Is Houston-to-Galveston Rail Actually a Real Possibility?

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A couple of weeks ago Hair Balls was on the Island, quaffing a few pints at O'Malley's Stage Door Pub with several of the Islander By Choice bloggers -members of Galveston's small but increasingly feisty and vocal thirtysomething-age middle class.

"We're all drooling over rail," said IBC blogger Adrienne Culpepper. "There were people for and against it before the storm, but now nobody can think of a reason not to do it."

We agreed wholeheartedly with her sentiment, but as a non-Texas native, thought her naïve. Didn't she know the state's almighty highway lobby didn't go in for namby-pamby Old Europe quasi-socialist pipe dreams like candy-ass rail projects like this? What did they care if rail just might save Galveston from a slow withering death?

Looks like we might have been the naïve ones.

The Galveston County Daily News picks up the tale:

"Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas and City Manager Steve LeBlanc returned from Washington, D.C., with the impression that the rail project has a better chance of getting federal funding than any other transportation project.

Thomas and LeBlanc visited officials in Washington about a long list of requests for funds to help the area recover from Hurricane Ike. On that list is $10 million for a preliminary engineering study to run a commuter service along the Galveston-Houston & Henderson line, which runs alongside state Highway 3."

The Daily News report goes on to a few of the selling points, among them: reduced traffic congestion, greater ease of evacuation, an impetus for improvements on the decaying Causeway rail bridge. It also says that even with rail's estimated $400 million price tag, it would still be an 80 percent discount off expanding and improving the Gulf Freeway at $2.2 billion.

The report doesn't mention other, harder-to-quantify boons of the choo-choo. For one thing, by necessity, it would pass close by Hobby Airport, thus helping Houston air travelers. For another, Houstonians could attend an event like Mardi Gras or Dickens on the Strand - or just a night out in The Strand's bars -- and have unrestrained fun and not be glancing in your rear-view-mirror for the duration of your 50-mile trip home.

Culpepper's Islander By Choice cohort Lauren Scott points out some others from a Galveston perspective. "It affects tourism, housing, the economy, everything. It would bring jobs. Think of how many people who would be encouraged to open a business down here, or re-open, if there was such an easy-access path down here."

"Shoot," she adds. "Houstonians could get their kids and jump on the train on the weekends and come to the beach." Without soiling the family car's interior with sand and tar, we might add.

Culpepper says that Galvestonians would love to use it to come to Houston for fun too. "People here could jump on the train and go to events in downtown Houston like Astros games," she says. "We'd use the heck out of that thing. It doesn't really matter how much it would cost - it would be so worth it to not have to deal with parking, traffic, and all that stuff."

What's more, with a train fast enough for daily commuting, how many weekend Galvestonians from Houston would move to the Island full-time? Galveston's oldest residential are far lovelier than anything Houston has to offer. How many Yuppie and / or artistic types would move there if they could fiddle with their iPhones all the way to work instead of swearing at motorists? In the next ten to 15 years, we might just find out.

- John Nova Lomax

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