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shot in the arm for bullet train thru Altamont

By enelson
Thursday, November 8th, 2007 at 11:27 pm in Altamont Commuter Express, Amtrak, BART, Buses, driving, Freeways, high-speed rail, Planning, rail.

bullet-train.jpg Just when it seemed the establishment was solidly behind the Pacheco Pass through largely undeveloped parts of Santa Clara County, along comes our new member of Congress to once again buck the conventional wisdom.

Now it’s not a major departure for one who represents long-suffering Tracy commuters who must slog daily down I-580 or endure the twists, turns and delays of the ACE commuter choo-choo.

But then Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is not your average Congressman. He defied the odds and beat powerful incumbent Republican Richard Pombo and he seems to be cultivating a centrist image in a world where the middle of the road is where you get run over by SUVs or hybrids.

But a high percentage of McNerney’s constituents might lose a road race with a spry old Raccoon on I-580 on a Friday evening, and that may help explain why he’s defying his hometown’s municipal government in supporting the Altamont Pass alignment for the mythical California High-Speed Rail project:

It is critical that this new transportation option be built along a route that fits the needs of our communities, respects the environmental effects the system will have, and serves existing population clusters and areas of large predicted growth. I believe the long-standing transportation planning principal of building sidewalks where pedestrians wear paths into the grass applies here, Of the two Bay Area to Central Valley alignment alternatives under consideration, the Altamont route is the option that makes greater sense…

That’s from McNerney’s Nov. 7 letter to Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which has a history of backing Pacheco, a stand it has stepped back from as it has been compelled to study both alignments in a environmental impact study, now being reviewed.

This is the kind of stand that I could appreciate when McNerney first jumped into the Livermore Valley mass transportation fray shortly after being elected last year, at a local forum where he got to speak after Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, who represents the county on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Haggerty, who rarely shies away from controversy, made a comment about running BART to Tracy, and McNerney took the cue and ran with it. He said something cheering the idea of BART to Tracy, setting off a round of sniggering among those in the room who knew that running BART to Livermore was already a longshot.

But hey, we can all dream, right? I know I’d like to have BART running to Fairfield, but why stop there? High-speed rail to Sacramento would give me time to learn another language and wash the dishes on weeknights.

There’s no way I could say it better than Jerry:

The existing methods of transportation along the Altamont Corridor have outgrown their capacity. 1-580, 1-205, and 1-5 in the region are traffic-choked and intercity public transit along major commuter routes is insufficient. Additionally, the population in the region, from the northern portion of the San Joaquin Valley through the TriValley, continues to grow, The California Department of Finance recently predicted that San Joaquin County will grow 2] 4 percent by 2050. Furthermore, despite simply offering more ready access to the Bay Area for San Joaquin Valley residents, the Altamont alignment also provides a more logical link to Sacramento and California’s Capital Region.

Of course, there’s the whole where-are-we-gonna-come-up-with-40-to-whatever-billion-dollars issue, which voters may or may not be asked to help decide with a $10 billion HSR bond measure scheduled to go on the Novemeber 2008 ballot.

But we who commute long distances in slow traffic or on slow trains or buses have a lot of time to dream.

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11 Responses to “shot in the arm for bullet train thru Altamont”

  1. Ray Lanman Says:

    Congressman McNerney is absolutely correct. In addition, this route would provide improvements to the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) between San Jose and Stockton (and why not Sacramento) that would make it a fast, reliable and on-time commuter service – things that it cannot be today because of the limitations of the track and infrastructure.

    Note: I am Chairman of the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) High Speed and Intercity Rail Committee and Vice President of Herzog Transit Services, Inc. The opinions expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of APTA and Herzog.

  2. Mike Says:

    The way to sell HSR is to get it working between the Bay Area and Sacramento. Once the Bay Area legislative delegation gets used to riding it every day, then there might be the political will to expand the system.

    Also, SF and Sac are too close to fly (airport takes too long), but far enough that a train can save substantial time over a car.

