Uploaded: Wed, Feb 18, 2009, 2:51 am
Tunnels to be considered for high-speed rail
Residents, city officials prefer the underground option despite added costs -- to prevent a high wall through Palo Alto and other cities
As Palo Altans continue to define their love-hate relationship with the high-speed-rail project, residents and city officials are increasingly looking to deep-underground tunnels as a possible solution.
On Tuesday night, city officials and dozens of concerned residents voiced concerns and vented frustrations about the project at a packed, two-hour community meeting with officials from the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the 800-mile rail line between San Francisco and San Diego.
Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie told the residents that the authority "has confirmed with us that they're obligated and will study the tunneling option through the Peninsula."
Residents voiced two clear messages: They want a bigger say in the design process and they would much rather have a rail line that zips through tunnels than one that whooshes past over their heads on raised tracks, which some city officials are calling a "Berlin Wall" dividing Palo Alto.
It would be "the difference between blight and Park Avenue," Judith Wasserman, a member of the Palo Alto Architectural Review Board, said of the tunnel-versus-elevated tracks alternative.
"If somehow the High-Speed Rail Authority decides to put it above ground anyway, is there recourse or do we all just have to lie down on the tracks?" Wasserman asked the crowd gathered in a Palo Alto Unified School District conference room at 25 Churchill Ave.
Others were less blunt but equally vociferous in opposing an above-ground design. Because the system must be grade separated, the new tracks would have to be elevated 16 feet above existing streets or speed through the less disruptive but more costly tunnels several dozen feet underground.
With the engineering for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the project just getting started, it's not clear which option the rail authority will choose. Despite a completion target of 2030, key decisions will need to be made in the near future about the ultimate design of the system, officials have said.
It's also not clear whether Palo Alto or Redwood City will get a station, for which Redwood City officials are reportedly already lobbying.
But Tuesday night's discussion focused primarily on track designs, with city officials and residents urging the authority to explore all options before making a decision that will significantly, and forever, change Palo Alto.
"I see this as a transformative project," Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said. "It's going to be transformative in a potentially negative way or a positive way."
"It's up to us to shape this into as much of a positive as possible."
Like most residents in the crowd, Kishimoto supports the high-speed rail project. Like most, she is also frustrated with how little of a say the city has had in the design process thus far.
Last month, Kishimoto teamed up with leaders of other Peninsula cities to form an ad hoc group that shares information and discusses common concerns about high-speed rail. The group has met three times, most recently on Feb. 13, and members are considering signing a Memorandum of Understanding that would allow them to collectively negotiate with the rail authority.
The group is asking the rail authority to inject urban-design elements into its plans and to consider integrating the service with Caltrain.
Meanwhile, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said staff is working on a report on the high-speed rail project, which the City Council is scheduled to discuss March 2.
On Tuesday, Emslie joined many others in preaching the benefits of tunnels. He said many major transportation projects around the world are utilizing state-of-the-art technology to create below-grade separations.
"Obviously, cost is a major consideration," Emslie said. "But the high-speed-rail authority has confirmed with us that they're obligated and will study the tunneling option through the Peninsula."
The authority announced earlier Tuesday that it has extended its deadline for comments about the scope of its Environmental Impact Report. After city leaders requested more time, the agency pushed the deadline forward 30 days, to April 6.
But residents continued to express frustration with the communication between the authority and the community.
Some charged the authority with not doing enough to publicize its meetings. Others asked city officials to devote more resources to spreading the word about the proposed system, which would whisk passengers up and down the Peninsula at up to 125 miles per hour. Speeds in the open stretches through the San Joaquin Valley would reach up to 220 miles per hour.
Tuesday night's meeting was organized by a group of Southgate residents, who have emerged in the past month as the project's most vocal and persistent critics.
The rail authority plans to complete construction of the $45 billion project by 2030. The project was approved by voters statewide as Proposition 1A last November, called the "Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century." The measure allocated $9.95 billion to cover about half the cost of core elements of the system, with the other half to be covered by federal grants, with future funding to follow over the years.
Proposition 1A was approved by 52.7 percent of 12.7 million voters, a nearly 74 percent turnout for the Nov. 4 presidential election.
The authority has scheduled another meeting in Palo Alto on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Mitchell Park Community Center, 3800 Middlefield Road.
Posted by Martin Engel,
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 18, 2009 at 10:45 pm
I also was at the meeting and was dazzled by the energy, awareness of and resistance to what was in store for Palo Alto if the rail authority pursues their "default" agenda. I wish that spirit and concern permeated the residents of Menlo Park and Atherton to this degree.
The notion of development on the rail corridor, once stripped of the rail tracks, is complicated. But, the rail corridor belongs to us, the people of the three counties, and we are represented by the joint powers board. It does not belong to Caltrain. We must have a say in what happens on it as well as below it.
