The Texas Central Railway overcame a big legal hurdle Thursday when a Texas appeals court ruled that the company building a high-speed rail line from Houston to Dallas is, in fact, a railroad company and interurban electric railway. The decision paves the way for the railroad to secure property through eminent domain, if necessary.
The decision follows a four-year court battle. Landowners along the proposed route in Leon County argued that the Texas Central was not a railroad and did not have rights associated with a railroad, including eminent domain and access to property for surveyors.
The 13th Court of Appeals of Texas issued a Memorandum Opinion, authored by Justice Nora Longoria, that said, “Having found that the appellants (Texas Central Railroad and Infrastructure, Inc. and Integrated Texas Logistics, Inc.) are both railroad companies and interurban electric railways, we conclude that the trial court erred by granting (a landowner’s) motion for summary judgment and denying appellants’ motion for partial summary judgment.”
Texas Central says it is shovel ready to begin the line.
Decision confirms Texas Central’s status
“This decision 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,” said Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Texas Central. “This decision confirms our status as an operating railroad and allows us to continue moving forward with our permitting process and all of our other design, engineering and land acquisition efforts.”
In 2019 Texas Central completed a portion of the land surveys required by the federal agencies conducting an environmental review. This information enabled Texas Central to plan a route that it says is efficient, considerate of its Central Texas surroundings and impacts the fewest property owners.
“Texas Central confirms that it will always respect Texas landowners’ rights and will follow due process,” Aguilar said.
Hours after the ruling, three days of public hearings ended on the railroad’s Final Environmental Statement (FEIS), which is expected to be published by the Federal Railroad Administration later this month. The FEIS gets the company a step closer to building the line. Construction is estimated to take five or six years.
Layoffs, opposition pressures project
Since its inception in 2014, the Dallas-based Texas Central has incurred backlash to build the rail line that is touted to cut travel between Dallas and Houston to about 90 minutes. The coronavirus pandemic and continued opposition from Texas lawmakers seemed to put the project in jeopardy.
In late March, Texas Central announced that 28 employees were laid off. A few days later, The Eagle reported that more than two dozen state lawmakers asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to stop TCR’s work on the privately funded line through the Brazos Valley near Houston.
Texas District 13 State Rep. Ben Leman wrote a letter to USDOT saying the project’s developers, Texas Central Partners, lacked the financial resources and expertise to complete the line, according to The Eagle.
The letter said funding for the project could be better spent fighting covid-19.
TCR maintains that the line will be built without using taxpayer grants.