Judge doubts Trump supports Texas bullet train
Grimes County Judge Ben Leman calls reports that President Donald Trump's transition team included the controversial Texas bullet train in a list of priority infrastructure projects "completely fake news," saying he feels confident Trump wouldn't support such a project.
There have been conflicting reports over a list of Trump's supposed top 50 infrastructure priorities, which includes the high-speed rail line that would carry riders between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes. The Kansas City Star reported on the list Tuesday, but a Politico report questioned the document's authenticity.
A Facebook post Tuesday night made in response by Texans Against High-Speed Rail, the group Leman chairs, stated that it believes the list is "not an official transition team document ... in effect, a fake." Leman said Wednesday that he's also confident the list doesn't reflect the thinking of Trump or his transition team.
Leman said there's "no way" Trump would support the bullet train in any form but hopes the president does look at it, "because that would kill it alone."
"At the end of the day, Trump is all about trying to make things work that are feasible," Leman said. "He's a very smart businessman, and he will see very quickly without much assessment that there's just absolutely no way this project will meet its ridership goal. He will see this as crony capitalism at its finest."
Leman has been a prominent critic of Texas Central Partner's plans for the $12 billion bullet train, which it says will be privately funded and won't use taxpayer dollars. While the company estimates a station in Leman's Grimes County -- which would be the rail's only stop -- would create more than $50 million in direct tax revenue between now and 2040, the judge has been outspoken against the project.
Following the introduction of a resolution by Leman in March 2016, the Brazos Valley Council of Governments pulled its support of Texas Central's project, reversing a position the agency took two years earlier.
Leman has publicly aired his worries about the potential use of eminent domain, the financial sustainability of the rail and a lack of transparency about the plans. He said Wednesday that the high-speed rail would go against many of the promises Trump ran on, particularly his "made in America" philosophy -- the project is based on the technology of Central Japan Railway Company's Shinkansen bullet trains.
"If it goes belly up, it's so unique in that you can't put any other high-speed rail project on it," Leman said. "You can't use Chinese, French -- other technologies cannot sit on this rail. So that's a monopoly, and it goes against [Trump's] principles of free commerce, free market."
And while he said Trump has used eminent domain for his own real estate projects, Leman thinks the president believes "there's a threshold there of public benefit" that must be achieved to seize property.
Kyle Workman, president of anti-rail group, wrote similarly in the Facebook post that Trump will "not want to make Japan great again by investing in a Japanese-backed project; nor will he want the private property rights of Texans trampled by egregious abuses of eminent domain."
Texas Central, though, said in a statement that it was "pleased" to be considered among the nation's infrastructure priorities, calling the bullet train a project being led by free-market principles that will create jobs and economic opportunities.
"Texans are looking for safe, reliable and productive transportation options. The high-speed train answers that call for the region, state and country," the statement read. "We look forward to working with the new administration, moving ahead with the project's free-market approach."
The College Station City Council is set to receive an update on the high-speed rail during its workshop today.