Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mythbusting the Caltrain Corridor

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

Over the last few months the debate on the Peninsula over high speed rail has been dominated by lots of myths, misunderstandings, and in some cases, deliberate obfuscation of the truth.

As far as I can tell it's a simple issue - some residents believe their property values are more important than the state's efforts to solve the environmental, energy, and economic crisis by providing sustainable transportation solutions. It's not a new phenomenon and we should not be surprised that "even" Palo Alto, when confronted between a perceived threat to their property values and a very real threat to their economy and environment, are choosing to cling to obsolete models of prosperity rather than take action to solve the much larger crises facing us all.

This would be much easier if we were dealing with a town that prided itself on political conservatism. They'd just say "high speed rail is a waste of money" and be done with it. (Which is pretty much Morris Brown's position anyway.) Since Palo Alto likes to see itself as more progressive they cannot actually openly admit that they'll try and derail HSR in order to possibly preserve the property values of a small handful of people (I am unconvinced that above-grade HSR would actually hurt property values, but I also don't anticipate many in Palo Alto will agree), HSR critics and opponents have to find other reasons to articulate opposition. Unfortunately, most of those reasons are based on myths.

Will Oremus of the Daily News interviewed Dominic Spaethling, regional manager of the SF-SJ section of the HSR project for CHSRA, to determine which of these myths is true and which isn't. In some cases I disagree with Oremus's conclusions, and it's Spaethling's answers that are the most revealing.

Claim: The default plan for the Peninsula is to run the high-speed tracks on an elevated platform, likely in the form of a "retained fill" design that some have likened to a 15-foot-high "Berlin Wall" dividing local neighborhoods.

Status: Mostly fact, with caveats.

Explanation: In its broad, initial study of the high-speed rail line's feasibility, the rail authority assumed that the tracks would alternate between underground, at-grade and elevated alignments at different points along the line. A diagram available on the authority's Web site shows the tracks going underground at points in northern San Jose and southern San Francisco, but above-ground in between. While some parts of the tracks would stay at ground level, the "retained fill" option was chosen for many intersections because that's what was used in Belmont and San Carlos, the sites of the most recent grade separations on the mid-Peninsula.

In other words, the retained fill option was a possible solution that was being considered based on what has been done elsewhere on the Peninsula. Whether one likes the Belmont and San Carlos grade separations, they are part of the Peninsula's urban geography now, and it made sense to offer them as an option - as Spaethling explains:

The big caveat is that the preliminary study was just that — preliminary. Spaethling described it as a "proof of concept" to show just one way that the marriage of high-speed rail and Caltrain could work. The next step is the project-level environmental study, which by law is required to evaluate all options put forward in the public scoping process that concludes Monday. That means the rail authority will look at underground as well as above-ground options in places such as Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and downtown San Mateo.

This has been true for months. But to the small NIMBY contingent in those cities, options aren't enough. They believe they have the right and the power to dictate solutions to the rest of the state, and that unless their preferred option is chosen, then the project is illegitimate. They don't want an open process at all.

A second caveat is that the "Berlin Wall" analogy is exaggerated. The purpose of the retained fill is to lift the tracks over certain key cross streets, meaning it wouldn't be one continuous wall. Many in Belmont and San Carlos would likely dispute the idea that their cities are divided like East and West Berlin.

Here I think Oremus is hedging unnecessarily. The Berlin Wall analogy is bullshit. The Berlin Wall was meant to be an impenetrable barrier crossed only upon pain of death. An above-grade solution on the Peninsula would be designed to be a passable barrier to be crossed often and safely. We have previously examined elegant above-grade solutions and yet these appear to have not been discussed in any great detail, if at all, on the Peninsula. That leads me to further question just how open a process some HSR critics and NIMBYs actually seek. In particular it is objectionable that the Palo Alto city council does not appear to have given much consideration to these kind of options before voting to file a brief in support of the HSR deniers' suit against the CHSRA.

Claim: El Palo Alto, the historic redwood tree that gave Palo Alto its name, will almost certainly be fatally damaged or removed due to construction of the high-speed tracks just north of the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station.

Status: Myth, hopefully.

Explanation: It's true that El Palo Alto stands perilously close to the Caltrain tracks, and the city's arborist has determined that any expansion in its direction, even underground, could doom it. But Spaethling said officials know it's there and will aim to avoid it. The authority's initial study showed trains running at-grade at the Palo Alto station and the San Francisquito Creek bridge, meaning construction there would be less intensive. Though nothing has been decided, Spaethling said the natural approach would be to build the tracks to the west of their current location — the opposite direction from the tree.

An interesting thing I learned recently was that El Palo Alto used to have a twin trunk and that by the 1950s the tree was severely damaged by train pollution. The tree is intensively managed today in order to stay alive. One has to imagine that the near-total removal of diesel emissions would help preserve the tree's health. And of course, it has been known for quite a while that any new tracks would go west of the tree, but that hasn't stopped the critics.

Claim: There is a chance that construction will force the authority to acquire private property, perhaps through eminent domain.

Status: Fact.

Explanation: The authority has been reluctant to discuss eminent domain, pointing out that it would be used only as a last resort. Gary Kennerly, regional manager for the San Jose-to-Merced section, said an initial review estimated 85 percent of the Caltrain corridor is wide enough to accommodate four tracks side-by-side. But that leaves portions where engineers may have to get creative.

Spaethling said they'd look at solutions such as stacking the Caltrain and high-speed tracks two-by-two before resorting to acquiring property. If they do have to acquire property, he added, they'd prefer friendly negotiations to the legal process of eminent domain. That said, no one is prepared to rule it out.

The chance is certainly there that eminent domain may have to happen, but I wish Oremus had gone into further detail about what that might actually mean. It's not anticipated that many houses will have to be torn down. The most common impact would be a yard, and I have no sympathy for that whatsoever - if someone has to lose part of their yard so California can get off oil dependence, cut carbon emissions, and grow its economy, then that's what needs to happen. That being said, it's right for a city like Palo Alto to debate the best way to implement HSR for their community. But it's absurd to argue that yards > HSR.

I would be VERY amused to see a stacking solution used, especially in Menlo Park and Atherton. It'd be like the spite fence built on Nob Hill back in the 1800s. Again, if they want a tunnel, they will have to pay for it out of their own pocket. It is highly unlikely federal money will be forthcoming - things have changed dramatically in the 40 years since Berkeley was able to use some redevelopment funds, along with a local tax, to bury BART.

Claim: It's too late to push for the tracks to follow a different route; the decision to use the Caltrain corridor has already been made.

Status: Fact, pending court ruling.

Explanation: In 2008, after years of debate, the California High Speed Rail Authority approved a report that selected the Pacheco Pass alignment over the Altamont Pass option, meaning trains would reach San Francisco via the Peninsula rather than the East Bay. Included in the report were plans to use the Caltrain corridor rather than alternatives such as Highway 101 or Interstate 280. Officials said all the overpasses that cross the freeways presented an almost insurmountable design challenge.

Aside from those active in transit boards, Peninsula officials largely sat out the battle, which raged in San Jose and the East Bay. Several have said recently they weren't even aware of it.

I have less and less confidence in the basic competence of "Peninsula officials" every day. We discussed this decision frequently last year - prior to July it was THE #1 topic on the blog. There is no excuse at all for any public official representing a jurisdiction along the Caltrain corridor for not knowing about the battle.

