Monthly Archives: January 2015

TxDOT Receives Funding for Other HSR in Texas

The Proposed Dallas to Fort Worth line is an integral part of the overall Texas Rail Plan.  It is also critical to the proposed Dallas to Houston HSR.  So much so, that the Environmental Impact Studies are being run concurrently with a final goal of both lines commencing together in 2021.

In addition, The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has now applied for and received funds for both a Houston to Austin and Fort Worth to Austin HSR lines.  The funding will be used to conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Preliminary Engineering (PE).   Both are needed to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These recent grant awards REQUIRE State funds to be expended.  Just a reminder that a study is already underway for a rail line running from Oklahoma to south Texas called the Texas Oklahoma Passenger Rail (TOPRS).

I encourage you to read the documents in their entirety.  The ideas promulgated by TxDOT appear to leverage federal government grants, entice private investors (through Public/Private Partnership (PPP) or TCR’s model), skew the ridership numbers, and “share” the risk of failure.  TxDOT has continually sought grant money, is actively pursuing and pushing these “rail” projects….the evidence is clear.

Here is a link to the TxDOT Rail High-speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HISPR) June 2014 documents.

Here is a brief summary for each proposed line;

Austin to Houston (Statement of Work)

  • Funding Breakdown
    • $2.6 million Federal
    • $1 million State
    • $400,000  (H-GAC) Other…Houston-Galveston Area Council
  • Project Schedule- The period of performance for all work will be approximately 33 months, from June 2015 to March 2018 (NOI to be published December 2015).  See schedule under Statement of Work document (pp. 9-11)
  • Project Coordination (p.13 TCR is included in the project coordination)

Fort Worth to Austin (Statement of Work)

  • Funding Breakdown
    • $8 million Federal
    • $2 million State
  • Project Coordination (p. 18-19)
  • Project Schedule-  The period of performance is July 2015 to March 2019.  See schedule under Statement of Work document (pp. 15-17)
  • Business Planning Development p. 14 specifically, “ Additionally, in conjunction with the funding plan, the Grantee will provide a PPP strategy and procurement plan with the aim of maximizing the value from private involvement in the system.  The Grantee will also provide recommendations for passing or sharing risks with private Partner(s) and conducting ad-hoc analyses of the potential costs of benefits of this approach (i.e. Value for Money analysis).  The Grantee will support and provide recommendations for maximizing the value of the private partners’ contribution to the project subject to the State’s and FRA’s overriding policy goals. The Grantee will also assess the potential related private partnerships in coordination with corridor MPO’s and other appropriate agencies.

The Grantee will also develop a high level strategic document focusing on the key options for PPP or Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) procurement.  With the limited capability of the ridership revenue to fund infrastructure in rail projects, the large scale of the costs of high-speed rail service construction and the potential involvement of freight railroads the procurement options will be very project/ alignment specific….”

Be sure to read the Project Narrative.

http://ftp.dot.state.tx.us/pub/txdot-info/rail/ftw-aus/project-narrative.pdf

Some specific details that need to be pointed out:

Page 2.  “The Fort Worth to Austin corridor is part of the federally-designated South Central high-speed rail corridor and included in the Texas Rail Plan. It is also consistent and supportive of the regional transportation plans in the Austin and the Dallas/ Fort Worth regions. High-speed rail within the Fort Worth to Austin corridor would reduce vehicular trips along the I-35 corridor, leading to reduced automobile emissions, improved safety, and reduced roadway maintenance costs. Additionally, high-speed rail service would provide a potential lower cost alternative to flying with shorter travel times between the Dallas/ Fort Worth and Austin central business districts.  Providing high-speed rail service between Fort Worth and Austin, with continuing high-speed rail from Fort Worth to Dallas, for which TxDOT is currently completing preliminary engineering and the environmental impact statement (EIS), as well as continuing intercity passenger rail service between Austin and San Antonio planned by the Lone Star Rail District would serve the entire Dallas/ Fort Worth to San Antonio corridor. Furthermore, high-speed rail in this corridor along with plans in development to provide high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston and plans being evaluated for the Austin to Houston corridor, would provide would provide high-speed rail connections amongst all of the major metropolitan regions in the state accessible by over 17 million people.”

***Page 14.” The role of the State for these high-speed rail projects will be to discover risk through the planning and environmental processes in order for private sponsors/ investors to make informed decisions and support the future capital and operating needs for the corridors being studied. The success of this approach is evidenced by the private investor (Texas Central Railway) participation in the Dallas to Houston high-speed rail corridor as described in the executed Memoranda of Understanding between the FRA, TxDOT, and the Texas Central Railway. The Fort Worth to Austin high-speed rail corridor, similarly to the Dallas to Houston corridor, shows potential for private investment.”

