Fares are planned to be distance-based, as is typical of regional passenger rail, and a variety of reduced-ride instruments are being considered, including 10-ride tickets and weekly and monthly passes for frequent riders. Special event and “family” fares are also being considered, to encourage “choice” riders to use the system for non-work trips. Fare sales and collections methodology have not yet been set, but the district will be looking at several methods in the near future as the service plan develops, including proof of payment (POP), retail partnerships, smartcards and smartphones. The district has also begun to think about ways to leverage fare policy to encourage the use of the system by students, as the proposed line passes within two to three miles of most of the higher education facilities and institutions in the region, including the University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas-San Antonio, Texas State University in San Marcos, and Texas A&M University in San Antonio. These institutions have a potential travel market of more than 300,000 students, faculty and staff.
The LSTAR is viewed by stakeholders not only as a rational reaction to growth in population and trade, but also as an investment in the economic vitality of the entire region. Peer-reviewed economic benefit studies conducted to quantify the increased value, economic activity and quality of life benefits that directly impact economic development show that LSTAR, through year 2030, would directly contribute to an increase of more than $20 billion in personal incomes, more than $1 billion in state tax revenues, more than $1 billion in regional and local tax revenues, and nearly $1 billion in school district tax revenues.
Urban Freight Rail Bypass
In the fall of 2010, Lone Star Rail District signed a memorandum of understanding with UPRR to study an urban freight rail bypass line intended to provide a new route for the 30+ daily through freight trains that currently operate on the existing UPRR mainline between Austin and San Antonio. The removal of through freight trains from the current UPRR corridor will free up the necessary capacity to establish the LSTAR passenger service.
Upon completion of this new line, it is planned that Lone Star Rail District and UPRR will “swap” ownership of the current corridor and the urban freight rail bypass line. The LSTAR service, local freight service and Amtrak service will operate on the repurposed, improved former freight line that runs through the urban cores of all the cities and towns in the corridor, and UPRR through freight service will operate on the bypass line.
The proposed urban freight rail bypass line will be fully grade-separated, and will conform to UPRR’s operational and engineering standards. While the initial build of the bypass will be designed to recreate only the capacity available in the current corridor, environmental clearance will be conducted in such a way so as to allow UPRR to pursue future capacity enhancements as desired and needed. UPRR’s ability to carry more freight in the future on trains will contribute greatly to congestion mitigation on I-35 by shifting longer-distance freight shipments from highways to rail, which is a key long-term goal of the effort.
Lone Star Rail has begun regular monthly partnering discussions with the two keystone cities and their respective transit authorities. In Austin, Capital Metro opened its Red Line MetroRail service last year. Ridership has been growing steadily in 2011 since the implementation of some key service and fare changes. The city of Austin has recently begun environmental studies on a new urban rail system which is intended one day to serve as a downtown circulator, linking a number of important downtown destinations to the Red Line, LSTAR and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. In San Antonio, VIA Metropolitan Transit is in the midst of its long-range planning process, dubbed “My Way SA,” which includes provisions for future high-capacity transit (bus rapid transit, streetcar and light rail) which will connect with the LSTAR service at three locations in the San Antonio region, in addition to bus service improvements.
In both cities, the focus is on creation of a seamless network of rail or other high-capacity transit modes which will link LSTAR with local origins and destinations. Deft and cooperative handling of this “last mile” issue is important in generating and maintaining ridership for all of the systems. The partners in these discussions strongly believe that emphasis on network connectivity improves the performance, usefulness and ultimate attractiveness of all of the systems. Various measures, such as fare integration, schedule coordination, and joint branding and marketing are all under consideration. In a similar fashion, LSTAR will coordinate with any future high-speed rail service to provide the “last mile” connectivity for HSR customers arriving from outside the Austin-San Antonio region, and as a means for central and south Texas customers to access HSR.