The decision left several transit groups angry, arguing the East Bay alignment would have served more Bay Area riders. They, along with the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton, filed a lawsuit in August challenging the environmental report. Unless they prevail in Sacramento Superior Court, however, the Caltrain alignment is likely a done deal.

I have yet to see a compelling reason why these groups should expect to win in court. They are merely unhappy with the decision in the final EIR/EIS.

As the article shows, there could be a lot more truth and evidence interjected into the debate over HSR on the Peninsula. I don't think any of that matters to the NIMBYs. But it should matter to everyone else, and especially to the members of the city councils along the route.

Note: we'll shift focus away from Palo Alto tomorrow and on Saturday, so get your Palo Alto-related comments in today, as I'm going to request that comments on the next two posts stay on-topic.


Bianca said...

A lot of good points raised here. The allegation that people "didn't know" that the Caltrain corridor was the planned route for HSR is really hard to stomach. It's not like the route hasn't been discussed in the bay area press since, oh, 1999. If people have been sticking their heads in the sand for the last decade it's hard to buy the "nobody told us!" argument.

When we first moved to the Peninsula from Berkeley we wound up renting a house three blocks east of the Caltrain right-of-way. The first night, as the freight trains came through, my husband and I looked at each other and said "WTF? Freight trains run on those tracks at night?" We had no idea before we moved in, and we heard those trains loud and clear every night. It may be that over time you get used to that noise, but we never did. Now we live a bit further away from the tracks but we still hear the freight trains. People who claim that Caltrain isn't loud maybe need to have their hearing checked.

Unloto said...

I pose one serious question to the people along the corridor. If there was no HSR under consideration, would you support or fight total grade separation for Caltrain?

Anonymous said...

Those freight trains, btw, would be about 3x louder with elevated tracks.

Anonymous said...

Would fight total grade separation.

With Caltrain, it would be up to each city to decide what to do - which is the way it should be.

The choices would be:

Landscaped Berm a la san carlos.

Pretty viaduct a la Robert.

Tunnel a la palo alto.

Cut and Cover.


Nothing, a la atherton.

There are some crossings where a couple of extra trains would be a real problem. There are others where it would be slightly annoying but worth having better transit.

Each city could then pick its poison - and grade separations would happen because the residents want them, not because it is being shoved down their throats.

For those where you needed to do something, tunneling would be half the cost of doing the 4 tracks required with HSR coming through. This makes the air-rights/ tunneling math much closer to viable.

A landscaped berm preserving all existing trees is a possibility with 2 tracks, where there would be leftover ROW for bike paths, trees, slopes etc.

A nice viaduct in some of the downtowns is feasible, where a 75 foot wide one would go into the road with HSR.

A trench is cheaper for two tracks.


Please note, with electrification, Caltrain could double ridership by increasing train size to 10 cars so it would be awhile before the number of trains changed dramatically.

Rafael said...

@ Bianca -

the freight trains are operated by UPRR, not Caltrain. Most of the noise you hear where you live today is probably those infernal horns. FRA now offers a regulatory path for quiet zones, something worth considering if HSR falls through for any reason.

If the old Dumbarton rail bridge were re-instated before ground was broken on HSR, UPRR might be prepared to run its nightly Mission Bay Hauler across it. Freight to and from its remaining customers south of Mountain View would then be collected by a separate train.

Result: no more freight trains between Redwood City and Mountain View. However, if UPRR agrees, it would likely retain its existing easement on the entire corridor, given that the rail bridge is 100 years old and obviously susceptible to fire.

Diverting the freight trains could make HSR construction in this sensitive portion of the Caltrain ROW easier, faster and cheaper. Sort of depends on how flexible Caltrain decides to be, right now they're insisting on uninterrupted rail service during construction.

@ Unloto -

quite a number of cross roads on the Caltrain ROW are already grade separated, but about 45 or so remain at grade. FRA does not require full grade separation at speeds below 125mph. See the link above for quiet zone information.

Therefore, if HSR ended up not being built or built such that only HSR is fully grade separated, the process would remain the same as today: individual/small group grade separation projects if and when they are deemed necessary. Of course, if Caltrain gets access to downtown SF via the Transbay Terminal, its ridership forecast (3x by 2025) may pan out.

That would mean 10 long instead of 5 shorter trains each way during rush hour, impacting all remaining grade crossings. Put another way, if CHSRA and cities like Palo Alto cannot find common ground on the implementation method, the peninsula counties might well decide to constrain Caltrain growth rather than pay for all of those grade separations plus other ROW upgrades themselves.

Instead of shifting more traffic from road to rail, the roads would simply end up more clogged than ever and the Caltrain ROW still grossly underutilized. And there's an opportunity cost as well: Caltrain's already proven the technical viability of WiFi on board its trains, all it needs is money to implement a commercial service (go ahead, charge a small fee). Soon enough, time spent on Caltrain can be productive. That will never be the case if you're part of the massive traffic jam on 101 ten times a week.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:25pm -

who's shoving grade separations down your throat? With the exception of Atherton, a clear majority of peninsula voters approved prop 1A, in part precisely because it promised full grade separation.

As for freight trains, I refer you to my comments to Bianca above. Fix the Dumbarton rail bridge already and talk to UPRR.

Spokker said...

"Note: we'll shift focus away from Palo Alto tomorrow and on Saturday"

Thank Christ.

Clem said...

@Rafael, anon has a valid point in that grade separations are being mandated (a.k.a. shoved down their throat), and not left up to the cities on a case-by-case basis.

Herbie Markwort said...

^ Well, instead of screaming bloody murder that the CHSRA is shoving grade separations down their throats, the peninsula cities could be doing more themselves to investigate and mitigate the effects of HSR in their communities. What would be the effects or feasability of a fully elevated routing through the community? An at-grade solution? A trenched solution? Could an elevated alignment be lowered by 5-10 ft? Would a 10 ft deep trench be acceptable instead of a full 23 ft deep trench. How much room is there for a shubbery to conceal the size of the rail structures? Could the architecture of the rail structures themselves add to or mimic the character of the community?

Andrew Bogan said...

@Anon 12:16

Those freight trains, btw, would be about 3x louder with elevated tracks.

Really? How does the track elevation affect the noise produced by a freight train?

Resident said...

You missed the REAL myth - which is that CHSR "contributes to the 'states efforts to solve the environmental, energy or economic crisis:. ALL truthful evidence points to CHSRA making all of those worse:

Energy - Electricity source will not be any greener, California energy generation capabilities are already strapped and so HSR will require new incremental power generation and distribution investment (not yet included in t he EIR analysis), and does NOT take any cars off the road - people still need to drive, HSR doesn't solve ANY (not a single) issues for California's real dependence on Autos and Gas. Economic - makes it WAY worse. Spending money we don't have, commtiting to much higher debt service for a program that won't come close to delivering its fantastical revenue projections - creating a new subsidy sucking low return transit system to be supported by tax payers, while destoying property values along its path (and the precious few EXCELLENT PERFOMRING schools) in places that are doing MORE than pulling their weight in terms of adding to the property tax coffers. And in terms of job creation - CHSR employing nothing but a few engineers, greedy politicians, and marketeers in the short run - and in the long run a net wash with the airline industry jobs it will replace. The jobs created by the building, could just as easily be created in conversion of the auto industry and the power industry to green alternatives.

