The federal government posted a long-awaited record of decision for Dallas to Houston high-speed rail Monday, but additional steps remain before construction can begin.
Texas Central Railroad president and CEO Carlos Aguilar said seven years of work by the company and many federal agencies contributed to the environmental impact statement approval that is included with this step.
“It’s all the environmental approvals and it is also the approval of the technology to be used in the United States,” Aguilar said. “It is fantastic news.”
The nation’s first high-speed rail line was promised for years as an entirely privately funded project with no government money. But it has been mentioned recently as a possible economic stimulus project that could bring 17,000 construction jobs to help cure a recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s why we are very glad to report that this is happening today,” Aguilar said.
Kyle Workman, who leads the organization, Texans Against High-Speed Rail said this point in the process allows critics to make their case.
“The reality of it is, now we have the opportunity to challenge the Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision. We were not able to do that until that decision was actually finalized and issued,” Workman said.
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Opposition is strongest among Central Texas landowners being asked to sell right of way for the project.
Workman said many landowners fear eminent domain taking of their land for a project that will not succeed.
“They’re trying to convince everybody it can be a cash flow positive business when we know it can’t be. There’s no high-speed rail in the world that is financially profitable without government subsidy at some level,” Workman said.
Aguilar said the company is working to avoid seizures with fair settlements and that 40% of the needed parcels have already been acquired.
“So that tells you there have been negotiations. It’s not been under any other pretense but to develop this project on a fair basis,” Aguilar said. “We still think it’s economically viable, without a doubt. It is based on financing structures that exist and have been applied in other projects.”
The next step is approval from the Surface Transportation Board. Agular said that the application is already underway. He could not forecast Monday when actual groundbreaking for the project might occur. In the past, the company has said completion could come by 2026.
A Dallas station location is planned in the Cedars neighborhood near Cadiz Street east of Riverfront Boulevard, near freeways and existing DART transit.
The CEO said the capital cost could be $20 billion. Workman said his estimate is around $30 billion.