2017 Texas Legislature Railroad Legislation

2017 State Legislature


Bills Filed in the Texas House and Senate that affect Railroads

Thumbs up and thumbs down are the opinions of Texas Rail Advocates. It’s just how we see legislation that could affect the operation of freight and passenger trains in Texas, affecting the economy and vitality of the state. Those without the “thumb” have not yet been rated.

SB=Senate Bill    HB=House Bill   Click on the bill number for details

Want to find out the current status on a bill? Click here.

 SB 740 by Kolkhorst  NOT PASSED – Relating to the acquisition of property by an entity with eminent domain authority. BAD BILL.  Potential for legal delay is huge.  Critical point:  attempts to make it illegal retroactively for a utility to use condemned property for use other than that initially set forth in condemnation proceedings.

SB 742 by Kolkhorst NOT PASSED – Relating to requirements for a bona fide offer for the acquisition of property by an entity with eminent domain authority. BAD BILL. Tracks closely with SB 740.

SB 973 by Creighton/HB 2168 by Bell  NOT PASSED – prohibits a high speed rail entity from entering private property to conduct a survey unless the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) first determines that the surveying entity is, in fact, a railroad.  BAD BILL. The private entity now building the Dallas-Houston high speed railroad has filed the proper papers with the state of Texas as a railroad and has been working with the Federal Railroad Administration as required. 

SB 974 by Creighton/HB 2181 by Cook  – NOT PASSED – voids any high-speed rail option contracts held by a high-speed rail entity upon a bankruptcy initiated by or against the entity BAD BILL.

SB 975 by Birdwell/HB 2169 by Schubert (Security Requirements) – PASSED  -provides a framework of minimum security requirements to be followed during the construction and operation of a private high speed rail line. Requires the high-speed rail authority to coordinate security efforts with state and local law enforcement, as well as disaster response agencies. Duplicates and infringes on Federal safety authority, State shouldn’t do this, unnecessary, creates safety problem where none exists.

SB 977 by Schwertner/HB 2172 by Ashby  – PASSED – prohibits the legislature from appropriating new funds, or allowing state agencies to utilize existing funds, to pay any costs related to a the construction, maintenance, or operation of a private high-speed rail in Texas. Interesting that Texas Central, the entity that wants to build and operate the Dallas-Houston bullet train has said repeatedly that they do not want and will not accept any state funding.

SB 978 by Schwertner/HB 2104 by Bell  – NOT PASSED  – requires a private high-speed rail entity to file a bond with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sufficient to restore property used for the rail service to the property’s original conditions if the service ceases operation.  BAD BILL. Requires punitive bond (no way to estimate amount) before construction can begin.  Dangerous.

SB 979 by Schwertner/HB 2179 by Cook – NOT PASSED – prohibits an entity that operates or plans to operate a high-speed rail from using property acquired for purposes other than high-speed rail. If the high-speed rail authority doesn’t use the property for that specific purpose, the original landowner must be given opportunity to repurchase the land.   VERY BAD BILL. Prevents railroad entity from use of eminent domain. Blatantly discriminatory but could tie up HSR in the courts for a long time, internally contradictory (requires report on actions which are prohibited) Unintended consequence:  If a high speed entity also wanted to use the right-of-way to lay a fiber optics cable for their own use and resell the excess capacity that would violate this law

SB 980 by Schwertner/HB 2167 by Schubert  – NOT PASSED – prohibits any state money from being used for any purpose related to a privately owned high-speed rail, unless the state acquires and maintains a lien in order to secure the repayment of state funds. Requires that the state’s lien be superior to all other liens, effectively making Texas a priority creditor  BAD BILL. Sends a bad message to companies that want to do business in Texas. Prohibits state funds but then lets state maintain a lien to secure repayment of state funds. 

