High-speed rail slow down: Report rejected

California High-Speed Rail Authority board rescinds environmental-impact study that had endorsed Pacheco Pass route

The California High-Speed Rail Authority board Thursday (Dec. 3) rescinded its approval of an environmental-impact report (EIR) on a section of the statewide high-speed rail project between the Bay Area and Central Valley.

The board took the action Thursday morning at its meeting in Sacramento because of a court ruling in October that found that its analysis was insufficient for a 36-mile stretch of the proposed line between Gilroy and San Jose.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed in 2008 by opponents of the project, including the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton and four conservation groups.

The lawsuit challenges the rail authority's selection of the Pacheco Pass as the route for trains to access the Bay Area from the Central Valley, and contends that the authority did not adequately study the impacts of the project before deciding to run trains up the Peninsula.

The proposed Pacheco Pass route would use existing Caltrain right-of-way. Many Peninsula residents have expressed opposition to having high-speed trains running through the area.

Some opponents of the project argue that the trains should instead go through the East Bay by way of the Altamont Pass, avoiding part of the Peninsula.

According to the EIR, trains on the Altamont Pass alignment would have to travel across the Bay to connect to San Francisco, requiring significant additions to the Dumbarton Bridge or the construction of a new bridge.

The California Rail Foundation, one of the groups that oppose the project, issued a press release Wednesday stating that the rail authority board was expected to rescind its selection of the Pacheco Pass alignment for the project in addition to rescinding its approval of the EIR.

However, board member Quentin L. Kopp said at Thursday's meeting that the release was "a glittering but inaccurate description" of the court's ruling in August.

Kopp said "the court's ruling validated as legally sufficient the analysis of the proposed alignments, Pacheco Pass on one hand and Altamont Pass on the other" and that the report was only found to be insufficient for the portion between Gilroy and San Jose.

CHSRA Deputy Director Jeff Barker said the parts of the review that were deemed insufficient include right-of-way issues on Union Pacific railroad tracks, and the effects of vibrations on areas immediately surrounding the Gilroy-to-San Jose portion of the line.

Barker said the issue with Union Pacific is something "we'll have to sit down and look at," and that the vibration issue is being studied.

Stuart Flashman, the attorney representing the groups that filed the lawsuit, said Thursday's decision "is essentially reopening the environmental review, and if people feel there were things that were not sufficiently addressed previously, they can submit them for review."

Flashman said his clients will likely submit further evidence of why the Altamont Pass is better for the project than the Pacheco Pass, and that the report will have to "rebalance looking at the impacts" of the two alignments.

Barker said that when the EIR is revised, there will indeed be an opportunity for public input, and that residents "can say whatever they want and we'll listen to it," but that the focus of the CHSRA will be to "address the issues that the judge discussed."

He said that because of the work on the environmental review and the public input period, the soonest the board will be able to address the issue again is February or March of 2010.

Thursday's decision is the latest speed bump for the high-speed rail project, for which voters approved $9.95 billion in bond money in November 2008.

In October, California submitted an application for $4.7 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project. Barker said the environmental review has to be done by September 2011 to be eligible for the stimulus money.

The entire project would create an electrified system of bullet trains that would eventually run from Sacramento and San Francisco down to Los Angeles and San Diego.

In addition to Atherton and Menlo Park and the group California Rail Foundation, the other groups participating in the lawsuit are the Planning and Conservation League, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, and the BayRail Alliance.


Posted by Merrill Linmon Roe, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm

A good start. Maybe they'll rethink the whole thing. It's got a huge price tag.

How about a little more coverage of the unfolding scandal of "Climategate." I guess I was naive to think that scientists didn't fudge their data or browbeat those who disagreed with them.

Posted by PatrickD, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm

I love the weasel words in the article: "Many Peninsula residents have expressed opposition to having high-speed trains running through the area.".

That may be true, however many more have expressed support for it and voted for Prop 1A.

Posted by Supporter, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2009 at 7:55 pm

I was, and still am, for the peninsula route for HSR.

