Getting Off the Tracks
High-speed rail is coming to Northern California by 2018
By Steve Cohn
The state legislature’s July vote to appropriate $2.6 billion of high-speed rail bonds passed by voters in 2008 for the Central Valley Initial Construction Segment of the high-speed train system is a vote of confidence in the future of California, particularly for the Central Valley. This landmark vote will allow California to access $3.6 billion in federal funds, as well as $2.2 billion in improvements to connecting service in Northern and Southern California.
The so-called “blended” service plan adopted by the California High Speed Rail Authority in 2012 and blessed by the legislature and governor now emphasizes expanding the existing Capitol Corridor, ACE and San Joaquin Corridor services in Northern California and the L.A./San Diego and MetroLink services in Southern California and integrating them with the high-speed train service that will be provided on the ICS in the milestone year of 2018. By 2023, the initial high-speed operating segment will be complete all the way from Sacramento/Bay Area to Los Angeles, closing the rail gap between L.A. and Bakersfield. As California High-Speed Rail Authority chair Dan Richard said: “The legislature’s action sets in motion a statewide rail modernization plan for California. Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers; we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level. This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness.”
This is particularly good news for Sacramento because the blended high-speed train plan will ensure connecting service to Sacramento from the beginning, not in a second phase in 20 years as originally planned. The timing is excellent, as Sacramento’s historic depot will be restored before then (thanks to the federal TIGER grant we were recently awarded), the surrounding railyards area will be well on its way to being the transit hub for Northern California and attracting exciting mixed-use development, and a new streetcar system will be either open or under construction.
In addition, the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, of which I was a founding member and past chair, will now play an integral role in developing and implementing a unified service plan in Northern California for the blended system that includes the authority’s expansion plans for Capitol Corridor trains to San Jose. The CCJPA will now be able to use Proposition 1A connectivity funds to complete capital improvements to support hourly service (22 daily trains) to Silicon Valley/San Jose.
The blended service plan also provides a perfect fit into the current update that is underway for the CCJPA board’s vision plan. With the exception of expanded service to Roseville and Auburn, the blended plan will allow the Capitol Corridor to achieve its existing long-term vision plan by 2018. But we are not stopping there. Now it is time to think even bigger and faster. The CCJPA is working on a new draft vision plan. This draft vision plan includes both short- and long-term goals.
In the next five to 10 years, we plan to expand Roseville-Sacramento service to 20-plus trains a day and Auburn-Sacramento service to eight trains a day, compared to two current trains; extend service to Salinas/Monterey and Truckee/Reno (particularly if the 2022 Winter Olympics bid wins USOC approval in 2013; and add new stations in Vacaville/Fairfield and North Sacramento/Swanston Station (if Placer service is expanded).
The long-term goals over the next ten to 20 years are even more ambitious and include three major improvements, in addition to cleaner, more efficient and less polluting engines:
Faster service: Investing in Positive Train Control and major changes to tracks, signals and facilities could increase speeds to 110 mph with existing train sets. Along with limited-stop express service between Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose, the goal is to reduce travel time up to 50 percent, making it possible to achieve a one-hour ride from Sacramento to Oakland (compared to one hour 50 minutes now), a 75-minute ride to San Francisco with BART transfer at West Oakland (compared to two hours 15 minutes now) and a 90-minute ride to San Jose (compared to three hours now).
More frequent service: 30-minute peak headways, compared to one hour now.
Better-connected regional, multimodal service: Capitol Corridor should be the transit “spine” of the Northern California megaregion, with seamless integration with state high-speed rail, regional rail (ACE, San Joaquin), metro (BART, Caltrain) and local (RT, VTA, Muni) rail systems, and other transport modes.