Both Menlo Park and Palo Alto have downtowns through which the corridor runs. In those areas, both "green" zones as well as developed, built-up opportunities can be taken advantage of. Palo Alto's rail corridor is over 4 miles in length. Much of it may become green zone only. Only parts of it need to be developed, especially in those areas where land values are the highest.
Those who state that what is absent is an adequate urban public mass transit system and that it should be developed before we consider inter-city rail, are, in my opinion, correct. Furthermore, I agree that if any high-speed rail is built, it should be built first where it can be of greatest use, connecting Sacramento with San Francisco, and San Diego with Los Angeles. Both the Bay Area and the LA Basin lack a well-coordinated, integrated, multi-modal transit system. That should come first.
High-speed trains are the icing on the cake. California has no cake, unlike Europe and Japan, where there is a huge dependence on rail transit and a highly developed rail system. To be clear, riding high-speed trains anywhere is going first class. It's like flying first class. High-speed trains are a luxury intended for the well to do; i.e. "suits" with laptops.
They are the equivalent of the Concorde in commercial aviation. Those "visions of the future" are all now in museums.
Yes, the rail authority ought to do it right the first time. That means putting the rail system where other metropolitan cities have their rail systems, underground. Although we don't like it, with the growing California population, especially in the two major population regions north and south, the Peninsula will, in 100 years, become a dense mega-tropolis. Having a major rail system running down the middle of such a vast, dense city is inconceivable.
Clem, who has his own rather train-technical web site, is right insofar as he suggests that a number of alternatives are, realistically, off the table. He points out that the current HNTB and PB consultants, (Dominic Spaethling, Tim Cobb and John Letzinger), have a specific charge to design alternative alignments for the Caltrain corridor only. They cannot consider other options, whether 101 or 280 or Altamont. That's non-negotiable.
But, what I wish to say to Clem, and all the other critics of those of us who are seeking alternatives we can live with is, "Don't tell me why it can't work; tell me how we are going to make it happen."
Those who criticize the tunnel alignment, for whatever reason, must acknowledge that it is engineering-feasible. It can be done. It should be done. The biggest constraint is cost. But with full-cost accounting, it can pencil out far more favorably than what the HNTB people will tell us. Our three cities should be researching this right now with tunnel and rail construction experts. Brian Steen told me the story about 4th Avenue in Manhattan which had a rail trench running down the middle and slum housing on both sides. The city decided to cover over the trench and thus put the rail system, including the New York Central, underground. The street became Park Avenue. We can have "Park Avenue" in Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
Yes, the rail authority will jerk us around and reject all our alternative alignments. We must not let them. We must argue from strength, and as cities on the Peninsula join together, there will be strength. Kudos to Yoriko Kishimoto for leading this.
There is a current CEQA lawsuit but I'm not sure that Palo Alto can join it as a plaintiff since there was a deadline (which Menlo Park and Atherton met), and all plaintiffs must have "standing" or legitimate legal claims. That's a question for the Stuart Flashman law firm handling the suit.
However, other lawsuits are certainly possible. It is quite plausible that upon completion of the current project-level EIS/EIR, our cities will find other reasons to sue. The point is that we must fight for a "level playing field" and seek negotiating leverage.
One of the central tenets of this current lawsuit, to be heard by a judge in Sacramento in May, is that Union Pacific owns the rail corridor and tracks south of San Jose to Gilroy, the route identified by the CHSRA in their program-level EIS/EIR. Union Pacific has made it publicly clear that this route will not be available for high-speed train use. The CHSRA has ignored that restriction in their documentation. They have no Plan B. Getting from Gilroy to San Jose is the heart of the Pacheco Pass route. Rail engineers say there are no other possibilities available for this segment. You can see the problem.
Finally, for those wishing to support the lawsuit, and I am among those who have sent funds, here is the address:
Planning and Conservation League Foundation (PCLF) at 1107 Ninth Street, Suite 360, Sacramento, CA 95814 Attention: HSR Lawsuit.
And, here is a web site that explains more about it.
Posted by Palo Alto Commuter,
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 19, 2009 at 1:43 pm
Could we have a more spectacular demonstration that Palo Alto and the Mid-Peninsula are the NIMBY (not in my back yard) Capital of the World? The amount of emotionally-charged misstatements of fact is overwhelming -- both at the community meeting at the P.A. Board of Ed Tuesday night and in this list.
