At its board meeting last week, the High Speed Rail Authority kicked off the planning processÂ with an aggressive schedule to bring High Speed Rail to the Peninsula corridor. Â The process raises opportunities to fund and implement grade separations, level boarding and longer platforms which will providemore room on Caltrain and faster, more accessible service, and a blended service that could help (or hinder) commuting on between San Francisco and San Jose.
The planning process will cover developing and analyzing alternatives, preliminary engineering and environmental review to cover topics including:
* grade separations
* passing tracks to enable greater train frequency
* level boardingÂ at all Caltrain stations
* shared stations for Caltrain and HSR at San Jose Diridon, Millbrae, and San Francisco
* maintenance facilities
* blended service assumptions driving ridership projections
* a separate but linked project for environmental clearance for theÂ segment from San Jose to Merced.
The implementation timeline would include phases, for example doing some grade separations sooner and some later. Â The RFQ envisions a temporary station atÂ 4th and King,Â in case the Downtown Extension to the Transbay Terminal is not complete before High Speed Rail starts service. Â The Caltrain HSR Compatibility blog has more details on the topics to be considered, and ideas about what the outcomes might be.
The timeline proposed is aggressive, given the complex issues and engaged communities on the Peninsula corridor. Â It was not mentioned at the board meeting, but Northern California project lead Ben Tripousis has mentioned in public at Caltrain board meetings, that the High Speed Rail Authority is updating its schedule for the 2016 business plan, and considering accelerating initial service on the Peninsula corridor by five years, with service starting in 2024/5 rather than 2029.
Update: Â HSRA isÂ hosting a pre-bid conference in on Wednesday, August 12, 9:30am in San Francisco to talk with potential prime contractors and small businesses about the scope of work for the servicesÂ on the corridor. Â Information about that meeting is here. Â Public meetings for community members are being planned but are not set yet, and are expected to be announced in the next few weeks. Â
(Tripousis mentioned that some public meetings in September have already been scheduled – we’ll post them when we hear where and when they are.)
Several board members comment on the aggressive schedule. Tripousis announced that High Speed Rail expects to have a draft environmental impact report including alternatives by November 2016, with a final EIR by November 2017 and board decision by December 2017. Â Board members Selby from San Francisco,Â Perez-Estolano andÂ Schenk from Southern California raised concerns about whether the timeline would provide enough time for community engagement, while Chair Richard raised concerns that this was a 3 year contract for a nominally two year schedule.
The planning process opens the welcome possibility for investments to provide more robust Peninsula rail service in the foreseeable future, while making progress toward the San Francisco to Los Angeles high speed service. Â The 12-month schedule also includes many locally sensitive questions, including about design and land use on the corridor inÂ San Francisco, potentialÂ redesigns for the Diridon and Millbrae stations considering the blended system, plans for grade separations which are locally sensitive, plans for passing tracks which are locally unpopular, and plans for a maintenance yard (last envisioned for Brisbane) which is locally opposed. Â All of this planning needs to happen on a corridor with engaged community members in 19 jurisdictions over 50 miles. Â This will require a lot of local attention to create constructive solutions for the local issues.
Hopefully the High Speed Rail planning process will strike a good balance between engaging the community on solutions and moving forward to bring more needed capacity to the Peninsula corridorÂ over the next decade.