Salinas-to-San-Jose rail project gets stuck in red tape, pisses off property owners.

Railroad Blues: Transportation Agency for Monterey County Executive Director Debbie Hale at the Salinas train station. “We’re not pleased that we don’t have federal funding and we’re not constructing the project yet either,” she says.Railroad Blues: Transportation Agency for Monterey County Executive Director Debbie Hale at the Salinas train station. “We’re not pleased that we don’t have federal funding and we’re not constructing the project yet either,” she says.

AMonterey County rail service could mean speedy transit for long-distance commuters, but the process to get the project rolling has been anything but quick.


There’s been talk for more than a decade of creating a rail service from Salinas to Silicon Valley. What was once pegged as a $70 million project to be completed in 2009 is now expected to cost nearly double that, and could take until 2017. To top it off, officials aren’t sure when key federal funding will become available.


But cost and timing are just part of the story. Officials also want to acquire private property for the use of the railroad. Negotiations with landowners is preferable, though eminent domain would be a final option. After awaiting action for years, some property owners aren’t happy.


Owners of Salinas’ American Supply Company are “a captive of this rail project,” says Brian Finegan, the attorney representing the company. Finegan and an official with the Transportation Agency for Monterey County spoke to the Salinas City Council earlier this month.


American Supply has known about the transportation agency’s proposal to acquire its land since 2003, Finegan says. Since then, the business has been stuck because there haven’t been negotiations.


Finegan argues that without knowing what will happen to the property, American Supply’s owners can’t sell it or expand their business. Transportation agency representatives say TAMC has no control over the company’s affairs.


TAMC Executive Director Debbie Hale says the agency can’t make the first move because it’s tied up in an environmental review process. But if American Supply approaches the agency, TAMC could initiate the acquisition process early.


Some property owners affected by the incoming rail service have already sold or entered negotiations to sell their land to TAMC, says Christina Watson, principal transportation planner.


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The owners of American Supply declined to comment for this story.


The project has been delayed because of a years-long holdup in securing a federal environmental review, Watson says. The review is critical for getting funds from the Federal Transit Administration, but because of funding constraints the feds have not yet agreed to continue the process.


As of now, the local transportation agency has secured $45 million for the nearly $136 million project. Officials say TAMC needs $75 million from the feds, as well as $15 million from other sources.

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