In a decision handed down on July 16, the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) granted Texas Central Railway’s (TCR) petition to reopen a prior decision declining to take jurisdiction over the high-speed rail project because it would be constructed entirely in Texas and not as part of the interstate rail transportation system.
TCR presented evidence to the STB demonstrating that the Texas high speed rail project would become part of the interstate system through an agreement with Amtrak for through ticketing and passenger transfers from interstate Amtrak routes to TCR’s network. The STB’s decision focused primarily on the link between the Dallas Amtrak and TCR stations, which are less than one mile apart and would be served by a bus transfer service owned and operated by TCR. TCR estimates that by year 10 of operation, approximately 20,000 passengers would transfer between Amtrak and TCR in Dallas and Houston. Based on this evidence, the STB granted TCR’s petition, finding that TCR proposed line would be constructed as part of the interstate rail network. It is important to note, however, that the STB’s finding does not confer federal eminent domain authority to TCR, since whether an entity has eminent domain authority is a matter of state law. This would be true even if the STB ultimately determines to approve the line. The STB’s decision clears the way to TCR to apply to the Board for the authority to construct and operate the line. The STB ruled that TCR will have to provide information regarding the financial feasibility and transportation merits of the project.
The STB’s decision follows a May ruling by the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals that TCR is both a railroad company as defined by § 81.002, Texas Transportation Code, and an interurban electric railway as defined by § 131.011, Texas Transportation Code. The Court of Appeals reversed a trial court summary judgment award in favor of a landowner seeking to block TCR from entering the landowner’s property to conduct a survey. In addition to ruling that TCR is a railway, the Court of Appeal found that because TCR’s surveyor represented to the landowner that the company had eminent domain authority, it was required to provide the landowner with a copy of the Landowner’s Bill of Rights. The surveyor’s failure to do so at first contact did not affect TCR’s authority, since the surveyor provided the LOBR at a later date and thus cured the defect. The landowner has promised to appeal the decision to the Texas Supreme Court.
The two decisions can be read here: