Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Palo Alto Launches Attack on High Speed Rail Project

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

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the hero must choose from a collection of drinking vessels to determine which is Holy Grail and which leads to certain death. When the Nazi-collaborating villainess picks the wrong cup the knight says "she chose...poorly."

Unfortunately the Palo Alto City Council has chosen poorly as well, preferring to fuel a broad-based attack on the high speed rail project to a more reasonable set of suggestions about how to effectively build HSR in Palo Alto. They adopted the anti-HSR recommendations that this blog implored them to reject, turning an understandable debate over the visual and physical impact of a structure to a more fundamental attack on the concept of high speed rail itself. Palo Alto could have limited itself to asking for a tunnel. Instead they want to buck the will of the voters - including their own residents - and insist that the HSR project be imperiled because of a small handful of whiners and HSR deniers.

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

The council responded by unanimously approving a formal letter to the high-speed rail authority calling for it to study the possibility of building a rail tunnel under the city. Despite Diridon's comments, the letter will also call for the rail authority to reopen the possibility of running the trains through the East Bay or along the Highway 101 or Interstate 280 corridors rather than along the Caltrain tracks. Another suggestion is to stop them in San Jose, forcing riders to transfer to Caltrain to get to San Francisco.

"That's not the end of the line," Council Member Larry Klein said of the authority's 2008 decision on how to route the trains. "Laws do get changed. That's what our legislature is for, that's what the initiative process is for, and that's what the courts are for, in some cases."

Larry Klein is basically trying to force the Pacheco Pass routing, and cut out of the HSR project entirely the city of San José, the third largest city in California and the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Failing that he wants to destroy the entire system by forcing it to terminate at San José Diridon and forcing intercity passengers to transfer to a commuter rail service to finish the journey to SF - something most passengers WILL NOT DO. Klein seems willing to ignore the democratically expressed will of the people and risk the entire HSR project, which he presumably supported when Palo Alto's City Council endorsed Prop 1A last year, because of a few ignorant people.

Rod Diridon called out Klein and other members of the Palo Alto City Council for their hypocritical and reckless stance:

If Palo Alto didn't want bullet trains racing through town, it should have spoken up earlier, California High Speed Rail Authority Board Member Rod Diridon told the city council Monday. The decision to run the 125-mph trains up the Peninsula via the Caltrain corridor was made in 2008 after years of debate, and revisiting it now could cripple the $40 billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project.

Instead, the city ought to focus on how to make the train work now that it has been approved by the state's voters, Diridon said. The rail authority has heard the city's desire to study running the line underground, and it will study that possibility, he added. No decisions about the specifics of the tracks' design will be made until after an environmental review.

This is an eminently sensible approach - but it only works if you are working with people who want to be constructive and sensible. By endorsing these anti-HSR proposals, Larry Klein and the Palo Alto City Council have shown they do not want to be sensible, and instead prefer to try and destroy the HSR system.

Klein shows that he basically doesn't care about the HSR system at all:

Klein rejected Diridon's warning that any delay could cause project costs to skyrocket, noting that construction costs have actually declined in the past year. "If this goes forward, it is going to be in existence for 100 years, 200 years," he said. "So if it gets delayed by a year or whatever, I don't think that makes too much difference. It's much more important this gets done absolutely right."

What Klein willfully refuses to understand is that if Palo Alto is successful in fatally weakening the project, it will be difficult to fund the project. The delay will hurt our chances of getting federal and private sector funding. And Klein conveniently hasn't said where he thinks money for a tunnel will come from.

Thanks to HSR deniers like Larry Klein, here is what the city of Palo Alto is now planning to oppose:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 1.4 million cars from the road, and take the place of nearly 42 million annual city-to-city car trips

  • Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 17.6 billion pounds/year

  • Reduce California’s oil consumption by up to 22 million barrels/year

  • Finally move California away from dependence on fossil fuels and freeways for intercity travel

It is a tragedy to see Palo Alto join the realm of the HSR deniers, especially as they appear to have been swayed by lies, distortions, and ignorance. They have joined Bobby Jindal and Sean Hannity in attacking action to mitigate our climate crisis and now are de facto supporting pollution and sprawl, all because a tiny group of people can't handle the fact that Palo Alto is going to have some changes and improvements to its community because of this.

The city of Palo Alto is not full of HSR deniers. Neither are Menlo Park or Atherton. But their city councils have chosen to enable those few voices in order to kill a project California voters approved. Palo Alto's city council deludes itself if they think the rest of the state will go along with their hissy fit. We're not going to reopen the Pacheco vs. Altamont argument for them. We're not going to do something so obviously stupid as entertain a routing down freeways. And we absolutely will not terminate the route at San José.

California is going to build high speed rail. Palo Alto will not be allowed to block that. We believe they can and should try to work constructively to implement HSR in their community. But if they choose HSR denial, then we can and will push back against them.


Citizen of Contra Costa said...

Why would rerouting to Oakland/East Bay mean that San Jose would be excluded from HSR? Hypothetically, the route could be Oakland straight to San Jose then via the Pacheco Pass to Fresno/LA.

I'm not getting the connection between the East Bay/Pennisula argument and the Altamont/Pacheco Pass argument.

crzwdjk said...

Hey, I don't see anything wrong with not having HSR operate any trains on the Peninsula. All you need is a rolling stock pooling agreement. Then you can have HSR train #2557 terminate at San Jose, and Caltrain #557 start at San Jose exactly two minutes later. And use the same physical train, why not? Except now it'd be a Caltrain, not an HSR train, operated by PCJPB's contractor, rather than HSRA's contractor.

BruceMcF said...

Except, Citizen of Contra Costa, then you are moving the start of the train from San Francisco to Oakland, and the alignment that the CAHSR went to the voters with was not Oakland / San Jose / then the Pacheco pass, but SF / SJ via the Caltrain corridor, then the Pacheco pass.

Anonymous said...

Also, the direct SFO airport connection will be important for airline code sharing. Especially the international flights arriving from europe and asia being able to code share and get passengers to inland and other areas which will allow those airlines to expand their offerings.

Anonymous said...

Don't underestimate the role of BART lobbyists in the final HSR route selection. BART has always been a political animal, and it regards itself as the top dog in regional transit. BART has long wanted to go down the Peninsula corridor to San Jose (bye bye Caltrain and HSR!). While BART on the Caltrain corridor is a dead idea now, a Transbay extension of HSR and Caltrain goes against BART's interests -- it would wipe out BART's ridership (what little there is) on the expensive BART-SFO extension. Caltrain and HSR service could go from downtown SF to SFO airport is less than half the time of BART.

BART also doesn't like the idea of HSR going along the East Bay on the Amtrak/Capital Corridor route, because improved Capitol Corridor/HSR service would harm BART's competitive position in the East Bay. I am sure BART's lobbyists had a role in the selection of the Pacheco Pass over the Altamont Pass, because the Altamont Pass eliminates the need for the $6-billion-plus BART-to-SJ "not recommended"(by FTA) fantasy.

You might think that these are all public agencies that should work together, maximizing the use of your tax dollars for an effective system, but that's not the story of Bay Area transit.

Anonymous said...

The route has been chosen the eirs have been done, the financing has been planned, the vote has been taken. and the bond money has been approved, the feds are on board with more money, and private companies are showing interest. There is no way this system is going to start a new design process all over now because of some whiners from atherton. Its time to put a up a website that holds these folks up to public scrutiny for who they really are so the p[eople of california can see what they are up to.

Anonymous said...

@fred "BART also doesn't like the idea of HSR going along the East Bay on the Amtrak/Capital Corridor route, because improved Capitol Corridor/HSR service would harm BART's competitive position in the East Bay. " actually BART is part of the entity that operates capitol corridor.

Spokker said...

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

"Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community, 4 hours ago

A ganster from East LA takes HSR, get off at Mt. View to deliver his "goods" to a guy from East Palo Alto, waiting for him at the train station, and then hops on to the car driven by his buddy coming from Oakland.

Hundreds of migrant workers, just traffic-ed from Mexico, take HSR, get off at Mt. View, to be dispersed amongst south bay communities.

Imagine these scenarios. Public urination. Litted garbage. Strangers wandering on Castro...

This is not the community we'd want."

Haha, wow.

Anonymous said...

@spokker.. this is actually how these people think. I remember years ago, a family member of mine up in santa rosa said the same thing about bart to sonoma county - " we don't want "those people" to be able to get here"

Spokker said...

Someone inform them that drug dealers and gang members have cars.

Anonymous said...

Yes, BART is part of the entity that operates the Capitol Corridor, but many transit activists opposed the idea of BART's involvement in managing the Capitol Corridor. This most certainly doesn't mean that BART has the best interests of fast, efficient service on the Capitol Corridor at heart, especially if a fast Capitol Corridor/HSR can whip BART's all-local trains along the East Bay. Even some of you GM-buying-up-the-streetcars conspiracists can understand this logic...

Anonymous said...

ccjpa bart amtrak union pacific and caltrans all share the capital corridor pie and work together to accomplish the goals.

timote said...

Citizen of Contra Costa -

I think that SF is important to the success of HSR as a whole, so I doubt that Oakland is really a viable termination point politically. When we discuss the Altamont pass routing, I think we are meaning the Livermore -> Fremont -> Dumbarton Bridge area -> Menlo Park/RWC -> up the peninsula routing.

In that routing, San Jose is cut out. There are some options like sending a branch line down to SJ, but that adds more expense to an already increased budget (new train bridge at the Dumbarton, longer route through more developed Altamont pass area, etc.), and so the likely result is that SJ would be cut out of the routing entirely, at least for Phase I. Palo Alto is happy then cause HSR bypasses them (the routing gets to the Caltrain corridor north of Palo Alto), but San Jose is upset. Hence the friction.

Anonymous said...

@spokker yeah not only do the dealers have (very nice) cars but the "illegals" can't board the train cuz valid government issued id is required and trust me i know, no union ticket clerk is trying to assist more illegals in by lettin em on the train.

Anonymous said...

San Jose getting cut out would be unacceptable. Not necessarily due to any technical reasons (although there may be some of those too), but due to the preferences of board member Rod Diridon, person and station, son of an Italian immigrant railroad brakeman, who very much wants to to have his authority run its trains through his station in his city.

Bay Area Resident said...

San Mateo looks like it is on tap to sue next.

This is disintegrating faster than even I thought.

Anonymous said...


Robert Cruickshank said...

What is the Peninsula going to do, pay to underground the whole corridor?

This is madness. They're basically saying they are happy to kill high speed rail - AND undermine Caltrain - because they can't get their heads out of 20th century concepts of what a city should look like.

bossyman15 said...

CAHSRA needs to get the desgin out there ASAP! This is getting worst by the day.

Anonymous said...


"Putting trains underground is the only way to move high-speed rail through downtown San Mateo, city officials said last night.

...the San Mateo City Council said last night it could only support the plan if it did not divide downtown with raised rails. That would “be a death knell to downtown,” said Mayor Brandt Grotte."

Oops. Another one bites the dust.

Anonymous said...

HSR is going to use the Caltrain tracks..one way or another. the worst that can happen is HST will have to travel at the standard Caltrain speed. They cant sue just because the trains are Blue and Gold instead of Red and Silver.

Rafael said...

@ robert cruickshank -

don't you mean that councilman Klein wants to force the Altamont-via-Dumbarton route?

If so, he had better explain how that's even supposed to work:

- building a brand-new tall two-track rail bridge at Dumbarton that meets modern seismic code and is suitable for HSR operations.

The old one can be repaired and is suitable for a handful of commuter trains each day, no more. The location is close to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and the bay mud is still contaminated by methyl mercury from tailings of the old cinnabar mines in Alamaden (south SJ).

- getting across Fremont/Union City.

There point blank is no available ROW, because HSR cannot share track with FRA-compliant freight tracks. FRA rules explictly forbid that. Tunneling underneath Thornton Ave, the slough and the quarry lakes (drinking water supply for 100,000 people) could be difficult and definitely very expensive, without an intermodal station with BART to show for it. Tunneling under Decoto Rd would tangle with the 84/880 interchange - not possible.

- crossing the Hayward fault underground.

The fault has historically produced a major earthquake every 140 years, give or take a few decades. The last one was in 1868. It's the seismically most dangerous zone in the Northern California right now.

- obtaining (part of) the Altamont ROW from UPRR before BART muscles in with its extension to Livermore.

The corridor currently supports around 25 freight trains per day. There is only just enough room for two dedicated HSR tracks and essentially none for stations. Fremont, Pleasanton and Livermore were all opposed to having the main HSR line run through their towns. From CHSRA's perspective, that's out of the frying pan and into the fire.

- getting Santa Clara county to accept that it would (at best) get a spur down the I-880 median in phase II.

Phase II will never happen unless the starter line generates an operating profit and, at least two out of the three major cities in the Bay Area must have HSR stations at their downtown transit hubs to generate sufficient ridership.

In other words, turning everything upside down and inside out just to avoid HSR construction through Palo Alto would deny not just San Jose but also Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego their chance at getting connected to the HSR network, ever. All that because a small, very vocal minority of mid-peninsula voters is being selfish?


Note: I have no problem with the desire put the HSR tracks, perhaps even the whole Caltrain alignment, underground in Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto. There are technical challenges and the disruption and risks during the construction period would be even greater, but that's a trade-off those cities would have to take responsibility for.

I do have a problem with people like councilman Klein who endorsed HSR before the election - obviously without ever questioning CHSRA on how it arrived at its cost estimates - and are now trying to blackmail the state and nation into billions of cost escalations to cover their backsides.

