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Caltrain improvements may come soon because of High Speed Rail
Original post made
by Greg K, Downtown North,
on Nov 18, 2008
I think these are both important upgrades to the existing Caltrain system.
According to the Mercury-News:
"What particularly appeals to Caltrain about the high-speed project is the proposed widening of its tracks and construction of grade separations up and down the Peninsula because bullet trains must run above or below street level."
"Caltrain wants to replace its aging diesel locomotives with lightweight electrified cars, which will require a $785 million overhaul of its infrastructure by 2015. The agency hopes that the planned path for the bullet train up its right of way between San Francisco and San Jose means the two rail systems will be able to share the cost of upgrading the tracks. Officials hope all of Caltrain's advance planning work will make the Peninsula a strong candidate to become the first part of the line to be built, said spokeswoman Christine Dunn."
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Posted by Nicholas Clifford
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2008 at 6:08 am
Full Disclosure: I do not live in Palo Alto. Indeed, I am an American living in France, so far from your back yards and schools.
Conversely, I have no "horse in this race." I don't work for the railroad industry, I don't work in construction... I guide bicycle tours for a living. I think of myself as a generally anti-development environmentalist.
And, living in France, I have a lot of experience of high-speed rail. This country is pretty much criss-crossed by lines now, and everyone wants more!
So, those whose minds aren't made up already (and, in America, that is a rare breed "often wrong, never in doubt" that's our motto!), may be comforted by what I have to say.
(1) High-speed rail can run at grade (that is, not on a bridge, not in a tunnel). Line protection is important (fences, signs, and yes, grade separation). But it can, indeed, happen by virtue of road and pedestrian tunnels and bridges under and over the tracks. You have at least two examples in Palo Alto that I can think of, adjacent the two stations.
So, the Mercury-News got this part wrong: "because bullet trains must run above or below street level." No, there is no reason for that. The vast majority of France's TGV track (that is, track for our 320 kph bullet trains) are at grade, even in urban and suburban zones. So, no need to assume eyesore viaducts. They may be appropriate in some very high-density spots, but will not generally be necessary or desirable, either for the community eyesore or for the railroad more expensive than building at grade.
(2) While there will be an inevitable increase in train traffic through your town (that is, after all, the point), electric trains in general and TGV's (bullet trains) in particular, are MUCH quieter than the conventional diesel-powered Caltrains that rumble through now, even at very high speed. Overall, you will find their presence to be less of a bother than the current line's, even if traffic quadruples. The new line will also result in the electrification and soundproofing of the existing line, so you will benefit substantially.
(3) Electric trains do not pollute at source: this will be another benefit. Fewer emissions in your community, even if you don't care a fig for the greater good (things like reduction in carbon emissions).
(4) I understand the NIMBY sentiment here, but you are wrong to assume your community will receive no economic benefits. Even if the nearest stop is San José, imagine being able to take a modernized Caltrain for 15 minutes, making a cross-platform transfer in San José, and being in LA 2'30" later. It will change the way you live. And for the better. Believe me, I have watched in France. We can go from Paris to the Mediterranean in 3 hours. It used to take 7. Christmas shopping in Strasbourg in 2 (it took 4 just a year ago!). I can reach 4 foreign countries by train before I could even get to the Paris airport and taxi to the runway for take-off.
Even if you never leave home, your children / parents / friends can get to you! From Sacramento, from the Central Valley, from Southern Cal. And even if you have no friends or distant family, your air (and your children's air) will be purer (highway traffic will inevitably thin). When oil runs out, and it will, you will still be able to move, and your property will still be worth something.
And, the further modernization of the Caltrain line will bring further benefits up and down the peninsula (faster trips to SFO or the city, for instance).
So... try to relax, and influence the project in a positive way.
Will some homes be taken through eminent domain? Let's hope so, in everybody's interest! The rail right-of-way will need to be widened throughout from 2 to 4 tracks, and though that is probably largely possible in the existing property envelope, you absolutely WANT the homes closest to the tracks to be condemned, in the interests of their owners! Sound barriers are effective, but not perfect: this is a chance for lineside owners to move a bit further away. So, don't say NO, say, "OK, for fair value." It can be a win-win: again, I have watched in time and time again.
Will every, single person benefit? No. As in every public works project, there will be winners and losers. In this case, the former will vastly outnumber the latter, but work to care for the latter, and you will all win!
If this really happens (and I still don't believe it) your world will change. I promise, based on much first-hand experience, it will be for the better!
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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2008 at 10:17 am
Spokker, they will cross in underpasses or overpasses (have you read the news lately about muggings in Palo Alto underpasses?) AND they will have a 15 foot wall with 15 foot trains riding atop them, cutting their city in half.
