News

Palo Alto committee wants rail funding withheld

City Council committee calls for rail authority to reconsider covered trenches after city consultant challenges authority's cost estimates

Hours after Palo Alto's high-speed-rail consultant released a report sharply critical of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's latest design plans, a City Council committee called for state and federal officials to withhold funding for the controversial project.

The council's High Speed Rail Committee, which two weeks ago passed a resolution declaring "no confidence" in the rail authority, agreed Wednesday night to ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature not to release funding for high-speed rail until there is a new governing mechanism for the voter-approved project.

The full City Council is scheduled to discuss high-speed rail Monday night (Sept. 20).

The committee's action came just hours after the city's consulting firm, Hatch Mott McDonald, released its own analysis of the rail authority's latest design plans and for the Peninsula segment of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line.

In its Supplemental Alternative Analysis Report, which was released last month, the authority included only three possible high-speed-rail alignments in Palo Alto: aerial, at-grade and open-trench.

The report eliminated deep tunnels and covered trenches, citing constructability issues and high costs.

But Hatch Mott McDonald, a civil-engineering firm that specializes in underground transportation, wrote in its analysis that the cost differences between open and closed trenches in the authority's analysis report are "simply not believable."

The "construction process for the covered trench is practically identical to that for the open trench," Hatch concluded. It said the cost of covered trenches would be "slightly higher" than for open trenches because of the additional ventilation, fire and life safety-associated costs.

The rail authority estimated that the cost difference between the two options would be more than $300 million per mile, which the peer review calls not reasonable.

"As the construction requirements and process are so similar, it is not clear how the covered trench can be rejected, and the open trench retained, on this basis," the city conultant's report states. "CHSRA should clarify the construction issues that resulted in the rejection of the covered trench option.

After receiving the report, the High-Speed Rail Committee unanimously agreed to ask the authority to revisit the covered-trench option. The committee agreed, over a sequence of motions and votes, that the Palo Alto's letter to the authority should also assert the city's opposition to at-grade and aerial alternatives and its openness to further consider an open-trench design.

The four-member committee voted in unison on most issues Wednesday night, though Mayor Pat Burt and Councilman Larry Klein split over whether the city should formally oppose state funding for high-speed rail. Klein and Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd both argued that it should.

Burt urged his colleagues not to commit to such a position, which he said could ultimately reduce the city's credibility and its ability to influence the rail project. He compared the city's negotiations with the rail authority to a poker game.

"What we're doing is shoving all our chips in," Burt said. "Everyone sees our cards and we have no more chips to play."

But the rest of the committee sided with Klein, who rejected the poker analogy.

"We have few chips," Klein said. "This is not a poker game; this is really a fight over the future of our city and our region and our state."

Klein, who authored the "no confidence" resolution the committee unanimously passed on Sept. 2, said the city tried to work with the authority but has been rejected repeatedly. He called the city's negotiation with the authority a "bare-knuckles political fight" and a David-and-Goliath struggle.

"I don't recall David and Goliath doing a lot of negotiating," Klein said.

He also said Palo Alto's neighbors on the Peninsula are becoming similarly disenchanted with the authority. Menlo Park sent a letter to the Federal Rail Administration earlier this week asking the agency to "withhold additional funding for the San Francisco to San Jose segment until the CHSRA completes a responsible analysis of environmental impacts, a sound long-term funding plan, and gains the support of local communities along the San Francisco Peninsula."

The Mountain View City Council this week rejected the idea of having a local high-speed-rail station. Elected officials from other Peninsula cities, including Atherton, Burlingame and Belmont, also sent letters to the authority criticizing the latest design plans.

The Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to dedicate most of its Sept. 20 meeting to high-speed rail, including a closed session to discuss possible litigation.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by looking on
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2010 at 7:47 am

Larry Klein has it right. Too bad, Burt still doesn't fully understand how to accomplish what is needed. Hopefully Klein will carry the day next Monday.


Like this comment
Posted by Klein's folly
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2010 at 7:55 am

Larry Klein has become quite the warrior against HSR--of course, it is thanks to him that we are in this situation now. I guess with his current crusade he is hoping that we will forget his unwavering support in 2008 for the HSR
He claims he was "misled" then--how do we know that he is being misled now?


Like this comment
Posted by Geoff
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 16, 2010 at 8:13 am

HSR is a political play from start to finish.

