Bay Area residents express rail reservations

When it comes to high-speed rail in San Mateo County, not everyone is rushing to board the bullet train.

At a community meeting Monday in which Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Caltrain officials laid out the Bay Area’s rail plan for the next 50 years, it was the prospect of high-speed rail that provoked the most excitement — but also the most apprehension.

Bobbi Benson, a member of Citizens for a Better Burlingame, said she fears the expanded tracks and faster trains will literally divide her city.

“We don’t want our city to have ‘the other side of the tracks.’ We want to integrate all of our citizens,” she said. Burlingame’s Caltrain tracks run through an area of parks and the a main commercial area, Benson said. High-speed train service, she said, could result in more train deaths.

“Slow speed is just as important to us in Burlingame. High-speed may not benefit us at all,” she said.

The Draft Regional Rail Plan’s objective is to ease Bay Area congestion, said Caltrain Special Projects Director Howard Goode, and to accommodate the region’s growing population by getting them out of their cars and onto trains. The plan also seeks to accommodate the growing freight business.

The objective of the plan is not to make a recommendation about high-speed rail, Goode added. That decision will be made by the California High Speed Rail authority late this year or early next year, he said.

For many at Monday’s meeting, the prospect of high-speed rail was the most exciting part of the night.

“We are pleased and supportive of high speed rail. It definitely needs to be part of the mix,” said Dan Cruey, president of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association.

On the Peninsula, many of the rail plan’s recommendations include projects that have already been proposed, including Caltrain’s upgrade to lightweight, electric trains, an extension taking Caltrain to the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco, and rail service from San Mateo County to the East Bay across the Dumbarton Bridge.

The aggressive, $45 billion plan also includes high-speed rail service to Southern California by 2030.

The MTC’s planning committee will review public comments made Monday on Sept. 14. The agency’s commission will vote whether to accept the draft plan on Sept. 26.

tbarak@examiner.com

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