San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

June 6th, 2008
Commuter Rail outlook optimistic

The Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District (ASA) board met Friday morning at the San Marcos Activity Center. The ASA was originally created by the City of Austin, Travis County, the City of San Antonio, and Bexar county and was authorized by the 77th Texas State Legislature. Since that time Hays County and the City of San Marcos have joined along with a large number of other corridor entities.

Who controls “when,” was the major topic of discussion at the latest meeting. “…[W]hen you’re moving passengers you need to have the train on time,” said district general counsel William Bingham. “If I’ve got a meeting in San Antonio at noon I need to leave Austin at a certain time to get there.”

Bingham continued, “On the other hand, if I’ve got a boxcar load of freight, whether it leaves at 9, 10, or 11 is not real critical. It just needs to go that day. The passenger train needs (…) to be on time.”

Dispatch rights, or who decides when the trains will run, is essential to setting up commuter rail along the Austin-San Antonio Corridor. Currently Union Pacific, who owns the railroad lines, has these rights.

Negotiations are ongoing with Union Pacific over these rights, but a mood of optimism and enthusiasm was shared by all.

“How often do you get a room full of elected officials and local business leaders who come together on a common regional effort?” said San Marcos place six councilman, John Thomaides. “It crosses four to five counties, affects millions of people, and I think we really see the future here.”

Tullos Wells, Vice-Chair of the district, echoed these sentiments, referencing a time when efforts to bring commuter rail to the 1-35 corridor began, “A number of people said ‘hey guys, this train idea will never work because it’s so much cheaper and easier to drive up and down I-35’,” said Wells. “Well, I can make a compelling argument on the easier side, but there’s no question about the cheaper side,” he added.

Rebranding the district was another major topic considered.

“It’s a mouthful,” said Allison Schulze, Senior Planner/Administrator, referring to the current name for the organization dedicated to bringing commuter rail to the Austin-San Antonio corridor. The district board approved a request for proposals in order to make the district more identifiable and create a unique identity. During the meeting several members of the board pointed out that other cities and municipal areas have names for their commuter or light rail service have distinctive names and their current one was too unwieldy. Wells jokingly remarked that even some of the current board members had trouble pronouncing the full name of the district.

“I’m very excited about the branding,” said Schulze, who also expressed excitement about the level of cooperation and discussion amongst the board members.

Commuter rail, which differs from light rail as it uses existing rail tracks and equipment, has been in the planning stages for around five years. Projected ridership is estimated by the district to be around 3 ½ million passengers a year, with a possible 15,000 of that coming from students attending Texas State University.

Ross Milloy, the interim executive director of the district spoke about some of the legislative hurdles that still need to be overcome, “I would say we are making steady, cautious progress.” Milloy, further asked people, “…to contact their state legislator and ask them to work on financing new transportation alternatives for the Austin-San Antonio Corridor.”

The next meeting of the district will be on September 15th at 10 AM in the San Marcos Activity Center.



Listing of Members and Jurisdictions Represented.

  • Sid Covington – Chair
    Austin Business Community
  • Tullos Wells – Vice Chair
    General Public
  • Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
    Bexar County
  • Gloria Arriaga
    AACOG Alamo Regional Transit (ART)
  • Mayor Hal Baldwin
    City of Schertz
  • Commissioner Jeff Barton
    Capital Area MPO (CAMPO)
  • Commissioner Lisa Birkman
    Williamson County
  • Mary Briseno
    VIA Metropolitan Transit
  • Mariano Camarillo
    General Public
  • Council Member John Clamp
    City of San Antonio
  • Commissioner Will Conley
    Hays County
  • Mayor John Cowman
    Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority
  • Commissioner Gerald Daugherty
    Travis County
  • Council Member Patty Eason
    City of Georgetown
  • Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe
    Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS)
  • Council Member Jennifer Kim
    City of Austin
  • Carroll Schubert
    San Antonio Business Community
  • Council Member John Thomaides
    City of San Marcos
  • Senator Jeff Wentworth
    San Antonio-Bexar County MPO (SA-BCMPO)
  • Council Member Pat Wiggins
    City of New Braunfels


Artist rendering of the the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail courtesy of ASA and A3 Design


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14 thoughts on “Commuter Rail outlook optimistic

  1. Seems like there are plenty of extra sets of tracks where a freight train could hold up while a passenger train goes by. I think this would be fantastic. There needs to be a car rental counter when I get to SA or Austin though. Please don’t try to force me into a cab or a bus.

