Pete Bonds: Dallas-Houston rail line threatens Texas ranches

In 1933, my father bought land in Saginaw and I have been ranching on it since the age of 18. As a lifetime cattle rancher and someone who has worked hard to build our family business, I understand the importance of private property rights. I also realize how frustrating it can be when an entity wants to condemn property through the eminent domain process for self-gain, because I have dealt with this issue firsthand.

At the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA), we’ve received many phone calls, letters and email messages and have listened to concerns at meetings about the Texas Central Railway (TCR), one of the latest projects that will require the use of eminent domain to be built.

TCR is a planned, privately-owned high-speed rail line that would run from Dallas to Houston. The project is expected to require over 3,000 acres of right-of-way for the railway and related infrastructure and would harmfully impact the private property of landowners in 11 counties: Dallas, Ellis, Freestone, Grimes, Harris, Leon, Limestone, Madison, Montgomery, Navarro and Waller.

With stations planned only at each end of the line, the Texas Central Railway would carry 60 trains a day – traveling at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour – through some of the best cattle country and farmland in the state.

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Ranchers and landowners along the proposed route in these counties are extremely concerned about the project, and they have a right to be. They worry that the railway will negatively affect their ability to graze and move cattle, transport equipment and continue to efficiently and effectively use their property.

The company proposing the TCR has claimed it can meet the needs of each and every landowner along the route. But with a plan requiring a straight route built on a flat surface, it will be impossible for the rail line to meet all of these specific needs.

The leaders and members of the Cattle Raisers Association understand that various transportation options are needed to address the mobility issues of our state – but TCR is not the answer. This project will transport passengers only from Dallas to Houston with no stops and still require additional transportation to and from the rail stations. Landowners and rural communities will have no convenient access to the line and will not benefit. In fact, property values in proximity to the railway will be adversely impacted.

With TCR being largely funded by a Japanese bank, the long-term financial security and stability of the project remains uncertain and could eventually impact Texas taxpayers.

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While it is still unclear whether or not TCR has the power of eminent domain, backers of the project do plan to use this power to gain the land necessary to construct the massive high-speed railway. Personally, this is my biggest concern about the project.

The eminent domain issue goes far beyond the Texas Central Railway, of course. It is a topic that has been debated often over the years. The high speed rail project is only one of many examples of an entity threatening to use eminent domain to take land for what is labeled “public use.”

Under the current eminent domain process, a private company can seize private property for public use. In my opinion, the current structure for determining what is truly public use is highly questionable, and I do not believe a private company should have the authority to use eminent domain just because it claims to meet the criteria for public use. There must be a thorough and transparent process for making the critical decision to take someone’s property.

My family and I have worked extremely hard over the years to build a cattle operation that relies heavily on the land to be successful. Raising cattle is our way of life and having any entity come in and take away any amount of land through eminent domain makes it difficult for us to accomplish our job. I know there are many who share the same concerns, because TSCRA has heard directly from these individuals on the proposed high-speed railway project.

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Because of the statewide implications of this sizable and unique project, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association is opposed to the use of eminent domain by the TCR. Moving forward, we will continue listening to members who are worried about the negative impacts of this project. We will also support legislative and regulatory efforts that limit the authority of private high-speed passenger rail companies to use the power of eminent domain for their profit while forever harming land values and stripping landowner rights.

Pete Bonds is president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association. He operates and resides on the Bonds Ranch in Saginaw.