The train isn't official yet but now there's a builder in place. Photo courtesy of JR Central

The high-speed train between Houston and Dallas still needs an official sign-off before it happens, but a builder has been hired for when that day comes.

Texas Central, the developers of the train, have signed a $16 billion contract with Webuild, an engineering contractor company based in Milan.

Previously known as Salini Impregilo, Webuild is one of the largest civil engineering contractors in the world. They'll be working with The Lane Construction Corporation, a global leader in engineering and construction, to lead the civil construction team that will build the Texas rail line.

According to a release, Webuild is active in more than 50 countries on five continents, including Australia, Europe, Asia, and the Americas.

The company has built high-speed train projects in Europe, along with more complex transportation projects such as the expansion of the Panama Canal, the Grand Paris Express, and the Anacostia River and Northeast Boundary tunnels in Washington, DC.

They've worked in the U.S. since the 1980s but were able to expand their presence in 2016 by merging with The Lane Construction Corporation, based in Cheshire, Connecticut.

Webuild Group CEO Pietro Salini calls the commission an honor.

"Being part of such a challenging project as leader of the design and construction of the railway is a unique experience that we are extremely proud of," Salini says. "This is a wonderful opportunity to further focus our presence in the U.S., our biggest single market, together with Lane, the company building first class transport infrastructure for the country for the past 130 years."

According to the contract, Webuild will execute all the heavy construction for the project, designing and building 236 miles of the alignment, nearly half of it on viaduct and much of it elevated to reduce impact on neighbors and landowners.

Webuild will also build all maintenance and industrial buildings, train depots, and facilities.

The system Texas Central Railroad has proposed will replicate the Japanese Tokaido Shinkansen high-speed rail system, operated by the Central Japan Railway Company (JRC) which, in its 55+-year history has transported more than 10 billion passengers with zero operational passenger fatalities or accidents.

The 200-mph train will be a 90-minute ride between Houston and Dallas, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley.

In May, Texas Central signed a $1.6 billion contract with Kiewit Infrastructure South Co. and affiliate Mass. Electric Construction Co. to install the train's core electrical systems.

The project has had pushback from some Texas politicians and landowners along the route, but the Biden administration is very pro rail, with a $2 trillion infrastructure package that includes modernizing public transit (commuter rail, buses, stations) and improving and expand the nation's passenger and freight rail network. He recently restored funding to a project that would connect San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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This article orignally ran on CultureMap.

The high-speed train now has a new builder onboarded for the project. Photo of the N700 courtesy of © JR Central

The high-speed train planning a Houston-Dallas route now has a builder on board the project

Right on track

The Texas high-speed train that plans to zip between Houston and Dallas still has some obstacles to plow through, but the project now has a builder at least.

Texas Central, the developer of the Texas Bullet Train, has signed a contract with Salini Impregilo, an Italian construction company and one of the largest civil engineering contractors in the world, and its American subsidiary, Lane Construction.

"This agreement brings us one step closer to beginning construction of the civil infrastructure segments of the project," said Texas Central CEO Carlos F. Aguilar, in a release.

The train still can't move forward because it doesn't own all of the land necessary for the route.

But if/when it does get the land, Salini Impregilo will do the following:

  • supply the civil and infrastructure scope, including the design and construction of the viaduct and embankment sections along the entire route
  • install the track system
  • oversee alignment and construction of all buildings and services that will house maintenance and other rail system equipment

Salini-Lane had previously provided front-end engineering and design for the train's civil infrastructure, as well as an analysis of construction costs and schedule estimates.

"Salini-Lane's unmatched track record with rail infrastructure and, very specifically, its world-class high-speed rail expertise across the globe will be central to the completion of America's first end-to-end high-speed rail system," Aguilar says.

Salini's CEO Pietro Salini says in a statement that the company is both thrilled and honored to bring its large-scale railway expertise to the project.

Salini Impregilo is active in more than 50 countries on five continents, with experience building more than 4,000 miles of railway infrastructure around the world. It has built high-speed train projects in Europe and some iconic projects in the world, including the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Although the company has worked in the U.S. since the 1980s, it expanded its presence in 2016 when it merged with The Lane Construction Corporation, a U.S.-based company with almost 130 years of experience in infrastructure work.

The Texas train will be based on Central Japan Railway's Tokaido Shinkansen train system, which is considered the safest mass transportation system in the world.

