House Bill (HB) 2357 filed by Rep. Cody Harris (R-Palestine) stipulates that an entity proposing a high-speed rail project must provide certain information to the Texas Department of Transportation regarding the project.
Requirements include the proposed method of financing, including how much is currently available, the full cost of the project, a current balance sheet, and any planned foreign investment.
The bill would also require the company to provide a schedule for completion, ridership projections, the proposed route, and an organizational chart of leadership.
The reporting requirements apply to any year the project is included in the Texas Rail Plan.
Texas Central’s Dallas to Houston project is included in the most recent Texas Rail Plan from 2019.
Many of these issues addressed by the bill seek to answer questions that were also posed by landowners along the proposed route in a public letter sent in September 2022 to attorneys representing Texas Central Railway.
Waller County Judge Trey Duhon, who is also on the board of directors for Texans Against High-Speed Rail, supports HB 2357. He told The Texan that landowners along the proposed route have been “under a cloud” for ten years and “it is time for the nightmare to stop.”
He believes the bill requires transparency due to landowners, and he hopes the Texas Legislature acts on the bill because it is “time for them to take some action to protect the private property owners.”
HB 366 filed by Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would also impact the proposed high-speed rail project by requiring it to file a bond with the Department of Transportation before it begins operations. The bond must be sufficiently large to “restore real property used for the service to its original condition if the service ceases operation.”
“They should have to put landowners back in the position they would have been in,” Duhon said in defense of HB 366. He pointed out that this type of bond is common for counties to require of private developers.
HB 366 was referred to the House Transportation committee last week but has not yet been heard.
Rep. Brian Harrison (R-Waxahachie) filed HB 2931, which would amend a section of the Texas Transportation Code related to the rights and power of railroads. The amendment would prohibit a private entity operating a high-speed rail from exercising the power of eminent domain.
It would also amend the Texas Transportation Code to clarify that the section granting the power of eminent domain to electric railways does not apply to high-speed rail.
In June 2022, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Texas Central’s right to exercise the power of eminent domain.
In a 5 to 3 decision, the justices found that in reading the plain language of the interurban electric railway statute, Texas Central qualified for the authority.
The court acknowledged that eminent domain authority is an “extraordinary intrusion on private property rights.” It also stated that its opinion was not a reflection on whether a high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston is “a good idea.”
Since the former Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar announced his departure in April 2022, many landowners and opponents of the project have raised questions about its future. Other issues include increased costs and the need for funding, as well as its failure to submit a required application for construction to the federal Surface Transportation Board.
“[Texas Central] is committed to making this transformational project one that Texas will be proud of, as it would provide an economic boost in all counties which it crosses, bring a world class transportation system to two of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, and will do so in a manner that causes as little disruption as possible to landowners,” Texas Central’s attorney Robert Neblett wrote in a letter to the landowners’ attorney Patrick McShan last fall.
Texas Central declined to comment on the pending legislation when asked by The Texan.
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Kim Roberts is a regional 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.