Lone Star Rail District Seeks $500K from San Antonio

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A map of the proposed Lone Star Rail line. Courtesy image.

Officials with Lone Star Rail District (LSRD) have asked City Council to allocate up to $500,000 in the city's 2016 fiscal year budget to help fund staffing and consulting services in anticipation of the $2-3 billion passenger rail project.

Lone Star Rail (LSTAR) project supporters see the project as a means for commuters to avoid congested roads between San Antonio and Austin and the potential for economic development and higher educational opportunities in one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.

LSRD officials made their case for initial funding during the Council's B session on Wednesday. The plan includes improving the existing Union Pacific railroad that runs parallel to Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin for passengers at an estimated cost of $800 million. LSRD would first build a $1.6 billion freight line east of San Antonio that would take on the freight traffic of the exiting line. These one-time capital construction costs would be funded by state and federal grants as well as the private sector. But first, it needs assurances from municipalities along its route from San Antonio to Georgetown, just north of Austin, that they will pay for continued maintenance and operations of each stop.

The idea is to pull 18,000 vehicles, or 20,000 people, off I-35 daily. LSRD proposes 16 station locations, including six in the San Antonio area, one in New Braunfels and one in San Marcos. The inner city locations would be Loop 410 at the San Antonio International Airport, the University of Texas at San Antonio Downtown campus, Port San Antonio, and Texas A&M University-San Antonio.

Local attorney Tullos Wells serves as vice chairman of the LSRD Board of Directors.

Local attorney Tullos Wells serves as vice chairman of the LSRD Board of Directors.

"It's a very big, complicated infrastructure project," said Tullos Wells, vice chairman of the LSRD Board of Directors representing San Antonio. "You can't solve all of the congestion and the risks it poses to the economic vitality in our region by pouring more concrete alone. Lone Star Rail alone won't solve all the transportation problems in this region, but it'll be a very important part of the solution. We're going to have two million more warm bodies along this corridor in the next 25 years and we need a way to move them."

At full capacity, there could be up to 32 trains running per day, including midday and evening service in each direction for commuters, students and other regional travelers – depending on demand. The system would support a 75-minute express service from downtown San Antonio to downtown Austin with stops in San Marcos and New Braunfels. LSRD promises modern, safe passenger cars with wireless Internet access, especially beneficial to business travelers and college students.

If all goes well, San Antonio's $500,000 initial contribution in FY 2016 would consist of funds from the City's general fund budget and property tax revenue derived from Transportation Infrastructure Zone (TIZ) around the LSR stations.

There would be continual financial commitments each year over the duration of a 36-year funding agreement, which would accompany a 36-year TIZ agreement. LSRD officials pledged not to seek any other funds from San Antonio's proposed FY 2016 budget. Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni explained that in 10-year increments, from 2021 to 2051, TIZ funds would cover most of the annual funding commitment with San Antonio.

Financing for the entire system is supposed to be split among San Antonio, Austin, and a coalition of seven "smaller" yet major cities along the LSR route, including Schertz and New Braunfels. LSRD estimates that annual funding for the system could reach $75 million by 2050, split among participating cities and taxing entities.

LSRD is also requesting funds from Bexar County and Alamo Colleges. Zanoni said the system's current 36-year funding plan has a funding gap of $44 million in 2021, a gap that LSR presently cannot fill. Also, the plan has not identified funding for the maintenance of San Antonio's stations, totaling $24 million over 30 years, Zanoni told the Council.

The Lone Star Rail District anticipates yearly total system funding, split among participating taxing entities, at more than $75 million by 2050 if all goes as planned. Graphic courtesy of Lone Star Rail District.

The Lone Star Rail District anticipates yearly total system funding, split among participating taxing entities, at more than $75 million by 2050 if all goes as planned. Graphic courtesy of Lone Star Rail District.

In addition to their recommendation of allocating $500,000 in FY16 as San Antonio's initial contribution and signal of support, City staff recommended setting up a calendar for funding and TIZ agreements, including milestones and benchmark goals, as well as cancellation options if goals cannot be reached.

Wells called the $500,000 request a "placeholder" that allows the organization to work through business modeling for the entire operation. While many expressed support for the LSTAR project, Council members also were concerned with the project's finances. Wells said it's natural to build support for the level of public and private monies that could be used over decades to fund the system.

Wells said he and colleagues are presently looking at three finance models, with different formulas, and an independent third-party will verify the numbers in each model.

"There will be benefits from this alternative transit option, but we have to be good fiscal stewards," Mayor Ivy Taylor said.

Wells addressed the project's funding gap.

"We're a bit early in the game to talk more about that. Right now, we need baseline support from the community."

The Lone Star Rail District has outlined projected funding the system would need from local participating taxing entities. However, a funding gap presently exists as of 2031 as the system gets really rolling. Graphic courtesy of Lone Star Rail Dristrict.

The Lone Star Rail District has outlined projected funding the system would need from local participating taxing entities. However, a funding gap presently exists as of 2031 as the system gets really rolling. Graphic courtesy of Lone Star Rail Dristrict.

