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Letter: Author responds to critique of high-speed rail

Original post made on Mar 19, 2008

The three rail-related letters published last week show that the authors haven't done their homework. We should keep them after school.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 19, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (17)

Posted by A New Day Is Here, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 19, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Martin Engel's remarks are just too cute. Does living a stones throw from the railroad tracks elevate Mr. Engel to some kind of transit expert? I'm sure Mr. Engel is frightened and having way too much time on his hands, he has taken on all issues pertaining to rail near Menlo Park as his raison d'etre. Every town has these old guys. He and our current mayor can commiserate all they want, but the sun is setting on their small world. The future, thank the Lord is filled with young and creative people who are looking for alternative modes of travel that won't cause the environmental damage the auto has. This writer is one of them. Exit left, Martin and take Mr. Cohen with you.


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 19, 2008 at 3:26 pm

I am for ANY mode of public transportation that closely rivals the speed, convenience and safety of private transportation. Temporary inconveniences for long term solutions are a small price to pay.


Posted by at least I read, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 7:53 am

Why should anyone bother to put up a reply to Joanna and "a new day is here"? They obviously know next to nothing about the subject and just want to incite division.

I have read much of what Mr. Engel has written and it is based on facts and historical precedence. I am convinced that high speed rail as proposed presently for California will be a boondoggle of monstrous proportions. For perspective take the financial disaster in which the Bay bridge is now mired. Multiply that by about 25 times and you will get a sense of where this project is headed if the voters do not reject the bond measure this fall.

Instead of the marvelous earnings the High Speed Rail Authority is projecting, you will have huge losses each year. They will be covered by funds from the States general fund and all the worthwhile services that the State can provide will be hurt.

at least I read


Posted by in training, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 20, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Mr. Engel is THE local authority on public transit. I admire and respect the fact that he has invested so much effort in research and continues to share his knowledge with the community despite snarky comments from anons such as those above.

If this proposed rail truly offered a perceptible benefit and solved existing problems, I think we would all suck in our guts and put up with a few years of inconvenience. But...this project does not provide any solution to our traffic problems plus it costs a fortune. It's hard to see it as anything but a massive transfer of wealth to a few industry providers who stand to make huge profits.

Here's my prediction: we are going to see a campaign unlike any other to push this through. Prime time tv spots, full page newspaper ads, the full court press. All I'm asking is that when you, as an educated Menlo/Atherton resident, receive your tenth glossy direct mail piece, ask yourself "who is financing this campaign, and how do they stand to benefit if high speed wins?"


Posted by Gern Blanston, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 20, 2008 at 3:43 pm

Yes, Joanna needs a cause -- any cause -- no matter how ill-conceived or downright inane. When it became clear that recallfergie.com wouldn't result in the political lynching she so desperately craved, she entered an altogether-too-brief period of quiet reflection, and re-emerged phoenix-like a day or two later tilting at parking meters or the like.

Neither Joanna nor "A New Day Is Here" appear to be homeowners or, more relevant, own real property near the CalTrain right of way. Do either of you have *any* idea how much Martin Engel and his neighbors have at stake in the widening of that right-of-way to four tracks? Most people, even in this comparatively wealthy area, count their home equity as the major source of their net worth, and to suggest that people such as Martin should blithely accept years of construction noise and pollution, decreased property values, and diminished quality of life so that some unknown number of people can get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in three hours by rail; to suggest such a thing is absolutely asinine! Martin and his neighbors have every right to speak out against what is most certainly a threat to the value of their real property, and perhaps to their financial security, and I challenge any of the champions of high speed rail to offer up a comparable sacrifice.

To further suggest that people such as Martin and Andy are too old to have a vested interest in rail infrastructure on the peninsula is the statement of an idiot, and deserves no more comment.

Gern


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 20, 2008 at 3:55 pm

I guess the alternative is to not do anything and keep things the way they are.

-I don't know how to read


Posted by Gern Blanston, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 20, 2008 at 4:58 pm

I tend to agree with Steve Schmidt in that the HSR should share CalTrain's right-of-way -- two electrified tracks in total -- and I can't imagine that adding perhaps half an hour to the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles and vice versa to account for the reduced speeds and greater stops on the peninsula will kill ridership. The extra stops may even promote ridership if people traveling to the Bay Area are afforded the opportunity to disembark at several different locations between San Jose and San Francisco.

But I'd take it one step further and make CalTrain part of HSR -- why suffer two large bureaucracies where clearly one is needed? This may be a naive suggestion on my part, as I know there are many who have a vested interest in keeping the two separate, but I'd be interested in learning why there can't be one administrative body for both.

Gern


Posted by in training, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 20, 2008 at 11:17 pm

One reason our public transit is so bad is that the various agencies are competing for the same limited funding. The current system does not provide any incentives for collaboration. Whatever funding HSR receives is not likely to percolate over to Caltrain. Nice idea, just not politically feasible, at least as I understand it.


Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 21, 2008 at 7:52 pm

In point of fact, the bond measure is for $9,950,000,000 (9.95 Billion dollars). I sometimes round this up to $10,000,000,000 (10 Billion dollars). After all, what's another 50 million or so.

Of this bond money, 950,000,000 is not going to High Speed Rail at all. It would go to other transit agencies, who naturally want to get in on the gravy train. The net result is a "porked up" bond measure which sort of buys off the competing transit agencies; they aren't likely to actively work against the project by claiming it is taking too many available funds for transit.

I understand there are actually 36 different transit agencies in the Bay area. Getting cooperation at times is difficult.

However, the notion expressed above that HSR monies are not going to percolate over to CalTrain is false. The plan is to spend $5 Billion dollars on the San Jose to San Francisco segment. Caltrain would benefit by getting electrification and grade separations at all the intersections along this segment.

