One day after he unveiled a new vision for high-speed rail, state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) earned praise from Palo Alto officials who hailed the new plan as "constructive" and representative of the city's concerns.
High-speed rail issues, including the lawmakers' new plan, dominated Simitian's annual discussion with the Palo Alto City Council Tuesday night. The proposal, which Simitian announced Monday morning jointly with U.S. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park), involves blending high-speed rail with what the lawmakers called the "21st Century Caltrain" and scaling back the rail authority's ongoing environmental analysis, which calls for two separate train systems on the Caltrain corridor.
Council members on Tuesday applauded the lawmakers' announcement. Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the council's Rail Committee, called the new proposal "constructive" and congratulated Simitian on a "terrific job" in putting the plan together.
"Kudos to the state Senator," said Klein, who led the council in adopting an official "no confidence" stance on the high-speed rail project in its current form.
Palo Alto officials have consistently criticized the rail authority's ridership and revenue projections and urged the California High-Speed Rail Authority to scrap any design options involving elevated trains on the Peninsula. The three lawmakers on Monday endorsed this position and said their vision of "high-speed rail done right" does not involve aerial viaducts.
Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd told Simitian at Tuesday's meeting that the new announcement "struck a good note" and said she feels like the city is finally getting heard.
Simitian said the Monday proposal was inspired by a public hearing he and state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) hosted in Palo Alto in January 2010. Hundreds of people attended the hearing to voice their concerns about the proposed rail line, which would stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Simitian said one member of the public advocated halting the new rail system in San Jose and allowing passengers to transfer to Caltrain if they wish to go further north. Simitian said that while he felt there were some problems with that proposal, the "underlying notion" stayed with him.
"The announcement we made yesterday is a direct outcome of the hearing we had here 15 months ago," Simitian said.
He also emphasized that the lawmakers' new proposal would not require passengers to switch trains in San Jose. The newly electrified Caltrain would be able to achieve the same speed -- 120 mph -- as the proposed high-speed rail system is expected to reach on the Peninsula, he said.
"You can still move a great many trains at the same speed that was otherwise planned," Simitian said.
The rail authority's current plans call for building a system between San Francisco and Los Angeles and later expanding it to Sacramento and San Diego. California voters approved $9 billion for the project in 2008, when they passed Proposition 1A.