Are we going to one more time miss the boat on having improved transportation in our area, just like we did years ago with the rejection of BART? And all that because of a handful of NIMBYs? That would be another sad day. I am losing faith in this area.

Posted by PA voter, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2009 at 8:01 pm

Many of us who voted for Prop 1A are against the trains running up the Peninsula unless in a tunnel. Makes more sense to upgrade existing train lines to connect to HSR easily (or underground existing lines and make the aboveground a bike boulevard up the peninsula), and connect to HSR in the East Bay. That way there are no issues of having to cross the bay either.

I voted for HSR because I feel it will improve quality of life here. I never dreamed the people planning HSR would have tunnel vision for the project over quality of life on the entire Peninsula.

Posted by Chris, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 3, 2009 at 9:13 pm

"Many of us who voted for Prop 1A are against the trains running up the Peninsula unless in a tunnel"

Now that is an interesting statement. I voted against 1A. It was obvious that the train would be on an elevated track. There is no possibility that the HSR will be tunneled. Naivete is no excuse.

Posted by Bill, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Dec 3, 2009 at 10:17 pm

According to the Mercury-News, the only part of the report that is being re-considered is the route between San Jose and Gilroy: Web Link

Posted by morris brown, a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 4, 2009 at 4:41 am

Stuart Flashman, the attorney who won the lawsuit for Menlo Park, Atherton. etc. released a memo explaining what all of this means.

The memo can be found at:

Web Link

Posted by Thomas Jones, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 4, 2009 at 7:19 am

I heard a rumor that Caltrain is decreasing the staffing level of the transit police. They are poorly staff as it is now they will have less deputies. They say it is due to a budget deficit. This does not make me feel safe riding on their trains. The last thing you do is cut public safety. The hiring of security guards by the City of Palo Alto is a smarty move. If you call the Transit Police it may take an hour to get to you. Smart move Caltrain, smart move.

Are you concerned too?

Posted by Evan, a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 4, 2009 at 8:38 am

Thank goodness, this is only a small bump in the road, er track. They are not looking at changing the alignment, they just need to re-do small parts of the EIR to take into account that UPRR doesn't want to share it's right of way and take into account some vibration noise.

I'm really hoping the tiny, vocal minority doesn't ruin what will hopefully be a trans formative public works project. The train was here before Palo Alto was, and it's time we upgrade those tracks and make them grade-separated, whether above ground or underground. I can't wait for the day where I can hop on an electrified train in downtown Palo Alto and be in (downtown) SF in 20 minutes or LA/SD in a few hours. No cramped airplane ride, no needless arrival 90 minutes ahead of time, no 30 minute drives to Milbrae. Just an easy, comfortable ride.

Posted by train rider, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 4, 2009 at 8:38 am

What is "transit police"? I ride Caltrain all the time and have never heard of a violent crime on the trains. The only crime I have ever seen on Caltrain is someone not buying a ticket.

And when would need to call the "Transit Police" instead of the regular police?

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2009 at 11:35 am

Why, in this report, is every paragraph one sentence long?

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 4, 2009 at 11:36 am

Why, in this report, is every paragraph one sentence long?

Posted by Jon, a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2009 at 12:41 pm

"According to the EIR, trains on the Altamont Pass alignment would have to travel across the Bay to connect to San Francisco, requiring significant additions to the Dumbarton Bridge or the construction of a new bridge."

Wow, the state will need to build a new bridge or significantly modify the Dumbarton Bridge to appease the Peninsula elites.

I propose the peninsulites pay for this out of their pockets per their NIMBY wishes.

Ridiculous. We made a big mistake with BART Santa Clara County. Let's not repeat it again with the bullet train.

Posted by Caltrain rider, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Chris, I am one of your naive voters like P.A. voter who voted for HSR and was disenchanted with the agency's utter disregard for the environmental impact of the project. Many of us felt hoodwinked by the whole process. I'm surprised the city council was not on this before the prop 1A vote.