This project has been in planning for 12 years, there have been numerous public outreach meetings and extensive documentation on a web site. That even includes a Google map of the route detailing which type of grade separation was used in each section of the route to arrive at the cost estimates.

Now, if these cities accept that they need to fund most if not all of the incremental cost of any alternate solution that would deliver strictly local benefits, then we would immediately have a very different discussion.

Otherwise, a precedent will be set and every single town and hamlet along the entire route will demand equal treatment. The very people that complained about massive cost escalation risks before Nov 4 - e.g. Martin Engel in Menlo Park - would be the ones ensuring that very outcome. Death by a thousand paper cuts.

The state of California is broke, the nation is up to its eyeballs in debt. There is no Santa Claus that will grant the city of Palo Alto's wish at no cost to itself. If it wants tunnels or some other extra-fancy solution, money talks. You know the rest.

Anonymous said...

Look. There is such an exceedingly simple solution..

Keep the Caltrain route, design SF to SJ UNDERGROUND wherever it passes through neighborhoods, which will shut everyone up.

You can't build the whole thing all at once anyway, and you don't even really have the funding to do ANY solution from end to end, anyway.

So spend the next 20-30 years and the funding you DO have building the LA to SJ segments. In essence terminate "temporarily" in SJ until some far away day, the money is raised for SF to SJ - UNDERGROUND.

In 30 years, one of three things happens -
a) everyone is so thrilled with HSR, that they immediately put a bond on the ballot to finish the job right.
b) everyone decides HSR is not so bad looking afterall, and they redesign for over ground (and immediately gains broad support from voters for new bond funding)
c) everyone figures out that the caltrain connection isn't that bad afterall, and they decide to focus the next set of investment in other more lucrative markets (like Sacramento spur)

Everyone is happy. The thing gets built. Peninsula communities remain whole (and stop trying to shut THE WHOLE THING DOWN.

A few riders from SF would have the 'temporary' inconvenience of a quick transfer at Diridon. No promises broken.

Diridon and Kopp go down in history as the founding fathers of high speed rail in California. And everyone lives happily ever after. The end.

Or - continue uphill battle until your great grandkids lose interest and eventually give up.

Robert Cruickshank said...

30 years? We can have it built within 10. And the problem is we don't have 30 years to wait - the economic, environmental, and energy problems are here now. Palo Alto is now casting its lot with conservative Republicans by saying they can wait.

Anonymous said...

No Way are people going to change from a nice HST and transfer to Caltrain for the rest of the trip
and thats going to be most of the passengers at that point..WORST case is that HSR will have to take the current ROW upgraded to Caltrain plans and speed.

Anonymous said...

Robert Cruickshank Who do you work for ? Are you being paid for this blog or the work you do on it ?

Anonymous said...

It has been pointed out theh SJ to SF time is a justification for the use of the Caltrain corridor as a whole. Well the voters approved a LA to SF route not a LA to SJ to SF route.

As adopted by the authority in May 2007, Phase 1 of the high-speed train
roject is the corridor of the high-speed train system between San Francisco Transbay Terminal and Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim.

Anonymous said...

i feel like logic and reason are relics of the past in palo alto.

or HSR deniers like Martin Engel have Palo Alto city council under an evil spell that compels them to ignore reason and what REAL elevated HSR looks like, in favor of an offensive "berlin wall" analogy.

Martin, and Peninsula Cities: do you understand that you look like an impossible fairy tale? this is beyond reason. Your emails logged online are filled with lies and you call killing the project "progress" ? yes, progress is defined as anything that promotes the status quo of pollution and automobile-oriented suburban sprawl. you disappoint future generations. We are severely disappointed in you, and all those like you who are ruining our future with outdated selfish motivation.

Bay Area Resident said...

yeson1a and Robert,
HSR is going to use the Caltrain tracks..one way or another. the worst that can happen is HST will have to travel at the standard Caltrain speed. They cant sue just because the trains are Blue and Gold instead of Red and Silver.

No, but the cities can sue if there is a very tight 50 ft Caltrain ROW going right into the center of their downtown, which they have spent 20 years and millions to build up, and this blightmobile threatens to come in, take out all the nice restaurants and render the rest of downtown as an undesirable experience and thus ruin it- on environmental grounds.

I told you this a few days ago, and some other posters have accurately stated that CALTRAIN is inappropriate for high speed rail, PERIOD. Everybody knows it, Diridon knows it, but they tried to sneak it in anyway and now it is failing. Had there been no small towns between SF and SJ, and it was all one or two big annexed cities, you might have gotten away with it as Silicon Valley San Jose business interests trumped everybody else. Boo hoo.

What is the Peninsula going to do, pay to underground the whole corridor?

Nope. What they are going to do is shut down CHSRA's absurd design that HSR goes through the center of every bedroom community on the peninsula, something that was obvious to all from day one.

What is the solution? I don't know, thats what Kopp and Diridon are paid for. If they MUST move people from LA to SF, maybe they should go through I5, travel through the east bay fairfield etc. and traverse the Richmond Carquinas bridge and into SF that way. I don't know, it is indeed a tough problem but they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.

Their approach of trying to sneak in the CalTrain ROW thinking 6 million people in the bay area wouldn't notice that every downtown was going to be destroyed was a combination of arrogance and naivete.

Anonymous said...

Robert. Ok then 10 years. Same answer, insert 10 years for 30 years.

I think if you do a more thorough ridership analysis you'd find that MOST of your Northern California ridership cash cow is actually going to be in Silicon Valley anway which will want for convenience sake to terminate in SJ. (SF and mid peninsula stops being highly inconvenient to get to).

But it doesn't really matter, because under my proposal, no one is suggesting TERMINATING in SJ. All my proposal says is to design it UNDERGROUND from SJ to SF in residential neighborhoods, and just simply get to the construction of that segment at the end (at which time the public can decide with all the information that could possibily be needed at that time - much better information than is available today anyway) how that segment will be funded.

bossyman15 said...

downtown will not be destroyed. That's not their goal. their goal is to get trains up to SF without effecting people on mid cities.

beside they have said protery taking will be last restort.

sorry about bad spelling i'm bit tired.

Anonymous said...

Whereas a short while ago only Atherton and Menlo Park were being labeled NIMBYs and Deniers, now you have added

Palo Alto
San Carlos
San Mateo
Mountain View

How many others to follow.

The project was hijacked by San Jose interests. Yes these other cities are perhaps late, but as is so often the case its not over until the "fat lady sings".

As Joe Vranich as said, the CHSRA has produced the worst work on any HSR group he has encountered; the quality of that work now coming to bear.

In Palo Alto last evening, it was quite clear there are two options that city favors.

1. Tunneling. It is also quite clear they don't expect to pay for the tunneling, since it should be a requirement for the project to pass through it city limits, and not destroy the whole community.

2. No HSR project and its 4 tracks through the City. The line stops a San Jsoe.

BTW, where is the peer review panel that was mandated in Prop 1A within 60 days of passage? I guess another promise of the Authority, just like the promised business plan due before the election, that has been ignored.

The leadership of the CHSRA must be changed. If it isn't changed and if a different attitude is not forthcoming for them, this project will go nowhere.

After all, now we're not talking about 30 thousand residents of Menlo Park and Atherton, but much much bigger numbers of many cities along the CalTrain corridor.

All hope in this regard is not lost. Senate SB-53 has the chance to change the whole landscape if it is carried through.

BruceMcF said...

Anon @ 3:41pm its truly bizarre that you had the time to type all that, but did not have the time to click on the Name/URL box and pick a pseudonym.

"1. Tunneling. It is also quite clear they don't expect to pay for the tunneling, since it should be a requirement for the project to pass through it city limits, and not destroy the whole community."

Directly from the logic of that argument, adding the direct observation that an arched viaduct will clearly not destroy the whole community, any city that opts for tunneling should pay for the incremental cost over the cost of an arched viaduct.

"2. No HSR project and its 4 tracks through the City. The line stops a San Jose."

That's not the project that people in the state voted for last year, so we are left at option 1, Palo Alto pays for the incremental cost of a tunnel over a viaduct if it wishes to have a tunnel.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Let's all be very clear about what is going on here. Palo Alto is now saying that they do not want California to build a high speed train system unless the state AND the federal government buy them an unnecessary tunnel. They're holding HSR hostage.

Some point to BART through Berkeley. That was paid for by Berkeley by using federal redevelopment funds. Those funds were much more widely available in 1970 than they are today.

Even a cursory glance at the political and financial realities show that Palo Alto is saying "we will be happy to destroy this project."

If these cities persist, then the next move may have to be exempting the SF-SJ HSR corridor from final environmental review. The precedent for this has been set by the state legislature's exclusion of some Prop 1B highway projects from CEQA review. It is possible that a federal waiver can be granted as well.

And such a move will gain broad public support because neither California nor the US as a whole are going to allow a tiny group of HSR deniers to kill this project.

Palo Alto had its chance to work constructively. If they choose HSR denial, then they'll get the above-grade structure without any input and without any ability to stop it.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Anons, please pick a psuedonym.

To answer a question above, I write this blog as Robert Cruickshank. I'm not paid by any organization with any ties to HSR in any form. This is the project of an independent HSR supporter.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 2:43pm -

what makes you think peninsula cities will be any more willing to accept a high-capacity railroad 10 or 30 years from now than they are today?

Would you be more willing to go through the whole grade separation discussion with Caltrain, which is expecting ridership to triple and train count per hour to double to 10 during rush hour by 2025? How about by 2050?

Look at the example of San Carlos: Caltrain grade separated that on the cheap well before HSR was a gleam in anyone's eye. And of course, all the underpasses were built to accommodate exactly two tracks. Expanding capacity will now require those to be redone or else, that the new bridges for the new tracks to either side run a couple of feet above the ones in the middle to preserve the clearance for tall trucks and buses. Fugly!

Infrastructure is not something you do piecemeal or skimp on, because false parsimony ends up biting you in the keister. Or rather, the next generation, who is already picking up the tab for the selfish behavior of the aging baby boomer generation. There's no value in over-engineering the solution, but under-engineering it is even worse.

If the HSR tracks or the entire Caltrain alignment have to be put under the ground to compensate for decades of failure to protect the option to expand the railroad ROW via prudent land purchases and appropriate zoning laws, so be it. But make no mistake: it was the peninsula cities that are responsible for that failure, not CHSRA, the state of California or anyone else.

If you want to preserve the character of your town with its million-dollar homes, then you have to put some/a lot of money on the table to make that possible. Berkeley did just that by raising taxes when it chose to put BART underground. In retrospect, voters there made the right decision. It may very well be for the peninsula as well, even if HNTB comes back with a high cost estimate.

CHSRA cannot make additional funds appear out of thin air, it will be difficult enough to scrape together the $33 billion already estimated for the starter line.

Anonymous said...

Robert writes:

"And such a move will gain broad public support because neither California nor the US as a whole are going to allow a tiny group of HSR deniers to kill this project."

It isn't a tiny group Robert Who is the Denier here?

Domitype said...

Where exactly are the completed user survey reports that show such a big demand for HSR from downtown SF? Are there really thousands and thousands of potential users every day, ready to shoot down to Visalia? What would the reservation system be like?
How are they all going to get to the SF terminal? BART or Muni? Taxi or private vehicle? If they had to hop on a special delux Caltrain express to San Jose and change to a ready-to-depart HSR train would that really kill off ALL demand from and to SF?

Everybody who lives on the Peninsula would have to take Caltrain to Millbrae, RC or PA (or all the way to San Jose, depending on final station selection.)

If the new Transbay Terminal is not going to be correct for both HSR and Caltrain as the latest reports suggest, how are all of the passengers from the East Bay going to connect to HSR in SF? Where is that magic BART to 4th St. Terminal?

Lots of questions, I know - and I am not against the concept of HSR, but there sure are a lot of problems with the plan as it is presented now...

Spokker said...

"As Joe Vranich as said, the CHSRA has produced the worst work on any HSR group he has encountered"

Vranich is a bitter ex-Amtrak employee who believes he is the end-all be-all of high speed rail transit planning. If you think Diridon has an ego, watch out for Vranich.

"Where exactly are the completed user survey reports that show such a big demand for HSR from downtown SF?"

Existing transportation patterns were analyzed and computer programs crunched the numbers and other things like that in order to come up with ridership figures. No one can come up with a 100% accurate projection of ridership decades from now, but it's a good educated guess.

"Are there really thousands and thousands of potential users every day, ready to shoot down to Visalia?"

That's not the right question ask since Visalia isn't the only station they could shoot down to.

"What would the reservation system be like?"

Uh, do you really expect a reservation system to be finalized at this point? If you're going to fault the high speed rail authority for that, you might as well criticize them for not deciding on what color the seats are going to be.

"How are they all going to get to the SF terminal?"

The same way they are going to get to any station on the system. Drive yourself if the station has parking. Take mass transit. Take a taxi. Have a friend drop you off. What exactly is the problem here?

I hope that the reservation system also includes Caltrain connections. A traveler from Menlo Park can reserve a seat for an HSR train that is also good as a Caltrain ticket.

It makes more sense to make people at less active Caltrain stations transfer to HSR than to make travelers from Los Angeles transfer to Caltrain at San Jose to get to SF.

"If they had to hop on a special delux Caltrain express to San Jose and change to a ready-to-depart HSR train would that really kill off ALL demand from and to SF?"

