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High-speed rail developer drops lawsuits against landowners

By Brandon Formby

The Texas Tribune

February 07, 2017 11:29 AM

The private developer of a planned bullet train between Dallas and Houston has withdrawn more than a dozen lawsuits against Texas landowners that sought court orders allowing the company access to private property to survey land for the 240-mile project.

Texas Central Partners officials said they are instead going to try and have an “open dialogue” with landowners about letting the company onto their land.

“We’re stepping back and going back to conversations and taking some of the heat out of our process,” said Texas Central President Tim Keith.

Texas Central Partners is developing a 240-mile bullet train line intended to transport passengers between Houston and Dallas in 90 minutes with a stop near Bryan. The company has partnered with Japanese train operator JR Central to bring its bullet train technology to Texas. The project has drawn support from officials in Houston and Dallas but opposition from communities and landowners that are expected to be near the train’s route.

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In court filings, the company argued that state law allows it to enter private property to survey land that may be used for a potential route because it is a railroad. A group called Texans Against High-Speed Rail have said the company shouldn’t be considered a railroad because it doesn’t currently operate any rail lines.

In one Harris County lawsuit, attorneys for a landowner echoed that argument. A trial on the merits of those legal arguments was set for July, according to the Harris County District Clerk’s office.

Keith said Tuesday that the company was confident it would have secured a ruling in its favor. Texas Central and landowners had already settled 21 other similar legal filings. The company said the decision to withdraw the remaining suits was largely based on the fact that it’s already reached access and land-purchase options with more than 3,000 landowners.

Texas Central said Tuesday it has secured land-purchase options on about 30 percent of the parcels needed. The company said it has also executed land-purchase options on about 50 percent of the land needed in both Grimes and Waller counties, northwest of Houston. The project is especially controversial in Grimes County.

A land-purchase option essentially means that the company and a property owner have reached an agreement on how much the firm will pay for any land that may be needed for the route. The company pays an up-front fee that the owner can keep regardless of whether the firm eventually needs their land once the route is finalized.