Never let it be said that I don't give HSR deniers credit where it is due. Morris Brown has obtained a copy of a letter from Union Pacific to the California High Speed Rail Authority laying out their stance on HSR implementation between San Francisco and Gilroy. Their overall attitude is one of "we own the corridor, either through easements or outright ownership, and you're going to implement HSR according to our guidelines."
The SF-Gilroy corridor is broken up into three pieces:
1. SF to Santa Clara, owned outright by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCBJPB - set up in 1991 to run Caltrain) but where UP has an easement to run freight
2. Santa Clara to Lick, "a point approximately three miles south of Diridon Station" - UP "owns and has primary operating rights on Main Track Number 1".
3. Lick to Gilroy (and ultimately to Moorpark in Ventura County), owned wholly by the Union Pacific Railroad.
UP's stance as laid out in the letter is, in essence and going in reverse order:
3: No way in hell will HSR trains use the UP ROW between Lick and Gilroy. Their specific language is:
Union Pacific has no intention of allowing or permitting the Authority to build or operate the HSR within Union Pacific's right of way southward of Lick. The Authority should take this into account as part of the EIR/EIS for the San Francisco — San Jose segment.
2: Depending on how freight trains are mitigated, UP is fine with HSR between Santa Clara and Lick - but UP will be the final arbiter of what this means. Their specific language is:
The Authority must not undertake any action that interferes with Union Pacific's ownership and operation of Main Track No. I without prior approval from Union Pacific and the commuter agencies identified above. All adverse impacts must be mitigated to Union Pacific's satisfaction.
1: UP expects to not only maintain, but potentially increase, freight service along the Caltrain corridor, insists that its easement be respected, and that HSR be built to not adversely affect freight operations in any possible form.
Specifically, UP demands the following, which is most directly applicable to the Caltrain corridor:
(i) Slow speed freight trains and high-speed trains are incompatible on the same
tracks at any time, including cross-overs. Union Pacific requires overhead clearance of 23 feet 6 inches, which is higher than the Authority contemplates for its electrical system. The Authority must provide grade-separated cross-overs for freight trains at necessary locations. The Authority must not contemplate operation of freight trains on any HSR trackage at any time (and vice-versa). If necessary, completely separate freight trackage must be provided. HSR must comply with all applicable FRA regulations.
As far as I can tell what UP is saying is that at least one track has to be set up for freight trains, and if that requires a totally separate track, so be it - CHSRA and PCJPB are UP's bitch when it comes to making changes on the Caltrain corridor.
What does this mean for the battle over HSR implementation on the Peninsula? Brandon in San Diego lays it out like this:
any proposal to retain freight's ability with any necessary tunneling having the intent to accomodate HSR + Caltrain at the expense of an above ground alignment accomodating freight...
1) more costly tunneling efforts (bigger/higher, longer due to softer grade changes, and/or... ventilation) or
2) the tunneling to accomodate Caltrain + freight cannot happen at all.
If so on #2, that means Caltrain may remain above ground and possibly at-grade where they already are... and our friendly peninsula bergs are SOL.
I think that's a pretty good summation. Ultimately I think this deals a pretty significant blow to the tunnel concept as being floated by the Peninsula cities, who have floated a concept of a two-track tunnel. Unless the tunnel has four tracks and is large enough to accommodate UP freight, it's not going to meet UP's standards. Another option is to build a two-track tunnel and let UP continue operating freight trains on the surface above the tunnel, which is an absurd solution and also makes it impossible for cities to sell "air rights" to develop land above the tunnel to pay for the tunnel's costs, as some have proposed.
The only other option for Peninsula cities would be to pursue federal law that would limit UP's negotiating power. UP notes that their freight operations in this region are regulated by the federal Surface Transportation Board. Congress and the White House could, if they wanted to, pursue new laws and regulations pushing or even forcing freight railroads to accommodate HSR and other passenger rail even if they're reluctant to do so.
I am not sure we should expect that to happen. President Obama has shown hardly any desire to piss off large corporations like UP, and Congress has shown little interest in modernizing railroad law. If the federal government is serious about implementing HSR, they're going to need to attend to both, and the dispute over the Caltrain corridor may be a good place to start. But I am not confident it will actually happen.