Texas Central response to SNCF

Of course SNCF, the state-owned French National Railway, would declare they are against competition and attempt to block the world’s best high-speed train technology from coming to the U.S. market by lobbing criticisms from across the Atlantic. They only know and want one way to build a train system – building the biggest system possible regardless of ridership, using your taxpayer dollars so they can sell more of their product. That is one of the many reasons the Texas Central railroad did not pick them as a partner. It didn’t work before, and it doesn’t work now. Results not only in France, but in California prove that.

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. In their recent release, they demonstrate their clear lack of understanding of this project and the facts surrounding it. Their comments are like the United States Postal Service telling Fed Ex or UPS how to deliver packages.

Texas Central is a railroad.

The Federal Railroad Administration has been working through the project’s necessary regulatory approvals and permitting processes since 2014, conducting in-depth research, survey work, and technological review to ensure this system is built in the least environmentally impactful way. The FRA issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement in December 2017 and continues to work towards issuing a Final EIS. The FRA has only dedicated the time and resources to this process because Texas Central is a railroad.

There are three counties to discuss with regard to legal activities. The first decision was issued by a Harris County District Judge in December 2016 stating:

“Texas Central is a railroad company as defined in Section 81.002 of the Texas transportation Code; is an interurban electric railway as set forth in Section 131.011; and has the right to conduct surveys and other examinations required in order to select the most advantageous route for its new proposed railway.”

Texas has laws allowing private companies that build infrastructure – such as railroads – to conduct survey work and exercise eminent domain in limited cases. Texas Central’s preference is to reach agreements with landowners on a voluntary basis, exercising this right only as a last resort.  

In Ellis County, the Court denied the landowners’ motions to consolidate their cases as well as Texas Central’s motions for summary judgment, effectively moving each case forward toward separate trials. the Court did not rule on the merits of the case, only that it should proceed to trial.  As such, the Ellis County court did not rule that Texas Central was not a railroad company or interurban electric railway, nor did it rule on its eminent domain authority. The trial and any appeal will determine these issues.

Finally, the ruling issued in Leon County directly contradicts the previous ruling made in Harris County, and will be appealed in the 10th Court of Appeals. Leon County is literally the headquarters for the opposition to the high-speed rail project. We are confident that the laws of Texas irrefutably give this project authority to access and survey private land to help determine the high-speed train’s most advantageous route between Houston and North Texas.

This appealable ruling does not change our daily focus on working with landowners, working through the technical and environmental details and helping to reach out to communities and supporters.  

Texas Central’s approach is right for Texas, the failed California project proves it.

Texas is not California, which is why this project is taking a fundamentally different approach. The Texas approach is a private, investor-owned project, letting the discipline of the free market drive decision making. The private approach to financing this project changes everything. This is the first project where commercial success is at the heart of the project focusing on ridership and the customer experience – a direct contrast to California’s politically driven, publicly-funded model.

Unlike Texas’s investor-led project, the California project’s goal was to achieve political and economic development, including economic integration of one of the poorest regions of that state. Because their goals were not based on ridership and cost containment, there was significant complexity and cost added to the build plan. To put some of this in perspective, the potential cost of the tunnel work needed to connect San Jose to Los Angeles alone was projected to cost more than the total projected cost of Texas Central’s 240-mile project.

California started construction based on an arbitrary federal deadline without having many major decisions in place.  For example, they have not selected what train technology to deploy so their construction plans must accommodate the largest, heaviest alternative, which drives up cost.  

Among the many factors that set the Texas project apart from California, our project;

  • Is LESS than ½ the distance
  • Is 1/5th the total project cost
  • Connects the FASTEST growing region in the country – the 4th and 5th largest metropolitan regions in America
  • Serves a market with 16M trips/yr and more than 50K weekly super-commuters
  • AVOIDS public sector spending
  • Is an EFFICIENT use of Right of Way: 2 tracks of rail = 16 lanes of highway traffic relief
  • Is the MOST COMPETITIVE and MODERN means of transport for this distance (240 miles)
  • World-leading integrated team of experts doing civil construction, technology, operations and finance with a program management team assigned to oversee cost and schedule
Texas Central will deploy the safest train technology in the world.

