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Peninsula residents clash over high-speed rail

Original post made on Jan 22, 2010

California's proposed high-speed rail system is either a badly needed boost to the state's workers and commuters or an overpriced, shoddily planned boondoggle that needs more oversight and a better business plan.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, January 22, 2010, 12:22 AM

Comments (55)

Posted by George, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2010 at 12:08 pm

> grassroots group Californians for High-Speed Rail

This seems more like a front group. It would be someone could investigate this group and see if they have times to organized labor, or the investment banks that will ultimately make a killing on this project if it goes forward.

Posted by Mom, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm

The more I study this project, the more clear it is to me that it will eliminate some current local train service during peak times. The financial and ienvironmental impacts of this project will be huge. I voted for it. I wish I hadn't. We on the Peninsula have been snookered.

Posted by Ken, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2010 at 12:32 pm

Mr. Stanke's position that fulfilling the "will of the voters" as a reason to move ahead quickly is very shaky, especially knowing that the information provided to the voters was (at best) incomplete or (at worst) fictional.

[As an aside, it still amazes me that committing $20 Billion of CA taxpayers money (10 plus the bond service of 10) only requires the slimmest of majorities while local parcel taxes (e.g., to support schools) require a 2/3 vote. Shouldn't there be an equivalent standard at the State level?]

It's good to see Senators Simitian and Lowenthal are on top of this. I hope they can see through the rhetoric and make bold decisions.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm

I have no problem with a rail transportation system. However, I am shocked at the price of tickets on Cal Train. It costs $12 to go to San Francisco and back...every day. Is this normal?

I would expect that public transportation would be cheaper than the cost of driving. It doesn't take four gallons of gas to get to SF and back. Now, imagine taking more than one person. It would cost $48 for two couples to take Cal Train to a Giants' game. It would cost less than $6 to drive that same distance.

Am I missing something? Is there a discount available somewhere?

Why should we finance a $20 Billion high speed rail line if it is no cheaper for residents than flying? Can someone explain the logic?

Posted by Sean, a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm

"I thought the High Speed Rail Authority needs to do a better job in engaging the public,"

Simitian just wants to slide by on this issue. It isn't lack of communication, it is the fundmental incompatability of this turkey on the Peninsula. Moreover, it is way too expensive. Simitian is a greenie, and he supported this thing from the beginning. Who, may I ask, did not understand that this thing would be put on a elevated track along the Peninsula? Who did not know that eminent domain would be used to grab more ROW? Who did not understand that cost overruns would make this project absurdly expensive? Who did not understand that increased urban density, as well as suburban sprawl, was a major outcome of it?

Posted by Ethan, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Nayeli - With regards to the low cost of driving, it is the most heavily subsidized form of transportation in the country. We who drive never pay our fair share of the true cost of driving. Caltrain on the other hand does receive subsidy but no where near as significant as the beloved automobile. Caltrain is required to have some sort of fair box recovery unlike the automobile. We need high speed rail but we definitely need to have major oversight of their bogus business plan. The only thing making money on the peninsula now is the freight but if Caltrain & CHSR have their way they will wipe it off the face of the earth.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Thanks Ethan...

I just can't understand why someone would assume that people would jump onto Cal Train -- or ANY train (high speed or otherwise) -- if the cost isn't cheaper than driving. We can argue about the "hidden" costs of driving, but the "hidden" taxpayer costs of such public transportation is extraordinarily high. We aren't encouraging people to take such transportation if the momentary costs are higher than driving.

If you already own a car, the cost of driving from Palo Alto to San Francisco is cheaper (especially if more than one person is tagging along). It is fun to take the train...but serious commuting will not be encouraged unless the per person cost is driven down.

If a high speed commuter rail doesn't have prices at or lower than major airlines, why should we invest billions of dollars into it? How many billions have been pumped into Amtrack? It just doesn't work if the price is not affordable in comparison with similar methods of travel.

Of course, I am not nearly as educated into the high speed rail. It just makes me wonder whether or not such a rail would be able to compete with other modes of transportation.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

0. Require continuation of freight service and require express and mail on passenger trains.
1. Eliminate grade crossings.
2. Electrify.
3. Evaluate improvement in service.
4. Redo cost-benefit of additional steps.
Ethan, Autos not only pay their way, they subsidize public transit. If there were not a railroad in existence I would not advocate building one, but any improvement in the existing system that pencils out deserves a look at.
Highways subsidize adjacent properties - look at the cost of property that lacks land access.

Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 22, 2010 at 3:56 pm

Comments I have seen about subsidized auto travel are based on the idea that compared to other countries our gas tax is very low-too low. I don't see how not increasing a tax on each gallon can possibly be viewed as a subsidy. There is no logic behind the idea that not increasing an already material tax is the same as a subsidy.

Current Caltrain travel to SF is much, much cheaper than driving your auto. Calculating the cost of gas is only the beginning. The federal government figures the cost per mile of operating the average car as $.50-.55 per mile. That includes the true costs elements: gas, insurance, pro rata for maintenance and depreciation.

