Will the Texas Dreams of Light Rail ever come true?

Here’s what we know for sure: Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar, who heads the private company with an ambitious (and continually delayed) plan to operate a high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas, recently announced that he had resigned from his position… via LinkedIn.

“While I cannot align our current stakeholders with a common vision of the way forward, I wish the project every success and remain convinced of the importance of this endeavor to the safety and prosperity of all Texans. “, he wrote, after noting that he was only announcing his departure because a Spanish-based outlet was about to report it.

It remains unclear who will take Aguilar’s place or if there is even a business left to run. The section of the company’s website listing the management team is empty, while the company’s hotline is down. On top of that, the entire board quietly disbanded earlier this month, chairman emeritus and co-founder Richard Lawless confirmed in various reports. (Our request for comment from Texas Central representatives has not yet been returned, but we will update as soon as we have a response.)

Update: 12:30 p.m. Texas Central released this statement via email:

“Texas Central remains open for business under new management, continues to seek new investment, and continues to develop this high-speed train.”

So despite all the signs that the company is, or will soon be, defunct, Texas Central attorneys insist that news of the company’s demise is greatly exaggerated, as the saying goes.

“Contrary to such unsubstantiated speculation, Texas Central remains open for business under its new management, continues to seek new investment, and pursues the development of this high-speed train,” wrote Marie Yeates, the company’s appellate attorney. letter submitted in response to an amicus curiae filed by landowner Calvin House, one of several rural landowners who have taken their opposition to the company’s use of eminent domain all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

Although the court is due to rule on the company’s right to use eminent domain in Miles v. Texas Central any day, House had suggested in its recent filing that this may soon be a moot point. . He pointed to Lawless’ recent announcement that the company is now managed by Michael Bui as evidence. Bui works for FTI Consulting and “advises clients through distress, bankruptcy, reorganization and sale events,” House claimed.

So is this the end? Have Texas Central’s high-speed rail ambitions completely faded away? The answer is still so steeped in spin, politics, and the sometimes tense tensions between urban Texas residents (mostly pro-line) and rural residents (mostly opposed to the line cutting through their land) that it is hard to say. Attorneys for Lawless and Texas Central say there are signs of life, while House, Texans Against Highspeed Rail and other opponents say resignations associated with unpaid property taxes, as we reported in April , are clear signs that the end is most likely near.

We probably won’t know for sure until the company dissolves or finally starts building the railroad.

Either way, this is decidedly an ignominious moment for the company. Even though the concept of high-speed trains going back and forth across Texas always seemed like a long shot, Texas Central has long had the kind of loot, bluster and support that made it entirely possible that they be the ones who would finally succeed.

According to the many statements, updates and niggling emails that Texas Central has sent over the years since the Houston-Dallas project became the talk of every community on the proposed railroad route, it was all happening. wonderfully and the train would be up and running before we knew it. They would pave the way by 2017 with trains carrying passengers between the two cities – with a stop at Bryan-College Station – by 2021, company representatives told us in 2015.

They seemed downright confident at the time.

The thought seemed to be that since they had what they thought was a good idea – to give people who didn’t want to pay airfare another way to avoid the long, boring ride on I-45 – it would happen surely.

Their prospects seemed quite promising at first. In 2008, Lawless, a former CIA and US Department of Defense Asian aide who had developed a passion for the Shinkansen bullet train while stationed in Japan, spoke directly to the president of Japan Central with his idea of ​​bringing the technology to the United States Japan Central had been looking to break into the American market for years, so the two teamed up and quickly focused on Texas for the front line. A few years later, Texas Central was officially created, with Drayton McClane Jr. as one of the main investors and former Harris County judge Robert Eckels on board as CEO and chairman.

But the cracks in Texas Central’s plan began to show as the company struggled to move forward. High-speed rail had already been tried in Texas in the 90s, a plan that eventually fell apart due to a lack of funding with about as much ceremony as we see now.

They would not make the same mistakes that the French-backed consortium that tried to build a line in the 1990s had made, Texas Central representatives insisted. They weren’t going to try to get government funding, they said. (And they didn’t – until their fundraising and secured lending capped them so much below the estimated $12 billion cost to build the project that they started applying for grants. years ago when even last year, Aguilar said on a podcast that President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill was crucial to the future of the project.)

They had a plan that would transform the Northwest Mall from an archaic relic of a forgotten era of in-person retail into a vital and thriving Houston focal point once again. (It’s still a decaying commercial artifact that sits unmolested along the junction of 610, I-10, and 290.)

The inauguration would take place very soon. (Currently now means this fall.)

Now, anyone who examines Central Texas tea leaves may be prognosticating incorrectly. Texas Central could come alive again and city dwellers could all settle in to read a book or watch the coastal plains of Houston give way to the prairie of Dallas in just 90 minutes in a few years. Anything can happen, but still, you might not want to bet on it.

Jose P. Rogers