APTA | Passenger Transport
February 1, 2010

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Working to Ensure Connectivity Between Intercity Passenger and High-Speed Rail
BY DAVID KUTROSKY, Managing Director, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Oakland, CA

California’s Capitol Corridor rail service, which connects the Sierra foothills to Silicon Valley, began operations in December 1991 with six daily trains between San Jose and Sacramento. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA) assumed management responsibility for the service in October 1998.

Since then, the Capitol Corridor has grown into the third busiest intercity passenger rail service in the nation. During the past 11 years, ridership has trended upward by increasing service and by providing residents of northern California with a high-quality passenger rail service that is competitive in terms of frequency, travel time, reliability, and price.

The popularity of Capitol Corridor can be attributed to the diverse travel market within the communities we serve. Daily, our ridership includes university students, shoppers, business travelers, and those traveling to visit family, friends, and vacation destinations.

When it comes to the anticipated high-speed rail market, the CCJPA does not want to be caught “flat-footed”; we want to be ready. By preparing a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to develop and enhance the connections with the state’s planned high-speed trains at the San Jose (a major high-speed train terminal) and, eventually, the Sacramento intermodal stations, the CCJPA is well “ahead of the curve.”

High-Speed Rail Support
In November 2008, California voters passed Proposition 1A (California High Speed Train System), which created bonds to help fund a high-speed rail system in the state. Of the $9.95 billion allotted for high-speed rail, $190 million is designated for the state’s intercity rail corridors to connect with high-speed trains: $47.5 million for each of the three existing corridors and the same amount available to the three corridors on a competitive basis.

The California Transportation Commission has developed guidelines to allocate Proposition 1A bond funds to connecting intercity rail and public transit services. Because the CCJPA is optimally positioned to be a distributor and connecting service to the high-speed trains, it has identified a list of track infrastructure projects to add Capitol Corridor trains to and from San Jose and east to Placer County, connecting to a future high-speed intermodal terminal at Sacramento.

Connecting the Funding Dots
Last year, the Obama administration gave a huge boost to California’s intercity passenger rail network and the planned high-speed rail effort with the creation of the five-year High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail (HSIPR) capital grant program, administered by the Federal Railroad Administration, which was launched with an initial $8 billion “down payment.” For Fiscal Year 2010, an additional $2.5 billion in HSIPR capital grants, to become available soon, supplements passenger rail support. These grants now require a non-federal match of at least 20 percent.

On a long-term basis, the emergence of a federally supported rail program is a positive sign for intercity passenger rail improvement—not only for CCJPA, but throughout California and across the nation. With that said, it is imperative to keep in mind that state funds must be identified to match HSIPR capital grant funds, so CCJPA is more concerned than ever to identify a reliable state source for long-term capital and operating funds.

Resolving reliability at the state level takes on new importance now that federal funding sources are in play and require matching sources of funds—dollars CCJPA needs to implement its plans to connect with California’s high-speed rail system.

In California, state funding bonds authorized by the voters, as well as a state Supreme Court decision to retain support for transportation through the Public Transportation Account, mean that state funds (including bonds) are expected to become timely funding matches to the HSIPR program.

When this funding is released for expenditure as the voters intended, it would become an excellent match for the HSIPR federal funding program to allow the CCJPA to advance and complete many elements of its CIP, including added rolling stock/rail vehicles, service expansion, and Positive Train Control-related safety improvements.

The short-term success of the HSIPR program will dictate the long-term federal program of support beyond the initial five years. Presuming a continuing non-federal match requirement, which is consistent with the highway and transit programs, considerable emphasis falls on establishing a steady and reliable state capital and operating program for intercity passenger rail.

CCJPA will continue to advocate within the state for the necessity of a steady, reliable annual funding program as opposed to a capital program punctuated by on-time infusions of bond funds and a cyclic program of rising and falling state resources.

Blueprint for a Seamless Connection
After CCJPA connected the funding dots, its next step was to create a blueprint of what it needs to do to physically connect its service to high-speed rail. To use high-speed rail networks in Europe and Asia as a model, the CCJPA must prepare the Capitol Corridor service to serve an entirely new ridership market when high-speed trains begin operations.

The CCJPA is moving forward with its CIP, assembling the applications and financial plans to complete the numerous projects that will help it reach the short-term objectives of increasing service to San Jose from 14 to 22 daily trains. The authority is also positioning the service to add trains east to Placer County to accommodate the untapped market east of Sacramento.

CCJPA is also collaborating with San Jose and Sacramento as they do their part to ensure integration between high-speed and intercity passenger rail. Both cities are using city resources to modernize their rail stations and create land use plans with intercity rail in mind.

Designated federal dollars, consistent annual state funding, local community and governmental support, and the CCJPA’s commitment to be ahead of the curve are the necessary components to ensure a seamless connection between intercity and high-speed passenger rail in northern California. 

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