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Published on July 6th, 2009 | by Derek Markham


Airlines & Oil Barons in Fear of High Speed Rail: The South Central Corridor

July 6th, 2009 by  

Texas is a major battlefield in the fight between high speed rail advocates and opponents. The lone star state is the home base for many of the forces that are against the development of passenger rail in the United States. The “big three” opponents of high speed rail are all located in Texas and have been successful in preventing better passenger train construction for decades.  This group consists of:
1. Texas is firmly a “red state” that is home to many members of the Republican Party political elite. This includes the family of Bush 43 (now retired into a private residence in a Dallas suburb), Rick Perry (state governor who made headlines promoting the idea of succession from the Union) and two Republican senators – John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Republicans have proven themselves, by their legislative record and public statements, to be against passenger rail investment.
2. Energy companies are naturally against competition to do not use their products. Unlike cars, buses and trucks, high speed rail is electrified. The trains are run from electricity created in power plants. The power generating plant may be coal fired, nuclear or run by renewable energy. In any case, the close relationship of the oil industry and Texas politicians (in the case of George W. Bush the merger of the two) has been a significant factor in the decay of passenger rail in the state and country.
3. Competitors in the transportation industry, specifically the car and airline industries. Detroit was able to impede high speed rail in Washington at the federal level, which was effective for decades. Now that Detroit has ceded control to the government in exchange for government aid, this source of opposition has been greatly neutralized. The airline industry has taken a much more local approach to shutting out competition from trains. Their plan of attack is enacted at the state level. According to the Austinist, a publication based in the state capital, low cost carrier Southwest Airlines was almost single-handedly responsible for the abandonment of high speed rail in the 1990s. An article on the history of the project states:

“…Southwest Airlines succeeded in preserving its dominance… Thanks to successful lobbying by Southwest Airlines…the THSRA [Texas High Speed Rail Authority] was officially shut down in 1994, successfully discrediting the concept of efficient high-speed passenger rail among Texans and setting progress back on updating statewide transportation by decades in one swift blow.”

Southwest Airlines has much to fear from high speed rail because its commuter business between San Antonio, Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth would be decimated. Studies from abroad show a successful high speed line could cut the airline traffic of these lines in half. It has already happened in Spain along the Madrid-Barcelona corridor of the Spanish AVE.
With all these powerful interests aligned against Texas rail, it is no surprise that the project has not yet laid one meter of track. This resistance is starting to lose strength and Texas, the lion’s den of high speed rail opposition, looks set to progress with a line that will bind together Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma in the coming years.
This is the 6th of a 13-part series on high speed rail in the USA. Read previous articles:

[photo credit: MyEyeSees]

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About the Author

Derek lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, fungi, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves fresh roasted chiles, peanut butter on everything, and buckets of coffee. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!

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