News

Hill's bill seeks to guarantee Caltrain electrification

Senator's proposed legislation would also make it hard to revisit four-track alternative for high-speed rail

As Caltrain prepares to embark on its long-stalled voyage toward electrification, Sen. Jerry Hill on Friday unveiled a bill that would bring the the project the funding it needs while, at the same time, ease local anxieties about the controversial high-speed rail line.

Senate Bill 557, which Hill introduced at Palo Alto's Caltrain station Friday morning, Feb. 22, seeks to ensure that the $68 billion high-speed rail project allocates funds for Caltrain's electrification, a project that Caltrain has been coveting for more than a decade but that has languished thus far because of nonexistent funding. Officials have long maintained that electrification is necessary to modernize Caltrain, allowing the agency to run more trains and reach financial sustainability.

The high-speed rail project, which California voters approved in 2008 and which remains deeply controversial on the Peninsula, offers Caltrain its first real chance at electrification. Senate Bill 1029, which legislators approved by a single vote in the state Senate last fall, allocates $1.1 billion for train improvements on the Peninsula. Hill's bill specifies that these funds include $600 million for electrification and another $105 million for advanced signal system.

The bill that passed last year also includes a loophole that would allow state officials to funnel money from the Peninsula project and allocate it to Central Valley, where the first segment of the rail system is set to be constructed. Hill's bill would close that loophole by guaranteeing that the money rail officials promised to Caltrain would not be transferred to other segments.

"I'm making it clear that Caltrain will receive the full funding intended by the state," Hill said at the Friday press conference, where his announcement was intermittently interrupted by the sound of passing trains.

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

The bill also seeks to turn other promises from California High-Speed Rail Authority officials into enforceable laws -- namely, the assurance from rail-authority officials that the rail system would be a "blended system" made up of two tracks shared by Caltrain and high-speed rail. The authority agreed in its most recent business plan to pursue such a system after a vehement outcry from Peninsula communities about the prior proposal, which called for a four-track system with Caltrain on the inside tracks and high-speed rail on the outside.

Hill's new bill would codify this promise in legislation. It would also give Peninsula communities some leverage over the project by giving Caltrain and eight Bay Area agencies a veto power over any future proposals to revisit the four-track alternative, which would increase the footprint of the controversial project and require more property seizures in Palo Alto and other cities along the Caltrain corridor.

Under the proposed legislation, a decision to revisit the locally unpopular alternative would require approval from nine different Bay Area agencies, including Caltrain, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the cities of San Francisco and San Jose. Hill called this provision a "critical safeguard" for the Peninsula communities.

"I think it will provide certainty and a peace of mind as we move forward toward electrification and, ultimately, high-speed rail," Hill said.

The proposal is Hill's first high-speed rail bill since his election last November to the state Senate, where his district includes much of the territory formerly represented by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. Simitian, a leading rail watchdog who termed out last year and who now serves on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, was one of the three architects -- along with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, of the "blended system" approach.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Santa Clara Supervisor Ken Yeager, who chairs Caltrain's board of directors and who joined Hill at the Friday press conference, said the board is in "full support" of Hill's legislation. He noted that next year will mark the 150th anniversary of passenger rail service on the Peninsula.

"These early investment funds set us on a course to thrive over the next 150 years," Yeager said.

Under the current plan, Caltrain electrification is slated to be completed by 2019.

While the bill lacks some of the provisions Palo Alto officials were hoping for -- including a guarantee that the four-track system would be completely off the table or a promise that the high-speed-rail project will stay largely within the Caltrain right-of-way -- council members rallied behind Hill's proposal.

Hill told the Weekly that he agreed to pursue the veto approach for the four-track design rather than simply ban future consideration of this design in consideration of the fact that opinions on the subject may change 20 or 30 years from now.

Allowing the possibility of a four-track approach and creating steep hurdles for revisiting this design is also more palatable politically for a project that squeaked through the state Senate by a single vote, with Simitian and several other Democrats joining the Republicans in opposition last year.

