Bay Area Council urges MTC to take leadership role in high-speed rail issue 

The Bay Area Council wants the region’s lead transportation agency to make everyone play nice and support the revised high-speed rail plan from San Jose to San Francisco.

The council, which represents Bay Area businesses, has sent a letter to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission urging the group to take a leadership role in promoting the creation of high-speed rail in conjunction with the electrification of Caltrain.

Residents and lawmakers in Peninsula communities have expressed strong opposition to the elevated viaducts and disruptive travel levels of the original high-speed rail plan for the region.

Instead of spending $6 billion to create a fully-realized high-speed rail system, there is now support for a blended approach, in which Caltrain and high-speed rail trains share most of the existing trackway in the Peninsula. The new plan is slated to cost $2 billion, and it would electrify Caltrain — long sought-after by the rail operator — while still allowing high-speed rail to meet some of the speed requirements outlined in a 2008 state bond measure, its backers say.

Critics of the plan said that high-speed rail would be slowed significantly and never attain the ridership levels necessary to make it financially self-sufficient.

The Bay Area Council is banking on the former, and it wants the MTC to come out and strongly support the measure — a unified front that could attract more federal dollars for the $43 billion project.

“California high-speed rail and the electrification of Caltrain are an historic opportunity for our region,” said Bay Area Council president Jim Wunderman. “Our region is always more successful when we speak with one voice, and we have always struggled when we squabble amongst ourselves.  Our region needs to resolve the various project concepts into a single project vision, and we urge the well-respected Metropolitan Transportation Commission to take on that unifying role.”

Randy Rentschler, spokesman for the MTC, said his group is happy the council is taking a strong role in high-speed rail.

“We understand that is a very complicated project and it’s about getting the process right,” said Rentschler. “We know that we’re uniquely situated to make that happen, and we plan on getting everyone on the same page.”

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Will Reisman

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