Finally, a bit of sanity is surfacing around the folks at the California High Speed Rail Commission. They are taking their foot off the accelerator when it comes to their strategy of trying to steamroll over California by figuratively pursuing a one-track high speed rail vision.
The sanity is in the form of behind-the-scenes effort to accelerate the marriage of high speed rail with two of the state’s high demand commute lines - Caltrain that runs down the San Francisco Peninsula and Metrolink in the Los Angeles Basin.
The strategy is to essentially electrify service on the two commuter lines and put in place an advanced train-control system now instead of later. In the Bay Area it would also include eliminating some crossings.
That would put high speed rail on existing track right-of-ways in the state’s largest metropolitan areas instead of concentrating everything upfront on the train tracks to nowhere in the Southern San Joaquin Valley
In doing so, the high speed rail plan would start reaping perceived benefits such as cleaner air and quicker travel sooner than later. It also would underscore the true value of high speed rail which is to ease the daily commute grind in the state’s more congested urban areas.
Granted, Caltrain would offer trains making milk to “milk runs” with more frequent stops than the high speed Los Angles to San Francisco trains that would only have four stops between the two end destinations.
Such a move would bring expenditures more in line with the real need - regional commute congestion relief - as opposed to zipping between LA and The City.
Trains would virtually fly through the Central Valley at 220 mph and would obviously slowdown along the Peninsula.
It takes a page out of the Altamont Commuter Express high speed rail playbook. The commute between Stockton and San Jose would be cut in half to 55 minutes under the ACE high speed plan.
It essentially entails securing right-of-way and building its own tracks across the Altamont Pass in a much straighter line than Union Pacific’s track.
The high speed run of the ACE service would be between Tracy and Pleasanton in no man’s land. On either side of the Altamont, trains would run slower although slightly faster than the top speed of conventional heavy rail.
Obviously, this doesn’t please critics of the Central Valley leg where high speed rail will have a major impact on agricultural operations. It might put a dent as well in the overall cost of the system especially if they didn’t ultimately build separate lines in the LA Basin and Bay Area. And it could get high speed rail up and running five to 10 years earlier making 2016 within the realm of possibility.
But more importantly it focuses clearly on the biggest commuter markets and drastically reduces the chances of high speed rail ending up simply as a $16 billion express service between Bakersfield and Fresno.
You still may not like high speed rail in terms of its cost - it’ll still be high - and the disruption of agriculture and commerce of those in its path.
Even so it’s good to see the rail commission get off its high horse by essentially no longer saying it’s their way or the freeway.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.