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State pols make moves to block train's path

The proposed high-speed rail line that would carve a path through Madison County as a route between Houston and Dallas faced a couple of turns in the past week.

State senator Brian Birdwell of Granbury successfully attached a rider to a state budgeting bill that would deny any public monies for the Texas Central Partners’ planned rail line, which Birdwell warns would be unregulated and unapproved by any state or federal entity.

Meanwhile, area U.S. congressman Kevin Brady -- prodded by a letter this month from a pair of Dallas-area congressmen to support re-opening proceedings regarding the U.S. Surface Transportation Board’s authority over the proposed high-speed rail line – issued his own reaction in a letter to the chairman of the STB. Brady joined with Ron Wright (TX-06) in the letter voicing their opposition to the project.

"While I support infrastructure improvements that address the dynamic growth of Texas, I remain opposed to the Texas High Speed Rail as currently proposed as it works against local communities, instead of for them," Brady said in the letter. "TCR's efforts to use eminent domain against the will of property owners I represent will harm our rural lifestyle without offering any direct benefits. I also oppose their efforts to secure federal loans backed by taxpayers, while claiming to be a project that does not rely on tax dollars."

Birdwell’s rider against funding the train will go before the entire Texas Senate as the state moves through its budgeting process.

"This project has many issues, and one could easily see the potential outcome that could befall Texas by looking at the catastrophic failure occurring in the California high-speed rail project," Birdwell said.

A high-speed rail plan in California has been fraught with lawsuits, engineering issues and a budget that has reportedly more than doubled to $77 billion. Birdwell’s bill would take state money away as a funding option.

"This rider seeks to solely protect state resources, including state right-of-ways, should Texas Central Rail (TCR) begin construction before receiving a definitive answer on their condemnation authority,” he said in a press release.

Birdwell’s office said TxDOT would be restricted from expending state resources to coordinate access to state highway right-of-ways for construction purposes until a high-speed rail entity can prove their ability to utilize eminent domain.

This rider is necessary, and more so now than in previous sessions, due to events that have transpired here and in other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, Brady’s efforts on a national level were inspired by a pair of Dallas-area representatives voicing their support for the project. Collin Allred and Eddie Bernice Johnson sent the STB chairman a letter earlier this month urging the board to support the line.

Various other politicians from the state’s urban centers -- Reps. John Carter (TX-31), Kay Granger (TX-12), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Lizzie Fletcher (TX-07), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), Van Taylor (TX-03), Lance Gooden (TX-05) and Roger Williams (TX-25) -- put their signatures on the letter, as well.

In announcing their own letter, Brady and Wright said the petition to reassert STB authority over the high-speed rail project is a ploy to gain eminent domain power for the 240-mile route. The STB ruled in 2016 is did not have jurisdiction over the project.

“The flawed petition would establish a new and troubling precedent, which could open the door for any inner-city metro system in the United States to classify itself as a federal railroad if connection is provided to the nearest Amtrak station,” the congressmen said in a press release.,31266

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