Electrification of the Caltrain commuter rail on the Peninsula (south of San Francisco) is an essential part of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s “blended system” that was devised in 2012 to drop the cost of Phase 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles from $98 billion to a mere $68 billion.
Under this modified plan, California High-Speed Rail will not have a dedicated track between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It will share track at the so-called “bookends” with commuter light rail systems: Caltrain at the San Francisco terminus and Metrolink at the Los Angeles terminus.
In 2012 Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget trailer bill, Senate Bill 1029, which designated almost $2 billion for state, regional, and local agencies other than the California High-Speed Rail Authority to help fund fifteen bookend projects and other “connectivity” projects with high-speed rail. SB 1029 appropriated $706 million to electrify and upgrade Caltrain. Note that some of this funding comes from money borrowed by the state through the sale of bonds authorized by Proposition 1A in 2008. (The fine print in Prop 1A indicated that $950 million of the total authorization of $9.95 billion would be used for Amtrak California and commuter and local rail and bus systems that would connect with High-Speed Rail.)
The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board operates the Caltrain commuter rail line between San Francisco and San Jose. By 2020, this board plans to install an electric rail system to allow Caltrain to phase out its diesel trains and allow the California High-Speed Rail Authority to blend the high-speed train system with the Caltrain system.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) want to eliminate potential delays to the project caused by a lawsuit contending that review of the electrification project was deficient under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). As a strategy to neutralize CEQA exemptions, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board has asked the federal Surface Transportation Board to determine that the environmental review of the project falls under federal jurisdiction, meaning that federal law “pre-empts” CEQA on this matter.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority used this strategy successfully to neutralize CEQA objections to the Merced to Fresno and the Fresno to Bakersfield project sections. If Caltrain prevails with the same strategy, it will undermine a lawsuit filed on February 8, 2015 by the Town of Atherton, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF), and the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail (CC-HSR) challenging the adequacy of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board’s Final Environmental Impact Report required under CEQA for the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project.
See the lawsuit at this link: Atherton/TRANSDEF/CC-HSR CEQA lawsuit.
The federal Surface Transportation Board received the petition from the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board on May 19, 2015. On May 29, the Surface Transportation Board agreed to institute a proceeding to consider the petition. It sets a deadline of June 8, 2015 for public comments.
Public Comments to Federal Surface Transportation Board Regarding Petition from Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) to be Exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
Documents in the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) Petition to the Federal Surface Transportation Board to Be Exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)
Individual Documents Extracted from Main Document and Optimized
Exhibit 1 – Interstate Commerce Commission Finance Docket No. 31980, Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and The San Mateo County Transit District, Notice of Exempt Acquisition (filed December 20, 1981)
Exhibit 2 – Interstate Commerce Commission Finance Docket No. 31983, Southern Pacific Transportation Company – Trackage Rights – Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and The San Mateo County Transit District (filed December 20, 1981)