We don’t need to tell you that traffic on Interstate 35 through the Austin-San Antonio corridor is bad and getting worse. It’s one of the most congested interstate segments in America and the biggest bottleneck on I-35 between Mexico and Canada. It’s also one of the deadliest stretches of highway in the country, with over 100 fatalities a year.
Rebuilding I-35 to accommodate all of the different travel demands it now handles would take decades and could consume Texas’ entire transportation budget. That’s why for many years, regional leaders and thinkers have been looking at alternatives. And one of the best alternatives is passenger rail.
The Union Pacific corridor that parallels I-35 is an important link for moving goods through the region, but as a freight rail line, it suffers from many of the same challenges as I-35. However, that same UP right-of-way is almost perfectly suited to passenger service that can bring people right to the region’s major destinations—downtown Austin and San Antonio, a long string of university campuses, tourist attractions, and major employers from Williamson County to Port San Antonio and beyond.
That’s why, in the late 1990s, the state first conducted a feasibility study for regional passenger rail service in the corridor. Once that report came back positive, the pieces fell into place for the creation of an independent public agency that represents and is governed by local communities and stakeholders.
Texas voters also gave their approval to efforts to jump-start rail relocation and improvements, with the state and private railroads like UP working together for mutual benefit. Right now, Lone Star Rail and Union Pacific are working together with the State of Texas to study ways to meet the region’s future needs for both freight and passenger rail while improving mobility for all travelers in Central and South Texas.
In recent years, passenger rail has taken off across the country, with dozens of regional services achieving wide popularity, including systems like the Trinity Railway Express connecting Dallas and Fort Worth and the New Mexico Rail Runner Express connecting Albuquerque and Santa Fe. And the federal transportation program is devoting more energy and resources to passenger rail than ever before.
Today, regional passenger rail is no longer just a good idea. It’s a transportation choice that will improve our lives and expand our horizons - and before you know it, the LSTAR will be ready to roll.