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Texas Supreme Court Clears Eminent Domain Hurdle, Making Way For High-Speed Rail

After years of uncertainty, the Texas Supreme Court has ruled that Dallas-based Texas Central has eminent domain to build a high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston, bringing the project one step forward.

A rendering of Texas Central's proposed high-speed rail.

In a 5-3 decision today, the court ruled in favor of Texas Central, after James Miles, a Leon County resident along the route that Texas Central attempted to survey, sued the company in 2019. Part of Miles' argument rested on whether the rail would be a public good, which the state dismissed.

But Miles' main complaint centered on whether Texas Central was in fact a railroad company, arguing it is planning a high-speed rail and not the traditional rail that existed when rail companies were first allowed to declare eminent domain in the early 1900s.

The Texas Supreme Court rejected that argument, asserting that Texas Central "falls within the plain language of this grant of authority, as the company was chartered for the purpose of constructing and operating an electric railway," according to the case summary.

"We acknowledge Miles's well-founded policy concerns regarding the wielding of eminent domain powers by private entities. However, it is not the Court's role 'to second-guess the policy choices that inform our statutes or to weigh the effectiveness of their results; rather, our task is to interpret those statutes in a manner that effectuates the Legislature's intent,'" the court stated in the opinion, quoting a 2003 case, McIntyre v. Ramirez.

The rail project has stopped and started intermittently amid controversy and legal snafus since its inception.

It was initially supposed to begin in 2020. In the past several years, it fought through federal approvals, and just last week, Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar stepped down. Aguilar stated in a LinkedIn post he was unable to align stakeholders on a common vision for the project.

Controversy about the project remains due to potential environmental impacts and how it might affect neighboring residents.

"While we are deeply disappointed with the ruling, Re-Route the Route will continue to educate federal, state, and local officials on this project’s many failings, including private property violations, severe public hazards, adverse minority community impact, weakened flood control, significant environmental damage, financial mismanagement and more, all of which render it utterly ineligible for any taxpayer support,” ReRoute the Route spokesperson Jennifer Stevens told the Dallas Business Journal.

Still, potential economic effects remain promising to bodies like Houston's chamber of commerce, the Greater Houston Partnership.

“The Greater Houston Partnership believes that faster, safer, and more reliable connections between our region and other parts of Texas are vital to our continued economic growth," a Greater Houston Partnership statement said.

"We have been and remain proponents of Texas Central Railroad’s project to link Houston with Dallas via high-speed passenger rail, and we applaud the Texas Supreme Court decision that acknowledges Texas law on eminent domain and will enable the project to advance.”