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Palo Alto calls for 'termination' of high-speed rail

Original post made on Dec 20, 2011

In a dramatic reversal from its position three years ago, the Palo Alto City Council on Monday night adopted as the city's official position a call for termination of California's beleaguered high-speed-rail project.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, December 19, 2011, 11:54 PM

Comments (35)

Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 20, 2011 at 1:22 am

Regrettably, the High-Speed Rail Authority has proven to be anything but an 'authority.' 'Shill' is clearly more accurate.

Buying a $100 billion pig-in-a-poke from a shill would be the height of lunacy. Even state and federal politicians can't be that dumb.

Californians can ill afford the stretch required to reach for the HSR brass ring, especially since it is not brass at all, but rather fools gold.

Kill the HSR turkey, kill it now, before it pecks us all to death.

Posted by Railman77
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 20, 2011 at 3:40 am

Can we wait until 2033 for a 2 1/2 hour ride to Disneyland? Yup...and half the fun will be getting there. I hope to be employed by the construction of the HSR and help link the North with the South with this clean and green technology. There will be a boom in population here and the HSR is the right answer to this boom. Ninety-eight billions will also help the economy here so I can put food on the table for my families.

Posted by Willie Green
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2011 at 7:52 am

The necessity for regional passenger rail service is driven by diminishing supplies of easily extractable fossil fuels. As the global price of oil continues to relentlessly increase, automotive and inefficient, short-hop airline travel will become less affordable than what we've enjoyed for the last 45~55 years. Fuel efficient intercity passenger rail service for trips between 100~450 miles is inevitable.

This is a long-term economic trend that cannot be escaped by political rhetoric or demagoquery. It is a shame that Palo Alto City Council doesn't recognize that fact. They are among the many short-sighted, petty, local bureaucrats who are the "red tape" in adapting our transportation infrastructure to accommodate the energy realities of the 21st Century Global Economy. We can expect them to continue to just sit there and scratch their heads while our economy continues to decline.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2011 at 8:39 am


Most of the electricity used in California is generated using fossil fuels; the same electricity generation that would power HSR.

Why hasn't the California State Legislature & Governor Brown come out against HSR? They need to approve the bond sales for the initial segment, and what has been proposed so far does not meet the conditions in the bond measure that the voters approved.

Governor Brown has proposed new taxes to avoid cuts to education and other services, yet the HSR is one area they defund.

Union campaign contributions and other special interest money is influencing the governor & state legislature. Where is Simitian & Gordon? Still doing campaign fundraisers?

Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 20, 2011 at 8:50 am

Councilmember Nancy Shepherd put it very well and succinctly--what was voted for in 2008 is not what now is on the table.

I guess this particluar HSR idea will die by the proverbial "death of a thousand cuts." PA City Council's position this week is a major slice.

Posted by It-Takes-Power-To-Drive-The-Train
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2011 at 8:51 am

> Most of the electricity used in California is generated using fossil
> fuels; the same electricity generation that would power HSR.

Absolutely. Unless, of course, someone at the HSRA has some ideas about promoting nuclear power generation facilities at some point.

It is astounding that people can not recognize that power has to be generated somewhere. If it is not generated in the engine of a fossil-fueled locomotive, it will have to generated somewhere on the electric power grid. And wherever that place is, some "pollution" is going to be generated. And, once the "pollution" is airborne, then it can end up right back here where the "greenies" live.

Can the most intelligent people in the world really be this stupid?

Posted by Willie Green
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2011 at 9:48 am

@ "common sense" in Midtown neighborhood.

