Texas Central CEO, property owners testify before House Transportation Committee

KBTX News 3 at Ten(Recurring)
Published: May. 4, 2023 at 10:17 PM CDT

AUSTIN, Texas (KBTX) -On Wednesday, opponents of the proposed 240-mile high-speed train connecting Houston and Dallas and passing through Brazos Valley communities continued to voice their concerns at the Texas State Capitol.

During the hearing before the House Transportation Committee, landowners and Texas Central officials testified about the impact of the proposed high-speed train project.

Elected officials and landowners along the proposed train route have been demanding more transparency and accountability from the company, which they claim has left them uninformed about the project’s status for more than ten years.

House Bill 2357, authored by (R) House District 15 Representative Steve Toth and (R) House District 8 Representative Cody Harris, proposes that rail operators disclose their funding and financing methods for projects annually.

Texas Central Railroad CEO Michael Bui spoke out against the proposed bill arguing that the legislation is unnecessary and could be harmful to Texas Central’s operations.

Bui’s testimony before the committee on Wednesday marks the first public statement by Texas Central leadership about the project in years.

Last year, attorneys representing almost 100 property owners from nine Texas counties wrote to the rail company requesting information regarding the long-awaited high-speed train project. Landowners along the proposed route have expressed doubts about the company’s financial stability, lack of transparency, and what they call inadequate leadership, making it challenging for them to believe that the project will come to fruition. To obtain answers, landowners took Texas Central to court, seeking pre-suit deposition but the hearing that was scheduled for last month was postponed.

Plans for the high-speed rail project date back to 2014, with land acquisitions following shortly after. Texas Central’s website previously announced the start of construction in 2021, but opponents claim to have seen no progress from the company.

Bui testified that forcing companies to disclose information like ridership studies, names of investors, and financial plans could jeopardize companies interested in developing critical infrastructure.

KBTX News 3 at Six(Recurring)

“These are proprietary and confidential, and I think any private company would hesitate to put this out there to be used for others’ benefit to their detriment,” said Bui. “The federal agency overseeing the project has stated its intent to review the financial feasibility of the project as part of its thorough review to approve the project as it does with other projects.”

However, members of the committee, including (R) District 9 Rep. Trent Ashby and (D) District 40 Rep. Terry Canales, expressed frustration with the lack of information provided by Texas Central and urged the company to be more transparent with the affected communities.

‘You mentioned proprietary, confidential information. What part of what you’re providing our federal counterparts do you feel like you can’t provide to us?” said Ashby.

“It’s a little disappointing that you cannot provide them with any information whatsoever so I would tell you whether you want to answer me or not I would tell you you need to get your act together as a community because this community has been suffering,” said Canales.

The bill was left pending in the committee. Lawmakers have 25 days left during this legislative session to approve bills being considered.