Texas Central won a critical legal decision in developing a high-speed rail project between Dallas and Houston. The landowners, Leon County’s Jim and Barbara Miles, plan to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court, according to published reports.
“If ever there was a ruling that created ‘the Wild, Wild, West’ of eminent domain authority, this is it,” Blake Beckham, The landowner’s attorney and special litigation counsel to Texans Against HSR, said in a statement.
A Texas appeals court ruled in favor of Texas Central, holding that it was both a railroad company and an interurban electric railway, despite operating no trains yet.
The Thirteenth Court of Appeals said Texas Central and its subsidiary Integrated Texas Logistics are legally railroads in the state of Texas, reversing a previous decision by the 87th District Court of Leon County.
The decision by Justice Nora Longoria comes after a four-year court battle made by landowners along the proposed route in Leon County. The landowners argued that the project wasn’t a railroad and therefore didn’t have the rights associated with a railroad, including eminent domain and access to the property for surveyors.
Beckham said the ruling creates a dangerous precedent that would allow anybody with $300 and a computer to immediately obtain the extraordinary power of eminent domain by simply filing papers with the Texas Secretary of State self-declaring to be a railroad.
“This is not and cannot be the law in Texas,” he said. “We are hopeful the Supreme Court will see how this ruling could open a Pandora’s Box of eminent domain issues in Texas. They simply cannot allow this Appeals Court ruling to stand.”
Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar, though, says the decision made by the appeals court is rooted in state law that allows survey access and use of eminent domain by railroads, pipelines, electrical lines, and other industries that provide for the public good and a strong economy.
“Today’s ruling supports the enormous amount of work Texas Central has done to date,” Aguilar said. “Texas has the capacity, drive, and population growth needed to make the Texas High-Speed Train successful, and it’s that momentum that is pushing the nation’s first high-speed train forward.”
In 2019, Texas Central completed a portion of the land surveys required by the federal agencies conducting an environmental review of the project. The Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project is scheduled to be published by the Federal Railroad Administration later this month.
The final Environmental Impact Statement on the project is scheduled to be published by the Federal Railroad Administration later this month.
Texas Central hopes to start construction later this year.