No, it wouldn't kill all demand, but it would significantly impact it. Transfers are a time sink and make HSR a less attractive travel option.

"Everybody who lives on the Peninsula would have to take Caltrain to Millbrae, RC or PA (or all the way to San Jose, depending on final station selection.)"

So what? You can't please everybody all the time. You can't put an HSR stop in every city on the peninsula. You can't even have Caltrain stop on every city on the peninsula. Weekday local trains don't even stop in Atherton. Caltrain has become that much more competitive because it introduced an express service that skips stops.

Anonymous said...

Some words of advice from somebody out of state...

Robert Cruickshank and the author of the compatibility blog (http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com) are doing some great analysis, and I believe they are both taking an even-handed approach the the Caltrain corridor issues.

However, commenting on these two blogs isn't really going to get a quality rail system built. You need to take the facts to the newspapers, the televisions, the radio stations, and the neighbors. I've been reading the comments on these blogs and some of the newspaper stories...there is a lot of work to do.

But when you do so, I suggest two strategies. 1) You have to ostracize the crazies. 2) You have to respect the non-crazies that have legitimate concerns.

There are always a lot of idiot conspiracy theorists who come out of the woodwork anytime anything changes around them. If you deal with them incorrectly, you legitimize their craziness.

But there are also a lot of good, honest, and fair-minded people out there who are concerned.

Unfortunately, the second group gets mislead a lot by the first group. In my opinion, the best way to counteract the crazies is to expose their craziness to the concerned people and the neutral parties, without disparaging any concerns that they might have.

For instance, people are legitimately concerned about things like noise, eminent domain, and walls. They need to understand that other alignments were studied and why they were rejected. They also need to hear that horn-blowing will end, and that diesel locomotives will not be involved.

Most importantly, they need to realize that the vast majority of the corridor is wide enough. They know there are two tracks now and hear there will be 4, so they assume that the right of way must be doubled. They need to hear that the right of way in their neighborhood is already wide enough. The strongest argument you can make is that nothing is going to change, except that horns and diesels will disappear.

But arguing with a crazy who think that their is a conspiracy theory to rob the schools of money and that no other alternatives has been considered is counter productive. These people need to be made to look like the crazies that they are.

Unfortunately, the rational sort of people who are rooting for CAHSR (and Caltrain lectrification) are too likely to want to rationally debate every argument made, no mater how ridiculous.


Anonymous said...


I went to the meeting last night to see this for myself. It was civil with each side trying to understand the options at hand and how the process works. In fact it was boring.

Spokker said...

Elroy, it may be that newspapers are hyping up the opposition.

Anonymous said...

There was a small march earlier. It might have been the reason for the media. People there were concerned but came to learn about what was going on.

Anonymous said...

I'm from Arlington, VA and have never been to California, so maybe I don't have a lot to offer. I've been reading this blog for a while because transit, and particularly high speed rail interests me.

There's a similar, albeit smaller, debate here involving the construction of an elevated subway line as opposed to an underground metro. http://www.tysonstunnel.org/index2.htm) In the end, the most effective method reaching a settlement was to tell the community to pay for the tunnel itself and it could have the tunnel. Now that there's no money, the website hasn't been updated for awhile and people have lost interest in the issue. A tunnel would be really really really really nice and maybe in a few decades it will get built, but in the end it's about getting the job done.

Anonymous said...

"what makes you think peninsula cities will be any more willing to accept a high-capacity railroad 10 or 30 years from now than they are today?" Nothing. But they won't be 'accepting' it then, they'll be accepting it now. If its designed underground.

Rafael, read carefully. NObody said anything about skimping on infrastructure, engineering, etc. I'm talking about designing it RIGHT - the only way deserving of a state of the art high speed rail system through some of the best real estate in the world. I agree, lets do it right for goodness sakes!

You are misreading the opposition. They want to ensure (iron clad) that they are not devastated by the HSR, they don't want to stop the train.

Just design the SF to SJ underground, this is no harm to CHSRA.

The funding will either materialize via California wide voter support, or federal funding, (in 10 years) or it won't. If it does, then its important , if it doesn't then its not important. Let the voters decide! You haev nothing to fear from this! Voters love HSR! Right?

But the point is, you'll have a fast train from LA to SJ in 10 short years, and very reasonable way to temporarily extend that trip to SF, and the promise of and committment to the already approved remaining leg of the project just waiting in the wings for that final funding - instead of still crying on this blog about nimby deniers.

And according to Roberts most recent post (ever-informative) - Berkley residents evidently DID NOT pay for it, the federal government did!
(That'll be a useful piece of info down the road..)

And, Rafael, I think you are seriously confused about who's ruining what. The Peninsula bay area is the heart of Silicon Valley, the very financial engine of california (ask Diridon!). Leland Stanford built the railroad through California, which we all enjoy today. The generations of residents that have painstakingly stewarded that region for hundreds of years have protected it and nurtured it, and lovingly preserved its history and heritage, built its industry safely, harbored residents in beautiful neighborhoods, and built some of the best school districts in the country.

Make no mistake, if you want to play in the Bay Area, you pay, and you pay thruogh the f'n nose, just like everyone else - from bay to breakers. Get in line with your checkbook if you're in the market for bay area real estate. Its not a rip off or over engineering, its doing the right thing and its the cost of doing business in this real estate market.

(Hey, I don't like my $5000/mo mortgage anymore than the next guy, and my kids pants have holes, and we eat a lot of chili and mac and cheese. my 12 year old car doesn't have a heater, my son's using his older sisters old cleats, but hey, I'm payin the going rate, like everyone one else.)

And if CHSRA set its sights on some of the most expensive and well cared for, lucrative real estate in the country. So be it, that's their decision, but if CHSRA wants it, its just very simple. They pay.

But here's what I like best from your most recent post:

"If you want to preserve the character of your town with its million-dollar homes, then you have to put some/a lot of money on the table to make that possible"

Amazing. And you're posting this almost simultaneously with Robert's talking about extortion? You have got this so bass-ackwards, it sounds like you've completely lost your friggin mind.

HELLO. That's THE definition of extortion -that's what gangs do to business owners in inner city slums - if you want to run your business here, be safe and be left alone, you'll have to pay us safety money.

Dude. Really?

And here's Robert's version of extortion:
If these cities persist, then the next move may have to be exempting the SF-SJ HSR corridor from final environmental review. The precedent for this has been set by the state legislature's exclusion of some Prop 1B highway projects from CEQA review. It is possible that a federal waiver can be granted as well.

I certainly do have to hand it to you - that's a GREAT idea for shaking off lawsuits! I'm beginning to wonder if you're not a nimby denier troll. Just trying to make the CHSRA supporters look like ranting fools. Is that you Martin?

Anonymous said...

anyone out there have a study on how much more expensive trenching is compare to building an elevated structure? I would think tunneling is definitely out of the question, but perhaps trenching is a good compromise, and affordable for the peninsula community to pay for.

Robert Cruickshank said...

The NIMBYs have never been my problem. It's the fact that local governments are giving into their idiocy that is the problem. Palo Alto's City Council endorsed Prop 1A knowing full well what it meant for their city. Now they're caving to a bunch of ignorant whiners. That's what bugs me - and when city governments threaten lawsuits and such, they have exponentially more power than any NIMBY ever would.

Anonymous said...

The news media loves drama events like this..A whopping 50 people showed up for this march out of 58,000 in Palo Alto. And the ones that did are the ring leaders in this...I have see one of the names 2 or 3 times already in the media.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Neither the state of California nor the federal government will pay for undergrounding.

It is worth noting that the feds did *not* pay for undergrounding BART in Berkeley. They were giving Berkeley redevelopment funds anyway. Berkeley asked to use those existing funds to underground BART, after a long and contentious fight. The feds said yes.

So the feds didn't give Berkeley any new money to do that. Anyone on the Peninsula who thinks the feds will do so for them is out of their mind. WILL. NOT. HAPPEN. Even if I wanted to (and it would be an elegant solution to this problem) the chances are less than zero.

Palo Alto's city council knows that. Martin Engel knows that. Which is why this whole "omg tunnel!" thing is a red herring and a way for people on the Peninsula to kill HSR without leaving fingerprints.

Anonymous said...

but not all undergrounding is the same. surely trenching and tunneling will have a very different cost.

perhaps trenching can ultimately be a compromised solution, if the cost is not prohibitively high and it's affordable for the peninsula towns to pay for.

this may not be the best comparison, but linked here is a comparison between before and after creating a trench ROW.

BruceMcF said...

@ Jack, Yes, while trenching is generally inferior for pedestrian and cycling passage across the corridor to a viaduct, it is cheaper than either a cut and cover tunnel or boring.

It is, indeed, another form of split grade separation, where the track goes down and the roads, walkways and cycleways pass over.

Unknown said...

There's a real risk here that this gets hardened into "tunnel or nothing." For example, if you read through Atherton's bloviations, what they are actually proposing is a trench, with a few segments near highly populated areas covered over. This is very different from a bored tunnel and I'd be really curious to see a responsible estimate of the cost difference between it and an embankment or viaduct (which themselves are rather different from each other in terms of aesthetics and cost even though this blog seems to frequently conflate them).

And for everyone holding up Berkeley as the responsible example for paying for their tunnel themselves, remember they only agreed to this after over 2 years of litigation and negotiations, and this after they had initially approved BART's proposal for a partly aerial line. Now, in the end, the process had a positive result, but at the time Berkeley's level of NIMBYism was pretty much indistinguishable from what we're seeing now from some peninsula cities.

Anonymous said...

thanks, Bruce.
this link seems to give a good introduction on building rail trench. it describes a project in new zealand that's trying to put a rail ROW that's near a busy city center into a trench.

I'm no civil engineer (actual a mechanical one), but construction cost can't be that much higher for a trench... as Obama said during the campaign, we the people should focus common grounds, not issues that only divides us. I think most bay area residents are progressives who really want to see HSR in California. Surely there are affordable solutions that the local residents can accept.

Unknown said...

Truthfully I believe it is going to end up in a trench with the state paying for it. Tunneling is insane, but there probally will be a decline in property values from an above ground solution.

Good compromise in my mind, I have lived in a suburb with a below grade freeway, and you don't notice that it is there until you are on the bridge

A trench is a good compromise that seems pretty reasonable and enevitable to me.

Unknown said...

I've been wondering how different what CHSRA is planning is from what Caltrain was planning to do anyway. I've been trying to research it but haven't had much luck.

I mean, they plan to electrify by the middle of the next decade. They've said they need to build more passing loops and possibly triple or quadruple track portions of the line, and they've been steadily moving forward with grade separations.

Anonymous said...

50 residents attending is huge for a palo alto city council meeting on a monday. It means that there were hundreds of letters and emails on the subject to the city council. I agree with the other poster, you are the deniers. And it is not just Palo Alto it is the entire peninsula.

As for why the city councils supported HSR for the vote, here is why- because Diridon and Kopp who are politically powerful made some phone calls, and these weak people caved. Palo Alto thought they would win with the station, it might not be so bad, ok. San Jose city council is bought and paid for by Diridon. San Mateo just thought there was nothing they could do since both routes went through SM. Only Atherton and Menlo had nothing to gain by supporting so they stood up to HSR. But now, in light of the public response all the councilmembers are running around like scared rabbits regretting their initial decision I am certain. I only have anonymous available to me to post, sorry.

Eric- Caltrain isn't planning any elevated grades or additional tracks in the important (narrow) areas. They are just planning to electrify the trains, which everyone is happy about. And Caltrain, left alone without HSR would continue with its existing schedule which is non invasive. Trying to lump Caltrain in as the devil along side HSR won't work. Caltrain is a good neighbor.

Anonymous said...

Ben, thanks for that picture, but it begs the question, why is New Zealand bothering with a trench, because according to the people on this blog above ground HSR actually enhances communities!

Anonymous said...

Caltrain's plans are more extensive than what you think..look
at the website under long range plans..and you can pick a name under name/url..And what if HSR and Caltrain build no walls or grade seperations ..are you happy with that?

Anonymous said...


CalTrain has been pushing for electrifying and grade separation for years and years.

They get a grade sep every so often, but they don't have the funds to do what they want. (1.5 billion for the electrifying)

Why do you think they are agreeable to HSR? They want the competition? No Way.

They want the money and this is the path to get it.

It is interesting that with the stimulus package, they might be a lot closer to getting their dearly wanted funds, without HSR. The Baby Bullet could qualify as a HSR project and it really is "shovel ready"

They operate in a much different manner from CHSRA. They do not have eminent domain authority. They have to get city approval for their projects or they don't fly.

It is conceivable, but I'm not on the inside, that they could tell HSR to go away, if they could get the funds they want without them.

In the meantime, they continue to operate, albeit with never ending structural deficits. One interesting observation is going to be their ridership numbers in the near future, as gas prices have come way down (Hey Rafael -- how about your statement much much earlier, that cheap oil is a thing of the past), and un-employment is way down also.

Who wants to take the train when you can have cheap gas and congestion has been relieved? (answer Robert)

Anonymous said...


Diridon last evening made the statement (more than once) that all the Cities getting stations, are paying for those stations with City funds.

That was news to me.

It also flies in the face of Kopp propaganda, who kept saying "California voters approve Prop 1A" and the $10 billion will be all you will ever be asked to fund.

Did I miss this somewhere in the past?

Robert Cruickshank said...

I find it instructive that the comments from the supporters of the Martin Engel position are so full of HSR denial ("nobody will ride a train anyway," "cheap oil forever.")