Caltrain round trip to SF is $12 for the ticket, another $4 for public transit to and from the Caltrain SF station to town, and $5 parking at the Caltrain lot in PA. A total of $21. And you get to read, phone, work or sleep during the Caltrain portion of the trip.

Driving the 62 round trip miles is $31 mileage (all the elements above) plus at least $25 parking in SF for a total of $56. And you will be hard pressed to do anything with the 45-60 minutes driving time other than drive.

Posted by Spokker, a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm

"Ethan, Autos not only pay their way, they subsidize public transit."

That money is diverted to public transit is not the same as autos subsidizing public transit.

Check out Subsidy Scope's page on highway subsidies here: Web Link

And let's not forget the negative externalities that autos foster. Taking gas taxes and putting them toward bus and rail is completely justified. And don't worry, Subsidy Scope also covers other transportation subsidies for airlines and transit.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2010 at 4:35 pm


Where are you getting your figures from? I can put four gallons of gas in my car ($12) and drive to San Francisco and back...and still have at least a gallon left over. Gas cannot possibly cost 55 cents per mile. That would be TERRIBLE mileage -- even for an old car. My old late-1990s era SUV gets 22 miles per gallon. That means I can drive about 22 miles for $3. With four gallons ($12), I can drive approximately 88 miles. That is what I meant about the "up front" cost.

Most places that I visit in SF do not cost $25 to park. Most places don't cost nearly that much (especially if you park at a meter). In fact, I have even parked at Fisherman's Wharf for $15! At meters, I might spend $2-3 to park for a few hours. Of course, Cal Train only takes you to the station. You have to pay for MORE transportation when you get to the city itself.

All that I am saying is that Cal Train would be better utilized if they found a way to lower their costs. More people would use the trains if they were LESS expensive than driving. Right now, that isn't even remotely true.

I think that your figures are misconstrued because you assume that people would not own a vehicle (and, therefore, the ownership costs...such as insurance, wear-and-tear, etc...) IF they took public transportation. I own two vehicles...and I still use public transportation. Unfortunately, Cal Train simply isn't feasible or cheap enough to use for going to work. The fact of the matter is that most residents will only pay $9 (three gallons of gas) to go to SF and back versus $12 on the CalTrain. However, a single additional passenger in the car makes the savings all the more obvious. You can drive four passengers for that same $9 versus $48 on the train.

Most sources of public transportation take into account the REAL costs to consumers (as they see it) rather than coming up with fuzzy mathematical figures that include insurance, wear-and-tear -- when those costs will already be paid by the consumer anyway. We are simply asking the residents of the area to pay for both. The roads already exist...and will continue to exist in their present form whether or not a rail line exists.

Does that make sense?

I just think that it would be much practical if Cal Train lowered their cost and prices. Lowering cost would increase demand (and the number of patrons). Right now, I suspect that many people avoid the train simply because it is not cost effective to use it.

Am I wrong about that?

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2010 at 4:40 pm

You think Caltrain is expensive? Try BART. That's expensive! BART puts a surcharge on all trips that start or end at a San Mateo County station. And there's an even bigger surcharge ($4 round-trip) on trips to the SFO station. BART/SamTrans promised Caltrain riders who used to enjoy a free airport-operated shuttle between Millbrae and the SFO terminals that they'd have a free one-stop ride to the airport on BART. Well, the reality is that it ain't free, it requires two BART trains (transfers) between Millbrae and SFO, and the BART/SFO station surcharge has priced airport employees out of taking transit to the airport (these are the every-day bread & butter riders vs. the occasional air traveler). To make matters worse, BART was so insanely overbuilt and expensive (the final cost for a mis-designed bloated less than 6-miles-to-SFO extension ballooned to $1.6 billion).

Caltrain, by comparison, offers discounted monthly and 8-ride tickets. The monthly is "all-you-can-ride" between the zones you purchase, and, as a nice perk you get to ride the entire system end-to-end on weekends and holidays with it at no extra charge. Oh, another perk: Caltrain monthly passes are honored as a regular local fare credit on all VTA and SamTrans vehicles. So your transfer to/from those systems is free with it. Nice, eh? Oh, and Caltrain offers copious on-board bicycle parking space at no extra charge, on-board bathrooms, and has a liberal eating & drinking policy that even allows alcoholic beverages and treats its customers like the responsible (mostly) adults they are. What's more, Caltrain takes a much more direct and inherently faster route into SF from the Peninsula (BART takes the long/wrong way around San Bruno Mountain) and offers express trains during peak hours (BART trains make all stops, always).

As for the Californians for High-Speed Rail group, I know all the officers -- some of them going back for over 10 years -- and they're just long-time transit advocates who are passionate about HSR.

As for HSR, it works beautifully. Sure, and like almost anything, you can screw it up too. Some minor countries that can't either build or extend HSR fast enough include France, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, England, Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, Russia. Countries with serious plans include Brazil and Saudi Arabia. It's nothing new or exotic and all of the issues have been dealt with somewhere else many times over. You can't really do anything big or significant anywhere without upsetting or scaring or worrying someone. The fact that some people are running around with their hair on fire is par for the course. It's all very new and scary for insular Americans who don't know very much about state-of-the-art HSR and all the details about how well it works elsewhere.

Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm

This project is full of rotten eggs and old hens. From the PA Daily,
"Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani called the current conundrum over the business plan a 'chicken-and-egg problem': the authority needs more money in order for its plan to be viable, but it can't get the money until it has a viable plan."

Recall that in the fall of 2008 the CHSRA used a similar excuse for not being able to produce a Business Plan in time for the election. Those eggs, hens and excuses are all getting old.

Posted by NONIMBYS, a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2010 at 4:51 pm

ONCE AGAIN DEAR PA..the world does not bow down and follow your orders
just because you people dont think it works or like it! HSR will have a huge positive impact on the future of this state..IF you WOOFS and Hoover fellows dont like it ..SORRY but the rest of people..many right in Palo Alto want HSR as an option for travel..just as any "forward" thinking nation has already done..PS palyviile will not die away with HSR..if it works out you may even have a nice green linear park to sit in.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Reality Check,

Thanks for the info. I think that I would certainly consider using Cal Train for regular travel to SF if the round-trip cost was around $7 or less.

As for the HSR: What will it cost per ticket? Will it be less expensive than plane tickets to LA? I can purchase a round trip ticket to LA for less than $69 via Southwest Airlines (and I think that it would still be faster). If the tickets were $50 or less, I can understand the feasibility. However, I worry that the estimated costs will be quickly exceeded (as usual in CA).

Interestingly, there was an episode of THE BIG BANG THEORY on CBS last year that talked about train service in California. The Cal Tech characters were taking a train to a convention in San Francisco. They made a comment that explained taking a train from LA to San Fran is a lot slower, more expensive and less safe than air travel. They went on the train simply because one of the characters enjoyed the novelty of it.

I hope that the billions of dollars being funneled into the HSR will not end up being an expensive novelty like AmTrak. Most people will still fly UNLESS it is much cheaper.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2010 at 4:56 pm


Why would a person take a train if it is slower and more expensive than flying? Of course, I haven't seen the cost per person yet...but I suspect that it will only be comparable to flying (or cost even more).

BTW, what are all of these "forward thinking nations" that I hear about? I have lived and traveled overseas...and I am always thankful to return to the United States (and I can say that because this is NOT the nation of my birth).

Sometimes, people can think so "forwardly" that they leave reality behind.


Posted by NONIMBYS, a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Well living in a fake Mayberry RFD is not forward thinking !! fine enjoy it but JUST because you dont want to ride a modern HST when traveling fine or fly thats your choice..millions will ride it and what about the next 40-50 years?? Gas is always going to be $3.00?
Airline travel stinks now..Forward thinking is looking beyond the next 3 years and your dash board and getting ready for it.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 22, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Despite all the rhetoric everybody knows that the current HSR plan will never happen.
HSR freight from LA to Sacramento with a SJ connection and some people moving capacity may happen in 25yrs.
The people moving part will be optional for anyone who can do the math.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2010 at 2:16 am

HSR fares vs. airfare. HSR will serve lots of station-pair trips that either cannot be traveled by commercial air at any cost. For trips that are also served by air, such as SF-LA, the fare has not yet been fixed. The fare will depend in no small part on whether the decision -- which has yet to be taken, and which is a policy question yet to be hashed out -- is to maximize profit (high fare, less trains) or to maximize ridership (lower fare, lots of trains). The latest revision of the business plan (there will be more revisions as the project progresses) assumed a fare more optimized toward maximizing operating profit, and so it was set at something like 85% of the *average* airfare actually paid today -- where airfare is even applicable). Like with airlines, some HSR systems can and do run special low advanced booking fares. A point to remember is that low fares available on low-cost carriers like Southwest are not expected to stick around, just like $3 gas is going to be short-lived. Southwest's fuel hedges and other factors at work in being able to offer a few travelers such fares are nothing you can bank on in the timeframe and lifetime of the HSR system being proposed. Another point is that the HSR experience is so much better than flying, that in Spain they're finding that former air travelers are willing to pay more for the train vs. plane.

Have a look at the YouTube video of the wildly successful Madrid-Barcelona AVE HSR train service: Web Link

Oh, and I forgot to mention Vietnam in my earlier enumeration of HSR countries.

It's both breathtakingly arrogant and sad for Americans like me who know about HSR to hear all the frankly whacky concerns and arguments raised by NIMBYs and others who for selfish (or ignorant) reasons are seeking to kill or make impossible the first state-of-the-art modern HSR in this country.

While I too am always glad to come back to the US after trips abroad, I am increasingly depressed by how crappy and barely functional much of our transportation infrastructure has become (or remained). Our airports are crummy, our roads are crummy, our trains -- the very few we have -- are crummy and slow, etc. Less and less to be proud of, and the gap is growing, not shrinking.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2010 at 3:41 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Sorry, Spokker, but a fund entirely paid into by users but only returned to that use 80% is hardly a subsidy. You may be willing to return to the village/company town existence but I've been there, got the T-Shirt. You may want your wife or daughter standing at a trolley stop waiting for the Owl car, but not me, another T-Shirt. You may want to limit employment or grocery search to the end of your physical ability, but - damn, my T-Shirt drawer is overflowing.
It is entirely possible for someone to live within the confines of public transit, and 6% of us do so. Externality is an emotional term camouflaging fascism.

