Salinas >> With the Salinas train station on the verge of a major facelift as part of the planned Salinas rail extension project, the long-awaited proposal is set to mark the start of construction next week.
With site work already underway, the Transportation Agency for Monterey County has scheduled a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday at 11 a.m. for the $137 million project aimed at bringing new passenger rail service from the Bay Area and Silicon Valley to Monterey County. The event will be held at the train station off West Market Street in Salinas.
Local elected officials including state Assemblywoman Anna Caballero, Supervisor John Phillips and Salinas City Councilwoman Kimbley Craig are slated to attend along with Transportation Agency for Monterey County executive director Debbie Hale and Salinas City Center Improvement Association President Catherine Kobrinsky Evans. California State Transportation Agency director Brian Annis has also been invited to join the event.
Transportation Agency for Monterey County spokeswoman Theresa Wright said the time is right to mark the occasion with extensive demolition work about to begin on the site as part of the rail project’s $81 million first phase, which has been in the works for some time.
“This will be the first tangible, visible sign for the public that the project is moving forward,” Wright said, noting that many Salinas residents don’t even realize the city has a train station. “People will start noticing the work going on.”
Transportation Agency for Monterey County planner Christina Watson said hazardous material removal work involving lead-based paint and asbestos has already begun, and the first actual demolition work could start as soon as the same day as the groundbreaking starting with the former All U.S. Credit Union building at 20 West Market Street.
“We’re going to be literally knocking buildings down,” Watson said. “This is going to be a complete transformation of the area.”
According to Watson, a total of six main buildings and an outbuilding will be demolished at the site, including the old El Aguila tortilla factory, and the work is expected to be complete by mid-October. While the transportation agency has legal possession of all the buildings to be demolished, Watson said negotiations continue on a purchase price for three of the buildings and the issue could end up in a new court hearing no earlier than February, long after the buildings are removed.
The station will be designed to integrate the new rail service with existing Amtrak rail and bus service, Monterey-Salinas Transit bus service and Greyhound bus service, and will be the main end point for the planned Marina-Salinas multimodal bus rapid transit and bicycle corridor connecting the Monterey Peninsula and Salinas through Marina.
Watson said the goal is to start offering two round-trip Caltrain passenger trains on weekdays from Salinas to Gilroy, and beyond to San Jose and San Francisco, and then back to Salinas by 2021 following negotiations with the rail authority and completion of the crucial layover facility.
A conceptual schedule envisions the trains leaving Salinas, which would be the Caltrain service’s new start and end point, between 5:11 a.m. and 6:11 a.m., and returning between 6:25 p.m. and 8:51 p.m. on a daily basis. Trips would take about 55 minutes from Salinas to Gilroy, about an hour and 55 minutes to downtown San Jose, and about three and a half hours to San Francisco.
Early estimates predict 95,000 riders in the first year, or about 1,800 per week, 365 per day and about 180 per train. Long-term estimates suggest up to 525,000 riders per year once additional stations are added and service is expanded.
Projections also suggested the service would cost about $5 million per year to operate and collect about $4 million in ticket sales revenue, requiring a $1 million annual subsidy.
Watson said Caltrain has actually been considering halting service to Gilroy due to declining ridership but expects to see a boost from extending service to Salinas and the Monterey Bay area.
Later phases of the project call for adding stops at stations in Pajaro and Castroville, which would also serve as multi-modal transit hubs connecting to the rest of Santa Cruz County to the north and the Peninsula to the south. Future plans call for expanding the number of daily trips and extending service to Sacramento.
Hale noted the groundbreaking comes after decades of work to bring new rail service to the area. Watson said the project has been discussed since Transportation Agency for Monterey County was awarded $3 million in seed money from a 1990 state rail bond, and the project’s business plan was adopted in 1999.
Next Friday, Transportation Agency for Monterey County and the Salinas Chamber of Commerce are offering a “future commuter train tour” that includes a 7:15 a.m. bus ride from the Salinas train station to San Jose’s Diridon Station and an Amtrak Coast Starlight ride along the commuter rail route back to Salinas, followed by a tour of the future Salinas intermodal station. Cost is $20, visit www.salinaschamber.com for more information.
Jim Johnson can be reached at 831-726-4348.