This is how it starts. First, grandiose plans with modest projected costs and ridiculous predicted ridership. Then, slowly, reality sinks in. Well, maybe we can get along with only two tracks, not four. Well, maybe we won't have as many riders as we anticipated at first. Well, it's beginning to look like it will cost much more than we thought.
AND THEY HAVEN'T EVEN STARTED DIGGING YET!
The high-speed rail authority spokesman, Jeff Barker, can always be depended on for nonsense statements. Get this one:
"We don't have the money, and in fact in the interim maybe there's not even demand for that great of a system. But by 2035, you ultimately need a four-track system." Or, maybe not, Jeff. What if the demand goes down, not up? Doesn't matter. But, you are determined to build it out anyhow, aren't you; just as soon as you scrape together additional federal funds? As we keep saying, it's not about the train; it's about the money.
This current song-and-dance is what they are calling "phased implementation." That means they will build what they have money for, and pee on the rail corridor territory to mark their claim, like Alpha dogs, for the time being. Owners with male dogs know what I mean.
Do not think for one minute that they -- Van Ark and the rail authority -- will listen to Simitian's call to terminate their plans for four tracks on this corridor permanently. When they get more federal money, they will build a four track elevated structure. Like robots, that's what they are programmed for. The only thing that can stop them is to pull the plug, and neither Simitian or anyone else in California will do that, you can be sure. No Democrat in California will get in the way of further federal funds.
This is where my neighbors, colleagues and fellow residents on the Peninsula get it all wrong. They believe, because they want to, that the process is working. That they are having a beneficial effect. That the rail authority will heed our concerns, listen to Simitian, and not build the four-track elevated viaduct on the Caltrain corridor because we don't want it and because State Senator Simitian doesn't want it. I regret to say that this is delusory. It suggests that my friends still don't appreciate the ruthless determination of the rail authority.
There also seems to be the wide-spread impression that running HSR on the Caltrain corridor will connect directly to the tracks they put down in the Central Valley. No, that's not correct. That connection will take a lot of funding that they don't have. Nor will even all those sections from the Central Valley to the Caltrain corridor complete the first Phase between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Getting tracks through the Tehachapi mountains and south into Los Angeles is another major undertaking for which there are no funds.
It's just that the Peninsula is low-hanging fruit since there's a ready and waiting rail corridor already in place. The seventeen towns and their occupants along the way are merely an annoyance that can and will be ignored.
However, the question now arises about whether there is enough funding to make the Caltrain corridor with the current two tracks viable for high-speed rail. It will cost a great deal more than the $1.5 billion for electrification that Mike refers to in his article.
And, if there are no actual high-speed trains on the corridor for a number of years, then those funds won't have been spent on high-speed rail. It's already been determined that the 55 miles between San Francisco and San Jose do not constitute inter-city rail; they are commuter rail, which this high-speed inter-city train is not. This new plan sounds amazingly improbable. Confused yet? So am I.
By the way, Senator Simitian wants the rail authority to run HSR on the Caltrain corridor on two tracks, and at the same time wants the rail authority to stop its planning and design work for the Caltrain Corridor. Does he think that two tracks require no planning? Am I missing something here?
The only thing that's picking up steam is more political rhetoric and Rail Authority smoke and mirrors. Rest assured. The same old plans and intentions remain in place.
Two track alternative through Bay Area picks up steam for high-speed rail
By Mike Rosenberg
Posted: 05/01/2011 05:07:40 PM PDT
Updated: 05/01/2011 07:04:42 PM PDT
That sparkling new $6.1 billion high-speed rail line that California has been eyeing for the Bay Area might get traded in for a 150-year-old fixer-upper.
Facing a financial reality check, project leaders on Thursday will consider an alternative to run the bullet trains through the Bay Area on two tracks instead of four -- a major shift that could speed up the start of the project but actually slow down the trains.
Under the scheme, the state would spend most of the $1.5 billion to electrify the two Caltrain tracks between San Francisco and San Jose, putting on hold its plan to spend four times as much to wipe out the historic rail line and build four new tracks along the corridor. Instead, the Golden State bullet trains would initially share the two souped-up tracks with Caltrain at the start of their three-hour journey to Anaheim.
"We don't have the money, and in fact in the interim maybe there's not even demand for that great of a system," said Jeff Barker, deputy director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. But by 2035, "you ultimately need a four-track system."
It turns out cutting down from four tracks to two in this 50-mile section would trigger repercussions not only in the Bay Area but across California. From cost and travel speed to lawsuits and neighborhood disruption, the idea has plenty for everyone to love and hate regardless of which side of the, well, tracks you're on when it comes to the biggest public works project in California history.
In addition to saving the state more than $4 billion initially at a time when officials only have 30 percent of the funding needed for the $43 billion project, the two-track plan would finally give budget-plagued Caltrain the cheaper electric commuter operations it wants but can't afford on its own. It also would allow Bay Area passengers to ride the state's bullet trains to the Central Valley and Southern California much earlier, as soon as later this decade.
And it would keep the width and height of the tracks mostly the same for much longer, easing concerns, at least for now, from Peninsula communities that have sued to stop the project over its size, and Silicon Valley legislators who have threatened to pull their support.
Cecilia Lancaster, who will likely lose her home abutting the tracks in Palo Alto if the corridor is expanded to four tracks, thinks her neighbors caught a break after the state struggled to attract funding.
"There's no money, so now they're just scrambling to see what they can do," Lancaster said.
"They're not responding to our concerns at all, they've always ignored us. If they do decide to go on the two tracks, I think they'll probably see that it makes sense."
Officials insist the two-track plan is only a start, and that they must build the full four-track line between San Francisco's Transbay Terminal and San Jose's Diridon Station in the next 25 years. But without the money to do that anytime soon, they figure they can build their way up to four tracks in stages and start service after the two tracks switch from diesel-powered to electric.
Some legislators and local leaders, though, think a mostly two-track system with some passing lanes would work just fine for high-speed rail over the long term.
"I and others think the project ought to be scaled back," said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who chairs the committee that controls high-speed rail funding. "Then we don't have a sword hanging over the head of the Peninsula for the next 20 years for a project many of us are skeptical could or should ever be built."
By sharing tracks, Caltrain and high-speed rail will only be able to zip six combined trains per hour in each direction. They hope to combine for up to 16 trains per hour in the peak time -- 10 bullet trains and six Caltrains -- but that's only possible if each agency gets its own pair of tracks.
Fewer trains spell less revenue for both struggling Caltrain and a state business that critics think will bleed money. And the dream of zooming between the Bay Area's two biggest cities in 30 minutes won't be possible because the bullet trains could get stuck behind slower commuter Caltrains, which lengthens the entire high-speed rail trip.
It's also a safety hazard. Since the tracks will remain mostly at ground level, pedestrians and drivers will still cross the tracks, unlike with the four-track system, where the tracks would be hoisted on platforms a few stories high or buried underground at all street crossings. Already, there are about 15 deaths on the tracks each year.
Then there's the issue of legality. The $9 billion bond voters approved in 2008 to launch the project specifically requires the state to build the tracks to San Francisco and for the Bay Area trip to take a half-hour, leaving California open to more lawsuits if it never extends its own tracks to San Francisco.
The rail authority board on Thursday is expected to push forward the two-track idea as part of construction plans they expect to release in fall 2012 and approve in spring 2013.
Construction on the full 520-mile train line is supposed to begin in the Central Valley next year, with service launching later this decade.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705.