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.

Hill's 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. 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 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.

Palo Alto Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd said in a statement that the city is "very pleased" with the governor's signing of Hill's bill.

"Senator Hill's bill allows us to both modernize Caltrain and keep any future high-speed rail system sustainably within the existing Caltrain right-of-way to protect our community," Shepherd said.


Posted by Hallelujah!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 7, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Hallelujah! Thank you Nancy Shepherd and others for your work!

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 7, 2013 at 2:25 pm

Two-track or four-track, it is still a Berlin Wall that divides our town. It still does not pencil on so many levels. It is the typical bait-and-switch.

Our city council made a HUGE mistake by promoting it.

Stick a fork in it.

Then we can start talking about reasonable and effective public transit systems, in the Bay Area.

Posted by John Doe, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 7, 2013 at 4:18 pm

California will never get a high-speed train between SF and LA. They don't deserve it anyways.

Posted by Big Billius, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 7, 2013 at 4:52 pm

this is a good start, but from Web Link

Hill's Bill may not provide the safeguards promised, and seems to be more about Caltrans and LA getting their cut of $1.1B allocated for "early high-speed rail improvement projects".

Concerning the 4 track allignment CA HSR dearly wants for the Peninsula, this legislation may have a time limit, though I'm not sure, but there is a provision for the "9 parties to the Bay Area High-Speed Rail Early Investment Strategy Memorandum of Understanding" to vote these apparent protections of the 2 track alignment away.

"The bill would restrict use of certain appropriated funds, to the extent they are allocated to the San Francisco-San Jose segment of the high-speed rail system, to implement a rail system in that segment that primarily consists of a 2-track blended system to be used jointly by high-speed trains and Caltrain commuter trains, with the system to be contained substantially within the existing Caltrain right-of-way. These provisions would be effective until a specified time, and would be inoperative thereafter.

This bill would also require any track expansion for the San Francisco to San Jose segment beyond the blended system approach to be approved by all 9 parties to the Bay Area High-Speed Rail Early Investment Strategy Memorandum of Understanding, as specified."

So, what exactly is this bill protecting, besides some nearly guaranteed fat contracts for well connected labor groups?

Posted by joe, a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2013 at 8:12 pm

The Bill assures local politicians will not oppose the HSR expansion along the ROW. Camel's nose under the tent and all.

Eventually the HSR service will run and crowd out Caltrain during peak travel times.

I expect the magic solution will extend BART from Santa Clara Co. San Jose northward to eventually link up with the San Mateo extension.

Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2013 at 10:18 pm

It makes me wonder what Jerry Hill's REAL motivation was in writing this legislation. Could it of been part of an under the table deal with the oil companies to discourage the use of mass transit and mandate into law that riding Caltrain must always be a more time consuming and less appealing alternative to driving between San Francisco and San Jose?

Considering there are already portions of the Caltrain line with 4-tracks in Sunnyvale, Redwood City and Bayshore I could see a literal interpretation of this legislation as requiring those tracks to be removed to further slow down service.

Who knows what will be next from the offices of Jerry Hill. Maybe his solution to the grade separation issue will be to establish a 10 mph speed limit on the Caltrain line so the train can always stop in time when a car gets stuck at a crossing or a "pedestrian" mistakes the tracks for a sidewalk. Years ago I remember hearing a Palo Alto resident advocate on KQED's Forum call in program that Caltrain should only be operating at "non-lethal" speeds.

Considering the fact that the high speed rail project is basically dead in the water due to a Judge's recent decision (and may never be a possibility anywhere in the USA due to the unique nature of the American political system) I wouldn't put it past Jerry Hill that he would advocate further reducing the Caltrain line from 2 to 1 track. It's like "If two tracks is that much more attractive than four think about how beautiful just one track would be!". Jerry might say; "if one track works fine for freight railroads hauling coal and tomatoes it should work fine for a commuter line trying to adopt a convenient high frequency schedule." Who said anything about trying to serve as a form of transportation? Pure crazy talk!!! As they say: "The only important train is Thomas the Tank Engine because my toddler likes it. I couldn't give a damn whether someone needs to get to work on time!!!"