Funny how the Program EIR is relegated to nothing more than a loosely regarded 'proof of concept' when convenient to the CHSRA, but yet its a BINDING FINAL SET IN STONE CERTIFIED document when convenient to the CHSRA (ie: "preferred" route selection elevated to the 11TH COMMANDMENT by virtue of this very document.) So which is it Robert? Is it a vague loose outline or is it a binding document - and how would you have expected VOTERS ON MEASURE 1A, and the LEGISLATURE to know the difference?

By the way, you should read what the Program EIR has to say about appropriate SCALE with regard to aesthetic negative impact. Your "elegent" solutions are ridiculously out of scale in the neighborhoods, up against schools and therefore unacceptable. Your insistence that you have an acceptable above ground solution will drive hopes for HSR into years and years and years of tail spin, litigation and wasted time and money.

Eminent domain - worst case taking a yard - make no mistake about it, you're taking a yard? You're breaking it (the property), you're buying it (the property). Period. (voluntarily or via courts - CHSRA is buying it.) NOT just the yard. Whether you have sympathy for it or not, homes along the tracks in the Bay Area are on millions dollars worth of property. Bring your checkbook if you think you're "JUST" taking yards. Miscalculation of total cost of ruining private property is just one of the many MYTHS that CHSRA and their faithful servants like Robert continue to perpetuate.

Too late? Fact is, never too late for justice. The Program EIR that that decision was based on is an incomplete incompetent piece of crap (and you know it), and the process was intentionally kept under the radar for the specifically effected Peninsula residents - sorry Robert your BLOG isn't the center of the universe. Maybe you should ask yourself how many articles on the debate occured in the local papers? How many public notices for LOCAL meetings (not in Sacramento) occured. etc. What kind of lies Diridon told the city council when point blank asked? Possibilities are ENDLESS for how this route is NOT final, beginning with proving the EIR is apiece of junk; the decision making process was corrupt and illegal; repeal of measure 1A; political backlash against the project when TRUTH about details and costs starts getting out; proving the Authority has mismanaged the project and its obligations; escalation of cost of the HSR to the point of voter/tax payer backlash; and how about good ole LIGHT OF DAY , which CHSRA is just barely starting to get a taste of.

Robert one of the first things I said to you months ago is that you have NO idea how vicious the fight through PA was going to get. PA process isn't about a bunch of soccer moms sitting around complaining - its about some very well educated and motivated people getting organizaed for maximum effect. And they have a lot of practice with it. Ask yourself just how much time YOU have spent on Palo Alto (rehashing (whining really) through all your same talking points time and time again? Extrapolate that WASTED TIME, to the program in general, and add that to the miscalculation column for the poor decision to take HSR through the Peninsula.

Resident said...

Exhibit A: Palo Alto "Process" at work...

Round 2?

Nonimbys said...

NO is YOU a soccer mom and 3 others nimbys that are whinning and screaming...

Andrew Bogan said...

Palo Alto Online just reported:

The passed memorandum specifies that the "high-speed rail must be designed, constructed and operated in a manner fully consistent with the operational requirements of the Caltrain commuter rail rapid transit service and with consideration of the cities on the Peninsula through which the high-speed rail system will be constructed and operated."

I am very pleased to see Caltrain reworded their MOU with CHSRA in response to Palo Alto's request to remove any mention of "4 tracks, grade separated". This is a much better way to say that they still need 4 tracks, grade separated through the Peninsula, which has been obvious all along. You just cannot operate a busy commuter rail and busy HSR system on two tracks without wrecking the operational efficiency of both Caltrain and the HSR system. But, with regard to the EIR process, this is much cleaner wording.

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

FRA permits grade separations for speeds up to 125mph.

If a given community absolutely, positively wants to keep a grade crossing a decade or so longer than would otherwise be the case, it can ask to retain it. It would have to be hardened with chicanes and inexpensive retractable nets. Heck, throw in a pedestrian/bicycle under-/overpass while you're at it. Plus FRA quiet zone implementation, of course.

I wouldn't recommend this option, but some cities might still want to consider it. HSR goes in a trench, Caltrain + UPRR stay at grade. No eminent domain, no noise from trains running past at 125mph. Basically, a bit of a mess during construction (especially regarding gravity-drained water conduits crossing the ROW), after than Caltrain and UPRR get a lot quieter.

It's just that once rail traffic does pick up, it is they who would have to pick up the tab for a deep under- or tall overpass (most likely the latter).

Also, rail traffic is severely hindered every time there is a grade crossing accident. If a crossing was retained at a given city's request, it might well be held liable for the damage, including lost revenue. The city would then have to try and recover its own damages from the motorist involved.

NOTE: there is, of course, also the possibility of running Caltrain+UPRR on an aerial with sound walls and burying HSR tracks in a covered trench so streets can remain at grade without having to widen the ROW. A narrow strip of land would become available at grade for a e.g. a bike path. Funky, though. And not exactly cheap.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew Bogan -

Those freight trains, btw, would be about 3x louder with elevated tracks.

Really? How does the track elevation affect the noise produced by a freight train?

I think he was referring to how far the noise would carry, i.e. all the way to his overpriced back yard. I call baloney on this, with a combination of sound walls and ballast bags the noise level won't be any higher for him than it is today.

Indeed, individual noise events may well be quieter, especially if HSR runs on the inside tracks through these communities. However, since there are more of them, the relevant metric for the EIR/EIS, called SEL (sound exposure level), will be about the same.

Spokker said...

"Those freight trains, btw, would be about 3x louder with elevated tracks."

The people who live next to this must be banging their heads against the wall! *rolls eyes*

Here's a more recent image. Those nice houses don't seem to be decaying because they are near a 70-foot elevated rail structure.

Bay Area Resident said...

I agree with "resident" about how CHSRA liberally applies the route selection as a binding selection depending on how convenient it is for them to do so. For example an alternative route along the freeways is up for discussion in San Jose, due to the liquefaction prone soils there that have required the rebuilding of freeway 87 three times. But if the Caltrain route selection is binding - well gosh - they are going to have to ram those pile drivers into the sand on Caltrain and hope for the best. Which is it?

Spokker said...

This guy is doing some myth busting of his own:

"Highways are free and accessible to everyone. Why replace them with train tickets, baggage searches (for weapons of mass destruction), cramped train seats, and luggage limits? Not to mention exposure to crowds of people, with colds, flu, and, lately, maybe TB?

If anyone needs a 3-hour trip from SF to LA, they should submit themselves to air travel; otherwise, building wider highways, and increasing the speed limits where safe, would be more cost effective. Highways can be shared by a diversity of vehicles, including busses.

The proposed "Concorde on Rails" also is a safety hazard; it's like an airplane perpetually in the last stages of a takeoff or landing approach. What happens when one of them derails at 200 mph alongside of a shopping center or parking lot? An airplane weighs maybe 100 tons; a train, 1000 tons or more."

You can make the highways as wide as my big fat ass and it won't do much to solve our traffic woes.

Anonymous said...

Nice picture. I do notice that the elevated structure is next to 3 story multi-family building. Explain to me how such a structure fits into a historical neighborhood like Greenmeadow where second stories are against the law?

If anyone wants to dispute that noise from an elevated structure doesn't travel farther, I'll meet you in physics class.

Andrew Bogan said...

If anyone wants to dispute that noise from an elevated structure doesn't travel farther, I'll meet you in physics class.

