Lawmaker rips plan for 'blended' rail system

Author of Proposition 1A claims Peninsula legislators' plan to blend Caltrain, high-speed rail amounts to a 'bait and switch'

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm

> would run the voter-approved high-speed rail line along the
> Caltrain system on the Peninsula.

This is just such a bad idea.
It makes it hard for HSR to run at optimal speed.
It ruins a whole area up the peninsula.
It cuts cities more in two than they are now.

Seems like it should go up 280 or along the bay,
or the best of all would be underground.

Like this comment
Posted by agree
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 29, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Following is the article from yahoo finance:

BEIJING – China is slowing down its bullet trains following complaints the showcase system is dangerously fast and too expensive.

High-speed rail is a national prestige project aimed at showing off China's technological prowess and rising wealth while linking together its far-flung regions. That makes any decision to scale it back politically sensitive.

The fastest routes will be cut from 350 kph (220 mph) to 300 kph (190 mph) as of July 1, railway minister Sheng Guangzu told the Communist Party newspaper People's Daily. Sheng was appointed in February after his predecessor was fired amid a graft probe.
"This will offer more safety," Sheng said. "At the same time, this will allow more variation in ticket prices based on market principles."

The minister gave no indication whether Beijing might scale back ambitious expansion plans that call for adding thousands of miles (kilometers) of high-speed routes.

Bullet trains are one of a series of areas from clean energy to mobile phones where communist leaders want to transform China into a creator of technology and evolve beyond its status as a low-cost factory.

The former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, was the public face of high-speed rail plans and his firing prompted suggestions they might lose momentum. News reports media say accusations against Liu include kickbacks, bribes, illegal contracts and sexual liaisons.

The government signaled a possible shift in attitude when state media began airing complaints early this year. The Global Times newspaper, published by People's Daily, called bullet trains "incredibly risky" and said the "railway frenzy" was driven by politics rather than market needs.

China's trains are based on Japanese, French and German technology but its manufacturers are trying to sell to Latin America and the Middle East. That has prompted complaints Beijing is violating the spirit of licenses with foreign providers by reselling technology that was meant to be used only in China.

A senior railway official said last year Chinese manufacturers might compete for contracts to build a high-speed line in California.

In China, engineers have warned the system's top speed is too fast, while others say the multibillion-dollar price tag is too high for a country where millions of families still live in poverty.

"They should not be building so much high-speed rail," said Zhao Jian, a railway expert at Beijing Jiaotong University. "But since the projects have been completed already, it is a good choice to lower the speed."
China has the world's biggest train network, with 56,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) of passenger rail and 3.2 million employees. But trains are overloaded with passengers and cargo, and critics say the money would be better spent expanding cheaper, slower routes.

Government plans call for spending 700 billion yuan ($106 billion) on railway building this year. Officials say the high-speed network will grow to 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) of track by the end of this year and 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) by 2020.

A key project is a 215 billion yuan ($32.5 billion), 1,318-kilometre (824-mile) Beijing-Shanghai line that is due to open next year. Sheng's comments in the People's Daily gave no indication those plans might be altered.

The heavy spending on the Hexie Hao, or Harmony, bullet trains has prompted complaints Beijing is failing to meet the needs of its poor majority by investing in lower-cost regular service.

China overtook Japan last year as the world's second-biggest economy after the United States. But with 1.3 billion people, China barely places in the top 100 on the World Bank's list of countries by average income per person.

During the Lunar New Year holiday in February, working class travelers complained they couldn't afford high-speed tickets and regular trains were sold out. A migrant worker became an Internet sensation when he stripped to his underwear to protest outside a ticket office after he waited 14 hours in line but couldn't get tickets for his family.

"There should be more regular railways built," said Zhao. "If you are talking about a country as big as China, where the average train commute goes beyond 1,000 kilometers (600 miles), many of which are overnight trains, saving a few hours means nothing."

Construction costs have saddled China's railway operators with debt that industry analysts say ticket sales might not cover.

A 72-mile (115-kilometer) line linking Beijing with nearby Tianjin cost 21.5 billion yuan ($3.3 billion). Yet it is so short that the train hits its 350 kph (220 mph) cruising speed for only a few minutes before it slows for arrival.

Like this comment
Posted by Would-be traveler
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2011 at 7:29 pm

I agree 100% with Galgiani.

Like this comment
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 29, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Simitian's "plan" is unworkable. There must be four tracks if HSR runs along the CalTrain right of way.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2011 at 1:15 am

Would-be traveler and Howard - hopefully you guys will allow HSR to place those tracks through YOUR homes.

Like this comment
Posted by Can't wait for the train
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 30, 2011 at 9:02 am

I can't wait to take the train to the central valley. All of it's many wonderful attractions have made me want to escape the doldrums of the humdrum bay area and visit the beautiful agricultural fields of Bakersfield. There's such a dearth of things to do here that I need to escape. I know my southern California comrades enthusiastically share the same thing. The central valley and all its glory is our new, not so secret vacation destination spot.

Also, I can wait to commute to my new job in LA 3 hours each way. I would choose to take the train instead of flying even though flying is faster and less expensive.

I can't wait to see what ways the highly trustworthy, rarely mistake making, non-arrogant High Speed Rail Authority will better beautify my neighborhood with a non-blight causing arial train/art sculpture. It will be beautiful and likely compliment the clearly community selected fountain on California Ave.

I look forward to reading the financial statements of the $100,000,000,000 expenditure and how highly profitable it will be based on all the highly accurate predictions on expenditure.

I'm particularly excited to know that most of the rest of Californians share my sentiments.

Can we get it done sooner?

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

@ Can't Wait: Instant "Classic Post". ROTFLMAO.

Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 30, 2011 at 10:15 am

The full press release can be viewed at:

Web Link

Senator Simitian has been quoted in response to this "outburst" by issuing a one word response -- "perplexing". He refused to respond at this time further.

As a second term Assemblywoman, Ms. Galgiani apparently thinks she has an awful lot of control. In point of fact she is really the legislator who the Authority uses consistently to have their wishes put before the legislature. I would call her a puppet of the Authority.

The last sentences of the press release:

"This is not Flordia, this is California. Proposition 1A is a voter mandate, and if we have to, we'll sue."

I wonder to whom "We" referees? Is is her personally? The Authority?
Then, just who are "we" going to sue?

Her whole tirade is really childish

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 30, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Simitian just proposed a way to dramatically lessen the cost and scope of the project while staying within the Prop 1A law, and still delivering HSR to California. BILLIONS would be saved and be available for other part of the state - likely her own Central Valley backyard. Exactly how is that Simitian is robbing HSR funds for Caltrain? Its the CHSRA that insists it MUST use Caltrain row - they'll be remodeling that Caltrain row on HSR dime either way - done big (as they insist) or done small. One must really wonder why a SMALLER cost and SMALLER size project - that still delivers HSR to California is such a big problem for Galgiani? Exactly who's interests is she incoherently trying to defend here - her REAL special interests which are the Developers and Unions? (The problem clearly created by the smaller scope is a LOT less access for CHSRA to buy up expensive real estate in Peninsula, on eminent domain firesale prices, for the grand remodel they're all drooling over.) What she's doing here is most amusing - she's pulling an incoherent Snookie-like tantrum, and indeed turning this in to the 'food fight' that Mica said he didn't want to get involved in. Way to go. Go Galgi, Go Galgi Go Galgi... (pssst by the way, Caltrain has operating cost shortfalls, not capital problems. Where exactly is it that Simitian is asking for a dime of operating funding? - nowhere - And he's trying to GIVE BACK size and scope of capital costs.)

Like this comment
Posted by Stick to the issues
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Resident, please restrain your knee jerk derision of a woman. Your unfunny jokes about her name and comparing her to Snookie reflect badly on you, not on her. She was not incoherent and there was no tantrum (except for your emotional post).

Like this comment
Posted by long-time family
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Thank you, resident, and Mr. Simitian, for speaking for me.

Where does Ms. Galgiani get this hyperbole? People like her make me sorry I ever voted for this infernal thing, me who argued for 30 years that we should have a high speed train across California. Darn straight, this is California, where we think transit should serve our towns and communities, not the other way around.

Like this comment
Posted by Smarter
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 1, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Look, let's get real. Simitian's plan is just a technical end run around the Prop 1A law and clearly not in the spirit. How does running "only one HSR train per day" comply in any way with the intent of the law, which is to have trains that go from SF to LA in 2 hours 40 minutes?

Galgiani is 100% right for calling a spade a spade and alerting the public and the media for Simitian's bait-and-switch tactic.

Why would the voters ever agree to spending $$$ for only 1 HSR train per day? We passed the law fair and square and if you want to overturn the will of the people (we live in a democracy), then push through a proposition repeal.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on May 2, 2011 at 2:06 pm

My fingers are crossed that this two track, two trains per hour plan quickly dies. There is no reason that my generation should be stuck with third world infrastructure because these NIMBY/Howard Jarvis types wont pull their heads out of the sand

Like this comment
Posted by Smarter doesn't make sense
a resident of Community Center
on May 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm

High Speed Rail in CA is a joke. I hope it dies completely. The false ridership numbers and the poor management make this thing useless.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 2, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Robert, couldn't agree more -hope this dies quickly because there is no reason and no justification to run high speed trains through 50-100 miles of peoples backyards and school yards, ruining hundreds of miles of communities. Under any track location or configuration.

Smarter - funny how when it suits them, HSR fans point to some squishy thing called 'the intent' of the law. When the actual words of the law make most of what they're doing illegal - starting with the day the vote happened and there was NO business plan, the ridership study proven to be bogus, the costs are already escalated by multi-billions - already approx double what voters were promised, (and they're not even past the paper stage yet) - and its been all trashy and downhill from there... not the least of which is the Galgiani initiated FOOD FIGHT with Simitian. Really awesome. What a waste of our money.

Like this comment
Posted by Smarter
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 3, 2011 at 12:14 am

Look, if you don't like HSR, then get the proposition repealed, plain and simple. As it stands however, the voters in our democracy have expressed their preference for HSR.

And no, it is completely unreasonable -- and un-American -- for Simitian and his NIMBY apostles to cook up some twisted, legal loophole technicality that running "one true HSR train a day" is what the voters signed up for when they PASSED the high speed rail proposition.

Like this comment
Posted by solon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2011 at 1:07 am

Two track cal train feeder is the right idea for now, then get it all built to sac and LA and San Diego.

Saving 8 to 12 minutes it just not worth tens of billions in costs and lost home values.

If two dedicated tracks are needed, by then maybe 280 or 101 seem feasible, and we can have an even better system, with an electrified cal train, and then two high spped tracks where they make sense with a a highway re do where they can run freely trains.

Personally, I am very proud of Sen. SImitian and the new Assemblyman for advancing this point of view.

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 3, 2011 at 1:54 am

Just look at the financial mess CalTrain is in right now, the financial mess everyone complains about. If HSR gets built, its financial troubles will make CalTrain's look like a romp in the park.

And yes, Prop 1A SHOULD be overturned. Gullible California voters had no clue what they were voting on in 2008 and they had no clue about the shady operators behind it. The ill-conceived HSR should not be used by locals as a pawn to get goodies for CalTrain. HSR should be scrapped before another dime is spent on it.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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