High-speed rail has always been a controversial issue on the Peninsula, raising questions on everything from the environmental impact to the price tag. Now that Washington has virtually eliminated all federal funding for high-speed rail projects in this year's budget, it has become even more of an issue.
"Continuing to plan for a project of this scope in the face of limited funding and growing community resistance is a fool's errand," Senator Joe Simitian said Monday.
Simitian is talking about a high-speed train running on its own tracks alongside Caltrain from San Jose to San Francisco, the northern portion of the $43 billion system. Simitian, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon would rather see something less expensive, what they call a "blended system."
"A system for a 21st century Caltrain blended with high speed rail, not duplicative systems, not extra expensive systems, but a most cost-effective approach," Gordon said.
"Where we invest some $1 billion and upgrade Caltrain, blend it what may come up from the Central Valley," Eshoo added.
Under their plan, high-speed trains would run on existing Caltrain tracks which would be upgraded.
"Some combination of electrification, positive train control and new rolling stock," Simitian explained. "With that system in place, there is no reason why we can't have the kind of seamless integration that we've talked about, with what we're describing as a blended system."
Under the plan, there would be no need for an elevated rail at stations, which many residents opposed, saying it would be an eyesore. Caltrain says it will conduct a feasibility study.
"What does it take to build it? What does it take to run it? What does it take to manage it? What kind of ridership is it going to have?" asked Caltrain spokesman Mark Simmon.
Jeff Barker with the California High Speed Authority says, "There's quite a bit of time for input, quite a bit of time to study more options, before we finally settle on how will we get from San Jose to San Francisco."
Officials will break ground in the Central Valley next year for the project, but they will be using federal funds they received in previous years.