Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sneaking HSR through the back-door for Caltrain

At first glance, this may appear to be a very local issue.  On the Bay Area Peninsula, the local commuter train, Caltrain, owns the rail corridor which it wishes to share with the high-speed rail project in exchange for electrification and grade separations. It's a hardware fix for a operational subsidy and structural deficit problem.

As many people now know, there's been an enormous vocal fuss about HSR and the harm it will do to the Peninsula.  It's made the CHSRA averse to Peninsula planning since it produces such a fire-storm of criticism.  So far, they've managed to tip-toe around it. . . for the time being. 

Well, not only does the CHSRA have funding to get started in California's Central Valley (also a federal requirement to do so), but they don't have funds to develop the Caltrain corridor anyhow.  So, most of us on the Peninsula believed, until recently, that HSR would be coming to the Peninsula only when more federal funding became available.  And, it doesn't look so good for that to happen in the near future. 

Well, with the mindless intervention of a Congresswoman, a State Senator, and a State Assemblyman from Peninsula districts, (Let's call them S.E.G.) who proposed that HSR use only the two existing tracks rather than build an elevated four track structure, they've managed to pull the rug out from under all of us who oppose HSR on the corridor.

Bear with me here.  The S.E.G. propose to have HSR use the two existing tracks, which now would have to be electrified. That guarantees HSR presence on this corridor.  It takes away any possible legal opportunities to prevent that from happening. 

The point here is that it is politics that is pushing HSR into the United States and into California, not popular demand, not the need for transportation solutions to urban/regional transit problems.  It's about the money.  The Democrats (S.E.G. among them) want those federal funds for California, regardless of their purpose.  They claim it's for jobs and bolstering the economy. 

That's nonsense, since the number of jobs will be trivial, especially for unemployed Californians.  And as for the economy, this train will cost this state far more than anyone can now imagine and will do so forever. For California's economy, the promised $3 billion from the FRA will be an anchor, not a sail. 

You can rest assured, even prior to Thursday's CHSRA meeting, that this "phased implementation" two-track "interim" solution will be approved by both Caltrain and the CHSRA.  It will provide federally funded electrification for Caltrain, which they lust after, and lock in the CHSRA on the corridor.  They win.  We lose.
Peninsula high-speed rail work stopped while two-track alternative pondered
By Janis Mara
Posted: 07/12/2011 10:28:09 PM PDT
Updated: 07/12/2011 11:32:22 PM PDT

The chief executive of California's high-speed rail project said he is stopping almost all planning work on the $6.1 billion Peninsula section of the proposed bullet-train system until project leaders can figure out whether it's possible initially to use two tracks in the section between San Francisco and San Jose, instead of the four tracks that the authority has proposed.

Caltrain is conducting a study to see if using two tracks might be feasible. In the interim, CEO Roelof van Ark said he has directed the California High-Speed Rail Authority's planners "to reduce their activities on the Peninsula to a minimum" and cease further work on a draft environmental-impact report. No new work will be started "until clarity is reached on the selected way forward for San Francisco to San Jose," van Ark said in a statement.

Van Ark made his remarks in advance of a high-speed rail board meeting Thursday at which the board will discuss the alternative to run the bullet trains through the Bay Area on two tracks instead of four. "This would help make sure the project starts sooner," said Marian Lee, acting director for the Caltrain modernization program.

The authority had already decided to delay its work on the Peninsula segment of the line, but project leaders now appear to be going a step further.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, state Sen. Joe Simitian and Assemblyman Rich Gordon announced in April that the authority should focus on a "blended system" that would allow high-speed trains to share the tracks with Caltrain on its current two-track system.

The idea of using two tracks instead of four could save the state more than $4 billion at a time when officials have only 30 percent of the funding needed for the $43 billion project.

"In addition to saving money, the two-track system would minimize the problem of encroaching on the downtowns of the cities the train would go through," Lee said. "Everybody wants the high-speed project to happen, and this would advance it. This strategy is sensitive to our local stakeholders and helps bring the service to California."

No decisions will be made at the Thursday meeting, which is being held for informational purposes only. The authority still wants to explore a four-track system in the long term, even if the project begins on two tracks.

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