I guess we will just have to see what Jerry Hill's next steps will be. Maybe after further consultation with the oil companies Jerry will write legislation mandating the removal of all rail service and replacing the tracks with a new expressway to be shared with buses and cars alike. Where this new expressway occurs parallel to Alma and Central Expressway in Palo Alto and Mountain View the two will be merged to form a new 8-lane freeway. South of Mountain View the (then) former Caltrain right of way down to San Jose would be more or less wide enough to accommodate a new 8-lane freeway without the need to acquire adjacent property.

It will become a very convenient alternative to the 101 or 280; allow traffic to move more smoothly on both those routes and MAYBE, JUST MAYBE the increased carbon emissions from the new freeway will be offset by the fact that carbon emissions will be reduced on the 101 and 280. Local politicians could give themselves a congratulatory slap on the back for at least maintaining the STATUS QUO and "technically" not causing carbon emissions to increase.

Being Americans and all the prospect of actually REDUCING carbon emissions would be beyond our "technical capacity" and frankly "Un-American" to even consider!!!

Out of consideration for neighborhood concerns in Palo Alto this new freeway could even be elevated so as not to negatively impact existing cross-traffic at Churchill, East Meadow and Charleston. Build some new mega parking structures near the off ramps for downtown Palo Alto and all parking problems will be permanently solved.

Palo Alto will be sighing a major sigh of relief it dodged the bullet of high speed rail and pesky 4-track rights of way and is now a more desirable place to live than it's ever been! Then again let's not forget the most important factor all along. When you really get down to it the most important things in life have nothing to do with "sustainably planned communities" and all that "MUSHY TALK"!!! The most important thing is PROPERTY VALUES!!!

"Some real estate lady in a little red coat told me a 4-track commuter rail line would lower my property value by 'X' amount so by God I am going to fight like hell to make sure that never happens!!!"

Posted by businessdecision, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 7:42 am

It is high time to recognize that this newspaper is ill serving this community by opening these fora and then having to close them down because of the awfulness of the comments.
4th estate, shut this whole thing DOWN. Please.

Posted by KR, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 8:07 am

Hopefully this "project" just dies. Complete waste of money.

Posted by Oracle, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Sep 9, 2013 at 8:37 am

Larry Ellison and other billionaires have lawsuits invested on stopping HSR. May never happen

Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 9:36 am

Ever week I read something about office buildings being planned, then built because some company moved in. Have nothing against this but as Silicon Valley grows with more jobs, more people coming in to serve the people who have the jobs, the need for housing. Remember while all this is going on we have visitors to our valley.

Would think some day that we will build some kind of night speed efficient transit system that will get people to and from places. Caltrain is not efficient, BART is somewhat but only goes so far.

Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Sep 9, 2013 at 9:49 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by serfing safari, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:02 am

Boomers don't want or deserve infrastructure. Everything is protested. Let other countries improve, and when our kids are grown and look around at our crumbling third-world infrastructure, they will curse us.

Like those that don't want investment in jobs. Who's going to be paying for the boomers' medicare and social security? Walmart wage "employees"? (serfs) Spoiled Boomers - the ongoing bane of the American economy.

Posted by Serving Boom, a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:15 am

Do not blame the boomers because their parents did not use birth control--or know it existed, or have it available in the fifties. The lack of birth control during the post-WWII baby boom is the REAL cause of these problems!

Posted by Elizabeth, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:28 am

Personally, as much money has been wasted on this project, I think it's time for the voters to rescind the original approval of the high-speed rail.

We were in a much different position as a state and individually than we are these days and I see no benefit in a high-speed rail.

People who travel for business are still going to prefer the speed of air and those who travel for pleasure don't want to fly by the scenery.

We've outgrown this vision.