Page 19.  Project Delivery Performance 

-References non-federal matching funds for TOPRS (TX Oklahoma Passenger Rail Service).  And have found innovative ways to maximize the use of funds through work completed under existing contracts—

-Restructuring of $15 million grant for Dallas to Houston.

-TxDOT is authorized to enter into a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDAs) for rail projects.

Page 20. -Innovation/Resource Development

  -TxDOT will take an innovative approach to financing by participating in public-private partnerships to execute the program once planning is complete. The State will administer the planning, environmental documentation, and early design stages of the project in order to identify risks and benefits needed for private sponsors to support the future capital and operating needs of the high-speed rail project.”

-“TxDOT has taken an innovative and proactive approach to ridership modeling and forecasting with the development of its Statewide Ridership Model…”

Page 23.  Assessment of Project Risks ad Mitigation Strategies-Please read the 4 points, but here is a brief summary:

-TxDOT will provide any additional funds required to complete the project.  Upon completion of PE/NEPA, will seek private funding to advance the project.

-will obtain support from local, city, state, and federal leaders whose constituents would benefit from the project to mitigate public support risk.

-“Railroad operating agreements/financial exposure for potential use of existing railroad alignments will be vetted with the respective operating railroads.”

-“Ridership forecasting and revenue projection will include consideration of policies that encourage high-speed rail ridership…”

 

Page 24.  Environmental and Historical Preservation Impacts

-reduction in the amount of existing and prime farmland, the potential losses of natural habitat and systems, noise and vibration, and acquisition of private land.  Environmental benefits such as improvements to air quality and energy efficiencies of high-speed rail are also expected.

Page 25 Costs – $12 Billion Capital, $137 million/year Operating and Maintenance

France Interested in Texas HSR Investment

The Fort Worth Star Telegram is reporting that France is showing interest in High Speed Rail in Texas.  I mentioned in a previous post that the Texas Department of Transportation’s High Speed Rail Commission was to hold a meeting this week (When the meeting summary is posted online, I’ll be sure to link it on this post).  SNCF, France’s state-owned railway company was present at that meeting to learn more.  Also of note, the article addresses the billions of dollars needed for a Texas rail system and states that Michael Morris the transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments has pointed to 16 different sources of funding other that tax dollars.  This is a must read article!  Just a peek at the BIGGER picture.

French Involvement in High Speed Rail?

Form Letters Available to Send to Officials

The 84th Texas Legislative Session kicked off this month and our elected officials are in Austin to tackle some major issues facing Texas.  Some of these issues include tax cuts, gun rights, education, immigration and water rights.  However, high-speed rail in Texas has not made it to the top of the list, yet.  The long term financial implications and property rights issues will be a significant detriment for property owners.  If we can not properly find funds for education, roads and healthcare, how could taxpayers possibly pay for billions upon billions of dollars to build publicly funded HSR, let alone maintain and subsidize it.  This is not just a Dallas to Houston property rights issue (how does a foreign-backed private company  use eminent domain in Texas?)  This is a Texas issue, with TxDOT  looking to have HSR moving across Texas in the future.  The Texas Rail Plan details HSR corridors, and millions of federal tax dollars have been pumped into environmental, feasibility and ridership studies.

Now is the time to get HSR on the radar of all Texas legislators IN THIS SESSION.

We have been asked to prepare form letters that can be forwarded to elected officials at the state and federal levels to make it easier for you to express your opposition to high-speed rail.  If you would like to receive a copy for your use, please email us at admin@notexashsr.com and we will promptly send you the correspondence.  Please indicate your county so we can provide you with the correct copy.  (You must have Adobe Acrobat to view)

Thorough Review of TCR’s Answers to Our Questions

Our last post included a link to Texas Central Railway’s recent response to our questions we posed to them in early December.  After a lengthy wait, while TCR did not directly send us any documentation or the answers, we appreciate their attempt to respond.  Unfortunately, these responses now pose more unanswered questions.  Remember that lawyers have written TCR’s responses (in italics below), so read them carefully.

