State lawmakers have decided to allow railroads to condemn private property to build new switching yards or tracks.
The state Senate on Tuesday removed provisions from a legislative proposal that would have required rail companies to obtain permission from the Arizona Corporation Commission before using their power to force the acquisition of property to make room for railroad infrastructure.
Instead, the measure now says railroads must hire independent experts to study the effects of their expansion plans. At that point, the Corporation Commission could suggest — but not require — the company to pick alternate sites.
Rep. Jonathan Paton, R- Tucson, said the change came amid legal questions of whether the state can restrict where railroads can locate. Paton conceded that a railroad would remain free to pick the site it wants even if opposition were to surface during public hearings.
But he insisted the diluted version of HB2020 still would undermine some railroad plans, such as a proposal by Union Pacific Railroad for a freight yard near Picacho Peak State Park. “I think you’re really discounting the idea of angry citizens sitting there with pitchforks and torches,” he said, characterizing the opposition to such a facility near a scenic spot and state park.