Residents expressed growing concerns — some new and some old — surrounding the proposed high-speed rail project that plans to carve a path through eastern Ellis County.
The Federal Railway Administration has now filed a draft of the environmental report on the train system’s impact in the latest milestone for the project. The reports claim the Dallas-to-Houston route would be built to avoid negatively affecting streams, wetlands, floodplains, and other natural and cultural features.
Texas Central Railway plans to build a high speed-rail line and would use the Japanese N700 Series Shinkansen electric trains. These trains would take passengers on the 240-mile trip in about 90 minutes with speeds estimated at 200 miles per hour.
Holly Reed, Texas Central Managing Director of External Affairs, stated the project has worked to be mindful of the environment.
“The FRA said the Houston-to-North Texas line is going beyond industry standards and federal laws in protecting the environment,” Reed said. “That includes silt fences and straw bales installed to minimize runoff into nearby water bodies, wetlands, and other sensitive areas. Erosion control measures will be taken, and vegetation will be restored at the completion of construction.”
Reed added that noise levels and vibrations would be reduced through specific shielding methods and later reevaluated.
The route will feature grade separated crossing over or under all public roads. The viaduct and elevated berm design would allow for the free movement of people, vehicles, farm equipment, wildlife, livestock and vehicles without waiting for a train to pass.
According to the FRA website, the environmental and social impacts of alternative route alignments will be analyzed, including routes that share corridors with an existing rail line and along electric utility lines.
The proposed high-speed line would operate on a dedicated right-of-way and would not share track or infrastructure with existing trains or rail lines. The Environmental Impact Statement would analyze possible impacts of stations, power or fueling stations and maintenance facilities. The draft identified possible station locations in Grimes, Dallas, and three in the Houston area.
Marty Otero, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, stated the FRA has filed the first draft of the Environmental Impact Statement, which is apart of the water quality certification application and is currently under review. The water quality certification looks at a project’s impact on bodies of water and groundwater.
Marty Hiles, President of Texas Concerned Citizens and Waxahachie resident, stated the proposed project if built would be harmful to Ellis County’s future.
“You look at the high-speed rail and you look at their environmental study this thing is going to be 200 feet wide going through the county. State law says the centerline of the railroad can go two miles in either direction on the left and right side of it and take what they need,” Hiles said. “If you are going to build this dirt berm you are looking at over 20 cubic yards of dirt.”
Hiles stated it is going to depress the local economy, taking all of the nearby properties out of the tax base.
“Everybody is going to have to raise their property taxes dramatically in every county to make up the difference because they have schools they have to support as well as cities and towns,” Hiles said. “People haven’t looked at the real impact economically. It is an economic disaster for all of us.”
Carma Sullivan, an Ennis resident, stated the high-speed rail project would destroy the land that her family has lived on for generations.
“The property that has been in our family for 135 years, and all of the family are farmers. It will take out the whole place,” Sullivan said. We are not losing one of the family homes, but it goes right down the middle of three of us. It goes about a mile and a half in length cutting their properties in half.”
Sullivan stated Texas Central needs to be more transparent with the public about the project and there are still too many unanswered questions.
Becky Scasta, a Waxahachie resident, has a property that could be impacted and feels the information Texas Central has released is misleading
“One of the main things to know is that in order to conduct a property survey they needed to put feet on the ground of every property it would go through,” Scasta said. “They have not been able to do that because many of us whose homes they are trying to take told them they could not survey. Their environmental impact study was built with not all of the land that it was going to cross.”
The Ellis County Commissioners Court unanimously passed a resolution in 2014 that opposed the high-speed rail project. Paul Perry, county commissioner Precinct 3, stated the rail system will hurt the environment.
“By crossing over the land like this, it is cutting species migration. They are going to alter the geographic look of the county with making a secure track,” Perry said. “We have an alternative it is called Southwest Airlines or any other competing airline.”
Perry stated people are going to have the same hurdles with the high-speed rail in securing transport when they get to their destination. He added it is still unknown how many people are going to be affected by this project.
Lane Grayson, county commissioner Precinct 2, stated the project is going to detrimental to the county and state.
"There is going to be a huge impact to our county road infrastructure due to the number of roads that intersect with the rail. As of the last count, there are 22 county roads with 11 Farm-to-Market Roads," Grayson said. "My other concern is that it will have a negative impact on agriculture business, our ambulance, fire, and sheriff's office response. I still stand firm on this issue. I don't believe that it will be good for our economy and the state. It will be subsidized by taxpayers."
Grayson added that Texas Central needs to answers questions from the public in a timely manner.
State Representative John Wray stated, should the project happen, it would be harmful to residents.
“Transportation is a critical issue for Texas, which requires thoughtful and pragmatic solutions to the challenges that we face today and in the future,” Wray stated in a 2017 press release. "Texas Central has failed to demonstrate a viable, transparent, and comprehensive plan to real mobility needs of the state.”
Texas Central refutes all claims. Additional information can be found at https://www.texascentral.com.
The next public meeting is at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6 at the Walter County Community Center located at 21212 Farm-to-Market 1098 Loop in Prairie View.
For more information about the project go to www.texascentral.com or to https://railroads.dot.gov.