UPDATE: Note that in fact the tracks from Diridon Station to a point called "Lick" 3 miles south, about where the tracks reach Monterey Highway, are owned by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB), as Rafael pointed out in the comments. I've updated the post to reflect that info.
This weekend Peninsula residents are gathering at the Palo Alto Sheraton to discuss possible designs for the Caltrain/HSR project through Menlo Park, Atherton, and Palo Alto. I'm going to have to miss this event, but it's worth noting their task is significantly easier than the much more complicated and difficult question of HSR implementation just a few miles down the tracks in San José.
The Willow Glen and Gardner neighborhoods, located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, are wrestling with the question of how to implement HSR through their communities. Like their neighbors on the Peninsula, they too have an existing railroad running through their community, which as on the Peninsula predated the homes.
But unlike the Peninsula, Willow Glen and Gardner in particular have other major transportation systems impacting and dividing their neighborhoods. I-280 and the CA-87 freeways have already cut through significant portions of both areas. These neighborhoods also lie in the flight path of Mineta San Jose Airport, whose runways are located about 2 miles or so to the north, meaning there is significant aircraft noise in this neighborhood.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the existing tracks south of
Diridon Station a point 3 miles south of Diridon called "Lick" (thanks to Rafael for the clairification), currently used by a few Caltrains to/from Gilroy and the twice-daily Coast Starlight, are owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The ROW through the Gardner neighborhood appears to be wide enough to accommodate four tracks, including the existing two that comprise the northern end of the UPRR Coast Line. Of course, as we know, UPRR is not in a mood to actually share that ROW. And that causes a significant problem for both HSR planners and the surrounding neighborhood. (Again, noting the correction above, the segment through the Gardner neighborhood is indeed owned by PCJPB.)
View Willow Glen/Gardner in a larger map
That's why the CHSRA is hosting a community meeting at the Gardner Community Center Tuesday, October 6 from 6 to 8pm to discuss the issue. As the Mercury News explains it, the popular proposal in Gardner and Willow Glen is to move the tracks to Highway 87:
Residents of Willow Glen and the Greater Gardner area including David Dearborn, Jean Dresden, Michelle Harris and Harvey Darnell submitted pages of questions for the "scoping" document that will set the parameters of the draft environmental impact report.
Dresden and Dearborn — who has worked in technical fields for 30 years — drafted a plan called "Thread The Needle," which describes in detail how the rail line could trace Highway 87 through the Interstate 280 interchange. It would run underground in the Delmas Park area to the Diridon train station.
Rail leaders say perhaps a compatible option would be to replace the Valley Transportation Authority's light-rail line along Highway 87 with a high-speed line, although it is unclear if the VTA would allow it.
I'd love to see this plan, which I could not find online, because I'm quite curious about how this would work in practice. Moreover, I'm also quite curious about how the hell VTA would continue light rail service on the Santa Teresa and Almaden lines if their median tracks in Highway 87 are taken, even if just for the few miles between Curtner Ave and the 280 interchange. VTA light rail is a "struggling" system, but as Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic noted, better land use policy in the Silicon Valley would help make the system much more effective. The "Thread the Needle" plan seems to suggest abandoning light rail along the Highway 87 corridor almost entirely (which is one reason I want to see the actual plan). You can't actually widen the Highway 87 to accommodate both HSR and light rail tracks, since to do so you'd have to encroach on the same
Neighborhood residents say they support the HSR project, even though they exhibit the same errant thinking about the place of rails in communities as some folks on the Peninsula:
Michelle Harris, a 48-year-old Cisco engineer who lives on Fuller Avenue, said many people in the Gardner area want the route moved to Highway 87.
"In older neighborhoods, the Caltrain tracks go through quaint parts of town. Putting a 200 mph train through it is kind of like putting a freeway through it," Harris said.
Harris, the secretary of the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, also said that many neighbors support the rail project and voted for Proposition 1A in 2008. They want to be close to a train station that would take them to other cities, she said.
As you can tell, the problem here is that Harris has it backwards - the neighborhood "goes through" the rail corridor, which was there before the houses. But what about the "200 mph train" - is that actually what would be implemented in the neighborhood (and even if it were, wouldn't the noise be FAR less than that of the two existing freeways and certainly less than the existing Caltrains)?
Rail leaders have said in public meetings that trains would travel about 60 mph if they negotiated the curves of the Caltrain line through the Gardner area, but they did not deny that noise and vibration would be issues unless soundwalls or tunnels were built.
Notice, of course, that saying noise and vibration would be "issues" isn't the same as saying they'd impact the neighborhood the same way as a freeway would.
In the end, the real issue here is UPRR. Running HSR trains through Gardner at 60 mph on the existing tracks (it's just beyond Diridon Station, so you have to assume trains were never going to be running a whole lot faster than that) would be a perfectly sensible solution that would cause the minimum impact on the community. But since UPRR refuses to allow
Here again I renew my call for California's federal representatives to get involved. As the only body with the ability to actually push UPRR to be more willing to share its ROW. As a creation of the US government, with much of its land and ROW given to it freely by the government, UPRR should be more willing to find a reasonable accommodation with the HSR project.