Posted by MT, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

I hope that this legislation and growing public opposition to the project will stop the project. After all, trains were hi-tech back in 19th century. With the development of self-driving cars and systems like proposed by Elon Musk we should be able to provide individualizes point-to-point service that people will actually use.

Posted by common sense, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:59 am

In keeping with this decision, I hope the legislature will soon pass a bill to reduce 101 and 280 to 1 lane each.

Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:31 am

The whole point of CalTran is to move people from city to city. That goal is in place - though CalTran could use additional passenger cars and updated locomotives. The system in place is excellent. Many people get on/off in Redwood City, San Jose, etc.

The whole point of HSR is to move people from SF to LA or other combinations (SF to Sacramento), SF to San Diego), etc, in a very short time which precludes stopping along the way. It is not built for the everyday commuter going to work - PA to other cities on system.

HSR needs to be out of the main corridor for every day traffic - it needs to be on an isolated track that rides outside of everyday traffic - like a separate line going up 101 or 280 - no stopping. To say this is going down Alma Street does not make sense and it is not going to happen. The impact of a train going that fast in a narrow corridor is a major safety hazard.

Posted by Nick, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2013 at 11:56 am

[Post removed.]

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 9, 2013 at 12:09 pm

>To say this is going down Alma Street does not make sense

This was known, or should have been known, when our city council decided to promote it (HSR). Their promotion was due, primarily, to the so-called 'green' concerns, especially global warming hysteria. Green dreams are not a rational basis upon which to make policy. Is Larry Klein, and the other greenies on the council maturing on this issue?

Posted by serfing safari, a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 9, 2013 at 12:14 pm

"We were in a much different position as a state and individually than we are these days"

Care to quantify that with actual data?

"Do not blame the boomers because their parents did not use birth control"

I don't blame the last generation for procreating, I blame the current spoiled generation for not maintaining and improving/rebuilding our country and leaving an infrastructure disaster to this generation.

Along with rising oceans, etc... I will stick with: "Spoiled Boomers - the ongoing bane of the American economy."

Posted by Stretch, a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Bizarre - this article was about high speed rail, and it's segued into spoiled boomers and Chinese people buying up property. Lack of foresight has given the peninsula so much traffic that there really is no commute time - it's all the time. just continue on that way and see how intolerable living there will be!

Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 9, 2013 at 7:48 pm

There are two issues in play here. HSR is the rational to increase housing on transit lines. I think the desire to put this down Alma was to use Eminent Domain to take out the single level apartments and build high rises. The two issues play against each other. The problem here now is that Eminent Domain could be used to build high rises on Alma but we do not end up with a HSR due to current funding issues. Also common sense says the HSR needs to be on its own terms away from the CAL TRANS right of way which is serving the daily commute problem.
The daily commute is a totally separate issue from HSR.

Posted by Burb, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Sep 9, 2013 at 8:43 pm

[Portion removed.] To better support Jerry's 'vision', lets toss logic aside and assume: decades old technology (high speed rail), that will only be modest speed rail in California, that no investors will touch with a **** covered stick, that will cost tax payers hundreds of billions of dollars to build, billions more to subsidize every year, that business travelers will avoid because it's still faster to fly, leisure travelers will avoid because driving will be much cheaper, and oh yea, still, no one wants to pay for it. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 9, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Would you rather spend $60Bil. on HSR or would rather spend $60B on outfitting every California home with PV panels?

Which would end up saving more energy and be responsible for less pollution, lower greenhouse gases and energy independence? HSR or PV for every home?

Posted by DC, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 9, 2013 at 10:02 pm

serfing safari: Baby Boomers MADE Silicon Valley, where your remarkably arrogant attitude appears to choose to live. You can always move.
Re HSR, everyone knows it's an absurd, impractical idea, so why is it still being done? Use the money for infrastructure, or for the "tube" system The Tesla fellow has proposed, which people WOULD use and DOES make sense, from what little I have read. THAT's something CA could use. Innovation and practicality.

Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2013 at 12:52 am

In the spirit of Jerry Hill I am anxiously awaiting his new legislation to narrow the 101 and 280 down to 1-lane of traffic each direction.

With the major traffic slowdowns we will have no other choice but to bitch that automobiles are outdated technology from the last century that serve no real practical purpose so we might as well stop using them and mandate into law that no public money can be allocated to any type of road project.

People here will say cars are useless because anyone with time to spare or on vacation will choose to walk or ride a horse and important business people with no time to spare can simply wait 50+ years for WONDER BOY Elon Musk to perfect his Hyperloop so it might be possible one day to exit the device on you own will and not in a body bag.

It's like seriously why would you ever need 2-lanes of traffic in each direction? A 4-lane highway just like a 4-track railroad would be a picture of insanity!

How many times have you ever been driving your car and the thought occurs to you that you might want to pass the car ahead of you because it's driving kind of slowly or needs to stop frequently? OF COURSE NOT BECAUSE THAT NEVER EVER HAPPENS!!!

Thankfully no government funding has EVER been allocated to additional traffic lanes ANY PLACE EVER. If that ever happens we will have to call it a BOONDOGGLE

Posted by member, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 10, 2013 at 8:40 am

One last thought - the Port of Oakland is going to expand to be more competitive and move containers via the railroad VS trucks. They are in a major move to have 100 car trains. Redwood City is the last deep water port in the bay and moves product via trains -usually at night. Assume more train traffic to move product which is regular trains - not electrical trains. The whole bay has to be taken into consideration regarding rail traffic which involves getting trucks off the highways. We have to pay attention to how the rails will be used in the future. It is not all about people - it is also about how to get product moved around.

Posted by AK, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2013 at 9:26 am

Yup...sure...give me an inch and I'll take a 400 + miles strip of land for the High Speed Rail. Our state is about more than a small swath down Alma Street...understand that this system will decrease the emission of 1,360,476,320 to 10,883,810,560 moles CO2/yr. That equals about 1,493,333,333 to 11,946,666,666 trees†saved. Billions of annual GDP revenue for the state and a competitive edge and an incentive for business to move on back to California not to mention much needed affordable housing. That is why CA will again be #4 in the world's biggest economy. High Speed Rail is real and you all can't stop us from building the dream for future generations and economic prosperity. Why do you think all these corporations are starting yo move back as we speak! Because real estate will continue to boom here as a result of HSR. So why did the Railroader emerge from a sinking ghost do just that. Build the dream for all !

AK Entertainment

Web Link

Posted by Paly grad, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I feel very, very sorry for the students at Paly when HSR goes through. It was very disruptive and enervating when it was only Cal Train going past at regular intervals, roaring and rattling at high decibels, shaking half the buildings on campus. But a long, heavy HSR train ? Unconscionable!

Posted by Paly grad, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2013 at 3:59 pm

Really, schools should have eminent domain over High Speed Rail. And in this economy, so should people's homes and quality of life, which will deteriorate horribly ( at least on the Park Ave side of the tracks) from the additional noise and shaking.

Posted by Ruth, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 11, 2013 at 8:57 pm

"11,946,666,666 trees saved" wow, precision down to one tree in almost 12 billion, another HSR 'fact'. It's pretty funny.

For some facts concerning how green HSR might be, check out Web Link

Some interesting notes from the report lay out some of the conditions under which HSR could be considered 'green'. Essentially two things need to happen, HSR needs to use green power, and needs to have at least 50% ridership all the time to even break even, green speaking. At a 50% ridership level, it will take 28 years for CA HSR to break even with respect to energy used to build and operate it, and a whopping 71 years for CA HSR to break even with respect to green house gas emissions.

Show of hands, who thinks if CA HSR is built, it will last 28 years? How about 71 years? How about that consistent 50% ridership?

