Just a flesh wound, actually.
The decision by Union Pacific to end its working relationship with Lone Star Rail District (LSRD) in February, was a blow in efforts to develop a passenger rail line between San Antonio and Austin.
But in a special meeting Friday in San Marcos, district directors reaffirmed their commitment to find a solution to growing traffic congestion along the Interstate 35 corridor.
The district’s board of directors voted 12-1, and asked the organization to continue its current Environmental Impact Study process, and ensure that the process includes all alternative options.
LSRD board members, in a special meeting, went over the progress of the district’s environmental impact process and current list of options. The district did pause work on the alternative involving UP, and moved onto focusing on exploring other options.
Many board members said Union Pacific’s choice to stop working with Lone Star Rail was disappointing, but that they hoped the company would return. The completion of the impact study is crucial to the project, because it would enable future funding, including federal money. The district expects to finish the environmental impact process by 2018.
John Rinard, senior programs director at Parsons Corp., an international construction and engineering organization, told the board that Union Pacific has a history of taking part in large-scale transit projects elsewhere in the country only to step back or withdraw altogether. In some cases, UP would return to a project.
“What you’re experiencing is not unique in the business world,” Rinard said, adding that rail companies such as UP are often concerned about project factors such as liabilities.
Rinard suggested that the Lone Star board, which includes several elected city and county leaders from all along the I-35 corridor, assert its political will and press forward with its goal of passenger rail.
“I wouldn’t say stop,” he said. “I cannot see them walking away from the project permanently. It’s a fantastic project. It has all the good points.”
Other alternatives being evaluated by LSRD include using the State Highway 130 corridor, the abandoned MoKan rail alignment, and new right-of-way parallel to the Union Pacific mainline, as well as hybrids of these options.
See here for the background. I have no idea how badly UP’s pullout affects the long-term likelihood of this project, but it can’t be good. I have always believed the concept has merit, but if they can’t use existing tracks, the price tag may well be too high. We’ll see if the governments that had been involved in this so far remain on board or not. The Statesman and the Current have more.