Saturday, February 28, 2009

Why Does The Media Feed the Trolls?

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

If you went solely by this Mercury News article you might think Palo Alto is full of HSR deniers who are willing to put their ignorance of trains and their narrow conception of property values above the state's dire need to build mass transit alternatives in order to solve the economic, energy, and climate crises:

California High Speed Rail representatives posed a question to Palo Alto residents Thursday night: "How do we come through Palo Alto?"

"Quiet, and invisible," one resident answered, to applause.

That man's sentiments were echoed throughout a community meeting held by the High Speed Rail Authority at the Mitchell Park Community Center. About 250 residents attended Thursday's public information meeting, many speaking out against the potential of elevated trains running through their neighborhoods and saying they had been intentionally misled when they voted for high-speed rail last November.

If these people believe loud diesel trains that must blare a horn at every grade crossing will be quieter than grade-separated high speed trains, they are out of their minds.

But what really rankles is the claim of "intentionally misled." That's a lie and those making those claims should be called to task for willfully spreading misinformation. This blog has been discussing grade separations on the Peninsula for months. It was common knowledge that HSR would use the Caltrain route and that grade separations would be part of the process. Local media was full of reports on this. If these people weren't aware of that, it wasn't for a lack of information, and they cannot claim anyone "misled" them why they were just too lazy to pay attention.

The article goes further:

Some residents said that when they voted in support of high-speed rail,they didn't realize the train was intended to be above-ground. One man called the ballot measure a "conscious deception" that would bring a "corridor of blight down the entire Peninsula."

"I just assumed it was going to be underground, like everyone else," he said.

Really? You "assumed" something and so we're supposed to cater to your ignorant assumption even though there was no reason to maintain that assumption and widely available evidence to the contrary? No, I don't think so.

Many residents spoke of property values, and one man said he believed houses along the tracks are now "worthless," because no one living there could sell a house today with the potential of high-speed rail taking away a portion of the backyard.

I wonder if that "one man" was Martin Engel. Sure sounds like it. Can anyone living there sell a house with a loud diesel train running on the other side of the fence? If so, they can sell a house with fast electric trains. Further, there is little evidence to suggest that "backyards" will be taken in Palo Alto, where ample ROW already exists for the bulk of the route through the city.

Resident Hinda Sack, who lives about a half-block from the tracks and joked at the meeting about registering Palo Alto as an endangered species, said she had also attended a recent meeting in Santa Clara.

"It's very frustrating and very anxiety-provoking," she said, "because it really feels like there's some agenda that we can't really tap into."

Um, there is: it's called moving California into the 21st century by building trains that will help solve the economic, energy, and environmental crisis. If you were living under a rock when gas prices shot to $4.50, when Caltrain ridership soared, when global warming led to a severe statewide drought, and when California's unemployment rate hit 10.1%, then there isn't really much we can do for you.

Resident Bill Cutler said he lives across the street from the Caltrain tracks. He wasn't as concerned about the method used to build the train — whether it were above or underground, or used a different route — as long as the rail authority found a way to make it quiet and visually unobtrusive. He said the process hadn't had enough public input up until this point, and questioned how seriously the rail authority was listening to residents.

Gesturing toward the comment cards provided, he said, "I wonder where all these comments are going to go."

Well Bill, they go to the California High Speed Rail Authority staff in Sacramento, who look them over and assemble them as part of the final EIR/EIS. They actually get read. And Bill, the Authority held numerous public meetings in recent years and has frequently solicited public comments and input.

These folks quoted in the article certainly sound like they just fell off the turnip truck. But what I find more interesting is why they're even being given all this space in the Mercury News article - and without any actual reporting from the author. Nowhere does the reporter explain to readers that these residents' claims have little basis in fact. Instead Diana Samuels just passes it along without comment - as if they have validity, as if they represent the views of a city whose council endorsed Prop 1A last fall.

NIMBYs, as Dennis Lytton has pointed out:

*believe that everyone wants to take away their home values.

* they idealize the status quo or the recent past (they would tell me that they wished the crime would come back to Hollywood to stop development, for example).

* they believe even the smallest incremental, infinitesimal sacrifice by them for the greater good is too much.

But they are also a small minority that the media uses so that they can write articles that have a counter perspective when there really is no valid one.

The media needs to stop feeding the trolls. NIMBYs do not and cannot be allowed to have a veto over whether HSR gets built. It is good and right that all residents have their voices heard. But that's as far as it goes. If they want to be constructive and help make sure HSR gets built in an effective way for everyone, that's great. If they want to sit there and take potshots because they were too lazy to pay attention before, then that's absurd, and the local media should stop enabling their silliness.


Anonymous said...

As a Palo Alto resident myself, I can verify two very true facts:

1) The current system is horrible in terms of noise. When it's late at night and you near very close to the nasty double crossings of Meadow & Charleston, you hear those UP freight trains. Soundwise, people who live on Park/other nearby streets know that we can't get any worse
2) The people quoted in these stories are a vocal minority. From a journalist's perspective, these people make for far more interesting stories, so they get quoted. For the remaining majority, they go unheard in their support

Also, I would argue that Palo Alto itself is transit friendly by suburban standards. Palo Alto is among the top Caltrain stops, beating Diridon. People bike here. They ride the train to San Francisco/public bus it to school. And many have been on the Shinkansen/ICE & especially the TGV before.

So this all goes to support the idea that the dear vocal minority is overquoted.

I'm actually quite surprised that Palo Alto (the classic bastion of both the rich & the highly liberal/cosmopolitan) is showing even this overquoted resistance

Anonymous said...

*dog wakes up with passing 11 o'clock UP train*

*points at above comment*

whakojacko said...

"Why Does the Media Feed the Trolls?"
Readership? Or am I being too cynical

Bay Area Resident said...

LOL a vocal minority, thats a good one Peter. According to CHSRA, the palo alto meeting was the largest meeting they had ever held anywhere. And ever other peninsula or San Jose meeting is just as crowded with opposition growing.

Just what exactly IS CHSRA's solution to electrified 15 ft high concrete walls buttressing Paly High School, or the El Palo Alto vs Hotel perdicament, is CHSRA going to emminent domain the hotel, or the tree? Or just cut down the 1200 year old tree?