The system has transported more than 10 billion passengers in 54-plus years, with no fatalities or injuries from operations, and has an impeccable on-time performance record.

It will debut a new train, the Shinkansen N700S, the sixth generation of this train, before the 2020 Olympics.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

This Texas train system is on track to keep operations green, thanks to a Houston-based company. Rendering courtesy of Texas Central

High-speed train hires Houston-based eco company to keep route green

Onboarding

Texas Central, developers of the high-speed train proposed to run between Houston and Dallas, has selected a Houston-based company to oversee the environmental side of the project: Resource Environmental Solutions will help protect and enhance natural ecosystems and the environment throughout construction and operations.

RES will oversee plans to comply with US Army Corps of Engineers' requirements that the project restore, enhance, and preserve wetlands, streams, and environmentally sensitive habitats along the train's route between Houston and North Texas.

According to a release, RES is the largest ecosystem restoration provider in the United States. In the past decade, it has restored more than 58,000 acres of wetlands, enhanced more than 290 miles of streams, and planted more than 14 million restorative trees.

Recent projects include Maurepas Swamp in Louisiana, the Brooks Creek Wetland Mitigation Bank in Bowie County, and the Robinson Fork Stream Mitigation Bank, the largest floodplain restoration project in the northeastern United States.

RES is also working on the Bois d'Arc Lake Mitigation Area, a 16,600-acre reservoir being built in Fannin County to provide water services to 80 communities in North Texas that's the largest permittee-responsible mitigation project in U.S. history. The restoration area encompasses more than 8,500 acres of wetlands, 70 miles of streams, 3,200 acres of native grasslands, and 2,600 acres of non-wetland forests.

RES will help Texas Central meet regulatory requirements for environmental mitigation, collaborating with community leaders to identify local and regional conservation opportunities. The plan includes rebuilding and restoring wetlands and streams in the impacted watersheds, enhancing the viability of sub-watersheds that are close to the route.

Brian Trusty, VP of the Audubon Society, gives a thumbs up, stating that "Audubon believes the project is a win-win opportunity for both Texans and the wildlife in our state."

"Providing large-scale transportation opportunities that work to reduce carbon emissions, while supporting further economic prosperity and connectivity between the Dallas and Houston metro areas, is progressive and forward-looking," Trusty says. "Partnering with RES ensures the project will be done right, and we are thankful to see Texas Central take this step."

The project's scale will allow RES to identify not only isolated pockets along the route that require restoration, but also entire complexes of streams and wetlands suitable for improvement and conservation.

RES will select mitigation sites and designs that collectively improve the ecological functions of broad areas, including some near the Trinity River, Navasota River, Spring Creek, and Cypress Creek.

This environmental work, combined with innovations of an all-electric high-speed train system, will provide the most environmentally friendly travel choice between Houston and North Texas. The train is estimated to remove more than 14,630 cars per day from I-45.

Other ecological benefits:

  • As compared to highway development, for every one mile of high-speed railroad tracks, about 450 acres of farmland will be preserved.
  • The all-electric system will utilize the latest in green technologies, such as regenerative braking systems.
  • Texas will use the newest generation of Shinkansen trains, the N700 Supreme, which consumes seven percent less energy and weighs seven tons less than the previous model. Lighter trains result in less noise, vibration, and impacts on materials and land.
  • The route largely follows existing rights-of-way corridors, resulting in the fewest possible impacts to socioeconomic, natural, physical and cultural environments.

Consistent with Texas Central's commitment to create opportunities for small, minority, women, rural, and veteran-owned businesses, RES has engaged several small businesses to support its work for the project.

RES CEO Elliott Bouillion says in a release that it's possible to achieve both "environmental sustainability and advanced infrastructure."

"Texas high-speed train is an excellent example of how a modern, green infrastructure approach can be harnessed for both ecological and economic benefits," he says.

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This story originally ran on CultureMap.

The high-speed train is chugging along. Rendering courtesy of Texas Central

Houston-to-Dallas high-speed train hires major international operator

All aboard

The high-speed railroad from Houston to Dallas has acquired a key new player that will run day-to-day operations.

Renfe, an international railway company based in Spain, has been hired by Texas Central, the project developers, as the train's operating partner. The selection of Renfe as an operating partner marks another major step forward for the Houston-to-North Texas high-speed railroad.

Texas Central CEO Carlos Aguilar says in a statement that Renfe was chosen after a review of the best railroad operators in the world.

