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Letter: Rail tunnel fantasy should be discarded

Original post made on May 12, 2009

Peninsula leaders need to give up their fantasy of a 30-mile tunnel for high-speed rail. This proposal is extremely fiscally irresponsible, and neither the state nor the federal government will spend billions of dollars extra for a Peninsula "Big Dig."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 13, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (6)

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on May 12, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Daniel, I thought I had responded to this letter in the Palo Alto Online TownSquare blog. However, here we go again.

First of all, Diridon has said, in response to the challenge about what he would do if he couldn't access the Caltrain corridor, he would tunnel (his words) the entire length of the Peninsula for the high-speed train.

Perhaps he was making this up, since both Kopp and he are given to making things up on the fly and in response to challenging questions.

But would you advise him, along with the "Peninsula leaders" that you are advising, to give up this fantasy?

Daniel, do you find rail tunnels generally a fantasy, such as those under Paris, Rome or Manhattan? Or is it just this one on the Peninsula that is a fantasy? Should the French and Brits have given up their "Chunnel" tunnel as a fantasy also?

You mention fiscal irresponsibility as a reason for rejecting the tunnel. Don't you find that building a high-speed luxury train for the well-to-do, a train that can cost as much as $100 billion in taxpayer dollars, also fiscally irresponsible?

Diridon keeps complaining about how delay will cost so much more. Do you work for Diridon in some capacity?

What, exactly, is that "community planning process" you are talking about?

And, you say this project is "much-needed." By whom is it much needed, the well-to-do business class who currently fly to LA? Tourists headed for Disneyland?

Finally, you say "that neither the state nor the federal government will spend billions of dollars extra for this Peninsula 'Big Dig'." Why not? Didn't they do that for the Boston "Big Dig?" The same construction company, Parsons Brinckerhoff, is doing the lead construction management. Aren't we good enough?


Posted by Jack, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on May 12, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Martin: The Peninsula isn't "Paris, Rome, or Manhattan." There's a perfectly good right of way along the Caltrain tracks without spending billions extra for a subway.

I think what Daniel means is that when you give out false claims and figures such as high speed rail will cost "$100 billion in taxpayer dollars" (when in reality it will be $40 billion with 1/3 from private investors) and be a "luxury train for the well-to-do" (when ticket prices will be half that of airfare), all these claims do is stir people up and divert their attention from the real issue: how we in Menlo Park will have our voice heard in the design of the new downtown station and the new overpasses/underpasses. I am glad that you are actively involved in the process (as more of us should be with a project of this magnitude), but you are doing our community a disservice by using scare tactics to spread misinformation and villainize the high speed rail authority.


Posted by thank you, Martin, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 12, 2009 at 10:03 pm

I am grateful to Martin and the other people who have been brave enough to supply us with information that highlights the lies in CHRSA's promotional material.

You don't have to have a PhD in math or finance to see that the numbers CHRSA has touted don't add up. I'd say that $100 billion is conservative, and where is that 1/2 private investment? I haven't heard of investors stepping forward to ante up, though I guess the CHRSA's lobbyists may be able to convince the feds to part with a billion or two.

The cheap tickets? Total fantasy. All over the world, high speed rail is premium priced. We have no reason to believe it will be any different here. Diridon et al can randomly generate numbers now; it's not as if anyone will hold them accountable.

By the way, I flew to LA for $36 last weekend, and $49 airfares are common.

I love trains, but it's so clear that this particular project is a political boondoggle, with no thought as to what sort of public transit our area needs or the negative impact of this particular route on millions of people. There may be a distinct value proposition associated with running high speed rail along 5, but even Diridon can't explain why it makes sense on the peninsula.


Posted by looking on, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 13, 2009 at 8:34 am

Jack, above, is one of those who have drunk the lemonade that Kopp and Diridon have spun. His comment above quotes 40 billion, which was a number about 5 months ago, but which just last week was raised to $45 billion by Kopp himself. A CalTrain rep in public the other day when asked why CalTrain didn't go on its own to electrify and grade separate said, that is a $5 billion project from San Francisco to San Jose. Compare this number, which is for only a 2 track system, to the crap that Diridon and Kopp has been broadcasting of only 4.2 billion for 4 tracks from SF to SJ.

Oh, and BTW Jack, the $7 billions from private investors --- a true fantasy; even the Authority is backing away from that.

No this is a $100 billion project.

On the other hand, Martin has drunk the lemonade when he talks about tunneling. Here you are looking at around $1 billion per mile, or a total of $7 billion for the stretch from Atherton thru Palo Alto. It isn't going to happen either.

Diridon now says they will study stopping at San Jose -- going the rest of the way via CalTrain. I don't truly believe he will ever support that, but he made the statement -- but he makes lots of statements doesn't he? That would save about 18 billion, the way I see it, but it won't make SF happy and Ms. Feinstein isn't about to let that happen.


Posted by Bianca, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 13, 2009 at 1:26 pm

Setting aside for the moment the question of cost, we need to also consider the construction impacts of tunneling. Obviously there are going to be construction impacts regardless, but tunneling has much more significant construction impacts, and they last longer, than an above-ground design. Tunneling will require removing many tons of dirt, and that means heavy dump trucks, more than would be needed for above-ground construction. Tunneling risks disturbing underground aquifers. Tunneling might result in subsidence in areas adjacent to the right-of-way. People who think that a tunnel means they won't be disturbed during construction need to reconsider.

Furthermore, the idea that HSR would stop at San Jose so that everyone going to San Francisco could transfer to Caltrain needs to be put to a rest. San Francisco is the destination, not San Jose. And it isn't just Dianne Feinstein. The Transbay Terminal is in Nancy Pelosi's district. Anyone who thinks for a second that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is going to allow her district to lose a High Speed Rail terminus because Peninsula towns are anxious about the expansion of an active commuter railway isn't thinking clearly.

When oil goes back up to $150/barrel we need to have made progress on alternative methods of transportation. High Speed Rail is a proven technology, in use in Europe and Asia for many decades. It is safe and reliable. It isn't pie in the sky like Maglev or PRT. It's real, and it works, and we need it.


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 13, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Wow, what a great argument. Pelosi wants it so it must be. That kind of mentality should make voters sick.

And you are way off on your tunneling analysis. It is just absurd to think that a raised wall or mound of dirt some 35 feet above the ground and 100 feet wide at a minimum, resulting is land takes and business closures up and down the peninsula will have less an impact to the area. You either aren't paying attention or you are just far too up the HSR's tracks to see the world for what it is.

In London and around the outside of London (like us near SF) HSR is underground. In Paris and around the outside of Paris (like us near SF) HSR is underground. It is also underground in Japan. So let's get real here.

New York took down the elevated train and built an entire system below ground, and the development above is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. We are talking 100 years from now, not next week. Our population is projected to grow to another two or three million people and you want to forever miss that opportunity to develop along the existing ROW?

And finally, many cities have commuter rail that ends at the intermodal transit stop (in this case Diridon Station) and the system takes you inside the metro area. In LA HSR will drop you at the train and bus station and you still cannot even get anywhere there without a car.

So really, are we ready for a 50 billion system when we can't even get across our own region?


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