AUSTIN (KXAN) - With other passenger rail systems still in the planning stages, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization explores a new passenger rail service proposal that would connect Austin with Houston, and several cities in between.
"We were able to find some money to do some of the planning. So, this is the very early-level planning," said Jennifer Moczygemba with the Texas Department of Transportation's Rail Division . "We thought there was some good potential along this route."
TxDOT's Rail Division gave a presentation on the proposal to CAMPO's Policy Board on Monday night. The cost of the project would exceed $1 billion for startup and build-out. There are four connection options, with most connecting to Elgin and Giddings, and some extending as far north as College Station.
"I think it's very important in Texas. There's a lot of inter-city travel, especially for business purposes. And looking at the price of gas every increasing, when it gets to the four and five dollars a gallon, people are going to look for those alternatives and we want to make sure those may be available," Moczygemba said.
The Houston-Austin Passenger Rail study is not as far along as other rail proposals, including a Dallas to Houston passenger rail line, a possible urban rail in the City of Austin, and a Lone Star Rail connecting Austin with Georgetown to the North and San Antonio to the South.
"With the exception of the Austin to Houston rail study, the Lone Star rail and urban rail are both in their long range plan. Meaning that they should be in development by 2035," said Maureen McCoy with CAMPO.
Officials with the Lone Star Rail District tell KXAN that an environmental and freight train transfer study could be complete in around three years, and it could take another additional two years to build the necessary tracks for the 120-mile passenger service.
Talk of putting a portion of the more than $1 billion cost for an urban rail in Austin on a transportation bond package in November is still going on, however, there are other items that could take its place.
"Regardless of whether it's Lone Star or Urban rail, we just have to see it as an evolving system. That all the components need to be in place to work together," McCoy said.
TxDOT's Rail Division said the next step for a Houston to Austin rail is going to be a statewide ridership study, which should indicate if passengers would actually use the trains if they were in place.
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