Council members such as Ray Lopez (D6) and Rey Saldaña (D7) agreed with Wells that public and private investment could lead to a wider variety of opportunities for both businesses and residents. This, they added, would be true especially for lower-income individuals and cash-strapped college students by providing them more employment and higher education opportunities. Wells said ticket prices have not yet been determined.

"This could have a positive generational impact for many future generations, not just now," Lopez said. "I do believe we're a mass transit-focused community, we just haven't figured out yet the level of commitment. We're just doing our due diligence."

Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) has been a vocal advocate of building a regional commuter rail system for 20 years. He said there's still a lot to be worked out, and a lot of improvements that can be applied to existing forms of local mass transit. But he said the LSTAR represents an opportunity to further growth in San Antonio, and help transport future generations of riders.

"In the last century, if you didn't have a railroad going through your town, you'd literally dry up and blow away," Krier said. "In this century, railroads are seeing a renaissance of interest because they provide that alternative transportation option."

Krier, along with Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) said LSR officials should emphasize the system's potential for improving rail crossings, particularly in older neighborhoods, and how it could improve overall public health and safety in the region.

"If it does nothing else than to reduce the rate of deaths on this stretch of highway, it would have provided much improvement and benefit to the region," Krier said.

The Council will consider the $500,000 request as it continues discussing the proposed FY16 budget.

 

*Featured/top image: A map of the proposed Lone Star Rail line. Courtesy image. 

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75 thoughts on “Lone Star Rail District Seeks $500K from San Antonio

  1. I think this is so much more worthy than the purple tiles at the Tree of Life and handrails for the Bridge of Understanding.

    Make a nice walkway, fix the floodway, and plant trees and native plants to make it a Monarch habitat and give all the savings to the rail. Seems like there is enough in the budget overrun on San Pedro to fill the difference on Lone Star.

    I can here them saying now.. But this is why we can’t have nice things… Why are people here so afraid of rail? Do they think someone is coming for their car after Obama takes over the state government??

    • Maybe while they’re at it they get move those lines from near the homes and get rid of those terrible quiet zone curbtastrophies and help let that lady get her driveway back.

  2. The longer we wait to build this thing the more expensive and difficult it’s only going to get. Don’t numerous billionaires live in TX? Can’t we get one of them to be on board and fund this thing? Shoot, name the dang line after them if that will sell them on it. Let’s just get this thing up and running sooner rather than later. Texas is only going to get more populated and congested in the coming decades. The time to act is NOW.

  3. Time to have some vision. Time to envision what we want and need SA to be in 10, 20, 40 years. Time to make bold urban planning moves to build a city that can accommodate and sustain the growth that is coming. Time to put plans in place to create a city that we want given that growth is inevitable, rather that sit back and let raw consumer and market forces create a mishmash of urban elements that don’t work well together. Time to realize that we are not reinventing the wheel, other cities have history of success and failure we can study and learn from. This rail is a critical piece that will prove to boost economic development in ways many just cannot see yet.

    • Don’t know how many of you have ever used or ridden on MARTA that runs through Atlanta ,, both north and south of downtown to far out small cities …. But it is very successful and helps with the huge congestion problems …. Women take their husbands to what they call ” The kiss and ride stations ” along the route and it’s a great service for comuters and airport service…. Go for it!

  4. This needs to happen. It’s honestly a little crazy that it hasn’t moved forward faster. It already makes sense and with Austin and San Antonio growing as fast as they are it will only continue to make more and more sense as 35 grows more congested. If we want smart growth and future transit, this is a way to start the system, once it’s completed people will truly understand multimodal and want to get on board with other BRT and rail options. It will also setup a healthy growth pattern at the suburban stations.

    Aside from that, it’s really interesting that their contribution model expects a lot from the SA metro and not so much from Austin until after the line starts running. Is this because Austin has already turned them down? If we actually stick to it, it might be a good investment for SA, pay more up front but have Austin pay more of the long term costs… Interesting graph though. I love the idea of a TIZ. Transit done right adds value to the surrounding area and creating a TIZ is a great way to capture that value, reinvest it in the transit so that it can continue to expand.

    I also wonder how the transit ordinance that was passed last year would effect this plan. I know they plan to use existing lines and ROWs but there will likely be at least some city land/ROW involved in building this line, I’m especially thinking about the airport…. Wouldn’t it be nice to somehow make the the new parking structure “transit ready”?

    Lastly, what happens to the rest of Union Pacific’s lines in SA when the new freight corridor is built? I know they plan to continue to use them for local freight, but if we are gifting them a billion dollars for a completely new line (even though their current line needs around another 800 million in upgrades), we should get as much as we can out of the deal. The lines probably aren’t the most ideal but they could definitely be heavily utilized in the future if we get serious about light rail in SA, might as well build a claim to use them in the future just in case.

    • Actually, that’s not true. Austin has already signed a local funding agreement with the District, and its funding mechanisms will produce somewhere between twice and three times what the San Antonio mechanisms will.

