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Will the SA/Monterrey High-Speed Rail Line Really Happen?

Photo: Courtesy Photo, License: N/A

Courtesy Photo

Officials from the U.S. and Mexico came to the table to discuss a high-speed rail line last week.

File this under “so crazy it just might work:” U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar, whose district starts in Bexar County and extends down to Laredo, held a high-profile meeting last week to discuss high-speed rail from San Antonio to Monterrey, Mexico. Meeting participants included Cuellar, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, Texas Department of Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin, Nuevo León Congressman Marco Gonzalez and Jorge Domene, Chief of Staff to the Governor of Nuevo León.

The pitch was pretty straightforward: The high-speed rail line could move passengers and cargo from SA to Monterrey in about two hours, complete with U.S. Customs pre-clearance. Moreover, the ask, on the U.S. side, was fairly modest. Since there is already a high-speed rail study underway from Oklahoma City to South Texas, Cuellar and co. wanted approximately $400,000 to extend the study down to the border.

On the Mexican side, the Nuevo León delegation confirmed they had already secured right-of-way from Monterrey north to the border, but indicated that without a continuance of the line from Laredo into the U.S., the government would be unlikely to begin construction. After all, “it wouldn’t make enough sense to drop passengers [off] at the border,” said Domene during a press conference held directly after the meeting.

The idea sounds rather bold considering it would be the first such connection between the United States and Mexico (to the north, Amtrak currently connects with Canada’s VIA rail in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver), and considering high-speed rail is still a fraught issue in this country. Cuellar’s meeting with the Secretary of Transportation occurred just days after California lawmakers debated whether to proceed with the state’s $68 billion plan to link Los Angeles and San Francisco via high-speed rail. California Republicans strongly oppose the plan, though it has California Governor Jerry Brown’s overwhelming support and the blessing of the Obama administration.

San Antonio doesn’t have much of a history supporting public transportation of any kind, either. Just look at the heartburn we’re having over a streetcar. This is partially because area republicans equate streetcar with light rail (itself often used interchangeably with high-speed rail) and note that voters rejected funding such a line in Bexar County in 2000. Now multiply that opposition by a few billion and throw in some hyperventilating about border security and you have what seems like a guaranteed non-starter.

On the other hand, the idea has several things going for it. For starters, at the line’s projected beginning and end points, there’s already serious movement toward high-speed rail.

TxDOT’s Jeff Austin said the $14 million high-speed study between Oklahoma City and South Texas is already well underway. The Department estimates it will be completed by December of this year. A 2012 Express-News article described that study as “essentially a strategic plan that federal officials can reference when funding becomes available.” The high-speed rail proposed by Cuellar and the Mexican delegation would essentially be an extension of that potential line, and would help clarify an outstanding question of the study, which was the terminus point. You may have noted “South Texas” sounds rather vague, and that’s because the study initially left options open for ending in Laredo, Corpus Christi or the Rio Grande Valley.

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