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Editorial: Don't believe high-speed sales pitch

Original post made on Aug 19, 2008

Sure, who wouldn't like to hop a train in San Francisco and step off about three hours later in Los Angeles, for the low fare of $55. But if you really believe that a system can be built to run trains at such speeds and at such prices, you might need a reality check.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 5, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (25)

Posted by Anon., a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2008 at 12:51 pm

This is the first time I have ever heard of a community COMPLAINING about grade separations. Usually communities complain about grade crossings, with trains blocking the road and pedestrian traffic, bells, horns, people crossing the tracks and getting killed, etc.

This is a wacko set of complaints.

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of another community
on Aug 19, 2008 at 4:58 pm

This is a typical comment from those who wish to hide in the past. 21st transport solutions will only happen if there is enough forward looking thinking that looks more than 10 years into the future. We need to act now so that those in 30, 40 and 50 years into the future are able to keep up with modern technology rather than 20th century travel. The future of Californian travel will not be the motor car.

Posted by Been around, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 19, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Sounds to me like a typical comment from a sock puppet.

Posted by Ben, a resident of another community
on Aug 20, 2008 at 10:19 am

I live in Belmont after growing up in Menlo Park: A number of years ago Belmont & San Carlos endured construction to create grade separations.

Safety is now better for pedestrians and cars, and train passengers get the benefit of moving through town at higher speeds. Noise has not been a problem - If anything, the improved tracks and lack of crossing gates and lack of train whistle blowing at crossings means it is quieter. The landscaping and architecture of the overpass design is great. The landscaping continues to be beautifully maintained.

Come take a look at the grade separations in Belmont and San Carlos. The long-term investment was very much well worth it.

Posted by lets focus, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 20, 2008 at 11:23 am

the issue is not grade separations but high speed rail and whether that is a good idea.
about impacts of grade separations -- there is a slight difference in menlo park, tho. the train tracks go through residential neighborhoods. i think there is only one part of ben's community where there are homes, and only on one side.

Posted by no to hsr, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 20, 2008 at 12:30 pm

I think the grade separations in Belmont and San Carlos are ugly. I suppose they work in an industrial area, but they are out of scale for a residential area. But then, the idea of running a high speed train through residential neighborhoods doesn't make sense either.

Posted by Roxie, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 20, 2008 at 1:00 pm

The editorial did specifically point to grade separations as a major drawback for Menlo Park, Ben's post is very helpful and it is nice to hear from someone who has lived through grade separations. It is encouraging to hear he feels the investment was very well worth it.

We need grade separations in Menlo Park, whether High Speed Rail is built or not. The crossings are not safe and cars waste gas sitting at them. Life is not always perfect, sometimes a few people are inconvenienced more by construction than others, but we have to make rational decisions based on many factors. The railroad tracks were there when those people bought their homes, and they knew that meant trains and possible expansion.

I am for high speed rail also though. Bart may seem expensive to some, but look at how great it is. We need more rail systems of all types. HSR is not like an airplane, it doesn't just go from SF to LA non-stop. There are cities in-between that are very difficult or expensive to get to by plane that will now be on the rail line. I've tried using AMTRAK to get to smaller cities down south, but it is just too slow and the delays are a nightmare. Anyone who thinks people will not use the high speed rail system has never driven to LA and seen the traffic all the way down the state.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 20, 2008 at 2:09 pm

In Homer's Odyssey (the ancient Greek one, not the Simpsons), Ulysses' wife, Penelope weaves a cloth by day and unravels it by night, waiting for the return of her husband.

So this particular thread, from March 5th, is here to be unraveled yet again, only to be woven back together. You might want to ask why? Is old news better than no news? Of course, five months later, we are still weaving and unweaving about whether grade separations are good or bad for Menlo Park.

Why don't we just wait and find out? November 4th is a mere two months away. Perhaps, those of us living a half mile away from the rail corridor may never even know that construction is taking place in Menlo Park, even if it does take three years. Of course, even they may become more engaged if there are local costs to that construction that no one is now talking about. We might have to have a special tax assessment if those costs become large enough. But, those who advocate grade separations will have no problems with that.

And, those who advocate high-speed rail will have no trouble with a serious rise in California taxes when we all discover that the initial $9 billion doesn't even cover a fraction of the intended construction, credit crunches are inhibiting private investors and the federal treasury has stopped being a pork barrel.

I can still hear ringing in my ear, Supervisor Sue Lempert's admonition to the citizens of Menlo Park that our personal selfishness needs to be subordinated to the greater good of the railroads. In short, we must all make sacrifices for the greater good of grade separations and the high-speed train.