Depends on what is in the path between the listener and the noise source, not the elevation of the source. But suddenly we are talking about farther not 3x louder.

Let's all wait for proper sound exposure level studies in the EIR. I doubt any of us want more noise. The question is how much noise would be produced by the HSR trains (that many Californians and President Obama do want) and how to best mitigate that noise.

Bianca said...

For the life of me I do not understand the opposition to grade separation. Maybe I just have the peculiar misfortune that my daily routine lines up exquisitely well with the Caltrain schedule, but I seem to get stopped at a grade crossing nearly every day, either at Ravenswood or at Palo Alto Ave/Alma. Furthermore, those tracks mean a very long way around to get a point directly on the opposite side of the tracks. Not very bike/ped friendly.

Most importantly to me is the human aspect. Every time I cross at a grade crossing, I see the suicide prevention hotline numbers posted, and it sends a chill down my spine.

Finally, I don't understand why concerned parents in Palo Alto aren't demanding more grade separations- if my child had to walk or bike across an active railroad at grade, the way many Palo Alto kids do to get to school, I'd be a squeaky wheel about it.

Morris Brown said...

Having just come back from the PCJPB meeting, let me say I would characterize a wording change in the MOU as really being nothing more than political and without any real substance. The PCJPB approved the MOU as changed on a 9-0 vote.

The wording change involved removing the "4 tracks" specification in the MOU.

The CHSRA, from the very inception, and always has been since, needed 2 tracks to operate. That is HSR needs its own dedicated 2 track set on which to run. CalTrain needs it own 2 tracks for its operations, and to accommodate the UPRR freight operations. Thus you end up with a minimum of 4 tracks.

Certianly everybody following this blog understands that issue.

The MOU having said 4 tracks, raised a lot of concern in various communities, but it is reality; the change is just gong to try and sweep over this issue, by not specifically saying 4 tracks.

The combination of HSR and CalTrain in this corridor will need a minimum of 4 tracks period. One one should be fooled by the MOU, as adopted, not saying this fact.

What indeed is a major issue, is the fact that inter-city passenger rights (as opposed to commuter passenger rights) on this SF to San Jose corridor do not belong to CalTrain. They still belong to the Union Pacific Railroad which certainly thus far has not indicated they are willing to abandon those rights. Now that is a real issue! However, the PCJPB is just saying we will deal with that problem later, rather than now.

This is the same kind of policy, which has placed the Authority with having to deal with in a lawsuit. The Authority certified an EIR, one factor being, they were going to use, and therefore studied, on the San Jose to Gilroy segment, the route using the present CalTrain corridor. This corridor is still owned by the UPRR and which the UPRR has made perfectly clear they are unwilling to abandon or share with the CHSRA and its HSR project.

Good thinking on the part of the Authority. Equally good thinking on the part of CalTrain, which by not securing the proper rights, before spending million doing EIRs and other studies, may well just be tossing money and time into the air.

Bay Area Resident said...

It really does seem like the whole 4-track MOU brouhaha was a misunderstanding. Kishimoto was right, it was just a way to state that shared service along the tracks is required.
CHSRA needs more money to do more outreach, I think that is a large part of the problem.

Andrew Bogan said...


I agree completely, safer grade separated crossings are a clear benefit to pedestrians', and especially children's, safety. While safely separated train tracks going past a school is a non-issue.

The town I grew up in Back East had commuter rail tracks into New York adjacent to both my elementary school and my middle school. The middle school had classrooms within 30 feet of the trains. Our athletic field had an elevated earthen berm at one end with a train running along the top of it. It was still one of the best public school systems in the state. The high school in the same town, fed by those "train-blighted" schools, outranks Paly in the national tables.


Your "elegent" solutions are ridiculously out of scale in the neighborhoods, up against schools and therefore unacceptable.

From personal experience, there is nothing unacceptable about having a safely grade-separated train passing a school.

Anonymous said...

The problem is not "a train". The problem is 30-40 trains an hour, half of which are traveling at 125 miles per hour.

The problem is not (necessarily) an earthen berm, the problem is a 4 track prettified concrete retaining wall required because of how built the surrounding communities are.

It is the scale of things.

Spokker said...

"Nice picture. I do notice that the elevated structure is next to 3 story multi-family building. Explain to me how such a structure fits into a historical neighborhood like Greenmeadow where second stories are against the law?"

That particular structure won't be on the peninsula. It is, after all, 70 feet high.

My point was that here is a structure that carries heavy trains in a neighborhood that doesn't look like a slum.

Robert Cruickshank said...

As usual, Bianca is making some pretty good points. At-grade crossings are an inefficient, dangerous, and divisive method of implementing rail. They are one of THE chief reasons why passenger rail in California is decades behind the rest of the world in building an alternative.

There is NO way around this - opposition to grade separations is opposition to improved rail, and all that entails (energy independence, sustainable transportation, less pollution and carbon emissions, etc).

Palo Alto is making a mockery of its claims to being environmentally friendly and interested in improved passenger rail if they are going to fight grade separations like this.

This is where some real political leadership for HSR would be so valuable - someone needs to call this out, publicly and loudly.

It's also too bad that the Caltrain board gave in to Palo Alto's whining about the 4-track language in the MOU. Appeasement is one of the worst policies to use when dealing with NIMBYs, because they are not interested in fair dealing - they want to kill projects outright, or strip them of their beneficial qualities.

Andrew Bogan said...

The problem is not "a train". The problem is 30-40 trains an hour, half of which are traveling at 125 miles per hour.

OK, I'll pick a different example. I briefly worked as a research scientist at Sankyo Pharmaceutical's Exploratory Chemistry Research Labs in Tokyo. The entire facility is bordered by railroads (over 20 tracks in all), including the Tokaido shinkansen HSR--again not 30 feet from some of the labs.

Despite the rail, this research center has invented some of the most important classes of therapeutics (the first cholesterol-lowering statin, the first insulin resensitizing drug for diabetes, etc.). Clearly if it is possible to do that quality of molecular biology and chemistry research so close to 20 tracks worth of trains (including HSR ones), then the kids at Paly can still learn something in the classroom with an elevated 4 track HSR along one side of the school. Nobody seems to be complaining about El Camino Real being on the other side of Paly, with six lanes of vehicle traffic.

Devil's Advocate said...

I ran some numbers and I think we have an economically feasible solution: Tunnel HSR entirely from SF to SJ. The budget for entire 800 mile HSR is $45 Billion, if I'm not mistaken. The cost of building an entirely underground HSR between SF to SJ would be around $10 Billion (I'm basing the estimate on the cost of the Bologna-Florence HSR, which is already on the testing stage, also 50 miles long, totally underground). There would be still $35 Billion from the budget to build the remaining 750 miles, or $47 Million/mile. That's 150% more than the average cost/mile of construction of the most recent TGV lines (the avg. in France was just above $30 Million/mile. The money is there, so why not make Palo Alto happy? Bury the whole thing! And the HSR might even save on air conditioning in summer (underground is cooler)

Interested in RR said...

Anyone know if the CHSRA board meeting has been rescheduled? Are they videotaped or broadcast anywhere? Is there a way to watch previous board meetings?

Peninsula_supporter said...

How is it truly possible that a bunch of NIMBYs are able to wield this much power in this process?

I'm concerned there are kernels of truth to their concerns that are going to effectively stop this project. Seriously, this isn't just people whining - they are obviously getting their points heard.