Hill said he worked with the Department of Finance and the rail authority on the "critical clarifications" in the bill and did not get pushback for his proposals from the state agencies. He said he is very confident the bill will pass.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Hill's bill seeks to guarantee Caltrain electrification

Senator's proposed legislation would also make it hard to revisit four-track alternative for high-speed rail

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Feb 22, 2013, 12:21 pm
Updated: Mon, Feb 25, 2013, 9:45 am

As Caltrain prepares to embark on its long-stalled voyage toward electrification, Sen. Jerry Hill on Friday unveiled a bill that would bring the the project the funding it needs while, at the same time, ease local anxieties about the controversial high-speed rail line.

Senate Bill 557, which Hill introduced at Palo Alto's Caltrain station Friday morning, Feb. 22, seeks to ensure that the $68 billion high-speed rail project allocates funds for Caltrain's electrification, a project that Caltrain has been coveting for more than a decade but that has languished thus far because of nonexistent funding. Officials have long maintained that electrification is necessary to modernize Caltrain, allowing the agency to run more trains and reach financial sustainability.

The high-speed rail project, which California voters approved in 2008 and which remains deeply controversial on the Peninsula, offers Caltrain its first real chance at electrification. Senate Bill 1029, which legislators approved by a single vote in the state Senate last fall, allocates $1.1 billion for train improvements on the Peninsula. Hill's bill specifies that these funds include $600 million for electrification and another $105 million for advanced signal system.

The bill that passed last year also includes a loophole that would allow state officials to funnel money from the Peninsula project and allocate it to Central Valley, where the first segment of the rail system is set to be constructed. Hill's bill would close that loophole by guaranteeing that the money rail officials promised to Caltrain would not be transferred to other segments.

"I'm making it clear that Caltrain will receive the full funding intended by the state," Hill said at the Friday press conference, where his announcement was intermittently interrupted by the sound of passing trains.

The bill also seeks to turn other promises from California High-Speed Rail Authority officials into enforceable laws -- namely, the assurance from rail-authority officials that the rail system would be a "blended system" made up of two tracks shared by Caltrain and high-speed rail. The authority agreed in its most recent business plan to pursue such a system after a vehement outcry from Peninsula communities about the prior proposal, which called for a four-track system with Caltrain on the inside tracks and high-speed rail on the outside.

Hill's new bill would codify this promise in legislation. It would also give Peninsula communities some leverage over the project by giving Caltrain and eight Bay Area agencies a veto power over any future proposals to revisit the four-track alternative, which would increase the footprint of the controversial project and require more property seizures in Palo Alto and other cities along the Caltrain corridor.

Under the proposed legislation, a decision to revisit the locally unpopular alternative would require approval from nine different Bay Area agencies, including Caltrain, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the cities of San Francisco and San Jose. Hill called this provision a "critical safeguard" for the Peninsula communities.

"I think it will provide certainty and a peace of mind as we move forward toward electrification and, ultimately, high-speed rail," Hill said.

The proposal is Hill's first high-speed rail bill since his election last November to the state Senate, where his district includes much of the territory formerly represented by Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. Simitian, a leading rail watchdog who termed out last year and who now serves on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, was one of the three architects -- along with U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, of the "blended system" approach.

Santa Clara Supervisor Ken Yeager, who chairs Caltrain's board of directors and who joined Hill at the Friday press conference, said the board is in "full support" of Hill's legislation. He noted that next year will mark the 150th anniversary of passenger rail service on the Peninsula.

"These early investment funds set us on a course to thrive over the next 150 years," Yeager said.

Under the current plan, Caltrain electrification is slated to be completed by 2019.

While the bill lacks some of the provisions Palo Alto officials were hoping for -- including a guarantee that the four-track system would be completely off the table or a promise that the high-speed-rail project will stay largely within the Caltrain right-of-way -- council members rallied behind Hill's proposal.

Hill told the Weekly that he agreed to pursue the veto approach for the four-track design rather than simply ban future consideration of this design in consideration of the fact that opinions on the subject may change 20 or 30 years from now.

