Sunday, March 25, 2012

Electrification is the shoe-horn for fitting High-Speed Rail on the Caltrain Corridor

For a long time, I had the impression that as far as the CHSRA was concerned, all the towns between San Francisco and San Jose were nothing but troublesome, intrusive nuisances, obstacles that stood in the way of future HSR operations.  

Although the authority admitted to the possibility of a HSR train station between SJ and Milbrae, near the airport, they had no serious investment in it, preferring to make the 50 mile trip with as few stops as possible in order to make their time constraint on the SF to LA run. In effect, the rail authority saw the Peninsula as fly-over country, an urban barrier to getting from San Jose to San Francisco.  

No wonder they sought to build as much elevated viaduct structure as they could to raise the four tracks above and over the series of towns along the Caltrain corridor. 

But now, I've become convinced to believe that Caltrain feels exactly the same way. They would by far prefer to be the regional commuter service linking San Jose directly with San Francisco via their "baby bullets", all the local stops along the way being merely a pain in the ass that had to be reluctantly acknowledged. 

Caltrain has never really cared what we in the chain of towns along the corridor wanted or didn't want. That's certainly obvious now.  The Peninsula towns in the current money grabbing negotiations are being represented only by their county transit bureaucracies.  That is to say, those who benefit from anything that looks like capital development funding, since capital investment contributes to increased budgets and head-count for all those agencies.  (And we know how all bureaucracies covet those.)

The two mayors of the Caltrain terminals, SF and SJ, will like anything that appears to link them more tightly, although in reality electrification will produce none of those highly touted results. The two cities will themselves, however, benefit from all the construction investment taking place within their borders. 

And, among the transit bureaucracies, the Metropolitcan Transportation Commission (MTC) has now stuck its nose into this complex equation, usurping the various towns' public role in decision-making regarding the Caltrain corridor and its development.  Oh, yes, except for San Carlos, home of Caltrain and its related agencies, of course, which loves Caltrain for better or for worse.

I especially like the rationalization for this hasty electrification expenditure. The article tells us that: 

Electrifying Caltrain will:

· Reduce noise and air pollution;
· Reduce travel times and allow Caltrain to add more service;
· Reduce operating costs and stabilize Caltrain’s operating budget;
· Provide the momentum upon which to build the Downtown Extension to the Transbay Transit Center; and
· Provide the foundation upon which to build the blended system upon which future CHSRA trains can operate.

Along with the last point which is a critical reason for using HSR funds to electrify the corridor, I especially like the one about stabilizing the Caltrain operating budget. Are they now blaming their Diesel locomotives for their annual budget dislocations? And will electrification therefore seduce reluctant commuters finally to abandon their cars for the sake of the train?  Why commuters would prefer electrified trains over Diesel is puzzling.  I would have thought that whatever pulls the train is irrelevant to the rider. ("Oh God, do I hate riding in a train pulled by a Diesel locomotive. But I absolutely adore riding on electric trains. I'm selling my car the minute they electrify Caltrain!")

I strongly suspect that the necessary increase in operating head-count demanded by more complex electrification infrastructure will more than off-set any economic benefits from changing the type of power consumed.

There's a lot of current buzz about "blended system." That means at 'stunningly huge savings,' both high-speed rail and Caltrain will share Caltrain's two tracks. That's certainly what Governor Brown want us to believe; the huge money savings. But, let's think that through.  The electrification will cover only the corridor from San Francisco to San Jose.  Then what? HSR can't go beyond San Jose to Gilroy or Merced in the Central Valley since there's no funding for the "Initial Operating Segment."  And that, without future funding, can never happen. So what, exactly, is the point of a "blended system?"

What does all this mean? It means now's the time to rush to grab as much funding as there is in the pot and build something that the master-minds at Caltrain have been hankering for, for a long time.

I suppose, to be fair about it, electrifying Caltrain, while unnecessary, isn't the worst thing in the world.  However, since it is the camel's nose under the tent, it permits future limitless Caltrain corridor expansion if funds ever do become available.  And if electrification for Caltrain is really not that essential, high-speed rail in California, and therefore on the Bay Area Peninsula, is even less necessary. To the contrary, it will be hugely harmful to every environment through which it passes and we've explained its pointlessness repeatedly. 

