Rail line from SA to Austin may be up for discussion again soon

New mayor, City Council members to discuss Lone Star Rail

SAN ANTONIO – It is designed to grab the average Texan's attention, and hopefully their business. The logo is a star, the train's colors are red, white and blue, it's even called the Lone Star Rail District. But for all the slick presentations and design enhancements, the project has been largely under the radar, said former congressman and former Via Transit executive Charlie Gonzalez.

"If I was back in political office or I was a local official, this would be my one project," Gonzalez said.

The Lone Star Rail Project is a proposed passenger line from Georgetown to San Antonio, and while it will be on the City Council's and mayor's agendas shortly after the San Antonio city runoff election, some are questioning if San Antonio is moving fast enough. 

San Antonio attorney Tullos Wells is the vice chairman of the Lone Star Rail District board of directors.

"People are asking if this project is going to happen. It has to happen," Wells said.

This plan is not "high speed rail," like officials are looking into for transit from Dallas to Houston. For example, San Antonio to Austin would take an hour and 20 minutes on the express route.

The main purpose of the rail line along Interstate 35 would be to cut down on traffic on I-35. But so far, the city of San Antonio isn't officially on board.

"Every day on Channel 12, in the morning news there is an advertisement for our rail system, not in name, but every morning when they say, 'I-35 is shut down,'" Wells said.

The line would run on existing rails from north of Georgetown to the Texas A&M San Antonio campus and back, with express routes from Austin to San Antonio. Other routes with stops in San Marcos, New Braunfels and more have been proposed. With almost every other city along the line having already pledged its support, why hasn't the San Antonio City Council even had an official vote?

"I'm now in private practice, but still very concerned about the lack of participation and activity. I think we need to speed it up. We've got some great folks that are real believers, we just need to be more active," Gonzalez said.

The former congressman isn't sure why the city hasn't moved faster. Perhaps, he said, there is still a "Via hangover" from the proposed streetcar project, or the $15 million to $20 million a year price tag to operate the line. Gonzalez believes this commuter rail line would mean better opportunities at both ends of the line.

"I think it's a whole new era for San Antonio. It would benefit Austin, but for San Antonio, you always hear, 'It's a game changer. It's transformative.' Well in this case, those are accurate descriptions," Gonzalez said.

"I don't think that's a fair criticism. The city of San Antonio has been a little late to engage, but that's not because of anything to do with our project," Wells said.

Wells points out that a new mayor and City Council should get to weigh in on the project, and waiting to move forward seemed the right thing to do. While they may disagree about the speed of San Antonio getting behind the Lone Star Rail, Wells and Gonzalez agree it needs to be built.

"People may be unhappy with streetcars or they may be unhappy with light speed rail, but they love this project just because everybody gets impacted by I-35 sooner or later if they live in this corridor," Wells said.

"I think it is the future of San Antonio," Gonzalez said.

Union Pacific has agreed to be a partner in the project and help build new lines to the east since the Lone Star Rail would operate on its existing rails, rails the commuter rail district hopes to have initial service on in five years. 

The mayor and City Council will likely start debating the rail line within a month.

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