don't obstruct high speed rail Palo Alto Issues, posted by Tom -, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2009 at 6:14 am Tom - is a member (registered user) of Palo Alto Online
I find it disappointing that it looks like Palo Alto is going to become an obstacle in the construction of high speed rail. High speed rail is economically important to California and the peninsula, and it would be a great convenience to Palo Alto residents.
In Europe, I was living for several years just 500ft from the high speed rail line connecting Paris to Frankfurt. The most I heard was an occasional distant whoosh, far quieter than normal street traffic. High speed rail lines are quieter and less disruptive than the slow, outdated, and noisy Caltrain trains. The berms on which those tracks run also were no more of an eyesore and no more disruptive than Caltrain's current tracks in Palo Alto. And they would reduce the danger and disruption from the existing railroad crossings. I don't think tunnels are either necessary or cost-effective; even in cities like Berlin and Frankfurt, long distance trains usually run above ground even in city centers.
Obstructing sensible and standard construction of high speed rail lines through Palo Alto has numerous risks. In the worst case scenario, the delays may threaten federal funds and/or the line might simply bypass Palo Alto and the peninsula altogether. Or, the line may go through Palo Alto, but we get no stop on the high speed rail system.
Overall, in terms of impact on the city and neighborhoods, I think high speed rail on an above ground berm would be neutral or even an improvement over the current Caltrain system for Palo Alto. Palo Alto should focus on ensuring that there will be a high speed rail stop in the city, on maximizing the economic benefits to the city, and on obtaining compensation for those residents whose lives will be disrupted by construction.
Posted by Uneconomical, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2009 at 9:08 am
High Speed rail is an economic minefield for California. If it was financially viable why isn't a commericial enterprise building it?
Europe is much more densely populated than Califonia and even then the French government is subsidizing their HSR. The HSR fare from Paris to the South of France is over $450. The British Government is also heavily subsidizes British Rail which runs HSR. In fact the British Government has said they will not build anymore high speed rail links because they are uneconomical.
California is bankcrupt now where is the money coming from. not just to build HSR, but to subsidize it's operation.
Posted by Business Support, a resident of the Esther Clark Park neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2009 at 9:24 am
Actually, there sort of is support from business. The business support acknowledged by HSR officials comes in the form of bribes for the work constructing and running the trains. These companies are in fact offering to provide a small amount of support in return for their contracts.
The whole thing smells of corruption from the very beginning.
Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2009 at 10:25 am
I think if HSR was constructed underground, the amount of resistance to the project would drop significantly. It may cost more in the beginning, but the payback would be much higher in terms of quality of life for many thousands of people.
Posted by Me Too, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2009 at 12:44 pm
The idea that turning downtown palo alto into a major transit hub would be "a great convenience to Palo Alto residents" as the poster put it is indicative of the knee-jerk support that led the Council to support the trains without even understanding the plan.
There's not much to like about the train in general if you look at the economics; there's pretty much NOTHING to like if you live in Palo Alto, aside from getting grade separation.
Posted by Tom, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2009 at 1:05 pm
Palo Alto has a large world-class university with many students and many visitors from all over the world, many professionals that need to travel all over the state, many businesses and startup companies, many retirees that may not be able to drive, and a vibrant downtown that people visit from all over for dining and entertaniment. Other cities in the Bay Area may a the choice whether to stay quaint and quiet, but Palo Alto does not. The question is what infrastructure we create now to prepare for the inevitable future.
Posted by Helps those who cannot drive, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Oct 27, 2009 at 8:33 pm
I would like to know how high speed rail will help those who cannot drive.
It would seem to help those who do drive much more, because the local transit system is inadequate to bring people who cannot drive to their destinations or from their home without extreme hardship (i.e. multiple hours to travel a short distance).
Posted by Tom, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Oct 28, 2009 at 5:36 am
"It would seem to help those who do drive much more, because the local transit system is inadequate to bring people who cannot drive to their destinations or from their home without extreme hardship"
If it were the case that living in Palo Alto without a car is an "extreme hardship", that would be a problem we would need to address right now regardless of HSR, given the large student, foreign, and elderly populations in Palo Alto.
I don't think it's quite so bad, though. There are already a number of buses, plenty of bike paths, and Palo Alto is quite walkable. My mother, 75, walks everywhere, and I usually bike everywhere I need to go.
An HSR station would encourage and result in additional local transportation options, another benefit to Palo Alto.
Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 28, 2009 at 9:55 am
“I think high speed rail on an above ground berm would be neutral or even an improvement over the current Caltrain system for Palo Alto.”
Perhaps you’re unaware that Caltrain has plans to convert its system to electric, eventually being able to operate only 15 mph slower than HSR. This translates to a 3 minute travel time difference.