You should know that the author, Valerie Gotten, is an environmentalist who supports all public transit in any form. Yet she seems unaware of the environmental consequences of what she admires. I would urge her to be far more selective in her choices. She should be advised that electrification is a direct invitation for high-speed rail to utilize the corridor without serious further funding until that time when they can, together, expand the corridor to four tracks on an elevated viaduct. 

And that brings me back to my original point in this posting suggesting that both the CHSRA and Caltrain don't give a damn about the cities along the Caltrain corridor.

San Francisco, San Jose and Regional Leaders Celebrate Caltrain Electrification
Posted on Thu, 22 Mar 2012 by Valerie Gotten

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. /California Newswire/ — Today, San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed and Bay Area officials applaud the draft regional agreement with the California High Speed Rail Authority on the $1.5 billion electrification of Caltrain on the Peninsula corridor as a strategic early investment in a blended high speed rail system on the Peninsula Corridor that will connect San Jose and Silicon Valley to high speed rail’s northern terminus at the new Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco.

“For California and for the Bay Area to remain global economic engines, we need to continue our investment in a sustainable transportation network that will create jobs, support innovation, bring travel and tourism, and cut pollution and dependence on foreign oil,” said Mayor Lee. “Electrifying Caltrain as an early investment and extending Caltrain into the heart of downtown San Francisco at the new Transbay Transit Center are essential for the success of high speed rail and the future economic growth of our region.”

“We appreciate efforts to continue studying alternatives that will allow early investment in projects in the Bay Area, such as electrification in the corridor,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. “Improving the connections between our State’s economic and tourist centers will create jobs and benefit the entire high-speed rail system.”

This agreement among Bay Area transportation agencies including MTC, the California High Speed Rail Authority, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, Valley Transportation Authority, the City of San Jose, the City and County of San Francisco and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority will bring $1.5 billion to electrify the Caltrain system, including $700 million of early investment from new State funds. Caltrain has sought to electrify the service for almost 25 years, but has never before had the funding. With $700 million of new State money and a regional commitment, the project can finally get done.

The document reflects a Bay Area agreement on how to proceed with rail improvement and was developed with input from more than a half-dozen Bay Area public agencies and reflects feedback from the communities they serve. It also formalizes support for a blended high speed rail/Caltrain system, closing the door on the notion of a full four-track system that was opposed by local communities.

Electrifying Caltrain will:

· Reduce noise and air pollution;
· Reduce travel times and allow Caltrain to add more service;
· Reduce operating costs and stabilize Caltrain’s operating budget;
· Provide the momentum upon which to build the Downtown Extension to the Transbay Transit Center; and
· Provide the foundation upon which to build the blended system upon which future CHSRA trains can operate.

“Electrifying Caltrain has been a priority for many Peninsula communities for over a decade and this agreement will finally provide the resources to make it happen,” said Redwood City Councilmember Jeff Gee. “For the first time, we have an opportunity to truly advance improvements that provide Peninsula commuters with faster, quieter, more frequent service to more stations along the corridor.”

“We need to take advantage of this opportunity to make critically-needed upgrades to the Caltrain system. Caltrain already helps improve air quality and reduces traffic congestion by providing Peninsula workers with an affordable, reliable commute alternative,” said Daly City Councilmember David Canepa. “Electrifying the system will radically enhance those benefits and will help improve our regional economy by creating thousands of desperately-needed jobs for local workers.”

“Caltrain service is critical to Peninsula cities and the electrification project will help ensure the future viability of the system,” said San Carlos Mayor Andy Klein. “The agreement to invest early in electrification will help us realize dramatic regional environmental and economic benefits while also limiting future improvements to only those that are needed to support blended Caltrain and HSR service on primarily a two-track system.”

Caltrain serves a corridor of unparalleled economic productivity and innovation. Ridership has increased for 18 consecutive months, but electrification is required to support expanded service and to meet the needs of workers and employers.

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