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Author of Blog: Daniel Day
New Post once a month.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Streetcar IV: The Future of Rail in SA

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As the year comes to a close, and the streetcar is a goner, what does the future of rail transit look like for San Antonio?  If you ask the average San Antonian on what they want to see in rail transit, they'll say that San Antonio needs a subway, or a monorail system which stretches from downtown to at least loop 410 or even 1604.  They will not say Light Rail, or Commuter rail although if you show them the plans collecting dust on the Austin/San Antonio Commuter Rail, they'll, we'll all say we need it now.  The same I've notice if you take any San Antonian for a ride on a light rail vehicle in either Houston (Image 29-1) or Dallas. (Image 29-2)  Via has plans on the books for a two route light rail system, (Image 29-3) but I doubt that we'll ever see it and recently from the latest 25 year long range meetings that the Alamo Area MPO held, they extended the North/South Study area to the Stone Oak Area. 

But guess what San Antonio, We'll never ever, and I mean ever get a subway or a monorail system here because we don't want to pay for it.  If you venture to lightrailnow.org, you come across the article called "New subway (metro) systems cost nearly 9 times as much as light rail."  In this story they site Buffalo's LRT system and how light rail vehicles are using the tunnels, not the famed subway vehicles we see on TV shows.
Quote from Story:
"But the “why not a subway?” issue keeps rearing its head — mainly reflecting the resistance of the motor-vehicle-focused mindset to having urban space, especially street space, shared or usurped by mass transit operations. Overwhelmingly, surface LRT in one type of alignment or another (from street reservations to the re-use of abandoned railway corridors) has triumphed … although there have been cases where pressure to “build it out of sight” has forced new LRT startups underground (or even canceled planned projects altogether).
The tremendous investment cost of digging a subway and installing underground stations is obviously a huge deterrent to the development of such systems — both in the initial financing, and in sopping up available resources that could otherwise be plowed into vigorous expansion of the system. Buffalo’s 6.4-mile LRT line, for example, was constructed almost entirely (81%) in subway … and hasn’t been expanded one foot since its original opening in 1985."
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Dallas also has a subway tunnel too and they originally planed to build a subway line only to give up and turn it into tunnel for their 90+ mile light rail system. (Image 29-2)  But when we look to Dallas for inspiration, we forget what they had and we do not, a very friendly former US Senator named Kay Baily Hutchinson to provide federal funding.  So these stories are any indication if we ever dig a tunnel for rail in San Antonio, chances are that we'll have a light rail vehicles operating in it. Another thing Dallas has going for it was a good number of abandoned rail lines crisscrossing the city to put down the light rail tracks.  San Antonio on the other hand lacks these abandoned rail lines to put any light rail system down, so as I've stated before in other blog post that if San Antonio is to get any light rail, it will mostly go down the big stroads in San Antonio as is indicated on the planning maps.


Now we hear all the time that we want a Monorail system just like, no better than the one at the 68 Worlds Fair.  Well as I looked into monorail system on Wikipedia, I found a disturbing trend.  You see, all these monorail systems seem to be short, I mean streetcar short unless they were in China.  Out of all the systems that Wikipedia list, the longest in North America is in Las Vegas. According to the Wikipedia article, it doesn't even enter the city of Las Vegas.  The most famous one in Seattle is quite short, barely a mile. So if these three systems are any indication that if we ever build a monorail system, chances are we won't get one connecting Loop 410 to Downtown.

I could waste my time and point out the failures of Personal Rapid Transit, but here's the thing, we have such a system already in place, it's called driving your car. So if someone tries to sale it to you this, chances are they're from a think tank that gave us Obamacare, like Heritage or Cato. 

Now if we really want to see how rail transit will most likely look here in San Antonio, we have to look to the City of Weird as in Keep Austin Weird for they are the closest city to us and the most similar community when it comes to driving habits and in the number of times begging the Federal Government for transit funding.  Recently Austin, had a proposition that failed that would have brought Light Rail roughly along I-35.  Now it's funny how it died because if you were to just count the votes along the proposed rail line, it would have won.  Now not all the anti rail advocates were against it because it was rail, but because where it would have not been built along Lamar.  The same sadly will happen here in San Antonio for when it goes to the ballot, everyone except the ones that live along the proposed route, will vote against it unless the voting happens to take place during a presidential election. 

Currently Cap Metro operates a 32 mile Commuter rail (Image 29-4) from Leander to Austin's Convention Center downtown, Monday through Saturday.  In 2004, Austin voted to add rail along it's freight railroad tracked it own.  Only after much delay, it started Operations in March 2010.  Since then an average of 2,500 trips take place daily and it's full of critics from on where it's located, to it doesn't serve enough people.  My criticism on it is that it don't operates to 10 or 11PM everyday.

