Land Purchases Beginning Along Proposed Houston-to-Dallas Bullet Train Route

LAND PURCHASES BEGINNING ALONG PROPOSED HOUSTON-TO-DALLAS BULLET TRAIN ROUTE Tokaido Shinkansen Tokyo Osaka LineTexas Central Railway’s CEO tells Realty News Report’s Ralph Bivins that owners of some properties in the projected path of the planned Houston-to-Dallas 200mph rail line have already agreed to sell their land to the company, which is hoping to get started on construction of the 90-minute route next year. Tim B. Keith says he’s “encouraged with the progress” of what he refers to as the project’s “voluntary land purchase program.” He notes that “Texas’ Constitution and state statutes have long granted eminent domain authority to railroads such as Texas Central, as well as pipeline companies, electric power companies and other industries,” but calls eminent domain “a last resort.” The line’s Houston station is now planned for “the area along the 610 Loop between 290 and I-10″ after a Federal Railroad Administration review rejected the idea of a Downtown stop because of projected high costs and environmental impacts. [Realty News Report; Houston Public Media; previously on Swamplot] Photo of Tokaido Shinkansen Tokyo-Osaka line: Texas Central Railway  

29 Comment

  • Once this does get built I think the COH should help relocate Greyhoud, MegaBus, and Amtrack (along with this new line) to a “transportation hub” around Northwest Mall at 610/290. This would one day connect to the Uptown METRORail and Northwest TC. A METRORail line along Memorial Drive (a westward extension of purple/green line) could connect straight to downtown instead of having the University line to get to the red line. Make sense?

  • It almost makes sense except for the part about a MetroRail line along Memorial. There are much fewer riders along that corridor as compared to Washington Ave.

  • Yeah a future metro line would definitely travel along Washington and/or Center and not Memorial Drive.

  • I guess I don’t know much about eminent domain. I always thought it could only be used by governmental entities. This sounds like a private entity.

  • TCR’s PR Firms have been working overtime since the STB ruled against them. I am amazed at how TCR and its ilk can go in front of various groups and try to spin this train as somehow good for landowners and counties. Their spokesperson, who is almost as orange as Trump, stated that it is public infrastructure privately funded. Well not really, it is not a pipeline, or a highway, and it will be pretty inaccessible physically and financially for most people.

    Unless you are one of the 2 rich families in Houston and Dallas that own the land under the terminus locations you are screwed. If you are a county depending on tax revenue from land valuations, and the train passes through your county, you are screwed. This train is 150 years too late, and its technology is old. Just when it is finished (and hopefully it won’t be) new tech like Maglev, Hyperloop, Megabus and Driverless cars will be introduced. Texas will we saddled to old tech, and at the mercy of a Japanese monopoly/company. The insiders/ syndicators of this project will be long gone, either because they cashed out early or because the government will bail them out due to the fact that the project is not financially viable.

    This is no different that a mayor of a small town promoting a road and getting his brother in law to construct it, so he can skim off the funds. .Just because it’s a private company does not change the situation: they are going to use a small amount of equity as leverage for huge government LOANS (not grants as TCR so often states). Taxpayers still back up those loans do not forget. This deal needs to be killed and killed fast. TCR should expect a long and very very bloody fight ahead of them.

  • It’s going to be sad once they figure out the hyperloop technology and they decided to do this already. At least, that’s what our downtown can be waiting for to be connected to because that would make the ultimate sense. Bullet trains are 20th century, and time for the next.

  • Or you could take #85 route one of those new-fangled “bus” things that already goes that exact route, with stops at the NW mall, NW TC and down Washington to downtown.

  • Why can’t a transportation hub be placed in the East End? There are multiple rail lines that run through the area and there are two light rail lines. It may not benefit the Galleria area but that’s their own fault for fighting any public transportation progress in that area. Also, it would still be closer than Intercontinental Airport and Hobby Airport.

  • Some willing private seller “agreed to sell” is a far cry from cash exchanging hands, nevermind non-willing sellers down the road. This thing ain’t happening.

  • @GL, with one of the primary drivers of the train to capture the Dallas – Houston business traffic proximity/access to job centers will be important for the train. A transportation hub would be best along an I10/610 interchange and the city is heavily weighted towards the NW. A lot of money to get to east end with not much benefit.

  • It’s happening, get over it. And while all the stubborn non-progressives sit in traffic and wait for available gas pumps at bucee’s, I’ll be sitting back martini in hand as I zoom by them.