Electric power is generated from a variety of sources: Coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, wind, solar, etc.
But for the most part, not Oil.
Oil is primarily used for transportation.
We are addicted to Oil.
Traditional Oil wells are drying up. We either have to drill deeper and deeper offshore (expensive) or shift to "unconventional" resources (tar sands and oil shales.)
Although North America has vast quantities of tar sands and oil shales, we have ignored them for many decades because they are inferior to traditional petroleum. They are basicly very low-grade, low-quality crud that is very expensive to extract and convert to usable product.
But because traditional petroleum is drying up, we are now using more and more of the expensive crud for transportation.
That is why automotive and short-hop airline travel are less affordable than what we've become accustomed to for the last 45~55 years.
That is why we need fuel efficient passenger rail systems.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 20, 2011 at 10:51 am

It continues to amaze me that the pro-HSR folks continue to ignore the astronomical costs of designing and building the rail line and then the never will break-even or make a profit operational costs. Complete denial.

They also continue to ignore the fact that the "business plan" calls for substantial private investment --- which has not been given a sniff by anyone, including all of the flush VC's and/or all of the private (mercenary) development firms (e.g., Bechtel) who always are looking to profit off of the government dollar/investment.

Another way to look at it - only China seems interested in the project...which should tell you that they see yet another way to take advantage of the US Government and it's financial mismanagement of our debt ridden budget.

If you can't get the private sector to invest, that should be a clear signal that the project should stop now.

Cal HSR = Bernie Madoff as the engineer and conductor or this train wreck!!!

Posted by Dr Doodle
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:28 am

Not so long ago Palo Alto was up in arms about how HSR was going to destroy the community with eminent domain, elevated structures, dozens of trains per hour, etc. Now that the HSR authority has backed down and agreed to Simitian's blended plan, the City Council seems to accept that HSR would NOT destroy the community that it represents. But the City Council is now up in arms about how the entire statewide project is a boondoggle, and seems to have anointed itself the guardian of the citizens of California. So is the Council now planning to speak out against other big regional or statewide projects that are a waste of money, even if (like blended HSR) they don't have any particularly bad consequences for Palo Alto? BART to San Jose is a boondoggle, and so is the Muni Central Subway. Is Palo Alto opposing those projects, which are no longer the same projects that they were when voters approved them? Does Palo Alto oppose the many state parks, water, and school bonds that are loaded with pork and that the state can't afford?

Posted by Wilbur
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:29 am

> That is why we need fuel efficient passenger rail systems.

And that means a $100B (to start) train system that will carry only a handful of people, compared to the highway system?

Right ..

Fiber optics and effective use of video conferencing systems will reduce the need for a lot of travel, making the HSR obsolete before it is ever built.

Posted by MT
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 20, 2011 at 11:44 am

Posted by Railman77: Ninety-eight billions will also help the economy here so I can put food on the table for my families.

True, however the food will be coming from other people plates. One have to consider the cost to the society, not just personal gains.

Posted by Jim Holsworth
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

The rail authority analysis fails to mention what the ALTERNATIVE travel situation will be in 2033. It fails to discuss technical obsolescence of fixed rail which is technology of 19th and 20th century. Do emerging countries invest in land-line infrastructure today? No - they invest in cellular systems. Here are some of the technology changes that I beleive will make the HSR obsolete before it is built.

1. Less travel due to video conferencing

2. Self driving cars that can virtually hook together to effectively produce safe transportation anywhere in the state. Not just in a single fixed route.
Google has already demonstrated self driving cars. By 2030 cars will be very efficient using electricity or hydrogen. Computers will be an order of magnitude faster providing car-car processing, GPS etc.
Even if we didn't have fully automated self driving cars, even today it would be possible to produce efficient car chaining on freeways like I5.

Even if the HSR was everything they want it to be in 2033 then what do we do with increasing traffic demand between 2011- 2032?

The authority says the rail is necessary because of the huge traffic demands that will exist in 2033. Unfortunately, until it is completely built end to end, they have no solution for the years 2011-2032. So highways will have to expand anyway, or cars will have to become self driving to meet this expanding need.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:28 pm

willie - note that I said fossil fuel (which includes oil, natural gas & coal). Coal is one of the more environmentally harmful sources of energy.

Another expense that has NOT been factored in is the increase in electrical utility rates ALL Californians would have to pay for the higher electrical demand from the HSR

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Personally, I don't care at all what the individuals on our City council think about HSR. They can have an opinion on how it is going to run through Palo Alto, but apart from that, it is not what they are elected to do. They can lobby to move the route elsewhere, but not opine on the system generally.

