COVID-19 may knock high-speed rail timeline off track

Posted 4/1/20

Texas Central, the company hoping to build a high-speed rail system between Houston and Dallas that would cut through Madison County laid off 28 employees recently due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may continue to impact the company’s planned timetable for the project.

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COVID-19 may knock high-speed rail timeline off track

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Texas Central, the company hoping to build a high-speed rail system between Houston and Dallas that would cut through Madison County laid off 28 employees recently due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which may continue to impact the company’s planned timetable for the project.

"Unfortunately, like many other companies and organizations around the world, we have been forced to make hard decisions in an effort to make the best use of our current funding, and the result has been the layoff of approximately 28 employees,” Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar said in a prepared statement Monday. “Our core team of experts and planners remain actively engaged and prepared to move this project forward when we have our permits and the financial markets have stabilized.”

The high-speed rail project has been contentious with landowners along the route. The company has claimed that Texas law gives them the right to use eminent domain in order to secure land for the route.

In a related press release Friday, Aguilar said the spread of the novel coronavirus around the world has slowed the supply chain necessary for construction. The Federal Railroad Administration had already cancelled planned public meetings on the project set for April in response to the crisis.

“This is one of those moments where we have to acknowledge how small our world really is,” said Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Texas Central High-Speed Rail. “Our engineering partner is in Italy, our operations partner is in Spain and our technology provider is in Japan. Our financial partners are in those countries, as well as here in the United States. Understanding the impact of COVID-19, and the challenges those countries and the US are facing, is a new fact of life. We are already implementing work from home and other measures to deal with the crisis, but still do not know what other impacts this will have.”

Taylor Ward, spokesperson for ReRoute the Route, a group of businesses and landowners opposed to the path selected for the project, indicated any delay doesn’t change the core issues.

"ReRoute the Route remains consistent in our concern for public safety and commitment to private property rights,” Ward said via e-mail Monday. “Whether it is Texas Central attempting to build this dangerous and highly-flawed project, or any other company, if high-speed rail cannot be built correctly, it shouldn’t be built at all.”

Earlier this month, the FRA proposed a rule of particular applicability to establish safety standards for the Texas Central system, posting in the Federal Register that “the proposed standards are not intended for general application in the railroad industry, but would apply only to the TCRR system planned for development in the State of Texas.”

According to the rule, written comments must be received by May 11, 2020. There’s no current information if that deadline may change due to the pandemic.

Aguilar indicated that the paperwork part of the process is ongoing.

“Our immediate next step is to continue working with our partner organizations and federal and state agencies, led by the Federal Railroad Administration, to finalize our permits. The current schedule we have from the federal government anticipates that will happen by July 31,” he said.

“From an execution standpoint, the project is shovel-ready. Once we receive our permit approval, our ability to begin construction will be contingent upon financial entities in the United States, Europe and Japan, all of which are dealing with urgent priorities generated by COVID-19, completing their due diligence process."

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