      • Good to hear. I based my statement mostly on the article it was attached to, which included a graph that said Austin wouldn’t kick in funding til 2021. From what I’ve heard before that timeline correlates pretty closely to the earliest the line could open. From eyeballing the graph, it seems to support what you are saying.. Austin would contribute roughly twice as much as Austin over the next ~30 years of the operating agreement (or roughly the same as the SA/Bexar County combined) BUT it doesn’t start for several more years. The “startup” funding is always the hardest though, hopefully Austin can find some money to help with that…..

    • Will,

      The UP’s ex-Missouri Pacific (I-GN) main line doesn’t need “800 million in upgrades” if it simply continues performing its current functions.

      I’m in full support of fair and equitable negotiations, but the last thing we need to do is approach the Union Pacific with some kind of song and dance routine, touting the way we’re “gifting them a billion dollars.” Thankfully, the folks at Lone Star understand this reality.

      Garl

  5. #hyperloop #fastertransport while i have always been a supporter of a fast train service to and from Austin the fact is the LSTAR uses old technology – we have to invest in future tech not tech from the 1800’s #sorrynotsorry

    • Hyperloop is fast and low capacity. It is designed to compete with airline trips, and it wouldn’t help in the least with the ~80% of peak traffic that is generated locally around Austin and San Antonio.

      The remark about 1800s technology is a red herring. You could say the same about automobiles, but no one would equate a Ford Model T with a Google autonomous car. Railroad technology is the same way – invented in the 1800s, but has undergone continuous improvement in technology, innovation, safety, and people- and goods-moving capacity.

      • Thank you, Mr. Black.

        While use of the “1800s technology” insult may be nothing more than a sign of ignorance, it’s also a standard ploy of those wishing to impugn time-proven railway technology.

        Either way, it is not justifiable, nor is it appreciated.

  6. 500k is close to one years salary for our city manager. I for one don’t want her to miss her 60k bonus… We should really think before we do this… Said no one…

    I personally think this rail would not only help our corridor but also help San Antonio in general have some cross city public transportation.

  7. This is basically a scaled down version of the last “high-speed rail” venture that died a slow death in Austin. If these guys only need $500,000 to get started I can give you the names of plenty of people who can write a check for $500 K. The idea that this rail line is going to be successful is really bizarre. Existing rail companies do not carry passengers because it is not profitable to do so. The same arguments are being used today as they were back in the 1980s. The idea that you start a project by grabbing $500,000 from the city for consulting services is absurd. Trains have been running all over the world and they used to run all over this nation. This is not top secret information that needs to be studied by “experts.” Rail transportation is successful in other countries because the governments made a commitment to use rail instead of highway systems. If this is such a great idea, there are trillions of dollars in private capital that is just sitting idle. If wealthy investors are not excited about spending their money to build a rail system, why should tax payers fund it? The history of the railroad barons is tied to political influence and corruption. The government condemned land for the railroad right of way and then allowed the rail companies to sell off the land.

    • Um, I sure hope you apply the same level of scrutiny to the billions of dollars of subsidies the State of Texas pours into highway construction every year.

    • Come on, Frank. Your “railroad barons” codswallop is beyond outrageous.

      Insofar as all those wealthy investors are concerned, the primary reason they’re not investing in projects such as these is because the tax payers’ are funding the competition.

      Passenger train service – of ALL types – IS a “great idea”! Unfortunately, our private, for profit, taxpaying, dividend generating, employee supporting railroad industry learned the hard way that you can’t survive competing directly against the folks who print the money. In fact, it was the railroads’ attempt to do so that almost cost them their very life.

      Either get our blessed government out of the transport business entirely, or create a level playing field for all modes.

      Garl B. Latham

      • I agree with Garl on this.
        We didn’t maintain the railroad infrastructure we had invested in and moved it to highways.
        The Pres of Iowa Pacific Holdings (Permian Basin Railways) is trying to bring back first-class rail travel as a car attachment to some of their trains as a special project he likes (it only works in limited routes). But separately, he told me there’s so much lost opportunity in the system now it’s almost like starting over if for passengers.

  8. I wonder how the councilmen budget 500k every year for Sheryl Scully our city manager.

    So hmm, create infrastructure for cross city transportation that the entire city can use….or pay one lady to continue to run our city mafia style?

    I think we know what councilmen are puppets these days.

  9. I’m so excited to see some momentum for this project after hearing about it for years. Not only will it offer a freight option that removes 18-wheelers from I-35, it will move people back and forth in a quick and painless manner. Then the region can continue growing together like DFW area–which is great for both SA and Austin. There will be plenty of fights for the stop locations along the way, as we know private development pops up around transit stations. We shouldn’t put this off any longer!

  10. Also, Austin is getting so congested that people might seriously consider moving to SA if the two are connected in this way. And if SA continues being progressive as it has been the past 7 years. Don’t be sleepy, be a model for other cities.

