Caltrain compromise won't slow high-speed rail's path to San Francisco 

California’s proposed high-speed rail system can fit on Caltrain’s existing tracks without requiring expansion or creating significant delays, according to preliminary findings released Wednesday.

Peninsula-based backers of this notion believe that routing the speeding trains between San Jose and San Francisco along rehabbed and electrified Caltrain tracks rather than building two extra tracks as originally envisioned is the best option. It would minimize the impact of the railway on local communities and could reduce the cost of the route by several billion dollars.

In response to critics who fear the proposal will make high-speed rail unable to comply with a voter mandate that trains travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco in no more than 2 hours, 40 minutes, Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy said there would either be no delays or a “difference of minutes.”

Caltrain also believes its study, which was derived from a computer model, answers questions about the capacity of the two-track system.

A two-track corridor could accommodate six electric Caltrain trains and two high-speed trains per hour, the report found. If two seven-mile passing lanes were built near the middle of the intercity route, as many as four high-speed trains could run every hour.

California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark described the proposal as a “gradual approach” to deploying the system in the Bay Area.

The authority had envisioned a four-track system that would accommodate 10 to 12 trains per hour. It said in a news release Wednesday that it would “thoroughly analyze” the Caltrain study.

San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier called the Caltrain findings “extremely encouraging” and said they would help build regional consensus for the hotly debated railway.

Murphy also touted the compromise proposal as a way to help make the rail system’s cost more affordable.

“What’s available and what all of this is going to cost — they don’t match up yet,” Murphy said. He noted that the cost of the entire track between Los Angeles and San Francisco is currently estimated at about $60 billion. California voters passed a $9.95 billion bond measure for high-speed rail in 2008, money that rail authorities hope to match with federal funds, and to supplement with local and private money.

Caltrain will now seek public feedback on the scaled-back proposal.

“It’s important to share the preliminary findings with the public now … that will help inform project development,” Caltrain’s Marian Lee said in a news release.

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Niko Kyriakou

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