Palo Alto city council are elected to lead city issues, not state, national or international issues.

There are much more pressing issues for them, like how to get more businesses to move to Palo Alto now that Facebook has left and the empty offices all over town - not just downtown or SBP.

Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I am just glad that our vote on this one is holding strong!
Unless they can put it (HSR) underground, I don't think it is necessary.
Traveling by car, train or plane to LA is just fine with me - I do it now and will continue as needed!
Stay Stong Palo Alto, Menlo & Atherton!

Posted by Robert
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm

The projected cost of HSR has risen from $40 billion to nearly $100 billion. My bet is (looking at the typical cost escalation of massive public projects) that the cost will eventually rise to $140 billion. Not counting the interest paid on the necessary borrowing involved, that would amount to $3,753 from every man, woman and child in the state, over time. And that wouldn't count the massive subsidies required to keep it running.

Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

I don't understand why self-proclaimed environmentalists continue to make arguments for HSR that seem to contradict their environmental beliefs.

For example, a claimed big benefit for HSR is that it makes would make it cheaper and easier to go to entertainment venues and events in southern CA, and that it would facilitate taking more such trips. Yet they can't explain the environmental advantage of encouraging more people to take more long-distance trips (with the energy consumption involved).

For example, one of the goals of HSR is to facilitate the urbanization of the Central Valley -- they don't trumpet this, but you see it in their presentations and statements of support from the groups that would profit from this. This urbanization is also necessary to support HSR's questionable ridership projections (people commuting from deep in the Central Valley to SJ/SF or LA). Yet reasonable environmental policy is to discourage such urbanization, both to protect farmland and because housing in the Central Valley has high energy usage.

Posted by galen
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm

I'm simply amazed that anyone is still trying to claim that HSR is a "green" transportation solution. What part of the projected 77-year-carbon-break-even point do these geniuses not understand? Yes, that's right, it will take 77 years before the massive amount of pollution created by the construction of this audacious boondoggle will break even with the amount of pollution reduced by the operation of the HSR. Do the math people, this turkey will not save one single bit of the environment until 2110! Still think your choo-choo train is such a brilliant idea?

Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2011 at 4:26 pm

ALL countries that have HSR subsidize them. This means that we taxpayers will pay the billions of dollars to build the system and will forever pay to keep it running. The cost estimates are still low balled, and ridership projections over-stated.

A question not answered is; how can the train average 200 mph if it has to make many stops along the way to pick up passengers needed to support the system? To stay afloat it may become a local milk train!!

Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 20, 2011 at 4:56 pm

It is evident the new HSR PR firm is now all over these posts with one deflecting rationalization after the other.

Railman77, Willie Green, and Dr Doolittle are obvious shills.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I wish people would use their brains before posting here.

New energy sources will be required to supplement energy requirements in California with or without HSR. The electric car bunch, and self drive cars will still need electricity from somewhere even if Palo Alto gives it away for free.

The future is not the same as the past. We don't have our grandparents' driving habits and our grandkids will not have ours. Of course transportation requirements will change. That is what happens.

Not every train will stop at every station. Look at baby bullets, look at how many trains don't stop at any given Caltrain station. Of course there will be different trains that will meet different needs.

Look at the channel tunnel. Not every train is going from London to Paris and not all trains are non-stop. Some even carry cars!

Don't be so narrow thinking. New ways to move around the state will have to happen regardless. Freeway driving is not free for motorists, we all pay for it. HSR or whatever system we end up with will be a smart option for future generations.

Stop closing your minds to innovation and try to stop thinking in the past.

Posted by Kill-It-Now
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 20, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Kill It Now.
In any case, it should come up the East Bay first, where it can be extended to Sacramento. If it is not viable there (passengers exit and take BART or taxi to SF just as they do from the airport today), it surely won't be viable up the Peninsula.

