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Bury the high-speed train rails, say local officials

Original post made on Mar 3, 2009

When it comes to deciding how high-speed trains will shoot up the Peninsula, officials in Atherton and Menlo Park have pretty much one request: put them underground, and out of sight.
[Web Link ==B Will locals have a seat at the table?==]
[Web Link ==B Seventeen months later, rail officials respond==]


Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, March 3, 2009, 2:08 PM

Comments (30)

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Posted by Reality check
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2009 at 3:08 pm

The preferred route chosen by the California High Speed Rail Commission (the predecessor to the High-Speed Rail Authority) was via Altamont Pass. This route serves more people and makes so much more sense than Pacheco. It would cross the Bay in the Dumbarton Rail Bridge corridor (on a new bridge -- or tunnel -- of course) and join the Caltrain line at Redwood Junction and continue onward toward SFO and downtown SF along the Caltrain line.

This route avoids the outrageous detour of running all riders traveling between Sacramento and SF/SFO/SJ via Pacheco Pass and bustling Los Banos -- while at the same time serving millions more in the hyper-congested Tri-Valley and Altamont Pass corridor and keeping overall system route miles down. It makes so much sense to everyone but Rod Diridon and the all-trains-must-pass-through San Jose mafia that railroaded the process to suddenly cause the Altamont route get dropped in favor of Pacheco Pass.

Of course the Dumbarton alignment used by the Altamont alternative also passes through other parts of eastern Menlo Park -- but at least does not bisect the hearts of Atherton, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara en route to San Jose. San Jose access is via a separate line running from the Fremont/Union City area to San Jose along the current Amtrak Capitol Corridor rail line.


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Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2009 at 3:51 pm

From the picture captions:

"A rail crossing in Atherton. The high-speed rail project might require as many as six side-by-side tracks, potentially tearing through residents' properties and forcing trees to be removed."

Not six. Four.

"If high-speed trains must come up the Peninsula, local residents and officials want them to run underground as they pass through Menlo Park and Atherton -- in a tunnel or an open trench."

Not all local residents want them to run underground and realize it is an unreasonable request to make, unless the city wants to pay for it themselves.


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Posted by no to hsr trolls
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Mar 3, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Spokker, your rhetoric is tiresome. Don't you want to graduate from college? Why don't you focus on your schoolwork and let the grownups talk about what's best for our community.


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Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2009 at 7:21 pm

Hah, the opposition do not want to be called NIMBYs, and yet they have no problem slinging personal attacks. Hypocrisy at its finest.


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Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2009 at 7:23 pm

And don't worry, the grownups in Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento will make sure the HSR steamrolls right through your glorified suburban utopia.

The only thing that irritates me is that it *won't* have the negative impact on your communities that you think it will.


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Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2009 at 7:25 pm

"Why don't you focus on your schoolwork and let the grownups talk about what's best for our community."

What's even more hilarious about this statement is how poorly you "grownups" planned for the growth of your region. You built your communities right up against a two-track mainline. You people have no clue what you're doing. You thought the era of cheap gasoline would last forever.

Now that poor planning is coming to a head. It could have all been avoided had you actually planned for growth instead of cowering in fear that one day your suburban dynasty would be threatened.

And the worst thing about it, it's not really threatened at all. You will be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and you will be better off for it.


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Posted by sdds
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 3, 2009 at 9:16 pm

much cheaper alternative to HSR: get rid of I-5 speed limits.


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Posted by GO HSR
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2009 at 6:45 am

From all of the media coverage, it is good that the public is getting involved in the planning process. Yet, the public shouldn't jump to conclusions of what could or would happen before the EIR and initial planning are completed. That said, the NIMBYs of the Peninsula shouldn't de-rail (excuse the pun) a project of this magnitude when it will do more to help CA than stopping it. In this case, the Pacheco route makes more sense because it is more direct to Silicon Valley, the peninsula(including Palo Alto and Stanford), SFO and SF than the Altamont route since it has fewer right-of-way and environmental issues including seismic problems (read the draft EIR) than Altamomt or the Dumbarton alternative. Further, Palo Alto would benefit from HSR as it would have a station and the economic benefits to match, or it can simply step aside and not benefit at all. It's Palo Alto's choice, but the NIMBY crowd should think carefully about whether it wants to discard such a rare opportunity since once you throw it away, you'll never get it again. Further, most of the work the NIMBYs dread will happen when Caltrain electrifies anyway. If Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton want to tunnel the main line, they can pay for it themselves since they seem grandstand their refusal to "have their cities divided" when in fact they'll most likely benefit from project.