The passionate public discourse about the Pacheco Pass versus Altamont Pass alignments for High Speed Rail has been going on for at least ten years. There is a very strong constituency for HSR throughout the state to connect the Bay Area with the Central Valley, LA, and San Diego. The idea is to catch up with the rest of the "developed world" that has been running fast, clean, safe, dependable, and affordable train service for decades. Having ridden high speed trains in Europe, Japan, and China, it is clear to me that UNLESS the United States develops a superior high speed rail alternative -- not just in California but throughout our nation's urban corridors -- we are condemning our people and our economy to enslavement to the automobile, the oil companies, and the vast quantities of green house gases that combination produces.
After much deliberation and support from multiple state and local agencies, the California High Speed Rail Authority chose the Pacheco Pass. Some of us followed that process closely, and even participated in the public comment process. Sure, Altamont presented some advantages for better connections to Stockton, Tracy, and Manteca, but an improved ACE train could do much the same without degrading the essential LA to San Francisco connection. And, yes, no doubt there are some valid criticisms of the HSR Authority's process, but that all misses the point.
The overriding purpose of HSR is to connect California's five or six major cities with a reliable, fast, and relatively low-cost ground transportation system that is competitive with door-to-door air and automobile travel. Please note that San Jose is the third largest city in California (after LA and San Diego) and is far more of a fundamental economic engine than San Francisco (the fourth largest).
If the wishful thinkers (and the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton)who think the Altamont Alignment is their salvation would take the time to look at the many websites dealing with the HSR, both for and against, they would see a fact -- a very different fact. Even the staunchest advocates of the Altamont Pass alignment such as TRANSDEF Web Link show the HSR running up the Peninsula Caltrain Corridor after it absurdly bypasses San Jose.
Under either alignment, the HSR would run up the Caltrain Corridor. So, let's deal with it. Instead of putting up the usual "Whatever it is, I'm against it!" Horsefeathers-type of campaign, the people and City of Palo Alto should come together to craft the best possible design and implementation of these prospective concurrent projects:
1) Electrification of Caltrain by 2015, which means platform-level access improvements at all the stations, more trains, faster trains, electrical transmission towers and overhead cables, and probably the need to build more grade separations at some existing grade crossings.
2) Dumbarton rail connection from the East Bay to the Mid-Peninsula, which would best be an extension of Caltrain or alternatively, the ACE train.
2) High Speed Rail service beginning in 2020, which will be closely coordinated with the electrification of Caltrain and require complete separation from freight service and local Caltrain tracks, and also complete grade separation along the rail corridor. Realistically, the design and engineering for HSR and electrified Caltrain from San Francisco to Gilroy must include a combination of open trench, cut and cover, tunneling, on-grade open and on-grade enclosed, and elevated track and bridges, depending upon the local conditions and conformance to the track slope constraint of about 2% to 3%.
4) A HSR station in Palo Alto.
This HSR-Caltrain multimodal station is the real prize that Palo Alto residents should pursue. It would bring enormous economic benefit to be the only stop in an urban center between San Francisco and San Jose (the Millbrae station is nowheresville by comparison). Instead of wasting our time and energy raising emotionally-fraught objections, we should devote the same level of effort to winning a Palo Alto HSR stop as part of a package deal for the best, least environmentally intrusive design for Palo Alto's four mile rail corridor.
Posted by Martin Engel,
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2009 at 2:37 pm
@ wary traveler
OK. Clem is not talking about the segment from San Jose to Gilroy. He is disagreeing with me when I say that the Caltrain corridor is owned not by an entity called Caltrain, but is administered by an entity called the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. Indeed, Caltrain is administered also by the JPB. For instance, Caltrain must submit its budget to the JPB for approval.
This is not to say that there are a number of overlapping organizations occupying the same office space, the JPB, Caltrain, SamTrans and the San Mateo Council Transportation Authority. In my opinion, they are highly incestuous.
However, formally, the "Caltrain Corridor," which we will hereafter call the
Caltrain Corridor is not the "Caltrain" corridor since it was purchased from Union Pacific with funding from the three Peninsula counties administered by the Joint Powers Board. Although perhaps we should, we don't call it the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board Corridor. And, those funds came from us, the taxpayers. Hence, it's ours, if you see what I mean. That doesn't mean that the extremely heavy hand of Caltrain doesn't lord it over the corridor and us. It does mean that we better get our act together. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
By the way, Clem, while you are right about the sloppy journalism regarding the Redwood tree, (The Post, the new kid on the block, has a long way to go.) I agree with Rafael insofar as the tree is really not a problem, including tunneling which will be 50 ft. down, under the creek and the root system of the tree.
You are absolutely right. The document to which you refer is almost 200 pages long and is called The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report, by Wendell Cox and Joseph Vranich. It is a detailed refutation of all the verbiage and promotional rhetoric generated by the high-speed rail authority prior to last November's election. Unfortunately, the document came out in October, with not enough time to be reviewed and commented on by the press.