Posted by Dennis "galen" Mitrzyk, a resident of Ventura
on Jan 23, 2010 at 6:57 am

If the good people of the Bay Area are not able to stop this insanity that is HSR, our community and way of life will be permanently damaged beyond repair! The proposition to fund this boondoggle passed by a slim 52 to 48 margin and would NOT have passed at all if We, the People, had been told the truth about what was being planned for our peaceful communities. Per the ballot measure, the HSR can NOT be subsidized by the taxpayers beyond the initial bond issue, but the scoundrels pushing this crazy idea are already talking about getting private investors to pony up billions of dollars by giving them a taxpayer-backed guarantee on their "investment". This is clearly illegal per the narrowly-passed proposition, but so is election fraud illegal and i don't see anyone besides me calling for the arrest and criminal trial of Kopp and Diridon for their role in lying to the voters of this State in a ballot initiative.

And don't call me a NIMBY, you people who haven't done the math and can't see that is project will be a disaster for California. To use the term coined by Martin Engel, a voice of reason in this HSR sea of lies, i'm a NIABY... Not In Anyone's Back Yard!

This HSR project stinks to high heaven. They lied to us to get enough votes to pass this monstrosity, they lied to us that this choo-choo train would not need further taxpayer subsidies beyond the initial ten billion plus interest, they lied to us that they would listen to our concerns, now they're lying to us about the ridership numbers and funding requirements. Lies, lies, lies... all lies!

You HSR promoters who believe all of the lies and empty promises, think about this critically for a change. The State is already bankrupt, hopelessly in debt, unable to pay existing bills, cutting essential services like education and health care. How on Earth is the solution to this dire financial situation to borrow even MORE money to build a train we do NOT need, that can not possibly compete with air travel, that will NEVER make one red cent and will be a terrible burden to the taxpayers of this State for generations to come?!

A concerned citizen -- Dennis "galen" Mitrzyk

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

Just checked SFO to Fresno round trip is $518. SFO to LA round trip is $88. Sacramento to LA is $118. (These are just the first fares to pop up, not the result of a lot of detailed searching, so let's not have a battle whether you can consistently do better or worse)

HSR is a boon for Fresno and Bakersfield. Makes them commutable to SJ, Sacramento and LA. Anyone believe CHSRA has the stomach to charge 4x more for Fresno passengers?

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2010 at 12:07 pm


I don't live in a fake "Mayberry." Is that supposed to be some sort of "slight?"

Look -- many of those "forward thinking nations" (whatever they might be) that have HSR systems also lack similar civil infrastructure as the United States. We have great roads (well, I don't know that I would use "great" in California) and major airports in towns across the state and nation (along with inexpensive air commuting service).

I have a sneaking suspicion that if a HSR were to be built, it would merely be a novelty form of transportation. will be fast...but it will also be more dangerous than air travel. It will also be slower than air travel. It will probably be just as, if not more, expensive than air travel.

Your argument appears to be built on a premise that "air travel stinks now." If we were to pump $20-62 Billion of our tax dollars into this experimental system, what is the guarantee that it will be better or cheaper than air travel? I'm having a difficult time justifying the cost versus the feasibility of such a system.

Imagine if we were to pump $20 Billion into our public school systems! Imagine if we were to improve our roads by $20 Billion -- or our airports by $20 Billion! I just don't know that the expected outcome of the rail would actually be something that is worth investing in right now.

However, I would support a system if it would result in a comparable mode of transportation that is much LESS expensive than current travel.

Until then, you can continue to ridicule me and claim that I prefer living in economic "Mayberry" (haha). I just don't think wasting OUR tax dollars on a very expensive transportation concept that hasn't been fully explored is very "forward thinking."

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2010 at 12:14 pm

I just checked with Southwest Airlines and American Airlines, and their regular "fun fares" and "in-state fares" cost $99 or less round trip from San Francisco to any airport in the state.

I just have this sneaking suspicion that a ticket on the HSR would not compete with the airlines.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm

Reality Check...

That last time I checked, the only airline that was performing well in terms of profits was the low cost carrier, Southwest Airlines.

In most states, it seems that $3 a gallon is the limit upon which gas prices will bounce back from. California, of course, is different because...well...because our legislators' spending habits are different. Regardless, if the price of gas were to go up again, so would the price of a ticket on the HSR too.

In fact, I am wondering what effect the HSR would actually have upon air fare in California. Would it lower demand for air travel, thus inadvertently raising air fares?

Maybe I just haven't seen it, but where are the well established plans regarding overall costs of this experiment? No one seems willing to say just how much a single ticket will be estimated to cost. That will be the overall driving factor for the HSR! If it is cheaper to drive or fly, then why invest $20-62 Billion into a mode of transportation that will provide a desired outcome that is already available (transportation) but at a higher cost?

People used to think that AmTrak was going to force airlines to lower their ticket prices. It never happened. In addition, we don't live in one of those "forward thinking nations" that lack infrastructure that is similar in scope and size as the United States.

