Discussions about high-speed rail are gaining speed around the country, including Texas.
An editorial in the Houston Chronicle points out that the only federal funding the state has for high-speed rails is $5.6 million to do a study on linking Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Oklahoma City. The editorial says Houston is left out of the study. Another interesting part of this situation is a statement from Texas Judge Ed Emmett who says the federal government will seriously consider the idea of funding a rail project that does not include the state’s two population centers — Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth.
While the $5.6 million feasibility study is being done, politicians in Texas are already trying to get in on the action. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar wants to change the study so that it will include the growing border region of Texas. In an interview with mysantanio.com, Cuellar said, “Some folks came to visit me asking for support for the high-speed rail,” Cuellar said. “And I said, ‘I don't see anything down here to the border area.' And they said, ‘Well, you're not part of the formula right now.' I said, ‘Well, we've got to make this part of the formula. The border's a fast-growing area.'”
While high-speed rail is in its infancy in Texas, transportation and infrastructure issues have been a major part of the state’s politics for the last several months. One of Gov. Rick Perry’s platforms in his last campaign was creating the Trans-Texas corridor. The idea called for a quarter-mile-wide right of way through the state where massive highways, freight trains and high-speed rail could be built.
Democratic challenger Bill White called the idea “asinine,” claiming that the distances needed to access the rail lines were too great. “For passenger rail? Are you kidding me?” White said in an interview with an infrastructure blog. “If you need to drive 50 miles to the station and then another 50 miles once you get there, you’ve already driven half the distance. You might as well just drive the whole way and have your car when you arrive. Any passenger rail should be directly city to city.” White went on to argue that the plan was an excuse to promote more car travel. Despite his claims, White was easily defeated in November’s elections.
While high-speed rail is a hot discussion topic in Texas, it is even hotter in other areas of the nation. Already, Wisconsin’s governor-elect has asked the federal government to exchange his state’s high-speed rail funding for highway funding. More recently, during a conference to discuss high-speed rail projects in Florida, billionaire Sir Richard Branson announced that he is interested in becoming a funding partner for high-speed rail projects around the U.S.
This all makes for interesting times in the high-speed rail debate.