IssuesStatewide NewsTexas Appellate Court Allows Eminent Domain for High-Speed Rail Project

An appellate court ruled that the proposed Texas Central high-speed train from Dallas to Houston can exercise the power of eminent domain.
May 22, 2020
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Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure (TCRI), the company planning to build a high-speed train from Dallas to Houston, had a ruling in its favor this month. The 13th Texas Court of Appeals ruled that the project can exercise the power of eminent domain because it qualifies as a railroad under Texas law.

The plaintiffs are expected to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar was pleased with the court’s decision. “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.”

Meanwhile, Blake Beckham, the Miles’ attorney and Special Litigation Counsel to Texans Against High-Speed Rail (TAHSR) said, “We are disappointed the Court of Appeals treated these fundamental private property rights, cherished by all Texans, with such disregard.”

Leon County landowners Jim and Barbara Miles sued the railroad, refusing it access to survey their land as part of its effort to determine the route for the rail project. 

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The Texas Transportation Code allows railroads entry onto private property for the purpose of selecting the “most advantageous route for its railroad.” 

However, in this case, the Miles family argued that TCRI is not a railroad under the Transportation Code definition.  

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.  

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.

The Texas Transportation Code Sec. 112.053 grants that right to a railroad company.

Judge Nora Longoria, in her opinion for the Court of Appeals, 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.

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.

However, the court was not persuaded that repealing the HSRA precluded Texas Central from being considered an interurban electric railway.

Texas Central Railway anticipates 90-minute travel 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.

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.” 

Opponents to the high-speed rail project are concerned about such issues as its effect on private property rights and impact on the environment. 

The Federal Railroad Administration held telephonic public hearings May 4-6 regarding safety standards for operating the high-speed rail.

State representative Ben Leman (R-Brenham) penned a letter to Governor Abbott asking the hearings to be delayed until they could be held in-person to allow for more participation.  

“The people of Texas should not be burdened by this ill-fated attempt to seek comments from the public on rules and regulations that could potentially impact them and our state for years to come at a time when we are in a complete global crisis,” his letter said.

The high-speed rail route from Dallas to Houston follows this proposed alignment.

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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.