Is the Houston-to-Dallas bullet train still happening? Critics are demanding proof of life.

People in the path of a proposed but floundering high-speed rail line between Houston and Dallas last week filed a letter that in many ways labels Texas Central Railroad the little engine that will never be.

They think it can’t. They think it can’t. They think it can’t.

“Granted, Texas Central appears to be doing things,” attorney Patrick McShan said in the letter sent to the company on Sept. 29. “But none of the things Texas Central is now doing suggest in any manner whatsoever that it does, in fact, intend to construct the project.”

The planned rail line, once touted as mere months from construction, now is more paperwork than planning. Since its former CEO left in June, the company has said it is securing financing, but shown little other signs of life, beyond a July 8 statement after the Texas Supreme Court affirmed its right to use eminent domain to acquire property.

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“Texas Central has made significant strides in the project over the last several years and we are moving forward on a path that we believe will ensure the project’s successful development,” the company said then. “We look forward to being able to say more about this at an appropriate time in the near future.”

The company did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Citing various examples, McShan’s letter said it appears Texas Central is operating as a shell of a corporation, paying property taxes it owed in eight of the 11 counties where it owns property, but still owing HOA dues for numerous locations and property taxes in Ellis County.  It reportedly, McShan said, has lost investment from Japan once considered necessary for the project, and has sold some of the properties it acquired during six years of planning and design.

The company never has applied for any construction permits related to construction of the line, though it has certain federal clearances.

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“We believe Texas Central has not filed, nor will it ever file, an application for a construction permit for two reasons,” McShan wrote. “One, Texas Central does not want to make these required financial disclosures; and two, it knows that if it did make these disclosures its application would be summarily denied.”

The address listed for its Dallas office, meanwhile, cannot exist, McShan wrote, and its Houston space is for lease.

On Texas Central’s website, the company lists a suite at 1400 Botham Jean Boulevard as its address. That address, however, is the Dallas Police Department headquarters. Police spokesman Cpl. Brian Martinez said Friday no space in the building is available for lease and there are no other offices on the premises.

Across the street at 1409 Botham Jean is a building topped with apartments, but with some office and commercial space. Prior to the decision to rename the street, Texas Central maintained an office at 1409 South Lamar – now Botham Jean Boulevard.

Wherever Texas Central exists, McShan urged the company to own up to its dimming prospects. If it does not, he said, lawyers will consider a Rule 202 petition, which asks a court to order a deposition so Texas Central will have to answer whether it is still viable. The Rule 202 hearing could be the first step “to investigate potential claims against Texas Central.”

“The record upon which the Texas Supreme Court recently granted Texas Central eminent domain authority was restricted to August 2018,” McShan wrote. “Four years have passed, and in those four years new facts have developed, many of which are set forth in this letter. These new facts demonstrate that Texas Central no longer has any intention of constructing the project.”

It is not the first time Texas Central and its opponents have sparred over reality in court. Previous arguments over Texas Central’s right to condemn land focused on whether a company that owns no railroad tracks or trains can be called a railroad.

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Whatever the status or viability of the project, landowners concerned about it remain on edge. Texas Central’s insistence, valid or not, that it still is on track for construction leaves residents and landowners in limbo, they said.

“We have 320 acres in Harris County, and if we want to sell any of it we would have to disclose the train routes,” said Christie Parker, one of more than three dozen landowners active with Texans Against High Speed Rail, a group formed to oppose the project.

Near Hockley, just outside the Grand Parkway in northwest Harris County, the train’s route has scuttled development deals, she said, simply because buyers are skittish to risk condemnation and landowners do not want to build on land that could be seized.

For others, whose homes could be affected or demolished, it is even more nerve-wracking.

“They can never have a full night sleep because it is all hanging over their head,” Parker said.

Stressing she was speaking only for herself, Parker said what she would like is some assurance from Texas Central that acknowledges it lacks funding at this time and construction is not imminent.

“I think it would be an honest assessment of their situation and that is what they owe the public,” Parker said, acknowledging the company still may want to retain some glimmer of potential.

It should not, however, be allowed to maintain that glimmer at the expense of people.

“I think the question to them is how long are we in a holding pattern for them to find funding, if they can find funding,” Parker said.

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