News

Four-track design back on the table for high-speed rail

Peninsula officials, watchdogs call latest high-speed rail plans a betrayal of earlier promises

A new analysis by the California High-Speed Rail Authority calling for a four-track rail system between the Bay Area and Central Valley has set off a fresh wave of criticism from Palo Alto and surrounding cities, with many calling the latest document a betrayal of the authority's earlier promises.

The authority last month released a revised Environmental Impact Report describing its vision for the Bay Area-to-Central Valley portion of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line. For many, the most surprising aspect of the sweepingly broad document is its description of the line as a four-track system on the Caltrain corridor -- a controversial design that would require a lane reduction over a significant stretch of Alma Street in Palo Alto.

Palo Alto officials and Peninsula legislators had lobbied the rail authority to consider a "blended" system under which Caltrain and high-speed rail would share two tracks on the Peninsula. A reference to this blended approach, which was spearheaded by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, was included in the rail authority's 2011 business plan, much to the delight of the legislators and many of their constituents.

But the revised program EIR (which is broader than the segment-specific project EIR) appears to adhere to the original, highly controversial vision -- a four-track system through the Pacheco Pass. Its plan, the document states, "anticipates the local Caltrain and freight trains travel predominantly on the outside two tracks and the high-speed trains and express Caltrain to travel predominantly on the two inside tracks."

"However, depending on additional operational study related to integration of the HST with existing passenger and freight services, any of these train services could potentially run on the tracks placed on the outer portion of the newly expanded right-of-way," the revised EIR states. "This would result in trains, including freight, running closer to existing homes, schools, and other noise-sensitive land uses."

The new document also includes a list of potential road closures on the Peninsula that could be expected because of the rail system. These include a lane of Alma Street between Homer Avenue and Embarcadero Road and two lanes of Alma between Embarcadero and California Avenue. A lane of Alma in Menlo Park, between Oak Grove Avenue and Ravenswood Avenue, could also be removed, as would one lane of Central Expressway between San Antonio Road and Rengstorff Avenue in Mountain View.

"This reduction in lanes may result in circulation, access, or parking impacts," the revised EIR states. "Some of these impacts could include complete closure of streets with circulation diverted to surrounding roadways; conversion of two-way streets to one-way streets; increasing congestion and reduced levels of service as discussed below; changes to adjacent on-street bicycle facilities; limitations or elimination of access to some parcels; requirements for new frontage roads or new access routes; and reduction in on-street parking which could have secondary impacts related to land use viability. In some locations, there could be land-use implications (acquisitions) resulting from mitigation for circulation and parking impacts."

The Peninsula Cities Consortium, which includes Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Burlingame, Belmont and Burbank, discussed the document and expressed concern about the new revisions and the dissonance between the revised EIR and the rail authority's prior promises to consider a blended two-track system, said Palo Alto Councilman Pat Burt, who chairs the consortium.

On Thursday, Feb. 9, the Palo Alto City Council Rail Committee came out swinging against the document, which Burt said abandons the blended approach. Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie called the authority's new position "duplicitous at best."

"We're back where we were a year ago on this and we thought this thing was dead," Burt said.

The city's concerns about the new document has prompted the rail committee to request an extension of the comment period and an "indefinite delay" in approval of the new document.

"As you know, recirculation is required by court order to address the impacts of potentially moving freight tracks closer to adjacent land uses along the San Francisco Peninsula and to address impacts of reduced access to surface streets from potential land closure along the San Francisco Peninsula," the letter from Klein to the rail authority states. "Yet, for our Transportation Division to effectively and fully respond to this recirculated document, all supporting data for the Authority's assertions must be provided to understand how the conclusions were reached."

"Until these documents are provided there should be no expectation that the City of Palo Alto can fully and accurately comment on this document," Klein's letter states.

The rail committee also on Thursday endorsed proposed legislation, Senate Bill 985, which would bar further expenditure of bond proceeds for high-speed rail.

