In an unusual move, the Texas Supreme Court announced that it will grant a review of a decision it made earlier this year which showed that high-speed rail builder Texas Central Railway is really a railroad.
Oral arguments will be heard January 11, 2022 in an ongoing lawsuit by a Leon County landowner, James Miles. The landowner went to the Texas Supreme Court after being turned down after a court of appeals overturned a Leon County judge that originally ruled in his favor.
A summary published by the Texas Supreme Court stated that Miles is arguing that Texas Central is not a real railroad because it has not been laying track or running passenger trains. Miles is challenging Texas Central's eminent domain authority to survey his property along the route of the railway between Dallas and Houston.
Texas Central received approvals from the Federal Railroad Administration and other government agencies for the first truly high-speed passenger rail line in the U.S. Texas Central has lined up contractors and operators for the project and is working on a complex financial plan. It will still require a final approval from the Surface Transportation Board in Washington. The pandemic delayed work on construction groundbreaking, which according to Texas Central sources looks like this should occur in 2022.
Miles also claims that Texas Central is not an interurban electric railway as defined in Texas law because the state legislature never intended to include trains running at high speeds in the definition of the statute.
In a reference to case law in another eminent domain issue Miles argues that an entity must show a reasonable probability that a project will be completed before obtaining eminent domain power.
Case summary from the txcourts.gov website:
REAL PROPERTY Eminent Domain Miles v. Tex. Cen. R.R. & Infrastructure, Inc., 2020 WL 2213962 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi–Edinburg 2020), pet. granted, __________ (Oct. 15, 2021) [20-0393]. At issue in this case is whether Texas Central qualifies as a “railroad company” or “interurban electric railway,” and whether an entity must show reasonable probability of project completion to invoke eminent domain authority under Texas Rice Land Partners, LTD. v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas, LLC, 363 S.W.3d 192, 198, 202 (Tex. 2012).
Texas Central intends to build, maintain, and operate a highspeed passenger railway between Houston and Dallas. Miles challenged Texas Central’s eminent domain authority after the company attempted to survey Miles’ property along the proposed route of the railway.
Texas Central counterclaimed, seeking a declaratory judgment that the company was “railroad company” and “interurban electric railway” under the Texas Transportation Code. The trial court granted summary judgment for Miles. The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Texas Central was “operating a railroad” and thus, a “railroad company” under the statute. Additionally, the court of appeals concluded that, because Texas Central was chartered for the purpose required under the Transportation Code, the company also qualified as an “interurban electric railway.”
In a petition for review, Miles argues that Texas Central is not operating a railroad because it has not taken crucial steps toward operation, such as laying track or running cars. Likewise, Miles says that Texas Central is not an “interurban electric railway” because the Legislature did not intend to include large high-speed railways within the statutory definition. Finally, Miles argues that the Denbury decision requires entities show a reasonable probability that a project will be completed before obtaining eminent domain power.
The Supreme Court granted the petition for review and oral argument has been set for January 11, 2022.