A high-speed rail compromise designed to please Peninsula lawmakers and save billions of dollars has some backers of the project fearful the alignment will jeopardize the future of the swift-moving trains in San Francisco.
On Thursday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will consider a proposal responding to concerns that an elevated railway would create barriers and lower property values within Peninsula communities.
Under a plan devised in response to the concerns of state Sen. Joe Simitian, Rep. Anna Eshoo and Assemblyman Richard Gordon, Peninsula trains would travel on Caltrain tracks. The only major construction work would come at street intersections, where tracks would dip underground or rise above street level.
But former rail authority board member Quentin Kopp said the new design would not comply with Proposition 1A, the voter-backed funding initiative that required trains to make the Los Angeles-to-San Francisco trip in 2 hours, 40 minutes.
“I’m convinced that these three lawmakers want high-speed rail to stop at San Jose,” Kopp said. “The ultimate consequence of this new design would be the disabling of high-speed rail to San Francisco.”
Kopp fears high-speed rail would only be able to attain speeds of 90 mph, not the original goal of 125 mph from San Jose to The City. He believes that would depress ridership, leaving it doubtful the system could fund itself without subsidies. Prop. 1A mandated financial self-sufficiency.
But Gordon denied wanting to force northbound rail passengers to transfer to Caltrain when they reach San Jose.
“Those high-speed trains could still run at a much higher pace alongside commuter Caltrain runs,” he said. If additional improvements to Caltrain tracks are needed, it won’t be for decades, he said.
The authority’s original approach, still favored by purists, would retrofit Caltrain’s tracks to incorporate overhead viaducts and deep tunnels. That $6.1 billion design would move trains seamlessly though the Peninsula, but has come under fire for the disruptions it would cause.
However, Daniel Krause, executive director of Californians for High-Speed Rail, said the new proposal would create traffic bottlenecks at intersections where construction is necessary, and delay both Caltrain and high-speed rail.
Under the new proposal, high-speed trains would have the right of way and Caltrain would have to slow down or stop to let the trains pass.
But former rail authority member Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Institute of Transportation, said the new design would still allow trains to travel swiftly from L.A. to The City.
Diridon cited the lesser cost of the new proposal. He said the new alignment would only cost $2 billion to $4 billion, although the authority has not released official cost estimates.
He also said the politics of the Peninsula represent the single greatest statewide hurdle to the project.
“These three lawmakers are very respected, and their support for this project is crucial to it moving forward,” Diridon said. “There is no bigger supporter for high-speed rail than me, but we have to be realistic about what can be accomplished.”
$43 billion: Current projected cost of high-speed rail in California
$6.33 billion: Total funding secured*
$6.1 billion: Cost of original route from San Jose to San Francisco
$2 billion-$4 billion: Cost of proposed new alignment
41 million: Projected annual riders on high-speed rail system in 2030
*California voters passed a $9.95 billion bond measure for high-speed rail in 2008. However, funding from that initiative can only be released if it is matched by federal sources.