The Legislature on Monday approved a bill by Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, that would create an additional safeguard restricting high-speed rail through the Peninsula to a blended, primarily two-track system to minimize impacts to communities along the Caltrain right-of-way.
Senate Bill 557, coauthored by Assemblymen Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, cleared the Assembly on a 49-24 vote and awaits the governor’s signature.
The legislation, which puts to rest concerns on the Peninsula that the California High-Speed Rail Authority may revisit a four-track option, is supported by a coalition of local governments, including the cities of Palo Alto, Atherton, Redwood City and San Carlos. The bill also has the backing of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, the San Mateo County Transit District and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority.
Last year, when the Legislature approved funding for the high-speed rail system, a few issues were not resolved relating to the San Jose to San Francisco segment.
While Authority officials assured Hill that a four-track system would not be built, SB 557 will give local agencies like Caltrain veto-authority if a four-track option is ever revisited.
The bill also closes a potential loophole by ensuring that funds cannot be transferred from the Peninsula segment to other segments of the high-speed project.
In addition, SB 557 clarifies the amount of early investment money that will be allocated to electrify Caltrain. The $600 million in bond money will be matched with local funds to electrify Caltrain by 2019.
Under the electrified system, trains from San Francisco to San Jose will provide faster, more reliable, more frequent service to more stations due to the operation of high-performance electric vehicles with quicker acceleration and deceleration. With improved service, Caltrain will be able to attract and accommodate increased ridership, which will create additional revenue and reduce the subsidy required to operate the system.
Switching from a diesel-based service to electric operations will also reduce the system's greenhouse gas emissions by up to 90 percent.
Funding for Caltrain electrification was made possible because then-Assemblyman Hill and the other elected officials persuaded the Legislature, the governor and rail authority to direct Proposition 1A dollars toward high-speed rail bookend investments that will offer more immediate benefits to existing transit systems in Northern and Southern California.