Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 22, 2011

Palo Alto officials praise new high-speed rail plan

Lawmakers' vision to link high-speed rail with improved Caltrain system earns kudos

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto City Council members are hailing a new plan for high-speed rail along the Peninsula as "constructive" and representative of the city's concerns.

The proposal — which U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon (D-Menlo Park) announced Monday morning jointly — involves linking the planned high-speed rail line in San Jose with a modernized, electrified Caltrain system and scaling back the rail authority's ongoing environmental analysis, which calls for two separate train systems on the Peninsula.

Council members at a Tuesday night meeting with Simitian applauded the lawmakers' announcement.

"Kudos to the state Senator," said Councilman Larry Klein, who led the council last year in adopting an official "no confidence" stance on the high-speed rail project in its current form.

Palo Alto officials have consistently criticized the rail authority's estimations of potential ridership and revenue and urged the California High-Speed Rail Authority to scrap any design options involving elevated trains on the Peninsula. The three lawmakers on Monday endorsed this position and said their vision of "high-speed rail done right" does not involve aerial viaducts.

Simitian said the proposal was inspired by a public hearing he and state Sen. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) hosted in Palo Alto in January 2010. Hundreds of people voiced their concerns about the proposed $44 billion rail line, which would stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

One member of the public advocated halting the high-speed rail system in San Jose and allowing passengers to transfer to Caltrain if they wish to go further north. Simitian said that while he felt there were some problems with that proposal, the "underlying notion" stayed with him.

"The announcement we made yesterday is a direct outcome of the hearing we had here 15 months ago," Simitian said.

He also emphasized the proposal would not require passengers to switch trains in San Jose. The newly electrified Caltrain infrastructure would enable trains to achieve the same speed — 120 mph —as the proposed high-speed rail system is expected to reach on the Peninsula, he said.

The rail authority's current plans call for building a system between San Francisco and Los Angeles and later expanding it to Sacramento and San Diego. California voters approved $9 billion for the project in 2008, when they passed Proposition 1A.

Concurrent with the three lawmakers' announcement, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which governs Caltrain, stated Monday it is looking for ways in which it can play a central role in accommodating high-speed-train service on the Peninsula.

Caltrain officials are lobbying the state rail authority for a "phased approach" to high-speed rail in which an electrified Caltrain system would be used for high-speed rail trains in the first phase of the project. This approach would allow high-speed-train operations in the Peninsula without requiring the construction of a new rail system in the Caltrain corridor.

"Subsequent phases would expand the capacity of the system to meet additional (high-speed) ridership demand if needed," Caltrain announced in a statement.

Caltrain officials said a series of feasibility studies would include ridership projections, service plans, cost estimates and impact analysis. The new analysis, they said in the statement, "marks the first time Caltrain has undertaken an independent assessment of the commuter rail agency's infrastructure needs in a manner that focuses on the possible additional elements that could be necessary to operate an initial level of high-speed rail service in the future on the Caltrain right-of-way."

Caltrain officials said improvements to the cash-strapped system, which subsists largely on donations from the three counties it serves, could help make it financially sustainable.

They project that electrifying the system and adding other improvement such as a new signaling system and new trains, would reduce the agency's operating deficit by 45 percent by 2019 and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by about 90 percent.

Eshoo said Monday that "there's no need to duplicate" Caltrain's service by building a new rail system on the Peninsula and pointed out that the dollars for a new transit system are currently scarce.

"I'd rather see something where we invest $1 billion to upgrade Caltrain and blend it with what may come up from Central Valley," Eshoo said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Robert, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Simitian's proposal sounds good at first blush, but I need more clarification about what exactly this "blended" system would mean. Will a person coming to SJ on high-speed rail just stay on the same train and that train will run on the electrified CalTrain tracks at 120mph? Originally I thought that Senator Simitian was supporting the idea that the HSR would terminate in SJ and then the passenger would 'walk across the platform' and pick up an electrified CalTrain that would run at 120 mph to SF. But the article says that under Simitian's proposal HSR passengers would NOT be required to switch trains in SJ. So, it appears that Senator Simitian is in favor of one set of tracks along the CalTrain right of way between SJ an SF, with both electrified CalTrain AND HSR trains running on that single set of tracks at the same maximum speed. Thus the reference at the end of the article to "a great number of trains" that can be run "at the same speed that was otherwise planned" (ouch).

