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Dallas To Houston Texas High Speed Rail Still Seeking Needed Permits

| Dec 3, 2020 | Eminent Domain

The Texas Central high-speed rail project has been in the works for more than eight years, and the company has promised to fund the project with the support of private investors and without public funds. But critics have said that the cost will be higher than $20 billion and that it can’t be built without public support.

The project has received support from leaders of urban areas, like the mayors of Dallas and Houston, but has encountered hard resistance in the rural counties on its path. Landowners, rancher associations and local elected officials have criticized the project and said they oppose the use of eminent domain to take private land for the project.

Texas Central has said that it plans to start construction by the first half of 2021 and that it has already secured sites for stations in Dallas, Houston and the Brazos Valley.

Reporting from the Texas Tribune found that Texas Central still hasn’t applied for a key permit from the federal Surface Transportation Board, which regulates transportation projects, for the construction and operation of the proposed rail line. And two Texas agencies, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, said they haven’t received all the necessary permit applications from the company, including the route proposal and a permit to discharge stormwater during the construction process. A third agency, the Texas Department of Transportation, must approve permits for the rail line to cross state roads during construction, but a spokesperson said the agency would consider any proposals from the company only after the STB approves the project.

The company did receive two key approvals in September from the Federal Railway Administration, which provided the regulatory framework and the environmental review for the high-speed train. The railway administration explained that these rulings covered several of the permits needed by the project in areas like railroad safety, protection of parkland and protection of cultural resources.

Meanwhile, Texas Central is still trying to secure the land along the proposed route. Texas Central says it has secured more than 600 parcels covering about 40% of the lots — not the land — it needs for the project.

The company has said it could use eminent domain to take the land it needs for the rail line, but a Leon County landowner has sued the company, claiming Texas Central is not an “operating railroad” and that would be a “critical limitation on the eminent domain authority.”

After losing in the Leon County district court, the company won in the 13th Court of Appeals in May. The Texas Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear the case in the next few months. Leman, who has been one of the main elected officials leading opposition to the project, said that when eminent domain is used in other ways in Texas, such as for pipelines, electrical transmission lines or roads, a state agency regulates whether eminent domain authority is needed. But that’s not the case with high-speed rail, he said.

When other companies tried to bring high-speed rail to Texas in the 1980s, Texas created a regulatory agency, the Texas High-Speed Rail Authority. But that agency was ultimately dissolved after those projects failed.

“There is no state agency authorized by statute to have general regulatory authority over the high speed rail in Texas,” Leman said. “So landowners have no one to turn to, no one, no agency.