High-speed rail 'safeguard' bill signed into law

Senate Bill 557 gives Bay Area agencies veto power over four-track alignment

Legislation that makes it next to impossible for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to build a four-track rail system on the Peninsula was signed into law Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Senate Bill 557, spearheaded by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and coauthored by Assemblymen Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, seeks to address one of the region's primary concerns about the increasingly unpopular rail project – the prospect of a four-track rail system getting built along the Caltrain corridor.

The four-track alignment, in which Caltrain would occupy the outer tracks and high-speed rail the inner tracks, was initially proposed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority but later shelved in favor of a "blended system" in which both train services share two tracks on the Peninsula.

The bill creates a steep hurdle for reversing this decision. Though it stops short of codifying the blended alignment into law, it gives nine Bay Area agencies veto power over revisiting the four-track approach. The agencies include the Caltrain board of directors, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The blended system, which was first proposed by former state Sen. Joe Simitian, Gordon and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, would include as a major component the electrification of Caltrain, a project the commuter service has been planning for over a decade. Sen. Hill's bill makes Caltrain electrification more likely by including language that prohibits the transference of funds from the Peninsula segment of the high-speed-rail project to other regions of the state.

The bill clarifies that $600 million in high-speed-rail funds will be used to electrify Caltrain by 2019, with local agencies providing the balance of the $1.1 billion project.

The rail authority is now preparing to construct the first segment of the $68 billion San Francisco-to-Los Angeles rail system in the Central Valley. In a statement, Hill said the new law "provides statutory assurance that high-speed-rail funding will be used to advance the modernization of the Caltrain system and deliver cleaner, quieter, faster, more frequent rail service to Peninsula residents and business."

"By signing this bill, the governor has made it clear that the state is in lock-step with local communities advocating that the high-speed rail project should be phased to prioritize upgrades to our existing rail system and eventually accommodate high-speed rail service in a way that avoids impacts on local communities," Hill said.


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Posted by Ron
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 2:33 pm

They're already siphoning off $600M from the HS Rail project to retrofit Caltrain? This is a joke. The HS rail line will never happen.


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Posted by @Ron
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 9, 2013 at 5:34 pm

If it never happens then at least some of the money will have gnoe to something useful by upgrading caltrain.

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Posted by Duane
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:09 pm

Why not just upgrade Caltrain into BART (with below or above grade crossings)and have one system that circles the Bay?

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Posted by psa188
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2013 at 8:47 am

You cannot simply "upgrade Caltrain into BART" because the two systems are incompatible. This is due to some stupid engineering mistakes made back in the 1960s. The #1 mistake was building BART to a wide track gauge. Caltrain, once part of the Southern Pacific Railroad is part of the standard gauge national railroad system. You would have to replace the standard gauge Caltrain tracks with wide gauge BART tracks and still keep a standard gauge line for the remaining Union Pacific-operated freight service on the Peninsula.

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Posted by David Lionel
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 11, 2013 at 10:13 am


Whether high speed rail gets screwed or not, a 4-track system is absolutely critical to brining Caltrain up to a meaningful standard. [Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language] of the peninsula are screwing the entire bay area over their precious backyards. Sickening

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Posted by ScottUSA
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Although I feel that it should be a 4 track system, I am confident that once the Caltrain tracks are completely upgraded, with all car traffic going either under or over the tracks where there are now currently intersections, that not only will the high speed rail be able to move at 80+ miles an hour, but Caltrain speeds will also be forced to use trains that can be run at increased speeded to keep out of the way of the high speed trains while keeping a full schedule of trains leaving regularly. Win, win.

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