The first thing you can be sure of is that a tug of war would occur between the SF Bay Area and the LA Basin, with maybe just a sprinkle of money to placate the Central Valley. Out of the six billion of federal and state monies currently available, let's assume that $2.65 billion ends up here. Let's further assume that the money is actually spent in ways that enable high-speed rail, rather than poured down the usual black hole of BART extensions, never to be heard from again. What could and should be built in the San Francisco Bay Area for $2.65 billion of high-speed rail funding?
The bookend approach, in order of priority:
NUMBER ONE: Deploy ERTMS, the train control system that will be used for HSR. The peninsula corridor, which happens to be in need of a federally-mandated positive train control system but has nowhere near enough money to pay for it, could serve as the perfect testbed to import this key enabling technology of HSR to the United States. In exchange for full HSR funding, Caltrain would agree to abandon their unfunded and HSR-incompatible CBOSS project.
- HSR benefit: pilot deployment of ERTMS standard in the US, ready for expansion to the state-wide HSR network. All regulatory hurdles cleared.
- HSR funding share: $150 million (Caltrain can pay for other items such as the backup control facility)
- Environmental Clearance: not required
- Timeline: easily completed before 2015, following the example of Rio de Janeiro or Auckland.
- Independent Utility: fulfills federal PTC mandate for Caltrain
- HSR benefit: one-seat access to San Francisco and SFO, without changing trains in San Jose
- HSR funding share: $400 million (50% of infrastructure cost)
- Environmental Clearance: Complete and shovel-ready. Federal clearance is in hand, and state clearance is a simple matter of Caltrain certifying their EIR. Preliminary engineering well underway.
- Timeline: completed by 2016.
- Independent Utility: provides faster, better, quieter, less polluting peninsula commute for over 10 million riders a year, and helps "ring the bay" with electric rail transit, relieving highway 101 congestion
central island platforms at San Carlos, Hillsdale and Hayward Park. Belmont already has a suitable island platform. The mid-line overtake has already been identified as an important enabler of blended operations, by providing an opportunity for faster trains to pass slower trains.
- HSR benefit: 20 minute shorter travel time to San Francisco
- HSR funding share: $600 million (100% of the cost)
- Environmental Clearance: not started.
- Timeline: probably not complete by 2017 spending deadline of federal HSR funding, unless environmental clearance is fast-tracked.
- Independent Utility: provides reliable overtaking of Caltrain locals by Caltrain expresses, at a four-platform Hillsdale station where passengers may conveniently transfer between a local and an express that dwell simultaneously on either side of the same island platform (see diagram above). This improves service frequencies and trip times for millions of riders a year.
$3 billion YOE dollars, and one additional complication is that MTC recently gave it a very low benefit/cost ratio--most likely to protect BART ridership on the Millbrae line, and future plans to ring the bay with BART. (A very frank, adult conversation will soon have to be had regarding unspoken aspirations for BART to ring the bay.)
- HSR benefit: Direct access to the jobs-rich San Francisco central business district, with excellent transit connections to the East Bay to maximize the HSR ridership catchment area on the first day of service. Realizes full benefit of $400 million investment of HSR funds already made in the Transbay Center train box.
- HSR funding share: $1.5 billion (50% of the cost)
- Environmental Clearance: Complete and shovel-ready. Both EIS and EIR are cleared, and preliminary engineering is well underway.
- Timeline: could be completed by 2017 spending deadline of federal HSR funding.
- Independent Utility: provides commuter access to San Francisco's central business district, where there are more jobs than near all the other Caltrain stations combined. This would most likely result in a system ridership gain of 25% or more, easily 3 million new riders a year.
The very high level of "independent utility" for peninsula commuters should not detract from the fact that each of these four projects is a direct enabler of HSR service to San Francisco, effective as soon as the backbone of the system is completed using later tranches of funding. In the meantime, the earliest investment would pay off immediately, in a way that it never could if a raceway to nowhere were built in the Central Valley.