I'm sure Californians and Americans will just LOVE to hear that Palo Alto has been taken over by Bobby Jindal clones.

And yes, they will hear of it. If you guys think you'll be able to sneak through this attack on passenger rail without getting notice and pushback, you're nuts.

Judging by some of the media coverage, people in Palo Alto actually think they'll have support around the state for this. They really have no clue how unpopular they're about to become. If they think Californians want to spend money for their tunnel, and delay a project that will create jobs and build energy independence, just because a couple people are whining about property values, then they are not in touch with reality.

Unknown said...

They get a grade sep every so often, but they don't have the funds to do what they want. (1.5 billion for the electrifying)

Where's this from? Caltrain's budgeted something like $650 Million. There's also new equipment to be purchased, but that's not figured in the cost of electrification because it replace rolling stock that's scheduled to be replaced anyway.

brent said...

my condo is in san mateo, on the border of burlingame right next to the caltrain tracks, the proposed 100ft easement will cause eminent domain problems for many in my situation. i have been fortunate to have bought in a time of lesser values for real estate, but many of my neighbors are underwater now, and if their property is seized it may bankrupt them. if you bought here at the high of 500k, and your property is now rated at 350k, who will make up the difference?

Anonymous said...


The 100' is not in addition to the existing right-of-way. 100' is the total desired (75' is usually going to cut it).

I don't know exactly where your condo is, but looking here:


And Here:


It looks like the Caltrain ROW is already wide enough where you live, as it is in the vast majority of the corridor.


Anonymous said...

IF any property must be taken and that is not at all know at this point..everyone will be well paid
believe me..giving someone that extra 200k is nothing compared to a Billion dollar tunnel, even if its 20 ,30 homes .thats is one of the horror stories going around..hundreds and thousands of homes will be taken...and there is no foundation for that lie.

Spokker said...

"if you bought here at the high of 500k, and your property is now rated at 350k, who will make up the difference?"

Welcome to the wonderful world of real estate where risk is very real and factors beyond your control can make your house worthless.

Should we make up the difference for people who bought property in Temecula but is now worth much less than they bought in for due to factors beyond their control too?

Spokker said...

However, there is nothing to suggest HSR will lower property values. Most supporters support reasonable mitigation that will protect property values.

If loud, smelly diesel trains aren't having an effect on your property values today, 125 MPH electric trains won't.

Rafael said...

@ Domitype -

there would no doubt be some who would accept a Caltrain ride to the nearest HSR station. Indeed, Amtrak California, Caltrain, BART, Metrolink, NCTD, ACE etc. are all considered "HSR feeders" in AB3034, the legislation authorized by the passage of prop 1A last November. Indeed, $950 million (roughly 10% of the total) is explicitly earmarked for capital improvements to these services, based on their current passenger volume.

However, transfers are much more of a hassle for long-distance customers than they are for commuters. Moreover, if HSR trains don't make it all the way to SF, the nearest station for all East Bay residents will be San Jose. Given that BART is essentially an exploded subway system, it cannot offer express trains. While the top speed is 79mph, the average speed is more like 33.

If it takes too long to get to SJ or, you'd have to drive there, HSR will not succeed in its core objective: relieving California airports of short-hop traffic, so scarce slots can be used for long-haul flights instead.

The system has to be time-competitive downtown-to-downtown or the ridership it attracts will be too low to achieve operating profits. Those are vital not just for the phase II spurs to Sacramento and San Diego, but also to keep HSR from becoming a transit system that state taxpayers would have to keep alive with subsidies.

To achieve a virtuous circle in which HSR drives local/regional transit use up, it must be self-sufficient (except for debt service on the starter line) after a ramp-up period of 3-5 years after start of operations.

And that is why terminating in San Jose is not good enough.


Running trains up the East Bay instead of the peninsula was studied but rejected. One reason is that the BART extension to San Jose will use the WPML ROW between Niles and hwy 262 and, UPRR isn't willing to sell the SPML it uses to access its marshaling yard in Fremont. The only way to get HSR trains for SJ Diridon to hwy 262 is the I-880 median, which has been preserved for just that purpose in spite of massive rush hour traffic jams. BART will eventually bring relief (at $600 million per mile for the downtown tunnel section), but it would be unwise for an HSR alignment to simply stay on I-880 north of the hwy 92 junction.

That leads to the very real problem of how to get from the I-880 median to the railroad ROWs further east (the one west of the freeway is too narrow).

On the map, Industrial Pkwy looks like a possible option, even though it's north of the hwy 84 junction. At least that bridge will get some relief from Caltrain once the old Dumbarton rail bridge is restored.

There is a single-track freight spur along Industrial Pkwy already, which joins up with an unused rail ROW immediately west of the BART tracks and continues all the way up to 46th Ave in Oakland, close to Fruitvale BART. Note that this available ROW crosses under the BART tracks at San Leandro BART and then back again via a pair of tight curves across to the UPRR ROW.

However, the ROW along that first section of Industrial Parkway is also too narrow to support two dedicated tracks and, there are houses as well as industrial plants and offices right next to it. Eminent domain proceedings there might be easier than in Palo Alto, but they would still be difficult.

Between 46th Ave and 23rd Ave in Oakland, there is no room at grade next to either BART or the UPRR tracks for a pair of additional tracks. The best hope of success would be an aerial immediately west of BART, though Fruitvale station and the multi-story car park north of it would present a problem.

Beyond that, the alignment would need to cut across to the UPRR ROW at 22nd Ave before descending to grade by 17th Ave. Threading past the rail yard, it would proceed to the old 3rd St ROW - the single-track bridge across the outflow from Lake Merritt is actually still there.

However, a tunnel would definitely be required under 3rd St (unless you were to switch back to the 880 median, but I digress). The alignment would curve east at Union St toward Mandela Pkwy, for an intermodal station with West Oakland BART. The parkway's median broadens substantially north of 7th St, permitting an adequate number of tail tracks. At least some of the elaborate landscaping would probably have to be sacrificed, at least during construction.

Note that the alignment could in theory be continued north to Emeryville, but that there isn't enough room for additional HSR tracks on the UPRR ROW to continue. Nevertheless, there could be value in the idea, because Amtrak and Amtrak CC trains currently don't have an intermodal with BART between Richmond. Getting one with HSR at the same time would be very welcome.

There are issues with ventilation (solvable). FRA rules prohibit non-compliant bullet trains from sharing track with FRA-compliant trains, whether passenger or freight. It might be possible to run four tracks side by side the narrow southern end of Mandela Pkwy to let the various Amtrak trains rejoin their existing alignment at Chestnut/Embarcadero.

The biggest problem with this whole concept is that West Oakland is an industrial area with lousy air quality. It's not a destination in its own right, virtually all passengers would have to transfer to connecting transit. There could be a pedestrian flow bottleneck between the HSR and BART platforms because of the elevation difference. Multiple freight elevators might be needed.

Even after all that, a West Oakland terminus still wouldn't attract as much ridership as the proposed SF Transbay Terminal, nor would it do anything to relieve congestion at SFO. True, Oakland airport would be served (via shuttle bus), but its single long runway means it couldn't handle as many long-distance flights.


Veering west off the I-880 median in south Fremont toward Dumbarton would be very difficult because of the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and the existing ROW through the salt ponds (which, btw, is too narrow south of Alviso to support additional HSR tracks). Besides, a new rail bridge across would be a nightmare to get built, not to mention the fact that San Mateo is now the latest city to demand a tunnel. This new variation (Pacheco + Dumbarton) arguably creates more problems than it solves.


This is why using the Caltrain ROW is plan A, which should be given a chance to succeed. I'm confident a technical solution can be found, the question is if it can be afforded. If Palo Alto had done its homework and communicated that only a tunnel would do well before the November election, CHSRA would have re-evaluated its options and quite possibly, come up with new ones as I just did. Quite likely, it would have recommended a different route not out of but within the Bay Area.

Gov. Schwarzenegger's decision to put CHSRA on a starvation budget of $1 million in 2007 is really coming back to haunt us all now. What's the point of insisting on private investment if you end up with a route that local officials and voters approve of, only to turn into rabid NIMBYs that blackmail the whole state after the election?

The implementation choices used to estimate the total cost of the project were published on the CHSRA website almost a year ago, albeit in a non-obvious place: a link to High Speed Rail on Google Earth off the bottom of the Routes tab. You have to scroll down to see it. Bureaucrats make lousy web interface designers, they are bad at marketing. This isn't exactly news, but it doesn't mean they're being sneaky. Just clumsy.

That's why I'm so surprised and frankly, disappointed, that in a community as large and web-savvy as Palo Alto no-one appears to have bothered to spend half an hour on exploring the web site on what was clearly the biggest infrastructure project to directly affect that town, indeed the state, in many decades. If your community is so precious to you, why was just about everyone there "too busy" to get informed and ask the hard questions? Could this affluent city not afford to hire an independent consultant to do it for them?

This blog has been up for almost a year, the Caltrain-HSR blog since the fall. Both have been very open and allowed anti-HSR campaigners like Martin Engel to air their views. The discussion was contentious at times, but at least there was one.

But apparently, no residents of Palo Alto ever asked their city officials any hard questions, they didn't do much in the way of research their own accord, nor did they grill CHSRA when they met well before the election.

Can you blame us HSR advocates for feeling totally blind-sided and blackmailed by Palo Altans right now, just as HSR is finally gaining recognition as a strategic technology at the national level?

brent said...

as stated before, I would be okay, perhaps even walk away with MORE of a profit if there is a ED buyout. I was thinking of others, something you mr spokker seem lacking of.

I bought my place BECAUSE I like trains, and if HSR can be right next to me, I would be thrilled, even IF it resulted in decreased property values.

My address is 320 peninsula avenue, San Mateo, CA 94401 if any of your experts can determine if the 100' ROW would affect the property it would be appreciated.

Anonymous said...

So how come you people don't underground, I dunno, *101*? Or better yet, rip 101 out? That divides your community, generates a huge amount of pollution and noise, brings in huge amounts of traffic, and is generally unpleasant.

How about we start a TUNNEL 101 OR TEAR IT DOWN movement?

I spend half my waking life in Palo Alto. My house isn't there but given that I spend more time at work than at home, you'll find me in PA more often than not.

PA needs work. Careful stewardship? Like ripping out your trolley down El Camino? Like tearing out the Blossom Line express train that connected what is now western PA to downtown (and SF, and Los Altos, etc. etc.) Palo Alto used to have tons of ways to get around that didn't involve polluting or drunk drivers or car crashes, and you destroyed them all.

Stop trying to destroy the people who are attempting to fix things again.

I live next to train tracks. I paid *extra* to live near them because the property values are HIGHER, but I wanted to be close to transit so I pay a high premium for it. You *really* think your property values will go down? If that were true then my rent would certainly be a lot less than it is now.

Anonymous said...


You can look at your neighborhood here:


The ROW is 75' wide in that area. There might be a desire to take up to 25' more, but this looks to me like a case where they will stick to the bare minimum.

If I was a gambler, I wouldn't bet on their being eminent domain in your neighborhood.


Unknown said...

What a dissapointment all of this. No wonder nothing can be built in California or US for that matter.

brent said...

thanks anon. am still concerned, but am def more interested in this issue. am going to japan tomorrow, where train travel is more accepted, the airport itself has stations with local express and super express lines, something SFO should have integrated ages ago. even as an airline employee, i see the need for something to connect our major cities, as japan has shinkansen from tokyo to osaka, nagoya, most of the major pop cities...but there is also the question of geography, where due to japan's mountains 65% of country, the majority of pop live in the cities, (much move fave for trains)while usa has much more sprawl, (due to pop of cars, but that's another issue). intersting blog btw...

Rafael said...

@ old-timer -

1) The rapid run-up in the price of oil between 2003 and 2008 was in large part the direct result of robust economic growth in oil consuming nations - very different from the supply shocks of 1973 and 1980.

Now that the global bubble in US mortgage-"backed" securities and related insurance instruments has burst, we're in a nasty recession. However, this too shall pass and within a few years, oil prices will be on the way back up again.

By then, there may be more spare oil production capacity than the wafer-thin margin of 0.5-1 mbpd that we were stuck with a few years ago. So it might be a while before oil goes back to $100/barrel, never mind $140. However, eventually it will head back up - even this recession won't buck the long-term trend. And HSR, transit-oriented development and related measures are all long-term strategies. You need to look at the 5- and 10-year rolling averages, not yesterday's close on the spot market.

As for congestion on the freeways, that for now is largely a function of population growth and the unemployment rate. Historically, California has grown by around half a million people a year, with many migrants from other states and legal immigrants from other countries. The state as also enjoyed low unemployment rates. Again, look at 5- to 10-year rolling averages, not just the last quarter.

Expensive gas, flights and jammed freeways will be back before the first HSR trains run in California - and not just temporarily.

2) It's actually been part of the funding model all along that the cities and counties served would collectively chip in 7-10% of the total construction cost of the starter line. It's not news at all, at least not to me.

Prop 1A was about the debt burden the state of California would take on to help get the starter line built. There was never any claim that California residents would not also be contributing to it via other levels of government, both at the federal and the more local levels.

Stations are an obvious place for cities to make their contributions. Rod Diridon is perhaps overstating the case when he says that cities must pay for their stations entirely by themselves, especially the large ones that are regional transit hubs (SF, SJ, LA and Anaheim). To some extent, this CHSRA's way of trying to rein in some of the more fanciful ambitions (e.g. "Grand Central Station of the West" in San Jose, which today generates less Caltrain traffic than Palo Alto).

