Published Tuesday, September 14, 2010, by Caltrain
Caltrain Calls on CHSRA to Refocus Environmental Review
Caltrain Executive Director Mike Scanlon has called on the California High-Speed Rail Authority to refocus the project's environmental impact report on design and construction of an initial phase that could deliver the benefits of high-speed rail to the Peninsula and Caltrain while significantly minimizing or eliminating any adverse impacts on adjacent communities.
"From the outset, this agency has diligently protected not only the interests of rail service and the right of way, but also the communities through which it passes," Scanlon said. "We're committed to protecting these communities."
In a September 1 letter to CHSRA CEO Roelof Van Ark, Scanlon urged the authority to examine how construction of the project could be phased so that it results in project alternatives that are more desirable to Peninsula communities.
Scanlon's letter cites the Memorandum of Understanding between CHSRA and Caltrain, which states that the parties will "incorporate high-speed rail in the Caltrain Rail Corridor on a phased basis".
"Under a phased approach," Scanlon wrote, "subsequent construction of the more controversial elements of the full build out could be deferred, subject to demonstrated need and further environmental review."
By building it in stages, Scanlon said the infrastructure could be constructed to accommodate an operating segment capable of meeting the system's initial ridership needs. To date, the authority's environmental review has only contemplated the full build out of the system designed to accommodate ridership levels expected in 2030.
Advancing an initial operating segment would mean building only what is necessary now to meet immediate and foreseeable demand.
Such construction on the right of way could include portions that are trenched, including some covered trenching, aerial viaduct or four-track construction and portions where the current two-track alignments are unchanged -- all dependent upon engineering practicalities and community concerns.
At the September Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board meeting, Scanlon reiterated that he is convinced that the project can be designed in a way that does more than minimize impacts -- it would improve conditions along the corridor.
"Although we have not been openly adversarial about it, we are taking the communities' concerns seriously," he said. "It has been our practice all along to speak on the communities' behalf."
In 2009, Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail Authority entered into an agreement to jointly plan, design and construct an interoperable corridor for high-speed rail and modernized and electrified Caltrain commuter rail service.
As the only transit agency in the Bay Area without a dedicated source of revenue, Caltrain operations are challenged by year-to-year structural deficits, an economic model that is unsustainable.
In recent years, the system has faced fare increases and service cuts as contributions from Caltrain's three funding partners are unable to sustain existing operations.
Electrifying and modernizing Caltrain, in partnership with CHSRA, would reduce operating costs, increase service levels and revenues and build a sustainable economic model that will help preserve commuter rail service on the Peninsula.
Caltrain is a commuter rail line operating between San Francisco and San Jose, with commute service to Gilroy. The service offers a mix of 90 local, limited and express weekday trains; average weekday ridership is 38,000. Local, hourly service is provided on Saturdays and Sundays.
Caltrain is owned and operated by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, a partnership of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the San Mateo County Transit District and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
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Media Contact: Mark Simon, 650.508.6340