Dallas-Houston Bullet Train Faces Eminent Domain And Other Hurdles

Plans continue for a bullet train that would connect Dallas to Houston in just 90 minutes. While residents and officials in these big cities welcome high-speed rail, landowners along its path have concerns.

A private company is spearheading the $15 billion project, and it's creating heated conversation about the free market vs. private property rights.

Texas Tribune urban affairs reporter Brandon Formby discussed with us eminent domain, construction and what the bullet train will mean for Dallas.

On what has to happen before train construction begins:

There are a lot of things that have to be accomplished before the company, Texas Central Partners, can break ground and actually start construction. One of those things is getting the $15 billion to $18 billion the company estimates it will cost to build a 240-mile line across 10 counties. Texas Central Partners is a private company and vows to use private investment.

A big portion of that money is going to go to land purchases, so they also have to buy up scores and scores of properties that are in that 10-county area. So there is a lot of work to be done on both those fronts before train actually start running.

On Texas Central Partners using eminent domain:

It basically comes down to, is Texas Central Partners a railroad? The company says it is, because it is developing and working on this project, like a railroad would. Texas state law allows railroads to use eminent domain.

Opponents of the project, and even one land owner in a court case, are arguing that, because Texas Central today is not operating any trains or railroads, it does not qualify to take advantage of the law that lets them use eminent domain for property rights.

That's yet to be definitively decided. There is a court case going on in Leon County. The Texas Attorney General has stayed out of the debate, and the Texas legislature so far has not changed state law to either explicitly give or take away Texas Central's ability to use eminent domain.

On how the train will affect Dallas:

The bullet train project is viewed as a major economic development generator. The station would be in the Cedars neighborhood, just south of downtown, which is a gentrifying neighborhood with a lot of development in recent years.

It's so close to where Reunion Arena use to be, where the Dallas Morning News use to be, and Union Station — those are large pieces of land for the downtown area that are controlled by just a handful of owners.

A lot of people see the proximity of that to the planned station as being ripe for massive development. It could be so big that the economic center of gravity for downtown could move toward that southwest corner.