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The anticipated high-speed passenger rail line that would travel between Houston and Dallas may not come to fruition if the Texas Senate passes a bill proposed to limit the eminent-domain powers of companies that own such lines.

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Photo by Toshiyuki Aizawa/Bloomberg.  Texas Central High-Speed Railway plans to purchase trains, similar to the Shinkansen bullet train pictured here, from Central Japan Railway Company for its $12-billion, high-speed rail line that would run between Houston and Dallas.

The proposed bill, initiated by Senator Lois Kolkhorst, R – Brenham, defines a high-speed rails as an “intercity passenger rail service that is reasonably expected to reach speeds of at least 110 miles per hour” and excludes companies that own such rail systems from exercising the power of eminent domain for those projects. The Texas Senate Transportation Committee voted Senate Bill 1601 out of committee on April 8, according to The Texas Tribune.

Texas Central High-Speed Railway, the private company developing the $12 billion train line, has maintained that it has private funding for the entirety of the project and would be able to compensate landowners for the property needed to complete the project more than the government typically can during condemnation.

“We have the ability to pay more because it’s not taxpayer dollars,” Texas Central President Robert Eckels said. “We, in fact, can pay more as a private company and expect that we will be paying more.”

Proponents of the proposed bill argue that the private company should not have the authority to use eminent domain for its own profits.

“Eminent domain is probably the most horrific power that the government has, and to dole that out to individual companies that can misuse that or use it for projects that result in profits, we have to be very careful about doing that,” said Senator Bob Hall, R – Edgewood.

Representatives of Texas Central, however, feel that the company is being singled out as hundreds of private firms are currently authorized to use eminent domain in Texas, according to the Texas Tribune.

“All that we ask is that this train be treated like any other private train in Texas,” said Richard Lawless, Texas Central chairman and CEO. “It does not seem fair to us that this train should be prohibited in Texas just because it goes faster than other trains.”

While the state government may not authorize the use of eminent domain to develop this project, Texas Central has proposed its route to the Federal Railroad Administration.

“Quite honestly, I’d rather do this as a Texas project,” Eckels said.

The train is expected to travel to Dallas from Houston in less than 90 minutes, making one stop in College Station. The company hopes to complete the project by 2021, but a few legislative road blocks may slow its progress.

Read the proposed SB 1601 here.

Co-authored by Justin Hodge and Ayla Syed.

If you have any questions about this article, please feel free to contact Justin Hodge at jhodge@jmehlaw.com