Texas Supreme Court declines to review high-speed rail case, freeing company up to use eminent domain

Texas Supreme Court declines to review high-speed rail case, freeing company up to use eminent domain

The Texas Central rail connection from Dallas to Houston will feature a bullet train similar to this one. (Courtesy Texas Central Partners/Community Impact Newspaper)

Texas Central, the company looking to build a 236-mile high-speed rail line connecting Houston and Dallas, has been given a big win in an ongoing legal battle over whether the company is legally recognized as a “railroad company” under state law.

The Texas Supreme Court denied the review of a case June 18 that was part of a legal challenge first launched by landowners Jim and Barbara Miles in 2016. The decision frees up Texas Central to use eminent domain, if necessary, to acquire tracts of land needed to construct the project.

“The Court’s denial of review should put an end to over five years of contentious litigation and clear the path for Texas Central to bring the high-speed train to Texas,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a statement.

Jim Miles and his team won a trial court case in 2019 arguing that Texas Central is not operating a railroad because it does not own any trains and has not constructed any tracks, among other issues. That decision was reversed in an appeals court last May, which ruled that Texas Central was a railroad company and an interurban electric railway.

In a statement, opposition group Texas Against High Speed Rail said they were disappointed in the Texas Supreme Court’s denial of review and that Jim and Barbara Miles would be filing a motion for a rehearing.

“This denial by the Supreme Court—of all venues—should be gravely concerning to all Texans,” according to the statement, posted to the group’s Facebook page. “We are hopeful that through the motion for rehearing the Court will realize the full impact of its inaction. Texas landowners deserve for these rights to be protected.”

The group also said they would turn to federal courts to challenge environmental clearances for the project.

Officials with Texas Central have previously said eminent domain would only be used as a last resort. However, Miles and other landowners along the route have refused to sell to the company, meaning eminent domain could end up coming into play.

Texas Central announced earlier this month the company signed a $16 billion construction contract with the engineering and construction company Webuild. The cost of the project is pegged at $20 billion on the company’s website, and officials previously told Community Impact Newspaper funding sources could include private investments, commercial loans and existing federal loan programs like the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement fund and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

Construction is anticipated to start in late 2021 or early 2022. Once complete, the train will be able to take passengers from Dallas to Houston and vice versa in 90 minutes.

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