  • OWNERSHIP

    • “TCR is the “project promoter.”  In this role, TCR has been responsible for the initial project validation activities, including multiple ridership studies, engineering feasibility reviews and other due diligence conducted to verify the feasibility of the project and then determine its viability to attract additional private investment.”
      • This appears to be clarification from TCR regarding their role in the project.  The FRA had previously indicated that TCR would own, operate, and maintain the rail during some of the Scoping Meetings.
      • We requested a copy of the these studies and reviews, but were denied.
    • “First, as the project’s American-based investors contribute to the project’s later, more capital-intensive phases, it is likely that they will want significant equity in the company in exchange for their investment.  The most efficient way to allocate this equity is to create a distinct entity, the ownership of which will be divided appropriately among the entity’s ownership and management.”
  • COMMUNITY IMPACTS
    • “One message rural stakeholders clearly sent us was that any corridor—no matter how narrow—can become a genuine obstacle if you need to get to the other side, but can’t.We heard them.  Because of this, the Project will incorporate a design that has no at-grade crossings for its entire length. Additionally, as the environmental process proceeds and additional details are known about the specific engineering and design of the rail infrastructure, TCR is committed to work directly with property owners and other stakeholders to identify and mitigate adverse impacts to the greatest extent possible.”
      • No at-grade crossing means landowners will not be able to cross the track(s) to reach property on the other side.  TCR has been presenting “no at-grade” crossings since very early in the process; this is not new information nor does it specifically address the concerns of the landowners whose land will be divided.  Conversely, this “response” merely re-states previous positions in an apparent effort to convince opponents that TCR is addressing their concerns.  Click here to see their “Fast Facts” which states “‘closed’ railroad system (dedicated to HSR), no at-grade crossings”
  • TAXPAYER FUNDING
    • “TCR is a private-sector company, and private investors will build and operate the high-speed rail system between Dallas and Houston that TCR is promoting as a for-profit business.”
      • While this statement says “will build and operate” it does not explicitly say they will solely pay for all of it, nor who will be the “investors”.
    • “Despite this fact, skepticism about these claims remains, and TCR continues to receive numerous requests to confirm that “no federal, state, or local funds are being, or will be, used in the development, construction, or operation of this project.”Neither TCR, nor any of its affiliates, have sought, received or accepted any of the $10 billion dollars Congress authorized for high-speed rail as part of the 2009 stimulus fund.  In fact, TCR worked with TxDOT and the FRA for nearly two years to ensure that TxDOT would not use any portion of a federal grant TxDOT received in 2010 to conduct TCR’s project environmental review.”
      • Again TCR does not confirm that they will not use ANY federal, state, or local money.  They only indicate that they have not sought, received or accepted any of a specific $10 billion stimulus fund authorization or a federal grant received by TxDOT.  However, they do not unequivocally assure the tax-payers that they will not in the future.
    • “This project will inject many billions of dollars of outside, private investment capital into the Texas economy.  Estimating conservatively, it would directly create approximately 10,000 full-time jobs for four years during construction, and thousands of good-paying permanent jobs for ongoing maintenance and operations.  Once operational, the high-speed rail corridor will inject many, many millions of dollars of tax revenue annually into local, county and state government coffers.”
      • Here TCR touts “thousands of good-paying permanent jobs for ongoing maintenance and operations”, however on the same website under “Benefits” they state 750 jobs.  Clarification is needed as to both the actual number and the definition of “good-paying”.
    • “The bottom line is that the Project is considering the possibility of using federal construction loans to finance a portion of the project, but at this stage of project planning, it is only one of many considerations.”
      • As we all know, the federal government is funded by the citizens, therefore it stands to reason that a default will cost the taxpayers.

There are many more instances that could be discussed in this post, however it is apparent that the recent updated webpage from TCR is lacking the detail and clarity requested by all parties.  Hopefully, TCR will increase their accuracy in future disclosures.

Again, please take note of each word on the promotional materials issued by TCR, as their language is calculated and intentional, else it be careless and naive.

(2) Houston Area State Reps Issue Letters of Concern on TCR Routes

Similar to the 3 Houston City Officials opposing the proposed Dallas/Houston HSR routes, State Representatives Turner and Farrar have also submitted letters of concern to the FRA, citing reductions in property values and character destruction of neighborhoods, among others.  Click the links below to view those letters.

Farrar Letter

Turner Letter

Again, we see that the people in affected areas are concerned over the impacts to their property and way of life as a result of this proposed project.  Even though these officials would be satisfied to move HSR out of their district(s), they recognize the clear negative effects this project has on the properties, and the people, in its path.

Grimes Citizen Advisory Group Meeting Approaching- Open to ALL

Our friends, The Grimes Citizen Advisory Group, will be hosting a meeting on January 20th at 7pm. The meeting will be held at the Whitehall Community Center, 14536 FM 362, Navasota. This meeting is for the GCAG membership and interested citizens. They will have several guest speakers invited to address the issues currently facing our region. The list of scheduled speakers includes Dan Byfield, Executive Director of American Stewards of Liberty, and David F. Brown of Ewell/Brown/Banke, a law firm specializing in PUC and transmission line issues.

The purpose of this meeting is to further the strategies of opposition to the Texas Central Railway HSR project, the Brazos Valley Connection/Cross Texas transmission lines, and the TxDOT SH 249 Toll Road. Months have been spent formulating these strategies and the time for action is NOW.

