High-speed rail to run through South Bay

In what was called a landmark decision, state officials set a course for the proposed high-speed rail that would send a passenger from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just more than 2½ hours, with trains cutting through the heart of the Peninsula and South Bay along the way.

The California High Speed Rail Authority elected Wednesday to route the 700-mile transit line through the Pacheco Pass as the primary route for high-speed trains traveling between the San Joaquin Valley and San Francisco.

The crossing, with trains running at top speeds of more than 200 mph, will connect to San Francisco through San Jose and the Peninsula and it is favored because it follows existing Caltrain tracks and avoids cutting through wetland habitats around the Bay.

The Altamont Pass would have snaked through the Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge in the East Bay and slowed travel between the Bay Area and Southern California.

“From San Mateo County’s perspective, and Caltrains, having that right-of-way follow the existing route as much as possible would definitely be beneficial to Caltrain and San Mateo County,” San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill said.

Leaders from around the state say the decision will pave the way for voter approval of an approximately $10 billion bond in November to pay for one third of the $30 billion initial phase costs. The total project cost is estimated at $40 billion.

“If we’re going to make a case for a bond, we need to link the economic centers of this state directly,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom, who was one of 31 people who spoke during the 3½ hour hearing in Sacramento. “The Bay Area into Los Angeles, with extensions to Sacramento and San Diego makes absolute sense objectively.”

With the route selected, Authority board member Rod Diridon said they can begin the actual engineering and planning phase, and start focusing on a potential bond for the November 2008 election.

To serve the areas an Altamont route would have taken care of, the Authority also elected to study a separate project to upgrade commuter rail lines between the East Bay and Central Valley.

Diridon said he hopes the Pacheco Pass route will encourage approval of the bond in November due to the support of Peninsula and city leaders as well as the 80 percent of projected riders who live in the Central Valley and Southern California.

jgoldman@examiner.com  

Examiner Staff Writer David Smith contributed to this report.

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