How plans to increase service on the Caltrain corridor will intersect with potential high-speed rail service was top of mind for San Mateo County officials as they reviewed the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s recommended changes for the rail corridor at the Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday meeting.
Boris Lipkin, Northern California regional director at the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said high-speed rail and Caltrain officials have been working together for years to coordinate the corridor modifications needed to electrify and expand Caltrain service as well as scope the infrastructure needed to accommodate high-speed rail service between San Jose and San Francisco.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has worked on establishing a bullet train service between Los Angeles and San Francisco since voters approved a $10 billion bond more than 10 years ago. While estimates for the project have varied, recent reports have it projected to cost approximately $77 billion with a 2033 completion date. Gov. Gavin Newsom created a stir in February when he said the focus needed to shift from connecting it from the Central Valley to the Bay Area to a north and south section between Bakersfield and Merced before connecting to the west.
Still, Lipkin said some 500 community meetings held along the corridor in the last three years has helped shape strategies officials have considered for introducing high-speed rail to the Caltrain corridor as plans progress. Whether passing tracks, an additional set of tracks allowing trains to pass each other, would be needed for segments of the corridor and the location of a light maintenance facility were among the variables officials weighed, noted Lipkin.
Though officials have narrowed the number of alternatives for accommodating high-speed rail service to two, Lipkin said staff has recommended an alternative requiring no new passing tracks between stations along the corridor and locating the light maintenance facility on the eastern side of the tracks at Brisbane.
Though the recommended alternative will come with the trade-off of slightly slower travel times for high-speed rail service, Lipkin said the recommendation is also expected to better address community concerns as compared with another alternative proposing 6 miles of passing tracks between San Mateo and Redwood City and a light maintenance facility on the western side of the tracks at Brisbane.
Supervisor Dave Pine, who also serves as the vice chair of the Caltrain board of directors, wondered how an effort to create a business plan for future Caltrain service factored into high-speed rail officials’ recommendation not to construct passing tracks between San Mateo and Redwood City.
By creating three growth scenarios, Caltrain officials have been studying how four-track segments and other changes along the corridor could play a role in expanding future Caltrain service. Both the moderate-growth and high-growth scenarios crafted by Caltrain officials imagine four-track segments at various locations along the corridor, whereas the baseline-growth scenario envisions four tracks only at the Millbrae station to accommodate six Caltrains and four high-speed rail trains in each direction during peak service hours.
Lipkin said the High-Speed Rail Authority has been monitoring the Caltrain business plan and is in the midst of obtaining environmental clearance for the inclusion of high-speed rail service on the Caltrain corridor. He added any infrastructure needed to accommodate higher levels of growth will require additional environmental review. Though Lipkin acknowledged rail officials will continue to scope the future of the corridor, he noted any growth on the corridor beyond the addition of high-speed rail is outside the scope of the agency’s current engagement.
Pine said he was glad to receive an update from the High-Speed Rail Authority and also voiced support for inviting Caltrain officials to provide an update to the Board of Supervisors on their efforts to create a business plan.
“We’re on the cusp of just a revolutionary change in this corridor,” he said, according to a video of the meeting. “I don’t know we’ll ever see high-speed rail … but we are going to see a real intensification of the use of that corridor … which affects all of us.”
In response to Supervisor David Canepa’s question about why the light maintenance facility is planned for Brisbane, Lipkin said officials also considered the Port of San Francisco and San Francisco International Airport as possible locations, but found those sites had several constraints that made them infeasible. Because the maintenance facility needs to be close to the start and end of service and requires some 100 acres, there are not many sites along the corridor that would work, noted Lipkin.
Canepa asked how the high-speed rail officials have been working with Brisbane city officials as they plan for a major mixed-use development slated for a 684-acre landfill abutting the Bayshore. Known as the Brisbane Baylands project, the development is expected to provide up to 2,200 residential units and 7 million square feet of commercial space at the site where the light maintenance facility is planned.
Lipkin said high-speed rail officials have participated in the planning process for the development and will continue to work with the property owner and city officials as they coordinate on their plans. He said high-speed rail officials advocated for locating the facility on the eastern side of the development and away from where the housing is currently planned.
Pine also acknowledged the importance of grade separation projects — which involve separating the grades of local roads and the train tracks so vehicle traffic isn’t stopped when a train passes through — as future rail growth is considered for the corridor. Though he acknowledged the high cost of the infrastructure projects, Pine emphasized the need for the improvements expected to ease east-west traffic flow and expressed hope the High-Speed Rail Authority will contribute to the projects planned for the Peninsula.
“I think there’s going to have to be a contribution by high-speed rail on further grade separations … given the scope and magnitude of what has to be done here,” he said.
Unlike the sections of rail corridor being built in the Central Valley where trains are expected to travel up to 220 mph, blended corridors do not require grade separations, noted Lipkin. But he commended Peninsula cities and Caltrain officials for planning for grade separations and said high-speed rail officials as well as other state agencies will play a role in scoping those projects in the future.
“We certainly see those as important opportunities … we will be a part of,” he said. “How that all shakes out and … it develops, I think time will tell.”
Visit hsr.ca.gov/high_speed_rail/project_sections/sf_sj.aspx for more information about the San Francisco to San Jose project section of the California high-speed rail system. A community open house presenting the recommended changes will be held Aug. 19 in the Multipurpose Room at Sequoia High School, 1201 Brewster Ave.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106