The arrogance of the people supporting this train is beyond reproach. The media is siding with the "trolls" because the HSR supporters are the actual trolls. Putting 15 ft high concrete walls right through a residential area or suggesting that El Palo Alto is expendable are newsworthy.

As for caltrain being noisy today, that is true but it only runs every 1/2 hr at most and goes 40mph. It is only disruptive to a few people on occassion. With this widening and mass thoroughfare of a train every 8 minutes on 4 elevated tracks, this now means that any resident within 5 blocks of the train today will be affected.

bossyman15 said...

Peter... you must hate it when newspapers make Palo Alto look bad.

Bay Area Resident said...

Also I wanted to point out that at the last meeting I attended, a resident pointed out that in Silicon Valley there is so little land that very desirable properties reside on Caltrain tracks. This point was obviously missed by the people who put together the Pacheco proposal. I get the impression they are from other parts of the state and didn't realize they were plowing through prime real estate on existing rail corridors. A little better due diligence was required.

Aaron said...

My God, BAR, nobody is "suggesting El Palo Alto is expendable." Could you please stick to actual facts?

Anonymous said...

- El Palo Alto isn't expendable. I've been there, and they can build on the other side of the truss bridge

- I truly don't believe that the '15 ft high concrete walls' are any worse than the current. Bay Area Resident, I'm not sure where you live, but I live on the train tracks, right near the double crossing. And it's loud. Multiple times every night. With horns & bells blaring.

- And I'm not sure where the 15 ft concrete walls comes from either. Would you provide a link? I'm actually unaware of the current plans

- Actually, for most of the right of way, if not nearly all of it, an additional two tracks could be squeezed in without buying private property. If you live nearby check out on the the grade crossings

- And lastly, the bit of Paly/Palo Alto High School that abuts the tracks is an athletic field. There aren't any classrooms there. There is a set of bleachers though

@ bossyman15: that's exactly what I was thinking! I find it highly ironic because the sentiment of the youth is wholly for the construction of a high speed corridor. Obviously it isn't unanimous, but it's pretty solid

Spokker said...

"As for caltrain being noisy today, that is true but it only runs every 1/2 hr at most and goes 40mph. It is only disruptive to a few people on occassion."

Caltrain's top speed is 79 MPH.

Well the mid-day headway seems to be every 30 minutes southbound and northbound, which makes for a train in either direction roughly every 15 minutes.

During rush hour there are even more trains passing by.

If there is prime real estate near the tracks in spite of the loud, smelly diesel locomotives currently roaring their way through the peninsula today, that real estate will still be prime once HSR is whooshing through the region. And on top of that, Caltrain will switch to electric trains that are even quieter.

Anonymous said...

Ah, last comment on the noise

Grade separated electrified tracks are FAR quieter than at-grade diesel tracks. Try living on the RER lines in Île de France compared to the Caltrain line. Or the TGV lines for that matter.

And five blocks away is at least to Middlefield. You don't hear the loud grade crossings/diesel locomotives there in the current. So it simply isn't realistic that quieter electric rolling stock will reach that far.

Bay Area Resident said...

Peter you and this blog are going to have to be more objective and see the other side.

If they put high speed rail above a track and field area of Beverly Hills High School do you actually think the parents would stand for it? The issues are noise, dust, the concrete wall eyesore, electrification which is just not something you want near your kids for the same reason you don't want your kids playing near utility power stations. If this train were plowing through Beverly Hills I think even the dense HSR cheerleaders here would be smart enough to realise that plowing through Beverley Hills and Bel Air might not fly. They have the same fight on their hand with Palo Alto and are trying to win the argument with a rebuttal of- things aren't that bad. Get REAL!~

Spokker said...

Bay Area Resident, this stuff is going on everywhere, lol.

In summary, a light rail line is being planned for an old railroad right of way that once carried Pacific Electric trains a century ago. However, the homeowners along the right of way that already exists oppose the train and want it to be re-routed along an alignment that doesn't have a right of way.

Some of their comments are hilariously misinformed. The only difference between the controversy over Expo and CAHSR is that one is light rail and one is high speed rail.

Anonymous said...

We already have noise & dust
And I'm still not sure where you have this idea of a concrete eyesore. Would you be so kind as to give a link?
And as for the electrification: I don't think you would want children playing on train tracks anyway. So I'm not sure what the danger is, especially given that the caternary wires are suspended a good 6 metres or so from the ground. And the backyards abutting the track already have fences

Also, I think you might underestimate to an extent that Santa Clara valley residents might be open to a relatively small, passive sacrifice for the good of the state/region.
We first moved here soon after 85 was built, and they literally went through and leveled a huge swath of land in building the freeway, something very destructive. The railway line would require very little eminent domain, if any at all, produce comparable or less amounts of noise that the status quo (not like a major freeway), and provide a hugely useful service for the entire peninsula. And the youth sentiment supports it, as well as a majority of the adult voters on Prop 1A back in November

So I understand that there will be resistance. But in all honesty, I really have a hard time seeing where that resistance will come from, and I still don't know if you have facts/personal observations beyond hypotheticals and speculation to support your point

Spokker said...

"We already have noise & dust
And I'm still not sure where you have this idea of a concrete eyesore. Would you be so kind as to give a link?"

I think this is it. That's the link that's being passed around by the opposition, anyway.

Spokker said...

I really don't understand comments like this. This one's from the San Jose Mercury News site.

"Going to plow through every residential neighborhood, right through the quaint towns shaking the ground and ruining the foundations of the nearby houses and by nearby I mean anybody within about 800 feet which is all the downtowns."

The train is going to shake your house off its foundations! JOIN THE LAWSUIT.

How can people spread such lies?

Unknown said...

I live on Stanford's campus, two miles from the rail line, and at night I can clearly hear the whistles of passing trains. Why would anyone want the status quo when you can have significantly quieter trains, reduced vibrations, no horns, and freer traffic circulation?

Palo Alto, think about the tradeoffs - you are getting a better deal with this!

Aaron said...

