Hidalgo County’s feasibility study looking into the future of commuter rail in the region is nearing completion, according to members of the County’s Commuter Rail District.

In a little over a month, roughly 45 days, Houston based-Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc., Associates (LAN), the firm in charge of conducting the study on commuter rail in the county, will unveil the results, which will show whether or not the project for mass transit via rail is feasible.

A series of meetings with stakeholders began this week, and will continue after the holiday period in order to meet a deadline for the company’s draft report by the end of January 2011.

LAN began its work last summer after Hidalgo County was awarded one-half million dollars by the U.S Department of Energy to conduct the feasibility study into the possibility of commuter rail.

“Basically what we are trying to do is, like any other infrastructure project the county is going through, whether it be roadways or drainage, we are trying to make sure we don’t caught behind the eight ball on our transportation needs,” said commuter rail district Chairman Godfrey Garza.

“This study will give us the idea on whether or not it is feasible today or even in 10 years, and order the county to take whatever action to protect existing rail systems,” he said. “If it (rail) is slated to be abandoned, we need to make sure we don’t abandon it. Let’s just keep it on hold and keep the right of way until a future time when it can be utilized.”

Cost estimates for the project won’t be released until the study is finished in January. Early plans released at the Rail District’s most recent meeting on Dec. 17 indicate a commuter line running alongside Bus. 83 from Mercedes in the east to Sullivan City in the west, with a shorter line going north-south through McAllen and Edinburg.

“We are trying to follow where the existing rail lines are at, and trying to upgrade the rail system to be able to handle passenger rail,” Garza said. “As it is right now, you have a rail line that crosses all the cities east to west. Then you have another rail line that crosses north and south to the university (UTPA). That means you can bring passengers from Rio Grande City, or La Joya or Weslaco to the university by rail.”