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 aÂ 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-mileÂ corridor.
â€œThis is a time to make this project sail,â€ WellsÂ said.
But it likely will be several years of planning and negotiations â€”
including relocating an existing Union Pacific Railroad freight line at a
cost of $1.7 billion â€” before anyone will be able to ride on the
proposed rail line, calledÂ LSTAR.
â€œIt's clear that investment in rail infrastructure is a high priority
for the administration and this presents a great opportunity for San
Antonio, San Marcos and Austin to pursue funds for the Lone Star Rail,â€
said Mayor JuliÃ¡n Castro,
who was in Washington earlier this week to lobby for $238 million in
local transportation projects, including bus rapid transit and a
The proposed LSTAR line would stretch along Interstate 35 from
Georgetown to San Antonio, with 16 proposed stations along the way. Five
of those possible stations are in SanÂ Antonio.
Once completed, commuters could zip between the downtowns of San Antonio and Austin in 75 minutes orÂ less.
The current rail plan calls for the city to pay one-third of the
railway's operations and maintenance costs. Austin would pay another
third; the remaining cities along the line would combine to pay the
City staff now will study how, and if, the city can fund these ongoingÂ costs.
LSTAR representatives hope to identify local funding mechanisms for
the project by the end of the year, at which time the city will vote
whether to adopt an interlocal agreement with the railÂ district.
Adoption of the agreement means the city will commit to pay its share
of the annual operating costs â€” about $9.3 million when the line
officially opens, and $13.7 million when the railway is
Officials lauded more than just the convenience of a passenger rail
line between the two cities. The project will create new tax base
possibilities, improve air quality status and generally reduce
travelers' reliance on I-35.
â€œThis is a lot more than building a railroad,â€ Wells said. â€œThis is about the economic viability of ourÂ region.â€
District officials said they have passed one more hurdle â€” in
October, they signed a memorandum of understanding with Union Pacific
Railroad to study relocation of its freightÂ line.
Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza-Williams
said the company is open to the possibility of relocating its freight
line, if it won't harm customer service and allows for futureÂ growth.
â€œThis proposal worries our customers who are concerned about how this
will impact their rail service,â€ Espinoza wrote in an e-mail.
Officials also are almost guaranteed to face an uphill fundingÂ battle.
Shortly after Obama announced his high-speed rail initiative, Rep. John Mica, the Republican chair of the House Transportation Committee,
released a scathing critique of the proposal, and again emphasized the
importance of private partnerships, as opposed to government
intervention, to make rail aÂ reality.
So far, the Lone Star Rail District has secured funding for
environmental and engineering studies. But no money has been set aside
to outfit the line for passenger rail or to move the UP freightÂ line.
Building the LSTAR line would cost as estimated $613Â million.
For now, the district is looking to several options, including public-private partnerships and federalÂ assistance.
As for the ultimate question â€” when would a passenger rail open â€” the answer isÂ unclear.
An environmental study will take at least two years to complete. The
freight line would need to be moved before passenger rail service could
begin, said Alison Schulze, LSTAR seniorÂ planner.
The best-case scenario, City Manager Sheryl Sculley said, is San Antonio could see the rail operational in five years, but that timeline could quicklyÂ change.
â€œThese projects run in railroad years,â€ said Rail District Chairman Sid Covington. â€œIt's kind of the opposite of dogÂ years.â€