San Francisco also has grandiose plans but it has structured the cost of the SFTT such that the contribution expected from HSR funds is rather higher than CHSRA had bargained for. After Quentin Kopp publicly stated that "4th & King is good enough" - after months of campaigning for prop 1A with images and videos showing HSR trains in the SFTT - TJPA rcently decided to bypass CHSRA and make a direct application for a slice of the $8 billion reserved for HSR in the recent stimulus bill. Quentin Kopp is an old hand at SF and state politics, so he knew he was being sleighted.

In response, CHSRA has now gone public with the inflammatory claim that the SFTT design would anyhow become a capacity bottleneck as soon as 2030 (see Tight Squeeze At Transbay Terminal?). At first glance, it does look like there might be a problem, but on closer examination the case falls apart IMHO.

With the help of proper operating procedures for both the line and SFTT itself, the line will saturate before or worst case, at the same time as the station. Frankly, neither is likely to happen by 2030, or even long after that. It's a bit of a strawman argument intended to put political pressure on TJPA. But yes, CHSRA is not being very helpful to the cause of HSR right at this moment.

Clem said...

Palo Alto's City Council endorsed Prop 1A knowing full well what it meant for their city. Now they're caving to a bunch of ignorant whiners.

@Robert, they're not caving in. Let's put it in perspective: they submitted some scoping comments on the EIR. Some of these comments (such as the 101/280 thing) are out of scope and will be simply brushed off as such. Big deal.

A whopping 50 people showed up for this march out of 58,000 in Palo Alto. And the ones that did are the ring leaders in this

Who evidently had no qualms about enlisting their kids. Cute, very media-savvy, but maybe a bit exploitative? I guess it's OK if they learned something about democracy.

[Caltrain] operate in a much different manner from CHSRA. They do not have eminent domain authority.

@old-timer: they very much do have that authority, but haven't had a need to use it (with all that right of way!). Samtrans (run by the same staff who run Caltrain) did nearly $200M of eminent domain to build BART to Millbrae. They are well versed in the law and have lots of recent experience in carrying out expropriations. I believe that is going to be the least of their problems.

Rafael said...

@ Brent -

jsmyers provided the correct information. While 100' is the preferred ROW width, it is possible to fit four tracks side-by-side into just 75'. Caltrain already does it in a couple of spots in Redwood City and, electrification will make it a tighter fit still.

That said, it can be done - especially if CHSRA and Caltrain decides to run the fast HSR trains on the outside tracks (FSSF, see here for details). That way, the maximum relative speed of two trains passing each other on adjacent tracks is 180mph rather than 250, so the aerodynamic interaction of the bow waves is less severe in these narrower sections. FSSF also has other operational advantages over the SFFS layout suggested by the CHSRA video "San Francisco Bay" of Brisbane. Don't read too much into that, it's an engineering decision that hasn't been taken yet.

If the alignment remains above ground and sound walls need to be added, they too will need to be strong enough to withstand the aerodynamic pressure. Probably still doable, though.

All I can tell you for sure is that CHSRA and Caltrain will try to make do with the ROW that's there and avoid ED as much as possible. Even then, they would only take the bare minimum needed to satisfy engineering requirements and pay for that.

You're probably too far from Burlington Caltrain station for any changes that may be made there to affect your property. An FSSF station for Caltrain only would require a single island platform serving both of the slow tracks and accessed via from either side via a pedestrian under- or overpass. Caltrain may decide to build - or at least reserve room for - really long platforms for any stations that need to be redone, because it's only getting two platform tracks at SF Transbay Terminal. In that case, the fast tracks would need to start curve around the station further from the center of the island platform.

For reference, Long Island Railroad in NY state runs 300m (12-car) commuter trains to deal with similar constraints at Penn Station and keep trains per hour (tph) count down. Long trains have the same emergency braking distance as short ones.

Rafael said...

@ Brent -

you may also want to check out Clem Tillier's post on the technical reasons Why They Chose The Caltrain Corridor over 101 and 280.

Anonymous said...

Funny I did look up a picture of this march and it IS alot of little children...Geees

Anonymous said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of real estate where risk is very real and factors beyond your control can make your house worthless.

Should we make up the difference for people who bought property in Temecula but is now worth much less than they bought in for due to factors beyond their control too?

You take the cake Spokker. I wonder if you know how much damage you are doing to your cause yourself.

The issue is not that somebody was burned whilst engaging in real estate investing. These are peoples primary residences and assuming they are current, the High Speed Rail is effectively issuing them a margin call to sell at the bottom utilizing eminent domain. Hopefully the real esate market recovers before any properties are seized, and personally I don't think this version of HSR will ever be built on the peninsula anyway, but to refer to the victims of this as speculators is really too much.

Anonymous said...

This has been a fascinating blog but there seems to be one thing missing from the original blog and all of the comments. What authority does Palo Alto, or any other Peninsula city, to stop this project? Didn't the City attorney of Palo Alto say last night that the City had missed the statute of limitations to join the existing lawsuit? Filing an amicus brief is basically irrelevant. What is Palo Alto doing other than writing a letter? Also, what body approves the final EIR for the Peninsula aspect of the project? Is it San Mateo County or the State? I would very much appreciate any insight into the precise legal authority to stop the project from Robert or any other informed reader of this blog.

Spokker said...

"Hopefully the real esate market recovers before any properties are seized"

Pass a law that eminent domain can only be exercised in a housing boom, then.

I bought a house near a rail line without considering that the rail line might ever expand. Smart.

Why did the geniuses who run your towns zone residential areas near the train tracks anyway? You'd think THEY would plan for smart growth themselves. No, suburbia was going to last forever on the back of the mighty automobile.

Spokker said...

Then again, you'll be amazed at how few properties are "seized".

brent said...

as a young lad i visited my uncle in LA, when my parents visited friends, i was crying and would not stop until my uncle brought me to the nearby train tracks and let me see the freight trains passing by.
i was amazed, and still love trains to this day. have done the eurail pass backpacking during college, used the various JR and keisei lines in japan, used britrail to go from london to scotland, the lake district, etc. high speed rail is long overdue, and if i lose my ONLY home via ED, well, i guess i could move on, maybe move to japan where they are developing housing developments AROUND train connections.
but others do not have my luxury of buying low in the housing market, nor have any financial leeway if their home is subject to seizure by ED. mr spokker your flippant comment shows your focus on HSR while ignoring the possible human ramifications and feeds your opponents arguments. the project should go on, but myopic comments such as yours do not help the cause.

Anonymous said...

I bet some of these people bought long ago thinking that the SP was going to go out of business and they were going to have a trail or something behind there property.
Either way ..they should try living next to a real railroad..ie heavy freight trains..and 30-40 a day.

Anonymous said...

I bought a house near a rail line without considering that the rail line might ever expand. Smart.

Why did the geniuses who run your towns zone residential areas near the train tracks anyway?

Because this is Silicon Valley spokker. You really are very ignorant on the area and your pompousness just pisses people off. There is not enough land here and people are desperate for living arrangements. Every piece of land is developed. Since the RR tracks are utilized by Caltrain, and Caltrain is such a good neighbor, nobody even thinks a moment that some disingenuous bully like Diridon is going to show up with a HSR plan that ruins everybody's quality of life. It doesn't even occur to people.

As far as imminent domain, I agree very little will be seized, just due to the expense of bay area real estate. But huge numbers of properties will be ruined for this %^$& train that is useless to us.

Spokker said...

"mr spokker your flippant comment shows your focus on HSR while ignoring the possible human ramifications and feeds your opponents arguments."

Four acres. Four freakin' acres.

You should see the swath of damage caused by the Century Freeway in South LA County. It displaced entire communities, for what? A freeway that is dangerous, ugly, has a worthless rail line that doesn't go anywhere and has stations that will split your eardrums due to the freeway noise and is ugly as hell. They shouldn't have built a freeway, they should have built a rail line with express and local stops!

When they widened the I-5 through Orange County I saw businesses close. As a kid I wasn't sure what was going on. Some fought, some voluntarily relocated.

In any case, HSR on the peninsula is child's play compared to freeway projects. Property values will not go down. Eminent domain will not run rampant.

Clem will tell you why they chose the Caltrain corridor. Hopefully someone will listen to him.

Anonymous said...

My Grandmother lived by a very busy mailline..PennCentral CHI-NYP
and it was VERY busy with freight all day and night plus a few passenger trains..I love trains too. So living by this would not bother me either.I live in the city
next to a busy freeway and people with there stupid loud car music

Spokker said...

"There is not enough land here and people are desperate for living arrangements. Every piece of land is developed."

People are desperate for some of that good white livin', eh? Every piece of land is developed. I guess I'll just move next to the railroad tracks. I won't worry. My city council members are looking out for my good white interests.

What makes Caltrain a good neighbor anyway? They want to expand Caltrain to even more active levels. They want to run more trains an hour without grade separation, right? Wouldn't that be a real impenetrable "Berlin Wall" that no mere mortal could cross during rush hour?

Not that I care. I live in Orange County where the NIMBY fervor will impress even you ;) They just haven't woken up to the issue yet. I can't wait for that fight.

"But huge numbers of properties will be ruined for this %^$& train that is useless to us."

And this just reveals your true colors.

brent said...

mr spokker your use the magician's trick of diversion, either own up to your gaffe or defend it. speaking of a highway does not explain your comments. as stated, i would move, buy another property (at higher tax rates) or rent if ED came about, or even move out of country.
you seem to only focus on the "stupidity" of living next to railraod tracks, yet want high speed rail. please explain...

Spokker said...

Sorry, but I can't shed a tear for people who lose their houses due to eminent domain because of rail construction. We unfortunately live in a country dominated by car culture and we have built up poorly planned infrastructure. Little thought was given to the future and smart growth, and some people will fall through the cracks in order to get things done.

What are we to do? Hold candlelight vigils for your peninsula dream homes?

I will spell it out for you. I do not care.

I invite you to come down to Anaheim. There's only two tracks on the proposed HSR route and guess what, it really doesn't look like there's any room for two more. Gotta wonder how the OC Line, the IE-OC line, the 91 line, sporadic freight trains south of Fullerton and heavy freight traffic north of fullerton and HSR are going to integrate.

Caltrain will be a walk in the park compared to LA-Anaheim.

Bay Area Resident said...

Kensington Ken, it is true that palo alto can't join the Atherton lawsuit because they are out of time on that one. But that doesn't stop PA from filing another lawsuit.

Here is the lawsuit. The basic tenets seem to be (page 8),
1. UP right of way issues incl public safety impacts, which were not disclosed in the proposal.
2. The CHSRA produced a document with the preferred route (Pacheco) specified on the same day they produced another document with "summary of comments" from the public so that no review could have occurred of the public response (iow the route was already chosen public be damned)
3. Air quality and energy use were in an addenda and not circulated
4. finally a hearing on public comments happened and one day later they made the rec for Pacheco (again, not enough time to fully consider the options)

So with all this in mind the lawsuit charges that the environmental impacts of the Pacheco route were not disclosed properly, not enough detail and impact description, not enough alternatives in the design (Pacheco and Altamont only- and an interesting comment is made about caltrains ROW on 280 that should have been used), and failure to reply to comments.

Bay Area Resident said...

Spokker it is obvious you care quite a lot because this Peninsula activity is going to derail your little pet project. Too bad, so sad.

Spokker said...

I can't wait until I'm riding on the first revenue run of the California High Speed Train through Menlo Park and rubbing my bare ass cheeks on the window for every rich, white NIMBY to see.

It's going to be glorious! :)

Then again, I wonder how few people will actually see my big fat ass on the train since they'll all have lost their homes by then! Bwahahahaha.

Bay Area Resident said...

Do you have any opinions on the Caltrain tracks on 280 that they mention in the lawsuit? I have never heard of Caltrain tracks on 280.

Anonymous said...

@ Bay Area Resident. Thanks for the information. I appreciate the response. I have printed out the petition and will look into these issues and respond in a subsequent discussion after I review this and the answer and become more educated about the particular legal issues involved.

bossyman15 said...

XD Spokker you are very funny keep it up lol.

Bay Area Resident said...

geez take a chill pill. I don't have my contacts on. What difference does it make if it says CALTRANS or CALTRAIN? Who cares? Why aren't they considering it, do you know?

Spokker said...

And this is coming from a dumb guy like myself who doesn't understand absolutely everything, but Bay Area Resident really takes the cake. I'm sorry, I can't hold it in any longer.

Anonymous said...

I guess alot of this will be deleted in the AM..its fun to watch now!!!

Spokker said...

That's up to Robert. But God help me, dumb people are dangerous. They spread misinformation like wildfire to other dumb people. And sometimes they take a few well-meaning people with them.

We all say dumb things sometimes, but God, some of these vocal anti-HSR folks are just, wow. They don't want blacks dealing drugs in on the high speed train. They are petrified of migrant workers taking the train. They think the train will shake their houses off their foundations. It's just too much for one man to bear.

Hey brent, if this project is killed by dumb people, I'm going to move to another country with you, man. That's the truth.

Bay Area Resident said...

I've never seen any of you here actually discuss what is in that lawsuit. I don't think you've even read it or know where to look up a lawsuit, or know what the charges are, etc.

brent said...

mr spokker you will not have to moon anyone, your words on this blog expose your asshole enough. do you see that i am pragmatic enough to agree with you or is your polarity on the issue reducing you to a hyperbole? if it happens, so be it, but your regard for others reminds me of a child who wants their shiny toy at all costs, and i am disgusted by the utter disregard you have for others....

