MTC Approves Caltrain Electrification and Blended HSR Plan
Today the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission approved the so-called “blended plan” that combines high speed rail service and Caltrain electrification, combining $1.5 billion in local funds, state funds (from the Prop 1A bond) and federal funds:
Calling it a major “milestone” in Caltrain’s long quest to modernize its system, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission board voted to approve a “memorandum of understanding” with the rail authority that includes $1.5 billion for electrification and new train signals. Under the agreement, the rail authority would supply about half of the funds for the long-awaited project, with the rest coming from local and regional agencies….
The agreement was heralded by various Metropolitan Transportation Commission board members, local officials and Caltrain advocates as a huge step toward electrification, a project that the cash-strapped agency is banking on for long-term financial stability. With electrified tracks and a new signal system, Caltrain would be able to operate more trains and, as a result, generate more revenue.
“This really is the foundation for electrification and, really, for the future of Caltrain,” said MTC board Chair Adrienne Tissier, who also chairs Caltrain’s board of directors.
Of course, there’s also been debate about whether this conforms to Prop 1A, which lists requirements for HSR service frequency and travel times that a blended plan will struggle to met. As I’ve argued, the blended plan is not meant to be permanent. A close look at the Memorandum of Understanding shows that while the blended plan is clearly specified as sharing two tracks on the Peninsula, there’s nothing that says that’s all there will ever be. Which is sensible. It would be foolish to promise never to add another terminal at an airport, never to add another lane to a road, and never to add more tracks to a rail corridor.
The blended plan is basically a truce. High speed rail supporters concluded that going to war against the NIMBYs wasn’t going to produce immediate success, so they’ll fight that battle another day down the road when generational replacement has had a chance to thin the ranks of those who are ideologically wedded to the 20th century and unreasonably hostile to the 21st century.
Most HSR systems around the world have been developed in phases, with bullet trains using dedicated tracks between cities and sharing tracks within them, at least initially. California’s HSR system would be no different. As demand and gas prices increase, support will grow for expanding to four tracks. Better to fight the battle when there are fewer NIMBYs and more rail riders.
So today’s news is very good news for passenger rail as a whole and for HSR in particular. It should also help get the Legislature to approve spending the voter-approved bond money later this spring.