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Guest opinion: Another option for rail corridor
Original post made
on Nov 17, 2009
Are there alternatives for bringing a high-speed rail connection from San Jose to San Francisco that won't involve a king's ransom or any major destruction and disruption of Peninsula cities?
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posted Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 12:00 AM
Posted by Kathy Hamilton
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 20, 2009 at 12:28 am
A couple of comments to readers' questions.
Speed and MPH were provided by California Rail Foundation and here's my opinion on electrification.
I believe the electrification EIR/EIS was done in 2003 with probably a very different program description than the project has today. I question its validity. Second, initially I thought perhaps rather than cantilevers, electric from the tracks, a third rail solution, might work especially if it was tunneled. My bubble burst when I was told by experts that it's an older technology. But basically my answer is "No, we don't want thousands of trees, many heritage, destroyed and ugly wires hanging all over our towns." Why don't we look at alternatives to electrification in the form of trains. See the quote below from Calfornia Rail foundation.
"Lightweight diesel multiple units are nearly as efficient as electric trains for commuter rail. Additionally, the Hitachi hybrid technology showcased on Page 7 of the October California Rail News is making it hard to justify new electrification in Japan because it provides the efficiency and acceleration benefits at a fraction of the cost."
If we are supposed to be building a world class HSR network, why not look at cutting edge rail products that work more in concert with man and nature? The answer is because we don't have technical people with the right background and true objectivity working on this board. Instead we have political appointees with perhaps other agendas, not looking at the state's interest first. My opinion, it's a crime.
Read Paradise Lost by Richard Trainor, on Amazon, a real look at Sacramento and Washington politics. At least half of the people on the current board have an honorable mention. It illustrates how deals are made with land and stock involving contracts for fast trains and bridges.
One comment about tunneling, I am very much in favor of tunneling if it can be achieved. There are many questions that have arisen lately that make me question whether it will ever happen. As one reader said, we have the cost element, though CEQA does not require the least expensive route to be used, certainly our cities may have to make a contribution. But as Martin Engel has said, analyze it with a net cost accounting method, that is, deduct what we wouldn't have to pay for such as extensive grade separations, possibly more eminent domain in the tighter areas and temporary tracks. It's not going to be as expensive as people think.
Next, there is great skepticism about whether it is possible to build a tunnel under a ROW for miles and miles. I've had a couple of engineers question whether or not this is plausible. I understand that some European rail counterparts laughed when they heard of our cities plan to build under a ROW. The question is out there. Then there are the political questions- could be an even bigger barrier. Who decides? Who do we have to get to say yes? Does UP have some stake in this if it disrupts the freight service? What about the JPB and the cities that have contributed to buying that ROW? What do they say about developing parks, bike trails and possibly building some income producing structures on that land?
Bottom line, any of these key groups could merely stall decision making and it could kill the deal. I can see it now, HSRA says to us, "Look guys, we tried to give you your dream, but we can't take this kind of hold up, it's costing us stimulus money." What are we left with? An above ground solution, exactly what HSRA wanted from the beginning-totally unacceptable- period. Let's not put all our eggs in one basket, please. Let's get some answers first.
Instead we should be looking at many options since we are in the Alternative Analysis process now including outsourcing an electrified Caltrain perhaps even tunneled or Altamont, the very close runner up to the Caltrain route. To date, it's been an Alternatives Study with no alternatives being studied which I have discussed with the HSRA in person and in writing. How can you have a preferred route if there are no other routes up for serious consideration? Sounds like a sure thing to me! We are supposed to have a discussion of project alternatives and design options. All they offered us at the San Carlos open house in September 30th, was possible designs options of the vertical positioning of the tracks, up, at grade or under. Nothing else.
In regard to the thrashing CSS took from one reader. I agree that Context Sensitive Solutions is starting late, after the HSRA has chosen a preferred route and more importantly when all is said and done, the Authority has no obligation to go along with what solutions they arrive at. But wait, CSS just might be able to serve a really important role. Let them study alternatives in the light of day to see what could make this rail project work for the peninsula.
Bottom line as one reader said, we don't have the money for the project, our segment was estimated at $8 billion alone by pro-rail sources out of a $9 billion pot. We are anxiously awaiting the new business plan due out in Mid December. We will closely analyze report and pay very close attention to the ridership numbers. These numbers in the 2008 business plan have been brought into question last week by the learned Berkeley Transportation group and many others. Why would they estimate ridership numbers 5X of what the busiest Amtrak in the Northeast produces.- one of my neighbors Marty Mazner investigated this statistic. The answer is simple, they are backing into profitability numbers. Profitability is a requirement of AB3034.
The famous quote by the HSRA is that the voters of California voted for this train and the people should not be denied. I agree but not by a huge margin and if all the facts were out, like what the preferred routes were, we might not be having this conversation. The voters of California did not vote for the bonds without strings. The Legislature must hold the HSRA's feet to the fire on all the financial requirements, including profitability which without incredibly inflated ridership numbers and incredibly underestimated costs, it's not going to happen.
We need all local, state and national elected officials to represent us because this current solution doesn't work for the peninsula cities. It's not too late to change this. Pressure by the people applied just right- will bring positive results.