A high-speed rail proposal backed by Peninsula lawmakers would shave more than $4 billion off the cost of building a track between San Jose and San Francisco, but critics said it couldn’t attain the speeds voters demanded in a 2008 ballot measure.
Fearful of towering tracks dissecting cities and disrupting neighborhoods, Peninsula legislators want the planned train system to use the existing Caltrain route. Instead of spending $6.1 billion to build new rails, the California High-Speed Rail Authority could invest $1.6 billion to allow Caltrain’s rails to accommodate both trains.
That would reduce the number of tracks from four to two. But according to former authority board member Quentin Kopp, the scaled-back setup would make it impossible for trains to travel from San Francisco to San Jose in 30 minutes, and from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours, 40 minutes, which are two requirements of Proposition 1A, a $9.95 billion bond measure to fund high-speed rail.
“Sharing the track with Caltrain, which is what’s demanded by Peninsula politicians, would come at the expense of residents in San Francisco and the rest of the state,” Kopp said.
Caltrain has long said electrifying its trackway is essential to improving service and making the agency more economically viable. And state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said any two-track alignment would feature passing lanes so the setup could still meet Prop. 1A requirements.
Rail authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall said a scaled-back approach on the Peninsula would be tenable for now, but a four-track alignment with grade-separated railways that don’t have to slow down for vehicle traffic must be installed by 2035. Legally, she said, that is required by Prop. 1A.
Simitian seems to concede that point.
“That is something we should revisit in 10 to 20 years,” he said.
Daniel Krause, executive director of Californians for High Speed Rail, said it’s imperative for the authority to build the four-track railway.
“The voters approved a full buildout of the high-speed rail system in the Peninsula,” Krause said. “The whole point of this project was to get people out of their cars, to reduce congestion and to cut down on carbon emissions. The only way to truly accomplish that is with a grade-separated high-speed rail system.”
Krause and his organization are calling on Simitian to prove how the scaled-back approach would meet the requirements of Prop. 1A.
Today, the authority’s board of directors will discuss the two rail options.
$43B Cost of high-speed rail
$13.7B Funding committed
$6.1B Cost to build four-track railway between S.J.-S.F.
$1.5B Cost to improve, electrify Caltrain’s existing trackway