Opponents show up in force at rail session


Nearly 200 people packed the Menlo Park City Council Chambers on Tuesday, Sept. 9, sending a clear message to state officials that the California High Speed Rail Authority has a lot of work to do to convince Menlo Park and Atherton residents that high-speed trains zooming up and down the Caltrain corridor would be a good thing for either town.

The council-led study session, devoted to plans to connect Northern and Southern California with the all-electric passenger trains, quickly took on the life of a television courtroom drama.

State officials fervently defended plans to shoot the trains up the Peninsula, and opponents of the project — including Menlo Park and Atherton council members, a coalition of nonprofit groups and local residents — either questioned or downright blasted the project as too expensive, and too harmful to local communities.

As currently planned, northbound trains from Los Angeles would connect to Gilroy from the Central Valley, then shoot up the Caltrain corridor — through Menlo Park and Atherton — to connect to San Francisco. Proponents point to the short ride times (Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2 hours and 30 minutes) and low cost (one-way tickets are estimated to cost $55) of riding the system as motivating factors to get trains up and running by 2030.

"The technology is dazzling, the dream is great, but I don't believe what I'm being told," said Don Barnby, a resident of Menlo Park's Forrest Park neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Caltrain tracks.

Barnby questioned claims by Rod Diridon, a California High Speed Rail Authority Board member who spoke in favor of the project, that the estimated $45 billion rail system would be profitable, and that the authority would properly mitigate impacts of the new rail system on towns it passes through.

The project would likely require adding tracks to the existing Caltrain corridor, and constructing grade separations — separating the train tracks from the roadway — at local intersections.

The portion of the Caltrain corridor that cuts through Menlo Park and Atherton is narrow, meaning local residents and businesses could see property values drop, and the cities would have to endure years of construction, noise, and traffic impacts as the system is built.

Diridon, invited by the city to talk about the project, emphasized that the rail authority would work closely with Menlo Park and Atherton to "figure out a way to meet the needs" of the two cities if the $9.95 billion high-speed rail bond measure is passed by a majority of voters on Nov. 4. The bond measure would provide the first stage of funding for the project.

— Rory Brown


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Posted by Reader
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Interesting that the Weekly has covered this meeting, but the opinion of our exmayor on how wonderful Caltrain is has not been placed in the online version.

I felt her comments in this week's printed version was typical of SF Bay transit authorities. They all think they are the best and do a wonderful job, but they have no real system whereby they can interconnect with each other or actually meet the needs of the residents of the areas they serve. Until they start listening to those whose needs are not being met they are not going to get much better either.

There are many potential public transit riders who cannot get to where they are going because train/bus/lightrail/muni/Bart don't interact. As a great example, try getting from Palo Alto to either SFO or San Jose airports by public transit with a couple of suitcases and a baby in a stroller!!

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Posted by Business as usual with city councilmembers in PA
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 11, 2008 at 12:43 pm

Speaking of our ex-mayor, she was mentioned in the Mercury News story in tuesday about a possible stop in PA or Redwood City:

Web Link

Interesting is this from the article:

"Palo Alto Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said she is excited about the possibility of a high-speed stop but would not want to see a big parking garage like the one in Millbrae."

First of all, if you want people to use public transit, i.e. trains, you have to provide some decent parking--you cannot have one without the other. Seems like more of the typical "walkable neighborhoods"/public transit" talk-but-no-action double speak we here from local politicians all the time.
The second question is,we have her opinion, but dosen't she represent the citizens of PA? What do we want? Does that matter to her at all?

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Posted by No to HSR on the peninsula
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 11, 2008 at 1:40 pm

High speed rail is going to wipe out a chunk of the lovely Southgate neighborhood and seriously impact much of south Palo Alto. I'm surprised that Palo Altans aren't more concerned.

Let's not even get into the fact that the project makes no economic sense and doesn't address our most pressing transportation problems.

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Posted by Yes to HRS on the peninsula
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2008 at 2:02 pm

It's high time high speed rail comes to California. The proposed SF - LA line makes much, much sense. Those dollars will be well spent.

As to the the train passing through peninsula towns, it makes sense and brings a number of benefits.

Electric trains are quieter than diesel trains. Getting rid of the remaining railroad crossing with grade separation will remove safety hazards and potentially cut back on noise pollution with less train whistle blowing.

Granted there will be some loss of land from adding tracks. There will years of construction. But why not be willing to do for trains what was done for freeways and other building projects all along? Given all the benefits of trains, I am willing to accept the minor inconveniences that go with them.

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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 11, 2008 at 2:51 pm

I generally support the high-speed rail project, but nearly all of the promotional pictures I have seen show the trains zooming through open country. Are there any conceptual drawings or detailed maps of what the plan would look like for the built-up Peninsula? I know it would have its own tracks parallel to the Caltrain tracks, but how much additional real estate would be needed for tracks and grade separations? It may be early in the process, be we're being asked to approve a plan that could make major changes to the way the area looks.

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Posted by Idea
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2008 at 3:03 pm

How about digging a deep trench for the trains, both of them, then putting Alma/Central Expressway on top. This would make both the trains and Central Expressway (which is what it would become) wide enough without taking eminent domain and we would benefit from improved traffic flow.