  11. Austin is becoming a threat to San Antonio in several ways–an airport growing faster than ours, possible greater potential for an NFL or an NSL franchise, a more attractive city life for techies, etc. This rail system could help San Antonio stay afloat and competitive rather than find itself falling behind. Austin is already building its stations for this line; you can see them along IH 35 as your drive between downtown and Georgetown. If San Antonio joins:

    1. The San Antonio airport will be the only airport on the line (which would make it easier for San Marcos and New Braunfels citizens to fly out of San Antonio and for Austin citizens to decide to fly out of here on our non-stop flights which Austin doesn’t match these days such as our flights to Mexico). (It will be CRITICAL that the stop at the airport serve flying passengers [with an easy connection to the terminals] and not just commuters parking at a lot on the edges of the airport grounds there!!)

    2. It would be easier for IT companies to establish facilities in San Antonio (which has cheaper property than Austin and is a less attractive city to techies), because the techies who prefer living in Austin could commute to work here via the train.

    For a comparable situation, look at the success of the Trinity Railway Express connecting Dallas , Ft. Worth, DFW airport, and the suburbs between them.

  12. The idea that this proposed rail line will ease congestion on IH-35 between San Antonio and Austin is really a pipe dream. Congestion on IH-35 is not a valid reason for building this rail line. If it was we could have started in the 1970s. The concept of traveling from San Antonio to Austin which, even with congestion is not that long of a drive. If you drive to a railway station, park your car, get on the train and travel to Austin, then what. A process that will probably take over two hours is supposed to offer an alternative to just driving to Austin. This is a pipe-dream that has been floated before, and once the lobbyists and all the attorneys who expect no less than six figure salaries are on board, this project will be sucking down millions. This is a solution for a problem that does not exist. Trains are very expensive and the cost will be underwritten partly by small communities and school systems. This is a lawyers dream. A paycheck for just talking. I think money could be better spent on better buses like the Via buses that connect the two UTSA campuses. Run those buses on natural gas and I bet you they can perform much more efficiently that trains with diesel electric engines. What is really being proposed is nothing new. Inter-city bus lines have been doing is for over a century.

    • The rail plan is not as bad as you make out. All transportation is subsidized and there are many high priced freeloaders, parasites, and scoundrels who attach themselves to these projects (including highway projects). If you get into a rail vs. car debate you are playing into their hands because without strong public support no politician can afford to stand up for integrity. Besides, the rail vs car debate is basically the blind preaching to the deaf. For the public, the train is a great idea because it gives a choice. Choice, like freedom, is important and just because the rail might not be your choice is not a reason to oppose it.

    • Well said Frank.
      Just the thought of having to drive to a rail station, find parking and shuffling among rude, sick, and smelly people is not even close to attractive.

      I’ll jump in my car and drive to Austin any day.

      • …and I seriously doubt anyone will be stopping you, Henry.

        In the mean time, those of us who prefer rail-based transport will be given a wonderful alternative to the autocentric lifestyle you endorse.

        Besides, I have a feeling you’ll be dealing with FAR more rude people during your drive than I will during my train ride!

      • I ‘ve read this now from a number of commenters in the past on rail/transit posts. What’s the deal with people’s hygiene in San Antonio?? Are some people just hypersensitive? or everyone sweats because the busstops have such terrible shelters from the sun (i.e. none)??!!

        I think it’s more that most people taking transit can’t afford cars, so the “popular” idea is “homeless people ride transit”, since suburban people probably only come across poor people when going downtown for something and seeing a homeless person on the street, and thinking they take use the bus when traveling – errands, shopping, going home – etc, not knowing that homeless people live on the street and if on the bus are only there for air conditioning or heat. It reveals a lack of knowledge about living in a city with a fully functioning transit system where everyone of all types use it at all hours.

  13. The reason it hasn’t been done before, is because it will be nothing but a money pit. It will cost tax payers out the ass for eternity. If it could turn a profit, it would have been done years ago. If any of you know of a public transportation system that makes a profit and has no taxpayer money going towards it, please tell me.

    • Hey! Just like highways cost tax payers out the ass for eternity! And just like highways are nothing but a money pit!
      And just like highways were built with public funding…!

  14. This is so useless. Rail service between SA and Austin already exists and noone uses it. This is NOT high speed rail. It will also have to work around Union Pacific’s customers. This is a money grab for the well connected and the rest of us are going to wind up footing the bill.

    • 1. Yes there is the Amtrak Texas Eagle, but in no way is that the same thing. It does not run 30+ times per day. It makes way fewer stops and has none of the station infrastructure. It doesn’t keep a schedule: each departure can be delayed by two hours or more. No one rides it because its not commuter rail.
      2. A huge part of the capital outlay is to construct a new rail line for freight traffic, so there does not have to be shared right of way.
      3. 75-mintues from downtown to downtown is not high-speed rail, but competitive with auto transit times, and that’s the important thing. The advantages of course are safety, the ability to do other activities, not being required to own a car, and reliable transit times. (There’s often traffic / accidents on I-35 that can add an hour or more to your commute.)

