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Can San Antonio-to-Austin commuter rail get back on track?

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San Antonio, Austin and parts in-between are some of the fastest growing communities, cities and counties in the nation. The San Antonio-Austin corridor saw its population increase over the last decade by over 30%, and it’s expected to be home to over 6 million people by 2030. Experts even predict it could surpass the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in population by 2050.

The hyper-growth brings challenges, including the problem of getting back and forth between San Antonio to Austin in a quick, reliable and affordable way.

Today’s corridor link on I-35 is slow, unreliable and, for the most part, demands a personal vehicle. This transportation bottleneck will be costly and frustrating.

Elected leaders from Bexar and Travis Counties are now going back to the drawing board in hopes of reviving the failed effort of the Lone Star Rail District.

The rail district was created by the Texas Legislature in 1997 and spent more than $25 million over 13 years before kicking the bucket five years ago with little to show for the process.

The hope was that Union Pacific’s rail tracks between San Antonio and Austin would become available and the commuter service would be full steam ahead. However, that U.P. track is in demand and profitable, hauling freight between the U.S. and Mexico. Putting commuters on that stretch of track was not in the interest of the Nebraska-based rail giant. The rail-sharing agreement was a hard “no.”

Building a new rail line would be expensive—in the $20 billion-dollar range. Recovering those costs from commuters would force ticket prices to be beyond the budget of most. Federal funding would be necessary, but how much would local taxpayers have to pay in for the rail project? The past rail district was unable to convince cities along the route to committee on financial contributions. And the current Texas Republican leadership isn’t on board for mega-mass transit.

Overall, the lack of a San Antonio-to-Austin commuter rail boils down to past funding issues and a previous project's shortcomings. However, with the booming growth of the San Antonio-Austin corridor and the undeniable need for a transportation solution that doesn’t depend on I-35, the idea is gaining traction again.


Melissa Cabello-Havrda is the San Antonio District 6 City Councilmember and the new chair of the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

"The Source" is a live call-in program airing Mondays through Thursdays from 12-1 p.m. Leave a message before the program at (210) 615-8982. During the live show, call833-877-8255, email thesource@tpr.org.

*This interview will be recorded on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi