Opposition to the big Texas high-speed rail plan to link Houston and Dallas has emerged in full force, but some of the pushback is based on information that's flat out wrong. To explode these myths, Texas Central Partners, which is in charge of development for the bullet train project, is circulating a "Rumors vs. Realities" document that they've provided CityLab.
There are, of course, some people who don't want to be convinced this project has its benefits. But the hope is that this breakdown will appeal to those who've managed to keep an open mind so far. Here's the gist:
We've heard many sincere and deeply felt concerns. However, some concerns are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of what this project is and what it is not. … We would like to get the high-speed passenger rail conversation back on track by replacing rumors with reality.
To assist that mission for Houston and Dallas metro area residents, we've taken a closer look at five of the leading misperceptions floating around.
1) Texas Central is not a foreign company
The false idea that Texas Central is a "foreign" company seems to be making the opposition rounds. It's not quite clear why there's anything wrong with that; perhaps Texans are just wary of foreign interest in their infrastructure given the massive failures of the SH 130 toll road that's partly owned by Cintra, a subsidiary of Spain-based Ferrovial. But good or bad, and whatever the reason for its emergence, the rumor isn't true.
Texas Central is indeed cooperating with the Central Japan Railway to learn as much as it can about high-speed development, but the two companies remain "separate, independent, and unaffiliated entities." And the railway has made "foreign" business filings in Texas, but only because every business not incorporated within the state is considered "foreign." Like so many American companies, TCR is incorporated in Delaware, but it has offices in Dallas and Houston, and promises to base its headquarters in Texas, too.
2) The train's noise impact will be limited
The potential noise impact of Texas Central trains is being cited by opponents as a point of concern. Obviously, trains do make noise. But the railway plans to base its trains on Japanese Shinkansen N700 technology that's specially designed to reduce external noise as much as possible, with an emphasis on quiet train covers, flooring material, and drive systems. Texas Central has gone on record saying that train noise might reach 65 decibels, whereas diesel trucks routinely reach 85 decibels, and tractors hit close to 100.
3) There's no massive rights of way needed
Perhaps recalling the unrealized Trans-Texas Corridor—a proposed transportation super-network that would have needed some three football fields of right-of-way—Texans are wary of how much land the high-speed rail corridor will require. The answer is about 100 feet at any given point along the route, including security fencing, or about the width "of a typical two-lane farm to market road," according to TCP's "Rumors vs. Realities" document. Eminent domain will be "a last resort" for the railway, according to officials.
4) This is not a 'Berlin Wall' on farmland
Farmers and ranchers are understandably concerned that, in cutting through their land, the high-speed corridor will interfere with the free movement of livestock. But fears that the train will be like "putting the Berlin Wall" through rural counties, as one landowner put it, are not quite right. Texas Central plans to ease the corridor's impact with pass-through berms, which are slightly elevated structures with underpasses that limit blockage from one area to another. They look like this:
5) Those claiming to know ridership and cost estimates almost certainly don't
Some people are already certain that the Texas plan won't possibly meet its ridership estimates and that its cost estimates are way off base. (One critic believes Houston-Dallas HSR will need to capture every single current air traveler between the cities, and more, just to reach a quarter of its ridership goal.) The worry is that this combination of failures will mean that one day the corridor will become a burden on state taxpayers.
There are lots of reasons to dismiss these concerns, but the biggest is that no one actually knows construction, ridership, or revenue figures, because that's proprietary information. Only broad estimates have been given to date. The public will indeed need to learn those exact numbers at some point, but for now, Texas Central makes the following assurance about its cost models: revenue will be sufficient to cover operations from Day One, even in worst-case scenarios that include "historically low oil prices" or economic decline.