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San Antonio still in for Austin rail line

I wish them the very best of luck with this.

San Antonio officials will continue to pursue a passenger rail line that one day could connect the Alamo City to Austin, a transit project that’s already been in the works for more than a decade.

The city’s endorsement Wednesday of the Lone Star Rail District initiative came on the heels of the Obama administration’s announcement that it will support a $53 billion high-speed rail initiative over the next five years, the most money committed to rail in over a generation, emphasized Tullos Wells, vice chairman of the district board, an entity that includes cities, counties and transit authorities along the 120-mile corridor.

“This is a time to make this project sail,” Wells said.

But it likely will be several years of planning and negotiations — including relocating an existing Union Pacific Railroad freight line at a cost of $1.7 billion — before anyone will be able to ride on the proposed rail line, called LSTAR.

And as we know, the state of Texas is not exactly in a strong position when it comes to planning and executing this sort of project. I blogged about LSTAR in November of 2009, and it’s not clear to me they’re any closer to running trains now than they were then when they were aiming for 2012 or 2013 as a start date. Still, I really hope they succeed. It makes all kinds of sense for this corridor to have a rail line, I-35 is horribly congested, and this could serve as a cornerstone to a future high speed rail network for Texas.

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3 Comments

  1. Joe Black says:

    Hi Charles –

    LSTAR is actually much further along than it was in 2009. In fact, the subject of the article was an update by LSTAR staff to City Council, which directed city staff at the conclusion of the presentation to work with LSTAR staff and consultants to identify ways to fund the operation and maintenance of the future system, with the goal of an agreement by the end of the year. Similar discussions will be taking place in Austin soon, and in each of the cities and towns up and down the proposed line.

    LSTAR recently signed an MOU with the Union Pacific Railroad to study the relocation of UP’s “through” freight trains to a new alignment. This had been a major stumbling block in the past, as the volume of freight trains on the tracks that LSTAR proposes to use for the passenger service is too large to simultaneously support freight and passenger operation.

    Right now, the passenger line is in the midst of its environmental studies (required by federal regulations), and the freight bypass line is just starting up the alternatives analysis (to identify the least impactful route between Seguin and Taylor). Although the District is not completely in control of the schedule (there are federal processes that could be short or long duration), it has targeted approximately 2 to 3 years for the finalization of the environmental process on both the passenger and freight lines. Final design and construction on both would come soon after.

    Funding and financing are, of course, issues. But the purpose of concluding agreements with the District’s member cities and municipalities on local operations and maintenance funding are necessary to leverage federal loans and grants, and to attract private investment.

  2. M1EK says:

    “issues”. Hah. As if anybody in our state government is going to just come up with a couple of extra billion dollars to convince UP to change alignments.

    The LSTAR is a pipe dream. Always has been. Always will be.

  3. Joe Black says:

    LSTAR has already signed an MOU with UP to work collaboratively to study an alternative freight bypass alignment, and the planning for that (and the passenger project) is fully funded. Planning, preliminary engineering, and environmental clearance work is ongoing and expected to be complete in 2 to 3 years.

    The LSTAR financial plan has always assumed some level of federal, state, and local funding, in addition to public-private partnerships, which is how these projects get done. The financial plan is being updated this year, so more up to date costs, revenue projections, ridership figures, etc. will be available. It’s also part of the plan (and the District is working with the local jurisdictions as I type this) to secure commitments for local operations and maintenance funding by the end of 2011. That local commitment is necessary to leverage federal, state, and private financing.