By Jacob Bourne
The California High Speed Rail Authority held another round of community meetings this month in San Francisco, Mountain View and San Mateo to update the public on phase one of the high speed rail project and get feedback about a number of alternatives being considered to maximize effectiveness and minimize environmental impacts. The San Mateo meeting was hosted by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation on April 13 in a room packed with community members, High Speed Rail officials and Caltrain representatives. Millbrae City Council member Ann Schneider and Burlingame City Council member Emily Beach were also in attendance.
The High Speed Rail project is becoming a physical reality with construction underway in the Central Valley, reflecting a $3 billion investment for that segment. At full buildout the rail system is expected to span 800 miles from the Northern California cities of San Francisco and Sacramento to San Diego with a total of 24 stations. The Authority is currently seeking environmental clearance for the 123 miles of phase one and will be holding more community meetings throughout the summer followed by a draft EIR to be released by the end of 2017. Project work undertaken this year is driven by the Authority’s 2016 business plan, which outlines a revenue generating high speed rail segment from Downtown San Francisco to Downtown Bakersfield to be operational by 2025. The other stretch of phase one connecting Northern California to Anaheim is slated to open in 2029. Phase two will connect Merced to Sacramento and Los Angeles to San Diego.
“We have a legislative mandate to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes; that means we have to maintain the highest speeds we can,” said Will Gimpel, regional project manager, HSRA. “On the Peninsula we can go up to 110 mph and in the Central Valley trains can go 220 mph. In order to achieve the higher speeds we’re going to work with Caltrain to modify and adapt their tracks.”
Currently the proposal for service is to have four high speed trains and six Caltrain commuter trains run per hour, per direction during peak hours; non-peak hours will have lower volumes. Three project alternatives being analyzed were highlighted at the meeting. The first is whether to locate a light maintenance facility on the eastern side of Brisbane or the western side of the city. The second involves a decision about whether to add six miles of additional passing tracks to Caltrain’s existing repertoire. Finally, a short viaduct versus a long viaduct is being weighed for the San Jose Diridon Station.
“We’re working with Caltrain to minimize the community impacts and maximize the operational and flexibility of the system, and in many ways are deferring to Caltrain’s experience and leadership in the corridor and running a railroad for many years,” said Ben Tripousis, Northern California Director, HSRA.
One concern raised by a community member at the meeting was that the amount of grade separations planned may be insufficient. Of the total 42 crossings along the Peninsula corridor there are three planned grade separation projects. Authority representatives responded that it would cost $5 billion to create grade separations at all crossings, which is prohibitive to deliver all at once. Council member Schneider also related that her constituents have expressed concern about whistle noise from so many trains, which is being looked at as part of the environmental review. Noise from individual high speed trains is estimated to be 10 to 30 decibels lower than their diesel counterparts.