  • @J-squared,
    Regarding use of eminent domain to steal property from one private owner to give to another private owner, see the evil decision of Kelo v. City of New London:

  • @joel – I see what you’re saying but an East End transportation hub would put it closer to the downtown area and the Medical Center than one that’s located at/near the I-10/610 interchange. The primary goal was (and should be) to get it as close to downtown as possible without consideration of other business districts that are too far out anyway (i.e. The Energy Corridor). The Galleria area is still close enough, in my opinion, to an East End transportation hub that it wouldn’t be much more burdensome than if it were located just a few miles north at I-10/610. Again, the priority should be downtown, not the Galleria area (although Culberson and Matress Mac probably disagree; but nothing ever makes them happy).

  • @JB3 don’t waste your time trying to explain basic sense to the overly analytical. 85 comes every 10 min and 20-25 min from NW MALL > NWTC > Washinton Ave > Downtpwn. over 6500 riders daily no need to spend billions on something that already does a great job. now a Washinton BRT Corridor would be worth wild only stoping at NWMall, NWTC, Memorial Park, the Circle, Shepherd, Heights, Studemont, Sawyer, Houston and then into downtown. that would connect all 3 rail lines, uptown brt, HSR, and 12 Red Routes.

  • Do people not know there’s this place called Hobby Airport where you can hop on an airplane for a 50 minute flight to Dallas? There are 20 flights scheduled every day from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM, spaced at convenient 30 minute intervals during prime travel times. Contrary to the negative media hype, the security line is usually a breeze.

    Why would anyone want to take a 90 minute choo-choo train to the south side of Dallas?

  • “owners of some properties in the projected path of the planned Houston-to-Dallas 200mph rail line have already agreed to sell their land” Uh-huh. Sure they have. wink wink

  • @ J-Squared: Eminent domain can be used by private companies for a variety of infrastructure and utilities and has a very very extensive history where private railroads are concerned. It can also be used for economic development purposes, although not in Texas where the legislature was quick to outlaw it after the Kelo v. New London decision.

    @ The Truth: I don’t want you to mistake me for an apologist for this high-speed rail plan; actually I’m kind of indifferent about it as its proposed. However, not very much that you’ve said makes a lot of sense. Its disjointed, portions are horribly illogical, and other aspects are factually incorrect, the opposite of “The Truth”. You’re doing your own cause a disservice.

  • Actually, there is nothing to “get over” as there is a good chance this project may not happen—mainly due to the fact that about $11billion, 900 million dollars is not yet secured.

    I agree, it sounds very cool. (As an aside, if people want HSR so bad, just move to Japan or Spain. Don’t sit at Rudyards and complain about Houston lacking HSR, or density, etc. Just move. If you want to be around density, and lots of childless couples caused by high housing prices, go for it, move to Portland or the Frisco). As I read up on HSR, it seems like its ridership all over the world is declining, in favor of CARS, and it seems that countries which embrace HSR are in huge debt, like Japan and Spain. I understand, there are lots of reasons why countries are in debt, but HSR is very expensive and people need to acknowledge that fact. There is no way a private company can pay for this thing on its own, it is impossible. If you deny that, I have lots of bridges and swamps to sell you. Also, why the hell is the route veering westward toward Waller, instead of north to south? Straightest point between two places will always be a straight line, what gives ya’ll

  • @ The Mook: The moment they obtain public financing is the moment that they must comply with federal regulations which call for a massive round of due diligence and that they must abide by federal standards for contracting and hiring. At that point, the project gets bogged down and costs skyrocket. Basically that’s the California HSR experience. Nobody wants that.
    The reason that the route veers toward Waller is that there’s an existing ROW that shoots straight north over a very long distance. Without curves, the train can run safely at its top speed without the acceleration/deceleration that comes with curves. But in addition, using existing freight railroad rights-of-way such as were proposed with alternate corridors would entail passing through a lot of small towns that grew up along those lines. Certainly that isn’t as desirable for the company or the residents of the towns.

  • @the Mook, Seriously?
    Your logical next step from wishing Houston had high speed rail is move to Japan or Spain. Really? That’s the next step? Don’t improve where you live. Don’t try to make progress where you call home. Just move. Nice. Fully logical. I’m sure that’s how this city was built: people moved to other places.

    And Japan’s high speed rail is not why the country is in debt. Neither is it why Spain is in debt. Those situations are much more complicated.

  • You don’t put LRT on Memorial. Absolutely, positively, not. It is our most aesthetic roadway, all trees and skyline views, and catenary would ruin that. You put BRT on Memorial, and if you absolutely need to have a train for the sake of having a train, you run it down Washington or in a trench alongside the UP.

  • Jay,
    I am well aware of both Spain and Japan’s issues, and I acknowledged that in my post. I am just saying that countries with poor track records on spending seem to embrace HSR (France, Italy, Japan, & Spain all have huge debt to GDP ratios). You cannot make Houston into Portland, New York or San Francisco. We do not have the density now, and will not for a long time. Hell, even those cities do not really have the density to justify HSR. Houston is a low density car culture metropolis and people need to stop denying this fact.

