Politics

Phil Matier: High-Speed Rail Ruling Threatens To Derail Future Of Caltrain, Other Agencies

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Caltrain Diridon station, San Jose

A Caltrain at San Jose Diridon Station. (Caltrain)

Phil-Matier_BIO-HEAD Phil Matier
Whether it's politics, personalities or analysis Phil Matier is one ...
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SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) — This week’s court decision putting California’s high-speed train project on hold could have an undesired impact on the new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco—not to mention a number of transit projects all through Northern California.

When they pushed high-speed rail through the legislature, after voters approved it, they needed to get votes because some people were not on board, saying the project should not happen.

The way to get votes was to sweeten the deal by parceling out goodies to various districts. In this case, the goodies were connector funds—which allow agencies, such as Muni, to get money if their service was to connect with the high-speed trains.

Some of the Central Subway Project money was derived from this; AC Transit and other Bay Area transit agencies all got a little coin out of the deal.

But now those funds are in danger.

The Transbay Terminal could take a big hit and so could Caltrain—the peninsula commuter rail.

In order to install the high-speed rail, there was an agreement that, rather than build new lines, they were going to switch Caltrain over making it electric so it could travel those 80-90 mph speeds. Above all, it would bail Caltrain out of their difficultly sustaining diesel-powered trains and it put them on the right track to long-term viability.

They’ll have to look for a way to find about $600 million to switch over without those high-speed rail funds.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, they’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars building an underground train station at Mission and 1st Street that was supposed to connect to the high-speed rail line or Caltrain. However, if Caltrain doesn’t electrify, they can’t go into the tunnel because it isn’t safe for diesel trains to run inside of a tunnel.

There’s a lot of shock going on right now by transportation authorities who are wondering how to pull a plan together so that these stations being built don’t end up empty. It’s all about the money; a large chunk of it was supposed to come from federal funds, some from California voters and then you need an outside investor. It will be interesting to see if anyone wants to join the party with their $30 billion.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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