In Dallas as in Houston, the twin termini of what they hope will be the nation’s first bullet train, government officials and civic boosters have expressed enthusiastic and unreserved support for Texas Central Railway’s effort to bring high-speed rail to Texas. At a joint 2014 press conference, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called the project a “game changer” while Houston Mayor Annise Parker declared that she was “excited to support a clean, safe and fast commute for millions of our residents.”
After all, Dallas and Houston, unlike the rural areas in between, have a lot to gain: A new way to travel, economic development, bragging rights and, because Texas Central is a private company whose holdings and right-of-way will be subject to property taxes, millions in direct revenue.
But in Houston, the top-line support has obscured substantial grassroots opposition. It has inspired critical op-eds in the Houston Chronicle and opposition from residential neighborhoods in its path. The opposition is a big reason why Texas Central plans to stop the train just outside Interstate 610, a 10-mile drive from the center of the city, rather than downtown.
When Texas Central briefed a Houston City Council committee last month, its representatives faced sharp questions both about continued impacts to neighborhoods – Councilwoman Brenda Stardig, who represents a portion of northwest Houston, was “concerned there is a possibility of this land-locking my district” – and about how the hell the company planned to get downtown.
When Texas Central briefed a Dallas City Council committee on the project on Monday, the sharpest question they faced came from Councilman Philip Kingston, who pressed Texas Central’s Holly Reed to aver that an Arlington stop on a Dallas-Fort Worth bullet train being pushed by Fort Worth and suburban officials, which Texas Central saw no profit in but agreed to cooperate on, was a terrible idea. Reed demurred.
Moreover, according to Monday’s briefing, Dallas is drafting a preliminary agreement with Texas Central that will, among other things, set up a fund that allows the company to fund the city’s formal review of the project.
It’s not that Dallas’ citizenry is somehow culturally primed for high-speed rail. Texas Central’s presentation in both cities declares that “Texas does big things”; provincial boasting aside, most can probably agree that Dallas and Houston’s affinity for largeness are of a comparable size.
Rather, the big difference between Dallas and Houston when it comes to rail is that the Trinity River, along with an existing normal-speed rail corridor and the historic neglect of southern Dallas, has left Texas Central with a more or less clear shot to Dallas’ heart. The path to downtown, meanwhile, is blocked by a wall of homes and businesses.
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Further easing Texas Central’s entry into downtown Dallas – or, more specifically, the Cedars neighborhood immediately to the south – is developer Jack Matthews, a major landholder in the Cedars with significant influence at City Hall. Matthews was one of the big-name Texans who chipped in as part of Texas Central’s initial round of fundraising in the summer of 2015.
Around the same time, one of his Matthews' many real estate ventures, Cadiz Riverfront LP, transferred to Texas Central’s real estate arm a pair of holdings just southwest of downtown, a 52-acre parcel of vacant land at 318 Cadiz Street and a vacant seven-acre parcel at 1500 Riverfront Boulevard, presumably for station-related development. (That puts those particular pieces of land out of reach of the Choctaw Nation, which invested $10 million in Cadiz Riverfront and a couple of other Matthews partnership in 2014 because “land held by one of the Partnerships is a prime location to build a casino should Texas change its laws to provide for gaming in Dallas.")
There remain a mind-boggling number of loose ends Texas Central must tie up and fast if it is to begin construction in 2017 as planned. Some of those loose ends are in Dallas. Councilman Erik Wilson pointed out that a previous iteration of the train’s route from Wilmer into Dallas had it running through a brand-new Amazon warehouse. And Councilwoman Carolyn Arnold pressed for details of any land transactions Texas Central had been a part of in her district.
But in Dallas, Texas Central's path has no significant obstacles.