LOL that's hilarious, Spokker... I can think of so many different ways to re-build that station, even assuming it had to be that far elevated. Looks like some kind of Soviet monstrosity. These people are either paranoid or liars, or more likely they're merely paranoid but being encouraged by liars.

Owen Evans said...

I think this is it. That's the link that's being passed around by the opposition, anyway.
Wow, that's hilarious! The opponents' hyperbole extends to renderings as well! I especially like how they replaced the trees with bollards.

If that's what the core opposition is using to galvanize support for their cause , they'll be disappointed when their coalition and broad public support falls apart when real renderings are released. Then, they will realize that it is the OPPOSITION that is in fact being disingenuous and engaging in deliberate deception.

In any case, CHSRA had better come up with some renderings and fast to counteract this BS.

Anonymous said...

The CAHSRA probably has a short window of opportunity to defuse the situation by making a proactive outreach/communication effort. Of course ordinary people with their 'busy lives' are not gonna read each and every EIS/EIR document. Who has the time and inclination for that? Most supporters of HSR don't even have it. If the whole situation heats up and positions get entrenched and emotional we can expect some delays and cost increases, maybe even serious, in the building process. So the CAHSRA needs to step up and communicate their plans as fast, concretely and precisely as possible to every (!) resident living within a few miles of the tracks to prevent the kind of technological paranoia that makes infrastructure projects so difficult these days. They shouldn't wait for residents to come to them and deliver comments. Also, some temperate language is in order -- words like "trolls" don't help (sorry to criticize you, Robert). Facts ultimately win if they are presented effectively and early on.

Rafael said...

@ Bay Area Resident -

a) it sounds to me like you're just trying to frighten as many under-informed Palo Alto residents as possible with unsubstantiated assertions to forge a coalition against not just HSR but Caltrain electrification as well.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I suspect your real beef here is with the possibility of very selective eminent domain takings to widen the existing corridor in a few locations. CHSRA's planning assumption has hitherto been that 100' width would be needed to accommodate four tracks. However, as little as 75' can be (just) enough, especially if the slow tracks are in the middle.

See the post and comments here.

b) HNTB hasn't decided on split grade separation yet, it's just a first cut at how it might be accomplished.

The one thing that contractor cannot do is change the route. For that to happen under the rules laid down by AB3034, the non-state matching funds required for segment G (Merced and Stockton to Oakland and San Francisco via Altamont Pass) would have to be in place before those for segment B (San Francisco to San Jose to Fresno). Essentially, you'd eliminate all of Santa Clara county from the starter line (defined as SF-LA-Anaheim in the bill). Good luck with that approach.

c) Split grade separation need not involve raising tracks by as much as 20 feet. There's a continuum of solutions between leaving the tracks at grade and running deep underpasses to elevating the tracks sufficiently to allow cross roads to run at grade.

The actual elevation height depends mostly on the impact of shallow-to-deep underpasses on adjacent properties and roads, the water table etc.

If underpasses have to be very shallow indeed for some reason, an aerial structure (cp. BART) would be cheaper than a retained fill embankment. The space underneath the tracks could then be used for something, e.g. covered parking or a bike path.

d) The notion that overhead catenary systems present a greater public safety risk than particulate and NOx emissions for legacy Tier 2 diesel locomotives is patent nonsense. Grade separation and fences would make it much harder for children to reach the tracks than is the case today.

e) FRA recently finalized a rule on quiet zones. While full grade separation automatically means the end of bells and 120dB train horns, it would be possible to apply this rule to a sequence of retained, hardened grade crossings as well.

Ergo, whatever solution Palo Alto and HNTB end up with, the HSR project will bring an end to that infernal racket. Residual noise and vibration impacts will be limited to properties abutting the tracks.

There is absolutely no basis in fact for claiming that property values will be blighted for 800' as a result of HSR service. Quite the contrary, properties further than perhaps 100' from the tracks may well appreciate in value.

Noise emissions from rail-wheel and aerodynamic sources can be reduced by as much as 8dB(A) with appropriate sound walls or sound fences. Cost: $1-$1.5 million per mile, something CHSRA can easily fit into its budget.

Regardless of the chosen solution, vibration impacts will be reduced relative to the current situation because the axle loads of non-compliant passenger trains are 50-100% below those of FRA-compliant equipment.

High speed trains don't shake, rattle and roll because it would be unsafe to operate them on crappy tracks. The need to maintain precise track geometry is also why heavy freight trains are banned from running on HSR tracks - they would generate unacceptably high wear and tear on the infrastructure.

f) Palo Alto High School has an outstanding track record in spite of having been adjacent to Caltrain tracks for decades. Eliminating train horns and reducing the severity of noise and vibration events will actually reduce any impacts on students in classrooms.

Same for Palo Alto Medical Center. Worst case, windows at both facilities can be soundproofed if they aren't already.

Unknown said...

I'm a train junkie following this Blog from Fairfield CT. It just so happens that I live 1500 ft (thanks google maps) from the Metro-North New Haven Line and Amtrak Acela Train ROW that runs between NY and Boston. I spent all last summer with my doors and windows open for the fresh air and can say for sure that the trains are barely audible even at that short distance (1/4 mile). I do occasionally hear the train go through, but only cause I am always half listening for the trains, and only if the TV/music is off. In the winter, you cannot hear it at all.

This is important because the entire New Haven/Amtrak line through Southwestern CT is GRADE SEPARATED and ELECTRIFIED between NY and New Haven (100 years of overhead caternary in 2008) so there are no crashing horns or other distractions and the Acela's don't stop at the Fairfield Station, they chug though a non-platform track at somewhere between 40-60 mph.

As a current renter and hopeful home buyer, let me say that the train station here in Fairfield is a major driver of home values (walking distance neighborhoods are much pricier than those where you must drive to the station). I've seen similar houses in my neighborhood go for 400K+ which would be <350K in other neighborhoods just a short distance away.

The grade separation does prohibit perhaps a few pedestrian and car crossings that otherwise might be there, but the trains run right next to a high school, the downtown business district and residential neighborhoods. In reality, the noise from the I-95 corridor (1/2 mile away) of Big Rigs down shifting and engine braking is often more noticeable than a whisper quiet electrified Acela or MNR train. Overall, the trains are a fact of life in town, and the area is much more vibrant for it. Think of all the shops that have multitudes of pedestrian traffic walking home every night.

