Caltrain and California High-Speed Rail: A partnership to improve rail service along the Peninsula 

click to enlarge Caltrain
  • courtesy rendering
  • The California High-Speed Rail Authority is helping electrify Caltrain’s tracks, which will one day also carry high-speed rail.
By 2019, Peninsula communities will be connected with electrified Caltrain service that can reduce travel times and improve service frequency on a system with enhanced safety, reliability, capacity and less need for taxpayer operating subsidies. Electrification also provides substantial environmental benefits to the region’s air quality through a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Funding for these benefits is coming in part from local, regional and federal sources, but almost half of it has been committed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The authority is helping to create these local improvements because eventually, after further study and the completion of a separate environmental analysis, this modernized rail corridor will be part of a new transportation network that connects Bay Area residents to the rest of the state with high-speed rail.

In the meantime, the authority’s investment means Caltrain will be upgraded, increasing the system’s daily ridership to nearly 70,000 and improving regional traffic congestion by reducing the amount of vehicular travel on our busy freeways by 235,000 miles per day. The project will help meet our regional air quality goals by reducing Caltrain’s greenhouse gas emissions by 84 percent, and it will help improve the economy by generating more than $2.5 billion in economic value.

In order to achieve these benefits, it is critical that California’s high-speed rail project continues to advance with funding approved by California voters in 2008. Since then, Caltrain and the authority have worked collaboratively to ensure high-speed rail is implemented on the Peninsula in a way that facilitates early investment in the region’s transportation needs, and is constructed in a way that minimizes impacts to surrounding neighborhoods.

These two core principles — investing in local needs and minimizing impacts — are the foundation of a nine-party agreement approved in 2012. That agreement allocates $706 million in state high-speed rail funds for Caltrain modernization and limits the high-speed rail project to one that primarily uses Caltrain’s existing track configuration, avoiding the need for an aerial, four-track system that was widely opposed by local communities. These changes were a direct reflection of local involvement in the project and demonstrate how closely Caltrain, the California High-Speed Rail Authority and the stakeholders are working to ensure an outcome that benefits the entire community.

Caltrain, the authority and other local stakeholders are working together under these principles to plan and implement transportation improvements that enhance our economy, improve our environment and help us prepare to meet the near- and long-term demands of a growing region.

In 2012, the Legislature signaled agreement with this approach when it appropriated the state’s full share of funding needed to provide Peninsula communities with an improved Caltrain. Last year, installation of the corridor’s modernized signal system began, and the project marked an important milestone last month with the release of the corridor electrification project’s draft environmental impact report.

We have made great progress, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done and many challenges that still need to be addressed. We have waited a long time, but with shared investment and careful, collaborative planning, our communities will finally have the state-of-the-art rail system they deserve.

Tom Nolan is the chairman of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers board of directors.

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Tom Nolan

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