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Posted by no to HSR
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 4, 2009 at 8:14 am

Benefit...how?

Just because you residents of "another community" keep telling us that HSR is wonderful (and that we are all NIMBYs for voicing our legitimate and logical concerns!) does not make it so.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Can We?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 4, 2009 at 11:38 am

How 'bout all of us grownups, and legitimate adults, from this point forward, ignore Baby Spokker and his infantile ways? The guy/gal does not understand our community, has never paid a red cent in taxes, and does not realize that majority of the wealth of California is driven by many of the residents of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto. I believe we SHOULD get special attention, we're the ones footing the bill for most of this! So, let's all do our best to ignore Baby Spokker, he doesn't know what home ownership means or what caring about a community means to us "suburbanites"!


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2009 at 12:43 pm

We do not have $40 billion dollars to waste on this ludicrous vanity project. Hopefully someone will realize that at some point.


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Posted by jfsjr37
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 4, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Suppose, for the purposes of discussion, that Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton will have the Caltrain and HSR tracks underground in tunnels, and that Mountain View and Redwood City will not. The following is a simple attempt to describe what the tunneling grade separation solution might look like.

Starting at the south end of Palo Alto and working north, the four tracks (two Caltrain local and two HSR plus bullet) will start a gradual descent into a concrete-lined channel. The rate of descent will be slight because of the presence of freight trains; only about 1 foot per 100 feet will be allowed.

By the time the tracks reach Charleston and Meadow, they will have entered tunnel(s) and the top of the rails will be down about 30 feet.
The catenary poles and wires will be gone with the wires supported
by the tunnel roof.

Heading north, the tracks will continue to descend, reaching a depth of about 50 feet in order to pass beneath the Page Mill/Oregon underpass.

They will stay at that depth as they reach the California avenue Caltrain station. The station itself will be about a five story underground structure, with ways to transport people and bikes to the bottom level where the Caltrain trains can be boarded.

Emergency and handicapped access will have to be provided. Also, since HSR and Caltrain will be electrified, provision will have to be made for exiting in the event of a power failure; the trains will stop, which is not the case today with Caltrain diesel locomotives.

Continuing northward, the tracks will stay at this 50 foot depth, passing under Churchill, Embarcadero and University Avenue. The depth is needed for the latter undercrossings.

The University station will again be a large, deep structure, with the added complexities of baggage handling if Palo Alto will be an HSR station.

Again continuing northward, the four tracks will pass under Alma Street and San Francisquito Creek, and then begin to slowly rise to a depth of about 30 feet as they pass under the six street crossings of Menlo Park and Atherton.

The Menlo Park train station will not be as complex as the California Avenue Caltrain station because it will not be as deep.

Assuming that the tracks will need to rise to the surface by the time they reach the 5th Avenue underpass in Redwood City, the tracks will have to begin their ascent from the tunnel(s) just north of the Atherton train station. Catenary wires and poles will appear as the tracks leave the tunnel(s) and rise to the surface.

One consideration not mentioned above is that UPRR freight trains will be sharing tracks and tunnels with either just Caltrain, or Caltrain and HSR. Diesel fumes cannot be tolerated, so that the
freights will probably have to be powered by electric locomotives while on the Caltrain tracks, and will have to switch back to diesel locomotives when these trains service their remote customers.

The intent of the above is to provide some thoughts about what a tunneling grade separation solution might look like. Hopefully this description will give something to think about as the EIR process moves forward.


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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Apparently jfsjr37 you failed to take into account the depth at the creek, which by necessity would have to be much, much deeper than 50 feet.

One can estimate something of costs, since tunneling BART with only
2 tracks and actually in a more stable region is projected to cost $600 million per mile. Double that for 4 tracks and you are at 1.2 billion / mile. Seven miles from South Palo Alto to North Atherton and you have spent 9.4 billion.

