On the firing line


Click on picture to enlarge.

Officials representing the state's high-speed rail project met with skepticism and tough questions at a Q&A meeting in Menlo Park's council chambers Friday afternoon, Feb. 19.

Tim Cobb, Dominic Spaethling, Bethany Wilson and Bruce Fukuji faced a full house of vocal critics of the plan to run high-speed trains along the Caltrain corridor through the Peninsula.

People seeking detailed information about project's effects on local property were put off with assurances that the upcoming release of the document analyzing various alternatives would answer their questions.

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Posted by comments anyone?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2010 at 7:18 pm

I'd love to hear input from those of you who were able to attend.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 19, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Although nothing new was said, and as usual, we were asked to wait for the draft version of the Alternatives Analysis, due March 4th, there was good attendance, over 100. People not only from Menlo Park, but also Atherton and Palo Alto, as well as a few from further north. A lot of the comments from Dominic, Tim and Bruce were evasive or platitudinous corporatese.

From the comments and questions, it became clear that most people are angry. They were polite but felt that they could not trust the information they were given and were losing faith in the context sensitive solutions promotion.

Spaethling has tried to make it clear in the past that his job description confines him to respond to us only insofar as it pertains to the Caltrain corridor development alternatives. Many of us still don't accept that and pressed him about issues which really need to involve Kopp, Pringle, Diridon and the rest of the Board, or Barker from the staff. Spaethling was finally obliged to make that clear. That is, for answers to many of our questions, we need to go over his head.

The problem is that many of us are now so incensed about this project even existing, or coming on the Peninsula, that we persist in asking why it won't terminate in San Jose.

Think, please. Why would a Parsons Brinckerhoff employee, contracting with the high speed rail authority, propose to not build the high-speed rail line on the Caltrain corridor, if building it is his assignment and that his salary depends upon him doing his job? The 'no-build' option is a legal requirement for comparison purposes by the CEQA regulations. No project promoter in his or her right mind would ever seriously consider not building something that they are determined to build. Remember, the builders are the ones doing the environmental analysis. They will end up preferring the alternative that they intended in the first place.

It will also help us to get focused on further realities. It is easy to conjecture that they will choose the least expensive option since they are more aware of potential cost overruns than we are. 'Elevated' on a retained fill wall will be least expensive for the seven or so miles between the top of Atherton to the bottom of Palo Alto since there are 10 street crossings to be separated. If the tracks remain at grade, they would have to sink the streets 20 ft. below the rail bridge that must cross each street. That takes construction well beyond the rail corridor into city property, with lots more eminent domain takings.

A counter-argument can be put forward that shows that full bore tunneling will, after close analysis, not be more expensive than other alternatives when based on full-cost accounting and figuring in the off-sets. And cost, everyone agrees, is the greatest barrier to tunnels. a more detailed discussion will have to be presented elsewhere.

It just seems to me that if we can't stop the project in California; can't stop it on the Peninsula, and can't stop it on the Caltrain corridor, we do need to get the trains out of sight. As someone said at the meeting, "We don't want to see them, hear them or smell them!" A two-tube set of two-track tunnels, two tracks each, Caltrain in one tube, HSR in the other, should meet all the stakeholders' needs. HSR can run its trains on (that is, under) the corridor. So can Caltrain. Union Pacific can remain on the current corridor with no further changes to that corridor. (no grade seps., no electrification, no tree loss) And we get the trains out of sight. All four major stakeholders get what they want. Why can't all the stakeholders agree to that?

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Posted by Rob Tanner
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 20, 2010 at 3:34 pm

There already exists a Caltrain track so why does everyone assume the high speed rail will be substantially louder? Nobody blinks an eye at a massively expensive project to widen a highway, but when it comes to some real solutions to our transportation issues, such as a modern high speed train, all of a sudden the NIMBY folks come out of the woodwork to stop progress. Why don't you all get on board for the big win, or else come up with some other solutions besides moving the tracks to any place other than near your community.

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Posted by Rob Tanner
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 20, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Morons is spot on. Thanks for putting it so clearly and eloquently.

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Posted by comments
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 20, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Arguments like MORON's are impressively persuasive!

I don't live anywhere near the railroad. It was not a factor in my buying my house. I can faintly hear Caltrain when the windows are open, and I don't know whether or not HSR would be louder. Not a big deal.

What does matter:

* HSR does not address, much less solve, any existing transportation problems.

* HSR uses yesterday's technology: heavy vehicles running on a fixed track. The future will be lightweight, flexible, and modular.

* The HSR "business plan" is full of holes, as the legislature has repeatedly noted. The CHRSA has continued to volley or ignore basic questions about projections and financing.

* We can't afford it! Our state is broke! We are sacrificing our future -- namely, education -- in favor of a shiny toy for our politicians. That makes no sense.

The fact that tens of thousands of residents would be displaced and all of us would be inconvenienced for a decade would be inconsequential if there were some greater good attached to this project. There isn't. It's a boondoggle designed to further the careers of a handful of corrupt politicians and fatten the bank accounts of a small club of insiders.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2010 at 6:54 pm

> HSR uses yesterday's technology: heavy vehicles running on a fixed track.

A high-speed train is no heavier, per seat, than a jet airplane--the latter being as light as feasible to enable efficient flight.

I think HSR does solve an important transportation problem (providing efficient, fast, comfortable and high-throughput mobility) at the same time as there are insiders and corrupt politicians. The latter shouldn't prevent the former.

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Posted by Rob Tanner
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 20, 2010 at 8:00 pm

Yeah, using millions of heavy vehicles on a fixed cement track is much more efficient. If trains are so bad, what do you propose is better? And tens of thousands of people being displaced??? Come on, let's stop the fear mongering and stick to the facts. This train will use existing right-of-ways. Don't try to pretend that communities will be uprooted to make way. What is your real agenda?

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2010 at 12:22 pm

How would tens of thousands of persons be displaced, Mr. Tanner?

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 22, 2010 at 12:27 pm

It seems as if Gordon is so off the radar that he doesn't know it when he has someone agree with him. Mr. Gordon should be on the HSR authority board with that knack for listening.

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2010 at 12:34 pm

Did you have an opportunity to see the plans of the construction of the HSR, Mr. Tanner?
"Millions of heavy vehicles on fixed cement track....." What ARE you talking about?
Again, "tens of thousands of people being displaced?"....HUH?
You have never mentioned jobs that would be created, the economy, or even the Governor's and Washington's participation and thumbs up approval for the HSR.
What communities are going to be uprooted? What do you know that everyone else is not privvy to?....
You just prefer airplanes and how successful flying is today and so comfortable along with the comforts of checking in and baggage costs.
You must really love this community and California to permit it to stay stagnant and hold up employment and growth.

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2010 at 1:13 pm


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

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