Yes, it is happening in my home town and this is the kind of thing I wish I did every day. So much important transportation news goes entirely unreported and is so often colored by journalistic ignorance of corporate influence.
Anyway, the Texas High Speed Rail Transportation Corporation board conducted its quarterly board meeting in Little Rock today (6/17/09). Mayor Bill Jones of Temple presided and a short interview with him will be posted here.
There was a good deal of discussion and I will try to highlight some of the juiciest tidbits.
Practically speaking, the most significant action taken was the formation of a “local governing corporation.” That is a creature of Texas law that allows public entities to acquire land, enter into contracts, and receive funds. The corporation will also have the power of “eminent domain.”
Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines welcomed the board members and guests and made a presentation as well. He pointed particularly to Central Arkansas’ role and a transportation hub and the recent ranking of Little Rock as the 7th. strongest local economy. Villines took a long term perspective.
The conference was organized by the Dean International, Inc., a public policy lobbying and public relations firm. (My description.) Some of the most notable comments were put forward by Dean’s President, David Dean. To my great dismay, a few new worlds have been added to teh already confusion lexicon of high speed rail discussions.
Add to your list of terms “high performance rail.” This, as best as I can figure, is conventional passenger train operation in the 110 mph range. While this is faster than any route in the United States, except the northeast corridor, it is not good enough for the ambitions Texans.
David Dean pointed to a growing rivalry between true HSR (200 mph European style trains), and commuter rail. Dean asserts that the transit operations want a slice of the $6 billion federal dollars set aside for HSR development. He also stated that recent developments point to four leading contenders for participation in the federal funding.
- Texas T-Bone
- Northeast corridor Acela
This raises an obvious question that I plan to put to Mr. Dean my first opportunity tomorrow. Texas proponents are adamant about building a true international class network of 200 mph trains.
It should be kept in mind that about 70% of Texans live in the “footprint” of the proposed system and that adds up to 16,000,000. Dean states that asking Texans to pass a tax to pay for HSR is not in the cards and he expects to work with local and county governments, port authorities, airports, and other entities along the proposed route to participate in development.
If I understand Dean correctly, his financing method would include encouraging commercial and residential property development. Again, I will get this clarified.
Texas HSR planners have 100 miles of right of way that is 100 yards wide available from a place called Wiley to Mr. Pleasant. My Texas geography is a bit lacking, but this apparently follows the route of I-30. This also may leave Marshall-Longview out in the cold. This makes the north leg of a route into Arkansas more feasible for true HSR.
Arkansas State Rep. Steve Harrelson of Texarkana is the foremost supporter of passenger rail in Arkansas state government and he also addressed the gathering. It was at Harrelson’s prodding that the state legislature approved the first money ever set aside for a passenger rail purpose – $100,000.
Harrelson outlined the potential opposition from rural interests not included on a new service, and objections from the powerful northwest Arkansas contingent. There is also a cultural aspect to be considered in that most Arkansans are not accustomed to any mode of transportation that does not center on the automobile.
Nonetheless, Harrelson compares the present time to the period when Eisenhower proposed the interstate highways. Should Oklahoma proceed with expanded faster rail service to Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Arkansas might lose out on a very large economic boost. My interview with Harrelson is on the way.
Harrelson questions whether Arkansas has sufficient population to support the cost of building world class high speed rail. Nonetheless, his measure approved by the legislature will study extending the South Central Corridor from Little Rock to Memphis. The Fort- Worth to Memphis route may be well suited for “high performance rail.”
David Dean observed that Taiwan has the newest HSR system in the world. It was constructed (including several tunnels) in four years and became profitable after 14 months.
Dr. Bill Pollard of Conway, one of the foremost rail advocates in the southwest and America, was asked about Amtrak “on time performance.” He was optimistic about a continuation of improved time keeping as the economy begins to improve. That is linked in large part to new federal legislation which requires “host” railroads to properly dispatch Amtrak trains. I will get an interview with Dr. Pollard on this matter.
This report covers a very detail enriched meeting, and this is only the first day of three. It is my purpose in this post to give an even=handed account of what happened. Your vigorous response is always welcomed.