But critics say parts of the region could change if the Federal Railroad Administration approves a $12 billion infrastructure project.

Texas Central, a privately run railroad company, is hoping to build a high-speed bullet train similar to the bullet train system already in operation between Tokyo and Osaka in Japan. The train would connect Dallas and Houston in less than 90 minutes.

“The best environment to build a train is in Texas between North Texas and Houston,” says Holly Reed, managing director of external affairs for Texas Central. “Taking a high-speed train between these two economies creates a super economy and it would do it in the safest way possible.”

The project, if it goes through a series of administrative and political hurdles, would run along a part of Texas mostly occupied by farmers and ranchers. The FRA released a draft environmental survey on December 15th. It outlines a route that follows transmission lines in a utility corridor, which the agency says would have fewer environmental impacts.

But some landowners like Ben Leman aren’t on board. Leman pointed out that the train wouldn’t go through his property. Still, as the chairman of Texans Against High Speed Rail, he says he knows people that would be affected.                       

“There’s a permanent severability to your property as a result of that, and that impedes efficient operations on all of your agriculture community,” says Leman.

The project has pitted some rural landowners who have lived in the area for generations against urban dwellers looking to shorten their trip from one major city to the next one. Rural landowners, many of them ranchers, say they want to maintain the rural character of their area – and don’t want to ruin it, or lose their properties, just to please folks from two big cities.

Texas Central says it’s working with landowners to make sure they have access to their properties and adds it’s already acquired land option agreements from several residents. They also claim the project’s use of viaducts would allow for free movement of animals,
pedestrians, and cars.

The railroad company is looking primarily at investors and entrepreneurs to fund the multibillion-dollar project. However, company officials say are also considering federal loan programs for support.

Leman’s said he’s worried that could leave taxpayers on the hook.

“There is huge doubt on the financial feasibility of this project,” Leman said.

Texas Central officials say those loan programs would get paid back in full, plus interest. They also touted the benefits the project would bring, including 10,000 jobs during construction and over $2.5 billion paid in taxes over 25 years.

They say they’re doubtful the project would fail because in this region, they said there is a need.

“Texans are demanding a choice, a safe way to travel in between these two major cities,” Reed said.

The FRA is taking public comments until Feb. 20. During that time, they’ll hold 10 public hearings in affected counties. The agency says the draft environmental impact survey does not grant authorization or approval of the project.


Madeleine Rivera is a multimedia reporter based in Houston, Texas.