Revisions to the EIR were prompted by a lawsuit filed by Palo Alto, Atherton, Menlo Park and a coalition of nonprofit groups. The suit challenged the rail authority's choice of the Pacheco Pass over the Altamont Pass as the preferred route for the rail line's Peninsula segment. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled in November that the authority must revise the EIR and include, among other things, a more adequate description of traffic impacts along the Caltrain corridor.

Related story: High-speed rail hit with legal setback (Nov. 10, 2011)

The rail authority's strategy to mitigate these impacts, according to the revised EIR, include "improvements to accommodate the diverted traffic, roadway realignments to replace any loss of capacity" and creation of "one-way streets to maintain access." Even so, the document states that the traffic impacts of the project would be "significant but unavoidable."

The Palo Alto-based rail watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design also panned the new document. The group, which has been one of the earliest and most vehement critics of the rail authority's ridership and revenue projections, pointed to a discrepancy between the authority's recent business plan and the design described in the new document.

"They are yelling from the rooftops that they've changed their ways, but when the legal documents quietly come out, it is clear that they are doing exactly what they want to do: a four-track system up the Peninsula and the Pacheco Pass," CARRD said in a statement.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Greg G
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm

If a high speed train is to run from San Jose to SF, it is crazy to consider running it up the existing Cal Train track where it must cross residential streets at every block and where the cost of acquiring property near the right of way will run millions per acre.

The only sensible plan is to run the train up the 280 corridor, where road crossings are minimal and the train can thus run at "high speed". Otherwise what is the point? Let the existing tracks serve local commuters. The high speed train can take folks from SJ non- stop to SF (or maybe have a single stop in Palo Alto on the west side).


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mrs. B.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm

This whole discussion is utterly surreal. There is NO MONEY WHATSOEVER to build this supersonic rail system, and it is ludicrous for anyone to spend any time or money planning for it with studies, EIRs or anything else. Who is going to pay for this? The Federal govt. and the State of CA are both unable to do so. The fare box will NEVER pay back the cost of this railway, even if it ran for the next century. High speed rail is a pleasing vision, like colonies on the moon, but a woeful waste of taxpayers time and money to even argue about.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Hugh Jexpens
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2012 at 7:20 pm

High Speed Rail doesn't belong on the Peninsula. Period. In the Bay Area, it belongs only in the East Bay, which is much more centrally located and can supply more potential customers. Run it up 680 or 580, then along 80 to Sacramento. Any other routing is egotistically stupid and short sighted.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm

The Palo Alto Rail committee meeting, the subject of this article, can now be viewed at:

Web Link

Examining the proposed revised program level EIR,(now in its third iteration), the Authority has completely backed out from the blended plan proposed by Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon.

It is now time for our elected Senator Simitian to meet his pledge to quit supporting the project.

Note his statement in the May 05 hearing:

Web Link

May 5 2011...

...but if the Authority persists in pursuing an approach which involves 60 foot viaducts up and down the peninsula from San Francisco, to San Jose, which involves without the consent and desires of the local communities, Mr. vanArk I'll give you that point, to push itself outside the boundaries of the existing CalTrain right-of-way,and to pursue an EIR for a project which may never get built, and in my judgment shouldn't get built, for which ridership studies frankly are un-persuasive, and that leaves a sword over the head of the business and residences up and down that 50 foot corridor then, I am going to be pretty hard pressed to support that effort going forward.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Boondoggle plain and simple. Even if this were a good idea, there is no money and it will have to be so heavily subsidized if it ever gets built. Bandaid solutions are not the answer.

The politicians will continue to push this project to fuel their egos despite the cost overruns. If it ever gets built, it will happen after numerous studies, reports, etc. and cost well north of the original price tag. Can you say more taxes in an already tax heavy state.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 11, 2012 at 3:17 pm

The fact is, the rail authority never intended to not build a four-track elevated rail system on the Caltrain corridor. This design could be seen even before the 2008 elections in the CEQA program EIS/EIR, complete with diagrams. Then it was retaining walls; now it's an open viaduct.

The reason the rail authority has persisted with this alignment is because it is the least expensive, considering the grade separation requirements. Once the tracks are elevated, cross-streets would remain untouched. Great for them; a disaster for us.

