Statewide NewsTaxes & SpendingTransportationDallas-Houston High-Speed Rail May Seek Federal Funds

The proposed high-speed rail project spearheaded by Texas Central has suffered financial strains because of coronavirus, and may receive federal funding.
June 12, 2020
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The high-speed train planned between Dallas and Houston may be looking for federal funding to deal with the effects of the economic hardship related to coronavirus lockdowns.

Texas Central says on its website that it is a “private venture with private investors putting their capital at risk,” but a letter by Texas Central Chairman Drayton McLane, Jr. seems to indicate otherwise.

Writing to State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), McLane said that the rail project has “hit a snag with all the difficulties of Corona Virus,” including having to layoff employees and suffering delays in construction.  

McLane explained that Texas Central plans to progress toward construction with funding from the Japanese government and funding it “hope[s] to receive from President Trump’s infrastructure stimulus through the Department of Transportation,” along with private equity funds.

When contacted by The Texan, a spokesperson for the railroad said that “Texas Central did not apply for funding through the CARES Act, or any other stimulus program set forth by the federal government.” 

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She added that Texas Central has made clear for the last two years that it will explore all forms of funding available to capital projects including existing federal loan programs like the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) Program and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA).

State Representative Ben Leman (R-Brenham) reacted negatively to McLane’s letter saying, “We also were told the project would be privately financed, yet now it is revealed Texas Central is seeking taxpayer stimulus money to build it.” Leman urged Texas residents to express their concerns to U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Recently, Texas Central has overcome several hurdles to move ahead toward construction.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) released the required final environmental impact statement on May 29 and will accept comments through June 29 after which it will release its final rule. The document is over 10,000 pages in length.

“FRA is pleased to have reached this milestone in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. FRA continues to evaluate public comments received on the technical safety requirements of the proposed rule of particular applicability, that is required for TCRR [Texas Central] to begin operations.” 

The FRA must also establish safety regulations for the high-speed rail.  It held public hearings in May regarding safety regulations, but they were done remotely because of coronavirus restrictions.  

Leman was disappointed that the FRA did not delay the public hearings about safety rules until they could be held in person. 

“Sadly, in spite of the request of federal and state representatives and the Texas Department of Transportation, the FRA has chosen to ignore the please of the people of Texas by proceeding with the hearings and not affording Texans a greater opportunity to have their voices heard while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Last month, the Thirteenth Texas Court of Appeals granted a ruling in its favor, allowing the use of eminent domain to acquire land for the rail. The decision is being appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.

Texas Central hopes to continue moving forward with its high-speed rail plans this summer.  

“Texas Central’s next step is to continue working with our partner organizations and federal and state agencies, led by the FRA, to finalize our permits. The current schedule we have from the federal government anticipates that will happen this summer,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said.  

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.