Indiana Statehouse

The flags of the United States and the state of Indiana fly over the copper dome on the Indiana Statehouse in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS — A proposal requiring railroads to meet more stringent standards when seeking to take property through eminent domain cleared its first hurdle Wednesday at the Statehouse.

House Bill 1260, sponsored by state Reps. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, and Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, would obligate railroads to abide by the same "public use" mandate and property appraisal process employed by governments in forcing the sale of a home, farm or other land.

Soliday said existing Indiana law, originally written in the 19th century, gives railroads of just about any size almost unlimited use of eminent domain, including potentially taking land in state parks to build a rail line.

"Under the current law you can just say, 'I want to build a railroad; give me your land and I'll pay you,'" Soliday said. "(This) raises the bar that you do need to have a compelling public need for the eminent domain."

Aylesworth indicated the legislation was inspired by the largely negative Region reaction to the plan by Great Lakes Basin Transportation to take a 200-foot wide corridor for its proposed 260-mile freight railroad connecting Northwest Indiana to southeast Wisconsin.

Though Soliday said a railroad eminent domain update was long overdue and would apply throughout Indiana, including the anticipated double-tracking of the South Shore commuter rail line between Gary and Michigan City.

"The intent is to bring it into conformance with the other eminent domain laws," Soliday said.

The Republican-controlled House Roads and Transportation Committee voted 9-1 to advance the legislation to the full chamber.

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Dan is Statehouse Bureau Chief for The Times. Since 2009, he's reported on Indiana government and politics — and how both impact the Region — from the state capital in Indianapolis. He originally is from Orland Park, Ill.