Is it better for HSR to air any problems now to gain the trust the public needs given the importance of the project?

I've read a lot about Diridon and Kopp regarding this whole thing and I've seen the damaging videos. - what about the rest of the Board?

Can they help convince the Peninsula that this project is worth saving?!

NOnimbys said...

Why nimbys seems to have power? Well nothing more than the news hungry media and drama.All one needs to to is call any TV news around here and say we are going to march and protest and they will be there.Its the conflict and anger
or were being "abused" stuff that media likes to sell.

Rubber Toe said...

Robert, in the last topic you said the following: "It is not legitimate for Palo Alto to impose an inferior and more costly solution on the rest of the state. They need to understand that it is their job to accommodate the high speed rail project that the state needs for its future - not the project's or the state's job to accommodate Palo Alto's whims."

I bring this up because we are still discussing the same topic here, and it seems to be generating a lot of discussion.

The idea of whether or not what the NIMBYs are doing on the peninsula is "legitimate" is completely irrelevant. They have a single goal, that is to put a complete stop to the HSR system. They will use whatever means that requires, i.e. media hype, obfuscation, outright lies, and of course the most effective option: lawsuits. I think that your expecting the NIMBYs to "play fair" is a bit Pollyanna. Thats not how things work these days.

This is why I have pointed out a few times over the last several months that what is likely to kill HSR is either 1) the general economy, or 2) lawsuits filed ad nauseum by the NIMBYs.

The lawsuits being filed will take their time to work through the courts. Every lawsuit lost will spawn several more challenging different aspects of the HSR system, ranging from environmental issues to eminent domain issues. The idea is that you delay the project long enough through lawsuits that it becomes uneconomical to proceed forward.

One of the better examples of this being the city of South Pasadena fighting Caltrans on the 710 freeway extension. After 30 years (!!!) of legal fighting, Caltrans has essentially given up and is now contemplating building a tunnel for the traffic. And you are going to love this, SoPas is *still* fighting to not allow a tunnel to even be built. If those peninsula NIMBYs were smart, they would come down here and learn a lesson or two from the lawyers who were working for South Pasadena...

If a small community of 25k people can stop a freeeway for 30 years, why wouldn't the peninsula NIMBYs be able to delay HSR for 5-10 years?

Yes, I will grant you that the HSR would take many fewer homes than the above ground 710 would, but the scale of what is torn down is really a side issue once you get the community behind fighting HSR, with all the attendant media attention, and even the attention of this blog.

There is a reason why HSR systems in China can be built in 3 years, and why the same size system takes 8-10 years in France or Germany.


Jay said...

You know, the argument about it being out of scale. My idea is just build DT PA taller, then it will be a non issue.
But on a more serous note, I have some pictures I took of the main rail line into Osaka Station in Umeda. It shows that with a little creative effort that Rail Lines can blend into urban areas pretty easy.
Picture 1
Picture 2

I was able to sit down, right under the rail like and have a nice chat with my wife while eating some Takoyaki from a local vender.

On a side note, how can we get the community fighting FOR HSR?

Anonymous said...


Those are nice pictures but they are of a distinctly urban area. I think that there are all sorts of interesting things that can be done with trains and downtowns.

That said, the controversy here is about much smaller scale areas.

The areas of Atherton the rail line would pass through are virtually rural.

Much of the distance the line would travel in Palo Alto is through a surburban area. See

for example. Because the rail backs up to homes on one side and the major north-south arterial road on the other, it doesn't make sense to have retail under it.

Clem said...

@Rafael, we have to put this 125 mph grade crossing nonsense to bed once and for all.

While all crossings in CA must meet FRA regulations, the California Public Utility Commission is the agency that decides what gets done with each crossing. The CPUC can and will deny anything so unsafe, ridiculous, and out-of-step with best practice as a 125 mph grade crossing.

It simply is NOT an option.

Anon said...

Lets correct an important bit of persistent backward thinking here:

"It is not legitimate for Palo Alto to impose an inferior and more costly solution on the rest of the state. They need to understand that it is their job to accommodate the high speed rail project that the state needs for its future - not the project's or the state's job to accommodate Palo Alto's whims."

Its not legitimate for HSR to impose an inferior solution on hundreds of small towns, businesses and hundreds of thousands of residents and property owners along the route just because CHSRA underestimated the true cost of doing it properly - that is doing it with appropriate design and appropriate level of mitigations given the characteristics, current uses, and market values of the areas they've willing chosen as their target. They need to understand that its California High Speed Rail Authority's job by law (by virtue of EIR process) to PROPERLY and THOROUGHLY cost out the project, INCLUDING the necessary mitigations to avoid or rectify the severe impacts their project will foist up the communities they are impacting. Not the other way around.

Y'all really need to stop saying its NIMBY's responsibility to pay for tunnels. It certainly is not. If CHSRA has chosen a residential neighborhood, with schools and too-close neighbors, and historically protected development for their 'must have' route - its State of California/CHSRA's job to propertly mitigate impacts (via underground, trenches, or 'no-build' or a different route). I'm SORRY they don't like the cost of the ultimate solution they're going to have to pay for. TOO BAD. Its entirely inappropriate to expect the victimized communities that will suffer significant impacts to pay the perpetrators of those significant impacts to avoid those destructive forces.

BruceMcF said...

Someone ... who, admittedly, was not confident enough about it to even bother selecting a pseudonym ... said: "Because the rail backs up to homes on one side and the major north-south arterial road on the other, it doesn't make sense to have retail under it."

So the implication here is that its OK to use an elevated structure in a town center as long as its a subway through the suburban and rural parts.

Not to put too fine a point on it, that is sufficiently insane to justify refusing to use a pseudonym.

If there's no benefit from retail underneath, obviously there's no reason to build retail underneath, but if the rail corridor is separating a suburban residential area from a busy thoroughfare, then what is the problem with a split elevation 5tf. or 10ft. tall berm or infill with a living wall?

If there's a tunnel, that implies an effort to develop the space over the tunnel, to recoup some of the cost, and the best development opportunities where there is a busy thoroughfare are often not the kind that a quiet residential neighborhood seek out quite as vigorously as this.

Peter said...

Here's a nice turn of events that's sure to cause some NIMBY tantrums:
Court throws out [Menlo Park]'s letter to rail authority

The judge threw out one of the main parts of Menlo Park's lawsuit: that CAHSR did not respond (as required by law) to a comment letter that they filed. If the letter really was important Menlo Park had the chance to re-file it during the comment period after the initial draft EIR, which they didn't do. The letter was also basically the same as a handful of others from local cities (nothing specific to Menlo Park), so it would of had no substantial impact on the EIR.

Lets hope that the rest of the lawsuit's arguments fall appart this quickly.

Jay said...

I for one do not want the tunnel.
As a tax payer and as a future HSR rider (and ticket buyer) I do not want to have to put up with the annoyance of dealing with going though a tunnel when it is not needed.
If you have ever ridden on an HSR anywhere in the world, you know how boring and dull going though a tunnel can be. You can not see country side whizzing by, you can’t see the rolling hills, trees and the like. You stuck in a black abyss. Time seems to stand still because you have very little sense of movement. It just ain’t cool. It is a real blight on the out side views of a train rider.

So why do I need to put up with then when there are other options than a tunnel?

Besides IF the towns REALLY want a tunnel, they should pay for it.

