Rival rail company says Texas Central train is 'not right for Texas'

Published: Mar. 13, 2018 at 5:10 PM CDT
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SNCF America, the U.S. branch of the French state-owned rail company, is calling the proposed high speed rail between Houston and Dallas "bad for Texas."

They believe a different route makes more sense for future high speed rail expansion. SNCF America is advocating for a line connecting Dallas-Fort Worth south along Interstate 35 with a spur to College Station and Houston. This "t-bone" plan for Texas has been talked about for years, but has not come to fruition.

Texas Central Railway's plan to connect Dallas to Houston would include a stop in the Brazos Valley but not western cities along the I-35 corridor. SNCF America thinks Texas needs a network of train stops.

"First, it allows to connect cities. For example, Waco suddenly becomes a suburb of Dallas, of Fort Worth. People can live in Waco, but work in Arlington, in Dallas or in Fort Worth," said SNCF America President and CEO Alain Leray. He also claims a different route would save money.

"You try to save on as many miles of construction as possible and that's what the t-bone does," he explained. Leray said that there are cost benefits to a train system with more than just one stop. He also doesn't know if the Texas Central project can be adequately financed.

“Look, ideally, I hope I’m wrong. I don’t think this can be done totally with private funds. It’s just impossible, it has been done nowhere else," said Leray.

Texas Central maintains they can build the 240 mile high speed rail line.

"There is nothing stopping any other company competing for this very same corridor. Unfortunately, a lot of companies around the world are used to responding to government-led opportunities and Texas Central was drawn to this market because of the market," said Texas Central Railway Vice President of External Affairs Travis Kelly. Leadership at Texas Central Partners call SNCF America's comments self-serving. They said it's as simple as other companies not putting their money where their mouth is.

"It's an example of a company trying to skip to the front of the line and not do the due diligence and hard work that Texas Central has done over the last many, many years, with people on the ground here in Texas," said Kelly.

SNCF America claims the bullet train will create a monopoly and limit competition for high-speed rail service.

"I think what they have done up to now, starting from scratch, is actually quite remarkable. This cannot be denied, but when we are talking about competing, what they are trying to do is exactly the contrary," said Leray. He said that the technology used by Texas Central is monopoly technology.

"Those tracks will not be able to accommodate any other technology, so they stand for exactly the contrary of competition. They stand for monopoly because their technology cannot accommodate any other standard," Leray added.

Texas Central believes the Japanese technology they want to use is their best option.

“The European system is a monopolistic system in and of itself and the Japanese system happens to be perfectly fit for the Texas market because it is the safest in the world at 53 plus years of safe operations," Kelly explained. Texas Central said they are now working on studying and responding to comments submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration about the project. The final environmental impact statement is expected to be out in January 2019.

SNCF America said they transport around 155,000 rail passengers a day in Massachusetts, Virginia and Washington, D.C. They also submitted comments to the FRA about the proposed bullet train. Texas Central responded to claims made by SNCF America in a statement:

“Of course, SNCF, the state-owned and heavily subsidized (at more than $16 billion a year) French National Railway would declare they are against competition and block the world’s best high-speed train technology from coming to the U.S. Contrary to the European model, railroads in Texas are privately owned and operated, and meet the needs of the market, not top-down government plans. Rather than spend the amount of time and resources that Texas Central has invested over many years, the French State Railway is one of many competitors that would prefer to skip to the front of the line and thwart Texas Central’s progress. Consistent with their operations in Europe, the French state-owned National Railway admits that its plans would require significant public-sector investment, including ongoing operational subsidies. This approach ignores Texas law and public sentiment and provides an ill-informed and thinly veiled attempt to appeal to the U.S. government to eliminate its competition, which is introducing high-speed train service between Houston and North Texas. While under investigation at home for increasing debt burden to the state, failed efficiency and safety results (Spinetta Report, Feb 15, 2018), the French National Railway is seeking to find a home for its trains in Texas. They don’t like competing with the Shinkansen system planned for Texas because of its safety design that has resulted in zero accidents or fatalities in over 53 years of operation. In fact, in 2009, validating Texas Central’s current approach, SNCF delivered a proposal to Request for Expressions of Interest, saying verbatim on page 11: “…high-speed lines must be designed exclusively for high-speed trains for the following reasons: additional safety constraints, operating challenges in optimizing timetables, extra costs of cab signaling equipment for conventional infrastructure and rolling stock, reduced allowances on super-elevation and gradients, and shallower track curves. Meeting these requirements is best done by placing HSR on separate dedicated tracks which prohibit mixed traffic. Segregation of high-speed service enables operators to achieve higher average speeds and limits the need for additional track to allow for passing…. This also lessens the causes of delays and leads to dramatic improvements in train punctuality and the reliability of scheduled services.” Now, for their own self-interests reasons alone, they blast the Texas Bullet Train approach, disregarding their own principles for high-speed trains. It is the safety program and culture that has made the system being deployed in Texas the best in class for the world. To be clear, Texas Central will not compromise safety in any way. Connecting the Houston and North Texas area creates a community of more than 14 million people and an annual $998 million GDP- and growing. That is exactly what drew Texas Central to this market and why we are designing a high-speed train system to connect these two economic engines with thousands of travelers in between every day.”

Tuesday evening Scott Dunaway, SNCF America’s Texas-based spokesperson also sent News 3 an additional statement.

“Texas Central Rail elects to attack SNCF America, Inc. for solicited public comment instead of defending the merits of the Texas Central Rail project. SNCF America believes that speaks volumes about the credibility of Texas Central Rail and serves as a distraction to the real conversation that Texans should be having.”