The proposal — which U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) announced Monday morning jointly — involves linking the planned high-speed rail line in San Jose with a modernized, electrified Caltrain system and scaling back the rail authority's ongoing environmental analysis, which calls for two separate train systems on the Peninsula.
Council members at a Tuesday night meeting with Simitian applauded the lawmakers' announcement.
"Kudos to the state Senator," said Councilman Larry Klein, who led the council last year in adopting an official "no confidence" stance on the high-speed rail project in its current form.
Palo Alto officials have consistently criticized the rail authority's estimations of potential ridership and revenue and urged the California High-Speed Rail Authority to scrap any design options involving elevated trains on the Peninsula. The three lawmakers on Monday endorsed this position and said their vision of "high-speed rail done right" does not involve aerial viaducts.
Simitian said the proposal was inspired by a public hearing he and state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) hosted in Palo Alto in January 2010. Hundreds of people voiced their concerns about the proposed $44 billion rail line, which would stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
One member of the public advocated halting the high-speed rail system in San Jose and allowing passengers to transfer to Caltrain if they wish to go further north. Simitian said that while he felt there were some problems with that proposal, the "underlying notion" stayed with him.
"The announcement we made yesterday is a direct outcome of the hearing we had here 15 months ago," Simitian said.
He also emphasized the proposal would not require passengers to switch trains in San Jose. The newly electrified Caltrain infrastructure would enable trains to achieve the same speed — 120 mph —as the proposed high-speed rail system is expected to reach on the Peninsula, he said.
The rail authority's current plans call for building a system between San Francisco and Los Angeles and later expanding it to Sacramento and San Diego. California voters approved $9 billion for the project in 2008, when they passed Proposition 1A.
Concurrent with the three lawmakers' announcement, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which governs Caltrain, stated Monday it is looking for ways in which it can play a central role in accommodating high-speed-train service on the Peninsula.
Caltrain officials are lobbying the state rail authority for a "phased approach" to high-speed rail in which an electrified Caltrain system would be used for high-speed rail trains in the first phase of the project. This approach would allow high-speed-train operations in the Peninsula without requiring the construction of a new rail system in the Caltrain corridor.
"Subsequent phases would expand the capacity of the system to meet additional (high-speed) ridership demand if needed," Caltrain announced in a statement.
Caltrain officials said a series of feasibility studies would include ridership projections, service plans, cost estimates and impact analysis. The new analysis, they said in the statement, "marks the first time Caltrain has undertaken an independent assessment of the commuter rail agency's infrastructure needs in a manner that focuses on the possible additional elements that could be necessary to operate an initial level of high-speed rail service in the future on the Caltrain right-of-way."
Caltrain officials said improvements to the cash-strapped system, which subsists largely on donations from the three counties it serves, could help make it financially sustainable.
They project that electrifying the system and adding other improvement such as a new signaling system and new trains, would reduce the agency's operating deficit by 45 percent by 2019 and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by about 90 percent.
Eshoo said Monday that "there's no need to duplicate" Caltrain's service by building a new rail system on the Peninsula and pointed out that the dollars for a new transit system are currently scarce.
"I'd rather see something where we invest $1 billion to upgrade Caltrain and blend it with what may come up from Central Valley," Eshoo said.