The Austin Chronicle

Big To-Do Over New Name for Rail District

By Lee Nichols, November 13, 2009, News

Down at the intersection of Third and Bowie (long live the Electric Lounge!) on Monday, the Austin-San Antonio Intermunicipal Commuter Rail District brought in some top-gun elected officials to announce the big news that ... it's changed its name! Not much else to really convince people that the idea of a commuter rail line running from Williamson County to San Antonio will actually happen, but for what it's worth, it's now the Lone Star Rail District, or LSTAR.

Well okay, that wasn't all – there was also a glitzy video with loud music and the announcement that environmental studies of the proposed corridor will begin. But of course, the elephant in the room is that a new route, east of I-35, will have to be built to move Union Pacific's freight rail off the existing tracks. Can that happen? Officials were less than specific. "I don't think it's a major problem if you have the money," said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "But federal money has to be involved. There's not enough money in the region. I'm optimistic about that possibility."

Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson said he was also optimistic because voters voted in 2005 for a mechanism to allow it to happen, and the Legislature in the most recent session approved a small amount of money for rail relocation. But ultimately, Watson says, the Texas Department of Transportation – which he says has been resistant – needs to be on board: "TxDOT needs to recognize that 'transportation' is in their name, and they're not just a highway department."

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