March 25, 2012

Caltrain Electrification as preliminary setup for eventual high speed rail

SF Gate - $1.5 billion in high-speed rail money into electrifying Caltrain comes with some mighty major side deals - including a pledge by Bay Area leaders to build a 1.2-mile tunnel through downtown San Francisco to connect the line to the new Transbay Terminal. Local transportation officials also agreed to go after another $1 billion in federal funds to complete the BART extension to San Jose. That's on top of the $900 million the feds just committed to get BART halfway there from Fremont.

A Caltrain High Speed rail blog describes the details of the various projects that appear to have been approved.
Electrify the peninsula rail corridor, exactly as already planned. 25kV overhead lines are 100% compatible with HSR and will enable a one-seat ride to San Francisco as soon as HSR reaches the peninsula. Out of the $1.2 billion budget for the electrification project, $400 million is for a new fleet of Caltrain electric trains, and $800 million is to string up the wires. It would seem fair to use HSR money for 50% of the fixed infrastructure, and let Caltrain / MTC come up with other funding sources to pay for the trains and the other half of the shared infrastructure.

* HSR benefit: one-seat access to San Francisco and SFO, without changing trains in San Jose
* HSR funding share: $400 million (50% of infrastructure cost)
* Environmental Clearance: Complete and shovel-ready. Federal clearance is in hand, and state clearance is a simple matter of Caltrain certifying their EIR. Preliminary engineering well underway.
* Timeline: completed by 2016.
* Independent Utility: provides faster, better, quieter, less polluting peninsula commute for over 10 million riders a year, and helps "ring the bay" with electric rail transit, relieving highway 101 congestion

Build the downtown extension (DTX). This 1.2-mile tunnel would extend the peninsula rail corridor to the Transbay Transit Center in the heart of San Francisco's business district. This is a very pricey project at $3 billion YOE dollars, and one additional complication is that MTC recently gave it a very low benefit/cost ratio--most likely to protect BART ridership on the Millbrae line, and future plans to ring the bay with BART. (A very frank, adult conversation will soon have to be had regarding unspoken aspirations for BART to ring the bay.)

* HSR benefit: Direct access to the jobs-rich San Francisco central business district, with excellent transit connections to the East Bay to maximize the HSR ridership catchment area on the first day of service. Realizes full benefit of $400 million investment of HSR funds already made in the Transbay Center train box.
* HSR funding share: $1.5 billion (50% of the cost)
* Environmental Clearance: Complete and shovel-ready. Both EIS and EIR are cleared, and preliminary engineering is well underway.
* Timeline: could be completed by 2017 spending deadline of federal HSR funding.
* Independent Utility: provides commuter access to San Francisco's central business district, where there are more jobs than near all the other Caltrain stations combined. This would most likely result in a system ridership gain of 25% or more, easily 3 million new riders a year.

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