Now on to a more serous note; the photos I posted links to show a good example of what can be done say, in Palo Alto Downtown to remove the “Berlin Wall” effect that some people wrongly thing that the HSR will have. There are other ideas out there. Now in the more “suburban” or “rural” areas of the line then sound walls should take care of this.

I have a question to ask all the people that don’t want HSR build, Have you ever ridden on HSR in Europe or Asia? Seen or even heard it pass? Just wondering.

Peter said...

For those that like to be baffled by legal jargon, you can find the court order on their website. Search for case number 34-2008-80000022, and the motion throwing out Menlo Park's letter is the 1st thing listed.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Anon 6:01

areas of Atherton the rail line would pass through are virtually rural

Are you kidding or have you never been to a rural area? There is absolutely nothing about Atherton that is rural. It is classic American suburbia and one of the wealthiest towns on Earth. Palo Alto on the other hand is actually considerably more urban than most of America's suburbs, with very little space between most houses and large numbers of multi-unit apartment and condo buildings. I'd believe that the upper reaches of Woodside or Portola Valley look rural (although that's a bit of a farce, too, since the open space is mostly nature preserve and the houses are worth millions). The section of Atherton through which the tracks run is clearly suburbia.

To familiarize yourself with rural, try Nephi, Utah, where I spent a lovely day recently.

Andrew Bogan said...


Thanks for your posts, I'm jealous of the takoyaki. Great photos from Osaka.

I have a question to ask all the people that don’t want HSR build, Have you ever ridden on HSR in Europe or Asia? Seen or even heard it pass? Just wondering.

I have been curious about this for some time, too. Bay Area Resident, Resident, myriad Anon, Morris? Which HSR routes have you traveled on?

I'll go first:

Tokaido Shinkansen
Tohoku Shinkansen
Nagano & Joetsu Shinkansen
Sanyo Shinkansen
Shanghai Maglev

And various almost high-speed trains in the US, UK, Norway, and Sweden. Simply put, HSR is a fantastic way to travel!

Bianca said...

@Andrew Bogan: The notion that Atherton is "rural" is indeed laughable. A town (pop 7,194) that is sandwiched in between Redwood City (pop 79,000) and Menlo Park (pop 30,785) with Palo Alto (pop 58,598) immediately adjacent to Menlo Park cannot with a straight face claim to be "rural" just because they don't like sidewalks.

On the other hand, a favorite argument of HSR opponents is that that HSR shouldn't run through populated areas but instead should go through rural areas. So which is it, Atherton: rural, or suburban?

(I got the population figures from wikipedia, if anyone has any quibbles, take it up over there.)

Spokker said...

"Here's a nice turn of events that's sure to cause some NIMBY tantrums:
Court throws out [Menlo Park]'s letter to rail authority"

They'll just tell us that the judge is in is CHSRA's pocket or that he was promised a blumpkin on the maiden voyage and that's why he threw it out.

Morris Brown said...

Just let me say something about Menlo Park's missing comment letter to the EIR of Sept. 2007, and how it related to the lawsuit.

The Authority was unable to find the letter after Menlo Park objected to the absence of a response. When the lawsuit was filed, MP asked that the letter be included in the record and the Authority objected, saying they never received the letter. The Authority submitted to the court signed statements from all their board members and all their staff, all of which said they had never seen the letter.

It then passed to Menlo Park to prove the letter had been sent. The City claims that it was faxed and that several copies were also mailed to individuals. However, thus far, the City has been able to provide any material proof (Fax receipt, proof of mailing etc.) As of the last day or so, the City was still trying to find solid proof the letter was indeed sent.

Fortunately, Menlo Park is not the only plaintiff in the lawsuit, and most of the objections raised in Menlo Park's letter, were also raised by Atherton and others.

Those of us who have been following the lawsuit are not happy, to say the least, about this foul up in City Hall.

In spite of the comment by Spokker above, we certainly don't think this ruling shows any bias on the part of the judge. A fundamental practice in dealing with legal matters, is you must make sure you prepare properly and be sure you can prove your materials are properly received. Menlo Park, thus far, has been unable to make that case.

Morris Brown said...

Im my comment above I wrote:

However, thus far, the City has been able to provide any material proof ...

This should read:

However, thus far, the City has been unable to provide any material proof ...


Spokker said...

"In spite of the comment by Spokker above, we certainly don't think this ruling shows any bias on the part of the judge."

I'm glad to see that. Consider my comment withdrawn.

I'm sure the judge could still go for a blumpkin though.

Anonymous said...

underground bias for corridor

Anonymous said...

@resident - you are talking out your ass. I can tell you that it most certainly will hep reduce pollution. you are wrong to say that everyone still needs to drive. I travel all over the state ad I don't own a car. The state is getting ready to invest in more energy production as we speak. And the train is know where near as polluting as a plane. A train also carries many more people per the amount of energy used than any other form of transport. i doubt you know what "most" people in california do or dont do considering your narrow view of the world.

Anonymous said...

@jay - those pics were awesome can't even tell theres a railroad there.

Spokker said...

Not HSR related, but today marked a victory against NIMBY opposition in Los Angeles.

The homeowners in the area didn't want Metro to use existing right of way to build a much needed rail link to West LA due to noise and visual concerns. They wanted the line to deviate to a longer, more time intensive route. They also opposed a station that would endow the line with relatively easy bus connections to UCLA and Westwood.

Today the board made the right decision to use the existing right of way despite NIMBY protest.

la viewer said...


I guess you didn't read the last three lines of the article you cite on your victory against NImby opposition to the project in LA.

"This move is hardly the end of the road for Phase II, heck we're not even at the end of the road for Phase I which is already under construction. During his public comment, Damien Goodmon threatened to file a federal Environmental Justice lawsuit three weeks from tomorow.

It's not over until the fat lady sings as they say.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I would not be surprised if folks on the Peninsula plan to take a page from Damien Goodmon, who is trying to singlehandedly kill the Expo Line. It's under construction and he's still at it.

For Goodmon, as for many in Palo Alto, schools and kids are the poster children for the anti-train cause. Goodmon is convinced that at-grade tracks near local high schools will kill students, despite this not being an issue in the hundreds of other cities with streetcars and LRVs.

In Palo Alto it's ironically the opposite - people want to *preserve* dangerous at-grade crossings. But kids are being mobilized for this as well, with the arguments about what'll happen to the high school (arguments many here have debunked, but that seem to stick around).

Andrew Bogan said...

NIMBYism would cease in this country if our government created a mechanism to tax NIMBYs for the accrued costs of all the project delays they cause on projects that eventually get approved and built anyway. The NIMBYs never talk about the billions and billions of dollars they have sucked out of our economy for literally no gain to anyone over the past several decades.

Spokker said...

The Expo Line is soooo racist.

Alon Levy said...

Andrew, the mechanism you're proposing will mean the end of an independent court system. The idea that people should pay extra fines for using the courts is already used in the criminal law system, with stiffer penalties for people who plead not guilty and are then found guilty. This has resulted in assembly line justice for those who can't afford good lawyers.

NIMBYism is a fact of life. It's been there since at least the 19th century, and governments have found ways of dealing with it.

Robert Cruickshank said...

There needs to be some sort of reform to the CEQA and NEPA process that can preserve the important public engagement and environmental protection processes, without enabling people concerned about unrelated issues such as property values or aesthetics, to hijack the EIR process for their own personal gain.

