Caltrain board approves electrification environmental report; Transdef may sue

This morning, the Caltrain board approved the Environmental Impact Report for the electrification, allowing the project to move forward. With recent changes, the project is now scheduled to be completed in late 2020/early 2021.

To mitigate to impacts raised in the environmental report, Caltrain modified pole designs to minimize tree removal, will make signal and roadway improvements at some intersections that are affected, and will make pedestrian improvements at 4th and King in partnership with San Francisco.

While grade separations are not part of the electrification project, Caltrain plans to support future local and regional efforts to fund grade separations. Similarly, to mitigate noise, Caltrain plans to contribute fair share to noise and vibration mitigations such as quiet zones and building insulation.

While a majority of comments were positive, there are some strong objections to the project. Transdef, a transportation nonprofit, opposes the project and is considering litigation, based on an argument that Caltrain should not be able to complete EIR for electrification, because eventually the line will also be used for High Speed Rail, and therefore Caltrain should wait to do an EIR for the entire High Speed Rail project. Transdef also is participating in other litigation against the High Speed Rail project. 

The City of Palo Alto also communicated concerns that the city hopes can be addressed. Richard Hackman, city staff member who works on rail issues, said in public comment that “We believe there are partial or full mitigations at little or not cost to Palo Alto or Caltrain that can address unmitigated impacts.” According to a letter sent from Palo Alto City Council on December 31, Palo Alto was seeking removal of one of the electric station options that residents thought was visually unacceptable, and other mitigations for visual impacts.  Palo Alto also wants Caltrain to pay for the design of grade separations, although Palo Alto is already in the midst of a multi-phase, locally funded effort to study grade separation options. On Monday, Caltrain will provide a presentation about the EIR to Palo Alto City Council where the issues are expected to be discussed.

The SAP Center in San Jose, which was last seen wishing to increase the amount of parking for the Diridon Station Area Plan, is also wanting Caltrain to provide more parking, to address the needs of Arena fans who arrive by driving.  Caltrain responded that less than 30% of Caltrain riders at Diridon drive to the station at park.  At the board meeting, Board Member Yeager encouraged the SAP arena to work on the issue through VTA committee meetings.

As with the Arena’s desire to increase parking in other parts of the station area, we hope that over time, City of San Jose  will set expectations that the Arena will provide stronger support for non-car transportation to games, just as San Francisco set expectations of the Giants when they moved from car-centric Candlestick Park to urban AT&T park. The Sharks, of course, are not moving, but the area is changing around them to become more urban and less car-centric.