July 23, 2023 - TRA Newswire - 

Is there a new ray of hope for the millions of people living in Austin, San Antonio and points in between for a regional passenger rail service?

Ever since the demise of the proposed Lone Star Rail District service that would give the public a choice of transportation modes, there has been continued interest in establishing passenger service but no concrete steps forward, until now. After almost a decade of waiting for the rail district to gain funding and move forward, host railroad Union Pacific rescinded their memorandum of understanding.

Texas Rail Advocates Board Member Bruce Ashton reports on an email from the office of San Antonio Councilman John Courage that indicates there may be renewed interest, at least in the tire kicking stage.

The interest comes from a conversation Clay Anderson of Austin-based Restart Lone Star Rail District had with Union Pacific Railroad. 

In an email to Anderson, Union Pacific Assistant Vice President of Public Affairs Clint Schelbitzki said "Union Pacific remains focused on taking freight off the states' already congested roads. We have always been willing to consider well-funded passenger rail proposals that do not interfere with our ability to serve and help customers grow."

Schelbitzki said "Lone Star Rail District members ended the study in 2016 after spending millions of dollars over six years because the district was unable to address UP's primary principle to not impact freight operations, which would have required an additional freight rail corridor."

The matter has recently seen some new legs due to two local organizations, one in Austin and one in San Antonio. Restart Lone Star Rail District has engaged with the Alarm Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) and other local grougs. The other organization is San Antonians for Rail Transportation. AAMPO and Capitol Area MPO suspended their planning activities after the demise of the rail district, which technically still exists on paper.

"UP is not averse to passenger rail", according to Schelbitzki. "There have been a lot of successful projects that we have worked on, specifically in California where we have operations like the Capitol Corridor. What I can say is if the MPO's want to go forward with something we can always look at new plans as new plans, not as things from six or seven years ago. We will take a fresh look at proposals as they come up."

"Texas Rail Advocates has had this regional passenger rail corridor on our radar for years and in August 2019 twenty (20) Texas State Representatives petitioned the Chairman of the House Transportation Committee and the Speaker of the House to open hearings on what it will take to advance a passenger rail corridor", according to TRA President Peter LeCody. "Unfortunately the former Speaker did not react to the 20 legislators request. TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission should be proactive on all modes for the I-35 corridor because it's a region that already suffers great highway traffic pains" 

Bryan Naylor, Community Safety Liaison in the office of San Antonio Councilman Courage, urges all interested parties and citizens to engage with your Texas State Representative, State Senator and federal representatives. Naylor said that that this issue can be brought before the city council transportation committee for further study.

Photo credit: San Antonio Current

Additional story and video: https://www.fox7austin.com/news/restart-lone-star-rail-i-35-central-texas-passenger-train-servicehttps://www.fox7austin.com/news/restart-lone-star-rail-i-35-central-texas-passenger-train-service