Tunnels to be considered for high-speed rail

Residents, city officials prefer underground option despite added costs

As Palo Altans continue to define their love-hate relationship with the high-speed rail project, residents and city officials are increasingly looking to deep-underground tunnels as a possible solution.

On Tuesday night, city officials and dozens of concerned residents voiced concerns and vented frustrations about the project at a packed, two-hour community meeting with officials from the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the 800-mile rail line between San Francisco and San Diego.

Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the rail authority has assured city officials that it will consider the option of installing tunnels for high-speed trains on the Peninsula. But local officials have been floating the idea of building underground tunnels for months, with Emslie, Councilman John Barton and former mayor Bern Beecham among the leading proponents of the underground alternative (for an in-depth look at the tunnel discussion, see Weekly's Sept. 26, 2008, edition).

On Tuesday, residents voiced two clear messages: They want a bigger say in the design process and they would much rather have a rail line that zips through tunnels than one that whooshes past over their heads on raised tracks, which some city officials are calling a "Berlin Wall" dividing Palo Alto.

It would be "the difference between blight and Park Avenue," Judith Wasserman, a member of the Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board, said of the tunnel-versus-elevated tracks alternative.

"If somehow the High-Speed Rail Authority decides to put it above ground anyway, is there recourse or do we all just have to lie down on the tracks?" Wasserman asked the crowd gathered in a Palo Alto Unified School District conference room at 25 Churchill Ave.

Others were less blunt but equally vociferous in opposing an above-ground design. Because the system must be grade separated, the new tracks would have to be elevated 16 feet above existing streets or speed through the less disruptive but more costly tunnels several dozen feet underground.

With the engineering for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the project just getting started, it's not clear which option the rail authority will choose. It's also not clear whether Palo Alto or Redwood City will get a station, for which Redwood City officials are reportedly already lobbying.

Emslie said staff is working on a report on the high-speed rail project, which the City Council is scheduled to discuss March 2.

On Tuesday, Emslie joined many others in preaching the benefits of tunnels. He said many major transportation projects around the world are utilizing state-of-the-art technology to create below-grade separations.

"Obviously, cost is a major consideration," Emslie said. "But the high-speed-rail authority has confirmed with us that they're obligated and will study the tunneling option through the Peninsula."

Gennady Sheyner

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 20, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Palo Alto can follow Berkeley's example when dealing with the tunneling. When BART was constructed, Berkeley resident was also pushing for tunneling. The city of Berkeley hence paid for the extra cost associated with tunneling to have this happen.

If the citizens of Palo Alto wants it happen, let them pay for it. High speed rail is too important to have a few NIMBY people tear it down. If we let every neighborhood's NIMBY folks protest every non-tunnel project, this HSR will never get done.

Like this comment
Posted by menloparkarrogance
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Thats just their little plan stop HSR and act like their being raped and tax the property along the railroad if this is what they want..they moved next to the tracks no one forced them to buy there

Like this comment
Posted by Jo
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 21, 2009 at 3:37 am

I don't get the paranoia ... one of the reasons to *like* this area is good rail access. Now, I've never liked overhead rail; it's pretty much just ugly. There are folk from Menlo who are happy telling any lies whatsoever to stop HSR; ignore them. There are also folk who just like to hear their own voices; ignore them too.

That leaves ... no need to "vent" or have a "love-hate" relationship (with rails that won't hug you back).

I just hope they don't screw up Caltrain when HSR starts to come in.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay L. Tulock
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2009 at 7:37 pm

>I just hope they don't screw up Caltrain when HSR starts to come in.

They will. Screw it up. That is.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Commuter
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 21, 2009 at 10:40 pm

High Speed Rail will be a tremendous asset to California and to the San Francisco Bay Area. The great prize for Palo Alto would be to win the one urban downtown station between San Jose and San Francisco.

HSR will need to be closely coordinated with the Caltrain 2025 Plan, which includes electrification and many other improvements. We need Palo Altans to begin campaigning for HSR and to win the mid-Peninsula Station for our fair city.

Like this comment
Posted by just wondering
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2009 at 11:23 pm

Ever BEEN to Palo Alto, "Palo Alto Commuter?"

Like this comment
Posted by bruce
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2009 at 11:21 am

Tunnelling seems like a good idea to me, albeit expensive, but worth it for an optimal future.

* Tunneling would open up a huge swath of land for open space.
* Tunneling would increase the quality of life in the city.
* It would help ease traffic jams that happen daily.
* It would be safer for pedestrians, bicyclists.
* It would reduce noise.
* Not tunnelling would leave HSR going all through the pennisula,

On the other hand ...

* What is the underground terminal like?
* Would it be a magnet for crime or lowlifes to hang out.
* Consider how much crime there has been in the Alma area of Palo Alto by the bus stop.
* How expensive would it be.
* What happens if for whatever reason it is not used so much, will it deteriorate and look shabby like the train stations have done for years.
* What happens to existing train service, it goes underground too, right?

It seems to me that HSR would be a big boon to city that is getting too much development and too much traffic and people.

Think of how life might change with HSR and hybrid/electric cars. The freeway areas and train areas might be habitable again with a more healthy air and environment.

What about a bicycle park that joins up with other trails such as Steven's Creek and goes from SJ to SF.

