As Americans continue to stagger through the economic wreckage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of hustlers in Texas is eager to add to their misery by having taxpayers nationwide bail out a high-speed rail project in the Lone Star State that has already gone off the tracks.
In 2015, Texas Central Railway (TCR) announced plans to build a privately financed 240-mile high-speed rail system connecting Dallas and Houston. TCR’s developers assured the world that they would raise $10 billion in private capital to cover the entire cost of the project and that the system would be completed and up and running by 2021.
That was the promise; the reality has been something else altogether.
Instead of raising $10 billion from investors, all the project’s developers have been able to scrape up is $110 million in the U.S. and another $40 million from sovereign Japanese entities. Desperate for funds, TCR “welcomed a $300 million interest-bearing loan from Tokyo deposited in an offshore Cayman Islands ‘special purpose vehicle’ account, which is now depleted,” writes John Sitilides in the Washington Times (July 10).
The reluctance of investors to fork over money for the project is not surprising. TCR has never run a railroad or laid track. And there are widespread doubts that the train will ever attract enough passengers to turn a profit.
With no more takers among private investors, TCR is now seeking up to $30 billion in grants or loans from the U.S. Department of Transportation – in other words – from you, the American taxpayer. TCR’s last roll of the dice is hoping that the Trump administration and Congress agree to a giant public infrastructure deal, which would include billions for the otherwise doomed train to nowhere in Texas.
Fun and Games with Eminent Domain
Every bit as odious as putting the taxpayers on the hook for the project, are TCR’s threats to use the power of eminent domain to gobble up privately owned land for the tracks running between Dallas and Houston.
Initially, TCR sought to use state eminent domain to force landowners along the proposed route to sell their property to the developers. But when state lawmakers threatened to pass legislation prohibiting the land grab, TCR switched from state to federal eminent domain to acquire the land it wanted.
How can you claim that a transportation project that is limited to east Texas qualifies for federal eminent domain? Easy. As Sitilides explains, you get “the Surface Transportation Board [to] grant federal jurisdiction based on a spurious non-physical connection to a Houston Amtrak station, to render the Texas project part of the federal rail network.”
The implications of TCR’s petition to the Surface Transportation Board should be lost on no one.
“If the STB approves the petition,” Sitilides points out, “it will set a precedent enabling every urban light-rail system near an Amtrak station anywhere in America to access federal transportation funds and eminent domain powers.”
Tons of pork stuffed into an infrastructure bill, along with the granting of federal eminent domain powers, are the only things standing in the way of the project’s being put to rest. Concerned that U.S. taxpayers and Lone Star State property owners will pay dearly for this boondoggle, Reps. Kevin Brady, Ron Wright, and Michael McCaul – all Republicans from Texas – have issued statements opposing the project.
All the Trump administration needs to do is follow their lead, and tell TCR the White House is not onboard.