The new high-speed rail plan being reviewed for final approval tomorrow by the California High Speed Rail Authority fails to address many of the critical issues found in earlier drafts, according to a local watchdog group.
The plan’s refined vision of where the intrastate train will go—and how—seems designed to appeal to as many stakeholders at possible, possibly jeopardizing the entire project, said Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD).
“It’s in some ways really not that different than what we were looking at before, but you’re now doing a scattergun approach that would leave you with nothing at all,” said Alexis.
Those documents were made available Wednesday, less than 48 hours before the CHSRA Board Meeting in San Francisco, but only reinforces what it can deliver, said Alexis.
One new issue that has cropped up has to do with the Rail Authority’s decision to pay for a major electrification upgrade for Caltrain. Rather than paying for a system compatible with high-speed trains, as would be necessary to bring those trains to San Francisco, the Authority has instead agreed—at the behest of Caltrain—to build a “special home brew” system that only works with new Caltrain train sets. Those train sets would also be paid for by the Rail Authority.
In order for high-speed trains to be compatible on those tracks, they would have to be retrofitted, said Alexis. This kind of seemingly counterintuitive planning has an important purpose, however, she said.
“Their main goal at this point is to keep moving forward,” said Alexis. “They’re trying to get as much support as possible, and everybody is being promised everything.”
The underlying issue CARRD has with the new plan is that it isn’t enough of an improvement on the previous one, according to CARRD’s statement Tuesday.
“There is speculation about when train service will start but that will be dictated by the availability of capital and the interest in the private sector in offering service,” according to the statement. “We are still waiting to see someone step up to the private investors table.”