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This is what San Antonio's future rail system is going to looks like because we don't want to slow down traffic for it, we don't want to vote yes for it, and most of all, we don't want to pay for it.  The future is sighted on Via's 25 year long range plan map called the Kerrville right-of-way Acquisition.  On this map, you'll see a grey dotted line snaking from the Westside Multimodal Center to Fiesta Texas and it's not I-10, but a railroad track currently a freight line that roughly parallels I-10 and use to go all the way north to Kerrville and Fredricksburg.  Today the Rail line dead ends at the Rim, and if you go there, you'll see a rail yard full of hopper cars.  This terminal is used by Martin Marietta Materials, the company that dug out the quarries that Fiesta Texas, the Rim are currently located in.  I don't know when they'll be finished with their digging, but it should come a close some time around 2020. Once the freight operations cease, Via has plans to buy the rail line.  Whether they choose to keep it operational as a freight line like Cap Metro is up in the air, but they'll definitely peruse an option to put some type of passenger rail on these tracks.
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Whether they use the same diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) (Image 29-4) as Cap Metro is up in the air, but more than likely, they will and I cannot say how many stations there would be, but I can at least guess that the stations will probably be at the following locations:
  • The Rim/Loop 1604
  • De Zavala/Huebner/Wurzbach
  • Loop 410
  • Basse Rd/Hildebrand
  • Fredricsburg Rd
  • And finally Westside Multimodal Center
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And chances have it, that they will try to expand it further south along to Blue Star and down the Railroad track that currently delivers coal to the CPS coal generators at Calaveras Lake (Image 29-5) and even down to Elmendorf.  I bet once they have it operational, there will be some talk of extending it to Beorne or even Kerrville and Floresville, but I can bet it will all be TALK for the money will never ever be available unless they change the funding of this rail line from the current begging for federal and state funding to doing something that we use to do in funding transportation, which is Land Value Added tax.  We use to use this method to fund all our transportation needs way before a gasoline tax.  When they built a electric trolley line or a new rail line the property along the way would go up in value and that added value would go towards the maintenance and operation of that rail line.  I hear this is how they currently fund transit system in Japan, but that is something I cannot confirm nor provide a link to.  By judging how we currently fund our transit which is not by bus fare, but by a 1/2 cent sales tax, it don't think it's a working for everyone believes at some level that Via Sucks. 
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Union Pacific Railroad will also stand in the way like one of their freight trains blocking traffic at a railroad crossing.  They dragged their feet when it came to the linear creekway trails going underneath their railroad tracks.  I'm personally counting on Union Pacific to seal those feet in cement to prevent that train from getting next to the Westside Multimodal Center, (Image 29-6) and even further to Blue Star and Elmendorf.

It will be fun to watch as the years go by hearing the same things over and over again, how San Antonio needs a subway, and lacks the political will to get rail transit done, but I can be assured up to my death, to point this out in the years to come in future blogs that isn't the case so much as your methods of selling what could be best to the general public. Chances are they'll be naysayers will say that buses can do a better job, but if that's the case then why in my video I created that it's way easier for the wheelchair to get aboard the DART Light Rail Vehicle instead of the Via Bus?  As always work to Keep San Antonio Real, realize that we all end up Keeping San Antonio Lame by making sure cars can move faster than transit, and keeping it easier to drive an automobile than riding a bicycle or walking.

Images:
29-1:  Houston Metra Downtown Transit Station Looking north.  From the video....http://youtu.be/aQmPnTjegJ8
29-2:  DART Light Rail Garland Station Looking Southwest.  From the Video...http://youtu.be/YV2ksedrTjo
29-3:  Via's 25 long Rang Plan Map.  Originally posted in Mr Nirenberg, Ever think of Walking? as Image 20-2.  Map can be found on PDF format at http://viainfo.net/Planning/LRCTP.aspx
29-4:  Austin's CapMetro Commuter Rail DMU arriving at Highlands Station.  From the Video...http://youtu.be/PmrjyXCxqzU
29-5:  A picture of the Railroad Tracks along S Presa and Southcross where currently goes out to the CPS Energy coal plant at Lake Calaveras and Dead ends just South of Loop 1604 along Old Corpus Christi Rd right Before Saspamco.
29-6.  Picture from the W Commerce St Overpass of the Westside Multimodal Center looking north referring to a prediction that UPRR will prevent any future rail from accessing the old Train Station. 

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