Plans for the Texas Central high-speed rail project to connect Dallas and Houston are moving along again after years of setbacks, including finances, leadership issues and legal woes. 

A general contractor has been selected, several legal issues have been settled by the Texas Supreme Court and a deeper relationship with Amtrak is being explored. Proponents claim the high-speed train will travel at more than 200 mph and complete the 236-mile trip in 90 minutes with departure times every half hour during peak hours and every hour during off-peak hours. 

Developer Texas Central Partners estimates 1.3 million riders daily by 2050.

It has already been a long journey. In 2012, when the project was started, it was estimated to cost $10 billion. A dozen years later, the price has ballooned to $33.4 billion, and the cost could skyrocket to more than $40 billion, according to a study by the Reason Foundation. 

“In big complex infrastructure projects, it’s better to have issues during the planning phase” than construction, says Angel Pena, vice president for rail and transit in STV’s Texas/Mountain region. “Planning is the most challenging part of the process.” Pena, who held leadership positions at Washington and Boston public transit systems, adds that the more stakeholders a project has, the more difficult it is to execute. 

Texas Central did not respond to requests for comment. It is unclear when construction may begin.

The group entered a $16-billion heavy construction contract with Italy-based contractor WeBuild and its U.S. subsidiary Lane Construction Corp in 2021. According to Lane, the contract includes designing and constructing all 236 miles of the alignment, and the entire track system, approximately 50% of which is on viaducts. Under the contract, Lane is responsible for the building and service for maintenance and other equipment, including industrial buildings, train depots and facilities, the company said.

The project was stalled for years after landowners sued over land rights. In 2022, the Texas Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that Texas Central has eminent domain authority.

Lane addressed the landowners’ issue when it announced the multi-billion contract in a statement: “Much of the alignment is elevated and will benefit from Lane’s expertise in constructing bridges and viaducts to reduce impacts as much as possible on landowners and residents of the counties the project will traverse."

In mid-2022, the future of the project was bleak. The long-time CEO abruptly left, and the board of directors disbanded, according to ENR's reporting. The company brought in Michael Bui, a senior managing director at FTI Consulting who specializes in “liquidity forecast development, business plan development and analyses, collateral evaluations and recovery assessment and contingency planning,” according to his company biography, and who has advised various clients through events like distress, bankruptcy, reorganization, and sale. 

Initially, Texas Central leadership promised the entire project would be privately funded. 

However, the railroad has focused on strengthening its relationship with Amtrak. mainly in helping with federal funding grants for study and design work, according to a press release.

"Texas Central and Amtrak have submitted applications to several federal programs in connection with further study and design work for the potential Dallas to Houston segment, including the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure Safety and Improvements (CRISI) grant program, the Corridor Identification and Development program, and the Federal-State Partnership for Intercity Passenger Rail (FSP-National) grant program," the release states.

Amtrak has worked with Texas Central since 2016 when it entered into agreements to provide through-ticketing using the Amtrak reservation system and other support services for the planned high-speed rail line, the release states.