      • Todd:

        1. Departures are occasionally delayed, but it’s not fair to say the Texas Eagle “doesn’t keep a schedule”! I often travel on that train and my on time departures remain in the decisive majority.

        2. The new route is intended to carry THROUGH freight traffic. The original line will still “be shared right of way.” You know, freight and passenger traffic can and do efficiently operate together!

        3. During my days at DART, there were three general studies made of Trinity Railway Express passengers – and they were consistent in their findings: over 95% of the passengers owned a private motor vehicle (which was available for their trip), yet they chose to take the train for reasons such as you describe (e.g. safety, reliability, convenience).

        Garl

    • Kyle, your hateful remarks are not based upon reality.

      Amtrak’s Texas Eagle, the only regularly scheduled passenger train currently operating along the route in question, is indeed well used and serves its long distance customer base quite comfortably.

      Furthermore, the entire Lone Star Rail plan is built upon the premise that it’s possible “to work around Union Pacific’s customers”!

      ALL of us end “up footing the bill” for whatever passenger transport modes are offered. What’s so “useless” about trains?!

      More to the point, what are you really scared of? Do you even know?!

    • I think the airlines have shown that there are diminishing returns for speed. Planes could go faster, but at added expense, and its an expense the market has shown not to value as much as we thought it would. (Look at the demise of the Concorde program, for example.)

      If cost isn’t a factor, does everyone want trains that move as fast as possible? Sure. Would people be willing to fund the cost delta of bringing this project to the standards of high speed rail? No. That would easily triple the expense, for the benefit in this case of getting to Austin 30 minutes faster. (High speed to Dallas is more interesting, but I still don’t think it would be considered worth the cost.)

      Plus, high speed rail would only work with fewer stops, and therefore service fewer people.

      • Thank you, Todd.

        Simply put, a “high speed rail or nothing” approach to this game will get us precisely what it’s gotten us for the last two score years: NOTHING!

        [By the way, the cost delta would be more along the lines of a 15:1 ratio!]

        Garl

  15. I have been for light rail for awhile now and was even ecstatic when Houston not only voted to keep their rail but extend it as well. However I find it useless to build a light rail to Austin. 1) San Antonio and Austin are largely independent economically vs cities like DFW, LA County, South Florida metro. Why build a rail line if neither city really depends on the other??? 2) all the cities from Europe to San Francisco people keep bring up for transit examples keep forgetting they developed the transit of the city before reaching out to the metro. Why the hell would I want to travel to Austin in under an hour but still sit in traffic for an hour (or two if you live In Austin) in my own city where majority of my life and business is??? Build a rail first IN the city before you reach across the state. 3) why spend all that money simply for travel time??? A good third of that traffic on I-35 stems from truckers who drive to all ends of the highway systems and about half is from Suburbanites (who live an average of 20-25 minutes from their respective downtowns without traffic) that neither Austin or San Antonio ever planned accommodations for during explosive growth. Take those into factor and a light rail between both cities seems more luxury the necessity. What San Antonio really needs is a simple start up light rail along a major city thoroughfare to slowly build up confidence in the system just like Houston, Dallas, and Miami did.

  16. While wholly supportive of the proposed line, let me go on record now as saying LSR and (especially) the city need to open their eyes to the five miles of street-grade rail crossings between the Commerce Street overpass and the San Pedro underpass, in particular where the current freight line does, and proposed passenger rail line would cross Culebra and Fredericksburg Roads. The freight trains cause traffic quagmires when they stop on those busy roadways now, and it’s a long three mile journey to get around one of those stopped trains (and they’re really not an anomaly). Add 30 commuter lines a day to that and it would create a further bad situation, delaying bus routes, public safety response times and commuter traffic. And as even the casual observer can note of roadway construction, overpass construction takes a good two years to complete — and underpasses consistently flood.

    • Andrew,

      Presuming the situations you describe are your greatest concern, then you have yet another wonderful reason to remain “wholly supportive of the proposed line.”

      Based upon current proposals, all through freight trains – the ones which “cause traffic quagmires” – will be rerouted to a completely new alignment well outside the city limits. Only local freight traffic, along with the 30-sum-odd daily passenger trains, will remain.

      In addition, Lone Star’s complete rebuilding of the existing infrastructure will address all the issues you mentioned, including roadway interface at grade crossings.

      Garl

  17. I want to thank this last commenter who has finally bought up the issue of HOW this would impact communities. I still do not have a clear idea (perhaps intentional on the part of the proposers of this investment) which communities this rail would travel through and what it would be like to to live five houses down form 30 trains a day. I am asking Lone Star and the city to please give me a scenario of the impact on neighborhood. So what would it be like to live near this rail????????

    • Magpie,

      Even if “the proposers of this investment” had something nefarious in mind (and I trust your comment was simply made out of frustration) , federal regulations regarding preparation of the required Environmental Impact Statement demand a complete review of all potential impacts.

