JudicialTransportationLawsuit Challenging Federal Environmental Decision About Texas High-Speed Rail Filed

Landowners, counties, and an advocacy group have filed suit against the federal government claiming that it violated federal law in conducting a review of the Texas Central high-speed rail project.
April 15, 2021
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Texans Against High-Speed Rail, six Texas counties, and 10 interested landowners have filed suit against the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) challenging the rule of particular applicability and environmental impact statement (EIS) issued last year for the Texas Central high-speed rail project.

The suit was filed on April 14 in the United States District Court for the Western Division of Texas in Waco. 

The suit claims that the FRA failed to follow required procedures and processes found in federal law as part of its review of the project, resulting in an outcome that doesn’t account for all potential environmental impacts and violates the private property rights of the plaintiffs.

“Armed with a $300 million loan from the Japanese government, Texas Central and its legion of consultants were chosen to carry Central Japan Railway’s water. FRA was chosen as the willing federal agency conduit. And thousands of impacted rural landowners who have been told lie after lie about the Project for years were chosen to be the sacrificial lambs,” the suit alleges.

The plaintiffs are asking for the FRA’s decision to be declared void and enjoined from use for Texas Central’s project or any other use.

The Texan Tumbler

According to allegations in the lawsuit, the FRA began its review process in 2014 to study the impacts of constructing and operating the Texas Central route from Dallas to Houston. However, the lawsuit claims that the scope of that review “suddenly changed course” in 2020 to study the impact of a particular set of safety standards applicable to the Japanese Shinkansen technology planned to be used by Texas Central. 

“This is a situation I’ve never encountered before,” attorney Jim Blackburn, who teaches environmental law at Rice University in Houston, told The Texan. When the review process changed direction, a new scoping notice should have been sent out and the review began again, Blackburn asserted. He added that the litigants are concerned about a federal agency, the FRA, conducting a review where it doesn’t appear to have any authority. 

The lawsuit further alleges that the final environmental impact statement issued by FRA is based on false assumptions, including a statement that the Texas Central project would be privately financed and cost between $16 and 19 billion. In April 2020, Texas Central’s chairman, Drayton McLane Jr., admitted in a letter the cost is now estimated at $30 billion and that the project was planning to seek federal funding. 

Because the high-speed rail project will likely require 20-foot earthen berms in at least some portions of the track, the suit claims that the FRA did not adequately consider the ramifications of the diversion of rainwater, drainage, and possible flooding issues along the route. 

“We are also concerned about bigger rainfall events due to climate change,” Blackburn explained, and he doesn’t believe the EIS accounts for that. 

“The Final EIS is riddled with errors and issues that were never addressed, including adverse environmental impacts and social disparities,” Kyle Workman, president of Texans Against High- Speed Rail, said in a press statement. “FRA neglected to properly study the impacts on Texas and now it is attempting to use its deficient study to allow a foreign government to bypass [National Environmental Policy Act’s] requirements and deploy its incompatible technology anywhere in the U.S. FRA’s actions should concern the entire nation.”

Blackburn pointed to systemic problems he believes plagued the process. “Alternative systems and routes were eliminated from evaluation early in the process. The evaluation was deficient in terms of cost and the environment,” he said.

Another case is currently pending in the Supreme Court of Texas regarding the eminent domain authority of Texas Central. Landowners who filed that suit are waiting to hear if the court will set it for oral argument. Texas Central Railroad prevailed on the issue at the 13th Texas Court of Appeals, which ruled last May that the project can exercise the power of eminent domain because it qualifies as a railroad under Texas law.

Additionally, Texas legislators have filed several bills related to the project. House Bill 3633 by Rep. Ben Leman (R-Brenham) would create a legislative committee to review the feasibility of high-speed rail projects in the state.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.