Seeking to appease its Bay Area critics, the California High-Speed Rail Authority on Friday unveiled its latest proposed addition for the controversial line -- a colossal catapult that would shoot passengers from San Jose to San Francisco, allowing them to bypass the Peninsula entirely.
The proposal, which was introduced in the rail authority's new business plan, was hailed by rail officials as the newest "new vision" for a project that has been widely ridiculed on the Peninsula and particularly in Palo Alto, where the City Council in December adopted as its official position a call for the project's termination.
The city's top concerns include the project's cost, which ballooned from $40 billion to $98.5 billion in two years, and its potential environmental impacts. Residents have been particularly worried about the noise impacts and the potential seizure of properties through eminent domain. Rail officials said Friday that the new proposal would ease these concerns.
"We believe this new approach would save money, reduce carbon emissions and minimize environmental impacts along the Caltrain corridor," Rich Daniels, chair of the rail authority's board of directors, said in a statement. "It will also allow us to exceed our mandate by getting passengers to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than two hours."
Rob Tomlinson, the rail authority chief technical officer, said the proposal aims to "blend the old and the new" and to inject some excitement into a project that has been losing popularity ever since 2008, when voters approved a $9.95 billion bond for the new rail system. The design was inspired by Middle Age "trebuchets," powerful catapults that hurled poles, stones and other projectiles at enemy castles. It would feature a rollercoaster-style bucket seat for passengers and would replace human energy with an industrial-sized combustion engine designed by Siemens.
The catapult will stand at a "launching station" in San Jose's Diridon Station. Tomlinson said passengers would be equipped with parachutes and launched 4,000 feet into the air en route to San Francisco's Transbay Terminal, where a giant net will await them. According to the revised business plan, tickets would cost $225 per ride, with an extra $80 for those who wish to video-record their flights. Every passenger will also have to sign a waiver before boarding the catapult.
Palo Alto officials and rail watchdogs reacted to the new proposal with a mix of skepticism and enthusiasm. The City Council will on Monday consider a resolution that would change the city's position toward high-speed rail from "vehement hatred" to "mild contempt." The local watchdog group, Californians Advocating Smart Transit, released a statement calling the new design an "intriguing step forward" for the rail project.
"If King Edward I could use a catapult to seize Stirling Castle in 1304, I can't see why the rail authority can't use the same technology to shuttle passengers in 2033," said Ramona Churchill, the group's spokeswoman. "Other than the fact that the two objectives have absolutely nothing in common."
Happy April Fools' Day!