State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) publicly unveiled a new piece of legislation Friday that would close up a number of legal loopholes associated with the state’s high-speed rail initiative and Caltrain’s plans to fully electrify their lines by 2019.
At a press conference held at Palo Alto’s University Avenue Caltrain station, Hill announced that Senate Bill 557 would ensure that the California High Speed Rail Authority would not deviate from their current plan to implement a blended rail system that it would share with Caltrain’s two existing tracks.
Previous plans to develop a dedicated four-rail system solely for the high-speed train received widespread criticism for the potential damaging effects it would have on cities the tracks would run through, and on the environment. “Our number-one priority has been to ensure that high-speed rail improves public transit…and does not adversely impact communities, homes, and businesses along the Caltrain right-of-way,” Hill said.
Additionally, Hill’s bill would guarantee that state funds already set aside for Caltrain’s electrification efforts could not be channeled away to other high-speed rail projects. Previously, a loophole had made it possible to funnel money away from Peninsula rail initiatives
It also includes language clarifying exactly how much money Caltrain will receive. Should the bill pass, $600 million would be appropriated for electrification, and $105 million would be set aside for Caltrain to upgrade its signal system to accommodate new trains and the future bullet train. “I’m making it clear that Caltrain will receive the full funding intended by the state,” Hill said, flanked by a number of elected officials from San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.
By utilizing electric rail lines, Caltrain is expecting to drastically reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions, and better accommodate Caltrain’s need to expand its carrying capacity to meet increasing ridership demands.
Ken Yeager, the president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and the chair of Caltrain’s Peninsula joint powers board spoke after Hill’s announcement Friday. His walk to the podium was punctuated by the roar of an incoming train stopping to pick up passengers.
Yeager said he was pleased to support the new bill. “This piece of legislation moves us toward electrification with great certainty and with a lot of guarantees,” he said. “A modernized Caltrain will ensure that Bay Area residents will enjoy more service to more stations, provided by a cleaner and quieter station.”
Palo Alto Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd thanked Sen. Hill for preparing the legislation, and said that an electrified Caltrain system was “extremely important to the City of Palo Alto…We specifically look for this to solve some of our problems with our quality of life in getting all of our commuters up and down the Peninsula.”
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