So to those Bay Area residents that are worried about noise, the train adds much more value than it takes away....and the value that it adds will only increase over time as the HSR network expands.

Anonymous said...

Journalists have always had a soft spot for vocal minorities. It is not an American specialty. The trouble is it gives some groups a political edge out of proportion with what they really represent.
In France, there are a few hundred opponents to the Aix-Nice TGV spur, a mixture of NIMBYs and hard-core environmentalists. They have received so much coverage in the press and on TV that they have become heroes. The courageous little Davids rising against the SNCF Goliath. They say they want to save the pristine lands immortalised by Cezanne from the ugly scar of the TGV.
No journalist even bothered to have a look at those "pristine" lands with their sprawling mansions and swimming pools which certainly were not there when Cezanne made his paintings.
This pandering to vocal groups is not even a new phenomenon.
When the Eiffel tower was built, in 1887, newspapers gave an enormous coverage to a petition damanding that this "hideous tangle of metal" be immediately removed from the heart of Paris. Today, the tower is universally considered as a masterpiece with ideal proportions.
Those people associating ugliness to any structure built for HSR remind me of the 1887 anti-tower petitioners. Time has proved them wrong.

Bay Area Resident said...

The San Carlos station looks exactly like that "Lets do it right" campaign. We've all been there, we know what a grade separator looks like.

As for people living *on* the tracks that you all are so quick to call nimbys, only a very small minority of people opposed to this live on the tracks. A lot of people live within 4 blocks of the tracks, which will destroy their quality of life now when the current train does not. But thats not the big problem. The big problem is this requires a concrete wall and huge roaring trains every few minutes right through every town in the peninsula. Anybody can see that high speed rail is not meant for in town residential communities. You would get the same reaction if you tried to put the Autobahn on the Caltrain tracks. Caltrain is a 40mph non invasive non issue that has a once every 2hr schedule on weekends. This HSR is every few minutes. Caltrain is not appropriate for this. What I find hilarious is the denial here as to the strength of the opposition.

Bay Area Resident said...

well Aaron, if you think that "Lets do it right" campaign looks like a soviet monstrosity, then why don't you start up a peitition to REDO the San Carlos caltrain station that looks EXACTLY LIKE THAT. In fact I think thats where they got the pictures, they went to the San Carlos caltrain station and took a picture and photoshopped it. My only objection to that picture is I think they should have had the first shot of downtown burlingame (who hasn't woken up yet to this HSR monster but will) where this train is intended to go straight through their downtown and right next to their school, just like Paly. Take a look at the first pages of this PDF and the pictures of the landscape and nearby houses and tell me honestly this is a destination for HSR.

Check out Burlingame High School, right ON the tracks.

Bay Area Resident said...

hey Eric, the million dollar homes that are being plowed through in Silicon Valley are 400 feet from the tracks, not 1500 feet. And the schools are right on the tracks and might have their land eminent domained. Your situation is not indicative of this here. Unfortunately for CHSRA, the people planning it must have been from LA and not Silicon Valley, and made a sweeping assumption that every piece of land near a RR track of any kind is likely blighted, neglecting to realize that this is silicon valley where there is no land and property near the tracks is just as valuable as everything else.
CSHRAs emminent domain costs alone for this will be over 10 billion minimum, if they continue with this route.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Spokker, thanks for that link to the "do it right" website. The picture of the elevated tracks they show is a complete fabrication. What a lie. I think the only thing they forgot was the barbed wire and gun towers.

Yeah, someone needs to produce a more accurate rendering of above-grade tracks, and fast. I don't know if CHSRA is working on it or not, but we have some smart people here. Can anyone produce this today? I have no Photoshop skills whatsoever, but this would be very useful if we could make it.

An alternative - pictures of above-grade HSR tracks around the world, or of European urban HSR corridors.

It looks like we're going to have to show people that the HSR deniers are lying to the public.

Robert Cruickshank said...

BAR, you need to stick to facts. "$10 billion in eminent domain?" You need to either back that claim up with evidence or stop making it.

Further, you need to show us which properties will be subject to eminent domain. I'd like an actual list. If you can't produce that either then you need to stop making that claim too.

I'm not going to allow this conversation to be dominated by your lies.

Bay Area Resident said...

Rafael, my issues are not with a small number of properties that will be emminent domained. That is typical of the brain dead people who support HSR on Pacheco, you really can't see the quality of life issues at stake here. I can see CSHRA is surprised by the opposition, my suggestion is they come up here for a weekend and take Caltrain all the way through and do some serious observing.

Caltrain the 125 year old slow train was the basis for literally every small quaint bedroom community town on the peninsula. EVERY TOWN. Thats where the prime real estate is- the best restaurants, best schools. Much of caltrain is zoned residential. Putting a grade separator and 4 lanes with trains every few minutes on this route is unthinkable. The only reason you don't "get it" is because you don't live here. It is shocking to most here and they won't back down. As for the bonds and matching funds, CA is broke. They need to give the HSR money back and reapply in a year.

Bay Area Resident said...

Lets start with the Hotel in Palo Alto or the tree. One or both has to go. Obviously the tree can't move. That means the hotel.

That hotel is a multimillion dollar property. Multiply this all the way up the peninsula.

Clem said...

> Caltrain is a 40mph non invasive non issue

You're off by a factor of two. The correct figure is 79 mph.

> that has a once every 2hr schedule on weekends

You're off by a factor of two. The correct figure is once every hour, each way.

> Lets start with the Hotel in Palo Alto or the tree. One or both has to go.

A non-issue. The hotel and tree are both going to be fine, thank you very much. Your notion is debunked here.

Bay Area Resident said...

right clam, so a blog full of HSR trolls like what we have here has successfully debunked the Palo Alto papers assessment of the situation that included interviews with experts. I think not. Notice that arborist says even if you simply dig to secure an above ground grade, you still might kill the roots of the tree. As to the Stanford park hotel, here it is. Just another blighted property on the tracks.

