Texas Central Railroad held a luncheon Tuesday at the MLK Center, in regard to comments and concerns of the residents of Navarro County at the open forum in January. The Corsicana and Navarro County Chamber of Commerce hosted the luncheon, and Taco Station catered the event.
Vice President of External Affairs for TCR Travis Kelly spoke on behalf of the High Speed Rail, attempting to clear up any misconceptions and answering questions the public has asked.
When concerning property taxes, Kelly assured that “because we are a private company, we will pay taxes for our property; the bill will be on our dime … We also want our neighbors to get rich, and we consider you as our neighbor. Whether we need your land or not, the check from the price we negotiate for land is yours to keep.”
He also says the train will be fairly wide, with aisles wide enough for wheelchairs to pass through and restrooms will be available on the trains. Due to the enclosed nature of the track, there should be no delays from weather issues.
“Even under more complex operating scenarios, [Japan] has less than one minute delays over an average of a full year,” Kelly said.
With regard to talk of road closures in the Environmental Impact Statement, Kelly explained that most of those road closures relate to private driveways that affect more than one resident, which are mostly off the public roads. TCR will make up those road closures with the construction of new roads for those residents, and even says TCR will negotiate with residents how to best construct the viaduct columns as to reduce inconvenience of the column placements.
Terry Jacobson, an attorney for Navarro county was reached for comment relating to what Kelly claims about road closures. Jacobson has been studying the Draft EIS since TCR released it.
“I cannot say for certain if private roads will be affected, as the county maps used by TCR are not completely clear,” Jacobson said. “I can confirm that there are at least 14 county roads affected by the railroad, one of them potentially closed and two to three others rerouted.”
After the initial public speech, Kelly invited questions from the attendees of the luncheon. One attendee, Pct. 4 City Councilman Jeff Smith, asked the majority of the questions. One of the questions Smith asked concerned whether or not any economic impact studies were conducted for individual counties, especially for ones without stops. Kelly said they have not had the chance to take a closer look at any individual county, but will plan to before the final EIS in January 2019.
Smith asked about the rumors of the one-mile moratorium around the track that would prevent hunting, and Kelly replied that rumor was false. There is no state hunting regulation regarding the train, and he believes hunting is allowable around the track. In relation, Smith asked about what measures are there to prevent hogs on the track, and Kelly assured that measures will be made with the construction of fences buried far enough into the ground should hogs attempt to root underneath.
“And unless they learn to climb ladders, I'm certain the viaducts will be safe from hogs too,” Kelly said.
Smith also asked if TCR would continue with the project should they not gain eminent domain, and Kelly responded that TCR’s view is they already possess authority for eminent domain, as they are operating as a railroad company. Smith argued that TCR was not a railroad, as they have not laid down track
nor have been operating a railroad before 2007, to which Kelly argued back is not a correct viewpoint for their company.
Another question Smith asked related to how TCR calculated their estimated ridership and their reasons for not disclosing their calculations. Kelly responded that their method for calculating ridership is kept secret as to keep TCR having an advantage over competing companies, that the method becoming public could make them lose that advantage.
Concerning other questions asked by the attendees, Kelly cleared up that the train would not use already-existing rail lines, but will construct a new line close to utility and power lines already implemented to supply the train's power.
One question was how long it would take to board the train when going through security at the station, and Kelly assured that it would not take very long.
“You have no worry of taking off belts and shoes, as it's a different type of security and more passive,” he said. “With train stations, you can build on top of infrastructure unlike airports that rely on large spaces for landing and takeoff strips. Plus, a train has multiple doors unlike a plane that only has one entryway.”
Comparing once again to air travel, Kelly assured that ticket pricing will be competitive too.
“The current average air fare between Dallas and Houston is $175,” Kelly said. “We expect our top premium fares to be even less than that price. We’re gonna be very fair and competitive on price based on the ridership we predict to have.