The long-planned, often-controversial Houston-to-Dallas high speed rail project has hit yet another patch of rough tracks. Texas Central, the company behind the project, has touted the fact that it will be fully privately funded and not reliant on tax dollars. But rising costs and the coronavirus pandemic may have changed that. Faced with struggling equity markets due to the financial downturn in recent months, Texas Central was forced to lay off 28 employees and is now seeking government loans and stimulus money.
In a letter to the Texas State Senate obtained by the Dallas Business Journal, Texas Central Chairman Drayton McLane Jr. notes the project has "hit a snag with all the difficulties of the coronavirus," and talks of "monies we hope to receive from President Trump's infrastructure stimulus through the Department of Transportation."
Kyle Workman with the group Texans Against High Speed Rail says they saw this coming all along, regardless of the coronavirus. "With these infrastructure projects of this size and this scope, the price always goes up," he tells KTRH. "Now they're on life support, they need that federal funding in order to keep moving forward."
State Rep. Ben Leman (R-Magnolia), a critic of the project, blasted Texas Central for misleading the public about the costs while promising it would be privately financed. "The cost has gone up through the roof on this," Leman told KPRC-AM 950's Pursuit of Happiness Radio. "It's gone from $10 billion, which was their first estimate, to now $30 billion."
"And now they are up there walking the halls of Congress, asking our congressmen and senators for $16 billion," Leman continued.
The news hasn't all been bad for the project, though. Last month, an appeals court ruled that Texas Central does qualify as a railroad, giving the company eminent domain power to acquire the land it needs. That decision has been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.