COMPILED FROM MEDIA REPORTS
AUSTIN — Union Pacific will no longer consider rerouting its Central Texas freight traffic to make way for commuter rail between Georgetown and San Antonio, quite possibly killing the decade-old effort to build a regional rail transit system.
In 2009 and 2010, railroad executives and Lone Star Rail District officials signed broad, non-binding agreements to study the feasibility of implementing passenger rail service on Union Pacific tracks along the Interstate 35 corridor. In a Feb. 11 letter to Lone Star board chairman Sid Covington, however, railroad brass said unambiguously that Union Pacific “can no longer, in good faith, constrain its growth by the conceptual discussions or previous expressions of interest between the parties.”
“Over the course of the past six-plus years of meetings, discussions and studies, it has become apparent that the desired track alignments and infrastructure requirements necessary to support the efficient and reliable co-mingling of freight and commuter passenger rail are unattainable,” writes Jerry S. Wilmoth, UP’s general manager for network infrastructure. “In addition, UPRR continually needs to analyze, develop and implement enhancements to its network to meet customer demand in this vital and growing corridor.”
In a story published today, the Austin American-Statesman quotes Lone Star Rail District general counsel Bill Bingham as saying, “we’ll continue on, and we’ll keep talking to Union Pacific. I think we’ll get this project done. I don’t know when or how.”
More from the Austin American-Statesman:
The project has never been able to advance beyond paper and computer screens. The 1997 legislation gives the agency little taxation power — primarily the ability, with the local jurisdictions’ permission, to tax small areas near train stations — and no permission to run on the logical route, Union Pacific’s track.
Union Pacific’s position has always been that it might be amenable to sharing its tracks, but only if a parallel set of tracks was built well to the east of the I-35 corridor.
And, most significantly, Union Pacific — which, when the economy is humming, runs two to three dozen freight trains a day in that corridor — said the cost of that alternate track would fall to the district. That would be more than $2 billion.
Conceptual plans for the LSTAR system include a downtown San Marcos station and stops in Kyle-Buda and New Braunfels. To partially fund construction of a future rail station and related amenities, the San Marcos City Council voted in January 2012 to create a 244-acre tax increment reinvestment zone centered around the former Hays County Justice Center property, between LBJ Drive and Guadalupe Street in the Central Business District.
COVER: A Union Pacific freight train stopped in an industrial area of New Braunfels in 2011. FILE PHOTO by BEN ENGLISH