    This route could also serve the valley to bay commuters, bringing in substantial revenue.

  3. Reedman Says:

    One of the dangers of trying to have a more “train based”
    transportation system is being played-out in France right now.
    The lack of alternatives to taking the train means that the
    striking civil servants have a lot of leverage, sufficient to essentially
    dictate terms-and-conditions to the country’s president. And
    since other unions are sympathetic, the air controllers, natural
    gas, and electric workers are joining in. France’s economy is about
    the size of California’s, and it is presently loosing about 0.5 billion
    dollars PER DAY due to the work stoppage.

  4. miked Says:

    I think the larger issue in France is that other unions join the strike. I knew a foreign exchange student in Paris during the Spring 2006 strikes- the Paris Metro on strike just meant less frequent, which was fine b/c so many people went on strike in solidarity that there were more open seats on the trains than on a usual day (meaning there were open seats, since there are no open seats on normal Paris metro commutes).

    It’s tough to imagine major public sector strikes in California. Anyway, I think we could use a little more union power.

  5. Transitplans Says:

    There is a cheapie alternative to expensive trains. Read on.

  6. Jeff Colantuono Says:

    will there be an express train between the bay area and sacramento?


  7. miked Says:

    I don’t think HSR will bring a rapid link from the bay area to Sacramento. The preference for Pacheco Pass will slow down the building of a more efficient corridor.

    I would be interested to know if there is a way to accelerate Capitol Corridor trains to make them substantially faster than driving between the Bay Area and Sacramento. Maybe electrification or some express tracks to avoid freight trains? I would expect this service to see lots of use b/c Sacramento to the Bay Area is in that in-between distance that is too close to fly but driving is still difficult and long. It is the perfect distance for substantial rail transit.

  8. Hayden K. Says:


    Would you expand on your citation of the MTC’s regional transportation plan as providing an alternative to a NorCal-SoCal (LA-SF-Sac) high-speed train system? The plan’s focus seems to be appropriately regional in nature (given MTC’s mandate)–but perhaps I missed an important chapter.

  9. Reedman Says:

    The Sierra Club, Audubon California, the Nature Conservancy, California State Parks Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Planning and Conservation League came out today saying they would only support the Altamont HSR route (essentially telling all politicians that there is no alternative that allows you to be considered an environmentalist).

  10. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Reedman, there are environmental arguments to be made on both sides, but I can see why those groups went against Pacheco. I think the tipping factor was the idea that running the thing through a busy corridor, where it could potentially take cars off the road, was better than running it through a now-quiet corridor. Even if they cross their hearts and hope to die that there won’t be a station in the Pacheco Corridor itself, the ability to drive to Gilroy and be in San Francisco in 40 minutes would be a powerful incentive to develop the area between. I don’t think that’s a good reason to not build new transit, i.e., similar arguments made against BART’s Pittsburg/Bay Point line, but “follow the lights” (where development already exists) is a pretty persuasive slogan.

  11. Guy Span Says:

    The Pacheco Pass alternative cuts right through the heart of the last central valley undeveloped wetlands. It also brings the potential of new development to a fairly remote area.

    While the Altamont alignment wanders through a nature preserve, environmentalists believe this can be mitigated. Further HSR will impact development, where its aligned, and the impact in developed communities would appear to be less. Indeed the Altamont will speed ACE commuters and shorten the time to Sacramento.

    San Jose bitterly opposes the Altamont and foolishly prefers a Gilroy/Pacheco alignment. In Fairness, San Jose, its surrounding communities and Gilroy would be by-passed. But we gain all those Central Valley Towns that will be by-passed by a Pacheco Route.

    What this squabbling means is that all the powerful environmental groups oppose Pacheco Pass and will work to Kill it. If the Altamont had been selected Santa Clara and surrounding counties including San Francisco would have worked to kill it.

    This simply means that the short-sighted dogfight in our back yard will ensure that the HSR Bond Measure will never pass through either the Altamont or Pacheco. It’s dead, but it’s just not burried.

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