The Texas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the rehearing of a petition against the construction of a high-speed rail line on Jan. 11.
The case centers on a 236-mile high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas being planned by the company Texas Central. Filed by landowner Jim Miles in 2016, the lawsuit argues Texas Central does not qualify as a railroad company under state law and therefore cannot use eminent domain to acquire land needed to construct the line.
The Supreme Court initially declined to hear the case in June after an appeals court ruled Texas Central could be defined as a company. Miles petitioned for a rehearing, and the court reversed course on Oct. 15 to grant a rehearing.
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Attorney Jeffrey Levinger of Dallas-based Levinger PC, representing Miles, focused his arguments on whether Texas Central needed to be operating railroads to be considered a railroad company. Levinger also noted Texas Central had not applied for a permit from the Surface Transportation Board, a federal regulatory agency. The STB rejected a Texas Central petition for an exemption from construction approval requirements in July 2020. Levinger argued construction approval would require the company to disclose its finances.
"They've got serious financial issues demonstrating where they're going to get the $18 [billion]-$30 billion needed to finish this project," Levinger said.
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Texas Central declined to comment on its available funds or whether it would receive federal funds from the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure deal. However Marie Yeates of Vinson and Elkins LLC, representing the railroad, said the company had received federal funds as part of her argument that Texas Central is "not a sham."
"The question is whether we're going to allow [landowners who do not allow property surveys] to prevent Texas from getting the benefit of this train," Yeates said.
Texas congressional representatives file bill on land acquisition rights
U.S. Reps. Jake Ellzey, R-Waxahachie, and Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, on Jan. 10 filed a bill in Congress requiring high-speed rail projects to acquire all land necessary before beginning construction.
The bill directs the STB to reject construction authorization for high-speed rail projects longer than 10 miles that have not acquired all necessary land.
In a press release, Brady said the bill would protect the rights of landowners along planned railroads.
"Many questions remain about Texas Central's plans to build and finance this controversial high-speed rail project, and I support any necessary reforms that will protect the rights of landowners whose farms, ranches, and homes sit along their proposed route," Brady said.
Texas Central declined to comment on the bill.
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