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.”


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