U.S. bullet train proposals shun public funds, favor private cash

Thu May 5, 2016 3:38pm EDT
 
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By Robin Respaut

(Reuters) - It took years of lawsuits and political battles for California to finally break ground last year on the nation’s first bullet train, which aims to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2029.

High-speed rail advocates had hoped the line, supported by more than $13 billion in state and federal money, would inspire similar government-financed projects. Instead, its many delays have left rail groups wary of accepting public funds for projects they are proposing in three other states.

Companies in Texas, Minnesota and Nevada all plan to tap private cash from investors globally, with help from foreign train makers and governments eager to export train technology. The projects would rely on partnerships with Japanese or Chinese firms that face saturated train markets at home.

“The United States is the Holy Grail of deployment for Japan, China, France, Germany and Spain,” said Tim Keith, Texas Central CEO.

California's example shows that taking taxpayer money opens the door to political and legal challenges that can drag out planning, bidding and approvals for years, private rail advocates said. Companies now see a quicker - even cheaper - path by largely avoiding such headaches.

“All the rules relating to public engagement start the day you take public funding,” said Wendy Meadley, chief strategy officer for North American High Speed Rail Group’s project in Minnesota. With private financing, she said, opponents "can’t make thousands of public records requests and run the project over.”

The company said last year it would seek money from Chinese investors. Now, it said it is considering two foreign partners for the $4.2 billion project, which seeks to connect the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to Rochester, Minnesota, by 2022.

Texas Central is paying for engineering studies with $75 million from Texas investors, $40 million from a state-backed Japanese development fund and about $130 million in design work from two firms. The Dallas-to-Houston rail line is projected to cost $12 billion and be completed by 2021.   Continued...

 
China Railway High-speed Harmony bullet trains are seen at a high-speed train maintenance base in Wuhan, Hubei province, early December 25, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer/File photo