The rail authority never took the "blended" idea seriously. To the degree that they agreed to it, it will only serve as a "place-holder" for the elevated viaducts that they intend to eventually build as funding became available. And that's why they remain in their current CEQA documents.

So, what does this mean for us? The cities on the Peninsula really need to get their act together, such as Palo Alto is doing. Our goal must be to keep high-speed rail off the Caltrain corridor.

How many people do you know that agree with you on this? It is your job to double that number. The State Legislature still can't hear us because we are still too few and not loud enough.

We are well past the point of polite conversation. There must be a major grass-roots ground-swell protest movement against this project on the Peninsula, and in California, for that matter. There needs to be a critical mass of people objecting to high-speed rail.

It's time to to raise our voices and show our anger. The "Boondoggle Group" in Burlingame are posting powerful, simple ads in the Sacramento Post. We should be doing this up and down the Peninsula.

It may not be well known, but we in the three counties are the public owners of the Caltrain corridor, which was bought with tax-payer dollars. It's our corridor and we want high-speed rail to stay off. We must all demand that our respective cities demand high-speed rail stay off the Caltrain corridor.

So, let's get to work.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Charley Crocker
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 11, 2012 at 6:33 pm

High speed rail is a great idea. The new tracks will keep people on the East side of town in their places away from the rest of us. With only a few crossings on the mid-peninsula, it will be easy for police to watch the comings and goings.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Andy Chow
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

I think it is a bit dishonest to say that the 4 track alternative is back on the table. The 4 track alternative has been on the program EIR all along, but that document alone is not sufficient to build a 4 track system since it requires a project level EIR. Right now Caltrain and HSRA is planning a blended system and I don't think that either agency is performing designs for a 4 track system that is ready for construction.

I understand the cities' concerns regarding impacts and implementation, and that I strongly support the blended system. However it is clear that NIMBY and/or teabaggers have invaded and is using the CEQA process to try to kill HSR (and other related passenger rail improvements) slowly.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Andy, I'm sorry, but is isn't NIMBYism that is trying to kill HSR. It's people like me that see what a horrible plan it is. It was sold to the voters on a pack of lies. Those same voters who are now getting wise to the garbage they were sold want a revote. The problem is that HSR can't be built for anything less than 100 billion dollars (it was supposed to cost $33 billion), won't get people to LA from SF in the claimed 2 hours (more like 4) and will do nothing but drain the state coffers dry trying to buiid and maintain it resulting either in much higher taxes (in a state that is one of the most taxed in the nation) or greatly reduced services. HSR is boondoggle and that is why most of us want it eliminated.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by G
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Why is it that cars always trump any potential "greater" benefit for both the city, the bay area, and the state?? Parking and a lane of traffic trump a project that serve the people of the state? At least give it a thought that a lane reduction can create a more livable street, a community street rather than a quasi highway in a city. For the people who built homes and businesses all the way up to the train tracks it is just a fact of life that it was the last remaining property and that the train was always there first.

It's an unfortunate reality that our roads and freeways were allowed to plow through cities and carve out our landscape. If we could harness some of that land it would be amazing but using the existing Caltrain corridor makes sense because it has the existing stations and facilities, and the way to make transit work is to serve the downtown core; primary destinations, not freeways that are out of sight, out of mind, and dependent upon cars.

It's unfortunate that so many people have narrowed down their criticisms and are working in bad faith. Rather than finding the best solution that everyone can benefit from, they have gone all NIMBY and may be looking for a big selfish payout. I expected better from these cities and these outspoken citizens. It cant always be all or nothing.

