Landowners fight potential high-speed rail from Dallas to Houston

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A railroad company in Texas plans to build a bullet train to connect two of the state’s largest cities – Dallas and Houston. But a group of landowners wants to put the brakes on the controversial project.

About 100 miles north of Houston, you’ll see farms and ranches in almost every direction you turn. But there could be a different structure in the horizon if the Federal Railroad Administration gives it a green light.

“The route between North Texas and Houston is the most commercially successful place to put a high-speed train,” said Holly Reed, the Texas Central managing director of external affairs.

Texas Central is the company behind the project. It plans to use a system already in operation in Japan. It would move people from Dallas to Houston in under 90 minutes.

“Connecting two of the largest economies in the country and roughly half the state of Texas’ population creates a super economy,” Reed said.

But some landowners like Ben Leman aren’t on board.

“If this high-speed rail gets constructed, it would be a solid land berm cutting across the landscape there,” he said.

Leman pointed out that the train wouldn’t go through his property. Still, as the chairman of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, he said he knows people that would be affected.

"There's a permanent severability on your property as a result of that,” he said.

Texas Central said it is working with landowners to make sure they have access to their properties. And, it is primarily looking at investors and entrepreneurs to fund the $12 billion project.

However, it is also considering federal loan programs for support. Leman’s worried that could leave taxpayers on the hook.

"There's huge doubt on the financial feasibility of this project,” he said.

Texas Central said the loan programs would get paid back in full plus interest. The company is doubtful the project would fail, saying in this region there is a need.

“Texans are demanding a safe, reliable, and productive alternative to flying or driving,” Reed said.

The Federal Railroad Administration signed a draft environmental impact survey on Dec. 15. There will be a public comment period that will last until Feb. 20. During that time, the government will hold 10 public hearings in affected counties.

The FRA said the draft environmental impact survey does not grant approval or authorization of the project.