There’s a fallacy in comparing a future project with a current condition, assuming that the current condition will itself never evolve. A fully funded, improved Caltrain would be a greater benefit to every city along the corridor than would a 3-stop HSR project, and at a fraction of the cost. It’s possible for Caltrain to get funded (including tunnels if necessary), but most people continue to cling to the CHSRA’s brainwash message that *only* HSR can save Caltrain. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
As far as your assertion that Palo Alto is uniquely skeptical of this project -- I believe “obstruct” is the term you use -- look at the cities north & south of us. We’re not alone. There’s a correlation between local skepticism and knowledge where the more cities learn about this HSR project, the more skeptical they become. The public is becoming informed. To their credit, it's this process of becoming informed that has lead to objections and skepticism.
Posted by Tom, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Oct 29, 2009 at 9:13 am
"There's a correlation between local skepticism and knowledge where the more cities learn about this HSR project"
The opposition to HSR that I have seen in Palo Alto has been based on fear and incorrect assumptions. And I can tell you that those assumptions are incorrect because I have actually lived (bought a house) within a few hundred feet of a major European HSR line. (For comparison, I found houses near Caltrain, BART, and MUNI unacceptable.)
HSR means a decrease in noise pollution, a reduction in risks and deaths at crossings, more convenient and more environmentally conscious transportation, easier commutes, and numerous business opportunities and growth.
Instead of opposing HSR, Palo Alto's city leaders should focus on ensuring that Palo Alto actually gets a stop, that HSR is integrated with upgrades to local transportation and that the inevitable disruptions during construction are minimized.
"A fully funded, improved Caltrain would be a greater benefit to every city along the corridor than would a 3-stop HSR project"
HSR lines are usually (partially) shared with local and low speed trains, so this should not be an either/or choice. Ensuring continued high quality local train service alongside HSR (and possibly even improvements) should be one of the goals of our representatives. And investing more in Caltrain would not get the tracks elevated.
"As far as your assertion that Palo Alto is uniquely skeptical of this project"
I didn't say Palo Alto is "uniquely skeptical". I'm sure that people in other communities have the same prejudices. Palo Alto is just where I happen to live.
Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood, on Oct 29, 2009 at 2:14 pm
“The opposition to HSR that I have seen in Palo Alto has been based on fear and incorrect assumptions.”
Fair enough. The skepticism I’ve seen, especially among the city leaders, has been a result of becoming informed. I guess we’re exposed to different people.
“Instead of opposing HSR, Palo Alto's city leaders should focus on ensuring that Palo Alto actually gets a stop, that HSR is integrated with upgrades to local transportation and that the inevitable disruptions during construction are minimized.”
That would set them back approximately 1 year to election time when they obliviously voted for HSR without understanding the implications of their unfettered support. To their credit they have studied the project during this last year, and their concerns and skepticism reflect their grasp of the consequences of the HSR project. They’ve been willing to educate themselves to a greater depth than what we’re being fed by the CHSRA propaganda.
I’m not sure you grasped what I wrote, though. Caltrain already has a plan – The 2025 Plan –to operate at 110 mph. It’s a three (3) minute travel time difference.
If Caltrain were to provide the SJ-SF HSR service, cities wouldn’t have to jockey for a HSR mega-station, their platforms wouldn’t need to accommodate 2 different sized trainsets, extra tracks would be laid only where there’s enough width, grade crossings would be constructed as needed rather than a 100% replacement policy, and tunnels would be twice as affordable without the risk of Caltrain being left above ground. And if at some point in the future a city changed its mind about being connected or not connected to the HSR express, it’s a schedule change, not a construction issue.
Caltrain HSR service would benefit the Peninsula as well as the state, saving us several billion dollars.
Posted by Chris, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood, on Oct 29, 2009 at 4:00 pm
I am not an expert on HSR. I am just an average Palo Alto citizen voter. I voted against HSR. It was clear to me that it would bring huge changes to Palo Alto, and those changes would not be welcome changes. I did not see it as socially benign, environmentally sound or cost effective. However, those city council members, who are much smarter than me, indicated that I was wrong. Now they are backtracking. Are they dumb, or am I smart?
Posted by Bill, a resident of the Barron Park neighborhood, on Oct 29, 2009 at 5:58 pm
Tom. Do you have any idea what it would take to build a station in Palo Alto? The necessary land would take a substantial portion of the western end of the downtown area. And how do you deal with the road crossings at Alma, Churchill, East Meadow, and Charleston? Tunnels? Look at what the Homer tunnel cost without cars. Overpasses? How many properties would be taken by eminent domain? Those costs alone are staggering.
I think the initial $40 billion cost estimate is too low by a factor of two or more. And the ridership estimate of 100 million a year is a pipe dream.