Two old pols came up with a plan they figured could be run through the system with smoke and mirrors. So far, they are working their shell game with seeming success. The charade will continue until someone shouts 'Look, the king has no clothes.'

HSR made material promises which have been repeatedly finessed by inept management. Yet those who realize this have yet to ask, let alone convince, the right people to STOP THE FUNDING.

Off-ramps built into funding milestones are there.

Missing is the effective oversight and those with the courage to say, 'Wait, this is not unfolding anywhere close to what HSR promised earlier. Stop funding unless/until material promises are met.'

When the flow of funds stops (the state and feds are in for less than $2B at this point), the state is saved from one the most mis-managed, divisive and expensive boondoggles in history.

Who has the political courage to stop this HSR charade for all the valid reasons everyone can see?

Palo Alto Council is on the right track.


Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 16, 2010 at 8:23 am

Councilman Klein certainly has it right now.

Two years ago, when you had Diridon and Kopp exponding 117 million passengers per year, cost to build of 32 billion dollars,it was easy to be deceived. It seemed wonderful for everyone. Tt was not hard to believe what the "snakeoil" salesmaen were peddling.

Look at all the state legislators that were taken in by all of this, many of whom are still taken in. About the only guy who insisted on looking behind the facade, was Senator Alan Lowenthal. His 58 page report and subsequent comittee meetings really started to get some understanding of what this project was really all about.

Now we begin to understand failings as underscored by the State auditor's report, the LAO's report, still inadequate business plan, and ridershiop projections that most certainly have little credibility.


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:43 pm

The council should be allocating money to trench HSR.

Spending money on high-priced attorneys and lawsuits is just taxpayer
money down the drain and that money won't be available to make things better in the future.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2010 at 1:07 pm

If HSR put in tunnels, they would have no opposition. They want to run this project for their own benefit, not for what works best to make this a regional resource.

If HSR put in a tunnel up the Peninsula -- would cal train operate in the tunnel? Now there's a thought. If the result of this was an extended bicycle and pedestrian right of way all the way up the peninsula and no more train crossings, you'd have everyone on board (so to speak).

HSR doesn't want to do that, because they say it would be too expensive. Okay, you can't have everything you want. But it doesn't mean a reasonable alternative is to destroy small, densely populated communities with expanded above-ground rail structures.

I have never been more impressed by our city counsel. Thanks for keeping on top of this!


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Misled? Perhaps brainwashed. I remember another politician who said he had been brainwashed. Whatever happened to him?


Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 16, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I'm just wondering what numbers Hatch Mott McDonald came up with.

Maybe they should split the difference. HSR builds the trench (although I wonder how that works at the north end of town), but casts shoulders into the concrete. If the city wants a cover, they can cover it where they want to.


Like this comment
Posted by AHA
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Parent said:

"If HSR put in tunnels, they would have no opposition. "

Now, there is the truth. All the arguments about the project being a boondoggle and a waste of taxpayer money etc... are just a front for those who oppose HSR only because they once chose to live close to the railroad tracks.

Thanks for providing proof of this.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 17, 2010 at 12:06 am

More lies from the CAHSRA.

I don't live near the tracks and I've been saying for quite some time that HSR will be an albatross around the taxpayers' neck for decades to come. It will never, ever run in the black or recoup its construction costs. Do you really think this state is in a position to take on the amount of debt this project will require?

This project is very much in a state of flux as key decisions are still being made -- after the bond election. They don't even know whether they will tunnel, trench, run at grade or put up aerial viaducts down the peninsula. I very much doubt the $42 billion figure that was sold to voters in 2008 has any basis in reality any more, after all the modifications to the original plan are taken into account. Clearly they went to the voters with a half-baked plan in 2008 (they didn't even have access to the UPRR right of way but kept that from the voters) and they are just now fleshing out the details. No wonder these projects encounter "cost overruns".


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2010 at 3:22 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

How else are we going to get needed improvements on the corridor?


Like this comment
Posted by Jenny
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:08 am

I'm proud to say I voted against HSR because there were two things we knew for sure at the time. one, the cost $35 Billion (later increased to $43 Billion) and two the fact that HSR would be traveling through PA at 200 MPH (later lowered to 125 MPH) - that was enough for me to vote "NO" on HSR. I just don't get it when Larry Kline and others told us to vote for it, and then said they were misled. They weren't misled, they just didn't think, or bother to read the details.


Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:36 am

Although it would be great, especially if it included the bike trail, he tunnel idea is problematic for many reasons, partly because of the streams that run through town. I'm not an engineer but if a closed trench could have a pedestrian bike trail on top, this would be great for our community and for the whole peninsula. No more easy access to the dangerous tracks, no hideous 'thirty foot wall', green transportation to ease the traffic on our freeways, etc, etc. As a community we need to be fighting for this rather than stonewalling against HSR just because some of us have become hysterical over our property values. (You know who you are) Any home within a block of the current tracks is negatively affected already by the noise, the ugliness, and the sad reality of people trying to reach the tracks out of despair. Can we pull together in favor of something wonderful instead of lashing out with disingenuous 'boondoggle' objections when really we're trying to protect just our own little piece of Palo Alto?


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of another community
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:51 am

> I'm just wondering what numbers Hatch Mott McDonald came up with.

I am shocked and surprised that a tunneling firm would conclude that tunneling is feasible and that tunneling options were improperly eliminated from consideration. That is a truly amazing outcome that should give pause to every Palo Altan.


Like this comment
Posted by Dennis "galen" Mitrzyk
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 17, 2010 at 10:15 am

I agree, Larry Klein does have this right and Burt doesn't get it. This is literally a fight for our way of life here on the Peninsula.

I wonder how much of our money is being spent by the PR firm of the HSRA to post comments here critical of those of us who are sane enough to see this for what it really is: an unforgivable betrayal of the public trust, abuse of office, and political skullduggery of a criminal nature.

If we don't very soon wake up to the sordid reality of this unconscionable treachery, we will be paying for this monstrosity for generations to come.


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 17, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Folks,

Feel free to change your minds based on all the new information on HSR. However, please don't go back to whining when the economy is growing again and you can't get a flight to LA because we've reached runway capacity, or the drive on I-5 takes twelve hours due to traffic. If the state had not rescued Caltrain from SP (hence the name), who knows what that corridor would look like now. HSR is our best chance to have safer, quieter, cleaner, faster rail transportation up the peninsula, befitting Silicon Valley in the 21st Century. We voted for it, we are certainly getting sufficient chance to comment on it, but many of us seem to have already made up our minds. Either side of the discussion, just "be careful what you wish for".


Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 17, 2010 at 5:24 pm

Oberver, I can't help but notice that you are not a resident likely to be impacted by HSR in terms of noise, visual blocks, or a drop in property values, so your criticism of those who are concerned doesn't hold water. Every resident has not only a right, but an obligation, to educate themselves about proposed changes in Palo Alto and decide if it is in their, as well as the community's, best interest. It is no different than those concerned about humongous houses that infringe on privacy and a sense of neighborhood, or road development that impacts traffic and safety, or putting in a Home Depot. I've grown weary of hearing criticism of those who want to protect their community, their investment, and the financial future of our state, especially with so many red flags attached to the HSR project and the apparent dishonesty of those hawking it.

BTW, I love trains, have spent many months traveling my trains in Europe and live near the Caltrain tracks. The train traffic doesn't bother me at all. I chose to live where I do because it was what I could afford and I do not see the trains as a bad thing at all.

Yes, I oppose HSR partly because I do not want berms or elevated tracks in my backyard, a traffic nightmare on Alma because of lane reductions, and I do not want trains coming through every 3 minutes. The tunnels would solve that. However, my objections extend way beyond local issues --- the evidence from neutral sources place great doubt on the financial and ridership figures the HSR folks provide and I believe as others do that this will be a financial albatross the State can ill afford. It is also hard to believe that people will choose to travel 5 hours RT when they can get there by plane in 2-2.5hrs. (of actual travel time; neither counts parking, waiting in line, etc.), and likely at less cost. A family vacation, perhaps; a business commute twice a week, not likely. It is the latter that is needed to make this a viable alternative.


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2010 at 7:57 pm

<< when the economy is growing again and you can't get a flight to LA because we've reached runway capacity, or the drive on I-5 takes twelve hours due to traffic. >>

Even during the dot-com boom I don't recall there being such a glut of SF - LA travel that the scenario you describe took place. I've made the trip on I-5 scores of times and traffic has never been so bad that it took 12 hours.

