Lawmaker rips plan for 'blended' rail system

Author of Proposition 1A claims Peninsula legislators' plan to blend Caltrain, high-speed rail amounts to a 'bait and switch'

A Central Valley assemblywoman came out swinging on Friday against a proposal by three Peninsula lawmakers to 'blend' Caltrain with California's proposed high-speed rail, calling the proposal a "Great Train Robbery."

The proposal, which state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, unveiled on April 11, would run the voter-approved high-speed rail line along the Caltrain system on the Peninsula. The Caltrain line would be electrified and upgraded with new signals and trains, enabling the trains to carry passengers up and down the Peninsula at a speed of 120 mph.

The three lawmakers also called on the California High-Speed Rail Authority to stop considering aerial viaducts for the new rail system and to scale back its environmental analysis for the full system.

While the new plan received a warm welcome on the Peninsula, in part due to Caltrain's presently shaky financial future, it is facing resistance from Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy, a leading proponent of the controversial rail project and the author of Proposition 1A, a bond measure approved by the state voters in 2008. Proposition 1A authorizes $9 billion for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles high-speed-rail system.

Though Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon said their plan would reduce both the costs and the impacts of the rail project, Galgiani characterized their proposal as a betrayal of Proposition 1A, which requires a high-speed-rail line that can go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. In her statement, she called the plan a "bait and switch effort by certain interests to take money away from the high speed rail system, and use it to cover shortfalls in funding the Caltrain commuter rail system on the San Francisco Peninsula."

"It is highly suspect that the same few wealthy communities on the San Francisco Peninsula who want to stop the High Speed Rail project would cynically work to divert money to meet their existing obligations to the Caltrain system," Galgiani said in her statement.

Galgiani issued her statement one day after Simitian discussed his proposal for the linked system with California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark. At Thursday's budget hearing, van Ark offered reservations about Simitian's proposal, claiming that a blended system would have trouble complying with Proposition 1A because it would slow down the high-speed trains.

"The two systems, high-speed and commuter rail, operate at very different modes," van Ark told Simitian's budget committee. "Commuter-rail systems have to stop at basically every station. High-speed rail doesn't want to stop at stations.

"You cannot pass the trains because you're behind them when they're loading and offloading passengers in the corridor."

Simitian replied that Proposition 1A's requirements can be met simply by having one train per day run at the necessary speed to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the mandated time.

"If at any time of the day or night a train can make its way from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the allotted time, then we've complied technically with Proposition 1A," Simitian told van Ark. "We can clearly make that happen."

Though Simitian did not actually propose that the system have only one train running at top speed, Galgiani blasted his technical argument as one that runs counter to the voters' wishes. Simitian, she said in a statement, "should fix his own system, not tell the HSRA how to build theirs."

"Senator Simitian essentially put a gun to the Authority's head and said, 'Do it my way or no way,'" Galgiani said in a statement. "Well, I've got news for him. This is not Florida, this is California. Proposition 1A is a voter mandate, and if we have to we'll sue."

The rail authority estimates the cost of the project at about $43 billion, though watchdogs estimate the cost to be closer to $60 billion. Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon said their proposed project would reduce the costs of the rail system and, in doing so, make the statewide project more viable. Simitian, a former Palo Alto mayor, reiterated this argument at Thursday's budget hearing.

"To the extent that we saw an opportunity to reduce costs up and down the corridor also in our view meant the project writ large would be more viable in the long term and we can avoid unnecessary expense," Simitian said.


Like this comment
Posted by MountainViewResident
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park,are attempting to address the concerns that the residents of the Peninsula have expressed in HSR meetings. On the other hand, Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy,does not give a flying f___ about the residents of the Peninsula.

Like this comment
Posted by David Bloom
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 2, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Except for the short segment taken up by VTA light rail (this might be correctable with a short tunnel for VTA, which is much easier to do for light rail than for commuter rail or high speed rail), the Caltrain right of way through Mountain View is already wide enough for quadruple-tracking.

This could also potentially provide Mountain View with funding for long-needed grade separation of Rengstorff Avenue.