Posted by CrunchyCookie
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

CrunchyCookie is a registered user.

Kill it now, kill it fast, kill it once and for all. Score a rare victory for logic, reason, and environmentalism alike.

It wouldn't even matter if California's population hit 100 billion; there will NEVER be masses of riders making a 3-hour commute between the north / south ends of the state on anything more than a monthly basis. People's lives just don't work that way.

Focus on advancing public transportation WITHIN METRO AREAS!

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm

The bottom line for me is the realization that this proposal is NOT worth the $100 BILLION that it is proposed to cost...

...and that this current proposal is NOT the same one that was passed by a slight majority in 2008.

While I understand the suggestion that alternative forms of transportation may be the way that society ultimately shifts, but this current plan just isn't a cost effective way of accomplishing this.

After all, it would be nice if we could all have no other automotive choices except for 100% electric vehicles. However, if Congress passed a law next week requiring them, the cost per vehicle would skyrocket to the point that only members of Congress (and other very wealthy people) could afford them.

For new technologies to be viable on a large level, they have to be cost effective. This was one of the reasons that Tesla Motors decided to start at the high end when producing electric vehicles. Wealthy people have disposable income and are willing to part with the $200K needed to purchase a small sports coupe a few years ago. This allowed them to build the company slowly over time.

Right now, this group wants to force California residents to invest $100 Billion on a very fast train that cuts through the center of the state from San Jose to L.A. It would be completed in about 25-30 years using technology that is already more than a decade old.

Although a noble idea, $100 Billion is simply too much to ask of a state that can't even balance its budget.

Posted by Julius
a resident of Monroe Park
on Dec 21, 2011 at 8:11 am

Let's use a fraction of the funding and right-of-way along the route to lay heavy-duty optical fiber instead. Let high-quality Skype connections replace physical travel.

Posted by Cid Young
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Unbelievable NIMBIES!

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Hey Cid Young,

HSR is looking for private investors - Why don't you sign for a personal loan guarentee of $1 million and invest it in HSR? All we need is 100,000 people to do this, and the HSR can be built.

What - you don't want to? What a NIMBY you are, that you won't invest in HSR...

Posted by Yes it IS nimby-ism
a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Let's face it. The cost may be an issue, but the REAL reason some Palo Alto residents oppose HSR is that they knowingly bought a house near the tracks and now don't want things changed even though they always knew the tracks may change.

Posted by Madam President
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I fully support Dr Doodle, Resident, & Yes it IS nimby-ism's comments

Posted by The Real Reason
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 21, 2011 at 2:58 pm

It may be a good point, as someone supporting HSR wrote, that "but the REAL reason some Palo Alto residents oppose HSR is ..."

It may well be that there are a variety of reasons to oppose HSR.

Cost, negative environmental impact, corruption, proven certainty of project mismanagement, passing technological prowess to China or wherever the contract ends up, violating the proposition approved by the public, etc.

My reason is that it's like building a skyscraper without a foundation. The missing foundation is local public transit supporting a trip from almost anywhere in the area to the HSR station in a reasonable amount of time.

This local mass transit is not only a required foundation for HSR. It also is in its own right an infrastructure with a more important impact on our population and economic growth, lifestyle, diversity, and control over pollution and climate change multipliers than that of HSR.

I think there's general consensus that HSR would raise the value of property and lower the quality of life nearby the tracks. You cannot legitimately claim that those who own property nearby and oppose HSR are greedy or selfish. The renters who live nearby may be, but they can more easily move somewhere else. The property owners near HSR who oppose it are looking out for the greater good.

Not usually the proper target of a label of "NIMBY."

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

If people use the "NIMBY" slur often enough, they might go mute.

Well, not really. However, people might stop listening to them or taking their words seriously.

After all, this has less to do with our "back yard" and more to do with concerns about fiscal responsibility. After all, a 2/3 majority of California residents (an awfully large "back yard") are highly concerned with how the plan has morphed into something other than what was approved of in 2008 and would like to put this up for another vote.

