There are several possible explanations for the railroad's move:
Union Pacific is positioning itself for negotiations on any future sale of right of way to the California High Speed Rail Authority.
Union Pacific, in the historically civic-minded nature of railroads in California, is genuinely concerned about the safety of rail passengers.
Union Pacific doesn't know what it's talking about.
The high-speed rail authority has never considered buying existing Union Pacific right of way. Instead, the proposed route would carry trains near the existing tracks in some areas -- not on them. High-speed rail requires dedicated tracks, with grade separations and barriers that keep the trains away from all other trains, as well as other vehicles and pedestrians.
Ouch. Personally I doubt the UP is being civic-minded - it's not really in their nature - but I understand where the Bee is going with this formulation. The editorial also makes a crucial point - we're not talking about putting HSR right next to freight trains, at least not on the sections UP owns.
Union Pacific is correct to preserve its ability to expand. Increased rail freight capacity is as important to California and the nation as building high-speed passenger lines. With the cost of diesel fuel soaring even higher than gasoline, and considering the tremendous pollution that diesel engines cause, we're all better off when freight moves by rail rather than by truck.
But Union Pacific's "safety concerns" might be more usefully focused on the dangers its trains and tracks pose in the neighborhoods they travel through, here in Fresno and elsewhere.
The Bee is right to point to freight rail's importance to our economy. I agree that UP ought to be able to expand - and the Bee is right that HSR doesn't impede that ability.
I also think we should keep in mind the relationship of the UP and the public. They were the original public-private partnership - we gave them huge land grant subsidies in exchange for building the transcontinental rail infrastructure that we realized was needed for the economic growth of the West Coast. Since then government has given them numerous subsidies and perks, such as protection from certain kind of state regulation, their own police force, deregulation of labor rules in recent years, and massive publicly-funded construction projects like the Alameda Corridor.
We need to keep in mind that UP isn't any random private company, but a company created specifically to serve the public interest. There is nothing wrong with insisting they not impede the public, and reminding them of that obligation is a good idea right about now. Political leadership, especially from our Congressional delegation, would help UP understand this - and that if they want to expand their freight operations, they should help us expand our passenger rail services.