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High-speed rail could mean more housing
April 03, 2008, 12:00 AM By Dana Yates

A plan to create a high-speed railway that will transport people between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2.5 hours should also advocate high-density housing near its stations, according to a report issued yesterday by the High Speed Rail Authority.

That could mean more housing around the Millbrae transit station and any other Caltrain station the authority chooses as a mid-Peninsula stop. The state began discussing high-speed rail approximately a decade ago and will propose a $10 million state bond in November to jump-start the planning process. Until voters decide on the bond measure, local officials are holding off on getting too involved in the process.

"At a staff level, we’re making sure [Caltrain rail improvements] are consistent with the plan to bring high-speed rail,” said Jim Hartnett, chair of the Caltrain Board of Directors.

As for station locations in San Mateo County, Hartnett said it is too early to tell.

"It’s way too premature to say. If the bond doesn’t pass in November, as a practical matter the planning process needs to cease.”

Last year, the High Speed Rail Authority reviewed a plan to bring trains through the Pacheco Pass to San Jose and connect with the Caltrain system on the Peninsula. It would move travelers between San Francisco and San Jose in 30 minutes at speeds as high as 125 mph, according to the authority.

It would also require grade separations at all crossing on the Peninsula and four tracks, instead of the current two in some locations, said Dan Leavitt, deputy director of the High Speed Rail Authority.

Caltrain is currently pursing a federal exemption to allow it to run electrified cars on its system. It would be the first system in the country to run the European style trains, which go faster and stop and accelerate quicker than the current model. That plan requires grade separations at some, but not all, rail crossings along the line.

Meanwhile, the state authority is still planning in hopes that the bond measure is passed. On Wednesday, it discussed a Station Area Development draft policy, which suggests the authority develop its stations where local governments support high-density housing near transit hubs. The partnership with the local government would help it leverage funding options, according to the report.

The draft proposal spurred a "lengthy and lively” discussion among board members. It will be revised and returned for approval in May, Leavitt said.

The authority has stated it will pick its Peninsula station stops based on its connection to other modes of transportation. Millbrae offers a clear option because it is the connection to the San Francisco International Airport and the southern Peninsula stop for Bay Area Rapid Transit.

Redwood City and Palo Alto were also considered an early option. Both are large stations near the Dumbarton Bridge. Palo Alto, however, is expected to attract more traffic. An early plan suggested bringing High Speed Rail to the Peninsula by way of the Dumbarton Bridge or below the Bay in the same area, according to the authority.

However, support seems to lean toward the Pacheco Pass plan, which likely leaves other potential Peninsula stops open for discussion.

Hartnett said that Caltrain’s main goal is electrification of its own system and will wait and see on the statewide program.

"My goal is to really think of electrification and that will happen whether or not the bond comes through,” Hartnett said.

Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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