California State Senate
Don Perata
Majority Leader
Ninth Senate District

May 10, 2004

Steve Heminger
Metropolitan Transportation Commission
101 Eighth Street
Oakland CA 94607

Dear Steve:

I am writing this letter to request that MTC sponsor a Regional Rail Master Plan project to study the potential High Speed Rail (HSR) alignment over the Altamont Pass. In RM 2, the Regional Rail Master Plan project description includes $2.5 million to study Bay Area access to a highspeed rail system, and an additional $500,000 to study the feasibility of an intermodal transfer (including high speed rail) at Niles Junction in Fremont. My staff has had the opportunity to discuss this proposal with the High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). They have indicated that the study would be compatible with addressing the large volume of comments they have received on this subject. HSRA staff is supportive of legislation to facilitate this study.

The Altamont Pass alternative (Altamont) was not included as an alternative in the programmatic EIR because it was screened out of the High Speed Rail Authority's (HSRA) business plan. The fundamental assumptions underlying the decision to screen out the Altamont option were two fold: 1) the requirement to operate direct and frequent train service to Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco; and 2) the environmental uncertainties and costs associated with new construction across the San Francisco Bay. Both of these assumptions were not adequately researched or reasoned, in the opinion of many, to draw the conclusion that Altamont should not be further considered.

The first assumption, that HSR must directly serve Oakland, has not been ratified by the City of Oakland, and Oakland has not considered Altamont in light of the pros and cons of each alternative. In my view and in the opinion of numerous City officials, Oakland is better served by the Altamont option, as access to HSR would be readily available at the BART connection at the proposed Fremont Shinn station. The Pacheco route would require another leg built from San Jose to Oakland, which would be very costly and is not realistically foreseeable. If Oakland is not directly served by HSR (as opposed to connected via transfer), then the HSR system is no longer split three ways, achieving far better headways to SF and SJ.

The second assumption is regarding the impracticality of constructing a new rail crossing across the Bay. The existing Dumbarton rail bridge will need to be at least partially replaced to accommodate planned new commuter rail service. At the last meeting between the HSRA and environmental groups (Bay Area Open Space Council, BCDC, Coastal Conservancy, Save The Bay), there was consensus that a replacement rail bridge was in fact likely to be feasible with appropriate mitigations. In any event, there is no basis for eliminating the replacement rail
bridge on environmental or economic grounds prior to performing environmental and engineering analysis.

I recognize the need to efficiently and effectively meet intercity travel demand, particularly among and between the regions of Southern California, the Central Valley, the Bay Area, and Sacramento. Travel times between Los Angeles to San Francisco, Fremont and Oakland are comparable or slightly better with the Altamont option, and travel times to San Jose are slightly better from Southern California and Fresno in the Pacheco option. The impact of these travel times, frequency of schedule, and other factors can be evaluated utilizing a ridership model that compares the two alternatives. In comparing environmental and cost factors, the Altamont requires less tunneling and does not require passage through extensive and highly sensitive environmental habitat.

I believe linking the cities of Modesto, Tracy, Stockton, and Sacramento, among others, with the center of the Bay Area (readily available access to San Jose, San Francisco, Fremont, and Oakland) is an important objective given the needs of these growing populations and their economic interdependence. The additional ridership will hasten the day this leg of the system will be built, providing this entire region with long distance high-speed rail access to Southern California. Potential Altamont benefits include less environmental impact, cost savings (both capital and operational), faster travel times, and a much larger population served that are living in cities. Good transportation and land use policy, as well as a good faith effort to build political consensus, are the important rationales for the full reconsideration of Altamont.

In sum, while reasonable people may differ following the outcome of this additional study, the public interest is well served to complete the analysis of the Altamont option. The study will need transparent assumptions, optimized operations, and a strategic view as to how the HSR electrified right of way can accomplish multiple objectives, as in Europe, while still in compliance with Federal Rail Administration regulations. In the final analysis, the selected alternative should be chosen based upon the performance measures of constructability, operability, environmental sensitivity, financing, and the statewide and regional benefits conferred by the system.