Palo Alto will sue, this tree issue will go to court and judges and jury here will side with the tree.

Whats so amazing about this entire discussion is the SF peninsula is the most green place in the nation. Almost any green initiative can pass here, including taxes on gasoline and carbon taxes. To piss these people off so much you really have to be brain dead.

Unknown said...

@ Bay Area Resident

I wasn't suggesting that my house is the last house between the tracks and fact, there are three more streets, I wasn't trying to address the Eminent Domain issues, I was referring to the quality of life improvements that separated grade and electrification offer, just the sort of benefits that the HSR would offer. The Caltrain ROW would eventually have to be expanded in the future, if you have federal and state money to do it right, you'll be better off in the long run.

Eminent Domain is an admittedly tricky issue, but if the alternative is expanding freeways and runways, then it comes out of someone else backyard...which to me sounds like NIMBY.

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

once again: you really need to stop making fact-free assertions.

First, HSR does not require split grade separation of the type implemented in San Carlos. It is merely one option, there are others. The whole point of public outreach is to arrive at a solution that is acceptable. You are treating this as if it were already a fait accompli, which it isn't. The project-level EIR/EIS has just begun.

Second, Caltrain travels at 79mph top speed, not 40mph. And it runs far more frequently than once every two hours right now, especially during rush hour. In fact, on weekdays Caltrain already runs 39 trains in each direction, with 14 of those leaving SF between 06:00 and 09:00, that's 5 tph. Some headways are already as short as 5 minutes. Check Caltrain's timetable and get your facts straight.

Caltrain's 2025 program is designed to facilitate a tripling of passenger volume over 20 years by increasing acceleration capability and increasing service to as many as 10 tph during rush hour. Reducing that count would require longer platforms to accommodate longer trains. HSR will provide those, but only at SFTT, Millbrae, SJ Diridon, Gilroy and one mid-peninsula station (if any). Long trains also require greater pedestrian flow capacity in station environs.

HSR train volume can be more even throughout the day, cp. flight schedules for e.g. Southwest Airlines. It may well make sense to operate just a few full-length bi-level trains during rush hour (e.g. 2-4 tph) and to split them into half-length train running twice as often during the day.

Ergo: the bulk of the overall rail traffic increase in the next 15-20 years will come from Caltrain, not from HSR. If you've got a beef with that, go ahead and complain about what will be, post-electrification, a zero tailpipe emissions commute alternative that keeps ~20,000 cars off peninsula streets and highways during rush hour. Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

BAR is exactly that kind of nimby that uses the Media for there own purpose. I have seen the same posts in the Merc with his name on it and the little Mid city rags. A small loud mouth group can seem like a big crowd.250 people out of a city of 58,000 is what? If you went you dont even live in Palo Alto. And that BS about no land and I HAD to move next to a railroad track?? If someone bought a home next active busy tracks well DUHH dumb asses. The media loves a victim story and extreme emotions. It and BAR portray that whole town as screaming horrified citizens...Prop1a passed here and everywhere outside of Atherton by 60-65 percent AND they knew what they were doing...

Rafael said...

@ Bay Area Resident -

I did live in Palo Alto a decade ago. I do have a fairly good idea of the quality of life there. And I do know, having lived in other countries where grade separated alignments through residential areas a common that you are blowing the negative impacts waaaay out of proportion and totally disregarding the positive consequences.

As for that tree, it's been standing for over 1000 years. The new tracks will be installed to the west of the existing ones, i.e. even further away from the tree. If there are any roots at all underneath those, they've been subjected to 140 years of railway traffic and survived just fine. It also survived the construction and use of the existing rail bridge and the construction of the bicycle bridge immediately adjacent to the trunk.

Also, you state:

"As for the bonds and matching funds, CA is broke. They need to give the HSR money back and reapply in a year."

By "they", I presume you mean either the state of California or CHSRA. As with many other parts of the stimulus package, the federal share may be up to 100%, at the option of the recipient. Ergo, if California HSR receives a slice of the $8 billion in stimulus funds, which for HSR are available through 30 Sep 2012, there is NO requirement for matching funds from the state of California, which is indeed broke right now.

Since no ground will be broken before 2011 anyhow, there is no reason to assume that the HSR project - and the benefits it will bring to the peninsula and elsewhere - will have to be put on hold for lack of funds.

Again, please do some research before you make completely incorrect assertions.

Bay Area Resident said...

I don't post on the Mercury News because I don't subscribe. I read the Chronicle.

If someone bought a home next active busy tracks well DUHH dumb asses.

OK let me make this really clear to you. This statement, above is your problem.

The HSR people made an inccorect assumption, they assumed that Caltrain ROW was BLIGHTED property because it is next to the tracks. They were not familiar with the bay area, and listened to idiots like Diridon who scammed them. Anywhere else in the country land next to RR tracks would be blighted. Not here, we have more jobs here than residents, so every piece of land anywhere in these towns is extremely valuable and highly coveted. You need to stop making stupid statements like "you bought next to the tracks...", because the people who live next to the tracks in Atherton are CEOs, UNDERSTAND?

Clem said...

> Notice that arborist says even if you simply dig to secure an above ground grade, you still might kill the roots of the tree.

I'm willing to bet the city arborist doesn't know anything about civil engineering or bridges. Yes, a tree will die if you build a concrete foundation through its roots; that's not rocket science! But nobody is proposing building a concrete foundation through the roots of El Palo Alto. This speculation is alarmist and inflammatory BS.

The sky is falling!

Anonymous said...

Since no ground will be broken before 2011 anyhow, there is no reason to assume that the HSR project - and the benefits it will bring to the peninsula and elsewhere - will have to be put on hold for lack of funds.

You've got to be kidding. There is absolutely no sign that the funding requirement from even ONE of the three sources will be met. And all three must be met for the system to get built. California is bankrupt. It has the lowest bond rating in the country. It hasn't sold any HSR bonds. No private investors have offered any committment of funds, and none are likely to given the state of the economy and the huge risk of the investment. And the feds have offered nothing except, maybe, a "small downpayment" on what the CAHSR will need in federal funding.

Anonymous said...

