For some reason, the big players in Houston and Texas media continue to ignore one of the biggest news stories of our day. Maybe they’re too busy covering national politics or posting photo galleries of the best darn chicken-fried steak you’ve ever eaten that they can’t find the time. In the process, corporate-owned media of our city and state are missing an opportunity to do their real jobs as watchdog for the rest of us.
You’ve heard about the purported high speed train that will, one day (in the far, far future), connect the booming economies of Houston and Dallas. You’ve seen snippets of smiling politicians lauding the innovative (yep, that’s the word) technology of trains, and you’ve read public-relations pieces boasting of a new board chairman or a new CEO joining the team of Texas Central Railway to forever change the way we travel in this state.
What you aren’t reading, anywhere, is an in-depth, analytical look at the feasibility of this project, the money that surrounds it, and the way a high-speed train will factor into transportation a decade from now. And for the life of me, I can’t understand why big media outlets haven’t jumped on the opportunity to do some real, albeit difficult, work.
The latest news about Texas Central Partners and its bullet train was quietly released last week. From the Dallas Morning News: “Texas Central Partners has secured a $300 million loan to continue its pursuit of a new 240-mile high-speed rail route from Dallas to Houston. The company said it will use the financing to move ahead on permitting, design and engineering on what would be the first high-speed rail in America.”
For anyone who has followed the slow drip of news on this project since its 2015 announcement, the $300 million loan should serve as sticker-shock to the general public. The reason? The interest-bearing loan comes from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation and the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development.
Good on the Dallas Morning News for at least reporting about the loan (nothing in the Houston Chronicle that I could find). But if you know the background of this project, and the promises made by Texas Central Partners, we should all raise an eyebrow.
TCR has consistently told us they have local investments worth enough to get the project to the construction phase. To a bum like me, I took that to mean they could get through all the studies and permitting and consultative work needed to begin laying the first columns of concrete.
But if you read through the tea leaves (whatever those are), you’d realize that wasn’t the case at all. Instead, they need another $300 million, and they somehow can’t find the local investment dollars to continue the project without the help of two Japanese banks. And by the way, it shouldn’t be lost on us that TCR plans to use Japanese technology – not compatible with high speed rails across the rest of the world – to build this new rail system. No wonder our friends from the Far East have ponied up the dollars to get the project through the U.S. government’s approval process.
Interestingly, news of this loan brought one of the larger opponents of the project out of public hiding this week. A company called SNCF America, which is based (obviously) in Paris, jumped on news of the Japanese bank loan.
“Texas Central Partners comes clean on its empty promise of private funding led by Texas investors,” said Scott Dunaway, a spokesman for SNCF America. “Now Japanese taxpayer funds are being loaned to finance the planned Dallas to Houston rail. Two Japanese-government agencies are supporting an attempt to corner the market with technology that lacks interoperability and creates a monopoly on the future of Texas high-speed rail.”
I tried to contact Dunaway directly to get more information on his company’s concerns. As the “spokesman” for the company, I thought he seemed a logical place to start. However, I was told Dunaway (the spokesman) “isn’t conducting interviews, but we’d love to connect you with SNCF America’s President and CEO, Alain Leray. I thought that would be great, but Leray works in Paris, and he was counting sheep when I needed an interview.
My point is this: SNCF probably has as much to lose (or gain) from what happens to this Texas Central Partners bullet train as any other company in the world, so you have to be careful using their information to make educated decisions on the project.
And that gets me back to where we started. Where are our major media players when we need them most? I’m sorry, but The Leader is a one-person show. We don’t have the financial backing to throw a team of reporters on this project, which means the only thing we can do is sound the alarm.
So let’s ask some questions to help our brethren in big media get started: Is there any possible way this project is going to happen? A few months ago, it was announced the Northwest Mall location would serve as the Houston depot for this train. Does that mean the lot stays barren for the next decade as we wait for construction?
Has anyone bothered to think about the future of transportation and how that plays into this high-speed idea?
For instance, one of the great pitches by TCR is you won’t have to sweat the drive to Dallas anymore. Instead, you can watch a movie or do some work whilst sitting on a train. But aren’t there a number of companies developing self-driving cars these days? And aren’t those a lot closer to reality than this train? If that’s the case, won’t I be able to crank my car in a decade from now, tell it to get me to Dallas, and watch whatever movie I please?
And why in the world haven’t Houston, Dallas or Texas media taken a trip out to the boondoggle that is California and investigated that high-speed train project? It’s a catastrophe, and it’s only getting worse. Why aren’t we paying any attention?
Just so you know, our company recently bought a business with offices in Dallas, and there’s nothing more I’d like than to stop these horrid drives up I-45. A quick train ride would be wonderful. But if the company making the promise already needs loans from foreign banks just to complete the studies, shouldn’t we be asking more questions?