The next component of this letter discusses the best means to construct the study so that there will be public confidence in the professional work. One of the challenges in this task is to overcome the perceived biases of prior work, and the inherent tendency of institutions to support prior conclusions. I recommend that the structure of the study follow the precedent used for the Bay Crossing Study, where a policy group was created as well as a technical group. While it is important to utilize and not duplicate the work already performed by the HSRA, we think all prior work should be peer reviewed as a means of validation. Ridership modeling, in particular, should be tested for a variety of new assumptions.

In my view, the policy group must represent the statewide interest in a viable high-speed rail system. While I believe that inter-regional travel is an important strategic component that should be captured by high-speed rail, the statewide interest is first and foremost to build a viable system. The results of the Altamont study will not be credible unless it addresses the economic feasibility of the entire system. That said, given the objective of providing an unbiased professional study, it is important that members of the policy group commit to an open process.

I recommend that the policy group include representatives from the council of governments or metropolitan planning organizations from Sacramento, San Joaquin, Fresno, and the Bay Area.

I would also like to have a representative from both the Governor's office and the Legislature. Caltrans Division of Rail should also be included, since they could ensure that the planning component is strategically integrated into the State's system. Finally, I would like to have an environmental representative on the policy group. The Planning and Conservation League has been instrumental in pulling together the comments of many interested environmental groups on HSR, and their presence would enhance the credibility of the policy group with a key constituency.

My staff and I have heard a great number of detailed comments that should be addressed in this study. While I think a variety of scenarios should be considered, the basic components of a proposed Altamont alternative would include, but not be limited to, the following:

1. Very high-speed rail (VHSR) performance with few stations between Northern Central Valley and Fremont Shinn. Stations should be located at Tracy and Fremont Shinn for the VHSR line. It may be possible to incorporate additional stations for a more regional approach utilizing excess capacity on the right of way.

2. The HSR bridge should replace the Dumbarton Rail bridge, and be built at a 3% grade, thereby replacing the standard gauge Dumbarton Rail service. Persons using the replaced Dumbarton rail service would have to convert to express buses, and when HSR was in place, frequent service to the Peninsula would be available by transfer at Shinn. The height of the bridge should take into account projected maritime use and include a cost benefit analysis to design the appropriate bridge.

3. The HSR line would tunnel through the congested segment of Fremont and Niles Junction. The Shinn station would be intermodal only (no parking), and the HSR platform would be underground. BART will stop at the Shinn station.

4. HSR service would be available directly to both San Jose and San Francisco without transfer.

5. The entire Peninsula Caltrain alignment between San Francisco and San Jose would be upgraded at the same time in the initial stage of the project.

6. HSR service on the Peninsula share right of way with Caltrain.

7. The $9 billion HSR bond will be incrementally rolled out, utilizing existing rail where possible. To that extent, the initial phase of HSR across Altamont should be looked at, connecting Modesto, Stockton, Tracy, the Tri-Valley, Fremont, San Jose, and San Francisco.

8. Minor adjustments to the time schedules of current HSR legislation should be recommended if it optimizes the public transportation benefits.

9. Operational strategies that maximize ridership and net operating revenues will be employed. Consideration should be given to best attract federal funds.

10. HSR service should accommodate rail freight service to the extent feasible.

11. A comparative analysis of Altamont and Pacheco/Diablo will be thoroughly vetted utilizing a broad array of planning metrics.

12. An updated regional economics/transportation projection over a minimum of thirty years for the Central Valley and Sacramento will be performed to be input into the ridership model.

13. Impacts on land use and smart growth will be considered as part of the Altamont and Pacheco/Diablo comparison.

14. For Altamont and Pacheco/ Diablo, a comparative analysis of the likely mitigations required to reduce the impact of each alternative on the environment, including, but not limited to, noise, wilderness, construction, and on-going impacts, as well as the estimated cost of such mitigations.

I have discussed the above proposal with many of the key organizations that support further study of the Altamont. In my view, this proposal responds thoroughly to their comments and will be a major step towards bringing consensus on importance of high-speed rail for California.

Please advise me as to whether the study parameters listed in this letter are acceptable for you to accept sponsorship of this important study.

Thank you for your assistance and cooperation.