Caltrain connection plan takes off 

A $45 billion plan to connect virtually every part of the Bay Area by train has officially left the station, and the first stop on its four-decade journey is to determine who’s on board.

Caltrain has launched a $200,000 project to assemble a team of the largestpassenger rail systems in the Bay Area to acquire countless miles of tracks from private freight lines. The agency’s ultimate goal is to use the private lines to stretch out each of the rail systems, including BART and Caltrain, to connect each passenger line and create a seamless route not only across the Bay, but to Sacramento, the Central Valley and even as far south as San Diego.

The team formation is the first step in the regional rail plan passed by the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission late last year. The project, transit officials said, will help offset surges in road congestion, environmental impact and oil consumption associated with the 40 percent Bay Area population growth of an extra 10 million people when it is expected to be completed by 2050. A second Transbay Tube beneath the Bay has been proposed in the plan.

"Ultimately, this is going to help whether you ride a train or you drive," said MTC spokesman John Goodwin.

Caltrain will serve as the negotiating team captain and will recruit other passenger agencies during the next nine months. Assembling a team of passenger systems to negotiate with freight railroads —which own most of the Bay Area’s remaining right of way — will be more efficient than if each individual passenger system attempted to purchase track on its own, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

Caltrain has two significant ventures associated with the plan: electrifying its trains by 2014 and building a track across the Dumbarton Bridge area by 2012. The electrification plan would allow trains to start and stop quicker while saving the agency significant funds. The Dumbarton project would send Caltrains to Union City where the system could connect with BART, ACE and Capital Corridor trains.

BART’s largest planned extension is to San Jose through the East Bay. The line would extend to the San Jose Diridon station, where it would connect with Caltrain and possibly the proposed California high-speed rail train that would run between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and later between Sacramento and San Diego.

"It’s about beefing up the existing systems," said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.

The plan will arrive at its next stop at the end of the year after Caltrain and its team of passenger rail lines finishes a strategy to negotiate with the private railroads.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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