It’s hard to stop a train

As has been mentioned here before, an interesting transmogrification seems to have taken place whereby the Texas Central Railway, a private group backed by major industrial concerns seeking to provide a premium service to principally business travelers – in other words, the essence of Dagny Taggart Capitalism – has nonetheless been parsed by some rural folk as an urban, liberal, Democrat sort of thing.

The initial opposition to the line was spearheaded by a young couple with a small patch of farmland in the path of a high-speed bypass of some curvy BNSF track. This is the most understandable form of NIMBYism, and in response TCR got out in front of the release of the Federal EIS to announce that they preferred the Utility Alignment, a straight shot that would parallel existing pipeline and power transmission easements.

However, by this point the opposition had coalesced in the form of HB 1889. Sponsor Will Metcalf says he thinks rail is a waste of money when we need more funding for highways, although he hasn’t stated how canceling a privately-financed railway will accomplish that goal.

HB 1889 takes an extant and arcane section of Texas law meant to give cities some amount of control over the routes of old-style interurbans, and repurposes it by expanding the scope to county governments and classifying HSR as an interurban.

I’m not a lawyer, and this isn’t legal advice, but it seems to me that Metcalf’s proposed rewrite misses the forest for the trees. Interpreted in context, the language in 131.014(d) is not a broad prohibition on interurban construction, but a minor limitation on an otherwise broadly-worded section and chapter intended to grant interurbans great leeway in route and alignment choice.

Chapter 131 was originally written to clarify that interurbans possessed all of the same powers that had been granted to steam railroads by previous case law, as well as a few novel ones – such as the ability to condemn existing street railway tracks to reach a downtown core.

Adding “county” to part (d) without striking the other portions of the section thus forces one to interpret the statute in its entirety. Which means that, to my untrained non-legal-opinion-offering eye:

—TCR can build across private property without the consent of the county; the Porters’ farm isn’t “property of [Montgomery] county,” it’s the Porters’.

—TCR can build “on or across” a TxDOT facility without the consent of the county, since the state isn’t named in the expansion of 131.014(d)

—TCR can overpass a county road without consent of the county, because 131.014(a) enumerates “across” and “over” separately, while 131.014(d) only restricts crossings “on or across” municipal property.

In order words, the bill is toothless, because Shinkansen trains don’t have grade crossings. It could conceivably be applied to railways with 100mph level crossings, such as are sometimes found in Germany and Eastern Europe, but no one is proposing to build that sort of line in Texas.