Caltrain, rail agency accede to Palo Alto protest

New contract drops language specifying 'four-track' alignment, promises 'consideration' of Peninsula cities

Faced with outrage and confusion from Palo Alto and other Peninsula cities, the Caltrain Board of Directors has revised its agreement with the state agency in charge of building a high-speed rail system, eliminating any mention of a "four-track" rail alignment.

The decision by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board -- which oversees Caltrain -- surprised and pleased Palo Alto officials, who criticized the earlier draft of the agreement between the two agencies as "duplicitous." City officials had asserted the memorandum's wording all but dictated how the future rail line would be configured along the Peninsula, eliminating the chance for cities to weigh in on their preferences.

The new agreement approved by the Caltrain board Thursday morning also states that "track configuration analyses will consider both horizontal and vertical alignments in the Caltrain corridor."

The agreement, known as a memorandum of understanding (MOU), became a hot topic at Monday's City Council meeting. City officials had been repeatedly assured by California High-Speed Rail Authority that all design options, including the locally popular tunneling alternative, are on the table.

But the proposed agreement stated that "ultimate configuration of the Caltrain corridor will be a four track grade-separated high-speed rail system, with mixed-traffic from Caltrain commuter rail and the high-speed rail service."

Councilman Pat Burt and Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie both characterized the memorandum as far too detailed and suggested that the rail-agency officials misled them earlier.

The city drafted a letter to the Caltrain board, requesting that it remove "any commitment to specific track design or operational condition without public input and required environmental review."

On Thursday, Caltrain officials assured concerned residents that the language in the proposed memorandum only intended to ensure that the new system would not threaten Caltrain's existing infrastructure. Robert Doty, Caltrain's director of rail transportation, said the language has since become a disturbance, with many residents and city officials assuming that the two agencies have already made a decision about what the new system would look like.

The passed memorandum states that "ultimate configuration of the Caltrain corridor will consist of a multiple track, grade-separated high-speed rail system, with mixed traffic from Caltrain commuter rail and the high-speed train service capable of operation on all tracks to enable Caltrain to achieve service levels of no less than eight trains per hour in each direction."

Emslie thanked the board for making the revision.

"We really appreciate the responsiveness in the MOU and support the changes that were made," Emslie told the board. "We're looking forward to working with the high-speed rail staff and the Caltrain staff."

Burt also thanked the board for taking the cities' concern into consideration and urged them to give municipalities a seat at the table in discussions of the proposed rail system, which would stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles and use the Caltrain corridor as its pathway through the Peninsula.

In the last few months, Burt and Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto have been meeting officials from other Peninsula cities to discuss common concerns about the proposed rail system. On Monday, the council agreed to a memorandum of understanding, drafted by City Attorney Gary Baum, creating an official coalition called the Peninsula Cities Consortium.

"Our concern is that the cities must be allowed to enter into this process in a substantive way and in a formal way," Burt told the Caltrain board.

Sara Armstrong, who heads the Charleston Meadows Neighborhood Association, also told the board to keep local communities in mind. Palo Alto neighborhoods, she said, are particularly concerned about the bifurcating effects of elevated rail tracks, which would create a wall along the Caltrain corridor. The public's level of trust toward the rail project has become quite low, she said.

"Take into consideration that you're taking on an important role in this project," Armstrong said. "Ensure that both our unique concerns and overarching concerns are heard."

Caltrain officials pledged to do just that. The passed memorandum specifies that the "high-speed rail must be designed, constructed and operated in a manner fully consistent with the operational requirements of the Caltrain commuter rail rapid transit service and with consideration of the cities on the Peninsula through which the high-speed rail system will be constructed and operated."

Michael Scanlon, Caltrain's executive director, underscored that the "consideration" mentioned in the paragraph will be genuine. He said the concerns expressed by city officials and residents throughout the Peninsula are important and legitimate.

"It was felt, when we agreed on the language, that this would be the right word to show that we were serious," Scanlon said.

Jim Hartnett, member of the Caltrain board, also said the board's job is to represent the residents' concerns. He noted that the new agreement would allow the Caltrain board to perform this duty effectively.