Well someone is using your same name AND sounds just like you.
Sorry but buying a home next to tracks is not smart..they bought them because they were cheaper than others..did you? WELL MR/MISS victim sorry but no its not a problem..and a BIG IF .. land needs taken they will be well paid.

Anonymous said...

And who cares if there CEOs they bought next to railroad tracks.AND CEOs never make mistakes? I think we have some Billion dollar bank mistakes right now..

Al2000 said...

BAR, how often do we have to debunk that tree business.

As previously explained here.

"The PCJPB right of way (land owned by Caltrain) is nearly 150 feet wide at the location of the tree, with plenty of room on the west side of the existing tracks, not even close to the Stanford Park Hotel.

The venerable tree in question, El Palo Alto, is acknowledged in the CHSRA's regional environmental impact documents (Volume 1, section 3.9, page 16), with the two additional tracks quite logically described as going west of the existing tracks with no impact to the tree."

BAR, can you please explain why you seem to think this is false?

Al2000 said...

yeson1a, I know that you are fighting the good fight here, but I don't think the over-the-top rhetoric is helpful. It makes us look as crazy as the NIMBYs.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:58am -

as I said, no ground will be broken before 2011. That's when significant dollars will be required. The stimulus funds will ensure that CHSRA can proceed with project-level EIR/EIS work in 2009 and 2010 to keep the project on track.

What happens in 2011? We'll see.

And FYI, AB3034 does not require matching fund from both the Feds and private investors for any given segment before dirt can be turned - though obviously CHSRA will be courting both.

The minimum requirement for releasing any of the $8.1 billion in prop 1A funds that are restricted to construction is that the state of California be on the hook for no more than 50% of the construction cost of that segment as estimated in CHSRA's request for appropriations - until the state runs out of prop 1A bonds, obviously.

AB3034 also contains $900 million that may be spent on any aspect of the project, including project-level planning and preliminary engineering. No matching funds are required for non-construction activities, but given the current bind market, the state would rather use federal stimulus funds than sell any prop 1A funds at all.

So while the objective remains to secure as much non-state (incl. some county/city level) funding as possible before any dirt is turned at all, AB3034 actually provides greater flexibility than you imply.

Do your research!

Anonymous said...

Sorry of it seems "over the top"
answering him back in his same TONE

Al2000 said...

ah.. looks like I should have looked more closely before I posted. The tree issue has been semi-dealt with.

Al2000 said...

yeson1a, well right. But remember s/he is the crazy one not us. Using the same tone takes us down to his/her level.

We have the facts on our side. If we just get them out there, calmly and rationally, I think we will win.

Bianca said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bianca said...

I live in Menlo Park. Per Google Maps, we are 0.39 miles or roughly 2100 feet from the tracks. The only time we hear the trains are those UP freight trains late at night and early in the morning (7:50 am on Sunday, so much for sleeping in.)

I went to the Menlo Park City Council meeting about HSR that was held back in September. If you went by the amount of noise people made at that meeting, you'd think that Prop 1A was going down in flames. But Prop 1A passed, and it passed in every single precinct in Menlo Park, even the precincts adjacent to the rail line. Same holds true for Atherton- 1A passed in every precinct in Atherton. You can check out the results on the San Mateo County elections website.

Not everyone in Menlo Park/Atherton opposes high speed rail, and the numbers bear it out. The Martin Engels & Co. have made a lot of noise, but they don't speak for all of us.

Three years ago we went to Japan and spent two weeks getting around the country on the shinkansen. And ever since then I have believed that California *needs* a high speed rail connection.

(I'm wondering what would happen if we took up a collection to send Martin Engel on a trip to France to ride the TGV from Paris to Avignon, to see how you can build HSR through a town and not destroy it. I'm only half joking.)

Bay Area Resident said...

The reason Prop1A passed on the peninsula is because it was put forth as a green initiative. As I say, every green initiative wins here, and by a large margin. The fact that 1a barely squeaked through in the SF bay area is because small groups of people were made aware of the issues, but nowhere near the number who are aware now, hence the outrage.

I had never heard of any issues with HSR prior to November. Sure if you were really paying attention maybe, but most were not except the real extremists on both sides, and there are more pros than cons in that group because of the money involved to pay all the HSR workers.

Today is much better representative of an enlightened citizenry. I doubt very seriously 1a would pass in the bay area today, in any town including San Jose. The 3 big areas that would kill it are 1)CA budget issues not clear at the time of the election 2)HSR bringing people to SJ from Stockton/Merced and relative crime issues 3)blight caused by trains in every town.

Bianca said...

Well, it was put forth as a green initiative because it is one. The Census projection has California's population increasing by 13 million people by 2030. How are all those people going to get around, Bay Area Resident? Expand freeways? Expand airports? Those aren't green solutions. We can't pave the whole damn state. You can only put so many airplanes in a given air corridor at any given time. Something's got to give, and HSR is a sustainable solution.

Bay Area Resident said...

I agree Bianca. I support the Altamont route for HSR and electrocution of the Caltrain tracks for in town commuting. Or, if the Peninsula must have HSR, it needs to go along the freeways which are the standard transportation corridors.

The ENTIRE ISSUE here is the CHSRAs naive assumption that bay areans want to move the existing transportation corridors, which are the freeways, to a NEW, IN TOWN location, which are the Caltrain tracks. Freeways and those destinations are where long range commuting needs to happen. Not in town locations. This is obvious to many.

And I believe the CHSRA actually made a mistake here, and missed the fact that Caltrain is high end residential. I think they glossed over it, assuming nobody cared about Caltrain ROW land because most train land is blighted. That was an incorrect assumption.

Robert Cruickshank said...

It's clear that BAR is an HSR denier who doesn't really understand the project, the reasons for it, or public support for it. Once again BAR lies - yes, lies - when claiming that Prop 1A "squeaked through" in the Bay Area. It got 65% in San Mateo County and similar levels of support if not higher around the Bay.

This is a final warning, BAR - knock off the lies, stick to facts, or you're outta here.

Anonymous said...


Your claim was that:

"there is no reason to assume that the HSR project - and the benefits it will bring to the peninsula and elsewhere - will have to be put on hold for lack of funds."

