Lone Star Rail revival

Maybe now is finally the time.

Bexar County Judge Peter Sakai and Travis County Judge Andy Brown have jointly launched a committee of political heavyweights to explore the decades-old idea of connecting Austin and San Antonio via passenger rail.

The new, 24-member Central Texas Passenger Rail Advisory Committee held its first meeting earlier this month. Members including former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, District 6 San Antonio Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda and Amtrak Government Affairs Director Todd Stennis reviewed a draft charter for the group.

“The fastest-growing metros must leverage this moment to build a modern transportation system to serve the economic, environmental and public safety needs of all central Texans,” Brown said in a statement.

The group’s next meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 3.

Sakai and Brown first teased the idea of working together to find a solution to traffic along the dreaded I-35 corridor in a December social media video. In that clip, Sakai said he and his northern counterpart were “working together so that we can get Travis County and Bexar County to get all the fans to watch the San Antonio Spurs without going through IH-35.”

The committee’s inaugural meeting also comes after pro-rail advocates, including San Antonians for Rail Transit, RESTART Lone Star Rail District and the Texas Rail Advocates, have lobbied local lawmakers to re-explore the idea of connecting the two fast-growing metros.

It’s fair to say that the idea of this rail line has been around for decades; I’ve been blogging about it since 2009. It makes sense for many reasons, and has also utterly failed in every attempt for many reasons. The last attempt died in 2016, but because it’s such a compelling idea, it has never gone away.

Some more details from KXAN.

The committee is looking at more options to connect San Antonio, Austin, Dallas and Houston.

“So instead of one trip a day, it’d be five to 10 trips per day. We’re working with Union Pacific to see, because it’s their track — and we have to work with them. Bright Line is a private company in Florida that has passenger rail on a freight line there,” he said.

Joseph Black, WSP director of rail operations and also a member of the committee, told KXAN he is exploring other options.

“Frankly, we can’t possibly pour enough concrete to keep up with the growth,” Black said.

Unlike efforts in the past, this committee gathers leadership from across cities and states to work toward a unified goal.

“The more space we give to the highways, the less space we have for other kinds of human activities,” Black said. “Despite all of the kind of the enthusiasm was a political champion, I think like a true political champion, who would be willing to take this to the legislature to other elected officials in the way that Judge Brown has been doing such a great job with so far.”

Whether it is any different this time around remains to be seen. The necessity of sharing tracks with Union Pacific was a big part of the reason it failed last time. Here we have a deeper bench of interested parties, a federal government that’s all in on rail projects (pending the outcome of the November election, of course), and an even more intractable situation with I-35. You can call this idea a fantasy, but it’s hardly any less realistic than the idea that we can somehow build enough lanes on I-35 to make it something other than a parking lot. I wish them the best, and hope some day to be able to ride on that train.

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One Response to Lone Star Rail revival

  1. Joel says:

    How fast can a train on those UP tracks possibly go? Surely such a train would not be remotely compatible with the sort of train that goes over 200mph and is touted for the Houston/Dallas connection?

    Since it would take an electoral tsunami to make this happen anyway, why not shoot for a unified solution that makes sense for the whole state/nation?

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