Opposition Building to Texas Bullet Train

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — Several Texas legislators have taken aim at the Texas High-Speed Rail project by proposing bills to restrict a startup company’s access to private land to be used in its bullet train route.

Texas Central Partners devised a plan to build a 240-mile railway between Dallas and Houston, using the Japanese N700-I Bullet passenger train, which could make the trip in 90 minutes.

Texas Central claims the bullet train could bring $36 billion to Texas in the next 25 years.

But in the past week, state legislators introduced 24 bills that address or oppose the project, including six that would curtail the company’s ability to acquire property through eminent domain.

For example, House Bill 2179, by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, states that a “private entity may not exercise the power of eminent domain for the purpose of developing or operating a high-speed rail project.”

Cook defines a high-speed rail as any train that operates at 110 mph or more. Threshold speeds for high-speed rails vary in the bills, from 100 mph to 120 mph.

Senate Bill 979, by state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, states that if a company uses eminent domain to acquire property for high-speed rail, it “may not use the property for any purpose other than a high-speed rail project,” and if it does not or cannot, must offer the former property owner first right of refusal to reacquire the land.

Texas Central CEO Tim Keith has said he will use eminent domain only as a last resort.

Senate Bill 974, by state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, would void any high-speed rail project if the company files for bankruptcy or if bankruptcy proceedings are filed against it. The bill uses the same language as H.B. 2181, also by Cook.

Some critics have vowed to stop the project through nonprofit organizations, such as the Texans Against High-Speed Rail’s Land Defense Fund, which the organization announced on its website on Feb. 2.

“Texans Against High-Speed Rail represents a broad coalition of Texas who oppose the proposed HSR, and with the recent formation of the Land Defense Fund, landowners now have a way to support a legal fight that no one landowner should shoulder alone,” the organization’s president Kyle Workman said.

The group said that eminent domain would not be Texas Central’s primary method of acquiring property, so it decided to “offer landowners a collective effort to protect their lands and ecologically sensitive natural resources and wildlife from being harmed long before eminent domain is necessary.”

Texas Central lamented the “slate of discriminatory bills” in a statement on its website.

“The effort to take away safe, reliable and productive transportation choice runs counter to the values and principles of so many Texans who are clamoring for it,” the company said.

Texas Central previously expected to commence construction this year, according to press releases and its website last year. However, the project is unlikely to meet that deadline when faced with two dozen state bills, an uncertain route plan and backlash from rural property owners through organizations such as Texans Against High-Speed Rail.

The company said it expects the timeline to “become more solidified” as federal regulatory agencies review the project, according to its website.