As I mentioned at the joint Atherton / Menlo Park study session, DeRail, a California 501(c) public interest corporation has been formed. We will have a website up very soon with plenty of useful information.

morris brown
Stone Pine Lane


Posted by verne, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 22, 2008 at 11:40 am

Regarding Joanna's comments ("I am for ANY mode of public transportation that closely rivals the speed, convenience and safety of private transportation. Temporary inconveniences for long term solutions are a small price to pay."):
I tend to agree, although I would want to IMPROVE upon what is possible with private transportation and existing options such as air and train.
In any case,I don't see how HSR does this. Some questions that come to mind: Will it stop in Menlo Park? If not, how would one get to where it does, and how easy would it be to take luggage? How would I get from an LA station to where I really want to go? Why would that be easier at that end than if I were to take Amtrak today? What would the total dollar and time cost be for an end-to-end trip, and how does that compare with alternatives? Oh, and how would I get around once I arrive at my initial destination, and what would that cost? Why would HSR be less expensive than Amtrak is today, especially when the costs of acquiring land, building bridges and parking lots and grade separations, laying track and power (I think electrification requires catenaries?), buying new equipment (cars, signals, track), and operating it (including labor and energy costs for all facilities)? How much of the current car and truck or air traffic would be replaced, realistically, with all these questions? Why wouldn't some other alternative, such as increased telecommunications, or electric-powered buses, be cheaper and more flexible and more environmentally superior? Why haven't these been examined?


Posted by murphstahoe, a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2008 at 11:13 pm

Here's a question for Verne - does United Airlines stop in Menlo Park? How does one get from LAX to where one really wants to go?

There is only so much capacity in the air and at our local airports. Removing flights from the Bay Area to LA will reduce the pressure on those airports. Simply adding more runways cannot relieve the congestion on SFO - there is a finite amount of air traffic that can take off and land from there no matter the additional (very expensive) runway.


Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 24, 2008 at 5:04 am

The statement just above by murphstahoe, is completely bogus. More runways certainly would allow much more capacity at the San Francisco airport. That is not what I propose or want, but airspace limitation is not a factor in limiting the airports capacity; lack of runways indeed is the big facto.

The CHSRA (California High Speed Rail Authority) talks out of both sides of its mouth. They tell you their $45 Billion dollar project is cost effective because it will negate the need for airport expansion. They then tell the airlines, that "we are not going to really hurt your business very much", "most of our passengers are going to come from people taking the train rather than driving". (Rod Diridon, KCBS interview)

Morris Brown
a DeRail founder
(website coming soon)


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 24, 2008 at 9:03 am

What is with the concept that we have this insatiable desire to go to LA? I have worked in Silicon Valley for too long and have been called to duty in LA maybe a handful of times in twenty years. Is there something I don't know? Are the planes just packed with LA people clammering to see SF and vice versa? The talk about runways is not an LA/SF thing -- that is a global travel effect. The train is LA/SF. Keep it in context.


Posted by Verne, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 24, 2008 at 9:20 am

Most of the comments in this thread were about replacing car traffic with trains, not air traffic. I'd like us to focus more on not traveling at all, and alternatives to the limited options (car, HSR, plane) for a more productive conversation.

But speaking of airports, there are a number of airports in the general LA area so one could land closer to one's destination. Would HSR have stations dispersed similarly? Airports have a lot of car rental agencies nearby. Would the HSR find land for those also?
A new question - Why would a HSR ticket, given all the startup and operating costs, be (a lot) less expensive than a current Amtrak ticket?


Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 24, 2008 at 10:46 am

This discussion thread is becoming far more substantive and that is a very good thing. Up to now, the media have merely restated the fictitious numbers generated by the train promoters. It's time for us to look at the realities beneath their marketing hype.

They project 117,000,000 annual riders. One might get the impression that these are SF/LA riders, and that's nonsense. But, if they include the number of possible commuters within the LA area as they project a number of stops there, that would make this train a commuter train in LA, and that becomes an entirely different project. But, in that case, why not first build a fast commuter train through the LA/San Diego region? And, for that matter, why not build a fast train system from the Bay Area east and north to Sacramento? Those are the rapidly growing population centers with road transit problems. The Altamont route people have a case. The Pacheco Pass route is politically viable but solves no problems. The HSR is a solution looking for problems, when real transit problems already exist elsewhere in California. Promoting the HSR as the panacea for all our ills is, to mix a metaphor, like the hammer to which everything looks like a nail.


Posted by Steve Schmidt, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 26, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Here's a couple of thoughts for Morris Brown and Martin Engel:

One theory about why an improved LA/SF rail link would be good for the airlines and the airports was that some percentage of the shorter flights from places like Burbank, LAX and the Central Valley to the Bay Area would be replaced by train trips, thus freeing landing space for larger aircraft coming from more distant places. If we can agree that a big 747 takes up no more space on approach or landing than a smaller 737, then isn't it logical that an improved train link between L.A. and the Bay Area would create more spaces for long distance flights? That sounds like increased airport capacity.

Secondly, the all or nothing arguments about High Speed Rail bouncing around this site and the local print media avoid the obvious deficiency in the existing regional rail system. Train service within California could be improved and be competitive with driving or flying without spending tens of billions. We don't have to have Quentin Kopp's four-track HSR version between San Jose to San Francisco which will certainly disturb Mr. Brown's & Mr. Engel's neighborhood. Let's not forget the disruption of every neighborhood, residential & commercial along the Caltrain tracks north of Palo Alto.

It's time to stop this xenophobic whining and get involved now in a positive way to create a plan that makes sense economically and socially and will serve our children and their children.

Just saying "NO" lacks vision.

Steve Schmidt


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 26, 2008 at 1:22 pm

You think you know me Germs? Ha!


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