Simitian and Eshoo Split on Forced Transfer at San Jose
(Note: See second update below for an important clarification from Congresswoman Eshoo’s office – she does not support forced transfers.)
While I’ve sometimes disagreed with State Senator Joe Simitian on high speed rail, I’ve always respected him. He does support the project and does seem interested in finding workable solutions, even if he is too willing to give credence to unfounded criticisms of the project.
One reason I respect him is he gets the importance of certain things, like ensuring the viability of the system as a whole is not threatened by mid-Peninsula mitigation measures. But that also means he and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo – his partner in Monday’s announcement – are suddenly very deeply split on a key issue. Eshoo supports forcing HSR riders to transfer to Caltrain at San José, a reckless proposal that would crash HSR ridership and call into question the project’s financial viability.
Simitian, on the other hand, understands why a forced transfer is a bad idea, and said so:
California State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) emphasized Tuesday night at a meeting with City Council that he supports a high-speed rail project running from San Jose to San Francisco on the same tracks as Caltrain.
He wanted to make sure people understood he envisions passengers who ride up north from Los Angeles to San Jose could continue with high-speed rail all the way up the peninsula, he said.
“People who want to get off in San Francisco would keep going on the same train and on to Los Angeles,” he said. No one would have to get off in San Jose, walk across the station, and go onto another train, he said. “Federal authority has been granted that would allow high-speed rail to stay on the same rail as Caltrain uses,” he said.
This is a very good thing to hear. And as the article indicates, Simitian defended HSR going all the way to SF on the Caltrain tracks to the Palo Alto City Council last night, and his clear statements of support are very welcome, especially in light of some of the more troubling aspects of the Monday statement.
Most HSR advocates – certainly myself – are quite open to collaboration and compromise on the Peninsula. If there’s a workable way to “blend” HSR and Caltrain along the lines of what Simitian proposed, we should absolutely pursue it. And as long as that compromise solution doesn’t compromise the HSR system itself – or its ridership – then it is worth considering.
It’s great to hear that Simitian understands the importance of a one-seat ride all the way to Transbay. But Eshoo apparently doesn’t. I hope Simitian can show her the reasons why it matters – otherwise this new “blended” solution may fall apart before it gets off the ground.
UPDATE: Jim Lazarus of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce – who is a rather important figure in San Francisco politics – wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle to denounce a forced transfer:
Peninsula politicians need to reread both Proposition 1A and the November 2008 election results. Rep. Anna Eshoo’s suggestion that local concerns be met by upgrading Caltrain service or having passengers transfer in San Jose is not the high-speed rail system approved by California voters, including more than 60 percent of San Mateo and Santa Clara County voters and 78 percent of San Francisco voters.
Prop. 1A establishes legally binding construction priorities; Phase One San Francisco Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim, in specific corridors including San Francisco to San Jose to Fresno. Most important, the measure provides that “passengers shall have the capability of traveling from any station on that corridor without being required to change trains.”
Prop. 1A also requires that maximum nonstop travel time from San Francisco to Los Angeles be two hours and 40 minutes. Changing trains or running high-speed trains on Caltrain tracks is not legal under Prop. 1A, nor is it what Californians approved in 2008. Weighing in on design issues to minimize impacts along the route is an appropriate role for local legislators; suggesting alternatives that violate the law is not.
In the comments to this post, Nadia suggests Anna Eshoo may have been misquoted by the Chronicle yesterday. I’m looking into that and will have more info as I get it.
UPDATE 2: And here we are with a clarification on Eshoo’s statement:
Following Monday’s announcement by Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo, Senator Joe Simitian and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, there appears to be some misperception about what they have proposed.
Congresswoman Eshoo, Senator Simitian and Assemblyman Gordon wish to make clear that they are not calling for high-speed trains to stop in San Jose, forcing riders from the south, for instance, to transfer to Caltrain to reach San Francisco. There would be no transfers. The idea is to upgrade the Caltrain corridor so that high-speed trains can run on the same tracks.
High-speed trains would run northbound and southbound all the way between San Francisco and Los Angeles, as required by Prop 1A. On the Peninsula, they would operate on the same tracks as Caltrain, overtaking slower Caltrain trains at certain passing points, just as Caltrain’s baby bullet trains overtake and pass local trains today.
Excellent news. Glad to hear that everyone is in agreement – forced transfers at San Jose are illegal and simply a bad idea.
There’s still a lot to be worked out here, including how an overtake would function in practice, but those are things that can and should be discussed in the spirit of collaborative solutions.