By Tim Hunt
New spin on high-speed rail: Fresno becomes bedroom community for Silicon ValleyUploaded: Jul 25, 2017
Have you noticed how Gov. Jerry Brown’s bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles to compete with the airlines now has morphed into an incredibly expensive commuter rail system.
This month, Brown, Nancy Pelosi and other politicians from the Peninsula, San Francisco and in the South Bay celebrated the groundbreaking of the project to switch the CalTrain locomotives on the Peninsula from diesel to electric. Making the switch will significantly increase capacity and reduce pollution from both the diesel trains and by taking cars off the Highway 101.
The project is costing a cool $2 billion and became possible when the Brown Administration altered the high-speed project to make electrifying the right-of-way through the Peninsula the first stage. If the high-speed trains ever reach the Peninsula, then engineers will have to decide whether to build a viaduct to carry the trains above the CalTrain system or to use bypass tracks.
The change in the project allowed the Legislature to allocate $600 million from the bonds voters approved in 2008 to the CalTrain project. Those funds were matched with local money with a $647 million federal grant providing the balance.
That’s a big chunk of money, but it’s trivial against the cost of the high-speed train that are estimated at $68 billion (believe that and I have a bridge for sale).
The first segment of the line is estimated to cost more than $20 billion as it runs from Fresno to San Jose. The state is about $8 billion short in identified funding for this phase. It’s already under construction in the Fresno area.
The revised first segment has given rise to talk about South Bay employers having easy access to the housing markets as far away as Fresno.
Of course, the Fresno folks are thinking that the jobs could come their way instead of just serving as bedrooms for long-range commuters to the South Bay. The travel time is estimated at one hour, which is less than many people spend in their cars trying to reach the Silicon Valley. It’s about a three-hour drive in a car.
The sticking point may be the fare-- $63. That makes $6.15 from Pleasanton to San Francisco on BART look like a real bargain.
There is the major sticking point. For a fraction of the cost of the high-speed rail, BART could go to Livermore and key transit improvements could be made in the Los Angeles basin.
Instead, the governor is fixated on a system that works well in Europe and Asia where cities are densely populated and there are a range of convenient public transportation options. Imagine a rider going from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. They can hop an airline to their choice of three airports and either ride BART, light rail or hail an Uber or rent a car to get to their destination.
A high-speed rail rider going to the Silicon Valley, even with a transit hub at the Diridon Station downtown, likely will have to hail Uber to reach a destination.
For someone bound for Bishop Ranch or Hacienda Business Park, it’s high-speed rail, to BART and then likely again to Uber. It’s a three-hour ride, plus more than an hour here to reach the destination. Compare that with a 45-minute flight and either a rental car or Uber.
The governor has been bull-headed in his steadfast drive to bring high-speed rail to California. Here’s hoping when he’s termed out—for the second time—his successor will take a hard-eyed look at this boondoggle and scrap it.