The threat was made in this letter (640 kB PDF file) from attorney Gary Patton.
The letter not only complains of the age of the EIR (last circulated for public comment in 2004), but more importantly, it argues that the project has substantially changed and has effectively become part of the peninsula HSR project, by virtue of the MOU signed by Caltrain (a copy of which is attached to the letter) and the funding arrangement whereby HSR funds might pay for a portion of the electrification project.
The implications of this legal threat to the Caltrain electrification project are easy to deduce:
- Without a certified EIR, the project is not "shovel-ready";
- Without "shovel-readiness" the project is unlikely to benefit from the stimulus funds awarded to the California HSR project;
- It is no longer even within Caltrain's purview to prepare an updated EIR;
- The construction timeline is likely to be delayed for at least as long as the HSR project, entering service in 2020 in the unlikely event that everything goes smoothly;
- The replacement of Caltrain's aging fleet (a large portion of which was acquired circa 1985) will be delayed by several years, likely causing Caltrain to miss the window and undertake early replacement of obsolete equipment with more diesel-hauled trains rather than electric multiple units. You can stop the clock on the HSR project, but you can't stop the clock on aging of equipment.
With a barrage of lawsuits being lined up against the peninsula HSR project, Caltrain is already getting caught in the crossfire. Any project that enables or facilitates the eventual construction of HSR is seemingly fair game. For better or for worse, Caltrain is now in a shotgun marriage with HSR, enforced by these legal threats, with environmental clearance, engineering and construction likely unable to proceed independently. There is very little that Caltrain can do about this besides duking it out in court.
On the flip side, maybe this is an opportunity to finally undertake the design of a integrated system, where Caltrain and HSR are built as a single project rather than two independent operators awkwardly sharing the same corridor. This blog has always promoted compatibility, whether it be platforms, train control, timetables, to maximize the synergy between the two systems--something in which Caltrain has shown dishearteningly little interest so far. Perhaps this setback of the electrification project will prompt some reflection.
(pantograph photograph by ztephen)