The Texas Supreme Court recently upheld in a 5-3 decision that Texas Central has the right to exercise eminent domain power in the construction of the Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail project.
The company plans to build a high-speed passenger train connecting the two cities in less than 90 minutes, with a proposed stop in Grimes County between College Station and Huntsville.
The decision stems from a case filed in 2015 after Texas Central announced plans to build the high-speed rail and then sent Leon County landowner James Miles a package including project details, outline of the investigation process, an invitation to open houses and an investigation authorization form.
Miles refused to grant Texas Central access to his land. He sued for a declaration that the survey authorization form exceeded certain provisions of the Texas Transportation Code.
He argued that the company did not meet the legal definition of a “railway company” or an “intercity electric railway”.
Texas Central sought its own declaratory judgment that it was a “railway company” and an “intercity electric railroad” under the Texas Transportation Code with the right to conduct reviews of survey.
In Miles v. Texas Central Railroad & Infrastructure, Inc., the trial court sided with Miles, saying that neither Texas Central nor Integrated Texas Logistics, formed in 2017 to build and operate the rail lines, were “companies de chemin de fer” or “intercity electric railways”.
Texas Central and ITL appealed, and the Thirteenth Court of Appeals reversed the decision, finding that both were “railroad companies” and “intercity electric railroads”, giving them the right to use a eminent domain power.
Miles sought review from the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the appeals court’s decision.
“Texas Central has made significant progress on the project over the past few years and we are moving down a path that we believe will ensure the success of the project’s development,” a Texas Central press release said. “We look forward to being able to say more about this at the appropriate time in the near future.”
State Representative Cody Harris has long been critical of the proposed project. The Palestinian Republican, who represents Texas House’s Eighth District, including Navarro County, said he was “disappointed” and “disagrees with the court’s decision.”
“It’s pure spin and what we expect from Texas Central,” he said.
According to Harris, Texas Central recently saw its board disband, along with the resignation of the company’s CEO.
“Just because it looks like the high-speed rail project is dead doesn’t mean I’m not going to take my boot off its neck,” he said. “I will continue to push for legislation to protect the property rights of landowners in Texas.”
Harris said he views the project as “a significant threat to national security and an abuse of eminent domain.”
Another outspoken opponent of the bill is Congressman Jake Ellzey, who represents Texas’ Sixth District, including Tarrant, Ellis and Navarro counties.
“The recent Texas Supreme Court ruling involving Texas Central showed us that we need to take action to protect the American landowner. The CEO resigned, the company was all but dissolved, and they failed to get any state and federal grants. But we can’t let it up,” Ellzey said.
“I will never back down when it comes to opposing private interests using eminent domain to take someone’s property. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to pass the Insurance Act acquisition of high-speed rail land to protect the American landowner.”
Ellzey and Kevin Brady (TX-8) introduced the High-Speed Rail Land Acquisition Assurance Act in January, which would require companies to acquire all land needed to complete a high-speed rail project before construction cannot begin.
Megan Hempel, Mark Archibald and Michael Kormos contributed to this report.