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MTC Engineers Regional Consensus on High-Speed and Commuter Rail Package to Benefit From Economic Stimulus Funds

MTC today adopted a plan for using federal economic stimulus funds to expedite the arrival of high-speed rail service to the San Francisco Bay Area while at the same time upgrading commuter rail service along the Peninsula Corridor that runs from San Francisco through Silicon Valley to San Jose. The package is the result of a collaborative effort by MTC, the cities of San Francisco and San Jose, and stakeholder transportation agencies along the route.

“Civic and transportation leaders representing the San Francisco/Silicon Valley Corridor … and from the greater Bay Area are joining together to accelerate the arrival of California High-Speed Rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim by preparing the historic Caltrain rail corridor for a new level of service appropriate for the 21st century,” according to the report’s vision statement.

The plan lays out nearly $3.4 billion in regional rail projects, with just over half of that to come from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed by Congress in February of this year. Together, these projects are projected to result in more than 100,000 jobs.

The biggest chunk — $1.8 billion — would go for a series of investments associated with the replacement of San Francisco’s 1930s-era Transbay Terminal with a modern, eye-catching facility that would serve as the terminus for the Peninsula’s Caltrain service along with the mainline route of the planned California High-Speed Rail line. Taking on a new name, the Transbay Transit Center, the facility is envisioned as a Grand Central Station of the West.  

The infusion of federal stimulus money would allow sponsors to advance construction of the underground train station structure for the Transbay Transit Center so that it happens concurrently with construction of the above-ground portions of the building. This would save the project an estimated $100 million compared to excavating under the completed building later on, as was the original plan. Original plans also called for accommodating high-speed trains with curved platforms; the infusion of new money would allow sponsors to lengthen the platforms so that the trains can come in straight, and function more efficiently.

Part of the funding would go toward a subway extension of tracks from Caltrain’s current S.F. terminus at 4th and Townsend streets to the Transbay Transit Center site in the heart of Downtown San Francisco.

In addition to the $1.8 billion for projects related to the Transbay Transit Center, the plan provides $100 million to upgrade the current Caltrain 4th and Townsend terminus to handle expanded commuter rail service as well as to function as an overflow station for high-speed trains.

At the other end of the 50-mile San Francisco/Silicon Valley rail corridor, the Diridon Station in San Jose is in line for a $150 million in expansions and upgrades — including a double-deck configuration — to accommodate high-speed rail as well as increased commuter and intercity rail service operated by Caltrain, the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) that connects the Central Valley with the Bay Area, the Capitols line that runs between San Jose and Sacramento, and Amtrak. The BART extension to San Jose also will connect to the Diridon station.  Usage is expected to go from the current 130 trains a day to over 600 trains per day.

The package also provides $785 million to electrify the corridor so Caltrain can convert its commuter service from diesel power to electric technology, which is cleaner and quieter, and to pave the way for high-speed rail. This item includes funding to purchase electric locomotives or electric multiple-unit train sets for Caltrain. Another $275 million would go toward grade separations in San Bruno, which would benefit both Caltrain and high-speed rail. Likewise, the $231 million earmarked for positive train control would improve safety for both Caltrain and high-speed rail. The improvements would work together to reduce travel time between San Francisco and San Jose via Caltrain to 30 minutes.

“We believe this package represents the strongest possible position for the Bay Area. It paves the way for high-speed rail while delivering significant improvements to the corridor by the middle of this decade,” MTC Executive Director Steve Heminger told the MTC commissioners at their Legislation Committee meeting earlier this month.The package was endorsed on June 11, 2009, by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. The package will be forwarded to the governor's office for inclusion in a statewide pitch for a slice of the federal stimulus funds set aside for high-speed rail projects. 

—  Brenda Kahn

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