Andrew Bogan said...

Alon, I agree with you and I was not advocating such a mechanism actually be implemented, just trying to highlight the damage done to the efficiency of infrastructure project design and implementation across America by NIMBYs, which most often generates massive cost overruns and delays, but no significant change to the final outcome. Occasionally it stops whole projects, which is worse and motivates others to become NIMBYs.

I would, however, advocate for our independent court system to have stricter guidelines for making sure legal challenges to time-sensitive government projects have carefully matched time horizons.

We need to reduce the ability of obstructionists to delay infrastructure projects indefinitely. The first private railroad built from New York to Philadelphia took about one year to complete. It was built by the Stevens brothers in the mid-1800s. There were legal challenges to it then, too, but they did not take 10 years.

Bianca said...

The NIMBYism issues on the Peninsula are unnecessarily exacerbated because Palo Alto/Atherton/Menlo Park planners failed to zone the land abutting the railroad appropriately. But they didn't, and allowed houses to be built directly adjacent to the right-of-way. Now people have come to the nuisance and are howling about it. The folks who bought land next to an active railroad took a gamble on that, and now that it looks like they lost that gamble, want to change the rules after the dice have been rolled.

Anonymous said...

"The NIMBYism issues on the Peninsula are unnecessarily exacerbated because Palo Alto/Atherton/Menlo Park planners failed to zone the land abutting the railroad appropriately."

In what sense? The houses have been there long before any talk of HSR.

Bianca said...

Anon 11:22, the point is not that the houses were there before there was talk of HSR. The point is that the railroad was there before the houses. HSR is a technology upgrade.

Imagine if back when cars were new, people tried to prevent them from using the roads made for horses.

Rafael said...

@ jim -'re talking out of your...

Language please.

@ Robert Cruickshank -

There needs to be some sort of reform...

Simple. Make it much harder to file reverse condemnation lawsuits if the entity exercising can prove it has done due diligence as required by the EIR/EIS process.

protector said...

@Rafael re: you 11:50 AM comment.

Let's make it even simpler --- Just get rid of CEQA, and every other protection of the environment and quality of life.

Then we can have railroads, highways anything else everywhere.

We don't need CEQA. It has outlived its use fullness.

Come on Rafael --That's not like you.

yeson1a said...

And the railroad was there decades before the homes..and now there is far less freight trains

vinessa said...

Hi -- I'm new to the high-speed rail topic. And apologies to Bianca, but my understanding of the high speed rail project is not very detailed. I voted for the project and I think it's wonderful, but really, when they said "LA to San Francisco" I simply took it as generic, meaning a southern Calif/northern Calif connection. I didn't actually think they meant to take the line up the Peninsula.

Anyway, at the risk of going against the bias of this blog, my sincere question is this. How important is putting the line up the Peninsula exactly? Is it more important than other things?

I live on the Peninsula, bicycle and take mass transit regularly, I'm not a Palo Altan, and am a renter. I've also lived in Europe and experienced mass transit in other places. My question has to do with using money to duplicate services, instead of FIRST using money to fill in the gaps in service.

Why couldn't the high speed project be phased, to bring it first to San Jose or Santa Clara only? At the same time, it seems more critical to me to get BART *also* connected with San Jose or Santa Clara, than it does to duplicate the line up the Peninsula.

If the first phase was to bring it to San Jose or Santa Clara, where riders could CONNECT to either BART or Caltrain, at least the system would be all together! As it is the most ludicrous aspect of our current condition is that until BART was extended to Millbrae, after being in operation for 30+ years, none of our regional systems connected!! And they still don't.

To me the primary task should be to CONNECT. Caltrain as it is now with its "baby bullet" is good enough to get people moving. If later the improvement wants to be made up the Peninsula, and that money spent, great! But first just get it to San Jose or Santa Clara, plus for godssake get BART connected.

As a rider I can tell you that the bottom line speed isn't as important as getting where I need to go. If I have to spend six hours going somewhere it would normally take me one hour to drive, then that's not a good tradeoff. But two or three hours compared to one? Absolutely fine when I consider that I'm not sardined into a car, putting miles on a vehicle, or having to worry about or pay for parking.

And when people compare high-speed rail to flying, why do they only consider the time in the air? In a plane it only takes one hour to LA. BUT! You have to get to the airport, if you're driving navigate short term or long term parking, get INTO the airport, and all in time to check in and get through security 1-1/2 hours before. Thus a one hour flight to LA *actually* takes about four hours. If a TRAIN to LA took under four hours, it would still be way better than driving! I'm not sure why everyone is fixated on the 2 hr, 40 min number, but really, 3-1/2 hours would be fine.

The main thing is that in the rest of the world systems CONNECT. And other countries seem to be smart enough to not make spending billions of dollars on a system leg that duplicates service, before getting the whole system operational.

I'm confused about the priorities here. Maybe someone can elucidate.


Spokker said...

Welcome to the discussion, vinessa.

Answers to your questions will vary according to the personalities that post here, but I'll offer up my opinions.

"How important is putting the line up the Peninsula exactly?"

It's hard to define what important means here, but I would say, yes, it's important. Transfers aren't the end of the world, but they can hurt the viability and ridership of a transit system. The more transfers there are the less likely any one person is going to take that trip. People who pay good money for a direct high speed train trip between LA and SF probably don't want to transfer too much.

"Is it more important than other things?"

It depends on what those other things are. I don't think it'll be the end of the world if HSR's Bay Area terminus is in San Jose. However, I believe that will hurt the profitability of the system. Then opponents will turn around and say, "See, it didn't make any money!" Well, it was supposed to go to Downtown SF, so whatever.

"My question has to do with using money to duplicate services, instead of FIRST using money to fill in the gaps in service."

There is no duplicate in service. Caltrain and HSR will offer two different levels of service. One is commuter rail and one is intercity rail.

Other modes of transit are very important too, and I hope they get the funding they deserve. However, that doesn't mean HSR is less important.

"Caltrain as it is now with its "baby bullet" is good enough to get people moving. If later the improvement wants to be made up the Peninsula, and that money spent, great!"

Apparently it's not good enough for the people who run Caltrain. They want to upgrade the line too. They want electrification and higher speeds. Partnering with the California High Speed Rail Authority helps them reach those goals.

"If a TRAIN to LA took under four hours, it would still be way better than driving! I'm not sure why everyone is fixated on the 2 hr, 40 min number, but really, 3-1/2 hours would be fine."

Agreed, but shooting for 2 hours and 40 minutes is very important to be even more time competitive with air.

Spokker said...

Essentially, speed is what's going to drive ridership and make the system profitable.

Adirondacker said...

Spokker, Vinessa is a concern troll or .... being polite, uninformed.

I didn't actually think they meant to take the line up the Peninsula.

They weren't going to go to Eureka in an undersea tunnel and then come south. There's two choices with myriad variants. Up the Peninsula or up the East Bay. It's been in the maps about the proposal for years. Sorry you voted for something with a vague idea what it was about.

plus for godssake get BART connected.

To what? I live in the wilds of upstate New York now but lived most of my life within sight of the Manhattan skyline. It would never occur to me to fly from Newark to Philadelphia, that's what Amtrak excels at and NJ Transit and SEPTA trains can do better than a plane. I wouldn't want to take the subway from New Brunswick to White Plains. For that matter I wouldn't want to take the subway from Newark to Jamaica, which can be done on PATH and the NYC Subway. And I wouldn't want to take Amtrak from Columbus Circle to Times Square.