"This MOU not only puts us at the table, it gives us a position at the table that is unprecedented," Caltrain board member Jim Hartnett said Thursday. "It puts a local face on a state project which we wouldn't otherwise have any input into."


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Posted by Bifurfcation BS
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2009 at 11:04 pm

You gotta be kidding me; bifurcation, what a joke. East v. West; Train already separates town(s), [portion removed; offensive language]. What does 101 or the 5 or the 405 do all over this state; or for that matter, many other freeways/state highways do; or for that matter, the El Camino Real; aka the King's Highway. What a crappy argument and what a joke you are for making such an argument. Get Real and find a real reason to oppose this idea!

Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 3, 2009 at 11:38 am

How about this for a reason...every single HSR around the world is subsidized by its government. Some at 100%.

Like this comment
Posted by An Observer
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2009 at 3:21 pm

why is it that everybody that posts here from out of state claims that caltrain **already** splits these cities in half, while all of the residents claim the opposite? Hey bifurcation BS, why don't you drive your car up from LA where you live and visit here and watch the Caltrain go by once every 2 hours on weekends at 35mph though the towns here. THEN try to tell people with an honest face that Caltrain already splits cities.

BTW I am posting as being from another community but I am from Palo Alto, so I know of what I speak, unlike you out of towners. The key point here is that you, Diridon and everybody else who would listen was told REPEATEDLY that the Caltrain would not work for long range high speed rail and you ignored it thinking the residents wouldn't notice. The caltrain corridor is 50 miles of angry residents and business owners.

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Posted by Facts
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2009 at 3:35 pm


Please give examples of the HSR around the world being almost or fully subsidized? You can't because most make a profit. The contries may have contributed to the initial building costs, but the operators are paying those loans back and making money of their own.

Here is an article from 2007 for the TGV:

Web Link

The Korea Train eXpress (KTX):

Web Link

Besides, let them change the wording. It doesn't change the fact that there will be 4 tracks on the peninsula anyway. Get this thing built!

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Posted by Happy residents
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Apr 3, 2009 at 3:47 pm

An observer,

You are wrong. A lot of us are happy that this HSR project is finally going to happen. It will be mean grade crossing will be gone and saftey will improve. Palo Alto residents (the ones complaining anyway) must realize that people do want this to be built and that there is not 50 miles of angry people.

By the way, we all knew the Caltrain tracks were there when we moved on to the peninsula. Don't play dumb for one minute thinking that you didn't. And for the people who bought homes close to the right-of-way, that is your own fault. You had to sign papers with your explicit acknowlegement of the trains. You just wanted cheaper property.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 5, 2009 at 10:39 pm

Facts, you are nothing but a distortion waiting to happen. Read if you can...

Web Link

1/3 subsidized in Japan, and experts tell you exactly why this train should be buried or redirected. You guys need to stop this obvious PR campaign stuff.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2009 at 11:16 pm


There is an important distinction between operating costs and construction costs which you seem to be dismissing, purposefully or not. Nobody is arguing that constructing high speed rail lines is any more profitable than building an airport or a freeway (it's not: that's why governments do it, not private for-profit companies). However, like an airline or a trucking company, it is possible to make a profit in operating high speed trains.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 6, 2009 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for helping to clarify my point, Clem.

I think my final say here on this site will be that although I don't necessarily like the litigious route taken, I can respect the position this council is in. I think it unfair for Kopp and his group to villify town councils. This is what they are supposed to do, and I am worried about those who have passed on the responsiblity.

I think between the local agencies, the towns, the private sector and our state and fed gov. we should be able to see a track system that can go undergound. We would be fools to short change the long-term because we think we are short of change for that option.

Don't you agree, Clem? Aren't there parallels here with the TGV and others who have tunnelled in areas where the residential collided?

Like this comment
Posted by quiet
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2009 at 1:41 pm

@An Observer

I suggest drive north yourself and see how the tracks have segregated San Mateo, where I live, or San Carlos, Belmont, etc.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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