"Renfe has established a reputation for excellence in railroad operation in Spain and across the world, and we welcome them aboard," Aguilar says. "With their decades of expertise, they were a natural fit to join our other partners. Having the operator, the design build, and technology teams all on board and able to collaborate will ensure all aspects of the railroad are integrated and efficient."

A release calls Renfe "one of the world's most significant railways operators," running 5,000 trains daily on 7,500 miles of track. The company is integral to the transport system in its home base of Spain, handling more than 487 million passengers and 19.6 million tons of freight moved in 2017.

Renfe, in partnership with Adif, which manages Spanish railway infrastructure, will be responsible for running the trains; maintaining system components, such as engines, signals, and other equipment; and overseeing ticketing, passenger loyalty programs, and other services.

It will also provide technical advice on the design and construction of the Texas train and assist in the further development of Texas Central's operation and maintenance plans, preparing the railroad for passenger service.

Renfe is one of the biggest companies in Spain, employing nearly 14,000 people and recording revenues of 3.6 billion euros in 2017. Its high-speed systems were used by more than 36 million passengers in 2017. In March, Renfe announced that it had posted a net profit of 70 million euros in 2017, thanks in part to a jump in the number of its high-speed passengers, chalking up five consecutive years of growth.

Renfe president Isaías Táboas says the deal is a boon for Texas and for the Spanish railway industry.

"Texas Central represents a large high-speed train project in a country with high-growth potential, for which the Spanish experience will be of great help," he says. "Both Renfe Operadora and Adif have accumulated years and miles of high-speed railway development with professional teams, extensive experience, and specialized knowledge. We are committed to the success of Texas Central in improving the mobility of Texans and others in the U.S."

The agreement comes about a week after Texas Central engaged multinational firm Salini Impregilo ­– operating in the U.S. market with The Lane Construction Corporation – to lead the civil construction consortium that will build the passenger line, including viaducts, embankments, and drainage.

Spain's first high-speed line between Madrid and Seville was dedicated in 1986 and Renfe's first high-speed service connected the cities in 1992.

Its second high-speed line, from Madrid to Barcelona, was completed in 2007. Renfe also operates high-speed service from Barcelona to Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse in France. Among other major international projects, Renfe operates the recently opened high-speed train between Mecca and Medina, in Saudi Arabia.

The 200-mph train will link Houston and Dallas in 90 minutes, with a midway stop in the Brazos Valley.

The Texas train will be based on the latest generation of Central Japan Railway's Tokaido Shinkansen train system, the world's safest mass transportation system. It has operated for more than 54 years with a perfect record of zero passenger fatalities or injuries from operations, and an impeccable on-time performance record.

Texas Central and its partners are refining and updating construction planning and sequencing, guided by the Federal Railroad Administration's recently released draft environmental impact statement. The FRA now is working on a final environmental review that will help determine the project's timeline and final route.

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

Invitees include:

  • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
  • Blaze Power, UCLA
  • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
  • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
  • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
  • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
  • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
  • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
  • HEXAspec, Rice University
  • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
  • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
  • Informuta, Tulane University
  • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
  • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • LiQuidium, University of Houston
  • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
  • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
  • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
  • NaviAI, Cornell University
  • NutriAI, Tufts University
  • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • Overture Games, Northwestern University
  • OX SOX, University of Georgia
  • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
  • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
  • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
  • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
  • Poka Labs, Harvard University
  • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • ProPika, University of Arkansas
  • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
  • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
  • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
  • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
  • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
  • WattShift, University of Chicago
  • ZebraMD, UCLA

The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.

Texas is the No. 1 destination for Gen Zers on the move, study says

by the numbers

A new population analysis by real estate marketplace Zillow has pegged the Lone Star State as the No. 1 destination for adults born between 1996 and 2004 – also known as Gen Z.

Using data from the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, the report identifies the Top 10 states to which Gen Zers are moving, and Texas was the runaway winner – far outranking No. 2 destination, California, with 76,805 Gen Z movers, versus California's 43,913.

Reasons for moving vary, but the report says young adults from 18 to 24 years old may prefer to live in states with high performing job markets, especially in a place like San Antonio where one of the nation's top employers resides. San Antonio is also a great place for remote work, according to estimations by Forbes.

Favorable weather also may play a factor in the high migration of Gen Z'ers, the report suggests. Texas' mostly year-round sunshine makes it more attractive to younger crowds who are looking for fun activities around the state, not to mention the advantageous impact on dating opportunities.