Unknown said...

My city council members are looking out for my good white interests.

Oh please. When you've got no argument, cry racism. Besides, we're talking about the Peninsula here - these people are just as likely to be Asian as white.

So how come you people don't underground, I dunno, *101*? Or better yet, rip 101 out?

Honestly, what's the point of comments like this? 101 was built back when people were more optimistic about freeways - do you really think that any proposal to build a massive freeway up the Peninsula would go over well today? One of the many advantages of rail lines as opposed to freeways is you've got a lot more options to integrate them with the existing built environment. So because bad transport decisions were made in the past we shouldn't take advantage of these options today?

Anonymous said...

I found an apple moth in Atherton. Someone send in the cropdusters.

Anonymous said...

The main delusion here is that the train will destroy the towns - like its something from a japanese monster movie. you'd think they'd spotted Mothra. I wonder how I'd survive living in SF if my sensibilities were so delicate. What do they do when they break a nail doing yard work down there. Oh never mind they have illegals doing that.

Anonymous said...

Clearly the local politicians in PA haven't been taken to the back room yet. They will. And the train will proceed.

Spokker said...

"but your regard for others reminds me of a child who wants their shiny toy at all costs, and i am disgusted by the utter disregard you have for others...."

All I am doing is expressing the same kind of attitudes from the opposition of Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto. It's all about me, me, me and the state's transportation needs be damned. This train is of no use to us so who cares how it benefits the state as a whole!

I wanted to feel what it was like to not care about anyone but yourself, so I acted like a peninsula NIMBY. It's a dark, dark place. I don't know how they can live like that.

Rafael said...

@ spokker -

I very much appreciate all the time, effort and passion you inject into the HSR discussion. However, resorting to insults may be counterproductive. I do struggle with it myself at times, but we need to dial back the emotion on both sides or we'll never arrive at a solution.

Wrt the fact that there are high-end residences literally within feet of the ROW, I agree that it was a zoning mistake that was made decades ago, when the peninsula was still full of orchards, before it turned into Silicon Valley.

As Clem explains here, one of the big attractions of the Caltrain corridor for this project is that a century ago, Southern Pacific prudently purchased enough land to ultimately support 4 tracks.

Property tax laws on private railroads actually discourage them from owning more land than they need, but SP realized that in the long run, nothing is more valuable than contiguous ROW.

What cities up and down the peninsula - and just about everywhere else - failed to understand is their role in using zoning laws to make an eventual capacity upgrade possible. They never said: you can't construct a building within so-and-so many feet of the railroad because we may need it one day as a passenger transportation artery.

There's a reason for that. Roads are publicly owned, so planners make sure they protect major transportation arteries by including generous medians for future lanes or other transportation options (e.g. rail transit). But unlike say, Europe, where the railways were consolidated and nationalized long ago, virtually all railroad ROWs in North America are still privately owned and operated - primarily for freight.

The SF peninsula counties decided to fight when SP tried to shut down its no longer profitable passenger rail service in 1977. Fourteen years of legal wrangling later, they bought the ROW for $220 million. In terms of ridership, it might even be the second most significant publicly owned passenger railroad ROW after the North-East Corridor.

Nevertheless, even as late as 1991, the new public owners did not perceive the ROW as a transportation corridor that just might need to be upgraded to a full four tracks at some point in the future. To their mind, a regional commuter line is all that it would ever be used for, because there was no long-term plan for a statewide bullet train system back then. Where would the additional ridership come from?

Various developers had already built then-affordable housing right up to the ROW here and there and newcomers accepted Caltrain as an unusual but useful quirk. As long as rail traffic volume remained moderate and especially, subject to local control, even partial capacity upgrades to four tracks for the baby bullet service were approved. So were selected grade separations and a plan for electrification, but actual implementation was always a slow, piecemeal but controllable process. Since it depends on public subsidies for its operations, Caltrain tries hard to be a good corporate citizen, subject to funding limitations.

Now that HSR actually made it onto the ballot, city and county officials saw it as an opportunity to improve Caltrain further by obtaining state and federal, perhaps even some private, funds. Already long-standing advocates of passenger rail as a regional alternative to large-footprint freeways, they bought into the concept of expanding that to the state level.

What local officials did not bargain for were three things:

First, the sheer scale of the capacity upgrade, in terms of the number of trains per hour by 2030, on top of Caltrain's own ambitious plans for 2025.

Second, the scale of the construction and environmental impacts of grade separation works right down the peninsula.

Third, the angry response to the perceived loss of local control, exacerbated by the particular type of grade separation on which cost estimates for the route had been made.

It's important to keep in mind that in the peninsula, uniquely in California, the locals really do own the right of way. They thought they had endorsed the idea of HSR, with the tacit understanding that it would be largely up to them how it would be implemented in their communities.

The peninsula counties and cities perceive the state of California, in the guise of CHSRA, as an outside agency asking for permission to use their ROW. And since they own it, that part is actually reasonable. Besides, the HSR project is supposed to be a net benefit for the cities and counties served.

What is unreasonable, despite the significant contributions the SF peninsula makes to both state and federal inland revenue, is that local officials and residents allowed prop 1A to go to the polls with a grand cost estimate far too low to meet the environmental standards in their communities - as opposed to the much lower ones applied by FRA.

Certainly, it would have helped if CHSRA had produced even a few hand sketches of what terms like "embankment" and "cut/fill" mean and published both its Google Earth version of the route and those sketches on an easily accessible web page. Some photos or video clips of examples of actual implementations in HSR or other rail projects, with some explanatory text would have been even better.

Perhaps the civil engineers consulting for CHSRA thought that it would not interest the general public anyhow, that they would defer to planning specialists in their communities who had endorsed what they had come up with.

On the other hand, perhaps there was a political calculation that HSR would never get off the ground at all unless the price tag was kept as low as possible.

Either way, that has turned out to be a communications mistake.

Had Palo Alto officials spoken up last summer and said to CHSRA that the lowest cost solution simply would not do, with other peninsula cities following suit, then the cost estimate for the segment would have been adjusted upward. The Caltrain corridor has many advantages for HSR, but not at any price.

Quite possibly, the preferred route would have been reconsidered. And by that, I don't mean the route out of the Bay Area (Altamont vs. Pacheco) but rather, the one inside it (SF+SJ vs. Oakland+SJ vs. SF+Oakland, with HSR service to the third city relegated to the future).

Pulling the rip cord after voters already approved prop 1A and the grand cost estimate tied to it via the preferred route pulls the rug out from under the entire project. In particular, suddenly demanding a series of long tunnels through the peninsula and that someone else pay for them, in return for permission to use the ROW at all sets a precedent for astronomical cost escalations all over the state.

This early in the game, cost containment is paramount. Other communities, e.g. in Orange County, won't have as much leverage because they don't actually own the ROW, but they will still make extreme demands if the SF peninsula gets a gold-plated solution without having to pay for (most of) the differential.

The cost estimate voters were given for the entire SF-Anaheim starter line along the preferred route was $33 billion, of which $4.2 billion was for the SF peninsula segment, include HSR contributions to the stations in SF, SJ, Millbrae and the mind-peninsula station, if any. That works out to something on the order of $55-$65 million per mile for grade separations, track work, electrification and relatively inexpensive mitigation measures such as sound walls. CHSRA made no bones about the fact that assumed that publicly owned ROWs would be made available at no charge.

In the special case of the Caltrain corridor, the quid-pro-quo is full grade separation and the joint use of the DTX tunnel and trainbox in downtown SF, features that are essential to letting Caltrain achieve the ambitious ridership growth spelled out in the Caltrain 2025 document. At 10tph each way during rush hour, grade crossings are closed around 40% of the time.

For reference, San Jose is now estimating $600 million per mile for its BART tunnel down E Santa Clara St. Tunneling through the mid-peninsula would cost at least as much.

Trenching would be a highly disruptive and expensive option in north Palo Alto because of San Francisquito creek, El Palo Alto and the existing underpasses. South of Oregon Expressway, it may be more viable and permit the intersections of Meadow and Charleston with Alma to be preserved.

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and the alignment can be kept at grade in north Palo Alto, with a focus on minimizing disruption to the High School both during and after construction. The ROW is 85' wide there, enough for four tracks plus thick sound walls (attractive ones) and the trees along the property line (albeit trimmed on the railroad side). If the Alma/Churchill intersection can sacrificed, a deep vehicle underpass and shallow underpasses for pedestrians and cyclist are possible, otherwise Alma must dip down as well.

Menlo Park may require a different solution than Palo Alto. They asked for a trench before, though it would be expensive. It would minimize the impacts on cross- and frontage roads, just as a nice viaduct would. The town has no underpasses at present and, there is around 4000ft of run length between San Francisquito creek and the Menlo Park station, which should be plenty for any desired transition that does not involve any deep tunnel bores under the creek.

Anonymous said...

Enough of the Nimbys..We all knew this was going to happen.If any one thought the Derail crowd would just curl up and die they were dreaming..this is there phase 2..and we are going to win again.
So I hope we can talk about the just announced Valley segment today

Bay Area Resident said...

Kensington and others, to me the key phrase in the lawsuit is this,

64. The FPEIR/S improperly and unfairly overemphasized the impacts of running the high
speed rail alignment through the cities of Pleasanton and Fremont as part of an Altamont Pass
alignment alternative, while, at the same time, underemphasizing the impacts of running the high
speed rail alignment through the developed urban jurisdictions along the San Francisco
Peninsula, including specifically Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale,
and Santa Clara, as well as portions of San Jose. In addition, by not disclosing the absence of
undeveloped land outside the UP corridor south of San Jose’s Diridon Station, the FPEIR/S
underemphasized the impacts of running the high speed rail alignment through portions of San
Jose south of that station.

In other words they made a big deal out of pleasanton and fremont and said nothing about the much more dense (and residential) peninsula route when making their decision, because it wasn't a decision at all and it did not adhere to CEQA guidelines, this was something San Jose/Diridon wanted be damned.

BTW as it turns out the property below Diridon station, north of Willow Glen which is the Merced link in the route, looks to be getting contentious also. A developer (KB homes I believe) has bought that land and started to partially develop it. Now a freeway will run right next to it which renders that complex moot.

Anonymous said...


You are dead wrong Clem. I have in my files a letter from the CalTrain legal council stating clearly CalTrain does not have eminent domain authority.

Other related agencies may have that authority, but not CalTrain. Certainly the Cities have eminent domain authority and unfortunately the CHSRA was so annointed.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your treatise in this thread.

with regards your comment:

What is unreasonable, despite the significant contributions the SF peninsula makes to both state and federal inland revenue, is that local officials and residents allowed prop 1A to go to the polls with a grand cost estimate far too low to meet the environmental standards in their communities - as opposed to the much lower ones applied by FRA.

What else should be have done? "We allowed Prop 1A to go to the polls with the far too low cost estimate"? We shouted about the proposed under-estimate of cost time and time again.

Robert and others have said we have no rights.

If the Authority had been at all honest about their cost estimates and impacts to the communities, do you think they could have gotten prop 1A passed? Not a chance.

The 52.5% margin is extremely slim, even with all the deception the Authority used and the massive funding at the end on a radio campaign.

The arrogance of Judge Kopp is amazing. He dismisses all opposition.

So here we are. Only time will tell the outcome.

I closed down derailhsr.com over the weekend. The Prop 1A / AB-3034 battle is over. Opposition to the project still remains.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Morris, you all have the same democratic rights as anyone else, but I am not surprised to hear you claim that people are trying to shut you down. A small but loud group of people on the Peninsula are trying to destroy a project that California voters - and San Mateo County voters - endorsed, but to do so you have to cast yourselves as "victims."

This project will be built and it will be built on the Caltrain corridor, and the fact that we even have to reiterate that point proves that this is really all about efforts to kill the project and not about making it work for the Peninsula.

If the cities on the Peninsula don't want to work constructively and instead want to oppose the project, then the CHSRA should just build whatever they want to, since the cities will have shown that they do not care about the final product.

You're using Peninsula residents as dupes to advance your own agenda. It's shameful.

timote said...


I appreciate you wanting to give the benefit of the doubt, but I think the application thereof MUST be limited. What I mean is this: I can understand a general citizen of a peninsula city being unaware of the details of the plan prior to the vote, and now being upset. Yes, the Authority should have done more visualizations and detailed work prior to the vote (not that they had the money).

However, this logic does NOT extend to the cities themselves. For Palo Alto, for example, to be unable to navigate a basic website or to not understand the concept of a embankment just doesn't pass the laugh test. Personally, I would extend this to anyone living right on the railroad ROW - you'd think that they'd keep themselves extremely involved in any decisions around that ROW, and this one had been in the news for years and years. To only decide now that the sky is falling implies bad judgement or poor motives for these individuals.

timote said...


Some of your stuff is really funny, but I think you officially need to breath, you've gone off the deep end. You should think about self-censoring (deleting) some of your comments or else the mods likely should. Let's keep this civil and rational, please - let's not allow the loonies to goad us down the slippery slope.

Unknown said...

Tunneling through the mid-peninsula would cost at least as much.

Why? A deep-bore tunnel under a major city costs less than a tunnel under an un-built-up ROW, which could largely be done by cut and cover? Where on earth are you getting this estimate?

