High Speed Rail News- February 21, 2015

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

No Texas High Speed Rail website and Facebook page has become a source of information regarding the High-Speed Train for many people, both in Texas and across the Unites States. I wanted to make sure the following information was shared with you so you could better understand the happenings of this week. This may be long, but please take the time to read this important collection of information. A lot has happened this week that needs some explaining and side-by-side comparison.

While we were hearing rumors that an announcement was going to be made by Texas Central Railway (TCR) on a date interestingly close to the February 20th date that we had heard after multiple requests, we knew that whatever the announcement would be that it would not be anything set in stone. At first glance, the announcement seemed to be good news for those near the BNSF route, but when you actually read the words they used, coupled with the statements by Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and TCR following the announcement, it paints a much different picture. I’m hopeful that you will read through the following information and decide for yourself that this is a fight far from over.

I’m hopeful that you will see that we need to continue to protect each county, our land and our homes in the very same way we were last week.

Here is a breakdown of the happenings/statements made this week regarding HSR.

Monday, February 16:

TCR hosts a breakfast in the Capitol for our state legislators to share information with them regarding their announcement for the following day.

Tuesday, February 17:

TCR issues a announcement in the morning stating the following: “Texas Central High-Speed Railway (TCR) today informed the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that it recommends narrowing the consideration of potential high-speed rail corridors between Houston and Dallas to a single preferred corridor known generally as the Utility Corridor. TCR has concluded the Utility Corridor is best suited to satisfy the goals of the project to provide reliable, safe and economically viable high-speed rail service between Dallas and Houston using the N700-I Bullet System technology.”

Break down: TCR is making it seem that the BNSF route is completely off the table and that they are making this decision…leading residents to believe that they are in the clear.

FRA responds to an email request for clarification on Tuesday afternoon with the following: Melissa Hatcher (direct report to Michael Johnsen) said, “FRA received notification of TCR’s intention to eliminate the BNSF corridor from detailed consideration in the Draft EIS. The next step is for FRA to review the documentation provided by TCR along with their proposed alignment alternatives for the utility corridor before I will be able to confirm that FRA agrees that TCR’s approach complies with NEPA and safety regulations. Unfortunately, that will not be today. I guesstimate it will be another 3 to 4 weeks. At that point, the Draft EIS build alternative alignments will be fixed, in addition to a No Build Alternative. FRA does not want to rush this important step in the NEPA process so please hang tight a little bit longer. I fully understand the predicament you are in and the concern of your neighbors so FRA staff is working as expediently as possible.”

Break down: Taking the BNSF Corridor out of consideration is not up to TCR, but the decision of the FRA, and this decision won’t be made for 3-4 more weeks after further review.

Wednesday, February 18:
The Houston Chronicle delivers papers in the morning with an article regarding the TCR announcement about the Utility Line recommendation with the following:
“Robert Eckles, a former Harris County Judge who is the rail company’s president, acknowledged that while the rail company has made its preference clear, ‘Nothing is off the table.’…..The Federal Railroad Administration – while taking Texas Central’s preference into consideration – said it continues to review all nine potential routes. “We are a long way from deciding which routes will be moved forward for environmental studies,” said Michael Cole an agency spokesman. He notes that it’s usually best for a railroad company to have more than one route chosen for final review. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket.” The article went on to say, “Once [the environmental studies] completed, federal officials will issue a recommendation for the best route or reject them all.”
Break down: “NOTHING IS OFF THE TABLE.”- Robert Eckels, President, TCR

Meeting held at 6pm for Lake Creek land owners in Dobbin with Robert Eckels as speaker: A woman asked what the percentage was of chance that this train could go still through Montgomery County. Robert Eckels responded, “Less than one percent, but I never say never. But if it does go through here, I won’t be president of the company.”
Break down: “NOTHING IS OFF THE TABLE.”- Robert Eckels, President, TCR

Thursday, February 19:
Meeting held in Hockley, hosted by the Waller County Advocates Group:
Three hundred fifty people filled an elementary school cafeteria to hear about this high-speed rail project and what they can do to stop it. Counties represented were Waller, Grimes, Harris, Montgomery and Leon.
Break down: Those living along the Utility Line Corridor are now even more concerned and looking for a way to protect their property… we are all in this together still. We can’t buy into their announcement because it clearly isn’t a decision about anything.

So now what??
A state-wide opposition group:
Each county along the routes have had opposition groups form. While this will be helpful in supporting the 391 Commissions in each county, there are so many people replicating the same work in every county to get the word out, organize meetings, etc. On Monday, we will share information regarding a state-wide opposition group that will be led by volunteers but will have the capacity to lobby at both the state and federal levels and organize opposition meetings, allowing local organizers the ability to focus on 391 Commissions and grassroots efforts. A holistic approach to fighting this high-speed train!

Keep Calling, Writing and Emailing!! Our elected officials need to hear from us…especially the ones in DC. We will have form letters to submit online directly to Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Cruz, as well as a letter to send directly to TxDOT Commissioners. When those are ready, we will let everyone know via email and Facebook.

If you have read this far, thank you. We will continue our opposition efforts until this project is completely off the table!

Kindest regards,

Kyle & Christen Workman