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Opponents Call For More Transparency On The Dallas-To-Houston Bullet Train

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Texas Central Partners hopes to build a bullet train line similar to the Shinkansen in Japan. Rural homeowners dislike the idea of a train running through their property.

The proposed bullet train between Dallas and Houston survived multiple hits in the Texas Legislature earlier this year. Now, the private company building the train is chugging forward with plans to be up and running by 2021. However, opponents are still working to kill the project.

First came a bill that would stop private companies from forcibly taking private land through eminent domain. Then came an effort to kick the Texas Department of Transportation out of the $12 billion project. Ultimately, nothing passed.

The opposition was small, but vocal.

“It’s not a good thing for Texas. It destroys a bunch of property, homes, farms and ranches that will never be the same,” landowner David Hunter said back during the legislative session this past spring. Hunter owns 40 acres of countryside in Ennis, just south of Dallas.

Months later, those sentiments haven’t budged. In fact, failed attempts in the legislature became a boost of confidence for groups like Texans Against High-Speed Rail.

“We had gone from nobody knowing anything about the high-speed rail project between Dallas and Houston to the entire state budget being held up over it,” said Kyle Workman, the group’s president. “So from our standpoint, it was much different than a failure. There was no such thing as a failure in our case.”

Since then, the private company behind the rail -- Texas Central Partners -- has passed pivotal milestones. It met a fundraising goal this summer, adding $75 million in private investments, which will go toward ridership studies, cost estimates and design plans. The Federal Railroad Administration also recently approved a utility corridor as a route.

Video: Watch a bullet train promotional video from Texas Central

Workman said these gains still fall short of making the train a reality. More importantly, he claims Texas Central hasn’t made enough assurances to rural communities along the proposed path.

“If it’s not entirely privately funded, just come out and say it,” Workman said. “It’s a project that’s inevitably going to fail that’s going to end up either being in the state or federal government’s hands to pay for. We just don't see anything good that can come out of it.”

Texas Central says it’s tried to stay as transparent as possible. CEO Tim Keith said the company takes concerns about eminent domain seriously.

“A project that touches a person’s property is very personal to them. We understand that. And we will approach each party individually, each family, each landowner individually; meet face to face; have a transparent process that’s documented; and make offers that we believe will attract them to sell their property,” Keith said.

Texas Central plans to host more town hall and open house meetings this fall. Keith is confident opponents will eventually understand that a bullet train is good for Texas.

“We have to find more ways to move efficiently through the state, and we need to do it in a way that relieves congestion,” he said. “It’s about transforming Texas and beginning to move into multiple forms of transportation.”

Landowners say they understand all the arguments in support of a bullet train, but those arguments don’t consider the people who will be negatively affected.

“If it was your house that you built that was going to be your retirement home; plans have been made your entire life to be here; or it’s land that’s been in your family for many generations; and it's suddenly fixing to be taken away, I would be curious if they had the same opinion,” said Gary Bennett, an Ennis lawyer and landowner.

The current utility corridor plan spares Bennett’s land, but he plans to represent families in any future eminent domain proceedings.

Meanwhile, Texas Central is going full steam ahead. Federal regulators are working on an environmental impact statement, which could take as long as two years to release. The company hopes to break ground by 2017.

Credit Ryan Tainter for KERA News
The proposed route for the Dallas-to-Houston rail line.