Patty Eason has long been the strongest advocate on the Georgetown City Council for bringing commuter rail to town. She has argued that a rail line would encourage economic development, provide jobs and promote tourism.
So she surprised many people Tuesday night when, after a three-hour hearing packed with rail supporters, she joined the council majority that voted to leave the Lone Star Rail District.
The story you’re reading is premium content from the Austin American-Statesman. Subscribers get total access to all our in-depth news, digital editions and exclusive premium content. You can also buy a 24-hour digital pass or 7-day digital pass.
Read MyStatesman.com now — 24-hour digital pass99¢ for 24-hours
Read MyStatesman.com all week — 7-day digital pass$3.99 for 7-days
Subscribe to the Statesman for as little as 33¢ per dayView Offers
For Subscribers: Register your account for digital access.Access Digital
For Subscribers: Sign in here if you have already registered your account.Sign In
The Lone Star Rail District plans to run a commuter line from San Antonio through Austin and into Williamson County, largely using existing Union Pacific tracks. It could open in the next six to 10 years but needs support from enough local governments along the route.
How much would it cost?
The 118-mile proposed railroad with 16 stations would cost nearly $2 billion, including building another railroad line for displaced Union Pacific freight to use. Officials say the money would come from state, federal and private investment sources. The annual operating cost is estimated to be $30 million.
Who would foot the bill for the operating costs?
Riders would pay a fee, though the rates haven’t been determined. The remaining operating costs would be split into thirds, with one-third paid by Austin and Travis County, one-third paid by San Antonio and Bexar County, and one-third paid by other smaller cities and counties, including Georgetown if it decides to rejoin the district, said Joe Black, the director of the district.
And that would mean a property tax increase, right?
Yes and no. The district is not asking cities to raise their tax rates, and residential property owners would not be affected. Instead, special half-mile zones would be created around the train stations, Black said. As the commercial properties in those zones increase in value, the same tax rate would bring in more revenue — and the owners of the appreciating businesses would have a larger tax bill. The extra revenue generated by the rising property values would go to the rail district, Black said.
What if the zones don’t generate enough money to pay the operating costs?
The rail district would trim the train service, including options such as eliminating weekend service, Black said.
What if Georgetown decides to join the rail line after it’s built?
The cost to the city could be anywhere from $50 million to $100 million because it would have to pay to build train tracks from the nearest stop to Georgetown, construct a train station and do an environmental impact study, Black said. Those startup costs would be covered by federal and state funds, as well as private investment, if Georgetown remains in the district.
Who belongs to the Lone Star Rail District?
The counties of Travis, Hays and Bexar. The cities of Austin, New Braunfels, San Antonio, San Marcos and Schertz. Transit authority members include AACOG Alamo Regional Transit, the Capital Area Rural Transportation System, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority and VIA Metropolitan Transit. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization also are members. The San Antonio business community and the Austin business community also have representatives on the district’s board of directors.