Union Pacific slams brakes on commuter rail proposal

Union Pacific announced in a letter to the Lone Star Rail District on Feb. 9 that the freight company no longer supported the district's proposed commuter rail line from Georgetown to San Antonio.

Union Pacific announced in a letter to the Lone Star Rail District on Feb. 9 that the freight company no longer supported the district's proposed commuter rail line from Georgetown to San Antonio.

A plan to build a commuter rail line from Georgetown to San Antonio experienced a setback Feb. 9 when Union Pacific officials informed the Lone Star Rail District they would no longer be participating in the project.

The Lone Star Rail, a $2.4 billion project that currently has the support of the cities of Georgetown, San Marcos, Austin and San Antonio, among others, had been seeking to build the commuter rail on the existing Union Pacific rail line. Regional UP freight would have been transferred to a new line to be built east of I-35.

Union Pacific Media Director Jeff DeGraff said his company wanted to make sure those who are outside the project—including cities considering whether to join the district—were aware of where UP stood on the Lone Star Rail proposal.

“What this decision does this week is put an end to the existing arrangement,” DeGraff said. “Rather than continuing on for an indeterminate amount of time without making any noticeable progress we decided to terminate the agreement now. Will we be open to dialogue [with the district]? Absolutely. But as it stands right now we no longer support this project as it currently stands.”

DeGraff said UP plans to focus on projects to expand capacity on its current line. DeGraff said freight traffic within the Austin-San Antonio corridor has increased 60 percent over the last 10 years. Combining freight and passenger rail traffic was of concern to the company, he said.

“When we were approached with this project 10 years ago we had some specific concerns about the idea of combining freight and passenger traffic,” DeGraff said. “Some specific concerns we informed Lone Star Rail about early in this process. Ten years later, we’ve looked at their plans and proposals, and we haven’t seen any progress as far as addressing our concerns.”

Bill Bingham, an attorney representing the district, said he thought the concern regarding freight and passenger rail traffic had been sufficiently addressed through the discussions so far.

“At this point we have requested a meeting with Union Pacific and they are in the process of setting that up, and I hope that will be in the next week or so,” Bingham said. “At this point, we don’t know much more than that.”

Bingham said the plan to address UP’s capacity concerns included relocating the rail east of I-35 so that regional freight could pass through cities without affecting commuter rail traffic. Local freight, to be delivered from one city to another within the region, would remain on the line west of I-35.

“That’s always been a concern of theirs—capacity of their line—but we have developed a plan that in actuality provides them additional capacity to operate their freight operation,” Bingham said. “We really thought we had resolved that question, so we need to discuss that with them to understand how that concern arises.”


Photo of people attending ACL Fest
City of Austin approves ACL health and safety plan, holds off on final permit

Austin Public Health gave ACL the go-ahead to allow proof of vaccination in lieu of a negative COVID-19 test, but asked organizers to require masking in some areas.

Hundreds of complaints were logged against the Austin Police Department last year related to protests against police brutality and systemic racism. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Police oversight office challenges APD handling of most 2020 protest complaints

Austin's Office of Police Oversight objected to several aspects of the police department's approach to classifying and investigating protest-related grievances.

Photo of ACL Fest
Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Zilker Park closes in preparation for Austin City Limits Music Festival

Austin city staff and officials are pursuing additional protections related to mold issues in rental housing. (Courtesy city of Austin)
City pursuing improvements to handling of Austin renters' mold complaints

New recommendations from a report launched in the wake of Winter Storm Uri detail adjustments Austin could make to its mold response.

Students at O. Henry Middle School in Austin head in for their first day of school Aug. 17. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin ISD's COVID-19 rate lower than nearby districts after first month of school

Austin ISD recorded more cases in the first month of this school year than in all of the 2020-2021 school year. Still, Austin ISD saw a lower percentage of cases in students than surrounding school districts.

Wayback Burgers specializes in cooked-to-order burgers and hand-dipped milkshakes. (Courtesy Wayback Burgers)
Wayback Burgers coming to Leander; fire kills 75 dogs in Georgetown and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Screen shot of Dr. Desmar Walkes speaking
Austin ICUs remain crowded with COVID-19 patients, delaying some critical care

Within the past week, there was a waiting list of patients to be transferred into Austin-area ICUs, Austin Public Health leaders said.

A drone image shows the Dripping Springs Distilling property where a new event hall opened in August. (Courtesy HLK Fotos)
A bar, a food truck and two other new businesses open in Dripping Springs

A new food truck and distillery event hall, plus two other new businesses are now open in Dripping Springs.

The city of Austin this summer cleared four unregulated homeless encampments and shifted dozens of residents into shelters. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
Plan to house thousands of Austin's homeless people taking shape, but outlook for local success, project funding still unclear

The strategy's first housing benchmark fell short in June, and updates on how the estimated $515 million needed for housing and services will be spent are overdue.

A rendering shows the new Deep Eddy Psychotherapy office coming to Southwest Austin. (Courtesy of Deep Eddy Psychotherapy)
Bubble tea, therapy and three other new businesses coming to Southwest Austin

A new salon, day care, therapy office and other businesses are coming soon to Southwest Austin.

The city is looking for feedback on its cap and stitch proposal, which is in the preliminary stages. (Benton Graham/Community Impact)
City seeks input on proposals to add decks and widened bridges over I-35 in Central Austin

The proposal is in the preliminary stages, and the city is still reviewing the feasibility of locations and project funding.