December 21, 2021 - TRA Newswire -
Deja vu. It's back to the Texas Supreme Court for Texas Central Railway as Attorney General Ken Paxton's office has now inserted itself into a lawsuit claiming that the railroad is not a railroad and has no right to eminent domain authority. Part of it boils down to grammar and tenses.
In this near decade-old fight to build a high-speed rail line between Texas' two largest population centers, the latest twist finds the Supreme Court reopening a decision that defined Texas Central had the right to survey land needed for the project and met the definition of a railroad.
A rural landowner in Leon County, James Miles, sued Texas Central after the company asked for permission to survey his land in 2015. Miles claimed the company did not have eminent domain authority granted to railroads. Miles won his case at a local trial court, but a state appellate court in Corpus Christi sided with the railroad. Miles then took his case to the Texas Supreme Court, which also interpreted the law to read that Texas Central was indeed a railroad under state definition. Case closed? Not quite.
Reopening the case is fairly rare at the state supreme court level as is then asking State Attorney General Ken Paxton's office to issue a friend-of-the court brief. One has to wonder what brought this to the attention of the high court for a second time.
Paxton's office, in a legal brief filed last Friday, argued that the high court should reverse the appellate court's decision, claiming the the railroad has not met the Texas Constitution's definition of a rail company.
Semantics plays a part in the ongoing lawsuit. Paxton's office claims that the state Transportation Code gives railroads the authority to exercise eminent domain if the are an "operating railroad". Since Texas Central is still in pre-planning and currently owns no trains, tracks or terminals the AG's office claims “the rules of grammar confirm that the Respondents are not railroad companies.” If the AG's reasoning prevails, no future start-up railroad would ever be built in Texas by definition of no tracks laid, no railcars purchased, no structures yet built.
Even though Texas Central has spent tens of millions of dollars in planning for the line, procuring land, paying many landowners for use of their property and lining up world-class contractors and engineering companies, the Attorney General's office claimed in its brief that TCR could not show how it will procure sufficient financing to complete the $20 billion project. Texas Central has also received the blessing of the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration in its planning efforts.
Texas Central claimed in previous filings that they do meet the Transportation Code as they have done their due diligence needed to construct a railroad and prepare for their next step, getting their complicated financing tools in place for such a mega-project.
The parties will go, again, before the high court in early January.