All of the high speed trains in Europe are heavily subsidized by the governments - read taxpayers. Let's think this thing more clearly.
Posted by Bianca, a resident of Menlo Park, on Nov 2, 2009 at 2:45 pm
"All of the high speed trains in Europe are heavily subsidized by the governments - read taxpayers."
All modes of transportation in this country are subsidized by taxpayers. Airports are subsidized. Highways are subsidized- fuel taxes haven't been raised in years to match the increase in costs. Why do people expect rail to meet a standard that roads and air travel don't meet?
And saying that high speed rail is "heavily" subsidized is a little misleading- given enough time, every HSR system built turns an operating profit. Not immediately, but once people discover well it works, they often choose HSR even when cheap airfare is available, because it is so much more convenient.
It's important for those of us who live here and support High Speed Rail speak up. I can certainly understand that people who own houses that abut the right of way are concerned about the impacts. But there has been a lot of misinformation put out there.
Most of the right of way is already wide enough. 94% of it is at least 75 feet wide, which is the minimum needed for four tracks. And we are talking about using an existing railroad, that has over 100 commuter trains going back and forth, and freight trains running through at night. It's not a pristine nature preserve. If they need to reconfigure the Palo Alto station they have an existing parcel of land to work with, it's not clear that they will need to acquire much land in downtown Palo Alto. And the talk of eminent domain is a real bogeyman. As I already mentioned, 94% of the right of way is already wide enough, and if there is a parcel that they need, the first thing they do is make an offer, just like everyone else. Eminent domain only comes into play if you can't reach a deal or won't negotiate.
Caltrain's 2025 plan called for full grade separation and electrification- so the big changes are coming, with or without High Speed Rail. An electrified, grade-separated Caltrain is an enormous benefit to the entire community- cleaner, quieter, faster.
Posted by Evan, a resident of the Downtown North neighborhood, on Nov 2, 2009 at 8:35 pm
Thank you Tom! I was born and raised in Palo Alto, and I agree 100 percent. I've talked to many Palo Altans who support high speed rail, but chorus for the common (and local) good has been shouted down by a small number of people who have mistaken the facts.
High speed rail will leave this community safer, more sustainable, more united, quieter and create a transportation hub for the 21st century. I support high speed rail because it will be fantastic for Palo Alto.
City leaders need to focus on doing what's best for Palo Alto: Getting a station in downtown Palo Alto and doing what they can to ensure that high speed rail is built as seamlessly as possible into Palo Alto's urban fabric.
I'm going to be in Palo Alto for decades to come, and I want high speed rail.
Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community, on Nov 3, 2009 at 2:15 am
Wary Traveler suggests that Caltrain's 2025 Plan to electrify and run at speeds up to 110 mph make HSR on the Peninsula unnecessary.
Two problems with this:
Top Caltrain executives (e.g.: Scanlon, Doty) have stated unambiguously that without HSR coming in with their money, Caltrain has no chance of funding the 2025 plan due to the 3 member counties being more or less broke and with all the state funding cuts and take-aways.
HSR needs to provide a one-seat ride to the marquee destination -- downtown SF. Those who suggest HSR can just stop in SJ are, in essence -- knowingly or not -- advocating killing HSR all together. The concept of connecting the major city centers directly is integral to the success of HSR everywhere in the world. Imagine telling Japan or France or England that it was a mistake to run their HS trains directly into the heart of Tokyo or Paris or London and that what they should have done is had everyone TRANSFER to/from local trains to ride the last 50 miles or so into and out of the city centers. You'd be laughed right out of the room!
Besides, if we pretend for a minute that forcing a HSR-Caltrain transfer in San Jose would not decimate HSR ridership (and therefore fare revenue and economic success) ... Caltrain would have to run lots more special non-(or very limited)-stop trains on what would ideally be a fully grade-separated 4-track right of way anyway ... and at that point, you might as well just run HSR to SF instead of imposing a laughing-stock-of-the-world transfer 50 miles away from THE premiere HSR origin/destination city.
Posted by Tom, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Nov 3, 2009 at 4:07 am
"Tom. Do you have any idea what it would take to build a station in Palo Alto?"
Yes, because part of living a few hundred feet from HSR in Europe in my case meant living about 10 minutes from an HSR station.
"The necessary land would take a substantial portion of the western end of the downtown area."
I'm not sure what you imagine a HSR station to look like, but they don't need to look substantially different from what's already there. It might make sense to add another platform, but that's really all and there is enough land for that.
And California Ave is a possible alternative and expansion is easier down there.
"All of the high speed trains in Europe are heavily subsidized by the governments - read taxpayers."
All modes of transportation are heavily subsidized, including 101, 280, and SFO. Without government subsidies, air travel would be staggeringly expensive and driving would be even worse than it already is.