  2. Thanks to everyone who has been working on this. I hope things continue to move forward.

    I’ll be particularly interested to see what the seating looks like. If there is wireless and room to get a laptop and a notepad out, I could easily work on the train as I commute to and from the office.

    So, instead of spending 8-10 hours in the office and 2-3 hours in my car, I might spend 2 hours on the train, 6-8 hours in the office and the other 2-3 hours on my bike and/or with family.

    If we’re looking at standard public transit seating, like a bus or subway, then my ridership will really depend on how much faster or slower I get to the office with the train. As you might imagine, spending 12-13 hours on the road or at the office every day already, I don’t have a strong interest in spending even more, regardless of the cost.

  3. I would love to see commuter rail in San Marcos, but it will not work until you get the freight trains off the tract. Amtract is a joke. Amtrack must give way to freight traffic. My mother went to East Texas on Amtract 3 years ago. She got here at 3am on a train that was supposed to have been here at 9pm, that left near Tyler at 1pm, because of delays due to waiting for freight trains through D/FW

  4. The freight lines are suposed to be “relocated” east and the commuter rail will use the exsisting union pacific lines. Everyone at that meeting on Friday sounded very optimistic about this becoming a reality. I hope it does…. To all the members on the board.. Keep up the good work

  5. Another consideration, in addition to accommodating people who work on the train, would be transporting their bikes and scooters with them.

    If I could ride my bike or scooter to the station, load it on the train, like I would if I were taking a ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and then unload it and ride to the office, it would make the whole idea a LOT more appealing.

  6. The plans include passenger rail cars that have a space to stow bicycles. Also, it is amazing what types of development is generated around these rail stations. Professional offices, residences, retail shops all within a 10 minute walk. I personally ride one that is connected to a full indoor mall, a convention center, and a vibrant central city. Looking ahead 50 years, it doesn’t seem unrealistic to see that in our region.

  7. One of our employees just got back from Germany and he said it was wonderful to experience using rail for transit and yes there were all kinds of great things within short walking distance of the stations.

  8. Stowing bicycles is great, but stowing scooters would beeven better. I’m not sure where the train would stop in San Antonio, but this is a big city and it could easily take an hour or more to get across parts of it on a bike and a bike can really limit my options for getting lunch, running errands, etc, especially if there is no shower at the office.

    If I’m tooling around on a scooter, all of those problems go away.

  9. If my wife and I go up for the weekend, or I go for business during the week I typically will have several errands to run while I’m in town. If I can’t quickly get an affordable rent car close to the station I’ll just take my car.

  10. just a note there is a new scooter store coming to san marcos called vrooom in the old newstreamz location, really nice guys and if gas keeps rising we will all be riding scooters around town

  11. I can’t rent a car. I’m here every day and the cost would be ridiculous. I can see the value for others, though.

    If I can’t stow a scooter on the train (which seems like it would only require one flatbed car be added), then at least give me a secure, covered, place to park it overnight, so I can leave it in San Antonio and use it to get back and forth from the train to the office.

    The more flexibility, the more riders.

  12. This is very exciting and I am ON BOARD!
    Commuter rail seems to be the best and obvious solution: I am ready to do whatever I can to help this go forward.

    I live in Kyle and I want to take the train to and from Austin (I work at UT). There are many like me! There should be a state employee rate and a senior citizen rate. As was said, this would stimulate much growth in the city of Kyle (old town area), including the scooter business. We need to learn from Europe!!!

    Barbara Carlson

  13. There is a shuttle from Texas State which goes through Kyle and has a stop at UT. During the school year, there are 10 buses per day. During the summer I think it’s five. Anyone can buy a pass, but students get a discount. I don’t know what the cost is now, but when I lived in Austin I think it was $40 for 10 rides (general public) and $33 for students. It might be more now, because of the increase in gas prices, but still less than the cost of gas in a personal car.

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