A Central Valley assemblywoman came out swinging on Friday against a proposal by three Peninsula lawmakers to 'blend' Caltrain with California's proposed high-speed rail, calling the proposal a "Great Train Robbery."
The proposal, which state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, unveiled on April 11, would run the voter-approved high-speed rail line along the Caltrain system on the Peninsula. The Caltrain line would be electrified and upgraded with new signals and trains, enabling the trains to carry passengers up and down the Peninsula at a speed of 120 mph.
The three lawmakers also called on the California High-Speed Rail Authority to stop considering aerial viaducts for the new rail system and to scale back its environmental analysis for the full system.
While the new plan received a warm welcome on the Peninsula, in part due to Caltrain's presently shaky financial future, it is facing resistance from Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Tracy, a leading proponent of the controversial rail project and the author of Proposition 1A, a bond measure approved by the state voters in 2008. Proposition 1A authorizes $9 billion for a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles high-speed-rail system.
Though Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon said their plan would reduce both the costs and the impacts of the rail project, Galgiani characterized their proposal as a betrayal of Proposition 1A, which requires a high-speed-rail line that can go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes. In her statement, she called the plan a "bait and switch effort by certain interests to take money away from the high speed rail system, and use it to cover shortfalls in funding the Caltrain commuter rail system on the San Francisco Peninsula."
"It is highly suspect that the same few wealthy communities on the San Francisco Peninsula who want to stop the High Speed Rail project would cynically work to divert money to meet their existing obligations to the Caltrain system," Galgiani said in her statement.
Galgiani issued her statement one day after Simitian discussed his proposal for the linked system with California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark. At Thursday's budget hearing, van Ark offered reservations about Simitian's proposal, claiming that a blended system would have trouble complying with Proposition 1A because it would slow down the high-speed trains.
"The two systems, high-speed and commuter rail, operate at very different modes," van Ark told Simitian's budget committee. "Commuter-rail systems have to stop at basically every station. High-speed rail doesn't want to stop at stations.
"You cannot pass the trains because you're behind them when they're loading and offloading passengers in the corridor."
Simitian replied that Proposition 1A's requirements can be met simply by having one train per day run at the necessary speed to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the mandated time.
"If at any time of the day or night a train can make its way from Los Angeles to San Francisco in the allotted time, then we've complied technically with Proposition 1A," Simitian told van Ark. "We can clearly make that happen."
Though Simitian did not actually propose that the system have only one train running at top speed, Galgiani blasted his technical argument as one that runs counter to the voters' wishes. Simitian, she said in a statement, "should fix his own system, not tell the HSRA how to build theirs."
"Senator Simitian essentially put a gun to the Authority's head and said, 'Do it my way or no way,'" Galgiani said in a statement. "Well, I've got news for him. This is not Florida, this is California. Proposition 1A is a voter mandate, and if we have to we'll sue."
The rail authority estimates the cost of the project at about $43 billion, though watchdogs estimate the cost to be closer to $60 billion. Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon said their proposed project would reduce the costs of the rail system and, in doing so, make the statewide project more viable. Simitian, a former Palo Alto mayor, reiterated this argument at Thursday's budget hearing.
"To the extent that we saw an opportunity to reduce costs up and down the corridor also in our view meant the project writ large would be more viable in the long term and we can avoid unnecessary expense," Simitian said.