Staying on track - Page 2

Top political leaders defend high-speed rail from right-wing attacks

Construction of the first high-speed rail section, in the Central Valley, is slated to get underway this year

In fact, it calls for high-speed rail service to end in San Jose, where S.F.-bound riders would have to transfer to Caltrain, largely to placate citizens and politicians on the peninsula who have objected to trains rocketing through their communities and filed lawsuits challenging the project.

"That business plan is unrealistic and unreasonable," said Quentin Kopp, the former state senator from San Francisco who authored of the original legislation to create high-speed rail and has helped shepherd the project. He said having to transfer twice from S.F. to L.A. would discourage riders and hurt the project.

Kopp isn't a fan of the Transbay Terminal rebuild, which he derides as "a real estate project" because its funding plan relies on significant private residential and commercial development; he's called for the trains to stop at the current Caltrain station for financial reasons. But Elsbernd — who also chairs the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Authority, which operates Caltrain — wants to ensure the Transbay project is completed and worth the investment.

"I'm terrified that we continue moving along and then we end up with that being just a big, beautiful bus terminal," he told us.

Adam Alberti, a spokesperson for the TJPA, said California needs to have improved rail service to handle a growing population and the Transbay Terminal is being build to accommodate that, whether it be Amtrak, Caltrain, or high-speed rail trains coming into the station.

"We are steadfast in our belief that it makes sense to have high-speed rail in California," he said. "When it does happen, we will have the infrastructure already in place to receive it."

Furthermore, he expects that the CHSRA business plan, which is the subject of a public comment period that ends Jan. 17, will extend the service beyond San Jose. "They'll lose significant ridership and revenues if they don't bring it into San Francisco," Alberti said.

Sen. Mark Leno, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, also expressed confidence that current efforts to derail high-speed rail won't be successful.

"What is the alternative if we don't do this? California will grow by 10-20 million people in the next decade. There's no way we could build enough freeways and airport expansions to handle that," Leno told us. "I don't think we have the option not to make this work." Leno also said he was pleased to see top political leaders stepping up to defend the project: "I'm impressed by the governor's steadfastness, as well as President Obama's stand. Leadership from the top is important, particularly during difficult times like this."