If you mean BART should connect with HSR when it comes, that makes lots of sense and it will connect to BART along with all the other transit at Transbay. Being able to take BART from Walnut Creek to Santa Clara... sounds painful. There should be a layer between BART and HSR that moves you around the region and BART gets you from regional transit and HSR to places like Berkeley or Daly City.

The main thing is that in the rest of the world systems CONNECT.

Bring HSR to SF and it does connect. To the buses coming in from the East Bay and Marin and Sonoma and ... and all the MUNI lines and people who live along BART. It might not make much difference to someone on the Peninsula whether the terminal for HSR is San Jose or San Francisco. It does to someone in the East Bay. Just like you don't take mass transit when it takes 6 hours instead of one hour of driving, people in the East Bay drive or fly to LA if the terminal is in San Jose. The HSR alternative to driving or flying is to take BART or a bus to SF, then Muni to Caltrain and Caltrain to San Jose to catch HSR. Sounds inviting doesn't it?

HSR makes lots of connections that improving things in the Bay Area don't solve. People in Fresno don't have to fly to SFO to get to Chicago, they can take the train to SFO. People in Bakersfield can take the train to Burbank. When most of the passengers from the Central Valley and LA to SFO are on the train, they aren't clogging SFO. HSR train is going to serve much wider areas than just the Peninsula and much more than SF to LA. . . terminate HSR in San Jose and HSR connects to San Jose.

I'm confused about the priorities here.

I suspect that's another way of saying "Why doesn't BART go there?"

People who have a wider interest than taking BART everywhere have different priorities.

If your priority it getting you from your suburb to other suburbs within 30 miles, HSR doesn't solve your problems. If you want to get lots of people from the Bay Area to places far away, HSR solves that problem, especially if HSR takes less time than flying or driving.

We can work on both problems at the same time. For instance running HSR up the Peninsula connects Caltrain to the HSR system and as a happy consequence makes Caltrain a more attractive option for local travel on the Peninsula.

Bianca said...

Welcome Vinessa. Adirondacker has already covered a lot of the points I would respond to, so I won't duplicate. There is a treasure trove of information on this blog; I'd encourage you to read through past postings and you will take away a thorough understanding of many of the issues involved.

The one point I will take up again is the notion that people did not know that the Caltrain tracks were part of the planned route. It's entirely possible that people may have missed the many references to plans for high speed rail on the Peninsula that have been in local papers since the mid-1990's. If you do a search of the archives of SFGate or Palo Alto Online you will see that there are numerous references to plans for High Speed Rail up the peninsula, going back 15 years. But someone who owns property near the railroad has a very good reason to pay attention, more than the average renter who lives somewhere on the Peninsula.

Furthermore, at the last Palo Alto City Council meeting, Jim McFall stated there is a 6-foot easement along the back edge of the property lines for the houses on Mariposa that abut the ROW. If so, that means there is explicit language in the property deed to alert buyers that there is always a possibility of changes to the ROW. I haven't confirmed this independently, but it seems quite plausible. Either way, if I owned real property that abutted the railroad ROW, I would pay very close attention to plans for that ROW. Particularly given the real estate values in Palo Alto. There is no cheap land in Palo Alto, period. People don't buy homes in Palo Alto casually. They do their research. They may want Palo Alto because of the schools, or the proximity to work, or for other reasons. But if you are going to spend $1,000,000+ on a house, you want to know what you are buying. You do your due diligence. Caveat emptor applies. Those houses along the railroad are not cheap per se, but they sell at a discount relative to other parts of PA because of the noise from the trains and the inherent uncertainty of living adjacent to active rail lines. The people who chose to buy property next to the ROW did so knowing there is an active railroad there.

There has been discussion in the local press about running HSR on Caltrain ROW since the mid-1990's. The folks who complain that Prop 1A was somehow "misleading" simply were not paying attention. And it's their prerogative to do so, but they don't get a do-over later at our expense.

BruceMcF said...

Vinessa: "How important is putting the line up the Peninsula exactly? Is it more important than other things?

I live on the Peninsula, bicycle and take mass transit regularly, I'm not a Palo Altan, and am a renter. ... My question has to do with using money to duplicate services, instead of FIRST using money to fill in the gaps in service.

A no-transfer trip to Los Angeles or Orange County in three hours or less, San Diego in under four hours, into the Peninsula from the Central Valley in under two or three hours is not "duplicate" service. It is, instead, filling in a very large gap at the top of existing services.

One reason why the auto transport system such a gross energy glutton is that it is a "one size fits all" design, and one-size-fits-all (1) never actually fits all and (2)fits most poorly. With cars, energy is thrown at the problem to cover for the misfit.

Ecologically sustainable, energy efficient transport system will not be built on any single "one size fits all" mode of transport, but instead will be a system that includes individual components that do their share of the transport task well.

In light of that, the efficient design of the HSR certainly ought to go through San Francisco and San Jose on a single alignment through to Southern California is such an alignment is feasible.

That is why, after all, HSR deniers are hanging such high hopes on BS arguments about property values in the Peninsula, trying to harness NIMBY-ism in support of their goal and, obviously, to the detriment of the actual property values of the majority of the properties along the Caltrain corridor.

Putting Stage One from San Francisco through San Jose on a single through route offers the best opportunity to build ridership, which means the best possible ridership revenues, which means the quickest build-out of the remaining stages of the system.

Anonymous said...

" The point is that the railroad was there before the houses."

Yes, and Palo Alto is quite happy with the current state of Caltrain. What's your point? This whole "railroad there before the houses" nonsense is a red herring. Palo Alto isn't asking to remove Caltrain or its tracks right now.

The houses were there long before any talk of HSR.

Adirondacker said...

Bianca, surf over the ROW using a satellite view. They know it's there. When you can see fence it's well back from the existing tracks and everybody has it along the same line. Good enough for me. Probably good enough for you too unless some, against your advice, was filing a lawsuit and you decided to take the case you know you are going to lose.

If it's Caltrain's fence... well duh. If it's their own fences that line up? Between the neighbors and the fencing contractors and the real estate agents who sold them the house they know it's there - the easement along with the right of way. Look at it again and it's not irrigated... they know it's not theirs.

Anonymous. The railroad was there before the houses. When the lawsuit works it's way up to the Supreme Court they gonna say "The railroad was there first" There's going to be all sorts of drama. Big thick studies will be done. And then redone because someone files a lawsuit about the study. It's all going to boil down to "The railroad was there first"

Anonymous said...

"When the lawsuit works it's way up to the Supreme Court they gonna say ..."

And if it goes that far, the project will be dead from the massive increase in funding required to build the damn thing.

So, if you want HSR, work with the Peninsula cities, or HSR is effectively dead.

Bianca said...

Palo Alto is quite happy with the current state of Caltrain

Caltrain doesn't serve only Palo Alto, and Palo Alto alone doesn't get to determine what happens with those tracks. There are a lot of people who will benefit from grade separation and electrification of that ROW, and while many of them live in Palo Alto, most of them don't. Palo Alto ought to have some input as to the design of HSR as it goes through their town, but Palo Alto doesn't have veto power over the entire project.

I can imagine a lot of causes of action that people might employ to delay construction of HSR, but very few of them are the kinds of issues the Supreme Court is going to be interested in hearing.