Robert Cruickshank said...

timote, I completely agree with you on that point, and that's why I wrote this post as I did. I don't really care that some people on the Peninsula didn't pay attention last year, and I scoff at their "omg we just found out about this!" attitude.

But the Palo Alto City Council has no such excuse. Their actions Monday night were pure pandering of the worst sort, and are not credible on their face. What really frustrates me about this is that they're now willing to toss their city's own general plans out the window, and launch an attack on a high speed train they have consistently endorsed for years.

Anonymous said...


My point about 101 stands. Here in SF we tore down parts of 101 and 280. We even built a rail line in place of where we tore down 280. You could do that too and get your community back.

Rail lines makes property values go UP, not down. I'm already paying a 30% premium over nearby properties just to live close to a rail line. If you can make them run HSR to my doorstep please do, I'd be thrilled since I'm rent controlled (otherwise they'd raise my rent even more since HSR would make the property even more valuable).

The core issue here is that there does not have to be a solid wall embankment, it can be something else that looks better and integrates better.

The single biggest blight in downtown Palo Alto is El Camino Real -- it cuts a gash right down it. It is NOT a "complete street". It's virtually a freeway. HSR will not have anywhere near that impact.

So why not tear out El Camino? Or cut it down to 2 at-grade lanes with stop lights? I think it's because people in Palo Alto give automobiles special treatment that they wouldn't give trains.

bossyman15 said...

from the next post
"Union Pacific has stated it is not interested in high-speed rail,"

didn't UP own the Caltrain ROW? if so, did the CAHSR get agreement from them to use Caltrain ROW?

Robert Cruickshank said...

UP no longer owns the Peninsula ROW - it is owned by the Peninsula Joint Powers Board - i.e. Caltrain.

Anonymous said...


I remain committed to killing the project, which I view as a disaster for the State of California and a boondoggle of really unbelievable magnitude.

It was you and others who have tried to cast me and others as only expressing opposition to the project, because we lived near the tracks or in communities that were being severely adversely affected. We are the Deniers using your language.

Prop 1A was passed and we now enter a new era. This should be abundantly clear, when you watch a City council like Palo Alto now lament their having voted unanimously in support of Prop 1A.

Please don't take closing of the website as an indication that I feel I am being shut down and by outside forces.

Your title to this thread:

"Palo Alto Launches Attack on High Speed Rail Project"

is totally in-appropriate and completely miss-leading as is obvious to anyone who watched the meeting.

Many on the PA council still want HSR, but they don't want their community destroyed.

My position is different. I do want the project killed. I never got involved in this just worrying about my home or for that matter Menlo Park or Palo Alto or Atherton.

Anonymous said...

@ Rafael @ 3:33 am -
Awesome post, the best I've seen in any of these blogs. Thank you.

bossyman15 said...

Hey Morris Brown! Where have you been?! Welcome back!

Tony D. said...

I agree that all HSR supporter should take a chill pill and not get all riled up over these NIMBY naysayers. HSR and updated Caltrain will be built from SF to SJ, period! End of discussion.

What's puzzling to me is that while all of these Peninsula city's are lining up "against" HSR, 65% of their residents supported Prop. 1A. And as someone stated earlier, 50 out of 58,000 Palo Alto residents are dictating what their city council should recommend. None of this makes sense. So it must all be about politics, with council members knowing that HSR will be built regardless of what they recommend, while at the same time looking like "heroes" to all the deniers. Again, this will be built!

I have a proposal. Build the line underground in all peninsula city's that oppose HSR, thus leaving them out of both HSR and Caltrain service. That's right! No stations for your citizens. I bet the 65% will really appreciate that one.

Clem said...

@old-timer, I stand corrected. Eminent domain would be carried out by VTA or Samtrans, not Caltrain.

Anonymous said...

Daniel, I think you are correct that this sudden concern for station capacity from CHSRA may be a death knell for the Transbay extension. BART, Central Subway interests, and others are likely weighing in politically. This is another test of whether CHSRA really cares about an effective HSR system, and it's failing the test. Sadly, I am not surprised, but dammit, where is the real concern for HSR?

The Transbay extension is far more important for HSR system performance than four-tracking and completely grade separating the Peninsula line. Given the choice of the Transbay extension or redundant four-tracking of the Peninsula, the Transbay extension is far more important. All the hullabaloo on the Peninsula isn't even necessary, since four-tracking and grade separations are luxuries.

To outline which Caltrain/HSR system outcome is more important:
1) A Transbay extension combined with the planned Caltrain upgrades of electrification, fencing, and new passing tracks. HSR trains can easily keep their speed by using just the Caltrain upgrades, but the extension into downtown SF is a crucial system improvement.


2) A four-tracked, completely grade separated Peninsula corridor with no Transbay extension. This will be an extremely expensive, contested project with scarcely any system performance improvement over just the planned Caltrain upgrades.

The Transbay extension is the cake, and we're worried about the crumbs on the Peninsula.

This blog places great importance on the promises and voting patterns of the bond vote. Without SF and Alameda counties, the strongest supporters of Prop 1A, the bond vote would never have passed, yet these two counties seem to be getting the shaft from CHSRA. San Francisco voters should be livid.

Spokker said...

I was accused of displaying a lack of empathy here. I will tell you who I feel for.

I feel for the old timers who have been advocating mass transit solutions for years who may not live to actually see their dreams come to fruition.

I feel for guys who can't wait until 2032 to see a subway to the sea open. I feel for advocates who are doing to drop dead before 2030 and won't see HSR connect Sacramento to San Diego.

Part of the reason is that large public works projects just take so damn long to design and build. But another reason, the saddest reason, is that petty politics and shameless posturing by affected communities delay projects or outright kill them.

That's who I sympathize with and if that's not enough for you then sue me.

Unknown said...

@Fred Martin - HSR couldn't run at speed without multiple-tracking caltrain; it would most likely be limited to the same top speed as caltrain - running multiple trains at different top speeds produces severe scheduling problems on a congested line.

That said, I'm not totally convinced this is that awful of a thing - Caltrain may very well get FRA waivers to raise its top speed beyond its current 79 mph - and even at that speed a nonstop train could make it from SJ to SF in 45 minutes or less.

In some ways its similar to what happened with the High Speed 1 (Channel Tunnel Link) line in England from Kent to London St. Pancras. Originally it was to run mostly above ground, when East London politicians squawked about that it was split into two projects - initially trains were diverted to commuter lines on the outskirts of the city until money could be raised to tunnel under the London suburbs.

There is a problem though that any grade crossings and freight on the line would probably make the FRA much less likely to approve the CHSRA's use of lightweight, off-the shelf European/Japanese equipment, possibly forcing CHSRA to adopt a heavy, expensive, unique design like the Acela.

That said, I've never completely understood why so many HSR backers are so passionate about Transbay. Don't get me wrong, I think it's a good idea. But 4th and King already has connections to downtown and the waterfront, and it seems to me the central subway, which would take you right downtown, is pretty much a done deal, isn't it? It's got federal funding and everything.

Maybe keeping the terminal at 4th and King would spur redevelopment in that area. It's not like they're terminating the line in Millbrae or something, the two spots are about a mile apart.

I mean, in LA, Union Station is stuck on the other side of the 101 from the downtown core, to get downtown you've got to take either a bus shuttle or a hinky little 2-stop subway ride. Or a long walk.

There's some regret that things weren't planned better, but nobody seems to think we ought to undertake a risky, multi-billion dollar project just to build a terminal right downtown.

Don't get me wrong, I think Transbay is a good idea in theory, if it's done right; I don't understand the idea that the whole HSR project is DOOMED if it doesn't go through.

Adam said...

I've been reading these posts about the ignorant, small in number, but loud in voices and $$$ Palo Alto Nimbies and I'm anxiously awaiting how they're going to mitigate this. Of course if you have common sense you'll just realize that the maximum eminent domain they'll take is probably five feet on each side of the ROW, which will probably mean cutting down and planting new trees at worst. Unless someone built their house right up against the property line (and you'd either be an idiot or someone who hates rail so much they want to impose car culture on the entire country (I don't own a car) to do this), there really should be no complaints.

The reason I'm interested in this is how much the penninsula can learn from the Northeast Corridor, and how much the NEC can learn from CalTrain-CAHSR about this.

Let's look at the NEC in New Jersey. It's a 4-5 track line that will essentially be similar to this. It runs through downtown Metuchen, New Brunswick, Rahway, and other boros and cities in NJ (including the hamlet of *gasp* Menlo Park!), and has Amtrak and NJ Transit service that's probably more frequent than Caltrain-HSR service will be. No one has a problem with this. Trains run up to 135 MPH on this stretch (if the catenary were fixed trains could probably run much, much faster than this).

Our version of Menlo Park (a hamlet of Edison Township) has developed into the busiest non-terminal station NJ Transit operates on; we call it Metropark. Some Acela trains stop there, too, and although there's no TOD there, it's still very heavily used by commuters. And the NEC is very unobtrusive. Most underpasses underneath it depress a little and as a result the line doesn't look like it's obtrusive, considering it runs right through Metuchen. It's just a little underpass you'll see if you're driving on the street and it certainly doesn't divide the town.

Unknown said...

@Adam, probably not too great of an idea to go around calling people ignorant and then promptly claiming the NEC is applicable to the Caltrain ROW.

BruceMcF said...

Yes! Finally someone talking about actual, factual, split grade:

"Most underpasses underneath it depress a little and as a result the line doesn't look like it's obtrusive, considering it runs right through Metuchen."

People, running underpasses through at grade and the rail line overhead is not split grade, its elevated alignment. Whether its on an embankment or above a wall on top of fill or on an arched viaduct or on a cable stayed suspended viaduct ... if the road is going straight through, there's no SPLIT to the grade.

On the other hand, if you need, say, two feet for the trackbed and an eight foot underpass, putting the trackbed up five feet and the underpass down five feet, splitting the difference, is split grade.

In much of the suburban alignment, planting new trees at grade next to a five foot wall with crawling vines down the wall would quickly recreate the "green wall" effect presently in place, except that the trains when they go through more quietly would be five feet higher up.

Of course, there may be a few full access truck underpasses required, would be engineered where it is most convenient to put a deeper underpass through.

Obviously if that is the alignment through the residential areas, then in the middle of town you'd want the bottom of the trackbed to be basically at second story level, so that the its possible to put sidewalks and plazas and ground floor retail and leisure space in the space behind a series of arches ... but a five foot wall behind greenery in a suburban area that presently has a rail corridor behind greenery ... with underpasses replacing level crossings that are frequently closed ... combined with lower noise levels and hopefully with extra pedestrian/cyclist subways provided where the rail corridor is presently an obstacle ... could easily be a net plus.

Unknown said...

@Bruce - you may love your viaducts with pretty archways, but that's not what CHSRA is proposing. Their plans show cut and fill and retained embankments. Not one viaduct. Viaducts are more expensive, especially once you add in decorative features like arches. In fact I'd wager they're not too much cheaper than a trench.

You'll be astonished to know that most people do understand what split grade is, they just don't want trains looming over their backyards.

Adam said...

Eric, I probably should've been clearer. I meant to say certain aspects of it can be implemented on Caltrain. Mind, a lot of it sucks (especially in Connecticut, but let's not go there).

But the point I forgot to mention was to see how CAHSR mitigates this, and if they're successful, we can similarly upgrade the NEC. If we add two more tracks and restrict them to Acelas (and upgrade the caternary of course), it would be conceivable to have them running at speed of 180 MPH in some parts (that's just a guess based on what I know the Acela's max speed is).

Rafael said...

@ Morris Brown -

welcome back. We're on opposite sides of this issue, but that should not preclude civilized discussion.

HNTB's first cut at project-level EIR/EIS has gone down like a lead balloon. What they showed is the implementation scenario that CHSRA's cost estimates were based on. Planning officials in the city of Palo Alto - like anywhere else - were supposed to be briefed about how CHSRA came up with its dollar figures. I'm not privy to what briefings did or did not take place, nor do I know if the city made any effort to obtain input from its residents prior to the November election.

But to anyone on the outside looking in, it appeared at the time that opposition to using the peninsula route from SF to San Jose was limited to a vocal minority of individuals such as yourself and Martin Engel, living in Menlo Park and Atherton. The fact that no such opposition was evident from other peninsula cities at the time suggested that they did in fact support not just the idea of HSR but that they were also prepared to accept the cost estimate as a starting point for project-level refinement.

As it turns out, there is a larger, now equally vocal group spread across multiple cities but centered on Palo Alto that are saying: we endorse the concept of HSR, even in our downtown area, just not like this.

As for legal issues: the Caltrain ROW is an anomaly in California, indeed the nation, in that it is publicly owned. Not by the state or the nation, mind you, but by a consortium of three counties represented by the peninsula joint powers board.

Afaik, CHSRA has not yet obtained the legal right to use the Caltrain ROW, any more than it has secured deals with the freight rail operators in other parts of the state. However, after all the planning activity that has already happened and the decision on prop 1A, I do hope that everyone - us HSR supporters included - will take a deep breath, hit the reset button and give HNTB a chance to develop an alternate proposal that does not break the bank but is acceptable to peninsula residents.

If at the end of a good faith effort on both sides to arrive at a consensus, that proves impossible or unaffordable, then the JPB can still say thanks, but no thanks (after consulting with their paymasters, the three counties). CHSRA is not subject to city planning permits, but of course Palo Alto has substantial clout in San Mateo county and that county in the JPB. However, pulling that rip cord this early on, prior to a fresh good faith effort, is not appropriate IMHO.

