The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s preferred route for the local section of the bullet train would cut directly through downtown Morgan Hill and could displace numerous homes and businesses.
The HSRA staff will recommend to the authority board that the train use the existing Caltrain corridor from Morgan Hill through Gilroy. The HSRA board is scheduled to vote to adopt the recommendation, or a different route alternative, at its Sept. 17 meeting.
This alternative would electrify the tracks currently used by Caltrain and run the high-speed rail through the existing Union Pacific Railroad corridor, which would create a high-speed rail stop in Gilroy. While there would be no stop in Morgan Hill, Northern California Regional Director for the authority, Boris Lipkin, said the newly electrified Caltrain tracks will be a benefit to Morgan Hill.
City of Morgan Hill Community Engagement Officer Maureen Tobin said the HSRA’s recommendation was not what the city staff had hoped for, but that the Caltrain electrification could be positive for the community. She told the Times that the authority will give a formal presentation on the recommended route to the Morgan Hill City Council at the July 17 meeting and that the council would make official statements on the route at that time.
Electrifying the tracks will allow for more commuter trains to go between San Jose, Morgan Hill and Gilroy, Lipkin said.
Other options for the high-speed rail included viaducts that would run alongside US-101, bypassing both Morgan Hill and Gilroy’s downtown areas, or creating a completely new track between Monterey Road and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.
Lipkin said the impacted cities were consulted on the route alternatives and that the fourth option for a blended track would have the least amount of property impact. However, Morgan Hill business and city leaders have been vocal about their concerns over the blended option, worrying about noise and other disruptions to the newly developed area.
The rail authority’s July 2 announcement of the recommendation does not guarantee this will be the final route for the HSR through San Jose south to Gilroy; the authority will host several town halls over the summer to hear from the community and the board will vote on the alternative at the Sept. 17 board meeting.
The Northern Californian portion of the route has never been fully funded. The Authority has recently run into more funding trouble after the Federal Rail Administration sent a notice of funding withdrawal, which would cause the high-speed project to lose nearly a billion dollars.
The Morgan Hill portion of the route, as recommended by authority staff, would pass through the existing Union Pacific tracks on Depot Street adjacent to Morgan Hill’s downtown.
Lipkin told the Times that this route would add two high-speed rail tracks to the existing rail lines. He said that in most places the plans fit within the existing space, but other portions of the route would need to be expanded out to accommodate. Lipkin did not specify which areas along the train tracks would need to be expanded to fit the bullet train, or how far they would have to be expanded.
There would be platforms on each side of the tracks and gates on either side. In Morgan Hill, the areas surrounding the train tracks are densely populated; Lipkin said the new rail would avoid a new train-themed city park that is right next to the track on Depot Street.
When the train passes through, two barricades would come down to ensure traffic cannot pass.
Despite coming through Morgan Hill’s downtown, Lipkin said, “Alternative 4 has the least impact when it comes to displacement.”
Gilroy station still planned
The recommended route for the High-Speed Rail in Gilroy will create a rail hub in the city just outside of downtown.
Other alternative routes for Gilroy would have created a stop near the Gilroy outlets. A stop has always been planned for Gilroy.
“The maximum train speed would be 110 mph where operations would be blended between San Jose and Gilroy,” said the authority information sheet. “South and east of Gilroy, speeds would increase up to 220 mph in the dedicated High-Speed Rail portion of the alignment.”
The Gilroy hub has been seen as a major economic opportunity for the city.
Tunnel through the pass
The portion of the high-speed rail that will pass through Pacheco Pass will include embankments, viaducts and a tunnel.
There will be a 1.5 mile tunnel near Casa De Fruta and a 13.5 mile tunnel through Pacheco pass.
“There would be a long tunnel around the northern arm of the San Luis Reservoir and viaducts over the California Aqueduct, Delta-Mendota Canal, and I-5,” said the High-Speed Rail information packet.
Tunneling through Pacheco is a major funding obstacle for the authority on a project that has never been fully funded and is currently under threat of losing all federal funding.
Lipkin said the authority is just working toward getting plans in place and will deal with funding challenges once construction is imminent. “There’s a number of years of work in front of us before we’re ready to issue the big construction contracts,” said Lipkin.
After the authority board approves an alternative, Lipkin said it will take about two years to obtain environmental clearances and advance the designs.
Community meetings will be held this summer to collect feedback on the recommended route:
Aug. 8 in Gilroy; Aug. 21 in Los Banos; Aug. 15 in San Jose; and a Sept. 17 board meeting in San Jose.
According to the HSRA, feedback can also be given by email at [email protected],
by phone at 800-455-8166, or by mail: Northern California Regional Office California High-Speed Rail Authority 100 Paseo De San Antonio, Suite 300 San Jose, CA 95113.