You haven't secured any of the necessary funds to start construction, from either the state, the feds or the private sector. All Prop 1a did was authorize the sale of bonds. It did nothing to actually procure funding. So your claim above is pure wishful thinking on your part.

Anonymous said...

65% to 78% passage is not barely in any sense of the word. If it had not been for the bad Wall Steet news the weeks before it would have been even higher.

Spokker said...

"The San Carlos station looks exactly like that "Lets do it right" campaign. We've all been there, we know what a grade separator looks like."

Not exactly. The San Carlos station includes vegetation, architectural elements and a historic depot that the rendering clearly overlooks.

An overview of the San Carlos station can be found here. Page 5.

Bay Area Resident said...

OK I'll take off. There are hundreds of gripe blogs about HSR in the bay area now that people actually realize what this plan was, and I am just killing time. Sionara

Anonymous said...

I live about 1000 feet from the tracks in Menlo Park. I'm used to the train noise now. If the noise is less with HSR/electrification/grade separation, that's great. If it's more, I'd probably get used to the new noises.

Personally, I'm most concerned about the visual impact. Elevated rails, four-across with caternary towers is ugly, no matter how you try to dress it up. It's totally incongruous with the look of each community the train will pass through.

The project managers say "trust us, we'll listen" but my fear is that the economy and the current scramble for funds will push through the ugliest low cost alternative.

Stop with the NIMBY moniker some of you assign to those of us who disagree with the proponents or don't trust the "authorities". I expect it WILL be in my backyard, and therefore want HSR to be a "good neighbor" and not cause a visual blight in these communities.

Spokker said...

"Stop with the NIMBY moniker some of you assign to those of us who disagree with the proponents or don't trust the "authorities"."

There are insults flying in both directions.

Rafael said...

@ Bay Area Resident -

"The 3 big areas that would kill it are

1)CA budget issues not clear at the time of the election"

You've just got to be kidding me. The CA state budget mess has been going on for many years. It was very well known and publicized ahead of Nov 4, indeed HSR opponents (, Reason Foundation, Cato Institute) made it the core of their argument against prop 1A.

Perhaps the full extent of it was not yet widely understood, but it was the very reason why AB3034 was written the way it was (hard cap on state contribution, at least 50% non-state matching funds, annual appropriations).

And you know what, with those safeguards in place, CA voters approved prop 1A by the required simple majority - after Lehman Bros was allowed to go belly-up and all of Wall St went to the hot place in a handbasket. They understood that HSR is a long-term project and an even longer-term investment.

Moreover, voters approved - by 2/3 majorities - sales tax hikes in LA, Santa Clara, Marin and Sonoma counties funding for commuter rail projects, some of which will provide direct connectivity to HSR stations.

2)HSR bringing people to SJ from Stockton/Merced and relative crime issues

This is really, really ugly. Stockton is home to a large Filipino-American population. Your insinuation that "people" who live there would bring crime to the Bay Area is nothing more than thinly veiled racism.

First, there's already an ACE train from Stockton to San Jose. Has that led to an increase in crime rates there? If so, please provide hard statistical evidence.

Second, Stockton won't be on the HSR network until the phase II spur to Sacramento is built.

Third, your preferred route via Altamont would actually make these supposed evildoers' trips to the Bay Area shorter.

The whole notion is offensive, as is blithely equating Merced and Stockton, two very different communities.

3)blight caused by trains in every town.

Right, just like loud, smelly Caltrain has already totally blighted Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton, where million-plus-dollar homes and five star restaurants are located right next to the tracks! Places where CEOs(!!!) live and eat! Egads!

Don't the hoi polloi know their station in life is to cower in abject fear of these omnipotent Captains of Industry?

Anonymous said...

@ Bay Area Resident

"The issues are noise, dust, the concrete wall eyesore, electrification which is just not something you want near your kids for the same reason you don't want your kids playing near utility power stations. If this train were plowing through Beverly Hills I think even the dense HSR cheerleaders here would be smart enough to realise that plowing through Beverley Hills and Bel Air might not fly."

side not:

funny you should say that. first to my knowledge there is no current ROW in Bel Air and Beverley Hills.

Second: Beverly hills high school has had an running oil well there for ages. It is an eye soar but the school and Beverly Hills just deals with it.

-you used a very bad example

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:45am -

strictly speaking, you are correct: none of the $9.5 billion appropriated for HSR in HR 2095 and HR 1 has been distributed yet. Nor has the state of California floated any bonds yet.

However, the idea that California HSR won't be getting any of it and real soon now is unrealistic. It's the only project on the 11 eligible corridors with a completed and certified program EIR/EIS. It is also the only that state voters have approved funding for, even if the current market makes bond sales impossible or at least unattractive.

Certainly, contractors such as HNTB are willing to pres ahead with the planning process even though CHSRA cannot pay them right this minute.

On Feb 18, OMB released its first general guidance memo to the government departments in charge of distributing the funds. It's unrealistic to expect that the Dept. of Transportation could already write any checks just ten days later.

The money for the project-level EIR/EIS work will be there. As for construction funding, I'm confident the federal matching funds will be made available in stages. That in turn will encourage the over 40 investors that have already expressed interest in participation to follow through once the economy picks up.

Spokker said...

That mass transit will breed crime is the most shameful and unsubstantiated thing a NIMBY can say.

Anonymous said...


You don't just need some funding to avoid construction being put on hold for lack of funds. You need all the funding that is necessary for construction to proceed. That funding has not been secured. It's not even close to being secured. The dire state of the economy and California's public finances make it even less likely that it will be secured. You offer no serious argument as to why you can reasonably expect to acquire the necessary funding. You just say you're "confident" that it will somehow materialize. That's not a prediction supported by evidence, it's just wishful thinking.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:59am -

first off, no-one on this blog wants HSR to blight your or anyone else's neighborhood. Indeed, lots of people here have offered up their personal experiences with similar situations, as well as clarify misunderstandings and describe constructive alternatives.

Most of what we've had in return (e.g. from Bay Area Resident) has been vitriolic and poorly uninformed abuse from hardcore opponents who insist that the whole world revolves around their kitchen sink - democratic decision-making be damned. The tone of your comment is different and you articulate the specific reasons for your concerns.