Guess what, we can fix the railroad crossing and electrify Caltrain if we want to, without decimating our city with a high speed rail.
Clem - actually many DO feel that is too fast, AND those trains DO NOT pass right up against the edge of the right away today. They pass with 40-50 feet clearance to either side. And Clem, I'm pulling my info from the EIS. You can feel free to make any factual corrections you wish (since your working on it), and I'll gladly accept them. The problem is the EIS (and you) discount any of the negative impacts simply because we already have a rail running down that path under the absolutely false and misleading assumption that the new HS rail adds nothing new or incremental to our experience.
Clem - question - how tall is a HS train?
John, no not the same noise impact as Caltrain. They found that there were high impacts to noise from HST, that were particularly worse in residential neighborhoods:
"Removing all potential remaining horn noise would not eliminate noise impacts, however, because the sound of the trains would remain. The proposed HST would add its own noise to that of other
trains using the railroad corridor. Carrying the focused study further, it was found that approximately 75% of the at-grade crossings to be eliminated with the proposed HST system are
located adjacent to residential areas with a high potential noise impact rating. Although there would be a clear benefit from the elimination of the horns and warning signals, there would be
additional train noise and vibration primarily from the high train speed and frequency of service."
"Based on these results, the potential noise impact ratings from screening were adjusted to account for segments where at-grade crossings would be eliminated for existing passenger and freight
trains as part of the implementation of HST service along that alignment."
In other wordds they made the issue go away mathematically by assuming that fixing the grade crossings and putting sound barriers (mitigations) would reduce the impact to net neutral to Caltrain.
Well guess what - the grade crossing can be fixed without the high speed rail. Caltrain can electrify for sound, without high speed trains coming through. And big 20 foot walls cutting our town in half down its entire length are a BIG issue!
Nicholas, not sure how you claim to be an uninterested bystander from France (who just happened to wander on to this thread but mysteriously knows alot about specifics of town of Palo Alto... but I'll ignore the fishiness of your 'story' and comment on what you said.
First - lets be clear that the drawings that CLEM showed us didn't have the trains running at grade level, they have them running up on top of 15 foot walls through our town (don't forget to stack a train ON TOP of that 15 wall (another 15feet?) which will divide our city in half and create a MAJOR impact on the quality of life and aesthetic of this whole town (not just the strip of property owners bordering the current tracks). So, why would we have any reason to believe they have any interest in seeing this happen in a non-destructive, non impactful way (like underground)? They've already drawn it out, and now CLEM is DEFENDING it as entirely reasonable 15 foot walls!
Secondly, eminent domain - great news for those property owners -IF- they are compensated at fair market value. Will they be compensated at fair market value? (Like pre or post HST values?) Or some 'fair' value calculated by the HST front office sitting in Southern California? What's the liklihood of compensation of $750K-$1.5M and more for 3 to 5 bedroom houses. I'm sure those kind of values for houses that back to tracks are unfathomable outside of PA.
And there's a MUCH bigger picture here for property values in Palo Alto (Menlo Park, Atherton, etc), that will effect everyone, not just the unlucky who lose to eminent domain. The degredation in quality of life in the IMMEDIATE surrounding areas - up to 1/4 mile away according to their own environmental impact study, INCLUDING negative consequences to Palo Alto High school, will degrade property values in PA in a much more profound way. Couple that with a concrete expectation that the HST will ACCELERATE population growth in these areas, and CREATE MORE and DENSER high dense housing specifically TARGETED in the communities near the lines, (not to mention massive removal of trees and vegitation that today screen us from the effects of the Caltrain), this all points to further massive degredation of quality of life and property values in Palo Alto.
(Nicholas, since you and Clem are not familiar with our town, let me just fill you on the situation - we are severely over capacity in all our schools (elementary, middle and high), we have not enough fields for our community to play soccer (football for you), baseball, softball, etc., We have very little in the way of basic shopping amenities in Palo Alto (few basic grocery stores, no low cost chain stores for basics) in town, we have overcrowded roads, crumbling sewers, old libraries, etc., We have no empty lands for expansion of these services, and even just the current dense housing growth we are experiencing is negatively impacting us significantly. So all in all while its easy for outsiders to say 'well someone's gotta sacrafice' its a gross misunderstandnig and ovesimplification of the MASSIVE impact on this small town (and the others like us down the line) that will occur. We have a RIGHT and and OBLIGATION to say FIND ANOTHER WAY.
If Clem (since he seems to be an insider) can get his people over there to start showing us how this will NOT all come to pass in such a negative way for Palo Alto (first by demonstrating even a bit of an understanding of what he's talking about in terms of quality of life issues for Palo Altans, second by showing the concrete plans for a different engineering solution for those tracks), then maybe we can start settling down. If not, they have a fight on their hands.
