Note: Diridon's entire Powerpoint presentation on high-speed-rail projects worldwide can be viewed by clicking the "video" image to the left or by visiting YouTube.com
Rod Diridon, a key leader of the high-speed rail project to link San Francisco and Los Angeles, told a Palo Alto audience this week that it's $77 million and many months too late to reconsider routes.
Diridon, speaking to the Palo Alto Rotary Club at Ming's Restaurant, said the rail project is too far along to re-open the routing discussion, despite a coalition of Peninsula cities that are suing or threatening to sue to block the route up the Peninsula along the Caltrain right-of-way.
Diridon the week before ruffled feathers at the Palo Alto City Council meeting when he refused to say the project would "negotiate" with local cities, but that their comments would be considered along with other input to a "scoping" process leading to a full environmental-impact review and report on the Peninsula segment of the $40-billion-plus rail system, between San Jose and San Francisco.
He said there have been about $77 million (corrected from an earlier reported $90 million) in engineering and route-assessment studies done for various segments of the preferred route, selected after many months of public meetings and discussion.
Most of Diridon's presentation focused on how the United States is lagging behind the rest of the world in utilizing high-speed trains. He said the trains have massive environmental benefits over other forms of transportion, using 1/5 the energy of cars and 1/3 the energy of airplanes, which he called the "most polluting" form of transportation per passenger mile.
As envisioned, the trains would speed up and down the Central Valley at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour, but would travel through the Peninsula at about 125 miles per hour. They would require grade-separated tracks, with alternatives of either tunneling or elevating the tracks triggering resident protests of a raised "Berlin Wall" through communities.
Diridon said as a rail authority official he is precluded under federal regulations on environmental reviews from expressing personal opinions about preferred alternatives. He said the scoping sessions will define alternatives to be studied in an extensive environmental review of the project, which will culminate in and environmental-impact report (EIR) with all alternatives listed, with impacts and costs.
The final EIR is expected to be completed by mid-2010, at which point everyone involved will know more precise details of the project so the debate over alternatives will be more strongly based in facts, Diridon told the Rotarians.
He hurried through a PowerPoint presentation showing the sleek trains already in use in Japan, France, Germany, Britain and all other industrialized nations -- save one: the United States.
Diridon, who has focused on transportation issues for decades and has been called the "father of light-rail" in Santa Clara County, is a former member of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and a former candidate for the state Assembly. He currently heads the Norman I. Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, and is chairman of the board of the High Speed Rail Authority.
Voters approved the rail project last Nov. 4 by a 52 percent majority, authorizing $9.9 billion in startup funds, with the balance of the estimated $40 billion to be raised from major grants and other sources.