Setting the record straight on high-speed rail in Texas

Photo by JR Central

I spent more than two decades in public service in Texas. I represented the people of Harris County in the Texas House and again as Harris County judge. Protecting taxpayers from government waste and overspending is what motivated me to enter politics in 1983.

It’s also what motivated me to sign on as president of Texas Central Railway, which would connect Dallas and Houston via North America’s first-ever privately funded high-speed rail project.

There’s been a lot of debate about our project during this legislative session, and much of it has been based on misinformation spread to lawmakers, business leaders and property owners. So allow me to set the record straight and present the facts:

  • This is a private project. Our proposed high-speed rail project represents private enterprise investing in Texas infrastructure to provide Texans with a free-market-driven transportation alternative that will alleviate congestion and help citizens move more freely about the state. We do not need, have not sought and do not want government grants or subsidies for construction or ongoing operation.
  • It’s not a land grab. The entire 240-mile alignment will need just 3,000 acres, or roughly 12.5 acres per mile — a small fraction of the land acquired for new roads in Texas in just the past few years alone. Where land is needed for this high-speed rail project, we commit to following Texas’ well-established rules and to negotiate fairly and transparently with landowners, compensating them at fair-market value plus an additional premium.
  • It would benefit all Texans. Because we’ll be a sizeable taxpayer in each county, school district and city through which the rail passes, every county along the eventual route will reap significant benefits. That’s based on the value of tracks and facilities inside each county. At existing tax rates, counties will see a substantial increase in their total tax revenue, benefiting every resident who depends on county roads, schools and public services.
  • It would foster access. Rather than cutting counties in half with monolithic barriers — as some have mistakenly claimed — this project will foster community access across the tracks through extensive use of culverts, underpasses and overpasses that will be designed to explicitly accommodate farm and ranching equipment, street traffic, livestock, wildlife and other needs. These frequent access points will be discussed with landowners and civic planners before construction.
  • It harnesses the free market. At Texas Central Railway, we believe that private enterprise can and will play a fundamental role in helping to accommodate future growth in our state. Across Texas, governments at the city, county and state level are struggling to find adequate funding to alleviate congested roadways. Our rail line will provide another transportation alternative for Texans without accessing these already over-stressed budgets.

Texas Central Partners recently hosted a dozen open-house meetings at key points along our proposed route between Dallas and Houston. Our goal was to listen to concerns, answer questions, provide updated information and set the record straight with local residents, officials and landowners.

As a native Texan, I’m proud that our state will be the first in the nation to field a 21st century, privately funded high-speed rail line that connects two of the largest and fastest-growing economic centers in the country. The eyes of the world are on Texas. I hope that elected officials in Austin will support the free market and allow a private company to give all Texans a safe and reliable transportation alternative.

Robert Eckels

President of Texas Central Railway