Comparing high-speed rail along Palo Alto's transit corridor to the Berlin Wall, more than 50 protestors marched from Lytton Plaza to City Hall tonight to protest the California High Speed Train San Francisco to San Jose Project.
The 6 p.m. march preceded a discussion on the project by the City Council, which is reviewing draft-scoping comments to the project's Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement.
But residents, many of whom live near the rail line, fear they could be displaced or have their quality of life severely impacted. They said high-speed rail has no place in Palo Alto.
Holding up a golden spike given to his grandmother for 40 years' work for Southern Pacific railroad, resident Tom D'Arezzo said he is opposed to the high-speed project.
"The railroad is in my family history. I live adjacent to the tracks. It doesn't bother me or my family." … But high-speed rail would "alter Palo Alto forever," D'Arezzo, a Southgate neighborhood resident, said.
The number of trains that would come through the area during peak hours -- as many as one train every three minutes -- would make it impossible for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians to cross the tracks during those times, protestors said.
"It's like the Berlin Wall coming down the middle of Palo Alto. It would create an incredible space for graffiti," former Palo Alto Mayor Gail Woolley said.
Caltrain currently runs eight trains per hour during peak times, according to a city manager's report, but City Planning and Transportation Commissioner Arthur Keller, who attended the march, said Caltrain's 2025 plan calls for doubling its train traffic to 10 trains per peak hour in each direction.
The expected high-speed-rail plan would add an additional nine trains per hour, according to the city manager's report.
Keller said many residents have voiced concerns that the density of trains would create "a rolling wall" that would cut Palo Alto in half. Four tracks would be needed along the Caltrain right-of-way instead of the current two, and the tracks could be set on a 20-foot-high elevated grade, making noise pollution and diesel fumes from Caltrain spread far into the surrounding community, residents said.
Robert McGinn said he worries about the project reducing property values to adjacent homes. The elevated tracks would create visual pollution, he said.
The project would create a "bifurcation of the community. … It's a recipe for dilution of the residential character of the surrounding neighborhoods," he said.
Keller said undergrounding the tracks could appease many in the community. Part of the funding could come from overpass funding. Mixed-use developments with retail and housing could take up some of the space, he said.
D'Arezzo said undergrounding would be a more palatable alternative, but how that would be achieved – either by boring a tunnel or by excavation – would determine how much the surrounding neighborhood would be disrupted. Residents planned to ask the council to join Menlo Park and Atherton in a lawsuit, he said.