      When you have the opportunity, I encourage you to visit the following web site and express your concerns:

      http://eis.lonestarrail.com/contact

      G.B.L.

  18. I am replying to myself because I have not had any answer to this question. It is one thing to have a commuter to Austin, but another thing to destroy a community just to provide transportation for those at an airport. Will someone please tell me if this involves the stretch of track in Beacon Hill?

  19. Rest assured, improvements to an existing railroad corridor rarely destroy the communities through which it passes.

    Moreover, Lone Star Rail will offer far more than basic commutation service and convenient rides for people using San Antonio’s International airport.

    I’ll try harder to keep up with railway-related posts on the Rivard Report. Perhaps I can help you find answers to your questions.

    In the meantime, we are indeed discussing the railroad right-of-way running along the (nominally) eastern edge of Beacon Hill.

    It is possible that a few of the existing grade crossings will be slated for closure (although any such changes will be thoroughly vetted in the previously mentioned E.I.S.), but all the major thoroughfares will remain open.

    Certainly, I believe any differences between the pre- and post-reconstruction railroad line will be perceived as improvements by the vast majority of residents. The new passenger trains will be far quieter – and shorter – than those typically seen today (with most motorists spending less than a minute waiting for trains to clear) and other environmental impacts (such as diesel exhaust) will be greatly reduced.

    Try not to worry, Magpie. Become involved!

    Frequent regional passenger train services will be a boon for south central Texas!

    Garl B. Latham

    • Thank you for responding Mr. Latham, although I am not certain as to what your connection is to this project.

      First, I have been involved in community issues all my life, as a citizen (receiving no pay, much frustration, and little respect). In return I have become acutely aware of the many forms of duplicity practiced by developers (all kinds) and the city officials who exist on their behalf. You must understand you are riding on a railroad car at the tail end of a long train of political/economic boondoggles in this city and in central south Texas(it is only a golf course; fracking is good for small towns are only recent examples). It is best that you approach citizens with the assurance that we are , in fact, able to discern unfolding economic propositions with an acute perception honed by experience and common sense.

      Given that, know that I am greatly in favor of a commuter rail line and feel that it long overdue. However, this kind of endeavor should be undertaken only under certain conditions. These are my concerns and questions:

      What do you mean Lone Star Rail will offer “more than basic commutation service and convenient rides for people using San Antonio airport”? What more are you talking about? You can get to Austin without going to the airport. If you mean that eventually you will use the rail (conveniently running north) to ultimately provide service so that developers could continue to develop north of town… well, that is a problem. If that is the plan, state it now because encouraging more development north of town is not in keeping with proving a commuter train to Austin. This is something to consider.

      What do you mean when you say you are discussing railroad ” right of way” along the eastern edge of Beacon Hill? Are you saying that the freight trains will continue to run along this track and commuter trains will run alongside? If that is the case, then “more” is not “less” of anything?

      Also, what kind of time are we talking about with regard to building the tracks? What kinds of noise are we talking about during this time frame?

      Lastly, I am not “worried.” Rather, I am concerned for my neighborhood and for sustaining an atmosphere of peace within my home that will allow me to contribute to my community through writings and research (non-paid). The sanctity of an environment of quietude is the first consideration in any economic project in a community. I am not willing to give up my own quietude so that LSR can pick up airport passengers on the way to Austin.

      I look forward to reviewing the answers to these questions Mr. Latham. I can assure you that if my concerns are addressed and this proves to be the improvement you are claiming I have many ideas which I will share that could help integrate a new rail system in this neighborhood that is in keeping with the history of Beacon Hill.
      Magpie

      PS. I invite anyone else to respond to these concerns as well.

      • Magpie:

        What’s my “connection…to this project”? I suppose I have none – despite the fact I’m a professional career railroader (41 years this October), an avid railfan and the current President of the Texas Association of Railroad Passengers.

        Actually, you’ve already provided me with a wonderful response:

        When it comes to Lone Star Rail, I am involved solely “as a citizen (receiving no pay, much frustration, and little respect).”

        [Besides, no one else was responding, so I thought I would!]

        I respect your opinions, Magpie. Based upon your personal experience, you wouldn’t be surprised if the plan was ultimately being driven “by developers (all kinds) and the city officials who exist on their behalf.” Honestly, I relate! Dallas is my hometown – and San Antonio can’t hold a candle to Big D when it comes to developers running the show.

        Moreover, I can hardly imagine a thoughtful and intelligent person not becoming a little bit cynical after dealing first-hand with the political process.

        Now, if I may be candid:

        I, too, am “able to discern unfolding economic propositions with an acute perception honed by experience and common sense.”

        I don’t know you, Magpie. You could be that one-in-a-million exception. I trust you are! BUT, in a situation like this, whenever I hear someone use phrases like “sustaining an atmosphere of peace within my home” and the “sanctity of an environment of quietude,” you know the first thing that comes to mind? It’s all code for “property values”!

