During a public meeting held on Tuesday night at Ennis High School, several residents voiced their concerns about the proposed high-speed rail project that could soon forge a path through Ellis County.
The Texas Central Railway hopes to build a high-speed line that would connect Dallas to Houston. The Japanese N700 Series Shinkansen electric trains would take passengers on the 240-mile trip in about 90 minutes at speeds estimated at 200 miles per hour.
WHAT TCR SAYS
“What you are seeing tonight is a public meeting that his hosted by the Federal Railroad Commission prompted by their draft of the environmental impact statement,” said Travis Kelly, Texas Central Vice President of External Affairs. “It is the culmination of four-plus years of work, tens of millions of dollars, and it is 5,000-plus pages. It represents input from 19 plus state and federal agencies.”
Kelly stated that the FRA has looked at all the field studies, engineering work, public comments, agencies comments, and identified a single and preferred route for the bullet train. The two proposed alignments for the course that pass through Ellis County are located west of Interstate 45.
Kelly explained the environmental impact study has looked at the train’s influence on items such as private property, wetlands, protected and endangered species, emergency response, school bus routes, and property owner’s concerns.
“Through hundreds of meetings with landowners and others, the FRA found this route has a very minimal impact on the environment, and they found a preferred route from an environmental perspective. Which is again is not just the natural environment but the human environment as well,” Kelly stated. “The next step would be the final environmental impact statement, which is the culmination of all these questions and comments. Every comment that is turned into tonight the FRA is required to respond to. Every question must have an answer. Some of that will require us to generate additional information and additional design work.”
Kelly added that once this work is completed, the FRA would then make their assessment and issue that in a final Environmental Impact Statement. That is scheduled for January 2019.
Kelly stated Texas Central is working with people that are affected by this project and addressing concerns through individual conversations. Texas Central has purchased a number of options on property in the county. The company has ongoing negotiations with property owners.
"Others we have negotiated what the project looks like once it is built to accommodate the current use of the land and the future use of the land,” Kelly said. “It is a matter of having hundreds and hundreds of conversations with landowners. It has been ongoing for some time.”
Kelly stated several copies of the draft of the environmental impact statement are available for the public to view. Some of these locations include Sims Library located at 515 W. Main Street in Waxahachie.
Kelly stated the current schedule has the project breaking ground next year.
WHAT RESIDENTS SAY
Residents shared their concerns about the proposed project during Tuesday's comment period.
Ennis resident and agricultural producer, Bob Beakley, voiced his opposition to the high-speed rail project. He noted that the project would have a negative impact on the land.
“I think that we are here tonight to counter some of the false information from Texas Central. I believe it is called fake news. It was reported that this track will leave a light footprint but what will the trucks and heavy equipment use to build it do to our land,” Beakley asked. “ This is supposed to be a privately funded project but why have they been in Austin and Washington, DC to secure loans?”
Fellow resident Bill Barnes shared Beakley’s concerns that the project would cause more harm than good.
“I am strongly against the high-speed rail even though I am a mile away from it. Business and government are famous for overreach, remember the super collider,” Barnes questioned. “The (talk) is that this is a done deal. Remember there is one option they haven’t considered, which is the no-build option.”
Barnes suggested to the audience that they contact their elected representatives, write to the FRA, and even call the White House hotline to ask President Donald Trump to remove funding.
Lisa Sullivan told the audience that if this project moves forward she will lose her home due to it being in the direct path of the track. She noted that this is not about preventing progress but protecting families.
“This is about the family, and they are destroying families," Sullivan said. "We don’t want to sell. How are we going to be reestablished? You have got to think down the line about the impact. This country lifestyle is going to be gone.”
Gary Farmer, who is with the Rural Bardwell Water Supply Corporation, explained to the audience that this project is going to have a negative impact on rural community’s availability to get water. He asked the FRA who would replace and encase the waterlines if this project were to happen.
Property owner Norman Burgan stated he was looking to construct a home on his ranch, but it would be cut in half if the rail line would be built. He suggested that Texas Central look at the technology that Elon Musk is developing.
Ellis County Precinct 1 Commissioner Randy Stinson told the crowd that he did not support the project because of the negative impact on the county.
“I live within a few 100 yards of this. The super collider was an eye-opening event. It would have grown the county if it had worked but it didn’t,” Stinson noted. “My suggestion to you all (Texas Central) is to be transparent and upfront. I would like to see more transparency. You can sell a person something if you explain what it is about.”
The Ellis County Commissioners Court unanimously passed a resolution in 2014 that opposed the high-speed rail project.
Dallas resident Curtis Garrison spoke in favor of the project, saying that it would provide greater connectivity for the traveling public.
“I support all forms of transportation and sometimes a train is the best option. Sometimes you need to look at the benefits. I tell you that a lot of people wanted to be here, but they are scared. I am from the city, but my background is that I am from the farm. It was in Iowa. I am not totally ignorant to the situation,” Garrison said “I understand that changes like this are dramatic and uncertain because you have never seen a train like this before. I have ridden all over Europe and Japan on high-speed trains. I live in Dallas and sometimes I want to go to Houston like a lot of other people that I do business with. This benefits you guys with property taxes being paid to your community.”
Garrison said he hopes that people will consider the options and the benefits to everybody.
Kevin Feldt, with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, told the audience that COG supports the project and it is in line with its regional transportation plan.
In an interview with Texas Central, Ellis County resident Richard Spencer stated that he came out to a previous meeting to find out about the design of the train system and the environmental protection of the affected property.
“I learned tonight that the train is quiet and a lot silent than a freight train, so it makes a big difference. I think that it will improve the county and the train (traveling) process for the state,” Spencer said. “I think that would improve us to be a better way of communicating and travel. Very excited, definitely going to ride it.”
Marilyn Lynch shared with Texas Central that she came to an informational meeting because she and her husband have two properties within the City of Ennis and wanted to find out more about the high-speed rail.
“I learned so much. The graphics and the individuals that were from Texas Central were so helpful in answering all of my questions. I was able to see where my property was in relation to both projected proposed routes. They even measured the number of feet and miles that I would be from the proposed routes. I learned about sound and elevation and how it could impact property that we did have cattle or livestock and crops,” Lynch stated. “I was also interested in finding information for my neighbors because they have expressed concern. I am so glad that I attended. It was an incredible experience. I am now well informed. I have heard it with my own ears and seen it with my own eyes. I am much more comfortable with high-speed rail even though I was not that uncomfortable with it before.”
Mary Koetting shared her thoughts with Texas Central about attending an open house informational event.
“I wanted to know where the track was going to come and how close it was going to be to our property. It is going to be on our property,” Koetting stated. “I am learning about the elevation of the train track, the grade, and how it could be landscaped to be aesthetically pleasing. Feel more informed.”
People who have questions and comments about the project can direct them to DallashoustonHSR@urs.com or go to www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0700. Additional information can be found at Texas Central’s website at www.texascentral.com and by emailing them at email@example.com. The comment phase of the project has been extended to March 9.