Finally, HSR is not the freight trains your accustomed to. Not even the caltrain you are so familiar with. Electrified caltrain and HSR will use lighter and quieter trains. No belching fumes, no horns blaring. But it's all up to the decisions we make today. BART cant do what HSR will, but you have to realize what it is and learn the facts before you say $100 billion?! A lot of that is because of things like this. Working together would save us time and money and would be a triumph for the people of the bay area and california. We used to have leadership and know how, but this looks more like typical political bickering.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 14, 2012 at 7:44 am

G:

as I said before it is NOT NIMBYism that has the MAJORITY of Californians now against HSR. It is the fact it was sold to the voters IN BAD FAITH with a pack of lies. It will cost far more than originally stated, it will take longer to get from LA to SF than originally stated, it will cost very much more for a ticket than originally stated, it won't pay for itself as originally stated and there won't be any private investment in it as origianly stated. It will just be a HUGE drain on the financial resources of this state which can ill afford it. HSR will saddle generations to come with HUGE obligations to support this thing as it clearly WILL NOT be self supporting.

I own a home close to the tracks. I bought it knowing there was a train there. I have no objection to trains running up and down those tracks. I'm quite used to it. My objections are totally financial. HSR is a boondoggle that will bleed this state dry just to satisfy some big egos in Sacramanto and to pay off organized labor with jobs. If it would do and cost what it was sold as, I would not object, but it doesn't and it won't. No G, no NIMBYism here, just sound financial sense and an objection to being lied to.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Bardas
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm

It's not the commuters in the Los Angeles - San Francisco corridor who are clogging our streets and highways; it's local traffic. So this money would be better spent on improving local commuter public transportation rather than long distance transportation which is serviced by air travel.
Put the money (whatever amount there is) into an integrated Bay Area Transit System.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ketih Wollenberg
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 14, 2012 at 4:05 pm

To G, who wrote: "Electrified caltrain and HSR will use lighter and quieter trains. "

OMG. HAve you ever been to France and heard the TGV high speed rail pass through? It is GREATLY louder than the current trains.

In addition, to make this work financially would require a train every few minutes. It will not happen, and the entire thing is a giant bill of goods sold on lies.

Ridership, cost of construction, passenger loads, participation of private funding -- not one of these items as projected to sell voters on the bonds had any reasonable relation to reality.

This sort of lies MUST be recognized and we need to pull the plug before we all go broke.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Alex
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 14, 2012 at 10:11 pm

I believe that the proposed caltrain electrification does not include a fully grade separated railway. Add the silly HSR trains, and while maybe the trains themselves might be quieter, the increased rail traffic will result in a constant ringing of gate bells and horns blowing on the trains.

The cost for grade separations is most likely no where to found in any HSR documents, because they do not intend to build them. As far as they are concerned, local communities will need to mitigate that hazard and annoyance themselves. In Menlo Park alone, there are 4 at grade crossings. I am not a road/rail engineer, but the San Bruno grade separation project is as close a comparison as one can draw for a cost estimate. The advertized cost of the San Bruno grade separation was in the vicinity of $150M, and spanned three road crossings a distance of about 1000 feet. I have no ides what the actual cost is, but would be surprised if it's on budget. Menlo Parks at grade crossings cover a distance of about 2000 feet, and no doubt would need to be planned with nearby crossings in Atherton and maybe Palo Alto to keep the slope of the tracks within spec for passenger and freight service. I imagine the cost would be significantly higher than the San Bruno project due to the distance spanned, and the possible need to coordinate with other nearby grade separations. I imagine the CAHSR plans to leave Menlo Park, and most Peninsula communities, to fund these omissions themselves.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2012 at 10:01 am


IT WILL BE RUNNING ONE DAY THROUGH THIS AREA......CANNOT WAIT.

TOLD YOU SO


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm

To Mr. Gordon -

Who do you expect to fund this over budget project?

The initial estimated cost has increased, and to maintain it will require subsidy from an already over budget state government. You don't have to look far to realize that Caltrain ridership is down and the cost of a ticket is up. Any savvy business man/woman would tell you this is not even a cost neutral project.

There are more reports, analysises, and probable court battles before this starts. What do you think the cost will be then?

So answer 1 question for me -- how expensive is too much to spend?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Expensive is the loss of ONE life in a 10 fake war which cost trillions, and from the sounds of your ranting, appears to have been just swell with you.
You are among the many whiners in this area who is stuck in the past.


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