Getting Railroaded?

Ever wonder about the origin of the term “railroaded,” meaning to have something pushed through a process with extreme rapidity (a law in Congress or a criminal conviction for example)? Well it turns out the word dates back to the Gilded Age, when American railroads were racing each other to span the continent, interconnect states, and beat each other to the most lucrative routes. If a landowner was in the way, by hook or by crook, the railroads usually managed to put the tracks where they wanted them. The landowners felt they had been “railroaded.” It turns out, the word still applies in the 21st century, though less often to railroads and more often to highways.

Here in Southern California we have multiple examples of huge projects, one of which actually is a railroad (or a streetcar line to be exact), that are being pushed through, often using the mechanism of eminent domain, in the face of ongoing complaints from landowners. To be sure, the process is more deliberate than it was in the 19th century, but that doesn’t necessarily make it more equitable.

Today, eminent domain is a powerful tool for government or those operating with the blessing of government. Crucially, owners getting railroaded through an eminent domain process need to bear in mind their own rights. Above all, the US Constitution guarantees just compensation for takings. However, ensuring a reasonable interpretation of that promising phrase can take preparation, effort, and persistence.

As noted in a previous blog, one should never accept an offered valuation without careful evaluation. Often, for example, a property could appreciate dramatically in future years. Or under a plausible scenario, changes in use or other conditions could radically alter value.

In other words, take your time, seek appropriate counsel and make sure you don’t get railroaded.

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