        Of course, even if that’s the case, I’d certainly never question your right to be concerned; however, I might wonder why anyone wishing to sustain “an atmosphere of peace [and] an environment of quietude” would choose to move anywhere near a common carrier railroad in the first place.

        I guess that’s just me.

        Regarding your specific questions and comments:

        “Lone Star Rail will offer far more than basic commutation service and convenient rides for people using San Antonio’s International airport” primarily due to its regional nature. In no way will ridership be limited to back-and-forth weekday/workday travel. In fact, if properly planned and executed, every member city should become a destination in its own right! Leisure/recreational traffic, combined with personal business travel (versus going to and from one’s place of employment), could eventually amount to half the system’s ridership.

        Moreover, infrastructure enhancements already identified for the corridor would dramatically improve intercity transport between San Antonio and Dallas (and beyond), presuming the Federal Railroad Administration and the Texas D.O.T. eventually get off their insufferable “high-speed rail or nothing” bandwagon. [This is a discussion for another time and place.]

        Suburban/exurban sprawl will continue, unabated, even if Lone Star Rail never turns a wheel. Actually, without a comprehensive system of rail-based transit in place, things will become much worse, much more quickly.

        Basically, the proposed Lone Star Rail route is Union Pacific’s former Missouri Pacific (nee International-Great Northern) main line. As I told Andrew (above), simply considering “current proposals, all through freight trains…will be rerouted to a completely new alignment well outside the city limits. Only local freight traffic, along with the 30-sum-odd daily passenger trains, will remain.” The type of railway operations local residents find most objectionable will, with this plan, eventually disappear – practically overnight, once reconstruction has been completed.

        An aside: the rerouting of through freight traffic now using this line is one reason why the Lone Star Rail proposal would benefit San Antonio, even if enhanced passenger operations aren’t as successful as predicted. [This is another issue we might discuss later, in greater detail.]

        Whatever passenger train equipment is eventually chosen for the service*, it will be fully F.R.A. compliant. This essentially means the Lone Star trains will operate along the same trackage used by today’s Union Pacific, BNSF and Amtrak trains. Separate infrastructure will not be necessary.

        [*I’ve seen recent artist’s conceptions depicting Lone Star trains and they show D.M.U. consists. Currently, this type of equipment is all the rage; however, I feel would be a grave mistake for use along this corridor. Oh, well…another conversation for another time!]

        In all probability, when it comes to construction work, the single most obtrusive noise you’ll hear will be the OSHA-related backup alarms on construction vehicles (29 CFR 1926) – a short-term inconvenience for long-term gain.

        I would love to visit with you and hear your various ideas! I trust the same thing might be said for those at the Lone Star Rail Authority and with the City of San Antonio.

        Best,
        Garl

  20. Thank you for responding. I may have more questions once I absorb your responses and run them through some critical minds. I do want to say that I am not “one in a million” because there are millions of us that ACTUALLY do value quietude in a neighborhood! My home is where I write, think, conduct research, carry on conversations and note the passing of the seasons. I do not have a concern with property taxes , but with quality of my daily life (yes, there are millions of us). I do not mind fright train rumbling by several times a day or night. But the possibility of 30 plus interruptions during a day is exponentially far more problematic in terms of the days rhythms being hijacked by commuter train. (I have have lived in such places and I know how intrusive this can be in ones daily life.)

    That said…more later!
    Magpie

    • Thank you, Magpie! I truly appreciate reading what you have to say.

      You spoke of the need to “absorb…responses.” Well, I’m honestly trying to understand your comments regarding “rumbling” freight trains versus passenger train service (described using terms like “problematic,” “hijacked” and “intrusive”). More than ever, I’d love to discuss this in detail.

      One small point: when I spoke of “property values,” I wasn’t thinking of property valuation for tax purposes. I had in mind a property’s market value – something which many people jealously guard, especially if they see the possibility that nearby changes (such as increased railroad operations) might negatively affect it.

      Take care,
      Garl

      • OK. It is clear that you have a background in basic marketing/public relations. This is simple. A few “rumbling” trains through the day does not have near the potential of intrusion as being aware of of 30 plus passenger trains. This would mean that each hour (at least…even twice an hour) one attention is directed to a passing train. This is exponentially more intrusive in ones daily life, even if the passing trains are quieter and shorter. (Not to mention the exponentially more dangerous situations that could occur on the tracks)

        Oh yes, first- not everyone can afford to simply move where they would like. Homes are less expensive near a train track (and as you infer, property values will go down here once the is happens, even as our present inflated property taxes will stay up!) Aside, I like trains, I grew up next to this train track. It is not a few freight trains I have a problem with.. it is 30 plus commuter trains that will dominate the daily atmosphere of quietude in this neighborhood so that airport passengers can be picked up.