Of course one should say the certain destruction to the cities by above grade rails will be at least that much, so that immense cost is justified. By the time the full HSR project is finally built it will cost over $100 billion anyway, so this is not all that much of an increase.

This leaves the only fiscally sound option for HSR to stop at San Jose. That was fully vetted at the PA council meeting on Monday.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by meloparkarogance
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2009 at 6:13 pm

Stop at San Jose ..HELL NO


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Posted by $38 solution
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Just checked Q class low fares on American and Southwest SFO-LAX, great aerial view of Calif coastline. $38. No waiting, no advance reservation.
For the Landed Gentry, HSR, maybe at best $98. one way, subsidized by taxpayers, great vistas of South San Joaquin sagebrush (not your French countryside, folks!), world class San Jose Diridon Grand Central to satiate their edifice complex, get your Q class on the Quentin Kopp California Express. Great Ham sandwiches!
Time to get these retread politicians Kopp and Diridon out to pasture before the grass dries up from their wasteful spending of our tax dollars.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Robber Barons
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2009 at 8:22 pm

anybody at the Sacto Bee or other worthy daily checked on who's been buying options on land in the HSR corridor, especially in the valley?
Couldn't possibly be Pombo's buddies.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Leland's Big 4 redux
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2009 at 8:34 pm

History buffs will recall Leland driving the golden spike at Promontory. Rail monopoly made his fortune. 19th century Rail united the continent.
HSR is Leland's 2nd coming as HE made Palo Alto and Menlo Park for his pleasure. Now it's time to honor our pilgrimage to the Messiah's pleasure palace, The Farm, and stand aside as the HSR unites our state.
Not his money this time, but our tithing to all that is powerful and rich in Cali.


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Posted by Martin
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 4, 2009 at 9:24 pm

Some thoughts about tunneling costs.

Many say it will cost far too much. Some say it will cost $1 billion per mile, or more. Well, maybe. Or, perhaps not. Let's say the distance from 5th Ave. in RC to San Antonio Rd. in south PA is 7 miles. If that's not correct to the inch, I'm confident that there will be bloggers out there who will rush to correct this egregious error.

The per mile costs vary with each and every project. The costs depend upon variables like tunnel length, soil composition, depth, and a whole host of other variables unique to this particular site. A contractor of large projects once confided to me that he could build a project at three different price points, and the client wouldn't be able to tell the difference. So, specifying dollar numbers at this point is an open-ended exercise.

Then there are other factors that impinge on final costs. The actual tunnel costs must then be calculated with a number of deductions. What is the least expensive way that CHSRA has in mind for the track alignment, say either at grade or bermed? What is the cost for that, and presumably that includes the grade separations, and the temporary shoofly tracks and their use by Caltrain? Then there are also eminent domain costs and construction easement costs. With full-cost accounting, these costs need to be deducted from the tunneling costs.

There are other, less apparent costs that are not part of the CHSRA equation. These are the costs to the cities. Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto will be severely impacted by this construction, both during the five or more years of its duration, and the dramatic changes that will become permanent in the expanded and revised rail corridor.

There will be property devaluation costs and property tax revenue losses; there will be business decline and even termination costs as well as business tax revenue losses in the downtown areas; there will be public utility and public service costs, including city administrative costs. Who eats those? And, can we sue for recovery? Thus, add legal costs to that list.

In short, these are all deductible from the original tunnel bids. While there may be no break-even point, there would certainly be a consequential reduction of the cost "delta" between the alignment such as berm and that of tunnel. And, if time is money, time delays in the settlement of various litigations, would also need to be factored in as costs that are tunnel cost offsets. This last point could well increase costs significantly if the three towns in question pursue legal avenues to obtain a fair and responsive solution, including a voice in the disposition of that public property, owned by "the people", referring to the rail corridor.

Without sounding too dramatic, the tunnel we want may become a bargain.


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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2009 at 10:46 pm

to Robber Barons:

AB-3034 (the law underneath Prop 1A), prohibited a station from being built in the Los Banos area. The NY Times ran a story about a planned community Villages of San Luis which was being planned around this station, completely out in the middle of a pristine open space area. The word somehow leaked out that insiders were seeking to make a killing and the political pressure was so great that the final version of AB-3034 specifically excludes any station in that area.