Rafael said...

@ Eric, Adam -

FRA rules prohibit mixed traffic, i.e. operating FRA-compliant and non-compliant equipment on the same track, unless there is guaranteed time separation via signaling or, a waiver is issued. UPRR has raised safety and liability concerns related to fouling adjacent tracks in the event of a derailment, which is why its current position is that it doesn't want any HSR trains within 200 feet of any tracks that it owns.

In the specific case of the Caltrain corridor, the plan is to have two tracks that are used by Caltrain and UPRR and two that are used by non-compliant bullet trains. In addition, Caltrain's baby bullet express service is supposed to make brief excursions onto the HSR tracks to overtake slower local and the occasional freight train.

Unless there's a track outage or construction work that requires a temporary change, bullet trains and freight trains would never share track in the SF peninsula.

In addition, Caltrain wants to switch to modern, lightweight, non-compliant EMU equipment in the context of electrification at the international standard of 25kV single-phase AC, which is also what the bullet trains will use.

Caltrain will need an FRA waiver to operate these EMUs on track shared with its owned legacy equipment and UPRR trains. To this end, it has already produced the requisite computer simulations to show that the non-compliant EMUs actually offer the same or better crash protection than the much heavier FRA-compliant alternative - a result that was reportedly well received by FRA. However, the waiver process is still pending.

All of this is to be supported by modern signaling equipment including proven and interoperable positive train control equipment. Caltrain, the ROW owner, would be responsible for operating this signaling for all four tracks.

Caltrain's literature on its Plan 2025 refers to this setup as Rapid Rail, a term this blog has since borrowed for corridors with maximum speeds of 125mph. This is separate from what Europeans call very high speed rail, i.e. passenger/light cargo-only tracks with higher speed limits (typically 186-205mph these days, but 220mph in the Central Valley). At the federal level, both Rapid Rail and VHSR are lumped together as HSR.

Separately, CHSRA will seek a "rule of special applicability" for its network. This is necessary both because FRA simply doesn't have any rules at all for operations at 220mph right now and, because of the special track sharing considerations in the SF peninsula and in the Fullerton-Anaheim section, which is too narrow to support dedicated HSR tracks.

The California system will therefore be FRA's rule development platform for VHSR, as well as one of the platforms for Rapid Rail. It's quite possible that UPRR and other freight rail operators will be more amenable to ceding part of their ROWs once there is an official regulatory framework for safe Rapid Rail operations.

Full-fat VHSR might also make sense in Texas, Florida and definitely in the NEC. Putative spurs off the California system to Las Vegas and Phoenix would also be VHSR. I expect that virtually all VHSR networks will have some Rapid Rail sections and spurs.

If the new FRA rules make sense, it's possible that Canadian and Mexican authorities will write similar ones to create a regulatory path for HSR within their countries and across the border (add'l customs/immigration rules required).


Note that from an engineering and operations point of view, FRA forced Amtrak and Bombardier to bulk up a perfectly good non-compliant tilt train design to such an extent that its scheduled maintenance intervals had to be cut by a factor of 20. In spite of the resulting higher fares, the Acela Express is a commercial success - but an abject regulatory failure.

If FRA cannot figure out a way to permit the use of proven, essentially off-the-shelf non-compliant bullet trains in the California system, we might as well fuggedaboudit.


Note also that HR 1, the stimulus bill, allocated $8 billion to HSR in the sense of last year's HR 2095, which explicitly defines a target top speed of at least 110mph. In effect, that's an increase from DOT's previous definition of 90mph or higher.

This point is relevant to other passenger rail projects around the nation that will seek a slice of the $9.5 billion total that these two bills have reserved as federal assistance for HSR. If your project doesn't call for 110mph or more or, it's not in one of the 11 designated HSR corridors, it is not eligible.

Unknown said...

@Rafael, not that I'm doubting your research, but could you provide some links or citations? In that one post we just blasted through numerous FRA regulations, is there somewhere where I can get more details on how CHSRA and Caltrain actually plan to take on the FRA, and what they jointly intend to propose? I've seen the Caltrain crash-test report but it's short on specifics.

Basically, you can make a lot of the same arguments with respect to CHSRA as were made to the FRA vs. the NEC. So we're saying, take the same course, yet expect a different result, the proverbial definition of insanity.

So honestly, what's the difference between Caltrain and the NEC and why will Caltrain succeed where the NEC failed?

Unknown said...

BTW, an operating plan that seeks to restrict freight trains from HSR tracks isn't good enough per the FRA. It's still a live connection if the lines physically connect. For example, PATH connects to NJ Transit through one disused junction on the entire route, but because of that, PATH requires an FRA waiver.

Adam said...

They ought to reform those policies to make it easier to grant waivers. From what I understand they just granted Austin a waiver for Capital Metro so long as they put steel casings around the fuel tanks in their DMUs.

Personally I think so long as you have very high quality signaling you should be allowed a waiver.

Peter said...

Looks like Redwood City isn't nearly as hostile as PA, meaning they'll probably have a better chance at getting the station.

News article from last night.

Wonder if PA will react when they realize how many millions of dollars they could lose out on, or keep with their current anti-HSR kick.

Clem said...

but of course Palo Alto has substantial clout in San Mateo county and that county in the JPB

@Rafael, please note Palo Alto is in Santa Clara County, not San Mateo. The county line is at the San Francisquito Creek.

Andrew Bogan said...

"Unfortunately the Palo Alto City Council has chosen poorly as well, preferring to fuel a broad-based attack on the high speed rail project to a more reasonable set of suggestions about how to effectively build HSR in Palo Alto."

As one of the few HSR supporters who spoke at Palo Alto City Hall on Monday, I caution against making assumptions as to Palo Alto's City Council's position.

The meeting had ~50 vocal opponents of HSR (mostly NIMBYs) in attendance and the Council Members are elected officials who cannot afford to be seen ignoring grumpy constituents. Besides myself, Rod Diridon, and Dominic Spaethling, very few of the silent majority in favor of HSR in Palo Alto attended the meeting.

For the even fewer of us who stayed through the entire meeting and waited for City Council to vote on their motions and amendments at 12:30AM (after 6 1/2 hours of discussion), the outcome was actually pretty balanced:

Palo Alto City Council did not advocate or even consider joining the Atherton lawsuit, they merely requested closed session with the City Attorney to get an update on that suit. There is no indication that there was much, if any support, on the Council for even filing an amicus brief--and it was clearly accepted by all Council Members that the statute of limitations for joining the plaintiffs was past. Even Council Member Klein's anti-rail remarks focused mainly on legislative and initiative action--not the judicial process. He is supportive of HSR so long as it is tunneled, though he is doubtful of the benefits of a Palo Alto HSR Station.

Most Palo Alto Council Members are supportive of high speed rail--but they do want the upcoming EIR to include a study of tunneling in its scope (which is only sensible). Many Council Members would likely support an above ground option, if the NIMBYs can be calmed down a bit. We should focus on using facts and data to combat their often inaccurate claims. We should all be careful not join them in inflammatory name calling, since they are simply selfishly worried about their property values.

All the reporting on Palo Alto siding with Atherton to insist on reopening Altamont is barely accurate. City staff included in their report a clear preference for tunneling and a suggestion that Altamont be revisited--only if tunneling is rejected. After Rod Diridon said that was not an option anymore, one of our Council Members specifically asked the City Staff to consider removing the mention of Altamont from their final report, which Staff said would be reviewed with counsel.

The nonsense in the press and blogs about Palo Alto City Council having insisted on Altamont or intending to sue the CAHSRA is just false. The Council voted unanimously to continue studying HSR alignments through Palo Alto and to continue studying a Station, just like they voted unanimously in favor of Prop 1A previously. Nobody mentioned changing the Council's endorsement of Prop 1A, though some expressed regret about their information access at the time of that vote (which is clever politics).

My first-hand impression of the meeting was that most of Palo Alto City Council is still in favor of HSR, with a slight majority also open to asking the CAHSRA for a Palo Alto Station, but only once a full study has been completed. A study of the Station will be conducted and it will also involve the Palo Alto Planning Commission, where Commissioner Arthur Keller strongly supports HSR and a Station in Palo Alto, though he does prefer tunneling (as do I).

It is correct that Palo Alto has seen a vocal minority of NIMBYs try to protest every aspect of HSR, but let's not antagonize our City Council just yet. After all, the vote was unanimous to (1) request a study of a tunnel for HSR to be included in the EIR scope and to (2) conduct a study on the impacts, costs, and benefits of a Palo Alto HSR Station. That is in fact a "more reasonable set of suggestions about how to effectively build HSR in Palo Alto."

As an outspoken supporter of HSR for Palo Alto, I was actually greatly encouraged by our City Council's actions on Monday, despite the news in the local papers (at least one of which did quote me in favor of the project).

timote said...

Andrew Bogan-

Great update, thanks a lot for the coverage of the meeting!

Anonymous said...


While I respect your support for HSR, you are deluding yourself if you think there is a single council member who would support any version of above ground HSR.

Yes, there are some members on the council who blow with the wind, but there are others who have no problem telling people to get lost. And they did not.

There are council elections in November and I can promise you that HSR stance will be the litmus test for successful candidancy.

Andrew Bogan said...

As usual, the NIMBYs vastly over-estimate their support. HSR may become a litmus test for November's Palo Alto elections, or it may not.

However, Palo Alto already voted ~65% in favor of HSR, with no assurance that tunneling would be properly studied, on Prop 1A in November. Now that tunneling is going to be properly studied (something I have advocated for at the highest levels), why do the noisy NIMBYs think their minority of opposition voters will suddenly control election outcomes?

Bay Area Resident said...

Bogan, you are outnumbered 20:1. You know it and I know it, people that post on Palo Alto online know it. It doesn't matter who voted for the deliberately obvuscated prop 1a, in fact it may not even stand up in court. The only people who will survive in Palo Alto and San Mateo etc city councils are people who really stood up to the threat.

Anonymous said...

Wrong...the PA nimbys..which your are not since you state that you live in SJ are small group out of 58,000 people.A whooping 50 people half of them kids march on city hall and thatsa majority? That very website you talk about has about 4-5 of the ring leaders posting many times over..you included..ie willow glen

Anonymous said...

@Clem @ Rafael

The comments above from Rafael and then by Clem

but of course Palo Alto has substantial clout in San Mateo county and that county in the JPB

@Rafael, please note Palo Alto is in Santa Clara County, not San Mateo. The county line is at the San Francisquito Creek.

I am quite certain Rafael knew very well that Palo Alto is in Santa Clara county. Rafael's comment that Palo Alto nevertheless has clout in San Mateo county is very very true. I would judge that Palo Alto has more political clout because of the support of Stanford University and because so many alumni from the University live in both counties. As a resident of Menlo Park, I certainly know of their political clout in our county of San Mateo.

The Palo Alto council meeting on Monday March 2, represents a major tidal wave of change on the project. The meeting can be watched on the internet at:


and starting the audio/video under item E. There are many important slots in this video, but one might for sure go into the file at 1:52 and listen to ex-Mayor Mike Cobb deliver some outstanding comments.

Remember the Palo Alto council endorsed Prop 1A on a 9 - 0 vote last year. As you well can see, that would not be the vote today. The net change of the PA council position will only come forth later this month.

How many other city councils along the peninsula which also endorsed Prop 1A are now re-thinking their position? We shall see.

Andrew Bogan said...

My remarks in favor of HSR in Palo Alto at City Council are at:


Scroll down to the video link on item E and then drag the triangle on the video monitor forward to 2:09:30.

It is no surprise that most of the ~35 public comments from Palo Alto residents on HSR were opposed in one way or another, since most of the large majority in favor of Prop 1A see no reason to protest anything now that the measure was passed by the voters. I only attended because I was alarmed by the obstructionist NIMBY nonsense I had heard the prior two weeks at community meetings on HSR.

It is noteworthy that when Atherton and Menlo Park City Councils opposed Prop 1A before the November election and sued the CAHSRA that both of their mayors lived within 500 feet of the Caltrain tracks and had to recuse themselves from their Council's votes. What does NIMBY stand for?

BruceMcF said...

Eric said ... "@Bruce - you may love your viaducts with pretty archways, but that's not what CHSRA is proposing. Their plans show cut and fill and retained embankments. Not one viaduct."

There is no detailed plan for the alignment. If a community would find a viaduct preferable to an embankment in a particular area, they do need to ask for it to be one of the options planned.

Of course the devout opponents will focus on the alignment options that are the most expensive and difficult to provide, since they are most likely to de-rail the project, but is substantial segment of a particular community along the alignment is in particular against a particular solution, there is ample time now to get their request in for a range of different options to be included.

A suburban residential area with a 100' right of way and no problems with the turn radius in their section of the alignment might in fact prefer an embankment and a split grade, with a landscaped fence at the top of the embankment, grassed embankment and trees planting in the fringe of the right of way.

On the other hand, a town center may have road intersections close to existing grade crossings, and a built structure that makes it preferable to have a fully elevated alignment and the roads at grade. There, a simple viaduct with arched column architectural features and patio and space for small shops may be preferable.

And where there is a difficulty in the alignment that requires straightening out, a suspended viaduct allows the narrowest possible footprint.

The detailed plans are yet to be arrived at ... there are a wide range of possible designs, and pro-active community will insist on getting a range of specific designs prepared so that they can make an intelligent choice from the real world options that are facing them.