Resident - all this IMAGINE stuff is just all unicorns and rainbows, but they CAN NOT decimate these valuable small towns along they way. That's the 1800's Industrial Revolution version of progress. They MUST find a way to put these lines without impact. They can put them underground, or they can choose lines that follow existing freeway corridors (like elevated, running down the center strip sections of existing freeways - which would not displace any more people and would not change the character and quality of any more towns.
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Posted by Nicolas
a resident of another community
on Nov 21, 2008 at 2:36 am
To "Parent, Resident of another Palo Alto Neighborhood."
First, your debating technique is not the most courteous. You can't even be bothered to spell my name which _I_ at least am sufficiently honest to provide correctly. And then you doubt the veracity of my "story." Sir, or Madam, I don't know you. Failing that, I assume you are honest. But you are not very nice.
"Nicholas, not sure how you claim to be an uninterested bystander from France (who just happened to wander on to this thread but mysteriously knows alot about specifics of town of Palo Alto... but I'll ignore the fishiness of your 'story' and comment on what you said."
Wiping the sarcasm from the word, here is my "story." My memory of Palo Alto is dated, but I had a good friend in grad school (and then teaching) at Stanford for many years. I always arrived and left by train, hence my (vague) recollection of the underpasses near the two stations.
He keeps in touch with the community, to which he remains attached. He sent me the thread, because he thought it was funny, in a navel-regarding way. And he knows my interest in transportation (I was a grad student in transportation at the University of Pennsylvania, though I was more interested in urban at the time and have never worked in anything but tourism in the years sense).
So that is how I wound up commenting. I'm sorry it irritated you, but sometimes an outside point of view is helpful. In a forest-for-the-trees type of way.
I understand your position, though, if not your discourtesy: my friend now lives in San Francisco, and is not directly affected by issues of back yards and schools (though he has several friends still in Palo Alto). He just likes your town. And he remembers his decade+ there fondly. As I remember my many visits, the last of which was probably 5 years ago. I am sure you like your town, too, though it is tough to see why with all the ills you describe,
So, clearly, you have concerns that cannot be those of people looking from afar. And I pointed that out by way of introduction to my piece. My detachment does not invalidate the truths I presented. It just means that they are only part of the picture. You will still have to weigh them against your back yards!
Someone like you can never be convinced. But your neighbors, to whom I wrote, should understand that the best reasons to argue for these changes are precisely those in your condescending reply.
"(Nicholas, since you and Clem are not familiar with our town, let me just fill you on the situation - we are severely over capacity in all our schools (elementary, middle and high), we have not enough fields for our community to play soccer (football for you), baseball, softball, etc., We have very little in the way of basic shopping amenities in Palo Alto (few basic grocery stores, no low cost chain stores for basics) in town, we have overcrowded roads, crumbling sewers, old libraries, etc., We have no empty lands for expansion of these services, and even just the current dense housing growth we are experiencing is negatively impacting us significantly. So all in all while its easy for outsiders to say 'well someone's gotta sacrafice' its a gross misunderstandnig and ovesimplification of the MASSIVE impact on this small town (and the others like us down the line) that will occur. We have a RIGHT and and OBLIGATION to say FIND ANOTHER WAY."
This is part of that other way.
Two casual observations: there is no question that the impact on your town will be huge. But it will be mostly positive, something that is certainly hard to imagine from where you sit now. Still, rather than refusing a transportation artery that will inevitably channel and concentrate development around a new public transit artery (which will, itself, encourage public transit feeders), and so lessen (not increase) the demands on your overcrowded roads, you just yell "no." Yes, that is your RIGHT. But it is most certainly not your OBLIGATION. Nor that of your possibly more thoughtful neighbors.
And another: the world is a changing place. We (the US I am American, although I live in France) have just been through an artificial boom fueled by deficit spending and speculation in housing. But it's over. BOY is it over.
You may find that the explosive growth your town has recently experienced slows substantially in the decade to come.
Of course, empty land is a thing of the past in most of America, but that doesn't mean that the land you have can't be better used. An apartment block put up on land taken by the railroad can replace 10 houses (and reduce carbon footprint by half). Room for a school! Cheaper sewer infrastucture! Something tells me YOU wouldn't want to live there. But that doesn't mean no one would.... "Walking" town centers have attractive aspects to many people, and diversity in housing stock is generally a good thing for a community, not a bad one.
A new soccer pitch (or, for that matter, a new school) would be good uses for land acquired in eminent domain procedings (see below).
