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Bill package shapes fight on high-speed rail

Legislative opponents of a proposed high-speed rail line to zip passengers between Dallas and Houston have filed a package of bills aimed at killing the project.

State Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, is a member of the group. Texas Central Partners wants to build the bullet train line using Japanese technology and counting on private investors to pay the $12 billion cost.

“This group of foreign investors is threatening to seize family farms, physically divide the state of Texas, and have a gravely detrimental impact on the citizens I represent,” said state Rep. Leighton Schubert, R-Caldwell, in a news release issued Wednesday.

That may be overly dramatic, but there is determined opposition to the project among property owners along the proposed route and among some lawmakers.

Some of what the group has proposed amounts to commonsense measures to be put in place should the project move forward.

Birdwell, for example, has filed SB 975 to establish security measures for screening passengers and protecting against a terrorist attack.

Another bill, SB 982, would require the Texas Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study for any high-speed rail project.

SB 980 would prohibit the use of state money for the Dallas-Houston line unless the state obtains a lien superior to all other lenders. SB 977 would prohibit a taxpayer bailout if the project goes bust.

Those bills should not be significant problems for Texas Central Partners. But other bills certainly are.

SB 981 would require that Texas Central demonstrate its line’s compatibility with more than one type of train technology. Texas Central’s planned Japanese technology is not compatible with those from other countries.

And then there’s SB 973, a rattlesnake in disguise. It would bar survey crews from entering private property to mark it for a high-speed rail line unless the Texas Department of Transportation declares that the project fits the definition of a railroad.

To do that, TxDOT would be saying Texas Central can use eminent domain to take the land it needs. Few topics are as politically sensitive in Texas as taking private land, especially for use by a private entity.

That puts TxDOT in the center of this battle.

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