High Speed Project Investors Threatened
To Seize Family Farms In Texas
Verbatim Fact Check
May 10, 2017
Texas Central Railroad and Infrastructure, Inc. (TCRI) and its affiliates are pursuing development of a high-speed “bullet train” between Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston. Five Texas state senators and ten state representatives have filed more than 20 bills to regulate high-speed rail projects.
According to state Representative Leighton Schubert (R-District 13), “This group of foreign investors is threatening to seize family farms, physically divide the state of Texas, and have a gravely detrimental impact on the citizens I represent.”
Is Schubert correct that project investors threatened to seize family farms?
Company officials have repeatedly asserted that TCRI has legal authority to exercise the powers of eminent domain. That would allow the company to survey private property without the owner’s permission, and to forcibly acquire the property for its project upon payment to owners for its “fair market value.” Whether TCRI actually does have the legal authority to exercise such powers is a matter of dispute.
As currently proposed, the new rail line would travel the 240 miles between Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston in 90 minutes at speeds of 205 miles per hour. Texas Central is planning to use train technology developed by the Central Japan Railway Co., which will also provide “long-term and continuous technical support” to the project, according to company officials.
Construction of the rail line depends, in part, on the outcome of a federal environmental impact study, which is currently underway. It also hinges on the company’s ability to obtain access to—or acquire outright—the land over which the train would travel, as well as land for stations and maintenance facilities.
Officials of Texas Central say the company is not planning to seek state or local funds for the project, although they have also said they will “explore all forms of capital available,” including federal loan programs. Capital costs for the project have been estimated to be between $10 billion and $12 billion, although critics have questioned the accuracy of this estimate as too low.
Texas Central officials have stated that the company intends to build the rail line along existing roadways, rail lines and public utility easements to minimize the impact on private landowners.
However, company officials have also asserted that Texas Central is authorized under state law to exercise the powers of eminent domain. In the face of public opposition, however, they have also pledged to do so only “as a last resort.”
According to legal documents, Texas Central sought written permission from landowners to enter public property “to conduct the examination and surveying activities needed to determine the most advantageous route for its train.”
After a number of landowners denied permission, Texas Central petitioned the Harris County District Court for a temporary injunction “that can leave no doubt of its right to enter Defendants’ property to conduct examinations and surveys.”
The Texas Central petition stated: “TCRI is vested with the right of eminent domain under Sections 131.012 and 112.053 of the Texas Transportation Code.”
Section 131.012 – grants the power of eminent domain to “a corporation chartered for the purpose of … operating lines of electric railway between municipalities.”
Section 112.053 – authorizes a railroad company to “acquire property by condemnation” if that company and the landowner cannot agree on a purchase price, and if the land is needed for specified purposes, such as railroad incorporation or right-of-way. (To “acquire property by condemnation” refers to the use of eminent domain.)
The Texas Central petition also stated: “Aside from the express statutory right, Texas courts have conclusively established that entities vested with the power of eminent domain, such as TCRI, have the right to enter onto private property in order to conduct examinations and surveys.”
Harris County District Judge Joseph “Tad” Halbach denied TCRI’s motion for summary judgement. Judge Halbach did not provide an explanation for his decision.
Concurrent with its petition to the District Court, the company requested a “clarifying order” from the state Surface Transportation Board (STB) of its eminent domain authority.
As stated in the petition, “Texas Central has already begun negotiating with numerous landowners along its proposed right-of-way.
If some of those negotiations reach an impasse, Texas Central plans to use its statutory eminent domain powers to establish the properties’ condemnation value.” The STB concluded that Texas Central did not require legal clarification from the STB and denied the petition as “moot.”
As plans move forward for development of a high-speed rail line in Texas, state legislators have filed more than 20 bills to regulate such projects.
State Representative Leighton Schubert (R-District 13) claimed of developer Texas Central, “This group of foreign investors is threatening to seize family farms, physically divide the state of Texas, and have a gravely detrimental impact on the citizens I represent.”
Texas Central has repeatedly claimed authority to exercise the powers of eminent domain to forcibly obtain the private property needed for its proposed line.
First – The subject of eminent domain absolutely makes the hair on my arms stand to attention. It makes the very idea of personal rights and property nearly laughable. When a property owner has poured money, time, effort, and vision into their home property whether it is a simple dwelling or an elaborate property–this is against everything the country was founded on.
Second – Land is not a renewable resource and everything that is done impacts the environment and all who abide there. It is time that we take a serious look at how to better utilize what has already been claimed for transportation and decide how it can impact the people and the areas with less rather than more strong-arm tactics.
Third – Is there any real justification for faster train service? What purpose does the expenditure even serve? Trains need to maintain their current rail systems better instead of adding more lines. There are already miles of unused tracks around the country. Where there is no longer any use, shouldn’t the railways be forced to remove the lines and return the property to states? What about utilizing those (fter rail removal) for pedestrian, horse, and two or four wheel off-road travel–seems to me this would be a much better use and keep the highways and property owners from having to deal with these people crossing their property.
Fourth – IF in fact a faster, more modern service is needed then make it an ELEVATED rail over the top of current tracks not claim more land and place property owners in jeopardy. Wouldn’t the advantages of that outweigh the use of eminent domain?
Fifth – IF foreign investors are looking to make money in our country, then they should be held to the same or stricter standards no different from those their country utilizes. Meaning, if their country does not allow US foreign investors the same latitudes in their country, then why should we allow them access here. If foreign investors provide funds then there should be a better trade agreement between their country and ours.
Sixth – Seems to me national security concerns should trump either high-speed or industry. No matter who the investor is, our country and national safety first.
I am for having job opportunities and prosperity for OUR PEOPLE and even for consultation and expertise from our ally nations but please use common sense NOT eminent domain.