Amtrak Defends Its Eminent Domain Near D.C.'s Union Station
Amtrak Says It Is Preparing for $2 Billion Rail Expansion
Amtrak is denying in a new federal court filing that it condemned an office building near its Union Station headquarters in Washington, D.C. to increase its commercial real estate investments.
The national passenger railroad says it is using its eminent domain rights to protect its easements needed for a $2 billion expansion of its rail service along the Northeast Corridor, according to a report by The Legal Forum (www.legal-forum.net).
Washington, D.C. and federal law allow government agencies to take private property under eminent domain rights only if they can demonstrate a greater public benefit.
The 113,000-square-foot Railway Express building in the NoMa neighborhood of Washington is Class B office space leased largely by federal contractors. Amtrak is one of the tenants.
The building is two blocks from Amtrak’s rail hub and headquarters at Union Station.
The owner, Fluorine LLC, argues in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that Amtrak might be hiding its real motives in taking over the building. The railroad appears to be trying to save money on rent while possibly seeking to earn additional revenue off leases from other tenants, according to Fluorine.
Amtrak offered to purchase the building from Fluorine in the summer of 2015 for $35 million but the developer rejected the offer.
The building is located in a neighborhood that serves as an example of the fast-paced gentrification in Washington. New offices, condominiums and retail outlets are springing up near the Railway Express building.
Fluorine said in its motions that Amtrak made only vague statements about why it needed to take the building and an adjacent lot by eminent domain. The law on condemnations requires government agencies to explain exactly the greater public benefit that would come from taking a property.
Amtrak says it needs more than 40 electrical and communication easements on the site and an electrical substation. The railroad wants to use the adjacent lot as a staging area for a project to build a six-track, high-speed rail station under Union Station. The high-speed trains would take commuters to New York City in 94 minutes by 2030.
No date is set for construction to begin, which Fluorine mentioned as one of the “vague” items in Amtrak’s explanation of why it should use eminent domain.
Amtrak Deputy General Counsel Dennis Moore wrote in a motion, "The fact that Amtrak may not need immediately every inch of the ground space or the office space of the subject property does not mean that it cannot exercise its power of eminent domain.”
Moore also wrote, "No federal court has ever determined that Amtrak exceeded its eminent domain authority. In fact, federal courts have consistently and broadly construed Amtrak's authority to condemn property 'required for intercity rail passenger transportation.'"