Posted by lets focus, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 20, 2008 at 3:43 pm

so, now hsr is the cheap way to get to towns between LA and Sacramento and the bay area? isn't that going to encourage growth in those towns? wouldn't that slow down the trains, to stop? oh my, this is not really about preventing sprawl after all. surprise!

Posted by no to hsr, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Aug 20, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Is hsr going to stop at every small town? Or is it going to take 2 hours to get from LA to SF? You can't have it both ways, though I suppose the backers will sell it every which way the crowd will buy it.

"The railroad tracks were there when those people bought their homes, and they knew that meant trains and possible expansion."

Yeah, and my house is on a quiet little street, but if someone tries to turn my street into a freeway, I won't be too happy. I've lived in this area for quite a while, and I wouldn't have bought a house here or anywhere else on the peninsula if I had known how little regard the fat cats have for the residents' quality of life.

High speed trains and densely populated urban areas don't and shouldn't mix.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 20, 2008 at 6:06 pm

It is always edifying to read, as I did by finding Roxie's comments, that there are people who, regardless of those who might be inconvenienced, believe in the promises of the promoters of grand developments of one sort or another, such as the high-speed train.

"We need grade separations in Menlo Park," she (he?) said. " I am for high speed-rail also . . ." she (he?) said.

That of course raises the question of who will pay for these marvels. You, Roxie, will you pay? It has been estimated that the costs for the high-speed train will be $45 billion. But, more about that in a moment. At $45 billion, this means that every family in California would have to pay $10,000. (Do you know that every dollar in bond issues sold will cost taxpayers two dollars for the life of the bond?) Roxie, are you personally willing to pay $10,000. to have California acquire this train?

But wait, there's more. In 1999, they estimated the cost to be $23 billion. Today, it's twice as much. The train is to be completed (at least the SF to LA segment) by 2020. How much do you suppose it will cost by then? $90 billion? Perhaps even more? With that cost, Roxie, will you pay $20,000. for this train? Should every family in California be paying this much?

We're not done yet. How about operating and maintaining this train? That will cost at least $1 billion per year. High-speed trains around the world are subsidized by their governments. Should California subsidize this train to the tune of $1 billion annually?

Back to the grade separations we so badly need in Menlo Park. They go for around $100 million each. We have four crossings. How will we pay for that, Roxie? Or, should I say, how will YOU pay for that? Or, did you think that OTHER people paid?

Posted by shadow nose, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 20, 2008 at 9:23 pm

Gee, Roxie, care to explain how you obtained an expanded landscaped front yard for your house on Sherman at our city taxpayer expense, under the guise of traffic calming from Santa Cruz "cut through traffic" , and in record time, without going through the ranking of Neighborhood Traffic Calming Process?
How about the rest of us who are given lip service by the city that we have to wait our turn?
Easy for you to pontificate about the "poor folk" living on the tracks and the east side of town, "they bought next to ....." ad nauseum.
Girl, you got connections. Care to share with Dana, Ross, etc.?

Posted by roxie, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 21, 2008 at 1:13 am

Hi Shadow nose,

um, you got my house mixed up with my neighbor. and he landscaped his yard himself, the city only put in grass around the sidewalk for him, which he has to water and mow himself.

The city angled the sidewalk a couple of feet from my front hedge, so there is a litte triangle of grass for a couple of feet.

The changes to the yards were decided by city designers who were trying to make the intersection more regular (closer to a right angle) and hopefully slow traffic. The extra grassy space is city property.

About my connections, I once went to a city council meeting about traffic issues and asked for a speed bump on my road. The city manager and some of my neighbors informed me that this intersection re-design was already planned and would solve the problem (I had been unaware of the project). The intersection project was planned before I ever spoke to anyone in the city about traffic, in fact I'm not even sure I lived at my house when the project was first put on city's agenda. I remember some of my neighbors telling me about it and it seems they had been working with city engineers and staff for several years before the project was finally approved and budgeted for by the city council. The new intersection is more attractive, but I can't take credit for it. And even with the nice intersection, some people still drive like maniacs on my street.
Having no special connections to offer, I can only say Good luck to Dana, Ross, with their traffic problems. I do hope they get what they need.

Posted by Ben, a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2008 at 9:54 am

Some thoughts on costs...

$10,000 spread over many years, is nothing compared to what every working family pays in total taxes each year (property tax, sales tax, federal, state, and local tax, and the taxes that our employers pay for us).

(the 10k back-of-the envelope figure was suggested in an earlier posting as a theoretical cost-per-Calif family for the rail project).

A hundred million dollar long-term investment is a small project compared to the billions of dollars of real estate in Menlo Park. And, the costs and the benefits would be shared by other communities/state/federal agencies.