When I was an undergrad, I attended an engineering conference in Fresno (I have no idea why the organizers chose Fresno). My school purchased our air tickets to San Francisco -- since it was much less expensive than flying to Fresno (from out of state). We rented a van and drove to Fresno for the week-long conference. It simply was not economically feasible to fly directly to Fresno (it cost too much). I can't help but wonder if the HSR will be similar. People and business es will vote with their wallets and bank accounts. I suspect that "last minute" tickets will be less expensive on the HSR...but regular tickets purchased in advance will be even more expensive. What is the justification?

If the tickets will not be less expensive...if the roads will not be less congested...if it will hurt the airline industry...if it will hurt taxpayers...they why haven't we taken a Massachusetts-like pause in this matter? Let's seriously think this thing over...gather credible likely scenarios...regroup...and then determine whether or not it is truly viable.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 23, 2010 at 1:48 pm

A major part of the CHSRA premise is that HSR stations will spur TOD, Transit Oriented Development. Why? Why would people cluster themselves around a long distance form of transportation? How often does a person need to travel from SF to LA or vice versa (or SJ to Fresno?) Enough to go live next to that airport? That train station? Never. TOD WOULD cluster around LOCAL transportation solutions, but they DO NOT cluster around (for example) airports. The CHSRA original Program EIR said themselves that short distance HSR tickets would be 3X the cost of the same Caltrain ticket. Why? Because their intention is not to serve a local transportation need, their intention is fast LONG DISTANCE. In fact too much starting and stoping in short hops would be detrimental to their speed and service levels.

So now, under their new business plan when ticket prices are DOUBLE their 2008 premise, ticket prices locally will be 6X caltrain?!

So again, what would be this huge enormous draw to create TOD around these expensive luxury long distance train rides?

SF is unique in California in its housing and business density, its unique physical boundaries, its well developed LOCAL transportation infrastructure and its high rise aesthetic profile and its tourism draw. No other city besides SF has any need whatoever to build a long distance hub IN THE MIDDLE of town.

Realistically speaking the CHSRA and train foaming supporters (ie: Californian's for High Speed Rail - At Any Cost), keep using TOD and trumped up visions of some greener future as an excuse to full court press HSR, when in reality, its a convenient issue dujour for them to hide their debacle behind. HSR will create no such benefits.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2010 at 2:36 pm

We're debating the wrong question. HSR isn't about SF/LA. HSR is about anchoring a 400 mile commute corridor with stops in Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, Los Banos and Gilroy. Priced and scheduled right HSR makes Los Banos/Redwood City Fresno/San Jose, Fresno/Sacramento and Bakersfield/LA all commutable. No other technology will do that.

The Peninsula is crabby about HSR routing because Peninsula residents get far less benefit: there's no reverse commute and we have good options today for SF/LA. That's why tunneling is fair even if it's expensive.

HSR to Truckee for $49 – I would have been on it this morning.

Posted by Spokker, a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2010 at 5:07 pm

"Why would people cluster themselves around a long distance form of transportation? How often does a person need to travel from SF to LA or vice versa (or SJ to Fresno?) Enough to go live next to that airport? That train station? Never. TOD WOULD cluster around LOCAL transportation solutions, but they DO NOT cluster around (for example) airports."

On the Peninsula and in Southern California the high speed train stations will also be Caltrain or Metrolink stations (along with the local transit that connects to them), so it doesn't really matter.

Elsewhere high speed rail stations will probably attract better bus and rail service, better land use planning and all that crap. Whether you use HSR or not, residents in those areas could benefit from the increased bus service that connects to those high speed train stations. I expect local HSR stations to become large transit hubs.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 23, 2010 at 9:41 pm

Sure, people just love to live in the middle of transit hubs - great places to walk the kids to school, take the dog out for a walk, take a jog, go play a little ball in the park... Oh wait, that would be a neighborhood... You're talking about a noisy, crowded, dangerous fast, downtown, mess. I think its very interesting that the single men are all in favor of turning every prime livable area into a TOD "Transit Hub". Goody for you. Why don't you concentrate on trashing Anaheim first, then we'll send for HSR when we're ready.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2010 at 7:55 am

Parent: TOD is not the issue for most of the state. HSR from Fresno to Palo Alto is 1 hour - same time as a drive from Tracy. HSR from Bakersfield to San Jose is 1 1/2 hours. Same as a drive from Manteca. What's the likely use? Huge commuter parking lots in Fresno and Bakersfield. Some transit, but mostly private jitney buses between Palo Alto station and office parks. Unless there's an express train from PA to LA, you'll drive to San Jose to catch a train to LA.

It's an incredible asset for central valley residents. I don't mind if we build it. But tunnel it if it's the Caltrain right of way, or construct a new right of way up the Bay via SJC, Moffett, SFO to SF.

Posted by Spokker, a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2010 at 10:34 am

"You're talking about a noisy, crowded, dangerous fast, downtown, mess."


Posted by Dr. Gary Gechlik, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 24, 2010 at 7:43 pm

It will take a great deal of work and investment to work-out the issues of high speed rail. Instead of both sides being frustrated and angry, they should welcome the discussion as the first step in the process of understanding all the issues.

