Bullet Train Opponents Urge Japanese Ambassador Not to Support the Houston-to-Dallas Line

Texas Central wants to build a Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail line, and those against the project are now appealing to the Japanese ambassador.
Texas Central wants to build a Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail line, and those against the project are now appealing to the Japanese ambassador.
Photos of the N700 from Japanese Rail Central

Texans Against High-Speed Rail has long been vocal about its opposition to Texas Central Partner's plans to use shinkansen technology to build a Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail line. But now it has really upped the ante with, well, a letter.

On Monday the coalition that's formed to fight the bullet train found an unexpected way to make it clear that they intend to fight the project tooth and nail. How? They wrote a letter to Kenichiro Sasae, the Japanese ambassador to the United States, pledging to oppose the project. 

Yeah, we were a little puzzled by this one, too. 

The group is intent on fighting the project, a high-speed rail line that will take passengers from Houston to Dallas in just 90 minutes, as we wrote in our August cover story "On the Line," citing the damage to rural land, the fact that there probably won't be stops between Houston and Dallas, and a slew of other concerns as motivation.

Monday's letter was written by Grimes County Judge Ben Leman and signed by 33 officials including  state legislators, county judges, county commissioners and sub-regional planning commission members, and was sent off to the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C. 

Leman, who is also one of the founders of Texans Against High-speed Rail, explained the reasoning behind sending the letter to Sasae. Leman contends Texas Central is primarily being funded by the Japanese, and not by Texas investors the way Texas Central officials have claimed. "Instead of relying on TCP to convey our sentiments to those Japanese parties involved in this project we decided to relay our sentiments directly," Leman says. "We're not clear on which parts of the Japanese government is involved, so we're relying on the ambassador to convey our message to all the different parties involved." Hence, the letter. 

There has indeed been news that the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport & Urban Development, a fund partly owned by the Japanese government, has kicked in $40 million with Texas Central. Leman maintains that the $40 million invested by the Japanese fund is another indication that Texas Central is a project focused on Japanese interests and can't be trusted, so he decided opponents should go around the company and address the Japanese directly. Or, at least, you know, Sasae. 

(Texas Central denied that the Japanese investment meant anything. "The recent investment in our Texas project by a leading public-private partnership in Japan shows that this project is of national and global significance, and expect that kind of interest continuing to grow," the company stated.)

The letter to the Japanese ambassador starts off firmly but politely declining the Japanese plan to bring bullet trains to Texas. "While we respect your country’s ambitious goal of exporting the Shinkansen technology, as residents and leaders in East Texas, we remain opposed to the HSR Project because it will cause irreparable harm to our communities," the letter states. 

Leman and the others who signed off on the letter seem to assume that Sasae is in on the Japanese plan to export shinkansen technology to other countries — and it's true, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been pushing the sale of these trains for a while now — and that Sasae keeps minute-by-minute tabs on everything that goes on here in Texas, especially when it comes to the high-speed rail project.

"As you are probably aware, during the recently concluded Texas legislative session, the Texas Senate unanimously voted to prohibit any state support for the HSR project," it reads, before acknowledging that the budget prohibition was ultimately removed after state lawmakers got assurances and legal analysis that concluded the state won't end up supporting the Houston-to-Dallas line. 

The letter also mentions that Texas Central officials have stated that the company "does not desire to use eminent domain to acquire the necessary rail of right-of way," before making it clear that Texas Central is going to have to use eminent domain to get this thing done, because "in Texas pride of family heritage has no price tag" and there are "multitudes of private property owners who do not want to sell their farms, ranches and private property" to Texas Central.

The whole thing wraps up with assurances that, basically, the Japanese should give up on bringing their fancy bullet trains to Texas because there's a whole bunch of Texans who won't be allowing it. In fact, they're just letting Sasae — and from there, we're assuming all Japanese officials — know out of concern for the Japanese interests, according to the letter:

"Just as much as we do not want this [high-speed rail] project to destroy our communities, we do not want the Japanese citizens who invest in the Japan Bank for International Cooperation to lose money when the [high-speed rail] project fails. There may be other places that are far better suited for and would welcome your Shinkansen technology. We encourage you to seek out a different market where this would provide an actual transportation solution and where you may encounter less opposition.

 A hard copy of the letter was mailed to the Japanese embassy, and Leman says he's following up with an email version to confirm that Sasae received the letter. "We're hoping Japanese interests read the letter and then reach out to us to discuss the details of the letter more directly. We see this as a fight just getting started. There are many ways to oppose this project, and we will continue to coordinate our efforts in the corridor; we'll continue our efforts to educate state officials and ultimately we're going to stop it," Leman says.

Fingers crossed that Sasae replies, also via a letter, and promptly. 

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