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California High-Speed Rail

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) and its predecessor, the California High-Speed Rail Commission, have been assessing the feasibility of a statewide high-speed rail (HSR) system for more than 10 years. With a motto of “Fly California without ever leaving the ground,” the Authority envisions high-speed trains capable of maximum speeds of up to 220 miles per hour with an expected trip time from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just over two hours and 30 minutes. The 700-mile long system is forecast to potentially carry up to 117 million passengers per year by 2030.

Local Alignment

While MTC has not formally endorsed a California HSR system, it has previously taken a position on an alignment between the Central Valley and the Bay Area. There are two Bay Area entry corridors that have been under consideration by the CHSRA for the past several years: one from the east coming over the Altamont Pass in eastern Alameda County, the other coming over the Pacheco Pass in southern Santa Clara County. In June 1999, MTC took a position (via Resolution 3198) to support the Pacheco Pass alignment as the preferred alignment for high-speed train entry into the Bay Area. The Commission reaffirmed its support for the Pacheco Pass alignment in May 2003 and directed staff to work with the CHSRA and Bay Area transit operators to develop an integrated package of projects to enhance connectivity between commuter and intercity rail operators and the proposed HSR system.

MTC Resolution 3198 on High-Speed Rail, June 1999

According to MTC Resolution 3198, if a high-speed rail system is constructed in California, such a system should:

  1. Enter the Bay Area via the Pacheco Pass in order to maximize ridership and farebox revenue, reduce travel times, improve distribution and connection opportunities within the region, and avoid the construction of a new bay crossing required by the Altamont Pass entry for San Francisco service.
  2. Provide direct high-speed rail service to San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, and to as many of the region’s commercial air carrier airports as possible.
  3. If the Authority elects not to provide direct high-speed rail service to any of the three major cities, it should finance the improvement and operation of upgraded connecting rail service to such city or cities with a level of service as close to direct high-speed rail service as feasible.

MTC Resolution 3198 did not endorse the high-speed rail system nor any subsequent ballot measure financing its construction.

High-Speed Rail Again in the Spotlight

The question of how high-speed rail will enter and serve the San Francisco Bay Area has again moved to the top of region’s transportation agenda as the result of two efforts. The CHSRA, in cooperation with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), recently released (and is seeking public comment on) a program-level EIR/EIS that further examines the San Francisco Bay Area-to-Central Valley region as the second part of a tiered environmental review process. Meanwhile, MTC reexamined the issue as part of the development of the Regional Rail Plan, which the Commission adopted in late September 2007. In light of the substantial amount of new information that has been developed as part of the Regional Rail Plan and the CHSRA Draft EIR/EIS, MTC is considering taking a formal position on the need for a statewide HSR system and reassessing its position focusing exclusively on a south alignment entry to the Bay Area via the Pacheco Pass.

Key Questions for MTC’s October 2007 Meetings

To help frame the high-speed rail discussion, staff has proposed the following three questions for the MTC commissioners to consider:

  1. Should the Bay Area support building a statewide high-speed rail system?
  2. Which high-speed rail alignment is preferred and why?
  3. How can high-speed rail be implemented in Northern California and the Bay Area?

MTC staff has prepared a presentation (PowerPoint) that responds to each of the above three questions. Action is scheduled for the MTC Planning Committee meeting on October 12, 2007, and the full Commission meeting on October 24, 2007 (see the Meetings page for times and location). The public can comment at the meetings, or by e-mailing info@bayareametro.gov, or sending a letter to:

Doug Kimsey
Planning Director
MTC
101 Eighth Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Bay Area-to-Central Valley High-Speed Train Program Draft EIR/EIS

Details about the California High-Speed Rail Authority's Draft EIR/EIS can be viewed at: www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/public_notice/

The comment period for the CHSRA Draft EIR/EIS has been extended to noon on Friday, October 26, 2007. Written comments may be submitted to:

California High-Speed Rail Authority, EIR/EIS Comments 
925 L Street, Suite 1425 
Sacramento, CA 95814

Comments can also be submitted online at: www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/public_notice/Comments/

Regional Rail Plan and High-Speed Rail

In funding the Regional Rail Plan, Regional Measure (RM) 2 stipulated that the plan examine how the regional rail network could be integrated with a statewide high-speed train system between the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California. As such, the Regional Rail Plan evaluated eight alternative configurations for high-speed lines connecting the Bay Area with the Central Valley and Southern California via Pacheco Pass or Altamont Pass. Opportunities to operate regional “overlay” services across high-speed rail lines were also identified.

Funding for High-Speed Rail (Per the California High-Speed Rail Authority)

The 2007-08 enacted state budget provides $20.7 million to continue project implementation. While far less than the amount originally requested, the 2007-08 funding supports the preparation of a project financial plan, project management activities, identification of critical rights-of-way acquisitions, and the continuation of detailed project design and related environmental studies. However, bond funding for the project must still be authorized by voters in 2008. A $9.95 billion dollar bond measure is on the November 2008 ballot with $9 billion for implementing high-speed rail and $950 million for improvements to other rail services that connect to the high-speed rail service. This bond measure requires a simple majority vote for approval.

For more information, contact Doug Kimsey at 510.817.5790.

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