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Early eminent domain dispute for Texas Central

It was over before it started.

Lawyers for a proposed high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas withdrew their request for entry to a local landowner’s property, after opponents and the landowner opposed it in front of a Harris County judge, according to opponents of the project.

“It is a great day for the vindication of landowner rights,” lawyer Blake Beckham of Dallas said.

In a statement, Texas Central confirmed the hearing, but was less decisive about its significance.

“No ruling was issued.,” the company said. “The parties agreed to come back to the court as soon as possible to have another hearing.”

Beckham represented Calvin House, owner of 440 acres in northwestern Harris County. Texas Central, planners of the high-speed rail line, want access to House’s property as they determine the best route for the train line. In its filings, the company cited its power of eminent domain as a railroad.

Opponents, however, argued the company is not a railroad because it is neither operating a rail system, nor does it own any tracks or trains.

As part of their filing, Beckham listed the dictionary definitions for “railroad” and “operating” among the exhibit he planned to enter. Texas Central’s lawyers opposed those exhibits in a filing Thursday.

Beckham called the hearing significant in a video statement released by Texans Against High-Speed Rail, a group formed to oppose Texas Central’s plans.

“This was the first case where this issue was to be decided,” Beckham said. “We had a complete victory.”

Perhaps, but I doubt any precedents were set since there was no decision rendered. It’s hard to draw any conclusions from this case since the details about it are so sparse, but even if I did know more I’d still rank it no higher than third on the list of existential threats that Texas Central faces, well behind the forthcoming AG opinion on whether it is a “railroad” for the purposes of using eminent domain, and whatever mischief the Legislature will cook up in the next session. On that score, Rep. Ron Simmons (R, Carrolton), who serves as the Chair of the Transportation Subcommittee on Long-term Infrastructure Planning, predicts TCR will survive. I don’t know that I would take that bet, but Rep. Simmons (whose district is in the Dallas suburbs) is in a better position than I to judge.

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8 Comments

  1. Jules says:

    There was no ruling because Texas Central folded because they could tell from the judge’s comments that the ruling would go against them. Texas Central postponed another lawsuit they filed for survey access in another county for over 100 days and counting. They are venue shopping for a favorable decision and did not find it in Harris county.

  2. Jules says:

    Charles I think that the AG declined to rule because of the case I mentioned above that TCR postponed for over 100 days. Not 100% sure.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    This is a small bit of good news for Texas landowners, and a great strategy. “Oh, you’re a railroad? Where’s your engines, your passenger cars and your track? None, none and none? Hmmm, maybe you aren’t really a railroad after all.

  4. Jules says:

    Bill, yes, and the investors have invested less than 1% of the money needed to build the track and buy trains.

  5. voter_worker says:

    I guess that Hyperloop thingamabob is going to be a no-go in Texas, too.

  6. Ross says:

    So, if this was being done by UP or BNSF, no one would object to eminent domain usage since they are already railroads? That sets a pretty high barrier to entry for any new railroad.

  7. Jules says:

    Ross, the use of eminent domain should have a high barrier. And no, people would object to the use of eminent domain for this project regardless of who was doing it.

    It’s supposed to be a private project for profit, yet the ridership/revenue numbers don’t work. My thought is that is will make money for the investors before the first train rolls down the track via real estate deals, development and construction contracts. The losers will be whoever loans these guys 10-18 billion dollars. Think Trump casino.

    One of the state reps had a forum at Cy-Ranch high school last week and Texas Central Railway and Texans Against High Speed Rail participated. The Texas Central guy said several times that it was a “Tea Party” type project and once a “Libertarian” type project – I think he meant the project should be allowed to operate with zero government oversight or interference. And yet be able to use eminent domain.

    The Texas Central guy also said that perhaps the Chinese were behind the opposition because they might want to build their own HSR and get Texas Central out of the way. This is ridiculous, but what if a Chinese railway company did want to build a HSR from Dallas to Houston? Should we allow 2 HSR’s between the 2 cities? Or should vast infrastructure projects that use eminent domain have to prove viability?

    One other thing the Texas Central guy said – if the ridership isn’t there and they go bankrupt (a high probability according to the numbers provided by Texans Against High Speed Rail – Texas Central provided no numbers, btw) that they would simply sell the assets for pennies on the dollar. Seriously? If I go bankrupt I don’t think that means my house and vehicles are worth pennies on the dollar.