It is interesting now that a new station may end up in the Visalia area. I wonder who controls the land there?


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Posted by why be so confusing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 5, 2009 at 9:23 am

Mr Engle's remarks above are confusing to say the least.

He should be clear and stop aggregating different kinds of cost together.

From data published by BART and elsewhere, one can estimate construction cost of tunneling. BART says tunneling construction cost is around $600 million per mile. That's for a 2 track system. The present proposal from the Authority says they need 4 tracks. So double that cost and round down a bit and you get $1 billion per mile for construction costs using tunnels. The stretch from the north end of Palo Alto to the south end of Atherton is 7 miles, so the construction cost using tunnels is 7 billion for this 7 miles.. Actually it most likely to cost more than that because of the creek, which will require a very deep tunnel. It most certainly is not going to cost less.

The Authority projected 4.5 billion for construction costs using above grade tracks for the whole 50 mile segment from SF to San Jose. That estimate is low balled for sure but let us double that to say it would cost 9 billion for 50 miles which is $180 million per mile.

So above grade at $180 million / mile for 7 miles is 1.26 billion whereas tunneling for 7 miles is 7 billion, an additional cost of $5.74 billion to tunnel the Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton segments. These are quantified construction costs.

Now weighed against this are impact damages; degration and destruction of the quality of life etc associated with the above grade tracks. Hard to quantify in dollar terms, but just think about the Embarcadero Freeway and what it did to the City of San Francisco, before an earthquake caused it to be torn down. Think about the 20 foot high wall or berm 75 to 130 feet wide which is needed for the above grade construction. Above the wall another 20 feet are electrical cables.

Then there are the cost benefits from tunneling. The land and air rights over the tunnel will increase property values, whereas the above grade tracks will send those values in the downward direction. Contrary to Mr. Engle's remarks above, these benefits don't reduce the cost of tunneling, they should be weighed against the adverse impacts of above grade tracks.

That's a pretty true picture. Then one must be well aware that San Mateo Burlingame and other Cities will want tunneling as well. To my mind tunneling is prohibitively expensive, whereas above grade will destroy the communities along its path.

The only reasonable solution is stop the train at San Jose. San Jose to SF is adequately served by existing service.




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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2009 at 9:49 am

> To my mind tunneling is prohibitively expensive, whereas above grade will destroy the communities along its path.

While that rings true, those are not the only alternatives. At-grade is also possible, as is the entire spectrum between 35 feet below grade (tunnel) and 20 feet above grade (full elevation over road crossings).

Saying that it's either -35 or +20 feet eliminates a large number of alternatives in between those extremes, some of which may strike the best balance between cost and impact.


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Posted by Menlo park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Mar 5, 2009 at 9:58 am

Some thoughts....make it be safe, quiet, modern (state of the art), easy to use ,good-looking and take up as little of the land as possible (build tiered-underground parking). Economically speaking- let's think if we can do this above ground.


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Posted by dsfgad
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 5, 2009 at 10:46 am

Why not just pay a billion dollars to fresno, kings and kern county to make up for their traffic ticket revenue and get rid of speed limits on I-5?

It is a much more sensible alternative to HSR and more environmental than wasting jet fuel for SFO-LAX


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Posted by value
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Mar 5, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Right now, Rome is expanding its subway system, building a line 90 underground right under the Forum and other antiquities. They have to proceed very carefully because they are digging through as well as under sensitive archeological areas. Yet the cost for this is less than half the cost I've seen for BART or HSR.

All over the world, cities have built subway systems without breaking the bank. Why is it so expensive for us? Everyone seems to take those $ amounts as a given, but I'd like to know why they are so high.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Contractor pork fest. Pour lots of concrete, move lots of earth, and take the fee, regardless of actual transportation need. One look at our freeway overpasses (101/85 interchange), airports (SFO people mover), BART (Millbrae monstrosity, San Jose plans), etc. will tell you why it costs so much: it is overbuilt not just to withstand earthquakes, but to make lots and lots of money for the companies that build this stuff. Any taxpayer who dares complain can be dismissed as knowing nothing about seismic requirements.

You might think contractors would fall in love with the tunnel idea, but they're not that dumb: in order to make money, they still need the project to be (just barely) financially feasible.

