Caltrain and CHSRA Work on New Blended System MOU
With last year’s adoption of the two-track “blended system” for combining Caltrain and high speed rail operations in the near term, two older agreements between Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail Authority were rendered obsolete. So Caltrain and the CHSRA are working on a new agreement that codifies the “blended system” plan:
The current MOU, adopted in 2004, and a 2009 agreement the two parties operate under envision a four-track, grade-separated system often called the “full build-out” that would have caused excessive property takings on the Peninsula as an aerial viaduct was proposed to be constructed.
The new MOU will focus solely on the “blended system” idea first put forward by Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and former Palo Alto state Sen. Joe Simitian almost two years ago.
Although the blended system is expected to have minimal impacts on the Peninsula, about nine miles of passing tracks will have to be constructed somewhere along the corridor between San Francisco and San Jose to allow high-speed trains to pass Caltrain trains. The corridor is expected to be electrified by 2019 but high-speed trains will not access the tracks for many more years after that.
I think we all know that the article’s claim that the four-track system “would have caused excessive property takings” is complete nonsense without a shred of evidence to back it up. The existing right-of-way is largely sufficient to handle two more tracks, and minimal property acquisition would be required to add them. But those claims were used by anti-rail forces on the Peninsula to rally local governments to attack the high speed rail project in what was the Peninsula’s own version of the Tea Party movement. Last year, the CHSRA simply decided to punt and, realizing that the project was going to be built in phases anyway, decided to accept a “blended system” of sharing two tracks with Caltrain, at least initially.
But that move is not intended to permanently foreclose the idea of adding more tracks. In the proposed new MOU it’s clear that nothing prevents two more tracks from being built, although neither does the MOU suggest anywhere that two more tracks are planned. The document is silent on the matter.
The “blended system” has its share of skeptics who aren’t quite sure how Caltrain and high speed trains can share the two tracks alone, especially as passenger rail ridership soars. It seems like a recipe for congestion, but as the HSR system is being built out, it also seems reasonable to share tracks for a time until funding can be found to begin construction on the other two tracks.
As long as future expansion of the rail corridor is not explicitly ruled out, it’s something that HSR advocates can live with. There’s no reason why the future of passenger rail in California should be permanently restricted just because a few NIMBYs threw a fit in the early ’10s.