Friday, April 09, 2010

Caltrain urges recertification of Peninsula Route

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Faced with a $30-million budget deficit in the coming fiscal year that is reflective of a long-term unsustainable economic model, Caltrain is urging the California High-Speed Rail Authority to retain the current route between the Central Valley and San Francisco and preserve the opportunity for Caltrain to access funding for improvements that will help secure the operating and financial future of the Peninsula commuter rail service. The high-speed rail authority is soliciting public comment on the Revised Draft Program Environmental Impact Report.

Caltrain has formed a partnership with the state authority to bring high-speed rail to the rail corridor as a means to electrify the Caltrain commuter rail system. Without the funding provided through the delivery of high-speed rail, Caltrain will be unable to make these infrastructure improvements and the survival of commuter rail on the Peninsula will be at risk.

While the Sacramento County Superior Court's ruling in the Town of Atherton v. CHSRA compelled further study to correct minor technical deficiencies in the original environmental document, the ruling unequivocally upheld the original determination that the Pacheco Pass alternative, traveling through San Jose and along the Caltrain corridor to San Francisco, is environmentally superior to other options.

The delivery of high-speed rail will provide a safe, reliable and efficient transportation alternative that will accommodate the California's growing population. As planned along the Caltrain corridor, the project would also offer dramatic benefits for the Bay Area.

"Without high-speed rail, the survival of Caltrain is dubious at best," said Caltrain Board Member Omar Ahmad. "Anyone interested in improving safety and reducing emissions and traffic congestion in our communities should encourage the high-speed rail authority to move forward with planning for a project that will help preserve a commuter rail system that gives over 35,000 commuters a day an alternative to driving their car."

The Caltrain corridor is included in high-speed rail's application for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, which successfully secured $2.25 billion for the project. This investment will create thousands of jobs and fund capital improvements necessary for high-speed rail and essential to the future of Caltrain operations.

At its last meeting, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board discussed the current operating deficit and the possibility that without a dedicated source of operations funding, Caltrain is considering the elimination of midday, night and weekend service.

Even if this service is eliminated, it will not solve Caltrain's ongoing structural operating deficit. The system will still be economically unsustainable. In order to promote the long-term sustainability of the system, it will be necessary to electrify and modernize the corridor through the delivery of high-speed rail, which will lower operating costs, increase ridership and establish a more sustainable financial model for a robust commuter rail system that will accommodate future job and population growth in the region.

In another story, the California High Speed Rail Authority has ruled out one of three alignments for its 220-mph system's route through Madera County, The Fresno Bee reports.

Two alternatives that remain under study include one that closely follows the Union Pacific Railroad corridor and another that follows the BNSF corridor a few miles east. Removed from further consideration was a route that would have taken the train system through farmland west of Highway 99, bypassing both Madera and Chowchilla.

In addition to narrowing its choices around Madera and Chowchilla, the board also dropped a proposal for the line to follow the UP line south from Merced, then cross to the BNSF north of Chowchilla. It also chose a downtown Merced station site, dropping the Merced Amtrak station and the old Castle Air Force Base.

Authority officials noted that the BNSF east of Madera had been identified as the preferred route in 2005. However, the board was told that route would be 10 miles longer and raise more environmental issues. The route west of Highway 99 would have faster travel times. But it drew opposition from Merced, Merced County, Madera County and farmers.

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