Lone Star Rail is basically two guys who somehow managed to get the Texas legislature to give them the authority to plan a train from Austin to San Antonio. They they persuaded several cities along the route to give them money to write the plan. However, the plan was to use Union Pacific tracks, and the railroad has notified Lone Star that it isn’t interested.
Running a train on 80 miles or so of existing tracks would be more expensive than a bus, but not expensive compared with building new tracks. However, Union Pacific’s line is too busy running freight trains to accommodate passenger trains too. So Lone Star’s plan was to spend $2 billion or so building an entirely new line for UP trains so it could have the existing line all to itself. However, UP says in its letter, this appears to be “unattainable,” so it is no longer interested in wasting time on it.
Lone Star’s plan was to call this a commuter train–which is a stretch as few commuters travel 80 miles to work–and get New Starts funds for the project. With the possible exception of the Downeaster, I don’t know of any intercity passenger train that has gotten federal transit funds under the claim that it was a commuter train. So Union Pacific is probably correct in its assessment.
The notion that we need more passenger trains flies in the face of declining Amtrak ridership. Amtrak’s president has ordered all departments to reduce their budgets by 3.8 percent.
This is partly due to low oil prices, but also partly to economic recovery. After all, gas prices were fairly high last June and July, yet July saw the highest ever number of miles driven in one month. According to the most recent data published by the Federal Highway Administration, in 2015 Americans drove more than 3.1 trillion miles for the first time in history. That’s a 3.5 percent increase over the previous year, which is the largest year-on-year increase since 1989.
In response to this news, the Brookings Institution’s Adie Tomer fretted to an Environment & Energy News report (no link available) that “Many Americans are effectively tethered to their cars.” No; Americans are liberated by their cars. Unlike anyone who tries to rely exclusively on intercity trains and urban transit, people with cars can go on 4 million miles of roads and they aren’t confined by someone else’s timetable when doing so. This will even more true when self-driving cars are available, which will probably be a lot sooner than Lone Star’s fantasy train ever starts to operate.