State Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Friday to rule on whether Texas Central Partners can rely on the power of eminent domain in its development of a high-speed bullet train from Houston to Dallas. The legislator wants to know if the private company has the authority to go onto private land, survey it and eventually take it for the train path. Austin lawyer Luke Ellis, a partner with Johns, Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, thinks the legislator raises an important point. It’s highly questionable whether the proposed high-speed rail can exercise the power of eminent domain, Mr. Ellis says. A strong argument can be made under Texas condemnation case law and related transportation statutes to challenge Texas Central Partners’ right to conduct surveys and take private property through eminent domain.
The bullet train proposal has been popular in Houston and Dallas and less popular in the rural areas it will speed through. The state does allow established railroads and other private companies to use eminent domain to create infrastructure, but the question about the high-speed rail project may yet be decided. Texas Central Partners told the Texas Tribune that the project is clearly covered by the same laws. Legislator Cook told the online newspaper that the decision should be made based on today’s understanding of the law and current situation, not something based on laws from more than 100 years ago.