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Amtrak

Texas Central and Lone Star Rail

Noted for the record.

In South Central Texas, 20 state legislators have revived talk of a San Antonio to Austin passenger rail line. Area lawmakers signed a letter in August asking Transportation Committee chair and state Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg) to study the possibility of rail between the two cities.

On Wednesday, rail in Texas was the topic of a panel discussion that included [Holly Reed, the managing director of external affairs of Texas Central], State Rep. Ray Lopez (D-San Antonio), and Tyson Moeller, general director of network development for Union Pacific railroad, at a San Antonio Chamber of Commerce transportation committee meeting.

The discussion, which was closed to media, touched on passenger rail between Austin and San Antonio, freight rail, and the Houston-Dallas high-speed rail project, according to Jonathan Gurwitz, vice president of communications company KGBTexas and chair of the San Antonio Mobility Coalition who attended the meeting.

He was most struck by a few numbers that Union Pacific’s Moeller cited: Approximately 15,000 to 20,000 semi-trucks worth of goods are shipped on trains every day passing through San Antonio. That means 15,000 or so fewer trucks on Interstate 35.

“If you think of it in that way, what impact rail really has on San Antonio, the amount of goods and services that move in and out of our region by rail, it has an extraordinary impact on our economy,” Gurwitz said. “I think most people in San Antonio don’t realize the significance of rail.”

Union Pacific remains focused on moving freight and not people, said Raquel Espinoza, senior director of corporate communications and media relations at Union Pacific. The railroad company effectively killed an earlier Austin-San Antonio passenger rail project when it exited the Lone Star Rail District proposal in 2016.

Union Pacific has no plans to expand passenger rail access for other entities like Amtrak on its lines, Espinoza said.

“Our role is to move freight in an efficient, environmentally friendly way,” she said.

See here for the recent news that Lone Star Rail may rise from the dead again. I’m very much at a “believe it when I see it point”, especially with Union Pacific reiterating its long-held stance that they are not going to share their existing tracks for any passenger rail. A rail line between Austin and San Antonio – really, between Georgetown and the south side of San Antonio, as the original LSR envisioned – makes all kinds of sense, but it becomes a lot more expensive and problematic from a right-of-way perspective if a whole new set of tracks have to be laid down. Not impossible, one assumes, and certainly doable if the will is there. It’s just that there’s many years of evidence to show that it does not, at least not in sufficient quantities. But hope springs eternal, and I will always hope that somehow, some way, this gets built.

Texas Central and Amtrak

Connectivity is good.

Amtrak and Texas Central announced a partnership Friday to link the proposed bullet train from Dallas to Houston to the national passenger rail network.

Passengers will be able to book their bullet train trips through Amtrak. The partnership also commits the high-speed rail operator to transport passengers between Amtrak’s Dallas endpoint, Union Station, to the Texas Central’s multilevel station between South Riverfront Boulevard and South Austin Street.

Texas Central will also provide similar shuttle service between the Amtrak endpoint and the former mall site it has chosen for a terminal in northwest Houston.

[…]

The agreement also makes Amtrak training, marketing and sales capabilities available to Texas Central.

See here for the press release. I don’t know how many people might take advantage of this networking between Amtrak and Texas Central, but being able to plug into Amtrak’s ticketing system instead of having to build their own is a win for TCR. And seriously, all of the connections, from the proposed extension to D/FW Airport to the Uptown BRT and whatever else Metro may build to this, they’re all good and make the overall system better. Keep it coming.

More money for SUPERTRAINS

Good news.

[Thursday], the U.S. House passed its housing and transportation bill, which will provide funds for fiscal year 2010. Approved mostly by members of the majority Democratic party, the bill would allocate $4 billion to high-speed rail programs — if the Senate’s version, likely to be considered after the August recess, includes the same provision. If a planned infrastructure bank is authorized by the Congress later this year, $2 billion of the included funds would be shifted there and could be devoted to non-rail projects, though that prospect appears unlikely at this time.

In the President’s Budget, released earlier this year, Mr. Obama asked the Congress to devote $1 billion for the next five years for high-speed rail, in addition to the $8 billion already marked for the program under the stimulus bill. The House’s decision to increase that number to $4 billion is a direct reaction to the huge response from states and the private sphere for stimulus-based federal rail grants. The FRA revealed that forty states had applied for more than $103 billion.

Excellent. I hope this increases Texas’ chances of getting SUPERTRAIN funds.

Thinking forward to when the Texas T-Bone is up and running, how attractive would it be as a travel option? Right now, a round trip to Austin is a bit more than 300 miles for me, or about a tank of gas. That’s $25-$40 depending on one’s fuel efficiency at $2.50 a gallon gas. There isn’t a direct Amtrak route from Houston to Austin now, but a round trip between Houston and San Antonio would run you about $70. You’ll note those departure and arrival times aren’t exactly convenient, and the train ride is much longer than driving would be, but one presumes the future T-Bone train would run more frequently, with business day trips in mind, and likely at a lower cost. Assuming it has amenities like WiFi and electric outlets, even at cost that’s higher than driving and a comparable trip duration, I’d consider it a win. As long as I could get between the station and my destination in Austin easily enough – Austin’s future light rail line will be of some help, imperfect as it may be – it would be something I’d strongly consider. We’ve a long way to go before we get there, but it’s worth looking forward to. Thanks to Yglesias for the link.