July 1, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

San Antonians for Rail Transit (SART) has released a major report entitled "San Antonio to Austin Regional Rail: A Staged Approach". The paper was developed in response to the creation of the Central Texas Passenger Rail Committee which was recently formed by the County Judges in Bexar and Travis counties.

The proposal describes a rapidly implementable, cost-effective  regional rail approach in three stages.

According to SART "we know that there are numerous challenges that this “Lone Star Rail” service faces.  We only have to look to our neighbors in Austin to see that it is easy for rail projects to become hamstrung by rapidly ballooning costs, political and legal challenges, and prolonged timeframes. "

SART Co-Chair Jesse Harasta said "in this report we call for a radical rethinking of what is possible.  Drawing inspiration from our city’s Greenway system, which was built in digestible, concrete stages, and the tech industry concept of “minimum viable product,” we call for building a rail system in graded steps which themselves serve transportation needs but which come together to create something greater."

The first stage focuses on upgrades to San Antonio Station, which is the current Amtrak station, using small local dollars and linking the city in innovative ways. The group lists 10 "immediate Actions" for Lone Star Rail that San Antonio leaders can adopt. 

Stage two concentrates on "minimum viable service" using a single trainset for multiple round-trips a day between Austin and San Antonio serving three stations in each of the two cities, at comparable speeds to driving. The starter system would also serve as a rudimentary single-line metro that provides intra-city connections. 

Stage three rolls out a full regular local and express service that link up with suburban destinations. This part of the plan calls for a return to Sunset Station or the creation of a new San Antonio station which would also serve planned rail services further outside the Austin-San Antonio I-35 and I-10 travel corridors. 

Each stage is broken down into separate projects that are divided between Core and Additional items and addresses planning, funding and resources for both local and federal grant opportunities.

The document takes into account the difficulties posed by TxDOT's lack of funding for matched rail grants and suggests practical solutions for resolving the challenge. 

Harasta said that San Antonians for Rail Transit believes that any plan to create such a system must seriously consider bringing on Amtrak as the primary operator under local strategic oversight - an arrangement found in the Downeaster in Maine, the Front Range Rail in Colorado, and the San Joaquins in California.  "The report outlines why we believe that Amtrak would be able to institute a service at considerable cost savings and far quicker than any other provider", according to Harasta.

The organization points out that San Antonio still remains the largest metropolitan area in the country without any rail-based mass transit. 

The Staged Approach document can be found at: https://www.railforsanantonio.com/reports