all aboard

Houston-Dallas high-speed train still not official but now it has a builder

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.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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