Friday, January 09, 2009

HSR Authority proceeds with project level EIR

With the approval of Prop 1A last November, the HSRA is now in charge of a monumental task to build a high speed rail system in California.

Local

HSRA and the Federal Railroad Administration have announced that they will prepare environmental documents for the San Francisco-San Jose HSR segment. Public meetings have been scheduled later this month:

San Mateo County: SamTrans Auditorium, 1250 San Carlos Avenue, San Carlos, California, January 22, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

San Francisco: San Francisco State University, 835 Market Street, 6th Floor (Rooms 673-674), San Francisco, California, January 27, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.

Santa Clara County: Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Parkway, Great America Meeting Rooms 1 & 2, Santa Clara, California, January 29, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The environmental document approved in 2007 was programmatic-level, largely without detail information on specific designs and mitigation measures. The environmental document that they will prepare is project level, which will include details omitted in the prior documents.

Meanwhile, the HSRA will seek an agreement with Caltrain, which owns the rail corridor between San Francisco and San Jose. Although some have a very ambitious vision for the corridor, it could take a long time to implement (if not scaled down) because of the difficulty constructing in a highly active rail corridor (Caltrain service would continue) as well as obtaining matching funds mandated by Prop 1A.

State

Because of the state's budget crisis and poor economy, the state treasurer hasn't sold any of the HSR bonds needed to finance the consultant work. The agency could soon be running out of cash.

Although the wisdom of using state bonds to finance this project is certainly debatable, there's also a clear need to have a vision for an integrated statewide rail network. It is important to note that the same corridor for intercity high speed trains could be used by regional commuter trains.

One of the top reasons for opposing the BART project is that BART trains simply aren't compatible with high speed rail. The money that would be spent building BART tracks could only run trains as far as from Richmond. If VTA were more wise and visionary, it would have invested in an integrated network connecting the Central Valley and beyond.

Federal

Initially, Barack Obama's victory gave high hopes and expectations that the federal government would provide strong support for high speed rail and other transit projects throughout the country. Recently, some advocates are concerned that high speed rail could be left out of Obama's priorities.

Athough Democrats tend to be in support of pro-environmental programs, environmentalists are just one of many fractions in the Democratic coalition competing for attention. Groups that tend to support the existing highway based paradigm include labor unions, which are a major base of the Democratic Party. In addition, the Democratic administrations also tend to be more fiscally responsible than the Republicans, which only made the competition between various interests more intense.

8 comments:

arcady said...

"there's also a clear need to have a vision for an integrated statewide rail network"
That would be excellent. But then why is there a High Speed Rail Authority which is entirely separate from Caltrans DOR without very much coordination that I can see. And I don't think there's anyone at all dealing with freight rail on a statewide network level.

accountablevta said...

Unlike highways, private companies own most rail corridors in California. These companies are under the federal jurisdiction which complicate things even more.

The current Caltrans supported Amtrak network runs on UP and BNSF tracks. Some rail systems like Caltrain and Metrolink own their own tracks, but not for the entire system.

arcady said...

Yes, I'm quite aware that most rail infrastructure in California is owned by private companies, and the rest by local commuter agencies (Caltrain, Metrolink, NCTD). But there have been a number of improvements funded by Caltrans as part of their intercity rail program, and it would have been nice to not have to create yet another rail agency in addition to the many we already have.

Anonymous said...

"In addition, the Democratic administrations also tend to be more fiscally responsible than the Republicans, which only made the competition between various interests more intense."

Not in this universe.

An other onymous said...

I think both Democrats and Republicans are to blame here. The former want more programs, the latter want lower taxes. The government gives them both, and by the laws of arithmetic, gets a budget deficit. Perhaps they should both learn to compromise. Also how to count.

accountablevta said...

Yes. Both parties are a problem. In the state-level where you can't deficit spend, you get a budget deadlock. In the fed you get the usual deficit spending.

Both parties are beholden to certain interests that got us where we are.

The original point is that Obama would likely be much more moderate than what some of the high speed rail advocate would prefer.

Winston said...

The details of BayRail's Metro East proposal are deeply, deeply stupid. The routing they propose combines the worst attributes of the Alviso line with the worst aspects of the proposed BART routing. A much cheaper, faster and better approach would be to improve the Alviso route (used by the Altamont Commuter Express and the Capitol Corridor) which will connect to BART at Union City and use existing rail ROW. This route would allow much faster service than the BayRail proposal and would serve existing development and areas likely to be redeveloped better. This would sacrifice serving the great mall of Miliptas, but that is already well served by light rail.

arcady said...

If serving Milpitas is the goal, then why not use the UP line that's already there, and goes to Fremont/Niles. In fact, you could make it a loop, up via Milpitas then through Centerville and back via Alviso. I don't know what condition this line is in, or how much work would be required to bring it to sufficiently good condition for passenger service, but it seems a whole lot cheaper than BART. For BART connections, the options are either to extend BART to a new transfer station, or else build a new BART platform at Shinn, where the BART line crosses the Centerville line.