The Texas Central and Eminent Domain

Texas has a reputation as a business-friendly state. But that friendliness can quickly evaporate when angry constituents start putting pressure on legislators. Last Tuesday, eighteen bills were filed in Austin to stop or impede a privately built high-speed railroad between Dallas and Houston.

Rural land owners are fighting the project, and their representatives are eager to acquiesce. State Rep. John Wray is one example. The Chronicle quotes Wray:

Transportation is a critical issue for our state, which requires thoughtful and pragmatic solutions for today and the future. Texas Central has failed to demonstrate a viable or comprehensive plan addressing the real mobility needs of our state, and the legislation filed today seeks to address the legitimate issues posed by this project.

The quality of Texas Central’s plan is irrelevant. If it is a bad plan, the railroad will fail and shareholders will suffer. But that isn’t any business of the Legislature. Lawmakers should not be analyzing business plans for viability; they should be protecting the freedom of individuals to engage in the economic pursuits of their choosing.

Sadly, Texas Central argues that it can use eminent domain to acquire the necessary land, and one of the proposed bills would properly prohibit this.

One of the major issues dividing Texas Central and opponents is the company’s right to acquire property via eminent domain. The company claims it has rights as a railroad to use eminent domain, though some landowners have challenged that…

Lawmakers, many who contend Texas Central does not have eminent domain authority, have said many of their concerns focus on landowner rights.

As is usually the case, lawmakers are focusing on details and ignoring the principle involved. Rather than fight Texas Central on the issue of eminent domain, the state should abolish the practice entirely. Eminent domain violates property rights, whether it occurs in urban or rural areas.

If Texas Central can acquire the necessary land through voluntary means, then they have a moral right to build their railroad, no matter what the legislature thinks. If this proves impossible, then they can’t build their railroad. They should not be permitted to seize land through eminent domain.

The Legislature should protect the property rights of all Texans. Rural land owners should not be forced to sell their land. And Texas Central should not be prohibited from building the railroad if they can do so through non-coercive means.

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