Peninsula residents have a big transportation decision to make in the coming months: whether to support the electrification of Caltrain.
Joined by Caltrain and San Mateo city officials, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, held a news conference at the downtown San Mateo Caltrain Station on Tuesday morning to encourage residents to get on board with the electrification of Caltrain.
Electrifying Caltrain would make the trains quieter, faster and more frequent. It would also reduce emissions by 90 percent.
"Hear that noise?" Hill shouted during the news conference as Caltrain sirens blared and a train approached the station, screeching to a halt. "With electrification you wouldn't hear that anymore."
Hill compared the magnitude of the decision to electrify Caltrain with another transportation possibly San Mateo County residents faced in the 1960s: whether to bring BART all the way through the Peninsula. There are implications that need close examination.
Hill said if Caltrain is electrified, ideally it will be merged with high-speed rail along the Peninsula, in a two-track blended system as opposed to a four-track system.
A four-track system, according to Hill, would infringe upon each community along Caltrain. Peninsula cities have widely opposed the four-track system.
Tuesday night, State Sen. Joe Simitian is hosting in Mountain View, bringing in the chairmen of the High Speed Rail Authority, the HSR Peer Review Group, and representatives of the Legislative Analyst's Office. Two state senators who chair the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee and the Senate Select Committee High Speed Rail will be participating. Hill had suggested that this hearing would be a good opportunity to ask about how Caltrain electrification could work in a blended system.
The electrification of Caltrain by 2019 would cost about $1.5 billion. Right now a plan is in the works to leverage high-speed railbond money with local transportation funds; each would provide about $750 million.
"It's time for us to get involved and study the issue," Hill said.
San Mateo City Councilmembers Jack Matthews and Robert Ross also attended Tuesday's news conference to emphasize the city council's support for the electrification of Caltrain.
Ross echoed Hill in saying it's important for residents to get involved early in the process, characterizing it as an investment that will pay dividends.
"By getting in on the early investment, we can get our needs met," he said.
One concern, Ross added, is that no one has seen what the electrification will do to the Peninsula. While it would ultimately aid Caltrain and its riders, the process of electrifying the train tracks could damage city streets or infrastructure, Ross said.
"We haven't seen a real live visualization of the impact," Ross said.
The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is scheduled to release the details of the funding for electrification next week.
Tuesday night's public hearing on high speed rail is at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. The center is located at 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, CA 94040. Parking is available in the garage under the Center, and in the open lot across the street.
For those who cannot attend, Sen. Simitian's website, www.senatorsimitian.com, will stream the sesson live.
- Los Altos Patch Editor L.A. Chung contributed to this report