Caltrain leads regional rail linkup

Caltrain has stepped up to lead the recruitment of a team of the largest passenger rail systems in the Bay Area. The team’s vital first job will be to negotiate as a unit with Bay Area private freight railroads and obtain rights of way for extending each of the existing passenger lines and ultimately creating a seamless route that connects the entire region.

The emerging core players will include BART, San Jose’s VTA light rail, the Capital Corridor to Sacramento and potentially carriers connecting to points as far-flung as Sonoma, Stockton and even San Diego. This is the opening phase of the $45 billion, four-decade mega­region rail plan finalized last autumn by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The MTC, which is in charge of distributing federal and state transportation grants to Bay Area agencies, has long been readying to prepare for the mobility needs of a steadily growing regional population. Ten million more people are expected to be living in the Bay Area by 2050, when this total rail linkup project will hopefully be completed.

Transit projects already in the works will be vital links in the megaregion transit plan. Caltrain is to electrify its trains by 2014; lowering fuel costs and pollution, cutting noise and enabling trains to start and stop quicker. And when Caltrain builds its track across the Dumbarton Bridge by 2012; San Francisco and the Peninsula will connect via Union City to the East Bay transit corridor, potentially hooking up with BART, Capital Corridor and ACE trains to Stockton.

Meanwhile, BART’s major extension will be to San Jose along the East Bay to the Diridon station, where it could meet VTA, Caltrain and possibly the proposed California high-speed rail train that would run between the Bay Area and Southern California in 2½ hours.

Without the availability of convenient regional rail transportation, the currently annoying highway commute congestion would become unbearable, local gasoline consumption costs and global-warming effects would expand exponentially, and the Bay Area’s vaunted clean air quality will be in danger of becoming as polluted as the Los Angeles Basin. Easy intercity rail transit is one of the vital alternatives to the uncontrollable suburban sprawl and ultralong-­distance daily commute driving that afflicts Southern California.

That is why it is so necessary for all Bay Area authorities to begin preparing now for a 40 percent more populous megaregion encompassing the greater East Bay, South Bay and North Bay. Caltrain — which traverses the Peninsula to link San Francisco and San Jose — is to be congratulated for serving as the negotiating team’s first captain and organizer. The $200,000 that MTC gave Caltrain for agency recruitment might just be the best investment ever made for long-term retention of the enviable life quality in a fast-changing Bay Area.

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