Concerned property owners pack opposition meeting in Madisonville to discuss high-speed rail project
MADISONVILLE, Texas (KBTX) -Nearly 200 people gathered for an opposition meeting on Monday night at the Truman Kimbro Convention Center in Madisonville, where property owners and opponents of the proposed Texas Central high-speed rail project were informed on the latest developments.
The meeting was hosted by Texans Against High-Speed Rail, a nonprofit coalition of more than 70 property owners, stakeholders, and local leaders who say they’re not opposed to high-speed rail in general but this particular project.
This meeting followed the recent announcement of a potential collaboration between Texas Central Partners and Amtrak. Those in opposition argue that the 240-mile Houston to Dallas line would have detrimental effects on their communities and would jeopardize taxpayer dollars. They expressed concerns about what they say was initially presented as a private partnership but now appears to be taking a different direction, especially with Amtrak expressing interest in joining forces with Texas Central.
Madison County Judge Clark Osborn was one of many county judges, sheriffs, and elected officials in attendance who expressed concerns and reservations about the project and partnership.
“I mean this thing is going to cut Madison County in half like it will every other county along the line. We’re not going to get any county tax money if this thing’s turned into a federal public right of way, so it’s dollars and cents. This doesn’t make sense,” said Osborn.
In Normangee, the proposed route threatens to bisect the Oak Leaf Ranch, a property that Army veteran Gene Whitesides has called home for over a decade.
“What you see around you is our forever home, and shortly after we bought the property and built our homes on the property, that’s when TCR surfaced,” said Whitesides.
Whitesides, Texans Against High-Speed Rail, and others say they remain committed to opposing the project, advocating for transparency and property rights.
“There’s a lot of fight left even though the players have changed. We were very successful in round one, and I think that we’ll be very, very successful in round two.”
Judge Osborn called for a pause on the project and a return to the drawing board. He stressed the need to thoroughly examine the finances and feasibility of bringing Amtrak into the equation and potentially spending taxpayer dollars.
“If we’re going to start and bring in Amtrak I think the first thing we need to do is let’s talk about the finances, let’s see if it’s even feasible. If there’s a step number two then we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” said Osborn.
The proposed 240-mile route promises a travel time of under 90 minutes between these major metropolitan areas, with the potential for a stop in Grimes County. At the time of the announcement, Amtrak expressed its belief that rapidly growing metropolitan areas like Houston and Dallas deserve enhanced high-quality, high-speed transportation options.
“If we are going to add more high-speed rail to this country, the Dallas to Houston Corridor is a compelling proposition and offers great potential,” said Amtrak Senior Vice President of High-Speed Rail Development Programs Andy Byford. “We believe many of the country’s biggest and fastest-growing metropolitan areas, like Houston and Dallas, deserve more high quality high-speed, intercity rail service and we are proud to bring our experience to evaluate this potential project and explore opportunities with Texas Central so the state can meet its full transportation needs.”
Texas Central and Amtrak have submitted applications to several federal programs in connection with further study and design work for the project, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail grant program.
Amtrak has worked with Texas Central since 2016 when it entered into agreements to provide through-ticketing using the Amtrak reservation system and other support services for the planned high-speed rail line, according to a news release shared Wednesday by Amtrak.
“This high-speed train, using advanced, proven Shinkansen technology, has the opportunity to revolutionize rail travel in the southern U.S., and we believe Amtrak could be the perfect partner to help us achieve that,” said Texas Central Chief Executive Officer Michael Bui. “We appreciate Amtrak’s continued collaboration and look forward to continuing to explore how we can partner in the development of this important project.”
Another opposition meeting is planned for this week in Ennis. Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, who serves as the president of Texans Against High-Speed Rail, the importance of keeping landowners and stakeholders informed because the fight to protect property rights continues.
We’ve been at this now for 10 years. There’s a lot at stake. We’ve, you know, tried everything we can to make sure that we’re not building a bridge to nowhere. So it’s important for people to stay up to speed on the latest developments and stay educated,” said Duhon.
The meeting in Ennis is scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the SPJST Lodge 1901 E. Ennis Ave.
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