Union Pacific, earlier this year, decided freight, not people, will remain the primary thing carried on its rails. That decision caught officials with the Lone Star Rail District by surprise. But district board chairman Sid Covington said efforts to build a regional commuter rail line from San Antonio through Austin have not been derailed.
"The message is this project is still a very viable project, it’s still very important to our communities up and down the corridor, we all know we’ve got to do something to help with I-35 issues and the congestion we have there, and we are moving ahead with the process trying to do that,” said Covington.
Friday morning the rail district board of directors agreed with Covington.
"We need an alternative and we cannot afford to give up on a plan because we hit a bump in the road,” said John Thomaides who is Mayor Pro-tem for the City of San Marcos.
There was a brief discussion over whether or not to hit the brakes or just hand the idea off to another agency.
"This is not about the self-preservation of Lone Star organization; this is about accomplishing a better life for the people that we represent,” said Hays Co Commissioner Will Conley.
The board's vote to move forward means funding for environmental studies will continue, they're almost completed.
"This to me is like planting a tree, it take a long time for it to grow,” said Travis Co. Commissioner Brigid Shea.
Not using Union Pacific's tracks may actually save the district money, instead of having a fleet of heavy trains, light-rail passenger vehicles may be used.
District officials say the plan was never limited to only using these rails own by Union Pacific. With the freight carrier now out of play, the focus is shifting to several alternative routes.
Putting parallel track next to the Union Pacific right of way is still an option. But the other possibilities include using I-35 and the SH 130 tollway as primary routes. Trains could run in the center-highway median or along the outer edges.
In Austin to avoid the daily gridlock, rails may be elevated or even put underground by digging subway tunnels. The tunnel idea is not really outlandish. The city of Austin has shown it can be done by already cutting one through the limestone under downtown for a giant underground flood control project.
The door is also being left open for union pacific in case the company decides to hop back on board.
"This is a big project, these things happen, and we are continuing on we've got a, in the middle of a process that’s a well-defined federal process and we need to continue with it."
Bottom line the train may no longer be on its original schedule but LStar officials say it is coming.