Texas Bullet Train Builder Names New CEO
Texas Central Partners introduced a new CEO today -- and announced that it’s raised $75 million for its private bullet train. The high speed rail would whisk riders between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes, with a stop near College Station. Here’s the new CEO Tim Keith with his take on the project.
Tim Keith says he’s not a train guy. But he chaired Maher Terminals, a giant sea container operation, so he gets transportation. Now, he’ll move people on rail instead of goods on ships. He calls it his dream job.
“I have a chance to promote my home state in a way I never dreamed of,” Keith says. “Challenges are unique. It requires the right blend of entrepreneurship, of fiscal discipline, of public relations and communications. I felt I matched perfectly with the project.”
That’s because Keith’s background also includes heavy doses of international fund raising and investing. He replaces former Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, who remains on the bullet train’s board. This project could cost as much as $14 billion. Keith says the $75 million investment announced today is a good sign.
“This capital raised is a real boost for us. It actually was oversubscribed and we ended up raising more capital than we had anticipated,” Keith says.
State Representative Rafael Anchia says the project obviously needs a lot more money to reach the finish line, and funding’s just one big hurdle. The Dallas Democrat says the other issue is land procurement – right-of-way.
“You saw some of that bubble up during the legislative session,” explains Anchia, “where you had some rural representatives say ‘no, you’re not running a train through rural East Texas, we’re going to block you, we’re going to put up legislative impediments’ and we were able to get past that. But right-of-way will continue to be a challenge.”
So while Anchia likes this project, he worries others, like Ennis Representative John Wray, will continue working to derail it. Wray’s three bills to wreck this train got little traction in the last legislative session. In May, he told KERA he was worried about the small towns and farmers along the route.
“The phrase I’ve been using is it creates a 'Chinese Wall' of sorts, and that would really impact landowners as well as future development all along that pathway,” Wray said.
Anchia has faith the bullet train builders will treat the landowners right. He argues this project’s a good one.
“You have the two major urban centers, you have relatively flat land, you have much of the right-of-way already acquired,” Anchia says. “I think growth of the state now, which has been exponential during the last decade, is going to necessitate multiple modes of transportation to get people back and forth.”
CEO Tim Keith says if any state needs this project, Texas does.
“This is going to drive large amounts of tax revenue, it’ s going to create tens of thousands of construction jobs for the next four years once we start,” Keith says, “and it will also usher in a new high tech industry that will have highly skilled permanent employees.”
Keith says Texas Central will continue holding public meetings to let people know about the project, and he now awaits results of a federal study looking into the environmental impact of preferred routes between Dallas, the region around College Station and Houston. That whole process, he says, could take at least another year.