Trump Team Puts Texas High-Speed Rail on To-Do List
Image by Matt Chase

Trump Team Puts Texas High-Speed Rail on To-Do List

The controversial Houston-to-Dallas bullet train project might be getting a little love – in the form of funding and support – from President Donald Trump.

That's right, Trump may oppose many people, projects and places, but apparently he's open to the idea of the high-speed rail line that Texas Central Partners has been working to build using private money. The Texas Central project landed on two lists of about 50 infrastructure projects the White House is looking at backing if Trump follows through on his promise to aggressively invest and revitalize American infrastructure, according to the Kansas City Star.

The preliminary list was provided to the National Governor's Association by Trump's transition team last month, and all of the projects mentioned, including the Texas Central high-speed rail line, were already being vetted at that point, the Star reports. (There's been a complicated back-and-forth over whether the documents obtained by the Star are "official White House documents" with the White House saying they're not while the National Governor's Association insists they got these documents from Trump's transition team. Either way, Texas Central is on the lists.)

What's more intriguing though is that the Texas Central project also popped up on another revised, more detailed list of potential infrastructure projects being circulated among politicians and business leaders, the Star reports. This list proposes to back the projects — more than $137 billion in total — via public-private partnerships with half the funding coming from the private sector.

In other words, the controversial Houston-to-Dallas line, which has caused a divide between rural landowners who do not want to give up their land and insist the rail line is intrusive, and city people who want the convenience of the train, might have a new player – the Donald, himself.

And should Trump get involved, opponents of the line arguably have a lot to be concerned about while supporters may be pleased.

For one thing, the Trump approach to this list of infrastructure projects is to spend both private and public money to get these projects built. That may not sound like that big a deal, but keep in mind that one of the main issues that opponents of the high-speed rail line have raised is that they do not want taxpayer money to fund the project, believing that without it the project can't be built.

There's also the way that Trump has approached using eminent domain in the past. Many of those opposed to the bullet train are landowners who do not want to be forced to sell their land to allow a 220-mph train to run through it, as we reported in our 2015 cover story, "On the Line”.

But from his background in real estate, Trump knows the power of eminent domain and does not mind using it. In fact, as a business owner, Trump has a long history of deploying eminent domain against homeowners and businesses who refused to sell to him, as noted in the Washington Post. Since he's used the government to help him get what he wants, it's easy to believe he would use eminent domain to build high-speed rail lines.

And for some a Trumpian approach to getting the bullet train constructed may be perfectly fine, as long as the line gets built. When word got out that the Texas Central line is one of the infrastructure projects being vetted, the reaction from Texas Rail Advocates, a group that supports the bullet train proposal (in case their name didn't give them away) came out with a glowing statement of support:

“Passenger rail projects in Texas are critical to maintaining the state’s vitality," the statement declares. "The economic development generated by the development and operation of these trains makes sense for our growing state. We look forward to learning more about how the federal government intends to support these and other rail projects in Texas.”

Texas Central Partners has been much more circumspect about the prospect of the Trump administration getting behind them. This comes despite the fact that the company recently pushed back the start date for the line by a year — it's now slated to begin toting passengers in 2022 — at about the same time the company leadership was once again reshuffled, as we reported.

It's also in spite of the possibility that such support may come with money. Texas Central officials have long insisted that the company will build the rail line using private funds, but the project will require between $12 billion and $18 billion to actually become a reality. (We know they've got $75 million invested, but there's been no word of other large sums kicked in.) It's logical to think that because they need money, any funding, even federal dollars would prove tantalizing. But if that's the case, Texas Central is playing it cool at this point. So far, the company isn't taking the bait.

Instead of jumping on even a hint of federal funding, the company responded to the news they made the president's infrastructure list by issuing a statement reiterating that company officials are still set on privately funding the entire thing. "It is a unique business model that will not take federal or state grants to build or operate the North Texas-to-Houston passenger line," the statement said. "We look forward to working with the new administration, moving ahead with the project's free-market approach."

On the other side of this, Desi Burns Porter, the spokeswoman for Texans Against High-speed Rail, the group that has organized opposition to the bullet train, says they are confident the talk of Trump support for the Texas Central project will never become a serious push from the White House.

“We feel that once his administration reviews the project, they will see that it is fundamentally wrong,” Porter says. “Besides, it's not an American project. There's a Japanese company behind all of this and Trump has made it clear that he is for American projects over foreign companies.”

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