What is Lone Star Rail District?

Lone Star Rail District is an independent public agency focused solely on the mission of providing regional passenger rail service to Central and South Texas along the Austin/San Antonio corridor. The Rail District’s governing statute authorizes the district to “acquire, construct, develop, own, operate, and maintain” passenger rail facilities and services.

Authorized by the Texas Legislature in 1997, the cities of Austin and San Antonio and Travis and Bexar counties voted to create the Rail District in December 2002. The first meeting of the Rail District Board of Directors took place in February 2003 and the name, Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District” was adopted.  The name was changed to Lone Star Rail District in 2009.

Is Lone Star Rail District a stand-alone agency like a transit authority or Regional Mobility Authority? Is it part of TxDOT? How is it accountable to the public?

Technically, Lone Star Rail District is a political subdivision of the State—a special district under Texas law.  Its members include cities, counties, and transportation agencies in the Austin-San Antonio corridor. Each of those jurisdictions is part of the district, which is accountable to the 4 million residents of the corridor through their elected representatives. Lone Star Rail District is governed by a Board of Directors which represents these members as well as business and community stakeholders.

What is the LSTAR?

The LSTAR is the name for the future rail service that will connect communities up and down the corridor, from Georgetown to San Antonio.

Why do we need a train serving this corridor? Why not just widen I-35?

Regional passenger rail service in the corridor will be much less expensive and happen much more quickly than major improvements to I-35, which is already one of America’s most congested and deadly highways. Just as important, offering a new travel option creates opportunities for the people of the region to improve their lives and expand their horizons that driving I-35 simply can’t provide. This transportation option could make it possible for people in the corridor to maintain their mobility without having to own or drive a car.

What if I never use the LSTAR? Why should I care?

Being solely dependent on driving as our only travel option is not healthy for the region. It burdens many of our friends and neighbors with excessive transportation costs and limits their choices of where (or how) to live, work, study or play in the corridor. It limits our communities’ options of how to grow and develop to improve their economic prospects or their quality of life. And it creates hazards for all of us—from unsafe highways to damage to our environment. Those are all extremely important reasons, with quantifiable benefits, to make passenger rail part of our regional transportation system.

When is it going to start running?

Right now, Lone Star Rail District has begun the final steps necessary to begin operations:  Engineering and environmental studies, leading to federal approval to begin design and construction, relocating freight rail service in partnership with Union Pacific and the State of Texas, and establishing funding mechanisms for construction and operations.

Are we sure this is really going to happen?

Obviously we’re not ready to sell tickets, but we think it’s time to let the corridor know that the LSTAR is real and part of our evolving multi-modal transportation systems. The outlook has never been better for bringing back passenger rail as part of the mix that keeps America moving. We are confident that each of Lone Star Rail District’s current tasks can and will be completed, in a reasonable timeframe and at reasonable cost, and that rail service will connect the corridor in the near future.

How much will it cost to build?

It’s hard to say how much the LSTAR will cost until we figure out what that cost actually includes—vehicles, track improvements, stations, new freight rail infrastructure as needed, connections to other transit services.  That’s one of the key outcomes of the current round of engineering and environmental studies. Based on several analyses over the past decade, we’ve concluded that service can be provided at a reasonable cost that’s competitive with other transportation investments, and that the LSTAR will have a positive economic impact for the region that will bring an acceptable return on that investment.

How will it be paid for?

Establishing the ultimate financing plan is another key outcome of the current round of studies. We anticipate that both construction and operation costs will be funded by a combination of traditional and innovative sources of financing from local, state and federal sources. The communities served by Lone Star Rail District would contribute some of that funding, but they will have many options for how to do so, including capturing the added value from development around new stations.

Would it ever be able to pay for itself, or will it need to be subsidized?

This question gets asked a lot about rail and bus systems, but not so often about highways or airports, which are also built and operated with public money. Lone Star Rail District will be providing transportation infrastructure to the region, and it’s appropriate that those costs be shared by the region, through public funding, so that the service can be available to all who need it.

How much will it cost to ride?

This hasn’t been established yet, but we intend for the LSTAR to be cost-competitive with driving. For comparison, fares for comparable systems around the country range from $3 to $13 for an adult round trip, depending on distance traveled. We do anticipate that LSTAR fares will also be based on distance.

How long will it take to travel from San Antonio to Austin?

Express service between downtown Austin and downtown San Antonio (with stops in San Marcos and New Braunfels) should take around 90 minutes. This is comparable to current travel times on I-35, but will likely be faster than driving as I-35 becomes more congested. Moreover, travel times and schedules on the LSTAR will be predictable, whereas accidents, weather conditions and other variables can often cause delays for drivers. But most important, rail travel will offer relaxing, stress-free travel that allows riders the freedom to make the most of their time by reading, studying, working, napping or simply enjoying the scenery. Local service, stopping at all stations, will be about 15-20 minutes longer than express service.

Will it only run between San Antonio and Austin, or can I take it from, say, Georgetown to New Braunfels?

