From Andy Chow, President of BayRail Alliance:
I remember that I was a part of the team at BayRail that hosted a community forum on high speed rail nearly 10 years ago in San Jose. At that time we had Jim Costa as the keynote speaker (who drafted the HSR bond in 2002, which was approved just before the event when he was in the state Senate, and now he’s a Congressman). We held the forum because we wanted to bring community awareness of this project and drum up support for it. At that time HSR was mostly an imagination and it was still about two years away before the Caltrain Baby Bullet got started.
Since that time, we at BayRail Alliance fought and won small battles to keep the project alive and viable. In 2004, there was a developer that wanted to build a skyscraper that would be on the way of a rail tunnel getting into and out of the Transbay Terminal. I remember going to a SF Supervisor meeting with Margaret (former executive director of BayRail) and others late into the night just to make a testimony in support of Transbay.
Even though we supported HSR, we had different ideas about the project that we wanted the authority to study and adopt, such as the Altamont Pass alignment. Despite our difference on some issues, we fought hard against an attempt by Governor Schwarzenegger to delay and defund high speed rail in 2006.
With the approval of the HSR bond in 2008, it presented a huge opportunity and also a huge uncertainty as the project continued to move forward. We were extremely disappointed the way the authority handled the environmental process in 2009-2010. When I attended one of those outreach meetings, I saw a plan to completely rebuild a rail line on the Peninsula that the communities couldn’t accept, and which there wouldn’t be enough funding for. We were also disheartened to see HSR becoming a political wedge issue when it shouldn’t be.
Despite the growing doubt over the project, we are pleased to see policy makers, including Governor Jerry Brown, working hard to turn this project around. We applauded Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, Senator Joe Simitian, and Assemblyman Rich Gorden for their support of the blended approach last year. We also support the recent HSR business plan which includes Caltrain electrification as a part of the early investment package. Caltrain electrification has been one of the top agenda for BayRail since its founding nearly 30 years ago. Electrification is essential because it would deliver rapid acceleration, reduction in pollution and noise, and the ability to serve the new Transbay Transit Center in Downtown San Francisco.
With the passage of SB 1029, we now have a clearer vision and a clearer path towards Caltrain electrification and high speed rail. Nonetheless, we believe that, in order for the HSR plan to be successful, Caltrain and the High Speed Rail Authority need to engage with the community throughout the planning process. We will continue to act as a watchdog to ensure high speed rail and Caltrain electrification are implemented effectively and responsibly.