Hold on to your cowboy hats, a high-speed rail is coming! Checking out the latest eminent domain news across the country, we read about a Texas appellate court allowing eminent domain for a high-speed rail project.
In early May, Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure (TCRI), the company planning to build a high-speed train from Dallas to Houston, had a ruling in its favor by the 13th Texas Court of Appeals. The court ruled that the project can exercise the power of eminent domain because it qualifies as a railroad under Texas law.
Carlos Aguilar, the CEO of Texas Central, was of course pleased with the decision, saying, “This decision confirms our status as an operating railroad and allows us to continue moving forward with our permitting process and all of our other design, engineering, and land acquisition efforts.” The plaintiffs are expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.
As we have heard time and time again, the property owners are not pleased. (Hope they have a good legal team!) Leon County landowners Jim and Barbara Miles sued the railroad and they are refusing access to survey their land as part of its effort to determine the route for the rail project.
Interesting to us was that the Miles family argued that TCRI is not a railroad under the Transportation Code definition. The Texas Transportation Code Sec. 112.053 grants that right to a railroad company, allowing railroads entry onto private property for the purpose of selecting the “most advantageous route for its railroad.” The Texas Constitution in Article I, Section 17 allows for the taking of private property with adequate compensation by an entity that is granted the right of eminent domain by Texas law. Opponents to the high-speed rail project are also concerned about such issues as its effect on private property rights and impact on the environment.
87th Judicial District Judge Deborah Evans granted a summary judgement motion to the plaintiffs last year stating that TCRI was not a railroad or interurban electric railway and thus did not have the power of eminent domain nor the attendant right to survey land.
In the Court of Appeals, Judge Nora Longoria, in her opinion for, wrote that TCRI is a railroad company under Title 5 of the Transportation Code because it is an “enterprise created and operated to carry passengers, freight, or both on a fixed track.”
Even though TCRI has yet to lay tracks or carry passengers or freight, it has taken many necessary steps “to be able to create and operate a railroad in the future,” like coordinating with regulatory agencies, conducting land surveys, and entering into purchase agreements. The Court also found that TCRI qualifies as an interurban electric railway under the Texas Transportation Code.
On the surface, at least for some of us, it might seem like semantics. Railroad or high-speed rail, it’s doing the same job. Right? Not quite. Plaintiffs argued that the legislature never intended high-speed railways, like Texas Central, to fall under the definition of “interurban electric railway” because it passed an entirely separate section of law concerning high-speed rail (HSRA), an act that has now been repealed.
This new rail seems pretty impressive with Texas Central Railway anticipating a 90-minute travel time between Dallas and Houston at speeds over 200 miles per hour. According to Texas Central’s website, the Dallas station will be in the Cedars neighborhood south of downtown. In Houston, the station will be in northwest Houston between I-10 and 290. One stop is planned in Grimes County that will include a direct shuttle to Texas A&M University.
According to the railroad company, the project will create 10,000 jobs during construction and 1,500 permanent jobs.
You know that we always like to chat about the dollars involved and here goes. Texas Central projects the cost of the project at $12 billion, but some estimates have the cost of the project closer to $30 billion. The project is currently funded by private investors, and the company’s website says it “will not seek grants from the US Government or the State of Texas, nor any operational subsidy once operation begins.”
Let’s see how this eminent domain news moves along. We’ll be sure to “track” it!