SB 981 by Kolkhorst/HB 2162 by Wray  – NOT PASSED – requires an entity constructing a high speed rail line in Texas to demonstrate compatibility with more than one type of train technology. THIS BILL MAKES NO SENSE. The proposed high speed trains would operate on the same standard gauge track as any other freight or passenger rail train, such as Union Pacific, BNSF Railway or Amtrak. You can run diesel or electric on standard gauge tracks. You don’t want 200mph trains mixing with freight or other slower passenger rail traffic for safety reasons. High speed trains do just fine on their own tracks with no grade crossings. Big safety issue if you force high speed trains to operate with slow freight or passenger rail traffic. 

SB 982 by Perry/HB 2173 by Ashby  – NOT PASSED – upon request of a legislator, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) must generate a feasibility study of a proposed high-speed rail project. The study must indicate whether the project is for a public use, whether it will be financially viable, and what impact of the project will have on local communities  BAD BILL. The private company building the Dallas-Houston bullet train is in the midst of the federally mandated comprehensive study right now. Another layer of bureaucracy is not needed. Is a complete duplicate of Federal work, and is a payday for consultants and lawyers.

  HB2160 by Wray – NOT PASSED – relating to the assessment of damages for certain condemnations by a high-speed railroad company.  BAD BILL. Sets up punitive damages against condemnor, makes them pay for any alleged interference with access to property.            

HB2161 by Wray  –  NOT PASSED – Relating to clarification of the law regarding the authority of a high-speed rail company to exercise the power of eminent domain. BAD BILL. Absolute showstopper, would paralyze all work on High Speed Rail, fundamental discrimination against private party, lacks due process. Railroads in Texas do have eminent domain authority.

HB2163 by Wray – NOT PASSED – Relating to the elevation of high-speed rail tracks in certain counties. BAD BILL. Would force above normal height requirements for railroads above ground.

HB 2164 by Wray – NOT PASSED – Relating to the use of private activity bonds to finance high-speed rail service. BAD BILL. Private activity bonds are widely used in major construction projects and this shuts out and discriminates against railroad projects.

HB2165 by Wray – NOT PASSED – Relating to entry onto property to survey for a high-speed rail facility. BAD BILL. Blatantly discriminatory and could tie up High Speed Rail in the courts for a long time.

   SB385 by Burton – NOT PASSED  – relating to voter approval required for passenger rail projects (but not for highways, airports or port projects?) .THIS IS BY FAR ONE OF THE WORST PIECES OF TRANSPORTATION LEGISLATION EVER VOTED OUT OF THE SENATE TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE. Violates and conflicts with general power of State to control utilities, but does have co-sponsors.  Would require local option election to access Federal loans or funding. So if one city along a commuter rail line voted “no” then no citizen in a region could benefit from passenger rail. States gladly accept federal help for highways, airports and ports so why should passenger rail be treated any different?    

  SB555 by Kolkhorst – NOT PASSED – relating to the entry of real property under a claim of eminent domain authority; providing a criminal penalty. EXTREMELY BAD BILL. Kolkhorst  Dangerous because it has co-sponsors, criminalizes necessary finding of fact. Makes entry onto grounds a felony.

SB626 by Schwertner – NOT PASSED – relating to the acquisition of certain real property in conjunction with the acquisition of real property for a public use through eminent domain procedures. BAD BILL. Objectionable, requires condemnor to make offer for all other property “not required for use” – no definition of what that covers.  

 SB379 by Perry – NOT PASSED – relating to the penalty for noncompliance with certain eminent domain reporting requirements. BAD BILL. Penalties for non-compliance with reporting requirements. Paperwork hassle.

 SB243 by Burton – NOT PASSED – relating to the authority of a commissioners court to disapprove of certain condemnations BAD BILL.  Gives County Commissioners the authority to deny any eminent domain application if homestead is part of property. Could also kill regional railroad authority.  

HB1135 by Workman – NOT PASSED – relating to enforcement of certain regulations by the acquisition of a conservation easement  VERY BAD BILL. Very dangerous, injects conservation easements into eminent domain.

 HB237 by Anchia – NOT PASSED – relating to the name and governance of the Railroad Commission of Texas (railroad authority was transferred to TxDOT long ago – very confusing! It’s really an energy commission so let’s call it that)

 HB642 by Phillips – NOT PASSED – relating to the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas  (railroad authority was transferred to TxDOT long ago – very confusing! It’s really an energy commission so let’s call it that, finally!)

