AUSTIN ACTION: THIS WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8

AUSTIN ACTION: THIS WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, please make plans to attend two committee hearings in Austin at the Capitol.
7:30-45am: Arrive outside E1.016 to register your attendance and support and/or to speak for SB 1601 (filed by Kolkhorst related to prohibiting eminent domain by entities constructing HSR). If you plan to speak in support of the bill, remarks should be limited to 3 mins. The bill should be discussed between 8:00 and 10:45 before they adjourn for session.
http://www.legis.state.tx.us/…/8…/billtext/html/SB01601I.htm

1:30-45pm: Arrive outside E2.028 to register your attendance and support and/or to speak for HB 3918 (filed by Wray relating to prohibiting the use private activity bonds for HSR). If you plan to speak in support of the bill, remarks should be limited to 3 mins. The committee meeting should begin at 2pm or upon adjournment of session.
http://www.legis.state.tx.us/…/8…/billtext/html/HB03918I.htm

Parking is available at the Texas Capitol Visitor Parking Garage. Texans Against High-Speed Rail will have volunteers outside each committee room should you have questions. Please remember you can show your support simply by indicating your support of the bill upon registration at the hearings OR you can also register to speak up to three minutes in support of the bill.

High Speed Rail Legislation

Texans Against High-Speed Rail volunteers have been and will be in Austin meeting with legislators and their staff to express our concerns about high-speed rail, and we believe our message is resounding well. Individual legislators have filed a number of bills that address many of our concerns.

Senator Lois Kolkhorst has filed a bill that strips the power of high-speed rail companies to use eminent domain for their facilities.
Senator Robert Nichols has filed legislation that removes companies that plan to build high-speed rail from all of the state’s railroad statutes, including eminent domain.
Representative John Wray has filed two bills, one which removes their ability to use subsidized private activity bonds to build their facilities, and another that requires high-speed rail companies to fully compensate landowners for damages they suffer regarding access to their remaining land.
Representatives Will Metcalf, Trent Ashby, and John Wray have joined together to file a bill that will require the governing body of a city or county to approve any high-speed rail line that crosses a public street, alley, square, or public property.

Please call, write or email your state representative to ask for support on HB 1889, HB 3915 and HB 3918.
Please call, write or email your state senator to ask for support on SB 1601 and SB 1458.

You can find contact info for your representative and senator on our website at www.TexansAgainstHSR.com

84th Session Legislation

 

 

 

 

 

 

Texans Against High Speed Rail

We are now Texans Against High Speed Rail, Inc.  Please be sure to go over to our new website TexansAgainstHSR.com and LIKE us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/TexansAgainstHSR where you can receive current information, sign up for email updates, and learn more about what we are doing to stop high speed rail in Texas.  Please consider making a contribution through our website to help support our efforts.

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

HSR Oppostion Meeting– February 19, 2015

We encourage you to attend this opposition meeting for HSR hosted by Tri-County Advocacy Group.  Grimes County Judge Ben Leman, No Texas HSR, and No Texas Central will all be in attendance.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

7:00 PM

Turlington Elementary
23400 Hegar Road
Hockley, TX 77447 (In Waller County, near Waller, TX)

 

***Representatives of TCR or its Affiliates are not welcome, nor will be permitted entry into this meeting!***

Response to TCR Preferred Route

Earlier today, Texas Central Railway (TCR) requested the Federal Railroad Administration focus its Environmental Impact Study on the corridor generally known as the Utility Corridor for its Dallas to Houston high-speed rail project. This does not rule out other proposed routes, and does not solidify the Utility Corridor as the final route.

While this announcement helps define TCR’s preferred route choice, this preference does not satisfy the chief concerns of a great majority of citizens. First, the route, no matter where it is located, will in some fashion utilize tax subsidies, which is detrimental to tax payers all over the State of Texas. And second, the high-speed rail will still utilize eminent domain which has the two-pronged negative effect of immediately displacing long-time property owners and seizing private citizen property, and the long-term implications by precedent set and its eventual impact on citizens in other parts of our State regarding their private property rights.

We remain resolved in strong opposition of this high-speed railway and echo the sentiment of State Representative Will Metcalf in his statement today following the announcement by TCR, “We need more roads for citizens to travel to ease our existing roadways. We do not need a High Speed Railway in Texas that will only benefit a few, while at the same time disturbing thousands of citizens within its path.”

TCR gives Legislators Possible Insight into Announcement

NoTexasHSR and NoTexasCentral have both received numerous indications that Texas Central Railway is asking the Federal Railroad Administration to remove the proposed route along the BNSF corridor (through Montgomery County) from review in its Environmental Impact Study, and an announcement should be made this week regarding their decision. Until we receive official notification from Texas Central Railway, with definitive wording, we cannot help but recount all the previous decisions made by TCR that are no longer in their project scope. We invite you to join us in moving forward toward a more unified front in opposing this high-speed rail project to help protect all Texans, our property, our tax dollars, our wildlife and our natural resources.