Nothing malicious about it: just people and organizations acting logically in their self-interest.


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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Clem, you are obviously a very smart guy and although we disagree, I certainly respect your information and opinions. And, finally, we do agree. Your first statement: "Contractor pork fest." sums up this boondoggle and pork-barrel project perfectly. Yes, move lots of earth; yes, take the fees; REGARDLESS OF ACTUAL TRANSPORTATION NEEDS!!!!!!!!!!

I have been accused of opposing this project. That is true and for many reasons that I have tried to spell out over the past five years. On the other hand, I want to be realistic,as you do. However, I also want to take into account the entire financial burden, not just how much laying track costs by the mile. Loving and being an advocate for high speed trains does not mean that you must view this project uncritically. We all must use our crap detectors, especially with the potential amounts of money to be involved here. I would hope that you and Rafael, despite your HSR enthusiasm, would do the same; take a hard look at the validity and credibility of the rail authority, its members, its history; the plausibility of its technical promises; its business plan and the financial projections, and all the rest. Is there not the slightest doubt in your mind? If you had the power to do this entire project over, would you do it this paricular was, as has been promoted by Kopp and his minions? I doubt it.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Martin, respect to you as well for your steady and persistent determination.

Where we differ is that I do believe there is a legitimate transportation need for HSR. I regard the excesses of the construction companies and their political buddies as a sad but necessary evil of The Way Things Are. Many things we are powerless to change, such as the poor choice of Pacheco Pass. But, to the tiny extent that I can, I will attempt to shame them into doing HSR right. Doing it right for the taxpayer and HSR passenger, not the construction companies, not the train operators, not the abutters (not just NIMBYs but also those who wish to derive from HSR ancillary urban design benefits).

I certainly agree that we must be both critical and vigilant, and the first step in that direction is simply to inform everyone as much as possible.


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Posted by Diana
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 6, 2009 at 10:43 am

Martin and Clem both make good arguments, and both seem concerned that this project, probably inevitable, be done right. My concern is that Clem's idea of shaming the decisionmakers into doing HSR right may be impossible. There are so many special interests involved here, and many politically motivated power brokers are incapable of shame.

But I applaud the efforts of anyone who's trying to keep this project as clean, effective and efficient as possible.


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Posted by jfsjr37
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 6, 2009 at 1:49 pm

To change the discussion just a bit, it turns out that how the tracks cross San Francisquito creek has a large influence over the kind of grade separation strategy one can use at Churchill, Alma and Ravenswood.

For example, suppose it is argued that the only way to avoid significant damage to the El Palo Alto redwood and the creek itself
is to have the four tracks tunnel under the creek. If this is the case, then looking north, there isn't sufficient distance for the
tracks to rise to the top of a berm before Ravenswood in Menlo Park.
However, a tunneling separation at Ravenswood is feasible.

Looking south, there isn't enough distance for the tracks to rise
to the top of a berm before Churchill. However, tunneling under Churchill is feasible.

So tunneling under the creek implies tunneling under Ravenswood, Alma and Churchill; it also implies that berm separations at these streets are not feasible.

Another example: Suppose it is argued that four tracks crossing the creek at surface level can be done without risking El Palo Alto and the creek; suppose further that the resulting Alma Street underpass
(which is the only viable separation there in this case) will not do any harm either. Then, looking north, both berm separation and tunneling separation at Ravenswood are feasible.

However, looking south, berm separation at Churchill is feasible, whereas tunneling separation is not.

So crossing the creek at the surface implies berms are ok both north and south; it implies also that tunneling is ok only at Ravenswood.

The important factors here are (1)that because of the freights, the tracks cannot rise or fall at a rate greater than about 1 foot per 100 horizontal feet; and (2) the existence of underpasses at University and Embarcadero.


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Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Mar 14, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I've posted this before, but you ameteur, back of a knapkins civil engineers are not listening. The freight will not be allowed to travel through a tunnel of this type with passengers, as they ship hazardous materials. Therefore, it is most likely, should a tunnel be built (which ain'tagonnahappen)that there would be a freight track on the surface. So forget about a park or recovering the cost by selling 'prime' real estate.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville


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