Texas Central, the Dallas company planning to build a high-speed train between Dallas and Houston, has reached a deal with a major global consortium to design and build the project.
An official announcement is expected within a matter of days.
"We have a world-class design builder that has just signed on to come and build this for us," said Carlos Aguilar, CEO of Texas Central.
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The 59 year-old Aguilar has been on the job at Texas Central since December. He brings decades of experience with huge infrastructure projects, including the Cantarell offshore natural gas field in Mexico, the London Underground and the world's largest solar thermal energy plant in Ivanpah, Calif.
Aguilar says his strategy for managing complex projects like the Texas bullet train is always the same.
"By a lot of planning and seeking very good partnerships," he said.
The pieces are coming together at Texas Central. Central Japan Railway will provide its proven "Shinkansen" bullet train technology. The design/build consortium is now in place. And Texas Central itself is adding staff. One hundred people are already working on the project, and that number is growing quickly.
"Sixteen people are coming on board within the next week," Aguilar said.
There remain plenty of hurdles in the path ahead. Opponents are pushing back on the possible use of eminent domain to acquire land for the project, but Aguilar says Texas Central is making good progress reaching consensual agreements with landowners in the train's path.
"The more interactions we have with landowners, the more progress we get," Aguilar said.
He says Texas Central now has deals for half of the land it needs in the rural counties between Dallas and Houston.
Critics have also tried to put the brakes on the project in the state legislature. A provision added to the budget would prevent Texas Central from receiving any state funding. Aguilar says that's not a problem. As the session nears its end in Austin, Aguilar is optimistic that lawmakers won't derail the train.
"I feel very good," he said.
There are likely more court battles ahead, especially with landowners who don't want a train across their property at any price. But none of it discourages Aguilar.
"Pretty much any project that is of large magnitude has the same kind of issues," he said.
Among Aguilar's many challenges is steering the project through a maze of permitting procedures. Nineteen federal and state agencies are involved. On the federal level, he knows the project has a very important fan – President Donald Trump. When asked how supportive the Trump administration has been, Aguilar said, "I think very."
Aguilar said the current price tag on the high-speed train is roughly $16 billion. The money would come from private investors and possibly federal loans earmarked specifically for infrastructure projects. Aguilar says he is already receiving calls from lenders interested in financing the project.
After decades of talk about building a high-speed train in Texas, Aguilar believes the project's time has finally come. In no uncertain terms he said, "This is a go."
Aguilar says it will take five years to build. Groundbreaking could happen at the end of next year with passengers riding the rails in 2023 or 2024.