TxDOT Rail Director on High Speed Rail

The following are links to articles and a podcast where TxDOT Rail Director, Erik Steavens, addresses High-Speed Rail in Texas.

  • Here is an interview of TxDOT Rail Division Director, Erik Steavens from October 14, 2014, discussing HSR in Texas.  Read the article and listen to the audio here:

Guest on the Infra Blog: Erik Steavens, Rail Division Director, TxDOT

Or read the transcript here:  Erik-Steavens-on-The-Infra-Blog102014

“I think this is a landmark, historic watershed moment.  What we’re going to be doing is having discussions with people on how we implement segments of this plan that can work with either a governmental agency or the private sector.”

“These projects are part of a larger statewide network,” said Erik Steavens, TxDOT’s rail director. “You obviously want to see the network built out in a manner where it can be built out logically.”

The journalist, Brandon Formby, who wrote the article also includes:

The route and funding aren’t all the state has to figure out. There’s also the question of what type of train will run on the track. The state could have its own trains, or it could pay the Texas Central Railway to run its trains on TxDOT tracks so passengers from Houston could have a one-seat trip to Fort Worth.

Another key decision is picking and securing a station on the Dallas end of the line. The state wants to tie the line into a private developer’s planned line to Houston.

“It should be something where we have those tied together,” Steavens said.

“Our hope is that the project gets through the environmental clearance and that an investor would be able to take the project and move it to implementation,” said Erik Steavens, Director of Rail Programs for TxDOT.

Erik Steavens, the Rail Division Director for TxDOT, was next and began by positing a standard question that can be asked of all infrastructural projects: “What is the best role that government (TxDOT) can provide on these projects?”  Unsurprisingly, the answer varies with each project.  But this is why, Erik noted, a dynamic approach is required for each endeavor.  As an example, he cited one instance where TxDOT is serving as the binding force between several entities on the local and non-local levels to facilitate the development of a high speed rail line in Texas that would connect several major cities in Texas.  Because of their involvement, high-risk environmental studies of the Dallas to Houston High-Speed Rail are being 100% privately funded by Texas Central, the draft of which is slated for completion by Q1 2016.

Erik concluded by making it clear what TxDOT can and can’t do for its constituents.

CAN:
-Facilitate development of a rail line by assisting with NEPA, EIS, Alternatives Analysis, Scoping Meetings, etc.
-Work with private parties to develop P3’s that engage government to the degree allowed by legislation

CAN’T:
-Provide funding for development of a rail service
-Operate rail service
-Own rail equipment
-Provide maintenance for rail and/or equipment”

Who is Texas Central Partners?

Texas Central Railway put out a press release Friday, February 6, 2015, that revealed TCR’s two preferred sites for the Dallas HSR station.  The release also names the “independent development company” Texas Central Partners (TCP), that will “be responsible for the high-speed rail system’s design, finance, construction, operation and maintenance.” At the end of the press release the description of TCP states:

“Texas Central Partners (TCP) is a private, Texas-based company that will develop the high-speed passenger railway and associated facilities.  TCP and its affiliated entities will be responsible for the system’s design, finance, construction, operation and maintenance.  The proposed project will not request or require grants or operational subsidies backed by taxpayers for its eventual construction and operation.”

Who is Texas Central Partners?  Part of the answer can be found in the Secretary of State’s records for these two entities:

Texas Central Partners, LLC – SOS Filing (020615)

Texas Central Holdings, LLC, is designated as the “Manager” of TCP in the filing.

Texas Central Holdings, LLC – SOS Filing (020615)

Unfortunately, the filing(s) as the Secretary of State indicate that neither TCP, nor TCH, are “Texas-based“, rather  foreign limited liability companies managed from Washington, DC.   Perhaps, TCP, and/or TCH, has a Texas office, but they appear to be managed elsewhere.

Complicating matters, TCR, who is clearly identified in the press release as Texas Central High-Speed Railway, is also registered as a foreign limited liability company, based in Washington DC.  Again, the declaration that TCR is “Texas-based” seems incongruent with the filings.  Here is the filing:

Texas Central High-Speed Railway, LLC. – SOS Filing (020615)

We have additional information on more of the TCR affiliates that will be posted at a later date.

 

Rep. Will Metcalf Takes Firm Stand

State Representative Will Metcalf, District 16, took a firm stand against a private company using the governmental authority of eminent domain to establish high-speed rail in Texas.  He also expressed frustration with Texas Central Railway’s lack of transparency and notification.  Here are the letters Rep. Metcalf sent to Senator Cornyn, Senator Cruz and Congressman Brady on February 4, 2015.  Thank you Representative Metcalf for working so diligently to protect private property rights of hard-working Texans!

Brady_letter 

Cornyn_letter

Cruz_Letter

TxDOT Documents

I have provided links to several TxDOT documents that relate to high-speed rail in Texas.  Look for the TxDOT link on the home page menu bar, or click here.  I will continue to add more  documents as they become available.

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?