Caltrain Electrification--Has Caltrain Lost its Way?

Caltrain issued its very large Draft Environmental Impact Report for its Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project, which depends on HSR funding to electrify the tracks from San Jose to San Francisco. TRANSDEF filed extensive Comments and Attachments, making the case for studying a fully worked-up DEMU (Dual-mode diesel-electric multiple unit) alternative. This alternative would accomplish many of the goals of the electrification project while remaining within the financial reach of Caltrain, now that HSR seems to be crashing. Because it would eliminate most if not all the proposed electrification that is controversial for a significant portion of the public, it would improve Caltrain’s public support. A policy letter to the Joint Powers Board makes the case that Altamont Corridor access to the Bay Area should be reconsidered and supported, because it would preserve Caltrain’s capacity to grow in the future, and because it would allow Caltrain to determine its own future, independent of the fate of HSR.

Jack Ringham filed an excellent set of
comments. Paraphrasing him, the JPB's thinking and the environmental review process have been distorted by its eagerness to build its long-desired electrification project and by the availability of ARRA funds. Neither JPB nor CHSRA is able to do a legally defensible EIR for Blended Service because HSR construction is at least 10 years away (alleged service start is no sooner than 2026) and is totally undefined. Without that analysis, the electrification EIR is violating CEQA by failing to provide an adequate analysis of the cumulative impacts of HSR on Caltrain, despite the accommodation of HSR being the number one purpose for electrification, and also being its main funding source. This is known as chopping or piecemealing, and is forbidden. Also, because the Blended Service is so undefined, there is a substantial risk of wasted funds, where new work would have to be moved. In short, if the fleet needs changing because of aging, Jack says change it over to DMUs and get significant air quality and transportation benefits now.

CC-HSR submitted a legal powerhouse of a
comment letter, well worth a read.