The Project will utilize the safest technology in the world, the Japanese Shinkansen system, which has a proven track record of moving more than 10 billion passengers during the past half-century without a single fatality during operation. In line with Texas Central’s commitment to and culture of safety, the Texas high-speed train will be completely new, purpose-built infrastructure specifically designed for Shinkansen high-speed trains. There will be no other trains operating on the system, and trains will only operate in one direction on each track, either northbound or southbound.

As the first high-speed train system in the United States, existing rules do not cover the full range of topics and issues required for regulation of the Texas Central system. As such, the FRA is already working with Texas Central directly as it demonstrates compliance with existing rules and recommends appropriate rules to govern its future operation. These rules are being custom developed specifically for the DFW-Houston corridor and the technology being deployed. The draft rules and supporting documents as submitted are already over 1,000 pages long.  This system will not begin operations without this robust set of rules and regulations in place.

In contrast to the proven, 54+ year perfect safety record of the Shinkansen, the French railway has been accused of neglecting its internal infrastructure investments, resulting in 10 accidents and 5 derailments since 1988 and increasingly poor service and on-time performance. 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 now seeking to sell their trains in Texas. They don’t like competing with the Shinkansen and its specialized, purpose-built infrastructure because SNCF simply cannot compete with its impeccable safety and on-time performance records.

In their release, SNCF criticizes Texas Central’s plans to continue the Shinkansen’s flawless safety record by building a dedicated system. However, in 2009 SNCF stated that is their “strong conviction” that building a high-speed rail system in Texas should be done EXACTLY that way, with lines exclusive for high speed trains.  In their own proposal in response to FRA’s Request for Expressions of Interest, stating verbatim on pages 11-12:

“SNCF wishes to emphasize its strong conviction that the success of its high-speed rail operations will depend on establishing dedicated track for high-speed service. It is easy to demonstrate that running high-speed trains and conventional passenger trains on different lines is better for all partiesHigh-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.

Now, for their own self-interested reasons, the French have disregarded their own “strong convictions” and switched positions on their recommendation to avoid mixing different train technologies on the same tracks – a hypocritical, direct contradiction to their previous assertions.

Let us be clear: Texas Central refuses to compromise the safety and integrity of this system by sharing tracks with other technologies. This commitment is one of the cornerstones of the safety program and culture that has made the Shinkansen system the best in the world, and will ensure that safety record continues here in Texas.

Texas Central will be successful due to its investor-owned and data-driven approach.

As a private company operating in a competitive market, Texas Central has conducted the most robust and comprehensive market research to-date on the DFW-Houston travel corridor, utilizing state of the art methodology and technology to allow data – not political interests – to drive company decision making. The scrutiny and accountability of the private market will ensure this project is being developed and deployed in the most fiscally responsible way.

SNCF, a company that as of 2016 was more than 45B€ in debt, adding over 3B€ in losses every year (Spinetta Report, Feb 15, 2018), clearly does not understand how to build and operate a commercially successful train line. Similar to the failed California project, in building out a network that is not rooted in market research, it would result in an underutilized, inefficient and expensive service that would operate at a deficit.

Consistent with their operations in Europe, the French state-owned National Railway admits that their 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 US government to eliminate their competition introducing high-speed train service in the Houston-to-North Texas market. Further, the French railway system is significantly less utilized than its European counterparts – in many instances more than 50% fewer riders per day (Spinetta Report, Feb 15, 2018). It would seem their time would be better spent focusing on their own ridership issues at home rather than attempting to stifle competition abroad.

What is most ironic is that SNCF’s release recommends using taxpayer dollars, mixing technologies on the same line, and creating a state-wide system that is not based on researched ridership data – the exact same fundamental flaws that have challenged California. Their criticism of Texas Central’s point-to-point, investor-led approach to high-speed train development is the equivalent of K-Mart telling Amazon how to run their business.

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