Local passenger service will stop at each station along the LSTAR route, so riders will be able to choose where they get on and off the train. Plans provide for LSTAR’s full service schedule to include 12 trains a day, seven days a week, including midday and evening service in each direction. Click here to view a map of the LSTAR route and proposed station locations.

What is a “regional passenger rail” Is that different from commuter rail?

Regional passenger rail, commuter rail, and intercity rail have all been used to describe long-distance passenger service. The LSTAR will meet a variety of people’s needs, in addition to traditional commuting. For example, there will be nearly 300,000 students, faculty and staff at colleges and universities served by the LSTAR. The route also connects some of the major tourist and entertainment destinations not just within the region but for all of Texas. And we anticipate the LSTAR will be a way people can visit friends and family in each of the corridor’s main metro areas and smaller communities. These are some of the reasons our current plans include midday, evening and weekend service, not just during rush hour.

Is this part of the same system that Austin is building?

No, the Metrorail “Red Line” in Austin is being built and operated by Capital Metro, the local transit authority. Passengers would be able to connect between the Red Line and the LSTAR at two of the proposed stations.

Is this part of the high-speed rail initiative?

The LSTAR would not be “high speed rail” — although it could at points run at suitably high speeds — and any future HSR service would not be able to serve all the destinations reached by the LSTAR. But the LSTAR route falls within one of the 11 corridors identified in the current federal HSR initiative, and investments in those corridors would definitely benefit the region and Lone Star Rail District.

Would the LSTAR still be needed if we had high-speed rail?

Absolutely. In fact, LSTAR service would make high-speed rail connections to Dallas, Houston and beyond much more viable. One of the criteria used when evaluating HSR corridors is whether the cities they serve have local and regional rail systems that can connect with the HSR hubs. According to a recent study, the lack of a regional service like the LSTAR is the single biggest obstacle to HSR service to Austin or San Antonio.

Would this run on the same line as freight trains? Is that safe?

Nearly 80% of the freight rail traffic on the route planned for LSTAR originates and is destined for locations outside the Austin-San Antonio corridor. Relocating this through-freight rail service is a high priority for Lone Star Rail District but it also benefits the communities in the region by improving safety and mobility and opening up development prospects. Freight rail operators and customers would also benefit by being served by a more efficient freight system. The state of Texas created and has allocated money to its Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund, and Lone Star Rail District has an agreement with Union Pacific to study freight rail relocation options. Local freight customers would continue to be served, but not at the same time that passenger trains are running.

Do other places have rail systems like the LSTAR? Do they have agencies like Lone Star Rail District?

There are currently more than two-dozen regional passenger rail systems in North America, ranging from well-established names like New York’s Long Island Rail Road to new and popular services like New Mexico’s Rail Runner Express. Right now, Dallas/Fort Worth’s Trinity Railway Express is the only regional passenger system in Texas.  These systems are organized, governed and operated in a number of different ways, but the Lone Star Rail District model is unique in being an independent partnership that represents a number of jurisdictions, with accountability through them to the public at large, and in being solely focused on regional rail service.

Do we know where the stations are going to go? Could that change?

The LSTAR route, with 24 preliminary station locations from Taylor and Georgetown to the South Side of San Antonio, has been approved for study and is the basis of our current engineering and environmental work. The actual locations of those stations have not been finalized; that’s a key outcome of the current round of studies.

Could the LSTAR be extended beyond Georgetown or South San Antonio?

It could. Right now, the jurisdictions north of Williamson County and south of Bexar County do not participate in Lone Star Rail District, and our focus is on getting the core service in the Austin/San Antonio corridor up and running. But it’s certainly possible that in the future—and perhaps in conjunction with future high-speed rail plans— we can explore the viability of broader service.

How would the LSTAR connect to local transit services?

This is a major priority for Lone Star Rail District, and all four local transit agencies (Capital Metro, VIA, CARTS and ART) participate in the agency and are represented on its Board. It will obviously be critical to LSTAR’s success for passengers to be able to reach their final destinations. The LSTAR route and proposed station locations will offer easy connections with Capital Metro’s “Red Line” at two locations; with VIA’s future bus rapid transit system; with current local bus routes, and with the shuttle systems serving the University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University in San Marcos.

What are the stations going to look like?

Station designs will be finalized after the completion (and federal approval) of our current engineering and environmental studies and the selection of station locations. Each station will have the facilities needed at that location, such as park-and-ride lots or places for multi-modal connections, and LSTAR stations can also be hubs for local transit-oriented development. We’ll be designing each station with attention to the character and needs of the community it serves and with extensive local input.

What kind of rail equipment will be used?

This is a key outcome of the current round of engineering and environmental studies. We do anticipate that equipment will be heavy rail vehicles fueled by diesel or biodiesel (as opposed to electric) and will be comparable to what’s being used in operating regional rail systems around the country.

Will the cars have Wi-Fi access?

Yes, they will.

Will passengers be able to bring bicycles on board?

Yes, and we hope they do!