Caltrain board to review agreement with High Speed Rail on Thursday

At Thursday’s board meeting the Caltrain Joint Powers Board will review the draft Memorandum of Understanding with High Speed Rail (Jan 2013).

Based on community feedback, the updated draft has some welcome changes, but omits a key request.

The agreement did not incorporate the recommendation from Friends of Caltrain, members of the Local Policy Maker Working Group and others that Caltrain should be the lead agency for post-electrification projects. Instead, there is language stating that the High Speed Rail Authority will be the lead agency for future projects but Caltrain will represent the interests of communities on the corridor.

If this is not changed, it sets the stage for some difficult times perhaps a decade or more from now, when High Speed Rail gets to the Peninsula. High level traffic study results indicate that adding High Speed Trails will put more pressure on remaining at-grade intersections. There will be intense discussions about grade separations, possible passing tracks, and station changes, whose design will have big consequences for local communities. Perhaps by then the High Speed Rail Authority will have the capability to work closely and respectfully with local communities.

On the bright side, the new agreement explicitly terminates the obsolete 2004 and 2009 Agreements between Caltrain and HSR, which refer to the old dedicated four-track design. The clarity in the new agreement is another helpful step in confirming the blended system approach.

The document includes the priority of speedy delivery of Caltrain electrification no later than 2019.

The agreement also explicitly calls out the need for Caltrain and High Speed Rail to work together to comply with legal reporting requirements. This will help prevent any risk to funding caused by reporting technicalities.

There are a number of topics that the MOU outlines for future collaboration and decisions. Caltrain and High Speed Rail agree to work together in the future to develop cost sharing arrangements, as well as design, construction and operational decisions including scheduling, boarding, and maintenance issues.

The agreement does not incorporate the recommendation that Caltrain own additional tracks on the corridor. Instead, “ownership of future improvements and associated additional right of way required to implement the Blended System will be the subject of a future agreement between the parties.

One missing item, in the list of topics for future collaboration, is a plan to work together to secure funding for grade separations and other blended system improvements. This MOU commits Caltrain and the High Speed Rail authority to work together to secure approval and release of Prop1A funds, but not beyond that. Meanwhile, the 9-party agreement brokered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to fund Caltrain electrification does includes language about pursuing funding for further projects to advance the blended system (such as the Downtown Extension to Transbay Terminal, grade separations, and possible passing tracks.

It would be good to call out the need for Caltrain and High Speed Rail to collaborate closely together on raising money for the next steps in the blended system.

The board will take feedback and hold discussion on February 7, and vote on the agreement at its March meeting.