KTRH radio reports on what is literally the most expected development in the project to build a bullet train connecting Dallas and Houston. It has been pitched as funded wholly by private dollars. Yeah…about that.
Texas Central, the company behind the project, has touted the fact that it will be fully privately funded and not reliant on tax dollars. But rising costs and the coronavirus pandemic may have changed that. Faced with struggling equity markets due to the financial downturn in recent months, Texas Central was forced to lay off 28 employees and is now seeking government loans and stimulus money.
In a letter to the Texas State Senate obtained by the Dallas Business Journal, Texas Central Chairman Drayton McLane Jr. notes the project has “hit a snag with all the difficulties of the coronavirus,” and talks of “monies we hope to receive from President Trump’s infrastructure stimulus through the Department of Transportation.”
Coronavirus as an excuse to seek federal dollars is novel (see what I did there?). Coronavirus as a reason not to ride mass transit at all is another, and it makes a lot more sense. The CDC recommends riding alone when you can, avoiding peak hours when you can, and practicing social distancing. Rail seldom allows for any of that — unless you observe the Austin Metro even before the plague struck. Seeing those trains with riders aboard is a photo-op on par with spotting UFOs piloted by Carmen Sandiego with Waldo in the co-pilot slot. Everyone in the area talks about riding the metro. No one actually does. Texas is big and we tend to need our cars and trucks.
The Texas Central plan started out with a price tag of $10 billion. No one believed that. It was supposed to be privately funded. No one believed that either. It’s now standing on a $30 billion cost according to state Rep. Ben Lehman (R – Magnolia), and it’s begging for a taxpayer bailout. It also connects two major cities by slicing through several rural areas with only one stop in between, which has caused yet another divide.
Most in the rural areas would not even be able to get on the train without at least a half hour on the road first. The bullet train would be ridden primarily by well-to-do types from the cities who would be riding it to keep from having to bother themselves with stops in those rural areas. So…the rural areas lose out on the economic impact from the pit stops they get now, plus the rail line cuts through their property, it’s going to make noise many of them left the cities to avoid, and now the system’s proponents want them to pay for it.
Insert laughing out loud emoji here.
And I say all of this having experienced and enjoyed Japan’s shinkansen bullet train. It’s sleek and cool. But this is Texas. If we wanted to ride trains, we’d live in New York.