Friends of CalTrain e-mail 3/27/12
Friends of CalTrain e-mail 3/27/12
Mar 28 2012, 12:13 AM
Group: Sr. Admin
Joined: 26-June 03
From: Howell, NJ
Member No.: 2
On Wednesday March 28 the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is poised to approve an agreement to fund Caltrain electrification, with a $1.5 package of funds from High Speed Rail, federal, state, and regional sources.
This Early Investment Plan provides welcome funding for a badly-needed, long-awaited upgrade to Caltrain. Ridership has been increasing for the last 18 months and some peak hour trains are standing room only. Electrification will provide a welcome increase in capacity, service frequency, and station access. This will provide relief for traffic congestion and rising gas prices, and reduce pollution and noise.
According to the project description, if funding is finalized in 2012, the Electrification project could be complete in 2019. If advanced by the MTC board on March 28, the High Speed Rail board will review it for approval on April 5 - along with a new draft business plan. The high speed rail project deserves a lot of scrutiny this Spring in the legislative budget cycle but if it goes forward, this path provides major benefits to the region.
Come to the meeting if you can
It is a long trip from much of the corridor to MTC headquarters in Oakland, but it will be helpful for Caltrain stakeholders to attend this historic meeting. This is an important decision that will affect our region for decades if High Speed Rail goes forward this year. The meeting starts at 9:30 am at MTC Headquarters at 101 8th street in Oakland, across the street from Lake Merritt BART. If you would like to carpool, post a ride at http://zimride.com/ .
Read on for information and analysis about the agreement and what it means for the Caltrain corridor. And for more detail, Frequently Asked Questions page on the Friends of Caltrain website.
What is in the Memorandum of Understanding?
The funding agreement is established by a Memorandum of Understanding that defines the funding plan, describes the project goals, and contains some key protections for the Peninsula.
There is critical protection for the region built into the MOU.
1) The language of the MOU clarifies that the system “will remain substantially within the Caltrain Right of Way” and clarifies that it is “primarily a two-track system.” Incorporating concerns of Peninsula communities, this MOU does not provide funding for the High Speed's vision of continuous, elevated four-track system.
2) The MOU clarifies that the Environmental Impact Report for Electrification needs to be recirculated to be brought up to date and “to incorporate local and regional conditions and concerns.”
3) The MOU clarifies that the project needs to support local land use and Transit Oriented Development policies (ruling out unwanted intrusions such as the large train storage and maintenance yard HSRA had intended for Brisbane).
Caltrain should be called out as the "lead agency"
There is a key area where clarification is needed. There is a lot of confusion on the Peninsula about the relative role of MTC, Caltrain, and the High Speed Rail Authority. It will be very helpful to clarify the respective roles to residents and local decision-makers.
* MTC assembles and disburses federal, state, and regional funding. In the current deal, MTC played a role in bringing in money from BART, bridge tolls, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and brokering the federal/state/regional funding package.
* Caltrain is the lead agency to manage the electrification project, including environmental review, design and construction. Decisions about grade separations and schedules will be made by Caltrain with the stakeholders in the cities affected by these changes.
Future funding for Grade Separations, Downtown Extension to Transbay Terminal
The Memorandum of Understanding also describes an agreement to seek funding for additional projects, including the Downtown Extension to Transbay Terminal (DTX), grade separations on the Peninsula for cities as they decide they want them, and station expansions at San Jose Diridon and Millbrae. The DTX segment is needed to meet the requirements of Prop 1A for High Speed Rail. DTX will be very valuable for the region's commuters since there are 10x the number of jobs in downtown San Francisco than at 4th and King.
Once Caltrain has finished the 2-year planning process to define the electrification project, working with local communities, they will create a package of additional improvements, including grade separations, bridge upgrades, and other improvements, and work with MTC to assemble the funding for that package.
MOU wisely stays out of local design decisions
The MOU does not record the feedback from many communities about specific local design needs, such as, for example, Burlingame’s plan for Broadway grade separation. This silence is a good thing. We do not want MTC documents planning, or otherwise expressing opinions about these critical local design decisions. That work belongs in the hands of Caltrain as the lead agency on the project, working closely with local communities.
The MOU mentions "potential" passing tracks for future investment. The passing tracks were as an option in Caltrain’s capacity analysis. Without passing tracks, the corridor can carry 6 Caltrains and 2 High Speed Rail trains per direction per hour at peak. With passing track, the corridor can carry up to 4 High Speed Trains. By comparison, on the busiest passenger rail corridor in the country, Amtrak runs one express Acela and 1-2 local trains per peak hour per direction between New York and DC.
In the next phase of analysis, Caltrain will study 5 potential locations for passing tracks, with more analysis on how they will affect schedule options. However, there is currently no funding for the passing tracks, and the first stage of the plan does not include them.
Protecting Baby Bullet service revenue
One of the ideas brought up at Burlingame City Council was to ensure that Caltrain gets revenue if riders take high speed trains as an express commute service from San Jose to San Francisco. That topic is not discussed in the MOU (and it shouldn’t be) but it is an important topic to consider for customer service and for Caltrain’s financial viability if and when we get to the point of a "one-seat" ride from San Francisco to Southern California.
The Early Investment plan has come together rapidly in recent months, and the process to gather stakeholder feedback was rushed. It would have been better to have Caltrain complete the 2 year planning process to define exactly what is wanted in the electrification project, working closely with stakeholders, and then apply for funding with a clear plan. Especially on the Peninsula, where there are 17 cities between San Francisco and San Jose, the process was particularly strained. But High Speed Rail needs to put together a credible business plan now, this spring, in order to have a chance of gaining legislative authorization to move the project forward. It made sense to include the "Early Investment" now because that makes for a better plan which provides value earlier.
Thanks to everyone who has participated in encouraging Caltrain modernization, and providing feedback to incorporate key protections for the region in the MOU. If this project goes forward, there is more work to do. We are still at the beginning of the process to define a modernized Caltrain that provides better transit service for our region.
Friends of Caltrain
OTOL Board Leader
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