Deal Reached To Combine Caltrain Electrification and HSR
This is big news – the California High Speed Rail Authority, Caltrain, and local governments have reached a deal to split the costs and fund Caltrain electrification and the downtown extension. This would not only provide a major, long-awaited set of improvements to Caltrain, it would help bring high speed rail service to SF and the Peninsula more quickly. And this would not be possible without the high speed rail project.
Hoping to bring the bonanza of California high-speed rail funds to the Bay Area much quicker, local and state leaders on Wednesday unveiled a strategy to split the $1.5 billion cost to electrify the Caltrain line.
The plan would pave the way for quicker commuter trains to zip between San Francisco and San Jose as early as 2018 and for statewide bullet trains to run sooner than expected.
The agreement calls for the state to spend $706 million in available high-speed rail bond funds while local counties would kick in $180 million in sales tax revenues and $500 million in federal grants. The money is there, and the only thing standing in the way is approval from the state Legislature, long divided on the state’s plan to spend $100 billion on high-speed rail.
The idea for the Peninsula is simple: Electrify the popular 52-mile Caltrain diesel line, complete with bigger stations in San Jose, Millbrae and San Francisco. That could allow the financially struggling commuter agency to turn around its fortunes by running more trains at a cheaper cost to taxpayers.
Later, perhaps in the 2020s, the state’s high-speed rail trains could share the two tracks with Caltrain if the state manages to secure the funding to link the Bay Area to the Central Valley and Southern California. Previous plans pegged statewide service to Los Angeles starting at 2034, with four tracks in the Bay Area.
Caltrain needs electrification to survive. That’s the only way it can increase speeds, increase capacity, increase reliability, and therefore increase its revenues. Additionally, electrification eliminates diesel emissions on the corridor, and grade separations dramatically improve safety.
For high speed rail, the benefits are equally significant. The “blended plan” allows bullet trains to serve downtown San Francisco at an earlier date and at a lower cost. That brings an Initial Operating Segment – and revenue service – closer to reality.
Eventually two more tracks may be needed, and that can happen when the demand is there. Presumably by that time the current crop of anti-rail, right-wing NIMBYs will have moved on and a new generation of residents and leaders will understand the need to develop better infrastructure, just as our predecessors did.
This wouldn’t be possible without high speed rail funding. And it won’t happen if the legislature does not vote to authorize spending voter-approved bond money. Will Senator Joe Simitian destroy Caltrain and deny his constituents the chance for better passenger rail service?
The Peninsula NIMBYs certainly hope so. The Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, the Planning and Conservation League-backed anti-rail right-wingers, recently put out an email to their members calling on them to kill Caltrain electrification and to kill high speed rail:
The blended program has many issues and with a four-track option alive and the possibility of a phased implementation, the threat will hang over the heads of the homeowners. In addition, there are unknown consequences for traffic, safety, noise, vibration, and gate down times.
Should the Legislature vote for a high-speed rail program without any funds in sight for the even the first legal section? With every single independent agency having substantial issues? With ridership still challenged? Without an independent review of the numbers recommended by the PRG?
The people voted for the bond money to be used for high-speed rail systems, not local transportation. Caltrain needs modernization and California needs strong regional transportation, but perhaps another way.
None of the transportation infrastructure Californians use on a daily basis would have been built in the last 100 years if NIMBY objections like these had been allowed to win the day. And of course, the passenger rail line on the Peninsula was there long before any of these NIMBYs were born or before any of these Peninsula cities existed.
Still, they are not likely to prevail here. Caltrain electrification is a must-have for the Peninsula’s residents and businesses. It will help bring HSR to San Francisco sooner and for less money. Those two factors alone should help get Bay Area legislators to vote for HSR money later this year – even if Joe Simitian still intends to throw in his lot with the Republicans and the Tea Party.