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Appeals court rules that Texas Central is in fact a railroad

Seems obvious, but these things are more complicated than you’d think.

Planners of a Houston-to-Dallas bullet train scored a victory in Corpus Christi Thursday when a state appeals court said the company — despite not operating yet — is a railroad in the eyes of the law.

“This decision confirms our status as an operating railroad and allows us to continue moving forward with our permitting process and all of our other design, engineering and land acquisition efforts,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a statement.

Writing for the 13th Texas Court of Appeals, Judge Nora Longoria said a Leon County judge who sided with landowners erred when he said the lack of current operations or equipment meant Texas Central was not a railroad, and therefore had no claim to survey land or acquire it through eminent domain. Leon County landowners Jim and Barbara Miles sued Texas Central in early 2017, claiming the company had no authority to survey their land, after they refused to grant the company’s hired surveyors access.

In their challenge, lawyers for the Miles’ argued since Texas Central is not operating as a railroad and currently owns no trains, it cannot claim to be railroad under Texas law to take land. The company, created in 2012 specifically to build a high-speed rail line from Houston to Dallas, said owning and operating trains was not necessary, noting it still is designing and developing its 240-mile route.

[…]

Aguilar and others said Texas Central remains ready for federal approvals of the project’s safety and engineering, expected later this year.

“Today’s ruling supports the enormous amount of work Texas Central has done to date,” he said.

See here for the background. As the story notes, this is a fight over whether or not Texas Central can use eminent domain to acquire right of way; there have been various attempts to pass a law along these lines in the Lege without success. If this ruling stands, that’s one less obstacle for Texas Central, which is facing other attacks related to the current economic situation. The plaintiffs will appeal to the Supreme Court, so this is not over yet. For now at least, Texas Central is officially a railroad.

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4 Comments

  1. C.L. says:

    Bam !

  2. Wolfgang says:

    Re: “The plaintiffs will appeal to the Supreme Court, so this is not over yet. For now at least, Texas Central is officially a railroad.”

    Alas for the land owner and his counsel, he also had an award of $100,000 in attorney’s fees thrown out. Not bad for a declaratory judgment action that ended in summary judgment.

    Here is another little tidbit for the SCOTX bid: Once-again Justice Jane Bland was one of the VINSON & ELKINS LLP attorneys for the Appellant in the case at the COA level (they eventually removed her name from the docket). So, it will be interesting to see if she will–or will not–recuse herself. I am still waiting to see what will happen in the Apache Corp. cases currently pending in the SCOTX. She actually signed the petition for review in one of those. It’s a small world in SCOTX litigation, with lots of friends and (former) colleagues on all sides of the docket (or shall we saw on the Zoom screen for oral argument in times of pandemic?)

  3. David fagan says:

    I feel for the land owners who loose what they work for, because fair market value doesn’t mean it is in the land owner’s favor. Many won’t care, but imagine it was you, or your home, and your hard work that went to building a home and someone forces “fair market value” on you, where would you be?

  4. Jules says:

    Yes, it’s awful. Hopefully the landowners will win the appeal.

    I’ve heard the cost has ballooned to $30 billion, up from the original $10-12 billion, and the $19 billion the FRA currently states it will cost. Japan Central rail is suffering financially with the coronavirus, and clearly the “Texas investors” don’t think it’s worthwhile to put any money in now (Texas Central has laid off more than half their staff – their current financial trouble is clearly due to inability to raise funding as they have no revenue to lose – since they don’t operate a railroad).