Ashby takes HSR case to Washington


State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, expressed his opposition to a proposed high-speed rail on Friday in a letter to members of the Texas Congressional delegation.

The letter was addressed to Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, and Reps. Kevin Brady, Bill Flores and Louie Gohmert.

Ashby's letter was directed around proposals from the White House for future transportation initiatives.

"I hope you will oppose any effort to spend federal dollars on a high-speed rail project in Texas, as well as demonstrating your opposition to any movement to allow a high-speed rail project the authority of eminent domain," he wrote.

Ashby told the solons he had sponsored a bill, which was signed into law, which prevents the State of Texas from using any public resources for the planning, construction, maintenance, security, promotion, or operation of a high-speed rail project operated by a private entity.

"(It is) clearly recognized that no high-speed rail project in the world is able to operate and maintain service without a significant subsidy from taxpayers," he wrote. "For that reason, members of both parties came together to ensure that Texas would not be in the business of bailing out a private high-speed rail entity like many other states have made the mistake of doing."

He said that in light of the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Study, he has asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to hold separate meetings with his office, and other stakeholders, to discuss the effects of this project's potential construction.

"Much of the directly impacted areas, some of which you all represent, are rural and used for agricultural and timber purposes, so any changes to the watershed or water sources could negatively affect the productivity and longevity of these operations," he wrote.

"While a rapidly growing state such as Texas is in need of access to new, innovative models for transportation, it is the belief of many Texans that the current high-speed rail project tramples on private property rights, destroys the livelihoods of thousands of individuals and families, and on balance, just doesn't make good long-term sense for our great state," he said.

Meanwhile, Texas Central, the company behind the high-speed rail project, is seeking to meet with county officials regarding the study.

According to Holly Reed, managing director of External Affairs for TC, said, "Over the past several weeks, Texas Central has contacted the county judges and commissioners in all of the counties where the Texas Bullet Train will be running. The company has provided updated information about the project and answered questions on the Federal Railroad Administration's recently released Draft Environmental Impact Statement."

That federal report said the Houston-to-North Texas train would alleviate the strain on the state's existing infrastructure and is needed to accommodate growing demands, she said.

"Now that the FRA has begun work on its final review, required before construction, Texas Central has asked to meet with all top county leaders to discuss access, safety and other issues," Reed said. "Texas Central looks forward to moving ahead on these meetings with the county officials, law enforcement, first responders and others."

She said the project will help train first responders all along the 240-mile route to familiarize them with all aspects of the train operation.

"Texas Central will identify any resource and coordination gaps that may need to be filled, including a need for staging areas, emergency response equipment and other areas where needs dictate," Reed said. "The additional equipment and training provided by Texas Central will be available to serve residents and communities along the route every day of the year, around the clock."