More people might want a high speed rail -- if it didn't cost an estimated $100 Billion and take 25 years to build between San Jose and L.A. And, of course, there is this nagging concern that certain demands will cause the final cost to exceed the current proposed cost...especially when the state can't even balance its own budget.

I'm not sure how that fits in with the condescending "NIMBY" label, but I guess that people can keep using that acronym if it makes them feel better.

Posted by Perspective
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 22, 2011 at 7:57 am

I am always amazed at how much "living" a plan brings home to the cognition the foolish and predicted results.

I can't understand how intelligent people can support something in the face of all contrary evidence, all historical data showing it to be a bad idea..but that dang human "hope" and "denial" gene just doesn't want to let go.

I am glad the Council is finally waking up to the reality projected years ago. I guess on the very local level, like the
State and National level, too many of us simply have to live out the consequences of our choices to get to reality. Bummer these folks drag the rest of us with them, but I suppose better late than never.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 22, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I'm fine with those who live near the tracks and oppose the expansion of the Caltrain right of way. Yes, they bought next to a commuter railroad --- but no one can say that there was plan on the books to make the right of way a high speed corridor. Nor can anyone point to the documentation of risk of losing property to the HSR effort. At least not until the last 2 years.

The bottom line (still) is that the project is so far out of control budget-wise, and it will only get worse. And under these circumstances, the HSR proponents continue to ignore the costs and choose not recognize this huge albatross around the HSR neck. They try to redirect attention to NIMBYism --- how about NIMSism (not in my state).

If we are going to tax ourselves into oblivion - I would rather see the money go to schools, state universities, updating/repairing current infrastructure. Not to a toy train that is clearly set up to bring people to and from Disneyland - read the plan, that's where "Phase I" will terminate, not San Diego as previously proposed. And "no" to a project that is obviously Caltrain's "sugar daddy" towards funding electrification - as Caltrain cannot afford to do it any other way.

Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm

I have never seen any documentation describing how CAHSR will be powered, i.e. how much electricity it will consume, where it will come from and how it will be generated.

I have never seen a survey of potential riders showing how CAHSR will compete against airlines and auto travel.

I have no idea what a ticket will actually cost, but with the ever-spiraling estimates and inevitable cost overruns, I've got to think it won't be cheap.

I don't know how much of the hardware will be built outside the U.S., or how many jobs will be created abroad vs. at home, or how many federal and state tax dollars will leave the U.S. to build this thing. I do know that Governor Schwarzenegger traveled to Japan, China and South Korea in late 2010 to look into building the HSR hardware there.

Talk about a pig in a poke. There are too many unanswered questions.

Politicians who say it's not the same project they supported in 2008 are weaseling out. The project was just as fraught with problems in 2008 as it is today, but in 2011 it has become a lot more expensive.

Posted by jetgraphics
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2011 at 9:05 am

If the people really want electric traction rail, low, medium or high speed, then they should build it. But it should be obvious that using GOVERNMENT to fund, manage or meddle with it is an unequivocal DISASTER in the making.

Government was created to secure rights. That should be the limit of its authority and activity. Funding services or meddling in anything else is contrary to its chartered powers.

Better solution:
Instead of giving taxpayer monies, via government (and its tendency to take a cut, manipulate, give favors, and increase corruption), let's just NOT TAKE TAXES from it.
[] Give any company, investor, or employee, who is 100% involved in the manufacture, installation, operation or repair of electric traction rail mass transit ZERO TAX LIABILITY.

If the activity was worthy of subsidy, then it should be worthy of not being hassled by government.

It does not take partisan politics to not tax. Nor does it take a huge administration to account for not paying taxes. It doesn't impose delays for tax payer funded "studies" used to placate political gunslingers or delay making decisions until after the next election.

And the ONLY WAY those businesses, investors and employees make money is if they can move more passengers for less cost in the shortest period of time.

Getting America "Back on Track" is worth it.

But since government is loathe to surrender power or revenues, such a simple solution will not happen. And it's the people's own fault.

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