High-speed rail gets trial on land survey access

Five months after federal transportation officials announced no federal approval would be needed for a planned Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail line, a Texas district judge has decided to go to trial in a related land survey case.

“We’re disappointed in the court’s decision to go to trial and we believe our arguments will prevail there,” read part of a statement issued Wednesday by Texas Central Partners, the developer behind plans to construct the privately funded rail line.

The issue involves Texas Central seeking approval to conduct land surveys for its rail plan. A property owner near Houston has said the developer lacks authority to survey his property.

State District Judge Joseph “Tad” Halbach’s decision followed Texas Central’s request for a summary judgment in the land survey case. Texas Central responded by issuing the statement, which continues:

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“The judge’s two-sentence decision only declined the company’s request for summary judgment, meaning the debate will be heard before a full trial. Contrary to what opponents are saying, he did not issue any opinion on the company’s operations or its rights under state law.”

The developer emphasized that the decision “does not set any kind of precedent, and we will show in a full trial that state law, established for more than a century, clearly gives railroad companies the right to conduct land surveys without interference.”

Texas Central vowed to continue to work with landowners “in a direct and respectful manner as the project moves ahead as planned.”

Austin lawyer Craig Enoch, a former Texas Supreme Court justice, also weighed in.

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“The statements in the news release from Texans Against High-Speed Rail do not pass legal and factual scrutiny,” Enoch said.

“The judge did not issue a final ruling on Texas Central’s status as a railroad company or its power of eminent domain. The court makes no decision on Texas Central operating as a bona fide railroad company. The trial will determine these issues, not this preliminary hearing,” Enoch said in a statement.

Texas Central Partners, backed by a group of Texas-based investors, has said it will not accept federal grants for construction or public subsidies for operation. Plans call for trains making the trip between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston in less than 90 minutes, with a single stop at its Brazos Valley station to be in Grimes County somewhere between Bryan-College Station and Huntsville.

The company plans to begin operations in 2021.

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The estimated $36 billion in economic impact includes the initial $10 billion that Texas Central Partners plans to spend on the project’s design and construction.