Bay Area “Regional Rail” meeting report   August 22nd, 2007

August 20, 2007, Suisun City Hall
Reported by Russ Jackson

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The Draft “Regional Rail” Plan was presented at a series of August meetings around the Bay Area.

This writer chose to attend the afternoon session in Solano County, while other RailPAC members attended other meetings. The Plan is called a “blueprint for expanding the region’s network of rail lines,” and “will identify potential rail passenger and rail freight improvements for near-, intermediate-, and long-term.” The long-term stretches out to the year 2050. It succeeds in its goals, and while the Plan has received coverage from other media, my report will cover items I think are of importance to RailPAC readers.

The briefing was given by Brent Ogden of DMJM-Harris, the project consultants hired by the Bay Area MTC for this purpose. First, he gave a comprehensive review of Regional Rail strategies, and gave a “vision for an interconnected rail system to guide investment decisions.” Planning in the Bay Area started with the 1956 BART Plan. BART and Caltrain are now considered to be the “backbone” of the rail system in the Bay Area. BART will double its ridership between now and 2030, going to 30 trains per hour and 2 minute headways. After that, only an expansion of capacity will suffice, as BART’s outward expansion potential is nearly complete. The Bay Area population will increase dramatically, highway congestion will increase (Solano County alone will see a 498% increase in vehicle hours of delay) so Regional Rail is the best alternative for transit improvements. .

RailPAC members participated in the first round of meetings, held last year, and our Richard Silver spoke forcefully for the critical element of connectivity between elements of the rail service. The report agreed, and it is #1 on the list, along with resolving the freight and passenger conflicts, the need for a new Bay crossing for rail, preserving and purchasing rights-of-way, exploring advanced technology (mostly electrification), desirable land uses, minimizing impacts on low income areas, a safe and secure system, and a “One system one ticket” convenience for riders. All of these items were incorporated in the Plan.

The Plan’s “Vision” is to “Ring the Bay” with a rail network, with the right technology in the right corridor. By 2050 the Plan would include:

SMART in the North Bay (Cloverdale to Larkspur), an enhanced Capitol Corridor with 3, 4 tracks wherever possible and a new Benicia-Martinez bridge, ACE to Sacramento and Lodi and to Merced, light weight electrified Caltrain equipment between San Francisco and San Jose, “infill” service between Hercules and Union City, a new transbay BART connection tunnel which would permit Caltrain to go to Oakland through the new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, the Dumbarton rail bridge connection, the Altamont Pass right-of-way by way of public ownership plus using the largely abandoned Southern Pacific right-of-way giving double track to Stockton, and double track from San Jose to Salinas with standard equipment and with an interline with the Capitol Corridor and Caltrain, and extension to Monterey and Hollister.

That’s an extensive list of projects, many of which have been or are on the books already. Also included in this report are two interesting variables: one assumes the California High Speed Rail project will be funded and built, and the other that it won’t. In the former assumption the report discusses the advantages and disadvantages of both proposed routes into the Bay Area, and instead of recommending one it says both routes, through Altamont Pass and through Pacheco Pass should be built.

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Altamont would provide high speed “commuter” trains into the region, while Pacheco would be for the express trains to Los Angeles and serve San Jose. Inherent in this idea would be that there would be only a need for double track on both routes rather than the four tracks required on much of the route if only one is selected. This writer was intrigued with the idea that a new cross-Bay rail tunnel would be able to carry not only BART, but also an extension of Caltrain and the HSR, which would make an expensive construction from Fremont to Oakland and Fremont to San Jose unnecessary for HSR. What is largely left out is service into Napa County which the report concluded did not generate enough potential ridership, but did have freight potential.

The Plan’s cost and governance issues are addressed and are of vital concern. The estimated costs to implement all the elements is $45 Billion, and if the High Speed Rail project is approved it adds another $17 Billion statewide. This writer asked what the plan for coordinating all the elements of the Plan were, as if it is left to each provider to carry out only their own segments it could be a very long time before the Regional Plan was implemented if at all. The Plan recommends a “Regional Rail Authority” to do the heavy lifting, and we would support that. Solano County Supervisor Jim Spering, one of the “fathers” of the Capitol Corridor when he was Suisun City Mayor, agreed, saying a “Single Source Regional Rail Authority” was absolutely necessary, and that “no new operators” be created in the meantime. On August 21 the Sacramento Bee editorialized that “For Northern California rail, the future is here.” It says that the new Bay Area rail plan “lays out what needs to be done. Now’s (the) time to begin.” The Bee adds that each element, like the Capitol Corridor, is “only one slice of the pie,” adding, “What portion of the rail plan is feasible and (the) financing options will be debated in the months ahead.”

What the final Plan will look like will be interesting, and Northern California residents will have a big stake in the outcomes. We recommend readers look at the Plan and quickly submit your comments. Maps and the full draft Plan are available at www.bayarearailplan.info As the report says, “Help lay the track for the future of our Regional Rail System.”

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2007 at 11:16 AM and is filed under Reports.