Allowing the possibility of a four-track approach and creating steep hurdles for revisiting this design is also more palatable politically for a project that squeaked through the state Senate by a single vote, with Simitian and several other Democrats joining the Republicans in opposition last year.

Hill said he worked with the Department of Finance and the rail authority on the "critical clarifications" in the bill and did not get pushback for his proposals from the state agencies. He said he is very confident the bill will pass.

Comments

Shut-It-Down
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm
Shut-It-Down, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 1:40 pm
Like this comment

> Officials have long maintained that electrification
> is necessary to modernize Caltrain, allowing
> the agency to run more trains and reach financial sustainability.

Spending between $1B (and more when the cost-of-funds is considered) can never be recovered from the riders. With at least $1B in capital costs already sunk in this money-pit, and upwards to $2B more with this loony project—how can any sane person believe that anyone associated with the project is either numerate, or honest?

This money is simply a gift to the labor unions, and various capital equipment suppliers.

Yuk! Yuk! Yuk!


resident
Downtown North
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm
resident, Downtown North
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm
Like this comment

More people commuting by train means fewer people commuting by car. Improving Caltrain is much cheaper than building new freeways up and down the peninsula. Expanding Caltrain service is a win for everyone.


Please no
Southgate
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm
Please no, Southgate
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:35 pm
Like this comment

Please do not let this happen at all, Jerry Hill. My house became unsellable, like others in my neighborhood, on the mere rumour of HSR. The reality means I will have to practically give it to HSR thru Eminent Domain.

I am pregnant and need a bigger house !


Evan
Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm
Evan, Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm
Like this comment

Seriously? We can never revisit the four-track solution? That's what we SHOULD have on the Peninsula -- tracks for local service or tracks for express service. On most of the Peninsula, there's plenty of room for that, and where there's not, homeowners will be justly compensated and rewarded with quieter, less-disruptive trains that don't interfere with traffic. Glad to see that no one seems to be looking out for the future of the Peninsula, just their own self-interests.

And "Please No", what are you talking about? The reality of Hill's proposal means that the state would be giving in to self-interested people like yourself, and HSR wouldn't expand the width of the tracks. Why are you against this? Additionally, you paid less for your home because it's near the tracks! Now you're complaining because, wait, your home is undervalued because it's near the tracks? Please. Don't look for sympathy from me. I have a friend on Mariposa who sold his house just fine, for 500% more than he paid for it 20 years earlier.


Please no
Southgate
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm
Please no, Southgate
on Feb 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm
Like this comment

I do not wish to go bankrupt because of HSR. Historically, Eminent Domain has paid well below market value ( ask any realtor) for land they confiscate. Buyers are staying away from Park ave and its off streets, as well as the Alma off streets. Most of us bought into these locations as a foot in the door of Palo Alto, hoping to upgrade eventually. Now, that is an impossibility.


Shut-It-Down
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:20 pm
Shut-It-Down, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2013 at 5:20 pm
Like this comment

> Improving Caltrain is much cheaper than building new freeways up
> and down the peninsula.

If we spend $1B-$2B in expanding Highway 101/280, we get a significant increase in capacity (not to mention that if each single occupant car were to add only one passenger, that would increase the capacity of these significant roadwas by upwards of twice.

> Expanding Caltrain service is a win for everyone.

There is very little evidence that spending this $1B-$2B on electrification will actually increase the capacity/use of the Caltrain system. It will, on the other hand--burn thru $1B-$2B, without a doubt.

Sorry, but electrification will have very few positive effects in the grand scheme of things. It might reduce the yearly fuel bills for diesel fuel, but it will force the generation of electricity somewhere in/around California.

All-in-all, not really that great an idea.


You asked for it
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm
You asked for it, Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 22, 2013 at 6:49 pm
Like this comment

@ please no

Tough. You knew what you were getting into. No sympathy for you whatsoever.


