Although efforts to construct a high-speed rail system in California have been delayed and cost estimates have doubled in recent months, San Francisco officials are working to deliver reliable local and regional high-speed service.

At a regularly scheduled board meeting of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority today, agency staff presented an update on the city’s efforts to implement high-speed rail and to bring that service to the city ahead of the completion time predicted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

On Nov. 1, the Rail Authority released an updated business plan announcing that the rail line between San Francisco and San Diego would cost nearly $100 billion–twice as much as previously estimated–and would not be completed until 2033.

If approved, construction could begin this fall on a 130-mile “initial construction section” in the Central Valley, which would cost about $20 billion.

At the SFCTA board’s Nov. 15 meeting, Commissioner Scott Wiener requested an update on the city’s efforts related to implementing high-speed rail and to ensuring a coordinated city strategy.

In comments submitted to the Rail Authority this month, the SFCTA noted that the revised business plan is flawed in that it would build the first leg of the system along a low-ridership area.

According to the SFCTA, as proposed, the statewide project is unlikely to attract private funding, and the long wait for service could frustrate the public, further detracting from project support.

Today, agency staff outlined what they are calling a “Fast Start” plan that would initiate “near-high-speed” rail service within the next decade.

“We’re talking about a concept that could be four times cheaper, generate 40 percent more ridership and be built a decade sooner,” the agency’s executive director, Jose Luis Moscovich, said at today’s meeting.

According to today’s staff presentation to the full board, the city plan would merge two existing projects–Caltrain electrification and the downtown Caltrain extension, from Fourth and King streets to the new Transbay Transit Center–in an attempt to expedite the process.

The Caltrain electrification project was delayed in 2010 when the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which owns and operates Caltrain, entered into a Memorandum of Agreement in 2009 with the CHSRA for the joint development of both the Caltrain electrification project and the high-speed rail project in the peninsula corridor.

The project has been delayed while alignment and operational aspects of the state high-speed train have remained in flux.

The SFCTA is completing a feasibility study and has been working with local and Peninsula-based stakeholders and the Rail Authority to develop an implementation plan.

The Authority has been working closely with other San Francisco stakeholders such as the Mayor’s Office, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, among others, to address how to best implement high-speed rail along the peninsula corridor.

Patricia Decker, Bay City News

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