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STUDY: Rail between San Antonio-Austin could have highest ridership out of any city pairs in Texas.

A recently published master’s thesis found that a high-quality San Antonio to Austin train would have the highest ridership out of any other city pairs in Texas. Modeling results show that a train between the two cities would have a ridership of over four million each year, more than 1/5th of the mode share between the two cities.

Christian Budow, a recent graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, created a transportation modeling analysis with data derived from 2021 Next Generation National Household Travel Survey (NextGen NHTS). The data, collected by the Federal Highway Administration since 2020, uses origin-destination data to track movements between cities including travel by car, train, and plane.

In 2021, NextGen NHTS data recorded that about 20 million people traveled between San Antonio and Austin by car, 4,500 by train, and zero by plane, given that there currently are no commercial flights between the two cities. The travel between the two cities was the highest out of any city pair in Texas.

Budow’s simulation modeled how many people would use a high-quality rail service (meaning it was fast, frequent, and reliable) instead of driving or flying to city pairs across Texas based on comfort, cost, and time savings. His model predicted that under current land use conditions, a rail connecting San Antonio and Austin would shift more than 20 percent of the mode share away from single occupancy vehicles to trains, the most out of any city pairs in the state.

“More than four million people would use the train per year, and that’s a conservative estimate given that the model uses 2021 travel data,” Budow said, referring to the ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Budow compared the Japanese mono-centric, high-speed rail system to the German-style poly-centric, mid-speed rail system to determine what design would work best for Texas. The difference in speed between the two systems is due to the higher number of stations on the German system, connecting a larger number of riders, whereas the Japanese system has fewer stations, making the routes more efficient. Both systems have local and express services (local meaning trains serve minor, less-used stations, and express meaning trains skip minor stations to get to larger cities faster).

The question Budow examined was should the state of Texas pursue a Japanese or German-style train network to connect the growing region. He argued that a German-style network, which would connect smaller—albeit, significant—population centers would be the best option for the large and poly-centric layout of Texas.

Over the next months, Budow plans to adjust his model to simulate the travel demand of stations in smaller population centers in Central Texas, including New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, Buda, and Round Rock. We are excited post the findings when it is ready to publish.

Do you have questions for Budow? Post them below, send us an email at, or Tweet at us @RestartLSRD.

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