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Posted by sally
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2008 at 4:21 pm

I don't understand why we need to build a new rail line up the peninsula. How about using the money to expand Caltrain service? The high speed rail can end in San Jose and passengers can transfer to Caltrain to get to destinations along the peninsula. If BART ever connects to San Jose, they can also transfer to BART to get to the east bay. Caltrain is already overcrowded and needs enhancement, whether or not high speed rail ever gets built.

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Posted by Yes to HRS on the peninsula
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2008 at 5:11 pm


A high speed rail connection between LA and SJ doesn't make near as much sense as a high speed rail connection between LA and SF.

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Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 11, 2008 at 9:47 pm

I have expressed my opinion on prior postings around high speed rail between northern and southern California, and I continue to be very skeptical.

I won't even get into the discussion at the Menlo Park meeting the other night, which was the sort of local conerns meeting that should be expected.

Quite simply, I am of the opinion that this level of funding is better deployed to local transit improvement projects, which will provide a higher benefit to more people than will a high speed rail system that in effect competes with the airlines.

I have nothing against high speed rail. But most trips by car are local, and there are many opportunities up and down the state to reduce car trips by upgrading local transit systems. This would provide much more benefit at this point in time that would a high speed rail system.

One can get into chicken/egg discourse, but I view this as a no brainer. If these funds become available, apply them to local transit improvements, not to a system that has merits, but substantially fewer proven benefits.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 12, 2008 at 10:02 am

I've noticed that some residents who live in the vicinity of the tracks are exaggerating the impact of HSR on adjacent properties.

The right of way width required to operate four electrified tracks at grade is 80 feet. Caltrain already has multiple stretches of 4-track ROW located in Sunnyvale, Redwood City and Brisbane that demonstrate this configuration in practice (minus the catenary masts, which would fit in the ample margins already accounted for within the 80 foot width). Throughout most of Palo Alto, the Caltrain ROW is already sufficiently wide (80 to 100 feet) to be reconfigured into four tracks.

The idea that HSR would require massive eminent domain takings of Palo Alto residential property is mistaken. The notion that HSR is going to "wipe out a chunk of the lovely Southgate neighborhood" is highly exaggerated. It's a question of degree: there may be some unavoidable impact associated with grade separations at road intersections, but this will not be the steam roller that flattened large portions of Palo Alto.

The four-track ROW would be shared and interoperable among Caltrain and high speed rail. HSR would not be built "parallel and separate" to Caltrain. That is common practice in urban rail approaches elsewhere in the world, and there is no basis to believe it would be done differently here.

The extra tracks are required to enable the operation of Caltrain local service at the same time as HSR. Caltrain would take nearly an hour to travel SJ - SF while HSR would need to cover those 47.5 miles in about 25 minutes (for those HSR trains that stopped in SJ). That 35 minute difference is absolutely key to making the concept viable... there is little purpose in shaving valuable minutes off the trip times at great expense by building a 220 mph railroad if you are going to waste away those hard-earned time savings by plodding along the peninsula at anything less than a leisurely 125 to 135 mph. Every minute will count.

Our neighborhoods will benefit from lower noise levels, because horn blowing, squealing brakes, bell clanging and diesel din will all become a thing of the past.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 12, 2008 at 8:04 pm

Imagine if this happened with a high speed rail, right next to Paly or a neighborhood here in Menlo Park or Palo Alto


Web Link

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Posted by Clem
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 13, 2008 at 9:23 am

No need to imagine an HSR wreck. It could happen to a Caltrain tomorrow, for example at one of those dangerous railroad crossings which will no longer exist with HSR. Yikes.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 13, 2008 at 2:50 pm

As has now become clear, that horrific train crash in LA was caused by human error, and reveals the glaring lack of safety systems on outdated US railroads. Modern HSR systems in Europe and Asia (and hopefully California) are always equipped with positive train stop systems that watch over every action of the engineer and take over in case of an error. This particular scenario (a human ignoring a red signal) simply could not happen with HSR.

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Posted by High Speed Rail Accidents
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 13, 2008 at 6:44 pm

A few examples of high speed rail accidents:

In 1998 the worst high speed railway accident in Europe happened in Germany, which killing 120 people. It was traveling at 125 miles/hr.

Web Link

April 2008, A Shanghai China HSR was the worst in a decade.

Web Link

I thought our state was in a budget crisis, falling home prices, and severe drought. Why would they want to push this on our state now?

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Posted by Clem
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 14, 2008 at 4:37 pm

...and thus the discussion became completely divorced from any realistic notion of risk.

About 3,000 people have died in Boeing 747 accidents; does that make you think twice about boarding one?

The safety of HSR is beyond reproach. There are reasonable objections to high speed rail; safety isn't one of them.

As to why now? Because future alternatives (more freeways and airports) are more expensive to the taxpayer, financially and environmentally.

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Posted by No HSR!
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 14, 2008 at 5:18 pm

The students from UCLA, USC, and all the East LA Gang Members can just hip hop on and be here in no time.

The HSR could run all the way from the Border up through the Central Valley. It would make life so much easier for the workers.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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