Posted by Watcher, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 4, 2009 at 1:53 pm

Supporters continue to contend that the redo on the EIR is minor - Kopp suggested in CHSRA board meeting yesterday that the resubmission would be limited to 2 comments regarding vibration and updates to the small (36 mile) stretch between SJ and Gilroy. What supporters fail to acknowledge, or perhaps fail to grasp is that the entire EIR has been rescinded, not just portions, and the reasons don't really matter. The FACT is that the ENTIRE (SF to Central Valley) EIR is rescinded, and along with it, the route selection.

The new EIR needs to be submitted to the public and rerouted through the review and approval process in its entirety. They might WISH they could just update a few paragraphs but more than 1 year and a half has passed since July 2008. And along with that year and a half - a whole lot of data and information has been added to the CHSRA's knowledge base.

And the judge in his infinite wisdom allowed CHSRA to continue with PROJECT LEVEL investigation - much more detailed than even the original program EIR. So, fast forward to X months from now when they resubmit the EIR for public review - do you think they can get away with 'information unknown until further investigation', or out of date data on ANY part of the document where new data is now available? They've had engineers working on this for 18 months - are we to believe they have no new information on ANY subject other than UPRR from SJ to Gilroy? Nope, they'll have all kinds of new technical and cost data, (in fact they'll have an entirely new business plan by then!), all the way from SF to Central Valley.

They MUST bring the entirety of known data and information they have gathered since July2008 into the new document. Otherwise how can they legally and justifiably certify a document known to contain ommissions and out-of-date data?

Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 4, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Riding the rail Northbound the other day I couldn't help but notice that the Menlo/Atherton area was the only stretch where people literally built their homes all the way up against the tracks. From the train you can see their pools and into their homes through their large windows. I DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR THESE PEOPLE! They knew what they were in for, they knew trains passed through daily. Just because you have the money to throw your weight around, doesn't mean you're right in your cause.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Ventura
on Dec 4, 2009 at 10:25 pm

I really hope a solution can be found to make high speed rail a reality on the Peninsula. To bypass Silicon Valley in favor of the East Bay seems like such a waste. If we don't make transit easily accessible for people than it won't be used.

In addition to the lack of BART on the Peninsula, I think of the AMTRAK train that goes from Emeryville to Truckee which would be such an easy way to get to Tahoe. EXCEPT that it departs from Emeryville (which in traffic feels like half way to Tahoe) and it departs at 8 am in the morning, instead of late afternoon when people would use it for a weekend trip.

I want rail that is convenient.

Posted by San Matean, a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2009 at 1:31 pm

OK I see the HSR cheerleaders have invaded the comments here. Sorry but the entire San Mateo and Burlingame area abuts the tracks and it is not because people wanted to build pools. The town emerged around the sleepy caltrain tracks years ago. Of course everybody who voted for prop 1A assumed it would be either underground or routed on freeways, like every other high speed rail installation anywhere in the world. Prop 1A was deliberately deceptive anyway and if there is ever another vote, it will go down hard. From what I hear, the LA area is just as incensed about the HSR mess.

Posted by MeMe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2009 at 9:11 pm

It's good to see the HSRA being taken to task for hoodwinking voters about the unavailability of the UPRR route.

Posted by Barking up the Wrong Tree, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 7, 2009 at 4:10 pm

HSR proponents are now lauding Obama administrations plans to create an HSR 'supply chain' for US job creation. That's great AND as long as they plan to lay waste to towns and neighborhoods in order to lay down their tracks - it ain't happening. These neighborhoods are not dispenspensible. They'll have to find an appropriate route - which is not the case so far.

Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 8, 2009 at 4:07 pm

All you had to do was read up before you voted. To say that people thought it would be routed by the freeways is just a flat out lie. Keep it up, you're doing a great job destroying something voted on by the citizens of this state.

Again, I said "built their homes all the way up against the tracks". I do not see this in San Mateo or Burlingame. Try riding the train and then you'll know what I'm talking about.

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