The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the timeline of a planned Houston-to-Dallas high-speed rail line into uncertainty, as the company developing the $20-billion project has cut staff by nearly 30 employees and admits other challenges could complicate its plans further.

In a statement, Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Dallas-based Texas Central High-Speed Rail, called the March 27 staff reduction “an effort to make the best use of our current funding.” Although the company has taken other operational measures to cope with the outbreak, “we…still do not know what other impacts this will have.”

Pending federal permit approval, which could come by mid-summer, Texas Central had expected to begin construction on the 240-mile design-build project later this year, with passenger service on its 186-mile-per-hour trains beginning in 2026.

That schedule has been thrown into disarray by the pandemic’s far-reaching effects on Texas Central’s multi-national design, construction and financial partnerships.

In addition to U.S.-based program manager Bechtel, rail system contractors Kiewit and Mass Electric Construction Co., and station contractor Suffolk Construction, the project team includes Italian contractor Salini Impreglio, technology providers Central Japan Railway and Team Shinkansen United of Japan, and Renfe of Spain.

“This is one of those moments where we have to acknowledge how small our world really is,” Aguilar said. “Understanding the impact of COVID-19, and the challenges those countries and the US are facing, is a new fact of life.

Nevertheless, Aguilar expressed confidence that the 240-mile long project will go forward once the federal permitting process is complete, and global markets stabilize.

“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,” Aguilar said.