Clive
Charleston Gardens
on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm
Clive, Charleston Gardens
on Feb 22, 2013 at 8:39 pm
Like this comment

I'm glad Jerry is trying to Legislate what the HSR Authority has said that they will do, referring to the so-called blended system. That the CA HSR Authority needs to be the subject of specific legislation to essentially force them to honor their agreements is truly pathetic. They (CA HSR) really are a bunch of lying fraudsters with their snouts in the public trough.

From a thread on the Menlo Almanac site, the big labor groups are doing their best to ensure that they get most, if not all of the lucrative contracts to build the beast Web Link Remember, the big labor groups went to the mat to help re-elect Jerry, and this is the payback, billions of your hard earned tax dollars squandered on a train that's not needed, to solve a crisis that does not exist, but keeps the money fueled political machine in California well greased.


Jay Tulock
another community
on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:01 pm
Jay Tulock, another community
on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:01 pm
Like this comment

You cannot simultaneously claim you are electrifying toward a high speed rail system and restrict capacity to the point high speed rail is restricted to the point it cannot run to San Francisco, thus cutting the main revenue point in northern California. This is a scheme to fund Caltrain through high speed funds without any intention of runnin high speed to San Francisco. However, if the tracks ever do reach San Jose, it will be necessary to build a four track peninsular system. You cannot have it both ways. Yet you can.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville


Sam
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm
Sam, Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm
Like this comment

Congratulations to Jerry Hill!
It seems that every time something is written in the weekly on public transportation all the libertarians in the area get excited - this time "Shut-It-Down" is the speaker.
My guess is that none of them ever tried to use public transport, as if they would, they would not believe that they are in the Silicon Valley!
The numbers that Shut-It-Down provides are fiction, and there are so many unaccounted other coasts for expanding the highways.
Jerry Hill – hopefully your next step will get the public transport agencies in the Bay Area (BART, Caltrain, etc..) to join forces and form one modern, coordinated and efficient modern system. This will benefit everyone living here.


Shut-It-Down
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm
Shut-It-Down, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm
Like this comment

> Numbers cited are total fantasy ..
Maybe they are, and maybe they are not--
Here’s the source of the numbers--
Web Link
> Although the project has an estimated total cost of $600–865
> million, some of these costs can be offset by savings of
> $1–2 million a year in fuel and other saved costs;

Now—in all fairness, Wikipages are crowd-sourced, so the information is always subject to various kinds of errors. Caltrain is the only source of cost estimation that can be considered as valid, so without their issuing some sort of document that we call all accept as accurate and valid—we’re left with numbers that most likely have come from people supportive of this project.

One of the really sad aspects of public transportation projects is that there is no life-time accounting, so it’s very difficult to get much out these people other than a yearly operating budget—and then it’s difficult to know if they are telling the truth, or not, when they publish these documents. Usually financing costs are not readily available from publicly-available finance records—particularly when the money is “money laundered” by the Federal Government via Treasuries sold to the Chinese, or other foreign investors.

But talk about fantasy, claiming that a $1M-$2M fuel savings will “offset” the cost of a $600M to $865M million dollar capital infusion is utter fantasy. At best, it would take 300 years to see a payback on this “offset”.

As to the long-term capital costs sunk into Caltrain, one can go to the year CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) and look for that number. It isn’t there in any clear way, but there are some “funny numbers” that are larger than one billion that suggest strongly that that a good first estimate into the size of this money-pit.



Bob
Midtown
on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm
Bob, Midtown
on Feb 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm
Like this comment

I am fine with electrification Caltrain.

What I really think needs to be done is to combine Caltrain and BART. Once administration and connect the two systems. One ticket that works on both and have new stations at both ends of Caltrain that connects directly with BART. That's the way to really make the system more efficient and usable.


LOLOLOLOLOLA
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm
LOLOLOLOLOLA, Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2013 at 1:53 pm
Like this comment

Evan: 500%? No way. Here in old PA, you are lucky if the value increases 200%. If you are within two blocks of Alma, your house will have gained 150% in 25 years. Not so hot, especially when realtors are telling people looking to buy here that there are NO undesirable neighborhoods in Palo Alto. That is what we were told back in 1993, and most residents we talked to agreed. New moved from another region and had only our agent and the local residents to depend on. Obviously, we know now that neither were particularly truthful.