        Now, lets get to your answers to the questions I posed:

        1. “more that commutation services.?’ – Yes, I know that that there are regional issues here. I repeat, you can get to Austin without going to the airport ( the reason to come through Beacons Hill and other communities). In fact, you can conceivable run a line from the airport to a destination further north to connect airport passengers to the train. If they are coming to SA , then you do not need a train to take them downtown. You have validated my concerns that this project will be later hijacked to encourage development north of town by providing commuter line servce to “ease” congestion. Do not ease congestion. This is a form of discouragement for irresponsible development. I am not willing to sacrifice the quietude of my home/community to ease congestion for those choosing to live north of town. Why should I? It is their nest…..

        2. Will freight trains still run alongside commuter trains IN BEACON HILL! Your answer is ambivalent and vague: “current proposals, all through freight trains…will be rerouted to a completely new alignment well outside the city limits. Only local freight traffic, along with the 30-sum-odd daily passenger trains, will remain.” Which is it….? I know freight will be rerouted from the main line along I-35, but what about Beacon Hill? Yes? No? “Eventually”? “Practically overnight”?

        3. Amount of noise with reconstruction: A few “beeps”? Really? The actual construction makes not noise? Will I hear beep-beep-beep for a few days? A few months? A few years? Keep in mind, that not only are these beeps impossible to live with while conducting research (or raising a family) because of the nerve-racking tension they are designed to express as a safety warning feature, but once they are continual they lose their power to be a safety device because no one pay attention to them because they are constant). My ” short term ” inconvenience, but for whose long term gain?

        Lastly, I am not “cynical” about politics, I am simply an intelligent person who is pragmatically aware of the deceptive practices of our local government/developers and because of my awareness, I find it necessary to be vigilant and protective of my rights as a citizen and as a member of my community.

        I support commuter trains to Austin and beyond, but I see this goal as a separate issues than that of running this commuter line through Beacon Hill to the airport. The first consideration in any responsible overarching conjoined government/private enterprise is the sanctity of community needs. If these needs are not met, then there is no justification for proceeding further. I might add, Beacon Hill should be given a priority of consideration over those residents that have recently colonized the peripheries of San Antonio. They knew there was no commuter train when they chose to live in these areas.

        Magpie

          • Wow…. You have been awake all this time? I can only assume that I hit some issues that many do not want to address. If anyone knows the answers to the questions I posed, please feel free to answer.
            Magpie

          • Actually, I really didn’t appreciate your earlier comments. I thought it better to wait until my negative emotions subsided a bit.

            It’s still a problem; however, I’ll review your remarks once again.

            G.B.L.

  21. Magpie:

    Your stated opinions regarding the difference between freight and passenger operations have been duly noted. I disagree with your basic conclusion; still, you may be able to gain some concessions (e.g. visual mitigation walls and landscaping) during the E.I.S. process.

    I have no idea what “the exponentially more dangerous situations that could occur on the tracks” might be, unless you believe more trains would naturally increase the likelihood of grade crossing collisions and trespasser fatalities. An obvious solution would be for pedestrians to stay off private property and motor vehicle drivers to obey traffic laws.

    “Homes are less expensive near a train track…” No comment.

    “…as you infer [sic], property values will go down…” I do not appreciate having my statements so profoundly misinterpreted. The assumptions individual property owners may make due to fear and ignorance doesn’t alter the statistical data.

    An airport stop will be possible simply because the existing line runs alongside the airport’s eastern boundary. The route identified would still offer the most direct service from points north/northeast into downtown even if the airfield wasn’t there. In other words, the proposed alignment does not in itself indicate some overarching desire for multimodalism.

    “You have validated my concerns…”?! Once again, you’ve misrepresented my comments. I said “sprawl will continue, unabated, even if Lone Star Rail never turns a wheel” – and that’s the truth. Responsible development sounds wonderful, but that’s not where the money is. Besides, autocentrism BREEDS sprawl! It’s the nature of the beast!

    I do not wish to be “ambivalent and vague”; why must you be so adversarial?! Under the current plan, freight train service will continue along the route in question. Period. There are far too many carload freight customers within the greater San Antonio area to eliminate all such operations.

    I specifically mentioned the backup alarms for construction vehicles because of their “obtrusive” nature. I have no idea what specific activities might take place near your residence.

    I will reiterate: the best opportunity you’ll have to underscore a concern for “the sanctity of community needs” will be during the E.I.S. process.

    You may see me there. I’ll be sitting on the opposite side of the table.

    Garl

  22. As a resident of Alta Vista living a few blocks from the rail line I am excited about this prospect. I am hoping they will rebuild the old train depot in the hood. I would definitely use the Lone Star. Let’s get on it!

    • I’m so glad to hear you say that, Tami!

      I also wish the current proposal involved resurrecting the Missouri Pacific’s Monte Vista depot. No parking; just pedestrian traffic, connecting transit and a “kiss-and-ride” area.

      That would certainly help answer the question about “long-term gain”!

      Regrettably, based upon my own personal experience, such a plan would probably not only be stillborn, but would cause such a ruckus that the entire project might be undermined.

      I’m afraid we’ll need at least one more generation to pass before such plans will be taken seriously.

      Best,
      Garl

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