Just as it was seeming practically inevitable that the controversial Houston-to-Dallas bullet train would soon become a reality—Texas Central officials were telling everyone that they expected to break ground in a matter of months—the COVID-19 pandemic swept in and changed everything.
That's right, even the company behind the proposed high-speed rail line that will (maybe, someday) tote passengers between the Bayou City and the Big D in just 90 minutes, has announced that their timetable for breaking ground, and thus for building the Shinkansen line, has been hit by fallout from the coronavirus.
Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar explained that while the project was "shovel ready" they are now dealing with significant delays due to the toll the pandemic has taken on Italy, Spain, and Japan, countries where the company has key partners. (Specifically, the Spanish company Renfe, the Italian engineering firm Salini Impregilo, and Central Japan Railway, the company that is slated to provide the actual rail technology.)
While officials had expected to start construction as soon as they received the required state and federal permits, previously expected in July, that plan is now up in the air, which means the slated start date of 2026 will also likely be delayed. Instead of gearing up for the next phase of the project, on Friday the company laid off 28 of its employees.
“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,” Aguilar said in a prepared statement. “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.”
This also, of course, means the plans to transform Northwest Mall into the sleek Houston hub of the high-speed rail line are likely to be delayed as well. That might seem nice from a sentimental angle, but the bullet train construction alone was expected to provide about 17,000 jobs, according to Aguilar. And even the most sentimental Houstonian knows in her gut that we will need those jobs more than we will need to get all nostalgic about that mall in the coming months.