HJR47 by Phillips – NOT PASSED – proposing a constitutional amendment to change the name of the Railroad Commission of Texas to the Texas Energy Commission and to mandate that there be such an agency (railroad authority was transferred to TxDOT long ago – very confusing! It’s really an energy commission so let’s call it that)

  HB977 by Davis, Yvonne – – NOT PASSED – relating to railroad crew size requirements; imposing a civil penalty. BAD BILL. Would require a minimum crew size of two employees on trains and is detrimental to short line railroad operators and rail yard operations.

HB2090 by Vandeaver – NOT PASSED – Relating to compensation for heritage property acquired through eminent domain. BAD BILL. Creates punitive damage claim of 150% of found value if property has been in the family over 100 years.

HB2557 by Miller – NOT PASSED – relating to the development of certain local government transportation infrastructure projects (transportation reinvestment zones)

 HB2556 by Holland – NOT PASSED  – relating to the appraisal required in connection with a bona fide offer to acquire real property by an entity with eminent domain authority. BAD BILL. Holland  This appears to be inoffensive and attractive, but in fact would create an unmanageable paperwork burden, impossible to comply with.  Extends definition of value to include fuzzy concept of “damages” to buildings, livestock, cost of moving / removing trees, plants, crops etc.

HB2694 by Kacal – NOT PASSED  – Relating to requirements for a bona fide offer for the acquisition of property by an entity with eminent domain authority. BAD BILL. Along the same lines as other eminent domain bills filed. 

HB3170 by Bell – NOT PASSED – Relating to the protection of the rights of a property owner in an eminent domain proceeding. BAD BILL. Similar outcome as in other eminent domain bills that have been filed. 

HB3566 by Ashby – NOT PASSED – relating to a franchise credit for entities that make certain railroad reconstruction or replacement expenditures. Assists Short Line railroads in rehab of rail lines to serve local industries. Helps promote economic development.

HB3687 by Ashby – NOT PASSED  – Relating to the acquisition of property by an entity with eminent domain authority. BAD BILL. Tracks closely with Kolkhorst SB 740.


HB1986 by Martinez, “Mando” – NOT PASSED – relating to the creation of regional transit authorities; granting the power of eminent domain; providing authority to issue bonds and charge fees; creating a criminal offense.  The Rio Grande Valley would greatly benefit from the formation of a regional transit authority to provide efficient transportation services to the public.

SB2139 byLucio  – NOT PASSED – seeks to provide for a united, comprehensive effort in the development and sustainability of regional public transit services in the Rio Grande Valley by authorizing the creation of a regional transit authority in the area

HB1568 by Phillips – NOT PASSED – relating to the movement of pedestrians in front of, under, between, or through rail cars at a railroad grade crossing; providing criminal penalties


HB424 by Huberty – NOT PASSED  – regarding the annexation of a railway line next to boundaries of a municipality. According to the Texas Municipal League, the fiscal implication of this bill cannot be determined but would be significant to municipalities. The framework for annexation following passage of this bill would substantially reduce the ability of municipalities to annex areas surrounding their boundaries. Also according to the Texas Municipal League, Texas would become the only state that does not provide either annexation authority or state financial assistance to municipalities to address additional costs imposed on these municipalities by population growth in areas surrounding their boundaries.

The following have not yet been rated Thumbs Up or Down

HB303 by Pickett – NOT PASSED – relating to repayment of money contributed by the Texas Department of Transportation or the Texas Transportation Commission for toll projects (may use the money only to acquire, design,   finance, construct, operate, or maintain a turnpike project under   Section 370.003(14)(A) or (D) or a transit system)

HB1108 by Parker  – NOT PASSED – regarding sale of locomotives as it applies to franchise tax

SB650 by Bettencourt – NOT PASSED – Relating to tax increment financing

SB639 by Huffines – NOT PASSED  – regarding use of money transportation funds for transit projects