In sum: this is a chance to look at your town, and fix its obvious failings, which you so bitterly lament! All with a windfall redevelopment budget. Another will not come in your lifetimes! Don't miss the train ;-)
Look, someone like me doesn't care a fig whether you fix your town or not, expand your rail line or not, nor even whether California builds the thing (other than in a vague "world would be a better place" sort of way). I only wrote because I thought it might be helpful / reassuring to hear the first-hand experience of someone who has witnessed the process at fairly close range, and many times. Our lives have been massively altered by our bullet trains, but I don't know one person who thinks it has been for the worse, in town or country!
Here is a suggestion that would go a long way to solving many of the issues you raise: work for legislation that would require the State to condemn entire properties if they condemn even one foot, but then give the expropriated owners right of first refusal on the resale of the residual property (no originality, I am just roughly parroting the existing French law). This would also provide the state with an incentive to negotiate for purchase, rather than condemning. I think I remember that in France, over 90% of the land needed by our most recent line (to Strasbourg) was bought in open-market transactions, rather than through eminent domain proceedings. These people are Latins, and they yell a lot, so I'm sure there was a lot of noise first. But the owners clearly wound up with "fair value" by their own definition, or they wouldn't have sold (the courts tend towards fair market + 10% or so).
Concretely, my idea would work like this. State needs a six-foot band of land at the back of someone's garden. It's going to take out the garage, the pool.... but the house will be left in tact, and there will still be ample yard between the new back of the property and the rear of the house. So the house can still be lived in, though quality of life will be impacted, at least by the smaller yard. Noise mitigation includes a new sound barrier, and replanting of trees, but which will take "x" years to grow (I'm not a tree expert better at TGV's). Believe me, in such a case the line noise would substantially decrease compared to that of the existing Caltrain service!
So, two scenarios: current owners have kids and valued the pool. They are sad. But they sell, and buy new with the funds they get. Market is good for that right now... And perhaps they were hoping to get a bit farther from the rail line, anyway....
They have the inconvenience of the move, and we all regret that. It is one of the things that has to be put in the balance in any public interest project. But the town overall is probably a better place for the change (improved sustainable transportation, reduced pollution), so it is not clear that even those individuals lose in the end, let alone the town as a whole!
Scenario two: kids had grown up and moved out, anyway. No one really used the pool. Some of that land can be captured for a new garage... State expropriates at fair value + 10%, takes the land it needs, and puts the house on the market at 80% of the former "fair value" estimate (smaller lot, pool gone, no garage). Same owners repurchase. They wind up with compensation worth 30% of the price of their (now less desirable) property. They have to spend "x" on a new garage, but the rest goes to their badly depleted retirement account. They have a quieter rail line out back. And, over time, their property increases in value at a greater rate than the rate observed in surrounding towns not served by the rail line something more valuable to leave to the kids.
It seems everyone might be better off there (though they will be living in a construction zone for 2 years, and that may not be much fun...).
Anyway, 'nuf said. I wish you all luck with your fight or non-fight. I remain convinced that, if it happens, you will (all) look back in 10 years and wonder how you could ever have been opposed. But change is always stressful, and you are right in one thing: this is much less my business than yours!
PS's: Thoughts and facts in the above thread. If Clem really works for the railroad or the state, instead of vilifying him, you should perhaps be asking him for advice on precisely how to go about mitigating the impacts of the project on your community! He sounds thoughtful, informed, and he has been unfailingly polite! If he is a standard example of your State functionaries, you have a pretty good government out there!
"...although there would be a clear benefit from the elimination of the horns and warning signals, there would be additional train noise and vibration primarily from the high train speed and frequency of service."
First, the former would vastly outweigh the latter, even if the statement were true. But it isn't. Neither noise nor vibration would increase. The FREQUENCY with which both happened would increase (more trains). But peak values recorded for both would decline, and for vibration, substantially. Most studies suggest that that is the more important "quality of life" measure. An example of a precise experience with a precise case from the terrace of a farm house in Burgundy. The old train at 60 mph made a heck of a lot more racket than the TGV does at 175 mph! It passed by only 10 times a day, but you sure knew it was there, and the first run was at 5a (everybody up!). The TGV goes by more than 100 times a day But you never even notice it.
And finally, to "Interesting Read," concerning the report by Wendell Cox and Joe Vranich. Vranich, in particular, is a horrible hack. He was a long-ago Amtrak employee. Since leaving Amtrak in the 80's, he has made a living as a transportation "expert" by being any conservative foundation's anti-rail "expert." For what I presume is a hefty fee, he will say anything, and use any technique (half truths being his favorite, but Rovian repetition of falsehoods being another) to provide talking points for people who want to obfuscate a debate on transport policy. Google his "reports" from the late 80's and the early 90's, where there is enough history to now judge the accuracy of their predictions. They are worth reading now, for the first time. For their comic value....
I would shred this particular one for you, but I have a life, and have to get back to it Pleasure meeting you all.... Well, most of you :-)