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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas high speed rail meets opposition from land owners

High Speed Rail graphic

group of Texans has organized against the company that hopes to build the first high-speed rail in the United States.
The opposing group — Texans Against High-Speed Rail — formed in February 2015 as a core of landowners in the nine counties between Dallas and Houston. Its concerns with Texas Central, the company behind the high-speed rail, include decreasing land value, taxpayer subsidies, obstruction of private property and changing their way of life.
Ben Leman, a Grimes County judge and chairman of the board for Texans Against High-Speed Rail, said the high-speed rail concept sounds great at first, but the benefits aren’t as apparent as Texas Central makes them out to be.
“I have ridden a high-speed rail before [in Japan],” Leman said. “There are places that it is functional and it serves as an efficient mode of transportation, but not here. It does sound neat, but when you slow it down and think through things, it’s not as good of a deal for Texas that one might initially think.”
Travelers who wish to go from Houston to Dallas and vice versa can currently drive or fly. The  high speed rail would add a third major travel option, if it is built. Leman said while the three may vary by vehicle speed and cost, the actual travel time experienced by the passenger is roughly the same.
“When you consider the door-to-door travel time — how long will it take from the moment I leave my home and get to my destination — they are all roughly 3.5 to 4 hours,” Leman said. “What differs is the cost.”
Leman said while congestion in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas is a transportation problem, the high speed rail will not solve the issue. Leman said 18 million people drive between Dallas and Houston every year but Texas Central’s plan expects just 5.5 million to use the high speed rail in that same time frame.  
“Texans would have to still do the same thing and drive on the freeway to a rail stop,” Leman said. “Therefore they have not taken one vehicle off the road in the area where there is congestion.”
Leman said opponents to the high-speed rail are concerned about more than just issues with the rail’s design. Leman said unlike a railroad where vehicles and other objects can cross, the planned solid embankment may interrupt agricultural operations and migration patterns of     local wildlife. Also, Leman said the rail will disrupt the peace and quiet for families used to living in rural areas.
“Most people wanting to buy land in the rural community don’t want a high-speed rail coming by at 200 miles per hour,” Leman said. “So the value of the property includes that peace and quiet. The properties that are close in proximity to the rail, they would suffer a tremendous decrease in value.”
Texas Central declined request to comment for this article, but information on their website said the rail will respect private property and will ease congestion in metropolitan areas.
“The high-speed rail will provide a faster, safer alternative to auto travel, which will help alleviate this congestion by providing an alternative transportation option,” Texas Central’s website reads. “Texas Central’s planning has emphasized the importance of identifying and using land adjacent to or within existing rights of way in order to minimize any negative impacts to landowner property.”
Texas Central has offered potential solutions to several of the concerns voiced by Texans Against High-Speed Rail in the past. Rebecca Cowl, Class of 2012 and outreach manager for Texas Central, said in a previous interview with The Battalion that the company plans to build the rail along existing interstates, freight rail corridors and power and utility lines. Cowl said this will minimize the rail’s need to purchase privately-owned land through eminent domain.
Cowl also said in a previous interview the high-speed rail will be built under or over roads as necessary to improve safety and allow for regular traffic patterns.
To gain public support, Texans Against High-Speed Rail is reaching out to the general public in the expected rail corridor with information about the negative impacts of the rail.
“We hold meetings often down the [planned rail] corridor,” Leman said. “We went and spoke in other people’s meetings and we spend a lot of time developing our website, social media campaign and getting out there to raise awareness.”
The group has also taken their fight to the state capitol and met with government officials to explain their concerns and reasons behind opposing the rail.
“We hired a lobbyist.” Leman said. “We also hired a general counsel, and we worked on legislation. We meet with countless staff members, state representatives, senators, regarding this issue,” Leman said.
Leman said he agrees Texas’ transportation challenges must be addressed, especially the traffic between Houston and Dallas, but he does not think a high-speed rail is the solution.
“There are transportation problems in our state. If you look at the Houston or Dallas metropolitan area, we can all agree there is quite the congestion,” Leman said. “We agree that something needs to happen to improve a situation, where what I don’t believe is that project does anything to solve that.”

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