Local lawmakers and transit officials are calling on the public to get behind a proposal that would allocate $1.5 billion in public funds to convert Caltrain to an electrically powered commuter system by the year 2019.
Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, today joined Caltrain officials and San Mateo City Council members to preview a new Caltrain electrification proposal that will be released next week by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Standing trackside at the San Mateo Caltrain station, Hill had to speak over engine noise from a train that arrived and departed during the news conference.
"Hear that noise?" Hill asked. "You won't hear that noise with electrification."
The Caltrain electrification investment proposal comes at a time when the California High-Speed Rail Authority is looking to allocate funds to transit systems in northern and southern California that will eventually connect with the statewide high-speed rail system.
Peninsula politicians have been galvanized by the concept of a "blended" rail system between San Jose and San Francisco, one that would accommodate high-speed trains and Caltrain on a shared, two-track route and prevent the build-out of a larger, more disruptive four-track system.
The MTC proposal seeks to allocate about $750 million in local transportation funds for Caltrain electrification that would be matched dollar-for-dollar by high-speed rail bond money, thereby raising $1.5 billion for the six-year project, Hill said.
Hill said that electrification would allow for quieter, faster trains with more trips and more stops, making the commute between San Francisco and the South Bay much faster than the current schedule or having to drive on gridlocked roadways.
"It takes me longer to get from San Mateo to San Jose than it takes me to get from San Mateo to Sacramento," Hill said.
An electrified Caltrain would be able to accommodate an increase in daily ridership from 45,000 to more than 70,000, and greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 90 percent, Hill said.
In order for the electrification proposal to move forward, the High-Speed Rail Authority must include in its business plan the $750 million allocation of Proposition 1A bond money to Caltrain, Hill said.
The Legislature then must include the allocation in the state budget and approve it, he said.
Hill urged public support for the Caltrain electrification project and suggested that Peninsula residents "let their voices be heard" by contacting state and local officials and showing up at upcoming meetings.
Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, tonight is hosting a public informational hearing with the Senate Select Committee on High-Speed Rail in Mountain View tonight. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, located at 500 Castro St.