The Loma Prietan - November/December 2009


Caltrain may be Unintended Victim of Litigation

by Irvin Dawid

Beginning in the July/August issue we have been reporting on progress in developing a system of high-speed rail (HSR) that would connect Los Angeles and San Francisco. The most hotly contested issue was which route would be chosen: Pacheco Pass (Merced to Gilroy, then through the Peninsula on the Caltrain right-of -way) or Altamont Pass (Merced to Livermore and then to the Peninsula). The Pacheco Pass route was chosen, but in August 2008 the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton and environmental groups TRANSDEF, the Planning & Conservation League, and BayRail Alliance, citing issues of tree destruction, noise, and visual impact, filed suit against the High Speed Rail Authority's choice.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny recently ruled that although the choice of route was acceptable, the Environmental Impact Report's handling of the vibration along the Peninsula was inadequate, as was its assessment of the Union Pacific Railroad's ownership of the corridor from Gilroy to San Jose. (Union Pacific objects to ceding its right-of-way).

An unintended, ironic consequence of the litigation may be a serious delay in plans to transform Caltrain's line from diesel to zeroemission electricity. Not only would electrification eliminate toxic particulate pollution, but it would also greatly reduce noise pollution— one objection opponents often voice against high-speed rail.

In order to receive up to $1.5 billion in federal Recovery Act funding for the San Francisco to San Jose corridor, Caltrain must commence construction by September, 2012, which may not be possible as a result of the court ruling. Caltrain electrification is estimated to cost $785 million, of which $516 million is unfunded.

Irvin Dawid is co-chair of the Club's Bay Area Transportation Committee Committee and a frequent contributor to this newsletter. Reach him at