Investment on projects with a long term benefit is different from spending... We are still benefiting from investment in infrastructure that took place 50, 80, 100 years ago. Yes, we can afford investment in infrastructure.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 22, 2008 at 12:01 pm

There's infrastructure and then there's infrastructure. I for one do not oppose infrastructure development, including high-speed trains. However, if you read all the press releases and hear the PowerPoint presentations, you can't help but believe that this is a snake-oil sales job. It's like those after-midnight TV infomercials that sell something so wonderful, you know it's all lies. That is the case with this project. We are not being told the truth about this train. If you wish, I can spell that out for you in great detail.

Perhaps to you, Ben, this doesn't matter. For you, the ends justify the means. That is not an infrastructure issue; it's a moral issue. I'm not happy when taxpayers get screwed by corporate or government interests who have self-serving agendas at our expense. Again, perhaps that doesn't bother you.

As you well know, the economy is tanking. Many people are being hurt by this in ways that may not affect you, Ben. Families are cutting back and it's painful for them. The State is in dire deficit straights and this project will add to that deficit in non-trivial ways. They are talking tax increases in Sacramento just at a time when more people than ever have serious financial problems looming.

Is this the time to build a luxury train for corporate types who will get the State to subsidize their business travel expenses? Should the State build a Disneyland Express? Ben, are you that callous?

Posted by Nora M., a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2008 at 2:22 pm

I think people that choose a state, area, city and home with the expectation that it will remain "pristine and unchanged" until the end of time (or at least their lifetime) are being selfish and unrealistic.

We can choose where we live for the amenities of today, with the knowledge and expectation that change is inevitable.

We can pass as many laws, ordinances or whatever, to try to "protect" the way of life to which we are accustomed - ie. NO on the HSP this November - but rest assured, the HSR will come. Why? Because most people believe in expansion, progress and positive change. Yes, this train will bring other issues to the forefront, such as sprawl, overcrowding, increased crime, vagrancy....but let's not get bogged down in the fearmongering of some.

This HSR issue reminds me of the "Great Land Giveaway" of Oklahoma. Surely, the current residents fought it to the death, but the land was developed anyway. Why? Because the majority of people thought it was a good idea. No offense to the many natives that died for all this "grand expansion." They paid the ultimate price.

Still, I think the HSR is a great idea. Whether we say Yes this November or 10 years from now, it will be built, and they will come. And yes, it will be very expensive. If you don't want to pay for it, go live somewhere cheaper. That is your right and your choice. The rest of us that stay in this area, will cover the cost. And those that move in - will think it's a wonderful amenity.

If I could prevent inflation I would, but that's not possible is it.

Posted by follow the money, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 22, 2008 at 3:35 pm

Oh, I have no doubt the proposition will pass in November, and that we will pay $10 billion.

I am also reasonably sure that we won't have HSR as a result of the bond. The money isn't there. It's not real hard to run the numbers and see what's happening.

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 22, 2008 at 4:19 pm

Nora, the history of major infrastructure projects consists of consistently gross underestimating costs. (See: Bent Flyvbjerg) This one will be no exception.
They started the cost estimates at around $23 billion about ten years ago. Today it's $45 billion. Realistic projections would tell us that it would come in at over $100 billion if it ever gets built. (Everyone already knows about the Boston Big Dig fiasco.)

Nora, you may be willing to spend that kind of money on this train, for whatever reason. You may even be willing to sacrifice other investments, such as water, schools, and medical care, since you can't have everything. Because, this is a state in debt for over $15 billion right now. It's a state that is about to raise taxes at a terrible time for most people. And the train will increase our debt burden (remember, bonds are borrowed money) yet again.

I understand your faith in the train as a grand vision. But, this is not a religion. This train is not a cathedral. This has to be a realistic, practical investment that pays off to all those making the investment and benefits all of us, not just those of us who can afford to ride on a fancy luxury train.

Posted by John Wilson, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 23, 2008 at 3:47 pm

There are many people lost in the HSR fever swamps, and the intensity of feeling is growing. It might be helpful to review a few of the genuine issues.

NIMBY – The US was built on property rights, and it's entirely proper for any property owner, wealthy fat cat or not to look out for his property interests in this or any similar situation. If HSR were instead put into the median of Highway 101, I doubt you'd have too many complaints.

Opposition – A lot of the opposition to this HSR comes from two directions. The first is that the CHSRA has done a very, very poor technological job with this proposal. A lot of the invective addressed to the derailHSR folks misses the point that they have actually read and analyzed the proposal as put forth. That proposal is severely flawed, and people who have done such a poor job should not be given a blank check. The second direction, understandably, is the overall expense of the project itself. It's very likely, and there is abundant historical precedent to show, that the budget will not be honored. With California in budgetary extremis, passage of such a measure at the present time will layer yet another burden on our grandchildren.