Building high speed rail has technological and cultural implications. Europe and China have high speed rail. This required government investment as well as private participation. If we consistently fight each other over innovation we will create so many obstacles to innovation that it will never become a reality.

High speed rail is a very important regional and national issue. We do not want to be left behind as a society. For this reason, all sides have to work together to solve all the details.

Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2010 at 10:20 am

Outside of San Francisco, there's no real local transit (and I would argue that MUNI doesn't even do that great a job either). And, no, Caltrain doesn't count either.

Even a station at either downtown PA or Redwood City won't connect to anything. I don't see effective VTA or Samtrans connections to either one of those locations. So, are we going to just build a huge, honking parking lot for cars at the peninsula HSR station?

As for someone above who said that it's cheaper to take Caltrain to the city than drive, I guess your time is worth nothing.

Posted by Ethan, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Passenger rail and freight rail are the only forms of transportation in the country that have operated with a profit and with out subsidy. Even today freight rail and in some locations passenger rail makes money with out subsidy. The automobile and the airlines have never in their entire history operated with out a federal subsidy.

Walter - Property that lacks road access has lower value...that isn't all bad if you consider all of the suburbs built on valuable farm land in this state. If one is to only consider the dollar value rather than the long term value of land preservation for food and oxygen then we should eliminate all farm land and build condos on all of the mountains to increase property values. More roads is good for the economy, the environment and our socialist country. The only reason HSR needs a subsidy to be built is because the overly subsidized competition continues to get subsidies. Stop the bleeding and don't subsidize any of them!

Posted by parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm

The unfortunate truth is that the Federal Stimulus money will be likely announced this Thursday, and HSR pushers will start PR hyping this as a done deal, even if they receive a dime.

Even though a $1B federal gift (less than 25% of what they requested), would represent only 2% of the total cost of this terrible mess.

Posted by Alexei, a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Walter_E_Wallis: It may be the the Highway Fund only returned 80% of its money to users, but that isn't the only source of funding for roads. The rest comes from the state, local and property taxes-- decidedly not user fees. Roads are absolutely subsidized.

Posted by Alexei, a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2010 at 2:31 pm

Re: great places to walk the kids to school, take the dog out for a walk, take a jog, go play a little ball in the park... Oh wait, that would be a neighborhood... You're talking about a noisy, crowded, dangerous fast, downtown, mess.

Noise, crowding, and dangerous speeds are features of heavy auto traffic. That's what we'd like to work on solving.

Posted by Alexei, a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2010 at 2:36 pm

Regarding costs: the cost of expanding California airports is in the tens of billions itself, and will become necessary with increasing population. Diverting 1/3 of CA air traffic to an alternative that's much better shielded from rising fuel costs for $40b is a bargain.

Posted by Bianca, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Wired Magazine has an article on High Speed Rail in this month's issue.

Web Link

From the article:

"Getting California's train up and running will be expensive. But doing nothing would cost two to three times more. Why? Currently, gridlocked lanes waste $20 billion in fuel and productivity annually. And it's only going to get worse. The Golden State is growing — quickly. By 2030, another 12 million people could be calling it home. Without an infrastructure overhaul, drivers can expect a 10 percent congestion increase every year. To accommodate the billion trips between cities that residents and visitors will make annually, the state would need to build 3,000 more miles of freeway lanes, five more commercial airport runways, and 90 more airline departure gates. The price: at least $100 billion. Oh, and all that construction wouldn't alleviate traffic; it would simply keep pace with it."

The cost of doing nothing is not zero.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 26, 2010 at 6:20 pm

Bianca, (Board Member of "Californians for High Speed Rail"). Your organization's trite one liners don't work here.

1. High Speed Rail forced through the Caltrain route does NOTHING to improve traffic woes in the Peninsula, and in fact makes traffic problems MUCH MUCH worse for Peninsula communities. CHSR is NOT, (and the authority in their EIRS and planning documents freely admit) is NOT a local commute solution. HSR is a long distance alternative. Local trips on HSR were estimated (in the low $55 ticket price scenario) to cost 3X as much as a Caltrain ticket for short distance routes. Under their latest scenario ticket prices have doubled. HSR will NOT take local commuters off the road, but IT WILL draw massive numbers of Long Distance Travelers off the 101 freeway, away from SFO and SJ airports, deep into the middles of the small residential neighborhoods to reach caltrain located stations. Massive traffic impacts will ensue. This does not even include the levels of TOD that will further crowd our streets, shops and schools. Nothing about HSR on the Peninsula helps the Peninsula, certainly not in terms of auto traffic.

2. The CHSRA's ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS (ie: CO2 reduction, reduced needs for roads and reduced need for airports, cars taken off the road, etc) are all based on the trumped up, grossly overstated ridership projections that went with the 2008 Prop 1A snake oil sales job. The CHSRA in their latest business plan state that the drastically higher ticket prices, and drastically lower riderships are required for the revenue maximizing scenario WHICH WILL BE REQUIRED to attract private investment. Bianca, being the real champion of the environment that we all know you must be, you of ALL PEOPLE should be requiring CHSRA to provide a restatement of their environmental benefits to go with their grossly lower ridership projections.

