Last week, the American arm of SNCF, France’s state-owned rail company, issued a response to a federal environmental impact assessment that criticised a planned high-speed rail link between the Texan cities of Dallas and Houston.
Texas Central, the developer of the bullet train, has responded by sending a rebuttal of the claims to GCR, saying that the French firm was acting in "its own self-interest" and was "seeking to find a home for its trains in Texas".
The firm adds that SNCF’s plans ignore "Texas law, public sentiment and provide an ill-informed and thinly veiled attempt to appeal to the US government".
Debt and ownership
SNCF said "the concept of private financing, while seductive, is virtually impossible to achieve with the financial debt-service burden of infrastructure that costs $45m per mile to build".
People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it– Texas Central
It also said the proposed railway would place "huge risks on the shoulders of local, state and federal taxpayers". Alain Leray, SNCF America’s president, commented: "The project has been designed around the best interest of a single company, not what is best for Texans or the state’s rail transportation future."
Texas Central replies that "railroads in Texas are privately owned and operated, and meet the needs of the market, not top-down government plans", and that SNCF was in no position to criticise as it was awarded more than $16bn in annual funding and was, furthermore, "under investigation at home for increasing the debt burden to the state, failed efficiency and safety results".
The International Railway Journal reported last month that that SNCF’s increasing revenues were "insufficient" to offset its total debt of $57.5bn.
Edouard Philippe, France’s prime minister, said the scale of SNCF’s debt was "alarming", according to German broadcaster Deutsche Welle and that "whether or not they take the train, the French are paying more and more for a public service that works less and less well".
In SNCF’s dissection of the plans, it argued that if a lower speed options were chosen instead of high speed, trains could use existing infrastructure.
Image courtesy of SNCF
Texas Central responds that SNCF’s comments about the differences between high-speed and medium-speed technology is at odds with "its own principles for high-speed trains".
It quotes a 2009 SNCF document that said: "High-speed lines must be designed exclusively for high-speed trains for the following reasons: additional safety constraints, operating challenges in optimising timetables, extra costs of cab signalling 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 high speed rail on separate dedicated tracks that prohibits mixed traffic."
SNCF was also critical of Texas Central’s plan as it eliminated the opportunity for competition because it would use Japan’s Shinkansen technology, which is not compatible with the rest of the rail system in the US.
Texas Central replied: "The European system is a monopolistic system in and of itself and the Japanese system happens to be perfectly fit for the Texas market because it is the safest in the world."
SNCF also suggested that instead of Texas Central’s high-speed line between Houston and Dallas, a "T-bone" design (pictured) should be used, connecting Houston, College Station, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Temple, Georgetown, San Marcos and San Antonio, thereby joining more people with less track.
It said the project as it currently stands would create an extra $1bn in GDP, but that Texas Central had made no mention of the projected economic benefits of SNCF’s T-bone layout, nor mentioned the cities that would be neglected while only linking Houston and Dallas.
Texas Central replies that the estimated economic growth was "exactly what drew Texas Central to this market and why we are designing a high-speed train system to connect these two economic engines with thousands of travellers in between every day".
It added: "There is nothing stopping any other company competing for this very same corridor. Unfortunately, a lot of companies around the world are used to responding to government-led opportunities and Texas Central was drawn to this market because of the market.
"It’s an example of a company trying to skip to the front of the line and not do the due diligence and hard work that Texas Central has done over the last many, many years, with people on the ground here in Texas."
The company conclude that "people who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it".
Top image: An N700 Shinkansen may be used on the project (TCR)