On Track

Property acquistion is already underway for the next phase of the rail extension project – a layover facility for evening commuter trains to sit until morning.

The idea for the Monterey County Rail Extension project – which would create a commuter train connection between Salinas and Gilroy – was hatched more than 20 years ago, and originally included a proposal to add stations in Castroville and Pajaro.

But as the prospect of obtaining federal funding for the project became too challenging, the Transportation Agency for Monterey County board pivoted in 2009, downsizing the project to remove the Castroville and Pajaro stations, and opting instead to pursue state funding.

That decision is starting to age well: On Sept. 22, the TAMC board approved transferring seven TAMC-owned properties to the city of Salinas at the Salinas Train Station, where TAMC has just completed constructing the first phase of the project.

At first glance, that first phase looks more like a parking project than a transportation one – where there were once buildings that obscured the view of the train station, there is now a large parking lot. But there is also a new road, an extension of Lincoln Avenue across West Market Street into the train station property, which for the first time allows buses and cars to enter and exit the train station with a signalized intersection on an often busy street. And between the parking lot and the station, there’s now a five-bay bus transfer facility.

Christina Watson, TAMC’s project manager for the rail extension, says this phase of the project was completed first because it doesn’t have any rail elements. For the two remaining phases, TAMC must coordinate with Union Pacific, which owns all the track between Salinas and Gilroy, as well as Caltrans, Caltrain and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

TAMC must also acquire property from Union Pacific, and on Sept. 22 the board approved a request for proposals for a real estate consultant to steer TAMC through that process.

“There’s a lot of different elements to this project,” Watson says. “We’re excited to make as much progress as we have.”

TAMC Executive Director Todd Muck says that, if everything goes smoothly, commuter trains between Salinas and Gilroy could become a reality in three or four years.

Salinas Mayor Kimbley Craig, a TAMC board member, has been a key supporter of the project, Watson says, and Craig recalls when she was first appointed to the board 10 years ago, the project had its skeptics.

“I’ll never forget [former county] supervisor Lou Calcagno saying, ‘This will never happen,’” Craig says. “I took it as a personal challenge.

“For me, it’s about understanding our community thrives on agriculture, and the future of that is ag technology, and recognizing that mass transportation to San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento are key elements to creating better transportation opportunities, and to get more cars off the road,” Craig says. “It worked for us 100 years ago, and everyone got to enjoy their vehicles for 100 years, but now we’re all stuck on the 101 at the Red Barn wondering how that happened.”

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