LOLOLOLOLOLA
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm
LOLOLOLOLOLA, Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2013 at 2:05 pm
Like this comment

It is important to remember that California is nearly bankrupt, and there is NO WAY the state can pay any price, fair or not, for all the homes and lots they will need to demolish for HSR. The folks who lose their homes to e,invent domain will be screwed, plain and simple.


autonomous vehicle booster
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:13 am
autonomous vehicle booster, Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:13 am
Like this comment

Most of us don't need an HSR, we need a ride to the hospital, the dentist, the food, grocery and hardware stores, local entertainment venues, and other nearby destinations. What we need is a vehicle that drives itself economically and safely to and from our destinations DOOR TO DOOR.
Autonomous vehicles could increase the handling capacity of our road system while decreasing travel times. We should use the HSR boondoggle funds to research, develop and subsidize autonomous vehicles.
So maybe the once a year I go to LA or San Diego, NOT by rail, I'll be driven in an autonomous vehicle, or fly. The infrastructure is already there, the capacity is already there, we don't need an HSR.
Jobs are better created in the science, technology, math and engineering fields than rail construction.
Let's insist our representatives spend our tax money wisely, on what we the people need.


Bob
Community Center
on Feb 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Bob , Community Center
on Feb 25, 2013 at 1:04 pm
Like this comment

Some of the eastern and midwestern states decided they did not want or need HSR funds - so Obama directed those millions and billions to California - the place where he likes to schmooze and visit. And he wants to save money???? - like cutting back on Social Security.
By the way, Social Security is not "entitlement'. Retirees paid into that fund from the day they started to work waaaaay back. Wasn't it the 'thirties'? Medicare was the later 60's. And almost everybody pays into Social Security except some government employees - like Palo Alto.


Julie B
Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm
Julie B, Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm
Like this comment

If they were to electrify Caltrain and it starts running more often, I would take it to work. As it is now, it runs once per hour (unless you want to catch it at 6:30 a.m.), so not feasible for me. I drive to Millbrae and take BART. So I drive around 17 miles each way. I would much prefer to be able to take Caltrain the whole way to San Francisco and catch the train in Palo Alto or Menlo Park. We need better public transportation. So if you don't want to electrify Caltrain, we need to extend BART to San Jose or beyond.


mikesonn
another community
on Feb 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm
mikesonn, another community
on Feb 25, 2013 at 3:31 pm
Like this comment

Julie B, here is the Caltrain schedule.

Web Link


Electrify it!
Southgate
on Feb 25, 2013 at 4:26 pm
Electrify it!, Southgate
on Feb 25, 2013 at 4:26 pm
Like this comment

Yes, electrify Cal Train! It would be so much quieter and cleaner. As it is, the noise is very disruptive for anyone living within two blocks either direction. Plus, it adds more air pollution to the smog from the cars on Alma.

CalTrain is slow, though. My brother commutes from SJ to SF every day, and it adds a total of 3 1/2 hrs to his already long work day. A few times, he has fallen asleep and missed his stop, too.


Larry Cohn
Midtown
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:31 pm
Larry Cohn, Midtown
on Feb 25, 2013 at 11:31 pm
Like this comment

Prop 1A was passed by California voters in November, 2008. Prop 1A was for HSR bonds, not for CalTrain electrification. California voters have never approved CalTrrain electrification -- it was not part of Prop. 1A.


SteveU
Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm
SteveU, Barron Park
on Feb 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm
Like this comment

Electrification makes good sense.
Cleaner running trains (no soot into the air),
Quieter Engines which benefit all, specially those that live closer to the track.

As for 4 tracks (and all the space they would need): There is absolutely no need for this except near stations that would need to have HSR trains going in both directions at the same time. IMHO San Jose and San Francisco. These trains are not running at a frequency that precludes SAFE single tracking for most of the Peninsula. I do agree, that HSR should not normally share track with Caltrain (but there should be provision to move trains on that track in emergencies.)


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

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