Regional director of CHSR in Northern California Ben Tripousis joined San Francisco Director of Transportation Policy Gillian Gillett for a high-speed rail forum at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.
Tripousis told a packed auditorium that a 2-hour-and-45-minute-trip from San Francisco's Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles' Union Station could be a reality by 2029, but that a host of political, financial and logistical obstacles must be hurdled before high-speed trains reach the Bay Area.
"To quote Ben Franklin, 'We must all hang together, or assuredly we will all hang separately,'" Tripousis said.
One of the keys to making the 800-mile high-speed train system a reality is moving ahead with early investments in local transportation corridors that will eventually accommodate high-speed trains, Tripousis said.
"Here in the Bay Area, our focus is largely on the electrification of Caltrain," he said.
As part of the $8 billion high-speed rail funding plan approved by the state legislature in July 2012, more than $700 million was committed to the electrification of Caltrain between San Francisco and San Jose, Tripousis said.
Additional investments were committed to other Bay Area agencies, including BART, which is slated to receive $145 million, and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which will receive $61 million, Tripousis said.
Gillett said that the modernization of Caltrain and the eventual accommodation of high-speed rail in San Francisco offers a chance to revitalize certain areas of the city, such as redeveloping a plot of more than 20 acres around Mission Bay that is currently used by Caltrain as a storage yard for locomotives and train cars.
High-speed rail is also expected to stimulate the region's economic growth by allowing San Francisco International Airport to concentrate on expanding long-distance and international airline service, instead of continuing to be bogged down by north-south regional flights, Gillett said.
"We are 'this close' to getting congestion management by the Federal Aviation Administration," she said. "We are reaching our limits in the air."
More than 60 percent of the Bay Area's flights head to Southern California, Tripousis added.
Despite high-speed rail's many challenges, Tripousis said the CHRSA is on track to break ground this summer.
Construction on the first operating phase of the rail system -- a 130-mile stretch between the Central Valley cities of Madera and Bakersfield -- is expected to start in July, he said.