Texas Supreme Court upholds eminent domain for high-speed rail | The city government
Editor’s Note: This story was updated with comment received from Texas Central on Wednesday afternoon
Plans for a high-speed train that would ferry passengers from Houston to Dallas may still have some life, at least for now, following a ruling by the state’s top court last week. .
On July 24, the Texas Supreme Court voted 5 to 3 in favor of upholding the eminent domain rights of Texas Central, which supports Texas’ intercity high-speed rail project. The decision indicates that Texas Central and Integrated Texas Logistics, Inc., have the legal right to acquire the land needed to build the $30 billion high-speed train.
Chief Justice Nathan Hecht along with Justices Brett Busby, Jeff Boyd, Debra Lehermann and Evan Young voted to uphold the previous ruling of a state appeals court on June 24, according to court documents. The decision stated that Texas Central and Integrated Texas Logistics Inc. can be classified as intercity electric rail companies under the Texas Transportation Code.
“The case concerns the interpretation of eminent domain laws; it does not ask us to say whether high-speed rail between Houston and Dallas is a good idea or whether the advantages of the proposed rail service outweigh its disadvantages,” reads the majority opinion. “…We agree with the Court of Appeals that the entities have eminent domain power as intercity electric railroad companies and need not determine whether they also qualify as railway companies.”
Justices Rebecca Huddle, Jimmy Blacklock and John Devine dissented, while Justice Jane Bland did not vote. The dissenting opinion stated that although Section 131.012 of the Transportation Code granted eminent domain authority to facilitate the construction of small electric railroads for buggies and horse-drawn carriages, the proposed Texas Central is on a much larger scale. Thus, it falls outside the scope of the law, as Texas Central has claimed that the project will require nearly three times as much concrete as the Hoover Dam, according to the opinion.
The Texas Attorney General’s office also previously questioned the project’s financial viability in an amicus brief filed December 17, 2021 with the Texas Supreme Court. The court heard oral arguments in the case in January.
“There are innumerable differences between the two modes of transportation,” according to the dissenting opinion. “Most important, which deserves little mention by the court, is their radically different land requirements. The scale of infrastructure required and the amount of property put at risk by the proposed high-speed rail project are orders of magnitude greater. »
The Texas Supreme Court case originated in rural Leon County in 2019, where landlord James F. Miles sued Texas Central and an affiliate for their right to survey his land for the project. A Leon County State District Court judge ruled in favor of Miles, but a Texas appeals court later ruled in favor of Texas Central in May 2020, saying it was a ‘a valid railroad company and could therefore exercise eminent domain – the practice by which governments and traditional railroads can compel landowners to sell their land.
According to the Texas Central website, the proposed high-speed rail will transport passengers between Houston and Dallas – a 240-mile trip – in less than 90 minutes while traveling over 200 miles per hour, and Texas Central says the project will create thousands of new jobs along the route.
The former Northwest Mall site near the intersection of US 290, the 610 loop, and Interstate 10 was designated as the Houston station for the proposed railroad.
“We are grateful to the Texas Supreme Court for their time on this important issue as we continue to work on this high-speed passenger train,” Texas Central said in a statement.
The nonprofit Texans Against High Speed Rail, which has opposed construction of the project from the start, reiterated its position following the decision in a statement posted to Facebook on June 24.
“Let’s be clear that this decision does not breathe life into Texas Central or its project,” Miles said. “If Texas Central thinks otherwise and decides to continue this charade, we will be there to challenge them every step of the way before they set foot on our property.”