Texas Central Partners’ (TCP) proposed Bullet Train, connecting Houston to Dallas, provides an occasion to examine the law of eminent domain in Texas, the protections those laws provide to landowners, and how a project like the Bullet Train will affect property owners within that context and legal framework.
There are two main objections to the Bullet Train. First, Texans want assurances that the Bullet Train is not—and will not become—a project subsidized by Texas taxpayers. TCP’s position is that, while “the project will explore all forms of capital available,” including “federal loan programs like RRIF and TIFIA,” it emphasizes that the Bullet Train “is a private venture with private investors putting their capital at risk—state or local officials in Texas, of all places, have no desire, incentive or legal standing to bail out a private company.” Taking TCP at its word, taxpayers in Texas will not be asked to subsidize this private venture.
The second main objection to the Bullet Train—and the topic of this paper—is the use of eminent domain and the eminent domain reforms of the past decade. Private property is a right Texans do not take lightly. However, it is important to remember that railroads have long exercised the power of eminent domain in order to benefit the public. The public directly benefitted from use of railroads and the accompanying economic, geographical, and cultural growth those railroads helped facilitate during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Furthermore, the Texas Legislature is deeply committed to an ongoing effort to reform eminent domain laws. This effort began more than ten years ago and continues heading into the 85th Legislative Session. This paper will explore the history of eminent domain in Texas as it pertains to railroads. It recounts developments on the national stage which prompted eminent domain reforms across the nation, and details more than ten years of eminent domain protections enacted by the Texas Legislature.