March 25, 2024 - TRA Newswire -

You've probably seen the signs announcing Flatonia when traveling along Interstate 10 in South Texas. It's about halfway between San Antonio and Houston in Fayette County. You'll pass a number of other smaller towns and cities as you roll by at 70 miles per hour. 

Towns on I-10 from the Alamo City to Houston, like Schulenberg, Seguin, Columbus, Luling, Rosenberg and Sealy all have one thing in common with Flatonia. No intercity public transportation options. No bus. No train.   

The tiny town of Flatonia, with some 1,300 residents in the 2020 census, has been politicking for a stop on the tri-weekly Amtrak Sunset Limited route for over a decade. Letters, calls, visits to state leaders, a logo, meetings, designs for a station, and conversations with Amtrak and Union Pacific continue as city leaders press for a regional rail stop. 

It's not just the city, though, that would benefit from future passenger rail service. The counties that surround Flatonia are home to over 200,000 people in what is described as a "transportation desert". With no intercity bus service and no passenger rail service in these rural counties, you have to furnish your own transportation. 

Lately though, a few things may be working in Flatonia's favor.

The Texas Department of Transportation's Rail Division was recently awarded a $500,000 Federal Railroad Administration Corridor Identification and Development Planning Grant to scope out what it would take to establish a regional passenger rail service between San Antonio and Houston with several frequencies a day. Intermediate cities will be considered in the FRA's efforts to bring better transportation options to underserved communities. That planning effort gets underway soon.   

Tucked into the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that Congress passed in 2021 is a requirement for the FRA to study what is required to bring trains that run less than daily service up to a 7 day a week standard. Amtrak has two routes that are tri-weekly. The Cardinal, that runs from Chicago to Washington and the Sunset Limited, that operates less than daily service from California to New Orleans along the I-10 travel corridor. Amtrak is the recipient of a $500,000 planning grant to scope out what it would take to run a daily Sunset train. Right now the Sunset Limited whizzes through Flatonia in the early morning hours, three days a week in each direction. 

The FRA study is also charged to develop other daily long-distance rail routes to serve rural America. This would allow smaller towns and cities that have been shut out of transportation options a way to attract new business, expand travel options and tourism and create economic development in rural America. 

Another positive note was that a station in Flatonia was included in Amtrak's long-term vision plan when it was released in May 2022. 

Flatonia proponents have been working with Capitol Area Rural Transportation Systems (CARTS) and Amtrak to establish a multimodal terminal on the site of an old police station, not used since 2014.  Mark Eversole, President of Flatonia Mobility and Dennis Geesaman, Secretary/Treasurer, have drawn up rough architectural plans for the terminal. 

"We are trying to get the architectural and environmental plans funded so we will be basically be shovel ready", according to Geesaman. Eversole said they will be working with CARTS, TxDOT and Amtrak for additional funding once plans are approved so they can get to the construction phase. 

An Amtrak stop in Flatonia would give the four-county region access to daily service to Houston and San Antonio, with longer-distance service to Del Rio, Alpine, El Paso and Beaumont along the route of the Sunset Limited in Texas.