The need for high performance ground transportation is certainly real. The only present way to do this in an environmentally responsible manner is to deploy maglev systems. They are long proven in service, and have so many advantages over steel-wheeled trains that it's not even funny. The most significant of these is in cost. The largest cost in any mass transportation system is the cost to operate and maintain the system. Maglev costs are estimated to be around 40-60% of the costs for high speed rail. A reasonable maglev system can be placed directly in the UPRR right of way without significant disruption of present rail operations. Try that with the present proposal. No underpasses with maglev, it's all elevated; no catenary (there goes another set of problems). It's astonishing that the CHSRA excluded it from consideration. This demonstrates clearly that they are not fit to continue with this project.

Posted by Step away from the Ether, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 24, 2008 at 4:40 am

HSR=Greed + Sheeplike Public. HSR=Big RR Money Lining of Pockets. HSR= Cost Overruns Guaranteed at taxpayer (YOUR) expense. HSR= Misplaced Pipedream of "Forward Thinkers"(wannabes). HSR= Increased Drug Trade between LA and SF BAY Area and criminal activity surrounding stations... To name a few. How many of us in MP/PA really need to hop a train to LA each week? Come on. Put those resources into honest alternative energy research and serious pilot programs for our environment. The very definition of a bullet train negates the trains ability to correctly serve the REAL need of Northern or Southern CA: LOCAL AREA EFFICIENT TRANSPORTATION!

Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 25, 2008 at 3:32 pm

Important Notice:

There will be a High-Speed Train Joint Study Session in city council chambers with the Menlo Park and Atherton City Councils. It will be Tuesday, September 9th at 7:00.

The City manager has already lined up Rod Diridon from the CHSRA to speak on behalf of this train.

Apparently he has trouble finding anyone to oppose it. I think he hasn't tried hard enough.

Please check your calendar now. If at all possible, be there on Tuesday night, Sept. 9th.

The City needs to hear from all of us about how we feel about this impending disaster to Menlo Park and to the State of California.

At this time, it looks like there will be no AB3034 amending the high-speed train bond measure (although Sacramento is always full of surprises).

What does that mean? It means, regarding Prop. 1, no business plan, no accountability, and no requirement for private investors or Public/Private Partnerships, and supported by an illegitimate EIS/EIR.

Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 25, 2008 at 5:45 pm

The last time rail was is how it went down...lessons to be learned if you support HSR.

Web Link

Posted by shadow nose, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 25, 2008 at 8:38 pm

not enough for Diridon to have the SJ Caltrain station bear his name, he expects us provincials to satiate his edifice complex with this boondoggle. Would make Alaska senator Ted Stevens proud.
Shades of the Robber Barons, politicians in our pockets.
Times change, but retread politicians never seem to give up.
Time to show them the door.
Don't pull any punches against Diridon, he needs to be shamed and put out to pasture.

Posted by shadow nose, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 25, 2008 at 8:38 pm

not enough for Diridon to have the SJ Caltrain station bear his name, he expects us provincials to satiate his edifice complex with this boondoggle. Would make Alaska senator Ted Stevens proud.
Shades of the Robber Barons, politicians in our pockets.
Times change, but retread politicians never seem to give up.
Time to show them the door.
Don't pull any punches against Diridon, he needs to be shamed and put out to pasture.

Posted by Fredrick Schermer, a resident of another community
on Aug 28, 2008 at 4:15 pm

As transportation planner, I am not impressed with the outcome for HSR in our state. The fastest and economically most viable HSR would go in a line as straight as possible between the largest population areas in our state. In the largest population areas the HSR needs to connect seemlessly with the highest tier of public transportation, such as BART (and LightRail as second choice). The more the HSR stops, and the more it deviates from the shortest distance, the lower the number of people it will attract. HSR should not stop in small communities with only buses and large parking lots. The HSR should stop in Oakland at the BART station. On the peninsula, BART and the baby-bullet train should connect to the HSR in respectively Oakland and San Jose. From Oakland a connection should be made to Sacramento (in as straigth a line as possible). No expensive tunnel underneath the bay should be dug for HSR; that money is better used elsewhere on the line. Why have two HSR stations ten minutes apart on BART and both with very expensive infrastructual costs connect all the way to San Jose, and then have half the HSR trains run on both tracks? It sounds like MUNI is in control of the HSR. More politicians were appointed to the HSR Authority than professional transit planners. Transit economists were clearly missing. My ppp on California's HSR, and what is incorrect about the current design: as found on the webpage: Web Link

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