Texas is a pretty large place. Two of its largest cities are nearly four hours apart by automobile – and an estimated fifty thousand commuters drive on I-45 between the two cities more than once a week. The Texas DOT estimates that by 2035, this could take six and a half hours. Obviously a better solution is required, so in steps the Texas Central Railway. Founded in 2010, this private company pledges to do the trip in under ninety minutes. Not only would their alleviate traffic demands, but a ton of other benefits would be seen from this project. The railway stations would spur development in the area, and thousands of jobs would be created.
But with any big project, there are concerns. Especially in a traditionally red state like Texas, many residents are concerned with financing large projects such as high speed rail. And this wouldn’t be the first time such questions have been asked – in Florida, stimulus money that was intended for high speed rail was not used due to political differences. State budget deficits have also added to the list of factors that prevent new transportation projects from being built. But even some states are finding ways to fund the future, as demonstrated by John Levy in Contemporary Urban Planning. He makes a note of the progress in California, where a high speed rail line is currently under construction between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
He quotes a state initiative titled Proposition 1A that suggests a funding strategy for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
“To provide Californians a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and high gas prices; to provide good-paying jobs and improve California’s economy while reducing air pollution, global warming greenhouse gases, and our dependence on foreign oil, shall $9.95 billion in bonds be issued to establish a clean, efficient high-speed train service linking Southern California, the Sacramento San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area, with at least 90 percent of bond funds spent for specific projects, with federal and private matching funds required, and all bond funds subject to independent audits?” (Proposition 1A, November 2008)
The high speed rail project in Texas also is looking for funding that would not involve reliance upon taxpayers. Instead, the Texas Central Railway, as a private company, will be looking towards investors. The issue with funding is one of the greatest challenges that the project sees from its opponents. One opponent, Kyle Workman, makes a compelling argument. He notes that “There are no profitable high-speed rail lines in the world,” Workman said. “They are all heavily taxpayer supported.” But that’s simply not true – as CityLab suggests, even in the United States we have a profitable rail line: the Acela Express that travels through Rutgers itself!
The issues and challenges will keep piling up, and there will be continuing opposition to the project far after it is even built. The resistance against expensive rail projects in the United States has dragged us down, as other countries primarily in Europe and Asia have built world-class high speed rail systems. The Texas Central Railway has answers to its criticism, though, and its leaders seem up for the challenge.
The company has teamed up with the Central Japan Railway Company to help with the planning and construction process. It has selected rolling stock that has minimal noise, and the system’s structure allows for easy passageway between the farms that it will be plopped on. Only time will tell whether this rail line gets fully built – but it seems likely so far.