Like this comment
Posted by Andrew Bogan
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 22, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Glad to finally see some positive and constructive comments here. Obstructionist NIMBYism is most unhelpful at this point in HSR's long history.

California needs high speed rail to remain competitive (Taiwan, Korea, China, Japan, much of the European Union, and the Boston to DC corridor on the East Coast already have high speed rail). California voted for High Speed Rail and the Peninsula voted >60% in favor of it, despite the cost. We should all stop whinging and try to use our collective voices to explore the best available options for HSR along the Caltrain right of way. For example:

Is it possible to raise enough money to pay for extensive tunneling underground through Peninsula cities? It might be, but tunnels are typically 3-5 times more expensive than above ground rail construction and our communities may not be able to raise the necessary funds.

What is the best alternative if tunneling is impractical due to funding limitations or engineering challenges?

How can we get the project completed as quickly as possible to minimize the disruptions to neighbors as well as to Caltrain service? Nobody wants 30 years of construction and massive cost overruns. Tunneling has clear advantages here, but it, too would require a lot of above ground vents.

What is the best location for a mid-Peninsula station? Palo Alto is an obvious choice with its university, tech businesses & venture capitalists, and shopping centers, but Redwood City is lobbying hard since they recognize the huge economic benefits of having a HSR station in their city.

Let's move this conversation in a productive direction to help design the best possible High Speed rail network for California. This project is more important than anyone's backyard. (And, yes, I live a few blocks from the tracks, too, here in Palo Alto with my wife and baby girl.)

Like this comment
Posted by Andrew Bogan
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 22, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I just submitted these comments to CAHSR, the Palo Alto Planning Commission, and the Palo Alto City Council. I thought I'd share them here, too, for fellow citizens:

While the most vocal citizens at meetings on the subject of California High Speed Rail in recent weeks have been a small minority of NIMBY-inspired reactionaries trying to argue for an alternative alignment or a San Jose termination of the HSR long after those decisions were made, I wanted to not only voice the widespread support for HSR that many fellow citizens share (Peninsula voters strongly favored Prop 1A), but also to request that several important reasons to locate the mid-Peninsula station here in Palo Alto be considered in the review process and planning:

1. Palo Alto Station is the second highest ridership station on Caltrain after the San Francisco terminus and ahead of San Jose Diridon (Caltrain 2008 Ridership Survey). Redwood City is 6th, while Palo Alto's second station, California Avenue, has risen to 12th despite not having the popular Baby Bullet service. Clearly San Francisco and Palo Alto are the two most important locations for HSR stations based on rail ridership. San Jose clearly desires a station and their population size mandates it. Millbrae is an SFO connection that is needed for multi-modal transit connections. However, there is little logic for a station in Redwood City (though I applaud their city government for its bold efforts to locate a station there).

2. Palo Alto is home to the region's premier university, Stanford, and therefore an important destination in its own right for many students, academics, researchers, and technology experts from across the State and around the world.

3. Palo Alto is more equidistant between Millbrae and San Jose Diridon than is Redwood City, making it a more logical location from which to attract HSR passengers from the Peninsula's major cities (such as neighboring Mountain View, which has more Caltrain ridership than San Jose).

4. Palo Alto and neighboring Menlo Park combine to be one of the most prominent financial centers on the West Coast with the lion's share of venture capital firms that make private equity investments in California's growing businesses as well as in businesses across the country and throughout the world. A Palo Alto station would not only give Silicon Valley and San Francisco based entrepreneurs better access to their investors, but would also connect America's premier venture capital center to the world with a high speed link to the airport at Millbrae/SFO.

5. Palo Alto is a major center for technology and biotechnology entrepreneurship and for established technology businesses. Hewlett Packard, Google, and Facebook (to mention just a few well known local companies) were all started in Palo Alto. HP and Facebook are still headquartered here and Google is now a couple miles south in Mountain View. While many of America's most innovative businesses are sprawled all along the Peninsula and throughout Silicon Valley, one of the few concentrated centers besides SF that is near the rail right of way is here in Palo Alto.

6. Despite a few vocal "Not in My Backyard" complainers, Palo Altans in general have a proven record of high utilization of alternative transit with a strong pedestrian and cycling culture interwoven with a rail commuter culture. Palo Alto is again #2 after SF in the number of bicycles taken onto Caltrain.

7. It would be a great benefit to our community for us to be able to board a bullet train and be in downtown SF or San Jose in minutes. Similarly a <3 hour trip to LA is appealing. Perhaps most importantly for our fellow frequent travelers, of which there are many here in Palo Alto, would be the <10 minutes it would take to get to the SFO Station in Millbrae. Including a few more minutes to transfer onto BART for one stop, Palo Alto residents could be checking in at SFO in less than 15 minutes, instead of sitting in traffic on 101.

Clearly Palo Alto is ideally situated and suited for the mid-Peninsula HSR Station. Many thanks for considering my points in your ongoing analysis. I have previously lived in two countries with high speed rail networks (Japan and Korea) and therefore I appreciate the great benefits brought by HSR, especially to those communities that have stations!

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2009 at 9:16 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I can get to Frisco or LA in nanoseconds.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Feb 23, 2009 at 5:33 pm

The people complaining may be better off financially by selling as soon as possible instead of waiting around for the real estate market to fall.

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 18 comments | 5,616 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,718 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 1,557 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 1,552 views

Stay a part of their day
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 586 views


Register now!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info