Oncoming [Cal]Train

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A 2004 study by economist Thomas Garrett focused on electrified or light rail’s influence on property values in St. Louis. His study showed that average residential values increased $140 for every 10 feet closer they were to a light-rail station, starting at 1,460 feet. So a house located 100 feet from a station had a price premium of about $19,000 compared with a dwelling 1,460 feet away. This translated to a 32 percent increase in value.

“Basically, any improvement in an area’s transportation structure that increases accessibility and reduces transportation cost should be capitalized into property values,” Garrett wrote.

Electrification also paves the way for the future of high-speed rail. The $68 billion project, which would be able to run on Caltrain’s two electrified tracks, should also bolster property values, CBRE’s McSweeney said: “It’s another amenity landlords and employers can offer.”

Caltrain’s busiest station is at Fourth and King streets in San Francisco where 10,786 commuters hop on the train daily. The second busiest is Palo Alto with 5,469, followed by Mountain View with 3,876. According to Caltrain, its top 10 busiest stations are all served by the Baby Bullet, and all saw ridership grow last year. The Menlo Park station, for instance, had a 3.8 percent bump while San Francisco’s King Street station generated 11.5 percent growth and Palo Alto 17.3 percent. Forty-two percent of Caltrain’s riders board in Santa Clara County, 32 percent in San Mateo County and 26 percent in San Francisco County. Sixty percent of passengers travel north toward San Francisco while the remainder travel south.

Electrification will “potentially increase the amount of service to each station,” Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said. The Baby Bullet trains would be able to stop at more stations while still staying under an hour in travel time between San Francisco and San Jose. The regular trains, which currently take two hours to go between those two cities, would also see an improvement in travel time with electrification, she said.

Caltrain’s modernization program is being financed by $706 million in voter-approved high-speed-rail bond funds and a slightly larger amount in matching local, state and federal transportation money.

McSweeney and other observers are confident that the Caltrain upgrades and high-speed rail have a realistic chance of happening despite current fiscal and legal challenges. “It’s definitely coming,” McSweeney said of electrification.

Caltrain continues to contend with a structural deficit stemming from the lack of a dedicated funding source while the California High-Speed Rail Authority is facing a major lawsuit claiming that its project doesn’t comply with Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion bond measure that voters passed in 2008 to help finance statewide bullet trains.

Still, Caltrain electrification is “moving right ahead,” said Gillian Gillett, San Francisco’s director of transportation policy, “and high-speed rail is building in the Central Valley.” She is referring to the projected summer start of construction on the first 30-mile segment of high-speed rail track from Madera to Fresno.

By 2029, high-speed trains are expected to run from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under three hours at speeds of up to more than 200 miles an hour. The system would eventually extend to Sacramento and San Diego, totaling 800 miles with up to 24 stations, including those in San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose. Once operating, high-speed rail could see an estimated 24,000 boardings a day in San Francisco and 7,600 in San Jose. The travel time between those cities would run about half an hour.

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