You all count on the Voice to add the behind-the-scenes story and no where is that more true than on high-cost rail and Calectrification. The Times ran a piece a couple of days ago that was pretty much a down-the-line echo of the Caltrain pitch. It included this assertion
Ackemann said Caltrain is committed to pursuing mitigation measures outlined in the environmental report. But the agency also says that, if the environmental report is challenged in court, it has the authority under federal rules to claim an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act. Ackemann said this is merely an option.
"Caltrain has no option at this point but to move this project forward as expeditiously as possible," she said. "Right now many of our trains are running at 120 percent capacity or more."
Electrifying the Caltrain corridor will allow the agency eventually to share the system with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which has committed to spending $705 million on Caltrain's electrification as well as new signaling and train control systems.
This CEQA issue has a number of well-informed citizens' eyes on it. One of them notes the following:
This is intentionally misleading, and designed to "hide the ball." As a commuter railroad not involved in the interstate transportation of passengers, Caltrain is NOT directly subject to the jurisdiction of the STB or the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Rather, it is covered by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) which assists local commuter transportation agencies.. No one claims that the FTA preempts CEQA's application of Caltrain's electrification project.
But there are two possible bases for STB preemption of CEQA, each of which raises other problems for Caltrain which it would rather not mention:
- Caltrain's electrification project is an integral part of the California HSR project (Caltrain swears it is not), or
- The use of Caltrain's electrified right-of-way by Union Pacific will involve transportation of freight involved in interstate commerce. (Caltrain and UP have not been able to resolve their differences over changes to the right-of-way, over which UP has virtual veto power.)
The important take-away here is that it should be UNACCEPTABLE politically for OUR Caltrain to try to exempt itself from the California Environmental Quality Act, the most important environmental protection law for Peninsula communities. Why would we let OUR representatives on the JPB do this to our communites?
So we will see how the hide-the-ball strategy plays out! I hope our Council is keeping an eye on the ball.