Other top states with high influx of Gen Z movers include Washington (No. 5), which added over 33,500 Gen Z movers in 2022, and Colorado (No. 6) with less than 31,000 new Gen Z residents.

Their least favorite destination was Michigan, and the Northeast also ranked poorly, with four New England states – Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine – all in the bottom 10.

State with a high cost-of-living like Washington, Colorado, and Virginia (No. 7) are places where young adults are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, work in tech, or serve in the military, according to Zillow principal population scientist Edward Berchick.

However, becoming a homeowner is much more difficult, as the report found 77 percent of the Gen Z workers in these states are renters.

"Gen Z movers are likely drawn to the job opportunities in these states, despite the higher costs of housing," Berchick explains. "They may also be in a stage of life where they're willing and able to be flexible in their standards of living while starting their careers."

The top 10 states for Gen Z movers are:

  • No. 1 – Texas
  • No. 2 – California
  • No. 3 – Florida
  • No. 4 – North Carolina
  • No. 5 – Washington
  • No. 6 – Colorado
  • No. 7 – Virginia
  • No. 8 – Illinois
  • No. 9 – Georgia
  • No. 10 – Arizona

The full report can be found on zillow.mediaroom.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Op-Ed: Black-owned businesses are making history in Texas, across America

guest column

In recent years, our small business community has weathered a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, sometimes volatile prices, and a tight labor market—and Black-owned businesses in our state have faced disproportionate impacts from these pandemic challenges.

Despite those headwinds, Black-owned businesses across Texas are fueling one of the largest and most diverse waves of new business creation America has ever seen—what President Biden calls America’s Small Business Boom.

As we mark America’s 48th national celebration of Black History Month, the SBA is highlighting Black-owned businesses’ achievements here in Texas and throughout the nation. The past three years have been the three strongest years of new business formation in American history.

The 16 million new business applications filed during this period show Americans starting businesses at nearly twice the rate—86 percent faster—compared to the pre-2021 average. During that time, U.S. small businesses have created more than 7.2 million net new jobs. And Black-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most significant gains.

The Invest in America agenda is powering the Biden Small Business Boom, and unlike many economic recoveries of the past, this one includes entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons for that is the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP). This innovative hub-and-spoke partnership connected hundreds of community organizations around the country - like the U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce and the National Urban League - with entrepreneurs, helping them make the most of SBA resources. “The SBA CNPP allowed the

Houston Area Urban League Entrepreneurship Center to leverage existing partnerships with organizations that offered services to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners and women-owned businesses,” states Eric Goodie, Executive Vice President of the Houston Area Urban League. “Through the CNPP we provided comprehensive business planning and support, e-commerce technical assistance, financial and credit education, opportunities for business networking, access to capital and procurement opportunities,while providing assistance with obtaining various business certifications. We also found theSBA Lender match portal to be a critical resource in the capital acquisition process."

Under Administrator Isabel Guzman, the SBA has also delivered record-breaking government contracting for small businesses—including the most federal contracting dollars going to Black-owned businesses in history. And we’re addressing longstanding gaps in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, more than doubling our small business loans toBlack-owned businesses since 2020.

These investments are making a big impact. Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. The share of Black households owning a business doubled between 2019 and 2022. In 2023 alone, Census data showed Americans filed 5.5 million new business applications across the country, including over 500,000 here in Texas. That success is creating a rising tide. Black wealth is up a record 60 percent from before the pandemic, and Black unemployment has reached historic lows since 2021.

The SBA also understands that the work must continue. Black entrepreneurs and other historically underserved communities still face obstacles accessing capital. That's why President Biden and the SBA are committed to ensuring that anyone with a good idea can pursue that opportunity, and the Small Business Boom speaks to that success. We're helping more Americans than ever access the funds they need to realize their dreams of small business ownership – and that means more jobs, more goods and services, and more resilient communities, no matter the zip code.

To learn more about SBA resources, entrepreneurs are invited to join the SBA Houston District Office as it teams up with the Emancipation Economic Development Council and dynamic community organizations to celebrate Black History Month. The organizations will host the Resources to Empower Entrepreneurs event at the Emancipation Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 28, and will feature discussions surrounding resources, funding, and training available for small business owners.

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Mark Winchester is the SBA Houston District Office's acting district director.