Friday, June 19, 2015

Caltrain wants to avoid environmental review

San Jose Mercury News

Caltrain Tries To Escape Environmental Laws 

This message is bringing you some news that Caltrain hasn't publicized. It's news that Caltrain doesn't want you to know about. 

Caltrain wants to undertake a major new project on the San Francisco Peninsula, and to avoid ALL the environmental review requirements contained in California State law. 

On May 19, 2015, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the official agency that operates Caltrain, filed a Petition for a Declaratory Order from the federal government's Surface Transportation Board (STB), claiming that the California Environmental Quality Act is "fully preempted" and does not apply to Caltrain's proposed electrification project. Caltrain also claims that it has already complied with NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, so that no additional federal environmental reviews should be required, either.

Caltrain's proposed modernization project would bring electrification to the Caltrain corridor. Many have applauded this effort, and Caltrain has claimed that this project would have lots of "positive" benefits, including positive environmental benefits. 

While CC-HSR admits that electrification can have some positive benefits, we don't believe that Caltrain has actually disclosed all the "negative" impacts of its proposed project. Caltrain has refused to acknowledge that electrification of the Caltrain corridor is inextricably linked to the state's proposal to drive high-speed rail development. It refuses to see as proof that it is accepting $600 million dollars from the Prop 1A money exclusively reserved for high-speed rail.

The High-Speed Rail project is planned to come right through the middle of virtually every community on the Peninsula. We believe that both projects need a full environmental review so we will know the true impacts of the entire project. Obviously, Caltrain disagrees.

Normally, when there is a difference of opinion about whether or not a project will have negative environmental impacts, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is in place to settle the question. CEQA insures that the questionable aspects of any proposed project will be fully tested through the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) process. 

CC-HSR, the City of Atherton, and others have raised questions about exempting the project from CEQA review, which is seen by most as more stringent than the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Caltrain is trying to escape from the environmental reporting laws that allow members of the public to insist that governmental agencies respond to issues that the public thinks need environmental review. 

As you might expect, CC-HSR is fighting back. On June 8, 2015, CC-HSR, with Atherton and others, filed a joint opposition to Caltrain's petition for CEQA preemption. We will keep you posted! 

In the meantime, we think everyone needs to be considering this question: If the proposed Caltrain project is as environmentally positive as Caltrain claims, then what is Caltrain afraid of? Why is Caltrain trying so hard to PREEMPT our state environmental laws? Could it be that Caltrain doesn't want us really to understand that the Caltrain project is actually just step one to a full-blown high-speed rail development right down the Peninsula? 

See also Coalition backing CA bullet train is fraying at

Kathy Hamilton reports more trouble in DC for the project.

Later: The Surface Transportation Board ruled against Caltrain on July 2. Kathy Hamilton's account.

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At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"then what is Caltrain afraid of?"

Caltrain is afraid that their system is bursting at the seams. The trains are full, there's no more room. Electrification will improve service and capacity for their customers.

This is such bullshit.

At 2:51 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You miss the point: This is not just about the electrifcation of Caltrain. It's about the high-speed rail project, which is where the money came from. The HSR Authority is spreading Proposition 1A money around to build support for the project, which, considering the impact it would have on the Peninsula, requires CEQA review, which, as the letter notes, is more rigorous than NEPA.

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a real stretch.

They need a CEQA review because electrifying Caltrain builds support for HSR? To say that "building support" is an environmental impact is very Orwellian.

At 6:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No, Caltrain wants to pretend that the electrification money has nothing to do with the destructive high-speed rail project that will plow through cities on the Peninsula.

At 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Caltrain could give a rats ass about HSR - except for any dollars coming for electrification, which has been desired since the early 90's.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

In fact Caltrain and the HSR project are partners. Caltrain got the electrification money from the HSR project, which, if it ever becomes a reality---and I don't think it will---will tear through the Peninsula like it wants to do to the Central Valley. The notion that Caltrain can now pretend that its electrification project is separate from the HSR project and that it can forgo environmental review under CEQA is ridiculous, which I assume is what the Surface Transportation Board will find when it makes the decision.

At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait a minute....if HSR trains are going to "share" Caltrain tracks (the "blended system") then there is no way HSR trains would be able to travel at high speeds. So what would the actual travel time be between S.F. and L.A.? I read somewhere that a non-stop train would be impossible between the two cities, so with stops is it true that a HSR trip to L.A. would only be about 30 minutes faster than driving? (And a lot more expensive!)

At 12:42 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, the blended system, which is what the Caltrain electrification is all about, will make it impossible for the trains to make the trip between SF and LA in the promised 2 hours and 40 minutes. See this and this (pages 6 and 7) on the issues the blended system raises.

At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK - so let me get this.

Caltrain should not be able to electrify because that will have a CEQA impact because the project is in support of High Speed Rail?

Fine - I'll do the EIR. "Electrification will not cause any adverse environmental impact relating to the CAHSR project, because Rob Anderson said it will never happen anyway. So please give us the money to electrify Caltrain, and don't worry about HSR."

At 9:12 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You seem to have a reading and comprehension problem. Caltrain already has the money to electrify its system, which it got from the high-speed rail project. That makes it a subsidiary, an essential part, of the much larger high-speed rail project. Caltrain wants to bypass the state's most important environmental law that requires that its electrification undergo environmental review. Every other phase of the HSR project is undergoing CEQA review, so why shouldn't the electrification of Caltrain? Electrification is not a stand-alone project. Caltrain---and HSR---don't want a close examination of the damage these two interdependent projects will do to the Peninsula, which already mostly opposes the HSR project. Electrification of Caltrain in itself is a good idea, but Caltrain made a mistake by linking that worthwhile project with the high-speed rail project.

At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

with stops is it true that a HSR trip to L.A. would only be about 30 minutes faster than driving? (And a lot more expensive!)

HSR will not be more expensive than driving. Long before the HSR tracks come into play, self driving cars will be prevalent. People owning self driving cars in SF or LA will be able to make lots of money using their autonomous cars as cabs. The opportunity cost of using that car to drive to LA from SF will be higher than the train ticket. Time is money.

The ideal model is a fleet of self driving cars for local trips, and a combination of HSR and air for long haul. SF->LA is too short a flight to use precious gates and airspace on.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

The high-speed rail system is unlikely to ever "come into play."
And if "time is money"---and it is---why would people in SF take HSR to LA if they could fly there in a fraction of the time? (Also see pages 21-26 here for a discussion of how the HSRA is lying about the 2 hours and 40 minutes travel time between SF and LA and 35-38 for the comparative costs of that trip.)


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