I fail to see why CalTrain should not be given sole route rights between SJ and SF. After all, it would run at the same max speed as HSE would be allowed to on the Peninsula and god knows that CalTrain can use all the income that it can generate in order to be sustainable. So why should HSR also be allowed to run from SJ to SF? For symbolic or political reasons? Spare me if that's the case. The survival of CalTrain is infinitely more important than HSR's being allowed to make symbolic runs between SF and SJ along the CalTrain right of way at the same speed.

Come on, Joe. Take the last logical step. Or is the idea STILL to let HSR in on the Peninsula action in return for its opening its (thin) wallet to help out with the electrification of CalTrain?

In my opinion, Sen. Simitian's proposal needs additional elaboration and justification before it earns my support.

Robert


Posted by Larry Cohn, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 12:57 am

People are moaning and groaning now about the current CalTrain operating deficit and its requirement for public subsidies. Some are even calling for CalTrain to be shut down altogether. Just imagine all this moaning and groaning on a much grander scale when HSR operates at an even bigger deficit requiring public subsidies and is generally unable to pay for itself.

If CA HSR is never built, it will cause a hardship for no one. Not one person will be inconvenienced by the lack of HSR in California.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 5:57 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

This is a winner. Electrify and close grade crossings first. The first good idea Simitian has had.


Posted by Pro train, Pro Palo Alto, a resident of another community
on Apr 20, 2011 at 8:14 am

"If CA HSR is never built, it will cause a hardship for no one. Not one person will be inconvenienced by the lack of HSR in California."

Except your children, SV employers, valley farms that will continue being converted to subdivisions, and anyone living near the coastline (thank you global warming). While serious people can certainly disagree on the merits of the current HSR planning, most serious thinkers cannot disregard the hardships that await us if we continue with the status quo.


Posted by deficitforever, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 8:27 am

Our next generation will pay for this borrowed money for trains and operating deficits and of course our last wars forever.


Posted by Max Hauser, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 20, 2011 at 10:31 am

Detailed analysis of the recent developments in the CA high-speed rail blog:

Web Link

N.B., It would improve the interest and quality of the Weekly's HSR stories if Gennady Sheyner filled in more of the picture. For example, that plans to electrify and improve Caltrain via HSR funds have been public for years (see my comment in linked story), and might even have been underway by now, had obstructionists not made such a fuss as to redirect HSRA's priorities away from early Caltrain improvements, to the Central Valley. Or the extent to which anxiety on the Peninsula since 2008 was developed from basic, demonstrably inaccurate assumptions -- the six-tracks "Atherton rumor," 220 MPH on the Peninsula, Caltrain and HSR in competition, eminent domain (a major appeal of Caltrain's ROW to HSRA is actually that it _minimizes_ required land acquisitions), etc., which few people bothered to correct even though all contradicted public information from HSRA and Caltrain.

Web Link


Posted by finally, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2011 at 11:02 am

I completely agree with our leadership (thanks!)

Why shouldn't San Jose be a HUB (it already is) -- take HSR to San Jose and go to SF or all parts Peninsula on an upgraded Caltrain, as our lawmakers have wisely suggested, AND have the possibility to go from SJ up the East Bay to Sacramento on continued HSR?

Taking HSR THROUGH SF to Sacramento was always a ridiculous idea anyway because of having to create another tunnel or bridge across the Bay (as well as finding a way through the city).


Posted by me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 20, 2011 at 11:02 am

I would like to point out though, that by having the elevated train system...we could potentially reduce the number of fatalities (either self inflicted or accidental) on the rails. I personally would say one life is too much...so raise those rails for both CalTrain and HSR.


Posted by Judith, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

Don't raise them - lower them!


Posted by YIMBY, a resident of University South
on Apr 20, 2011 at 1:21 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

@ Walter, who wrote:
This is a winner. Electrify and close grade crossings first. The first good idea Simitian has had.

LOL. Come on Walter, he MUST have had a few more of them to have beome Mayor, Supervisor, Assemblyman, Senator, and my guess, our next congressman when Anna needs to retire to her Atherton home with a new, HSR running by....oh, forget that as that would mean she'd have to stay in office at least 25 more years,,,,or 50.

BTW, Joe is responsible for my current home - I live in affordable housing on Alma St....only 2 blocks from Caltrain, which I use every day.....


