High-speed rail: Two-track alternative picks up steam in the Bay Area

That sparkling new $6.1 billion high-speed rail line that California has been eyeing for the Bay Area might get traded in for a 150-year-old fixer-upper. Facing a financial reality check, project leaders Thursday will consider an alternative to run the bullet trains through the Bay Area on two tracks instead of four — a major shift that could speed up the start of the project but actually slow down the trains.

Under the plan, the state would spend most of the $1.5 billion to electrify the two Caltrain tracks between San Francisco and San Jose, putting on hold its plan to spend four times as much to wipe out the historic rail line and build four new tracks along the corridor. Instead, the Golden State bullet trains would initially share the two souped-up tracks with Caltrain at the start of their three-hour journey to Anaheim.

“We don’t have the money, and in fact in the interim maybe there’s not even demand for that great of a system,” said Jeff Barker, deputy director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. But by 2035, “you ultimately need a four-track system,” he said.

Cutting down from four tracks to two in this 50-mile section would trigger repercussions also across California. From cost and travel speed to lawsuits and neighborhood disruption, the idea has plenty for everyone to love and hate.