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Town hall answers high-speed questions
April 24, 2009, 12:00 AM By Dana Yates

The proposal for a statewide high-speed rail system attracted close to 200 people to an informational meeting in Belmont last night aimed at helping Peninsula residents understand the complex planning process.

The meeting was organized by the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. The authority is in the preliminary planning stages to construct an 800-mile track that will move riders through the state at 220 mph. A trip between the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles Union Station would take about 2 hours and 40 minutes and would cost about $55 one way. There would be stops on the Peninsula in Millbrae and San Jose with possible stops in Redwood City or Palo Alto, according to the state rail authority.

At the same time, Caltrain has completed 35 percent of the environmental study required before it can begin the electrification of its line between Gilroy and San Francisco.

Both agencies are working together to adjoin their lines on the Peninsula. That means raised or lowed tracks through the Peninsula so the train will never cross paths with cars or pedestrians. There are currently 46 grade crossings on the Caltrain line.

The authority recently collected public comments regarding the project and rough details of the plan are expected in approximately nine months when another round of public comments will be accepted. In the meantime, the authority and Caltrain are working to build a solid public outreach program.

"Over the next 60 to 90 days, we’ve pledged to come up with a public input process,” said Seamus Murphy, manager of government affairs for Caltrain. Murphy said Caltrain plans to tailor public outreach based on cities. How San Mateo wants to be listened to is different than how Belmont will want to be listened to, Murphy said.

The authority will likely need to expand Caltrain rails from two to four tracks. The authority and Caltrain express trains would likely run on two tracks while Caltrain local service and freight would run on the other two.

The new system is expected to bring 10 trains per hour — one every six minutes — once it is completed in 2035. The electric trains will produce less sound than the current diesel trains used on the line. The raised tracks will also eliminate the need for horns, according to the authority.

Officials could not answer whether tunneling would be utilized.

While going underground in general is expensive, it might be worth it in areas where there are many grade separations with which to work.

"At this stage, I don’t think we can talk about the costs of the alternatives yet and I don’t think we want to,” said Tim Cobb of the High-Speed Rail Authority.

There is no saying when the first shovel of dirt will be turned, but the goal is to have service from San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2020. Trains on the Peninsula are expected to run 125 mph, Cobb said.

For more information about high-speed rail visit

Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650)

344-5200 ext. 106.

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