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.
By SEAN WARDWELL
Listing of Members and Jurisdictions Represented.
Artist rendering of the the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail courtesy of ASA and A3 Design
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