Caltrain Electrification Plan Doesn’t Satisfy Rail Committee

Despite promise of saving Caltrain, new plan fails to lock in preferred design, say Rail Committee members.

A sweeping, multi-agency plan to modernize Caltrain with money from the high-speed rail budget still lacks the protections needed to satisfy members of the Palo Alto Rail Committee.

A report to be delivered to City Council tonight finds that the Memorandum of Understanding between the agencies that run Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) leaves open the possibility of running four high-speed tracks through Palo Alto—a wildly unpopular choice among local residents and elected officials.

The Rail Committee has asked the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which made the deal with the Rail Authority, to limit the design option for tracks on the Peninsula to a “blended system.”

Under that scenario, tracks would be shared between Caltrain and high-speed trains and use passing tracks in carefully selected areas that minimize impact on Peninsula cities.

“While the Rail Committee’s correspondence to the MOU approving agencies urged inclusion of language to limit the ultimate build out to the Blended System, the language was not included in the final MOU,” according to the report.

The report also notes that despite the lower price tag association with the statewide high-speed rail project in the latest business plan, there still is a lack of detail regarding how the project will be paid for.

“The current Business Plan still relies on major vague funding sources such as private investment and unidentified Federal funds,” according to the report.

Another item of significant concern for the Rail Committee is the looming threat of environmental impact reports being fast-tracked in order to get the project moving quickly.

Although no legislation is pending, there has been talk about removing some of the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires that stakeholders have a voice in the system’s design.

“CEQA review provides the only direct means for the City and its constituents to have meaningful input into the HSR and Caltrain Electrification projects,” according to the report.

City Council meets tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall.



TGD May 21, 2012 at 09:55 PM
The Caltrain trains are already electric. They use a diesel generator to produce electricity to power the electric motors that drive the wheels. What I don't understand about a high speed rail system is how do you pick up passengers? Do they stop at every station? 200 mph to the Belmont Station, stop, 200 mph to the San Carlos Station, stop, 200 mph to the Redwood City Station, stop. Do they stop every 50 miles? Non stop from SFO to LA? Will the cost be substantially less then flying? How about travel time and volume of riders? I know it's been said they would be quieter if they were electric but the loudest thing is the horn anyway. How do you get 100's of tons of metal going at high speed to be quiet? These might be things to consider.
Aaron Selverston May 21, 2012 at 11:27 PM
Lots of good questions, here, TGD. On the subject of diesel generators: Caltrain has said they are obsolete and too costly to maintain/replace. Centralizing the generation with a single power plant is much more efficient than each train being pulled by its own diesel power plant. The trains on the Peninsula are unlikely to travel 200mph. That is more of an average. There will only be one or two high-speed rail stops on the Peninsula (i.e. Mountain View and Millbrae). The cost will not be substantially less than flying, but ostensibly faster and more convenient if you account for time to/from airport, security, boarding, etc. Would you say you're in favor of high-speed rail?
TGD May 22, 2012 at 06:21 PM
"Would you say you're in favor of high-speed rail?" If it could be utilized for freight shipping, then I would be in favor, but for strictly commuting I would have to say investment could probably benefit more if utilized in other transportation venues such as infrastructure. As far as to/from the station time and boarding it wouldn't be significantly different than an airport and security would have to be similar also.
Jerry Luk May 23, 2012 at 03:17 AM
I just want to have quiet, fast trains. Currently those trains are way too loud and ridiculous rules required them to sound horns in a meaningless way.
electric al May 23, 2012 at 11:32 AM
Electrification will make for quieter trains that are lighter and greener. If you look at the viaduct...one reason they are required would be for safety at intersections, and security of the system. Palo Alto would probably eventually be best off with a trenches or tunnelled route...but costs could preclude this option. A lower viaduct that alllows for 3 lanes through the cities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto may be the best, but you cannot have a roller coaster design. So the viaduct is the best solution. It was originally designed for 4 lanes of tracks to be a true High Speed Rail and that is why the model is included. Strong HSR proponents want independent tracks. For safety and efficiency...less delays etc...and less switching networks required. Some folks suggested shorting Facebook to pay for upgrades...hmmm...hello? Start digging, pouring cement and tossing the frivolous lawsuits. A few lone voices cannot speak for the majority rule, Palo Altans included. We voted for and should build the HSR...as soon as possible and create thousands of jobs in the process.


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