See Web Link

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Posted by Spaghetti Freddie
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 2, 2011 at 2:40 pm

MountainViewResident- While that may be true, we do have to at least pretend like we can play nicely with our neighbors. There is a valid point in the criticism of Simitian et al's suggestion. The idea of a high speed rail is fairly incompatible with local commuter service, and Simitian's suggestion(wink, wink) that you can run a train in the middle of the night to satisfy the legal funding requirements is blatantly not cool.

Make no mistake, Simitian, Eshoo, and Gordon have a level of disdain for Tracy pretty much equal to that which you accuse Galgiani of having for us.

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Posted by Anon
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 2, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Hmmm, why would we need another train from LA to SF? We already have one.

"Los Angeles to San Francisco by Train

The Amtrak Coast Starlight line runs from Los Angeles' Union Station to San Jose or Oakland's Jack London Square but does not go to the city of San Francisco. The trip from LA to Oakland takes a little over 11 hours and costs $52 one way. From San Jose, you can transfer to Caltrain to get to San Francisco or you can take a bus from Oakland."

Spending money like there is no tomorrow makes real good sense.

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Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 2, 2011 at 4:47 pm

It is good to see discussion at all levels. Too bad there wasn't more before the election. California was given a choice between a flawed plan or none; so now Ms. Galgiani says we need to build the errors as well as the hits. The time to fix problems is before construction.

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Posted by Doug Pearson
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 2, 2011 at 9:09 pm

The original plan for High Speed Rail, as I understand it, presumed that Caltrain would be upgraded to electric power with improved roadbed and rails and, of course, no more at-grade crossings. Maybe the HSR folks presumed all that would come out of Caltrain's pocket.

As for the speed between San Jose and San Francisco, the same train could and should operate all the way to San Francisco, regardless of its speed along the way. In other words, the Caltrain improvements could also be used by High Speed Rail trains.

In case High Speed Rail missed it, Caltrain's near-miss with a death spiral this year was because San Mateo County decided they could not afford to pay their share of Caltrain's operating expenses. (San Francisco's and Santa Clara's shares are calculated as proportional to San Mateo's share, i.e., their shares would also have been zero.) This problem is almost certain to come back to haunt us next year. Caltrain needs money, folks.

The proposal by Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon, while aimed at paying for capital improvements, not operating revenue, would have the effect of reducing operating costs (electric is cheaper than diesel) and speeding up schedules, and perhaps increasing ridership--all of which would help reduce Caltrain's operating deficit. Finally, if High Speed Rail is using Caltrain's right of way and rails, they should contribute their share of the costs.

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Posted by Mark Townend
a resident of another community
on May 3, 2011 at 11:24 am

Not a resident but feel that the dissimilarities of the caltrain vs highspeed services are being overstated. Both run on the same gauge of track and seem likely to be destined to use the same electric supply system. For the tunnel section into the new SF station, shared tracks are already proposed, so there has to be compatibilty with signalling and comms systems. A largely double track arrangement with additional parallel sidings where required to pull off into individual or closely-spaced groups of stations could provide a high capacity and fast system for both services. The only really contentious issue seems to be a reduction in the maximum speed of the HS trains, but the important thing for capacity is reducing the difference in speed on the 2 track sections. China has recently announced a reduction of speeds on some of its proposed HS lines for 'safety' and probably cost reasons. Politically inspired minimum journey times shouldn't be bought at any price and a more viable, faster caltrain could be an important feeder for the HS trains further south.

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Posted by Dave Chapman
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 3, 2011 at 1:40 pm

Anna Eshoo is moving in the right direction on this one.
We need to find some appropriate way to kill the XNT
(EXtremely Noisy Train), and diverting the funds to
CalTrain is as good a plan as any.

The real question is, of course, "Why is California
spending way over $9 Billion on a choo-choo train?"
If people want to ride on 19th century mass transit,
they can just go to Disneyland.

I hear that they have a very nice train.

Like this comment
Posted by tommygee54
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 3, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Isn't CalTrain the 'noisy' train. Not very quiet at all. If I can hear the train passing with all sorts of houses in my way, then CalTrain must be noisy.
If it is possible to BLEND this rail system with HSR, then go for it. So what if the trains will run down the Peninsula slower than orginally planned. At least the HSR will be here. But we would not have to give up half of Alma St. or even Central Expressway. It would be great to Electrify CalTrain. Enough said for now...

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