    So much energy is spent by people complaining how Houston is not progressive enough. “Density” policies often create high cost of living misery along with “progress.” (Zoning, HSR, light rail, etc). To hell with progress if it involves private companies taking private land for profit, and burdening taxpayers with possibly failed loans and future operating costs for a boondoggle like HSR. Especially true when the terminus won’t be downtown, and will be hard to get to from Fall Creek, the Woodlands, Pearland, Clear Lake, Sugarland, etc.

    It is easy to vouch for “progress” if you are not a stakeholder, or have no connection to the matter. If you are a school district about to be carved up and have its taxable revenues ruined by TCR’s HSR, you are a stakeholder. If you are a PR rep replying in this forum because you are paid to, or if you live in Montrose, you are not a stakeholder.

  • HSR has little to do with density, at least in the sense that term is usually associated with high-capacity urban transit. HSR is much more analogous to commercial airports since the mobility function is parallel with air travel. So, in theory, if a metropolitan area could generate demand to support relatively short hop air travel to a similarly sized metro area, HSR could be an option from a market standpoint. Furthermore, though its travel corridor can be hard to locate, its station location takes up much less land area, so it’s easier to locate within already-developed areas closer to the center of the metro.
    For residents and employees on the west side of town who want to travel to Dallas, it could represent a more convenient option if located at Northwest Mall. While locating the station downtown might be seen as more convenient by some, I think that’s not terribly relevant to the travel purpose of most potential riders. Note that in Europe HSR stations are sometimes on the edge of town (see: Marseille, Lyon, Frankfurt).
    That said, I remain skeptical that it will happen because I doubt it’s financially feasible. Passenger rail of both the heavy and light variety is outrageously expensive; it’s hard to conceive how a private venture could generate sufficient IRR to be justifiable at competitive ticket prices. Of course, I’m not the one running the pro formas, so my opinion counts for naught.

  • @ The Mook: I’m not sure why you believe that a privately-owned high speed railroad would not be subject to taxation. You can reference Section 8, Article 8 of the Texas Property Tax Code, which states:
    “Sec. 8. RAILROAD COMPANIES; ASSESSMENT AND COLLECTION OF TAXES. All property of railroad companies shall be assessed, and the taxes collected in the several counties in which said property is situated, including so much of the roadbed and fixtures as shall be in each county. The rolling stock may be assessed in gross in the county where the principal office of the company is located, and the county tax paid upon it shall be apportioned as provided by general law in proportion to the distance such road may run through any such county, among the several counties through which the road passes, as a part of their tax assets.”
    About that, also remember that back taxes are not automatically discharged in a bankruptcy or a foreclosure. Government is automatically the most senior creditor in that situation. And that means that the only thing that is necessary in order to ensure that the taxes get paid by *somebody* is that operating revenues should exceed operating costs such that ongoing operations are a going concern. That’s a much much lower bar than for proving the financial feasibility of the project along with all the up-front capital investments.

  • The article is a little deceptive and contains inaccuracies. First, only a very small percentage of affected landowners have even agreed to allow Texas Central on their land, and even fewer have agreed to terms on a purchase option agreement. Second, the Texas Constitution and state statutes do not confer #eminent domain authority on railroads like TCR. There are no other railroads like TCR. In fact, from a legal perspective, it is doubtful that TCR even meets the legal definition of a railroad, since it owns no trains or tracks, and is certainly not operating any.

  • HSR going bankrupt isn’t the worst deal around. Consider: TCR takes a bunch of Japanese + hedge fund money, fails to pay off capital costs, goes into receivership, forfeits the right-of-way to the state for failure to pay back taxes, TxDOT leases right-of-way for 99 years to a consortium of investors lead by Tilman Fertitta, after which all trains have cocktails and coconut shrimp served on board. I wouldn’t complain.

  • What is the deal with Houstonians referring to trains as choo choos?

  • Chris: I believe ‘cho-choo’ is a reference to the current light rail trains, with their annoying, and cloying, synthetic whistles.

  • @ David Tullos: You’ll find if you research the subject and report your findings IN GOOD FAITH (which seems to be a rare quality for many authoritative-sounding persons who surface on Swamplot about this subject) that “high-speed rail” has been specifically addressed in the Transportation Code and moreover that the relevant sections (Sec. 111.103 & Sec. 112.002) were recently revised.
    A “railroad company” may “receive and convey persons and property on its railway by any mechanical power” and “exercise the power of eminent domain” and “take, hold, and use property granted to the company to aid in the construction and use of its railway”. This is, no doubt, NOT the first time that a new railway company built a railroad without first owning one. With respect to this concern of yours, it is exceedingly clear what the legislative intent was.