There is a difference of opinion regarding the aesthetics of split grade separation and overhead catenary systems, which is fair enough.

Hopefully, your concerns will be addressed with some realistic graphics from CHSRA in the near future, e.g. a video showing several implementation options. HNTB has, quite rightly, not decided anything yet - that's the whole point of community outreach. There are limits to what is technically and financially possible, but within those there is definitely scope for adjustments to the first cut at a solution.

Bottom line: the retained fill embankment is not the only option, though it is the cheapest one for full grade separation.

Btw, here are some pictures of what overhead catenary systems can look like. Older systems use visually massive overhead gantries, these days slender masts with outriggers to one or both sides are generally preferred.

Granted, they're not the prettiest things in the world, but they do eliminate something much uglier: diesel emissions.

In a leafy suburb such as yours, painting the catenary poles an appropriate shade of green would make them visually less intrusive than the basic bare aluminum models. Wooden masts are not used for catenaries because the design tolerances are quite tight, but there's no reason why they could not be clad with a material or paint that makes them look like slender tree trunks.

The wires themselves are quite filigree anyhow, you have to be eagle-eyed to even see them from more than 100' away.

example 1
example 2
example 3
example 4

Tony D. said...

You think B.A.R. will ride electrified Caltrain or High-speed rail once its up and running on the Penisula?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:43pm -

I was careful to limit my optimism to the project-level EIR/EIS phase in 2009 and 2010. That is the phase of the project that has to be implemented now to avoid delays.

Quentin Kopp is even more optimistic in his bid to secure a full 25% of the stimulus funds allocated to HSR. The check's not in the mail just yet, but there's every reason to believe the first one will be forthcoming in fairly short order. It's entirely possible that CHSRA will be operating on federal dollars alone for the next 24 months or so.

You are quite right in asserting that AB3034 requires that CHSRA present up-to-date planning documents plus committed non-state funding equal to at least 50% of the anticipated construction cost, on a segment-by-segment basis before any prop 1A bonds will actually be sold - but that only applies to the $8.1 billion reserved for actual construction.

Whether all the necessary funding for the SF-SJ segment will materialize in time for turning dirt in 2011 is not yet known. However, that is no reason not to use stimulus funds for executing the remaining planning and preliminary engineering work.

Alon Levy said...

I think the main gripe of BAR is different. The "What if it passed through Beverly Hills?" argument is enlightening: it shows that BAR takes cue from an area widely considered to be a gated community for rich assholes. Like the anons on the thread before last, the real issue is that a rich area like Palo Alto can't force the rest of the state to give it special treatment. The idea that the rich are so mistreated that they need special coddling from the government is widespread among libertarians, Republicans, and people with too much money and too little empathy.

Anonymous said...

BAR said" If this train were plowing through Beverly Hills I think even the dense HSR cheerleaders here would be smart enough to realise that plowing through Beverley Hills and Bel Air might not fly. They have the same fight on their hand with Palo Alto"

Well there you have the problem. These folks in Palo Alto actually think that they are somehow on the same playing field with the likes Bel Air and Beverly Hills and that shows the real reason they don't want the train. They think that they are "better than/superior to/more important than" other Californians. Nothing makes Californian's less sympathetic than having that kind of attitude. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton are only important to Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton. The rest of the bay area and certainly the rest of the state couldn't be less interested in your self importance. You're making fools of yourselves and people are just shaking their heads and rolling their eyes. I work for the railroad and I talk to people about it al the time and when I mention you folks, the response is always the same Sorry to pop your balloon.

Anonymous said...

According to the census Palo Alto and Menlo Park have a much higher average income than Beverly Hills. Median household income Palo Alto, $90,377, median household income Beverly Hills $70,945, median household income Menlo Park $80,649.

How do you get a name to post?

Unknown said...

Wealthy, motivated people certainly can win these fights, and to give some credit to BAR's point, the fact that these people are wealthy and well-connected does give them clout, whether deserved or not. That's just the way these things work. The ball is really in CHSRA's court to provide as much information and community engagement as it can, so that the true NIMBY trolls, like BAR, are isolated and the merely concerned citizens find that CHSRA has a plan they can get on board with.

Take the example of the 101 freeway in Santa Barbara. Some people might remember how years ago the freeway came to an abrupt halt at State Street at a set of traffic lights. What you might not know is why it took so long to get rid of those lights.

Caltrans, perennially enamored with concrete, wanted to build an elevated freeway clear across town, thereby forever enhancing SB's famous scenic beauty, I'm sure. Santa Barbara said, no, either put the freeway in a trench, or put it at ground level and run the cross streets through underpasses. Neener neener, said Caltrans, we don't have to listen to local communities, we're in charge of statewide transportation, so we get to build whatever we want. Santa Barbara is of course full of rich, well connected types, and they fought that damned freeway for decades, with lawyers, coastal commission filings, political maneuvering, you name it. In the end, Caltrans built a grade-level freeway with underpasses for the cross streets. They even got to grossly overdesign some of the underpasses and pour craploads of concrete, so in the end they were probably happy too. Moral, never underestimate the power of a pissed off, wealthy minority in CA politics.

Anonymous said...

I would still argue that these media reports grossly overexagerrate the extent to which communities are opposed

After all these stories fill papers, not stories of people happy with the high speed train

Also, I would not dismiss the whole communities of Menlo Park/Palo Alto as overly egotistical. Like before you hear about the 50% + 1 of Menlo Park's council that wants to push the lawsuit through and the loud individuals opposed to HSR. Both communities were decidedly in favor of Prop 1A, after all

Anonymous said...

Menlo Park and Atherton are a dumps compared to Beverly Hills..more like uptight Midwest Towns..

TomW said...

Bay Area Resident at 12:19 AM said: "If they put high speed rail above a track and field area of Beverly Hills High School do you actually think the parents would stand for it?"
I've seen school playing fields next to multi-lane elevated freeways, and parents stand for that. I'm sure parents would rather have quiet electric trains than six-ten lanes of cars and trucks produceing noise and pollution.