You suggest that I bring up false hopes. Well, I hope not. My thinking goes like this. We should prevent this high-speed train project from happening. If we can't, we need a Plan B. Plan B is keep it off the Peninsula entirely. If we can't, we need a Plan C. Plan C is the Altamont route, which brings the train across the Bay into Redwood City, through parts of Menlo Park. If we can't obtain that, we need a Plan D. Plan D. means the train comes down the Peninsula, but not in the intended, highly destructive way. That means that Plan D is putting the tracks over highway 101 or 280. Are you following me here? If we can't do that, we need a Plan E. Plan E puts the train on the Caltrain corridor from one end to the other, but out of sight.
That means a tunnel. Now, there are lots of arguments for and against all of these plans. But, NIMBYs like me want to remain realistic and do the best we can to protect our homes from the barbarian horde. That doesn't mean I'm happy with anything after Plan A. But, I have to accept what I can't change.
You and I agree much more than you suggest. Absolutely must the tunnel be studied, but not by those who oppose the tunnel on principle. However, in the absence of more detailed accounting, I'm not ready to throw in the tunnel towel regarding its cost. Full-cost accounting should give us a more reliable picture than merely saying that tunneling will cost so many billions. The big picture is that if they can't be stopped to build the HSR expansion on the Caltrain corridor, at least we want it out of sight. The higher costs of that, whatever they are, is the price that must be paid to do something that is basically wrong; that is, running the train down the middle of the Peninsula.
One of the arguments that the HSR authority persists in using is that there will be greater costs if they don't build this train; that is, costs for more highways and runways. Well, then there are also greater costs if they insist on "destroying" at least three highly residential towns through which they insist on running their train. Furthermore, if they don't tunnel it, but build bermed or walled track elevations, there will be enormous costs to at least three towns; property value costs, lost business costs, loss of quality of life costs, human displacement costs; and doubtless others. Those are our costs, not theirs. They won't compensate us; they want our "sacrifice." That certainly cannot be OK with you. After all, it's your money.
@qq, stock trader
To all those who say that it will never happen because there's no money. I wish that were true. Perhaps I wish it even more than you.
But wishful thinking is fruitless. As you can learn by reading the newspapers, there is a groundswell of support for HSR from Washington. They are currently printing money and will bring it in suitcases to our state and give it to Kopp and Diridon. Don't like it? Neither do I. But, we mustn't kid ourselves. That train has left the station. The biggest boondoggle in the history of the world and it's coming to a neighborhood near you.
I wish I could answer one of your questions. I'm not politically savvy. I'm not an organizer. I'm just an old guy sitting at his Mac, looking out the window at the rail corridor.
I have been promoting city affiliation for over two years. There was a multi-city organization, CETS (council for expanding train service) that consisted of San Mateo Cities whose train station had been closed or the number of stops sharply reduced. The member cities wrote a total of about 15 +/- resolutions and sent them to Caltrain, which used them to line their parrot cage. Then, I have been pushing Atherton and Menlo Park to form a joint committee, but that never happened until Yoriko Kishimoto called a bunch of cities together into an ad hoc group that is now looking to affiliate in a formal way. What to do about that?
Let Peter, Yoriko and anyone else who matters know that this is what you want. You want a chair at the table. You should also let them know what you want.
About the rail authority. Yes, they will ignore us if they can. But, if we do organize both at the grass-roots level and at the various municipal levels into a larger Peninsula organization, it will be more difficult to ignore us, especially when the lawsuits start flying, as they should.
Who to get in touch with and at what legislative level? All of them.
We are represented at the local, county, state and federal level by people who need our money and our votes to stay in office. There are several committees in the state senate that can exercise control over the high-speed rail authority; the Appropriations committee and the Housing and Transportation Committee. We should demand that they do their duty and exercise oversight over and require accountability from the authority. They have not done this so far.
Finally, you say that the Peninsula needs to get politically organized. Damn right! No, I don't feel its OK to bide time. I want us to get organized yesterday. Remember, I've been bitching about all this for over five years and have been ignored. That is not to say that we shouldn't be retaining reliable and independent consultants to inform us about tunneling and find attorneys knowledgeable about eminent domain. We need to become really, really smart about all this. Sooner is better.
Finally, I want to commend all those who have been writing comments on this thread. It's heartening to read calm, reasonable people express their views and knowledge and even disagree. It's the hysterical, ad Hominem road-rage attacks that are annoying.
Although an old timer, I'm still new to blogging. Is it the custom of the culture to not use you full real name? Does it feel more protective?
In another blog in The Almanac, someone attacked this pseudonym practice and signed their comments with a pseudonym. Go figger!