3. Even the new ridership projections have been pretty much debunked as pure garbage. Even the CHSRA admits in its own business plan that it will need 'investment grade' riderhip projections (ie: truthful, competent ridership projections). So when the ridership numbers come in not at 40M per year (already less than half of the promised leading up to the Prop1A election), but at 20M, then not only do we NOT obtain any of the road, airport, auto congestion or CO2 benefits, but we find ourselves subsidizing ALL THREE. Roads will continue to be maintained, ALL roads and more than exist today, will still exist with HSR.

4. HSR is a long distance solution, it belongs where long distance traffic resides. It does not belong in backyards, school yard, neighborhood parks. Period. Go ahead and create jobs, take long distance trips off the road, and minimize environmental impacts - BY TAKING THE ROUTE DOWN FREEWAY MEDIANS, and THROUGH EMPTY SPACE (as was advertised by yourselves and CHSRA in those glossy animations before the election. You will continue to get nothing but political backlash, grief, lawsuits and negative publicity here until the CHSRA moves its route.

5. Caltrain doesn't need HSR to make improvements that imrprove service, make it cleaner and quieter, and that improve safety. Electrification and grade separation can be done WITHOUT HSR, without the massive increases train numbers and speeds, and without doubling (or more) the width of the tracks. There is no reason AT ALL that Caltrain can not apply for and win federal funding, all on its own for these improvements. Caltrain isn't funded for these improvements? Well guess what, neither is CHSR. Not even close. Fed Funding of even as much as $1B would represent only 2% of the funding needed in today's lowballed versio of the business plan. Caltrain has a much better chance ALONE of achieving every dollar of funding it needs to improve its self and create ALL the environmental and economic benefits needed.

Finally, and emphatically, the alternative to doing HSR, is NOT doing nothing. HSR can be done correctly (in the correct locations) for starters. The state can spend money on building green industries to create high paying PERMANENT job and solve environmental issues. The state can focus on water projects, levies, rebuilding crumbling schools, LOCAL TRANSPORTATION (that would actuall HELP take traffic off the roads, unlike HSR), it can even build FREIGHT rail that would take trucking off the roads.

The alternative to HSR is NOT DOING NOTHING. This is the flaw in your empty logic

Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2010 at 6:23 pm

"gridlocked lanes waste $20 billion in fuel and productivity annually. "

And how is HSR solving this problem? No one is going to use HSR to commute within their own region.

The local problem should be solved FIRST. This HSR is a train to nowhere.

Posted by thetruth, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 26, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Well seems like one of the SO CALLED voices of the 4 "helping voices" is nothing but a fake and lied in the SJ MERC..your goal is to stop HSR..why???BECAUSE yo dont like it and your just a control freak.

Posted by MeMe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2010 at 11:15 pm

"Jeff Barker, the rail authority's deputy director, called the business plan a "dynamic document" that will be continuously revised as more information is gathered."

In other words, they're making it up as they go along.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 27, 2010 at 1:11 am

Making it up as they go along.. Well, for excellent evidence of this, check out the recording of the last CHSRA board meeting. Medhi Morshed explains that the drastic change in ticket price leading to drastic drop in ridership assumptions was because for THIS report (Dec 2009 Business Plan) they were shooting for a Revenue Maximization scenario to show how private investment could be attracted. But, he explained, that the LAST report (prior business plan and for the purpose of the EIR (aka prior to and leading up to Prop 1A), of course THAT was for the purpose of environmental impact, so they were going for a scenario that maximized net ENVIRONMENTAL impact.

(In other words: highest possible HSR riderships = highest possible environmental benefits to the state for number of cars taken off the road, number of greenhouse emmissions eliminated, number of airline trips not taken, number of runways not built, etc) And this allowed for a convincing NET ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFIT of the overall project on paper in the EIR, offsetting all the negatives like construction impacts, co2 from electricity generation, etc etc etc.

In other words, they're pretty blatantly admitting that they're cherry picking assumptions to best suit their latest PR goal.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 28, 2010 at 11:08 am

Are ARRA funds for economic stimulus now going to be used for forcing people out of the homes and businesses via eminent domain? Interesting.

Posted by NONIMBYS, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 28, 2010 at 7:02 pm

NO it wont and you will still be able to go on TV and act like victim
and such...BUT you will still make it up!!

Posted by For HSR, a resident of Midtown
on Jan 28, 2010 at 8:36 pm

To the readers of this board: I am for HSR along the planned route, and I live in Palo Alto.

It seems pretty clear to me that most of the people spending time on this board complaining about HSR are people who saved money knowingly buying houses near the peninsula railroad (Caltrain) tracks. Now they don't want any change. I say tough. Most people in California voted for HSR, and a large number of Palo Altans (a majority of Palo Altans maybe even) want it as well. Let's build it without delaying it for years in an attempt to appease people who can't stomach any change.

One thing that won't happen with HSR by the way is "dividing" Palo Alto. Wake up! Palo Alto is ALREADY divided by the train tracks and major expressways. HSR won't change this, that's for sure.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 29, 2010 at 8:44 am

Nonimby's - you're wrong. The press release says the stimulus funds will be used for ROW acquisition.

