High-Speed Rail Granted Eminent Domain in Texas Supreme Court

Bullet Train
Bullet Train | Image by KBTX

The Supreme Court of Texas ruled last Friday that Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure Inc. has eminent domain rights to seize land for its $30 billion high-speed bullet train project from Dallas to Houston.

Eminent domain is the power of a government or its chartered agent to take private property for public use, following the payment of fair compensation.

In a 5-3 decision, the Court ruled that Texas Central qualifies as an “interurban electric railway” company and that such companies do have eminent domain rights similar to railroad companies.

“At the outset, it is important to recognize what this case is about and what it is not about,” Justice Debra Lehrmann wrote for the Court. “The case involves the interpretation of statutes relating to eminent domain; it does not ask us to opine about whether high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas is a good idea or whether the benefits of the proposed rail service outweigh its detriments.”

Interests on both sides of the matter did opine, though.

“We are very disappointed by today’s ruling from the Texas Supreme Court,” stated the Miles family, the litigant landowners who sued Texas Central to stop from being compelled to sell their land. “It’s hard to comprehend how the Court could grant eminent domain authority to a company that has no money, no approval to construct, no approval to operate, no CEO, no board of directors, and that is now being managed by a distressed asset consultant.”

As reported previously by The Dallas Express, Texas Central experienced numerous publicity, organizational, legal, and funding challenges in the pursuit of building its high-speed rail.

The company expressed its gratitude to the Court in a brief statement, per NBC 5, alongside community and business leaders poised to benefit from the project.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner approved of the Court’s decision in a press release:

“As I have previously stated, I believe the construction of high-speed rail [between Dallas and Houston] will have a generational impact, creating thousands of jobs right here in Houston and injecting billions of dollars into our local businesses. Once operational, the system will build connections and opportunities never thought possible.”

Texas Central claimed the railway would create over 17,000 jobs and positively impact the state’s economy to the tune of $36 billion.

However, the project has received near-constant pushback from groups like Texans Against High-Speed Rail, a nonprofit organization formed in 2015 to defend private property rights against the proposed railway.

The Dallas Express reached out to Texans Against High-Speed Rail to ask exactly what Texas Central was doing wrong.

“Texas Central offered sworn testimony to the Texas legislature promising not to purchase any land under option contracts unless they had received full regulatory clearance from the service transportation board to start construction. Texas Central never received regulatory clearance; regardless, Texas Central bought land in violation of its own sworn testimony before the Texas legislature,” wrote board member Blake Beckham.

When asked whether or not the railway project was feasible in the eyes of the organization, Beckham replied, “We are not opposed to the concept of a well-planned, fiscally responsible, honestly-run train which utilizes existing rights of way.”

Still, the project garnered support from organizations like the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, which endorsed the project in 2019, stating:

“With Texas’ population boom continuing for the foreseeable future, travel between the two economic hubs of the state is only going to get worse. And for the disability community, this poses a unique set of mobility challenges … Connecting these regions with this safe, accessible, and reliable transportation option will provide traveling Texans with disabilities with more opportunities as they live, work and play.”

Two Texas affiliates of Mothers Against Drunk Driving also praised Texas Central for its initiative, as did a number of cities and organizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including Irving, Plano, Arlington, and Garland.

As covered previously in The Dallas Express, landowners in Dallas have often been at the mercy of eminent domain laws. Such was the case when one Texas family could not reach a deal with the HSC Pipeline Partenrship LLC,  eventually losing the case in the Texas Supreme Court on the grounds that the pipeline was for public use.

Despite its victory in Court, the project’s next steps are uncertain after Texas Central’s CEO resigned in June amidst the company’s legal and financial woes.

Commenting on the Court’s ruling, per WFAA, Texans Against High-Speed Rail president Trey Duhon stated:

“No matter the ruling, we were and remain prepared to continue the fight. We will continue to protect private property rights, tax dollars, and our natural resources. We strongly believe even with this ruling that Texas Central will not be able to progress, as it has no money, no permits, and no leadership, which has been the case for years.”

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