Concerning a 'green' energy source to power those trains, CA gets about 60% of its energy from fossil fuels, 15% from nuclear, 10% from hydroelectric and about 15% from renewable sources. I'm guessing that nuclear and hydroelectric will drop in the future, and that relatively inexpensive natural gas [thanks in part to the fraking boom] will fill the gap. Renewable sources, desirable as they may be, are not yet economically viable for massive power generation. So, the train will most likely run on fossil fuel generated electricity.

Bottom line, with insufficient ridership, and powered mostly by fossil fuel generated electricity, CA HSR is most likely not the Green panacea boosters like to blab about. The hundreds of billions of dollars drained from the CA economy to build the train will leave CA in debt long after the train stops working. Underfunded/under-performing schools cranking out poorly educated kids will drive employers requiring highly skilled jobs elsewhere. Well, CA HSR will need to hire a few people to clean the trains I suppose.

There's Jerry's legacy, a multi-hundred billion dollar subsidized home grown train cleaning crew, with a CA made toilet scrubber. Bravo!

Posted by Tony Ciampi, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Skytran Trumps High Speed Rail

Web Link

Posted by Jim in scruz, a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 13, 2013 at 9:45 am

Just a quick note to Paly Grad. HSR trains are lighter and quieter. A quick check shows that a Talgo 250 has a max weight of 360 tons for 11 cars. A typical CalTrain engine is 120 tons just by itself. Add to that electric power and no grade crossings you won't be able to hear it over El Camino.

Posted by factless debate, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 13, 2013 at 10:33 am

Someone whines about "another HSR 'fact'."

Then scribes the following:
"I'm guessing"
"could be"
"Essentially two things need to happen"
"Show of hands"
"will most likely"
"is most likely"

Someone "like to blab".


The anti-hsr's would have been the the ones back in the 40's fighting Ike's Interstate system as a national socialist's boondoggle.

But the winner? "...or for the "tube" system The Tesla fellow has proposed, which people WOULD use and DOES make sense, from what little I have read."

Scrap HSR and build the Hyperfraud! Have the government build HSR out of an unproven theme park ride! Don't use existing technology that the rest of the word uses!

"from what little I have read."

"I'm guessing"

Save us from the horse and buggy crowd!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 13, 2013 at 10:49 am

There's no guessing this:
- HSR's funding model is highly flawed
- dependency on private investment has proven that flaw - no investors
- the projected ridership data is grossly over-stated
- the program will never break-even and will end up requiring heavily subsidized tax dollars - money that does not exist

Posted by factless debate, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 13, 2013 at 11:07 am

Finally found it, took some looking... "a public-works, government-owned boondoggle that was modeled after the National Socialist autobahn system in Germany."

Roosevelt wanted the interstates but was stopped by republicans. Look up the Federal-Aid Highway Acts of 1938 and 1944. Stopped dead in it's tracks because republicans hated Roosevelt and fought him on everything (thinking of 40 useless Obamacare repeal votes right about now?)

When Ike called it a national defense issue, well, republicans decided they liked them sum concrete. Even then, some of the horse and buggy crowd fought it, called it:

"a public-works, government-owned boondoggle that was modeled after the National Socialist autobahn system in Germany." (well, yeah, duh, it WAS modeled after the autobahns! Ike dug the autobahns when he conquered Germany.)

The same thing fifty years later about HSR, from the same mindset that would have sunk America in the 50's.

Don't build infrastructure, let it crumble for our kids to deal with.

Posted by Ruth, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 13, 2013 at 8:13 pm

@ factless debate,

If anyone knew exactly what was going to happen, there would be no debate over what might happen. You certainly offer no facts, except a horse and buggy? Is that all you have to offer?

How about if HSR is the great savior of California, and maybe the rest of the USA like you imply, put your money where your factless rant is, send HSR a big fat check. Their address is

California High-Speed Rail Authority
770 L Street, Suite 800
Sacramento, CA 95814

After they spend it, and have nothing to show for it, let us know how that works for you. Maybe they will send you a thank you CA HSR toilet scrubber in exchange.

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