The Aug. 9 announcement that Amtrak and Texas Central Partners (TCP) have partnered to “potentially advance” TCP’s Dallas to Houston high speed rail project came as no surprise to Texans Against High Speed Rail (TAHSR). In her Aug. 16 communication to embattled landowners and rail opponents, Executive Director Desi Burns Porter said, “We have recently gained access to public records that indicated this was in the works … It has been a concerted effort to distract and deceive us.”
Battling the bullet train
The 240-mile proposed route begins in Dallas County and run through Ellis, Navarro, Freestone, Limestone, Leon, Madison, Grimes, Waller and Harris counties. Running north-south, the rail and right of way potentially cut a four mile wide swath down the middle of Grimes County.
Locals have thwarted “bullet train” attempts since the 1970s but TCP’s project became a battleground in earnest in 2015 under the direction of former Harris County judge Robert Eckels and major investor Drayton McLane. Since then, there has been a succession of CEOs with Michael Bui, a specialist in corporate restructurings, the latest to take the helm.
For nearly a decade, TCP has asserted their rail is, and will remain, privately funded; however, the Aug. 9 press release states that Amtrak and TCP have submitted federal grant applications to the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety Improvements grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail grant program. The basis for TCP’s claims of sufficient ridership to fully fund the train is a question never fully answered.
Nonprofit TAHSR was founded in 2017 to protect landowners and taxpayers alike from a project most agree should run along the I-45 corridor from Dallas to Houston. Grimes County Judge Joe Fauth, one of the original six board members, agrees with Porter that there’s been a lack of transparency.
Following 2020 layoffs, TCP disbanded its board of directors in March 2022. Surprisingly in June 2022, just as the Texas Supreme Court ruled that TCP has eminent domain authority, CEO Carlos Aguilar resigned and was tapped by Governor Gregg Abbott for the ERCOT board. It appeared to all, even state legislators, that the project was dead but the 2023 88th legislative session told a different story.
According to Porter, open records requests revealed the Amtrak and TCP partnership, Aguilar’s new employment with the owner of the proposed stations in Dallas, Roans Prairie and Houston, and that Amtrak and TCP had been working with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).
Fauth, chairman of the Brazos Valley Council of Governments (BVCOG) and Houston-Galveston Area Council (HGAC) chairman Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, traveled to Arlington to meet with NCTCOG officials. Impacted counties Leon, Madison and Grimes are in the BVCOG district and Waller and Houston are in the HGAC district.
According to Fauth, in an effort to keep Amtrak lines operating in North Texas and Oklahoma, NCTCOG covered some of Amtrak’s losses and “their plan is to have high speed rail go from Fort Worth to Dallas, Dallas to Houston.”
Fauth said, “To have a COG lying to COG leadership and two other COGs, not being truthful is pretty frustrating. We don’t know if they’re statutorily allowed to do that without engaging the other councils.
Who are they to represent the other councils along the line? Not by themselves!”
Specter of eminent domain
The most frustrating, however, is that after HB 2357 relating to high speed rail transparency and disclosures made it through the legislative gauntlet to the House floor, House rules allowed Dallas State Representative Yvonne Davis to kill the bill before a vote could be taken.
In his Aug. 15 letter to the Federal Railroad Commission, Duhon wrote, “Emails obtained from the NCTCOG indicate that the COG was involved in requesting that Rep. Davis kill HB 2357. Taxpayers and landowners deserve transparency at all levels of government and especially with infrastructure projects of this nature.”
Addressing the specter of eminent domain, Fauth pointed to his Grimes County map and said, “If you’re sitting over here and it looks like you have water and they need it, they can come suck your tank dry. Or if you live on a hill and they’ve cored that hill and 8-feet down is a 6-foot gravel bed … they can go 2 miles in either direction.”
Over the years it’s been rumored that TCP hasn’t paid Grimes County property taxes; however, the Grimes Central Appraisal District confirmed full payment in May. For those living next to abandoned, neglected, TCP properties which serve as dumping grounds for tires that is little comfort.
Rail opponents have the support of U.S. Congressman Jake Ellzey who responded to the Aug. 9 statement on Facebook saying, “Land cannot be taken, homes destroyed, and lives disrupted for a private company’s boondoggle. While in Congress, I will never give in when it comes to opposing private interests using eminent domain for projects like this. I will continue to work with my fellow Texans to ensure private property rights are held, and our farmland is kept intact.”
To read the press release in its entirety, go to https://media.amtrak.com/2023/08/texas-central-and-amtrakseek-to-explore...