"Let's think this thing more clearly."
Yes, let's. It's already hard to commute on 101 and 280 and there are no reasonable alternatives right now other than an outdated Caltrain system. Traffic is just going to increase, and driving is going to become disproportionately more expensive. How are people supposed to get around Silicon Valley 20 years from now? By flying car?
If you oppose HSR, what is your future vision for Palo Alto and traffic on the peninsula? More soccer moms in SUVs driving between manicured lawns and spending an hour stuck in traffic for a few miles? HSR and other modes of transportation bypassing the peninsula altogether and going up to Oakland? Adding more and more lanes to 280 only to have people stuck on Page Mill for half an hour? How long do you think Silicon Valley employers are going to put up with having their employees stuck in traffic and having to run their own shuttle buses up and down the peninsula? Even getting to SFO by bus is getting less and less predictable.
Posted by Tom, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Nov 3, 2009 at 5:34 am
"tunnels would be twice as affordable without the risk of Caltrain being left above ground"
There aren't going to be any tunnels for either Caltrain or HSR; there is no justification for it and it would be fiscally totally irresponsible. Either HSR goes up the peninsula above ground, or it goes to the East Bay.
"And if at some point in the future a city changed its mind about being connected or not connected to the HSR express, it’s a schedule change, not a construction issue."
HSR stops are highly desirable, and there can be only a few along a given line. Once those have been placed, they don't change. It's not a question of construction, but of economics and politics. If we want a HSR stop, we need to lobby for it now and make ourselves attractive.
"I’m not sure you grasped what I wrote, though. Caltrain already has a plan – The 2025 Plan –to operate at 110 mph. It’s a three (3) minute travel time difference."
That plan was part of pre-HSR state-wide planning and financing. The current state-wide plan is HSR. If Palo Alto doesn't want to be part of the new state-wide infrastructure, why should anybody give us a dime to upgrade Caltrain? In different words, don't hold your breath for Caltrain upgrades if HSR goes to the East Bay because. As you point out yourself, by itself, Caltrain upgrades only result in minimal improvements in travel times.
Posted by Bianca, a resident of Menlo Park, on Nov 3, 2009 at 10:02 am
Reality Check raises a good point. The suggestion to stop HSR in San Jose and have everyone going to SF transfer to Caltrain is a non-starter. First, one of the major selling points of HSR is downtown-to-downtown access. Stopping at San Jose defeats that. Transfers often work fine but it adds a layer of unneeded complexity that slows down the entire trip. If you have luggage, transferring is a big hassle.
Furthermore, if HSR were to terminate at San Jose, Caltrain would have to seriously expand its capacity, to the point that just Caltrain would need quad tracking so that it could run some true express trains between SJ and SF. At that point the infrastructure and the costs and the construction hassles are identical to Caltrain +HSR, the only difference is the color of the trains, and so that's just silly. It creates passenger hassles without adding any benefit to the communities surrounding the Caltrain right of way.
Finally, the people advocating stopping HSR in San Jose are really just trying to kill the entire project. The downtown San Francisco terminus is in Nancy Pelosi's district; the idea that she would allow her constituents to be cut out of direct HSR access is laughable. San Francisco wants HSR, and Nancy Pelosi is not going to go along with terminating HSR in San Jose.
Posted by MJ, a resident of the Ventura neighborhood, on Nov 15, 2009 at 9:35 pm
Why don't you want HSR 30' from your bedroom. HSR is going to be quieter than what's there now, and it's going to be elevated. And it doesn't necessarily need more space either.
But what are you complaining about anyway? When you bought your house, did you think that the train would never get upgraded? Shall the economic development of California be put at risk because of irrational fears of HSR? If not your bedroom, whose bedroom should the train pass by?
Posted by taxpayer, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, on Nov 16, 2009 at 8:59 am
"If you oppose HSR, what is your future vision for Palo Alto and traffic on the peninsula? More soccer moms in SUVs driving between manicured lawns and spending an hour stuck in traffic for a few miles? HSR and other modes of transportation bypassing the peninsula altogether and going up to Oakland? Adding more and more lanes to 280 only to have people stuck on Page Mill for half an hour? How long do you think Silicon Valley employers are going to put up with having their employees stuck in traffic and having to run their own shuttle buses up and down the peninsula? Even getting to SFO by bus is getting less and less predictable."
HSR does not address local transit issues at all. Soccer moms will still need their cars; people who work in Silicon Valley will still need their cars unless their employers initiate a ridiculous number of shuttles. Our local public transit is abominable, and HSR will only exacerbate the existing problems because it will draw regional vehicular traffic to local city streets, given that the stations are supposed to be located in urban centers.