This meeting is open to any concerned citizen from any county.  Please take a short drive over to Navasota and attend this informative meeting.

Quote of the Day – January 11, 2015

From a January 5, 2015, article on the click2Houston.com website entitled Community Member Express Concerns Over High-Speed Rail Train.  Take special note to the underlined portion of the quote.

“Ours is a different model,” Eckels said.  “We’re trying to build one with no government subsidies and no government grants to get started.  We expect this to be a model that will work in some places but it won’t work everywhere.”

Article was written by reporter Jennifer Bauer

3 Houston Officials Declare Opposition to HSR as Proposed

Below are letters from Houston Officials declaring their opposition to TCR’s Dallas to Houston HSR for some very familiar reasons.  Notably, a likely decrease in property values, increase in noise, decrease in safety, vibrations, etc.

Interestingly, their primary focus is to encourage new routes be considered, giving no consideration that where ever this project runs, it will cause the same problems.  Presumably, since the routes were predetermined by the “stop-light-chart” presented at the scoping meetings, TCR and the FRA have opposition that they didn’t count on…the Houston metro area.  Rural and urban landowners alike realize the negative effects that HSR will have, and both care to preserve their properties.

In any event, we appreciate the Houston Officials realizing that HSR is bad for whoever is in the path of this project.  Unwittingly, they will add significant credibility to the opposition, corroborating the concerns of others.  Click on the links below to view the letters.

Thank you Council Members Gonzalez, Cohen, and Stardig!

Gonzalez Letter

Stardig Letter

Cohen Letter_

Upcoming HSR Proponent Meetings

Here is a list of upcoming meetings that are being hosted regarding rail in Texas.

Texas Transportation Forum- January 14 -16, 2015, in Austin.  The program includes:

  • High Speed Rail: Can it be a “Game Changer for the Lone Star State? 

Be sure to view the panel of speakers for this seminar.

Southwestern Rail Conference- January 15-16, 2015, in Dallas, Platinum Sponsor Texas Central Railway. Presentations include:

  • Keep Texas moving by rail – essential rail projects by Erik Steavens, Director of TxDOT Rail Division
  • High Speed Rail Dallas to Houston – Update by Robert Eckels, President Texas Central Railway

Be sure to use the link and view the other topics to be discussed.

Commission for High-Speed Rail in the Dallas/Fort Worth Region- January 26, 2015, in Fort Worth – Agenda

Is Texas being “California-ized”?

Dear Governor-Elect Abbott,

Many people of Texas do not want to be ‘California-ized’ because of high-speed rail, either.  And I agree with you, “few things are more important in Texas than private property rights.”  Allowing a private company to utilize the governmental authority of eminent domain to reduce its cost is essentially a taxpayer subsidy and tramples property owner rights.

Abbott: City regulations on trees, bags, fracking ‘California-ize’ Texas

California breaks ground on bullet train project despite opposition, as price tag soars

Respectfully,

Texas TAXPAYERS

EIS Public Comments Deadline January 9th

January 9th, is the final day to submit comments to be included in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  After this date you may still submit comments to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) however, they will not be included in the EIS.  Here is the best way to submit your comments at this time:

Email: DallasHoustonHSR@urs.com

This is just the beginning.  We have more work to do!  Next week I will post sample letters that you may use to start contacting your state representatives to express your opposition to high speed rail.  Please actively petition these elected officials to stop this train.  It is crucial that those in Austin and Washington know that any high speed rail will negatively effect and will be financially devastating to the state of Texas.  Please remember that the Texas legislative session will begin next week and will not be back for two years, so NOW is the time to act.

I will also send the sample letters out to our subscribers along with important dates, including when the draft EIS will be available for public viewing.  So be sure to subscribe to occasional email updates on our home page.

TCR Fails to Provide Requested Documents

On December 12, 2014, we requested specific information from Texas Central Railway (TCR) in an effort to reduce the propagation of misinformation.  Here is a summary of the requests made:

  • TCR’s application to the FRA
  • Declaration of legal entities that will own, develop, implement, and operate the railroad
  • applicable Texas Transportation Codes that TCR intends to derive their powers of eminent domain
  • Investment documents
  • Confirmation of no tax payer funds used in the development, construction, or operation of this project and/or a listing of all funding sources

Despite repeated assurances from TCR representatives that our request was being processed and answers were forthcoming, to date we have not received the solicited information.  A representative of TCR suggested that we may request some of this information through an open records request.  As you may know, the open records request is arduous and lengthy.

We remain hopeful that TCR will respond soon and we will keep you apprised of any developments.