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MASS TRANSIT MAG: Public Gets a Closer Look at Proposed HSR Link to San Antonio

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Austin, August 11, 2016 | comments
The Texas Department of Transportation held a public meeting Wednesday evening to share plans for a high-speed passenger train that could cross Texas, connecting to Mexico and to Oklahoma.

Dozens attended but only two people, both members of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, commented, offering their endorsement of the plan.

"To get them out of the car is going to be a monstrous challenge," said Bruce Ashton of San Antonio. Later, he added: "We do need to think about less concrete (and) more rails."

Plans for the train are in early phases, and there is a possibility it may not reach fruition. A draft environmental impact study released earlier this month was the most recent milestone in a project that has been in the works since 2012, according to Mark Werner, project manager with TxDOT.

The rail's possible routes are broken into three sections: northern, spanning Oklahoma to Dallas/Fort Worth; central, running from Dallas/Fort Worth to San Antonio; and southern, connecting San Antonio to South Texas cities with a possible link to Monterrey, Mexico.

The exact routes for each section still are under study.

There are six potential routes total, which, for the most part, follow Interstate 35 through the state. The routes vary according to the speed of the trains and where they stop, though the majority of them go through San Antonio. Some sections could have faster trains than others.

After the meeting, Werner said it was possible some sections could be built, even if the others weren't.

"You could phase it, too," Werner said. "Like if you were building the high speed you might, maybe build to Austin and then to San Antonio. You could do it like that, too. You need to have enough ridership to justify the expense."

New rails would need to be built for the trains running at higher speeds, while existing tracks could be used for the slower ones.

The study identifies cities with likely stations: San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Waco, Austin, Laredo, McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville. There's also a no-build alternative included in the study.

"At least in the central section, there's a lot of ridership," Werner said. "I don't think it will be a no build, (but) you never know."

Wednesday's meeting was one of three this month for the public to give input. At one in Laredo on Tuesday, five people spoke, Werner said. The formal public comment period on the draft study ends Aug. 29.

One of the project's biggest advocates is U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who called the study a "critical step forward" for the project, noting it would link South Texas' trade and energy centers with major cities.

It is just one of the rail possibilities circulating in the state. Another proposes a high-speed train linking Houston and Dallas. A third, promoted by the Lone Star Rail District, would build a rail link from San Antonio to the Austin/Georgetown area, though that proposal has run into funding trouble.

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