Nowadays, with all the outsourcing of manufacturing, business meetings are more likely to include participants located overseas. Teleconferencing makes much more sense than a train trip to or from L.A. because you can include participants in the midwest, on the east coast, overseas or wherever. What industries have a significant presence in both northern and southern California that requires a large volume of travel between the two, sufficient to help HSR pay for itself?

Right now California is $4 billion in debt. Even at the estimated cost of $42 billion, this is approximately 10 times the current state debt for a project which will serve a small fraction of the state's population. As someone else asked, what will be the REAL cost of building this system when the inevitable cost overruns and modifications to the original plan are taken into account?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 17, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Just to add water to the mix, the future of business travel is probably not going to be for meetings as many have stated due to the advances in technology. No the future of business travel is going to be in conferences and trade shows. Every aspect of every profession has its own conferences, trade shows and networking shindig. As the economy improves, these will increase and get even more specialized. For any successful professional, the need to be at these will become more and more important. HSR will definitely be a great mode of transport to get there, particularly when it comes to transporting the various components needed to display and market the latest products. Air travel is not going to be able to do that as efficiently as a train can.


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Proponents of HSR assume business travelers need to go between S.F. and L.A./Anaheim and points in between. If the future of business travel is in conferences and trade shows as Resident suggests, they could be held in S.F., L.A. or Anaheim but HSR will only be of use to those living along the route. For someone from Chicago, New York, Boston, wherever, attending a trade show in Anaheim, HSR will be of no use to them. If a convention is held in Las Vegas, HSR will be of no use to anyone.

WRT shipping crates of trade show hardware, I doubt HSR will have the capability of moving that kind of cargo.


Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Sep 19, 2010 at 2:22 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

chris, a resident of the University South neighborhood, on Sep 16, 2010 commented:

The council should be allocating money to trench HSR.

Spending money on high-priced attorneys and lawsuits is just taxpayer

money down the drain and that money won't be available to make things better in the future.

AGREED!
The article states: But Hatch Mott McDonald, a civil-engineering firm that specializes in underground transportation, wrote in its analysis that the cost differences between open and closed trenches in the authority's analysis report are "simply not believable."
The rail authority estimated that the cost difference between the two options would be more than $300 million per mile, which the peer review calls not reasonable.....
I do think the council should determine what they think is a reasonable cost - based on the Hatch report, and be prepared to pay it.
However, here's the rub: The cut & cover - which I believe to be the same as 'covered or closed trench' will ONLY BE FOR THE HSR tracks - leaving Caltrain & freight running on the surface - that means the current grade crossings, including the infamous one at East Meadow, remain as is - is this really what the city wants - to spend so much funds and not get this type of benefit? Seems implausible to me....


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2010 at 9:37 am

At 4.34 miles that's approximately $1.3 billion, and that's just their estimate of the difference, not the absolute cost -- that's one expensive bike path. The city doesn't have that kind of money to simply "allocate". Attorney fees are a mere drop in the bucket by comparison. It also raises questions about how a trench would work given the creeks it would cut across, including San Francisquito, and how it would avoid damage to the El Palo Alto tree. Supposedly the HSR trains are limited in their ability to take curves and change grade, so diverting the tracks between the Palo Alto depot and El Palo Alto would be a hurdle.


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 20, 2010 at 9:46 am

Arnie has arranged for the Chinese to finance HSR. Don't worry about California having to borrow or find investors on the open market.


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2010 at 11:45 am

Not only China but Japan, too. They want to build the hardware and finance the project, so they will make out on both the manufacturing and the loan interest. Yes, HSR will create jobs -- overseas. And you can wave goodbye to your federal stimulus tax dollars as they leave for Asia while Californians get stuck with the interest payments and the perpetual HSR subsidy, as if California needs more debt. One has to wonder what's in it for the Gubernator after he leaves office. He's a lame duck anyway so what does he care?

I don't think it's a done deal yet, but give it time.


Like this comment
Posted by wary traveler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2010 at 11:48 am

"One has to wonder what's in it for the Gubernator after he leaves office. He's a lame duck anyway so what does he care?"

Legacy.


Like this comment
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2010 at 3:42 pm

<< "One has to wonder what's in it for the Gubernator after he leaves office. He's a lame duck anyway so what does he care?"

Legacy. >>

I'm thinking there may be more to it than mere legacy, but that is total conjecture on my part.


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

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