For HSR - you're wrong. I don't live anywhere near the tracks, and neither do most who are opposed. Living on the tracks is not even a fraction of the issue. Anyone who lives west of 101 will be severely impacted, by terrible traffic impacts, noise, aesthetic, vibration, wind, involuntary remodeling of our towns, and lifelong changes to our communities.

Everyone in California will be severely impacted by the financial hole HSR digs. They have received 1.85B out of the 42 Billion needed, less than 5%. Where's the rest coming from? The recently neutered Obama administration? When?

Don't worry about counting up voters, we'll be able to count them up again as soon as this monumental rip off gets back on the California ballot.

Posted by BRiKlayer, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2010 at 10:29 am


I like your style. Thoughtful, illuminating, well-presented...

Posted by RT, a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2010 at 10:30 am

The people of California voted FOR the high-speed rail - why can't the people of California now put it back on the ballot and vote it DOWN. Is there anyone considering this?

Posted by Veritas, a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2010 at 11:37 am

Will someone out there who opposes high speed rail be honest and just say one of the following instead of usual long, academic, abstruce, ideologically loaded Palo Alto-style treatises?

"I don't want to see an elevated track when I look out the window of my house."

"I don't want to hear any more train noise from my house."

"I am worried aobut the effect of high speed rail on the property value of my house."

"I don't like any change happening in my town."


Posted by MJM, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 29, 2010 at 11:42 am

I support HSR, just not in it's proposed form. Growing up on the east coast, I was used to good public transportation: frequent, clean, affordable. Extensive bus and trolley liines connected people in the burbs to subways points to get to the city. You did not need to own a car to get to the city even in the suburbs.

The Bay area has a lousy transit conglomeration of entities--BART, Caltrains, SamTrans, VTA (and maybe others). Each works independently and acts like it is the ONLY provider of worth. What we need #1 is a comprehensive transit system for the entire Bay. BART around the whole Bay would be a good start. IF we had that, then HSR would be a welcome addition with an ENDING IN SAN JOSE. If you want HSR to replace flying, then look at where people live who fly out of SFO, Oakland and San Jose--they don't all live in San Francisco. How many people would actually want to go from LA all the way to SF? My guess is most want to go somewhere nearby--San Jose area, East Bay, Peninsula, even north of SF--Marin, Santa Rosa. IF we had a good Bay transit system, ending in San Jose makes WAY more sense than dead-ending in SF.

San Jose is larger than SF in population and has room to grow. It is time put SJ on the map as the logical destination for HSR with connections for all parts of the Bay Area.

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2010 at 12:39 pm

How badly do we need a train to get from SF to Los Angeles? Who would use it, other than as a novelty excursion if the price was affordable? Do we have a lot of Bay Area residents who want to commute regularly to LA by train rather than air?
I don't see the need, particularly as the cost is so much greater than all the money currently available. Sure, it'll create jobs. Why not create some jobs by filling in potholes in Hwy 101 and El Camino Real? Maybe we could fix those & employ people who already live around here. There are plenty of projects other than HSR (which will strain of break the budget for decades to come) which could be accomplished. Bringing in workers for HSR means we also have to find housing for them (rents go up) & build more schools for their children. Where will THAT money come from?

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 29, 2010 at 12:39 pm

How badly do we need a train to get from SF to Los Angeles? Who would use it, other than as a novelty excursion if the price was affordable? Do we have a lot of Bay Area residents who want to commute regularly to LA by train rather than air?
I don't see the need, particularly as the cost is so much greater than all the money currently available. Sure, it'll create jobs. Why not create some jobs by filling in potholes in Hwy 101 and El Camino Real? Maybe we could fix those & employ people who already live around here. There are plenty of projects other than HSR (which will strain of break the budget for decades to come) which could be accomplished. Bringing in workers for HSR means we also have to find housing for them (rents go up) & build more schools for their children. Where will THAT money come from?

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2010 at 1:07 pm

One thing no one seems to have mentioned yet is how train travel (at least in Europe and elsewhere) is much more flexible than air travel.

If you want to fly to LA, you have to look at the various airlines and see if there is a seat available on the flight you want. You generally have to book the return flight and the only person who can use that ticket is the person whose name was put on the ticket at the time of reservation. In Europe, if someone wants to catch a train, basically you turn up at the station, buy a ticket, and get on. There are various return options - day return, monthly return, etc. and for the return journey you just turn up and get on the train. If you change your mind and you want to stay an extra day, or stop off en route or come back early, the ticket still stands. If you get a last minute ride back, then someone else is able to use your ticket.

This type of arrangement is the norm for train travel and could be the one reason why some may prefer it. A business traveler from LA could say stop for a business meeting in San Jose, get back on the train a couple of hours later and continue to SF for more meetings, decide at the last minute to stay overnight, and get the train back the next day all without having to alter a ticket, or just pay the difference if that was the case. For air travel, that flexibility is not there. If the same traveler were to fly to San Jose for his business meeting, he would then have to find another method to get to San Francisco and then return back to San Jose for his flight back home and if he wanted to stay overnight, he would have difficulty changing his ticket. Trains win on flexibility.

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