In summary

High speed rail requires a dedicated track and electrification, and almost a decade ago legislators prohibited a dedicated track in the Bay Area and non-electrified track in other areas.

By Quentin L. Kopp, San Francisco

Quentin L. Kopp is a retired judge and former state senator.

Re “Recognize the progress of high speed rail project and drop the term ‘boondoggle’ “; Commentary, July 14, 2020 

My 1994 state Senate legislation established the California High-Speed Rail Project. It’s not inherently a “boondoggle”; it’s been made a boondoggle by politicians transforming it from high-speed to low-speed. 

Functionally, high-speed rail requires a dedicated track and electrification. Almost a decade ago, legislative predecessors of state Sens. Jim Beall and Scott Wiener prohibited dedicated track to prevent the High-Speed Rail Authority from acquiring its own right-of-way from San Francisco to Gilroy. Thus, high-speed rail must use the Caltrain tracks, which limits no more than four trains hourly in primetime, because Caltrain, the right-of-way owner, will run six trains per hour.

Spending billions, the authority decided eight years ago to begin construction from Merced to Bakersfield in the Central Valley, using funds from the 2008 voter-approved general obligation bond and from the Federal Railroad Administration. But the plan for the track is actually non-electrified, and it’s conventional diesel train operation will compete with nearby Amtrak service. 

Of the $9 billion bond approved for high-speed rail, approximately $5 billion has not been spent, according to the California Controller. It behooves our legislators either to demand the High-Speed Rail Authority restore dedicated track and electrification or ask voters in November to authorize dividing unspent bond funds between Metrolink in Southern California and Caltrain in the Bay Area for needed improvements. Otherwise, high-speed rail will never be a Golden Gate Bridge or even a BART system.

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