Posted by sooner the better, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm

If this plan will speed up Caltrain improvements, I'm all for it. NIMBYs have been holding Caltrain hostage by stalling HSR and Caltrain doesn't want to implement major improvements with HSR up in the air.


Posted by Matthew, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm

The devil is in the details.

Until they are known, well communicated, and publicly debated, we won't really know whether our elected representatives' plan is better than the brain-dead project advanced by the High Speed Rail Authority.

To say HSR has lost all credibility is the understatement of the century.


Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Just build the freaking HSR instead of the endless Palo Alto Proctological Process. Build it elevated, underground. Whatever. We need efficient public transit. Stopping HSR is San Jose just makes life more complicated for an already disjointed public transportation system.

And yes, my house IS next to the tracks.


Posted by Kirk Fry, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2011 at 7:42 pm

By the time you fix 68 grade crossings it will be elevated.


Posted by Teddie , a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 20, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Short sighted people... have you driven I-5 lately and imagine the same with another 15 million future residents in 20 years. Sure we can add another lane, and another... but to what end. Its time to think outside of the box and think about our future, our children's future. California has world class industry, agriculture, and technologies, why can't we be do something that sends a signal to the rest of the country and world.
I realize that the state of California government is far from capable of financing, building, and running something of this magnitude. I wish that we could get somebody in private industry to be that leader that this needs.


Posted by JD, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Simitian has been and continues to be worthless.....trains running 120 mph through the middle of our neighborhoods? what a fool......


Posted by Larry Cohn, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2011 at 4:26 pm

I drive I-5 several times per year between the peninsula and L.A. Traffic moves quite well and congestion is almost never a problem. It can be a problem if there is tule fog or the Grapevine is snowed in, in which case you take the 101.

If you're really concerned about your children's future you won't strap them with tens of billions of dollars in debt and a system which taxpayers will likely have to subsidize in perpetuity.


Posted by Eric, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm

HSR is slowly dying. The CEO of the HSR Authority says to keep promises to voters the HSR train will have to travel from San Jose to SF at over 100 MPH. Using the existing tracks and infrastructure I can't see that happening. There are 33 at grade crossings between San Jose and SF, trains will not be traveling at over 100 MPH up and down the Peninsula.

Van Ark also says the existing infrastructure will be used initially, then upgraded - to what?

It now turns out that the State cannot sell the bonds for HSR - how is it going to be paid for?


Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

Wonder if he'll ban cell phone use on trains


Posted by Stewart Copeland, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm

"No New Rails!"

Let's make this our rallying cry, "No New Rails!" between San Jose and San Francisco.

I want to praise all who are working hard to ensure that a thoughtful approach to building the HSR is used, as the initial plans would have caused pain on many levels.

Why "No New Rails" as the rallying cry? Because:

1) We can't afford new rails between SJ and SF. The state is nearly broke, as is the federal government, we won't be getting enough subsidies to make all ends meet. Tax payers will have to come up with a huge sum to finance this, and don't approve of such increases.

2) We don't need new rails between SJ and SF. We have a Caltrain system that today doesn't even run near full capacity, is actually so underutilized schedules are being cut back. Why on earth would we add new rails on this section when we have some which are not nearly at capacity. If ya live in SF and need to get to LA- you take Caltrain and switch to HSR in SJ (still beats flying), or you drive to SJ and board, or HSR will run on Caltrain tracks to SF- in any scenarios, you don't need new rails.

3) It isn't right to build new rails between SF and SJ. "Eminent Domain" simply isn't acceptable. The question is not if it is legal, but if it is morally acceptable that persons who live adjacent to the tracks would have part of their property taken by the city. This does not sound like the government I know. And beyond the disruption of homeowners having to move, having their property terribly altered, the noise and traffic inconveniences during construction, the post- construction scenarios are quite awful as well. For example, in Palo Alto, there is some discussion about cutting the highly trafficked street of Alma down to 2 lanes in some places- this would alter road patterns permanently for the city and would cause huge back ups- negatively impacting all citizens.

Pick any combo of arguments- we can't afford it, it is unnecessary, and it's not right- but the result is the same- "No New Rails" between San Francisco and San Jose.

If after the rest of the line is built, and still it is seen as imperative to have a dedicated line between SF and SJ, then at that time only should it be evaluated to build new tracks.

Thank you,
Palo Alto citizen


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