Caltrain projects still a go despite high-speed rail reversal

Local officials say grade separation, electrification will go forward

California hit the brakes on the decadelong effort to build a high-speed rail line between its major population centers. But the turnaround earlier this week in Gov. Gavin Newsom's State of the State address is expected to have minimal impact on a suite of train corridor projects along the Peninsula – at least in the near term.

Caltrain officials said that funding remains secure for a $2 billion project to upgrade the rail line to an electrified system. Meanwhile, Mountain View officials say local grade separation projects, to separate the train line from road crossings, should proceed with all financing intact.

In regard to Caltrain electrification, the state's high-speed rail project is obligated to provide $713 million toward the cost of the upgrades. That funding remains intact, and the state recently awarded an additional $165 million to the project to purchase electric trains, said Caltrain spokesman Dan Lieberman.

Yet he acknowledged that the shift in high-speed rail could change scenarios for Caltrain in the long-term. Exactly what this means will be investigated by the rail agency in the coming months as it drafts its business plan, he said.

“As far as electrification, I would say there's no major change,” Lieberman said. “As far as the big picture, our business plan looks at a lot of potential outcomes in the future for how California and Caltrain develop. This change will be taken into account.”

Over the years, the California high-speed rail project to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco has faced cost overruns, delays and withering criticism from local municipalities throughout the state, particularly well-heeled cities on the Peninsula, including Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton. In recent years, Mountain View officials have been mostly lukewarm on the project, expressing skepticism as the project languished, but stopping short of outright opposition.

Mountain View Councilman John McAlister, who sits on the VTA board of directors, expressed confidence that the recent setback for high-speed rail would not curtail the city's plan to separate the local train crossings. Those projects include a $60 million plan to close off Castro Street to road traffic and a $120 project to tunnel Rengstorff Avenue under the train tracks.

Those expensive infrastructure project already have funding secured, primarily from the 2016 Santa Clara County Measure B sales tax, which allocated $750 million toward grade-separation efforts, McAlister said.

“The dying of high-speed rail will not affect our projects,” he said. “Right now, as I see it, there's no negative effect.”

Yet the news that California leaders are looking to pull the plug on bullet trains is hardly something to celebrate, McAlister said. The regional housing woes and land costs made it very sensible to pursue some kind of speedy transit line, he said.

“We still need to do something down the road,” he said.

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10 people like this
Posted by McAlister
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 16, 2019 at 3:46 pm

McAlister is a registered user.

“Someone should do something about this someday”, said John McAlister, a true visionary and leader in our town.

12 people like this
Posted by High on speed
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 16, 2019 at 5:10 pm

The politicians who jumped on board high-speed rail years ago did not really consider the speed, the demand or the cost. Imagine a train traveling through Mountain View at 100-150 mph - stopping for no one! It would block traffic and create more business only for the mortuary.

10 people like this
Posted by Reader X
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2019 at 8:40 pm

@ High on speed (Cuesta Park):

Caltrain maxes out at 75 mph right now. Assuming the same number of trains, wouldn't traveling at 150 mph reduce the fatalities? After all, the trains would spend half the time traversing the grade crossing. Most of the fatalities are deliberate anyhow, not accidental.

7 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2019 at 6:35 pm

@Reader X: yes, well over 90% of Caltrain fatalities are ultimately — if not immediately — ruled suicide-by-train. Caltrain maxes out at 79 mph today. HSR, and possibly electrified Caltrain in the future, are planned to run at speeds up to 110 mph on the Peninsula. That increased speed should be no more dangerous than 79 mph, since crossing gate warning times would be equivalent and since you are no more dead when hit by 110 mph train as by a 79 mph train.

3 people like this
Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Waverly Park
on Feb 19, 2019 at 2:38 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Now that the State is throwing a sop (a consolation prize) to the Valley and big labor by continuing to construct a rail line to and from nowhere, I suggest doing the following to make it FAR more practical than HSR. Build an electric rail line identical to future Caltrain. Standard electrical commuter locomotives and cars, not ultra-expensive custom rolling stock. Max speed 80 mph or so. Standard rail bed. Standard at-grade crossings. The proposed line will only be a little over 100 miles, so it can be created as a normal commuter line and not a long distance HSR line. Also, this would kill HSR in the Valley as well as in LA and the Bay Area and make it far more difficult for ignorant idealists and business/labor interests to try to resurrect it.

4 people like this
Posted by Marcin Romaszewicz
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Feb 19, 2019 at 4:05 pm

Marcin Romaszewicz is a registered user.

Since our public/private partnerships like Caltrain are completely corrupt, let me make a prediction:

The $2,000,000,000 in funds will not be anywhere near enough to electrify the tracks, and we will have a funding fight in the future. The Bay Bridge replacement was expected to cost $1 billion, ended up costing $6.4 billion. The high speed rail ballooned to $77 billion before turning into a works project. $2 billion for about 140 miles is about $14 million per mile. There are too many mouths feeding from that pot for that amount of money to be sufficient, despite seeming like an astoundingly large sum.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2019 at 6:13 pm

The Honolulu Star Advertiser is reporting the 3X over budget Honolulu Rail Project has received a subpoena from the federal government.

"The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation has been served with a sweeping federal subpoena seeking construction documents in connection with the $9.2 billion rail project, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has learned"

Link: Web Link

(The posts in the comments section have an all too familiar ring to them)

This kind of puts Newsom's recent move into a whole new light. Are federal subpoenas also in the works for the failed over-budget CalHSR project?

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