State Rep. Ben Leman, R-Anderson, has filed several bills aimed at oversight of high-speed rail entities in Texas as a private company’s plans for a Dallas-Houston bullet train move forward.
Leman, a former Grimes County judge and critic of Texas Central Partners’ high-speed rail project, filed the four bills last week. In a statement, Leman said that if such a project is built, it should be done so “in a way that is transparent and ensures the proper balance between the use of eminent domain and private property rights.”
House Bill 1989 would require county commissioners to give approval of any proposed county road alterations for construction, and HB 1988 would require rail tracks to be elevated 40 feet or higher to allow movement of pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Ensuring that a high-speed rail facility is “compatible with more than one type of train technology” is the focus of HB 1986, while HB 1987 takes aim at reporting requirements for eminent domain authority.
The latter issue has been a major point of contention for the project. Texas Central, the private company behind the bullet train project, has maintained that state law gives it the right to use eminent domain, though it would prefer to reach sales agreements with landowners for the parcels it needs to construct the project. Those who oppose the project, such as the Texans Against High Speed Rail group, have challenged that Texas Central doesn’t have the authority to condemn land. The debate is ongoing through several court cases.
Leman’s bill would require that an entity report any court proceeding filed to determine its eminent domain authority and the outcome. Texans Against High Speed Rail recently celebrated a court decision in Leon County that denied Texas Central’s status as a railroad. Company officials have said they will appeal that ruling.
“In no way, shape, or form should a private entity that has been determined to not be a railroad with the power of eminent domain by a court at law be able to continue to falsely claim to have the power of eminent domain,” Leman said in the statement. “Additionally, said entity should not be able to terrorize and threaten hundreds, if not thousands, of landowners under that false pretense.”
Contrary to what others may say, the company said in a statement, Texas Central “is a railroad company.”
“None of these bills expands economic development, creates jobs, attracts investments in Texas or strengthens land-owner property rights,” the statement from Texas Central said regarding Leman’s proposed legislation. “These bills are unnecessary, and some could jeopardize the safety of the system. Texas Central continues to work with the Legislature to address all concerns, and it remains committed to deploying the world’s safest high-speed train technology in Texas without state money or federal grants.”
Meanwhile, plans for the $12 billion, 240-mile high-speed rail are moving forward. Holly Reed, Texas Central’s managing director of external affairs, told The Eagle in December that the project could begin construction this year. The bullet train, which is to be built on elevated viaducts and berms using Japan’s Shinkansen technology, is planned to transport passengers between Dallas and Houston in 90 minutes. The only planned stop is in Grimes County.
This month the company announced it has engaged Citi and MUFG as financial advisers to assist in “securing the financing across debt and equity” for the project.