Rail Authority: No berms for high-speed rail

New report shows that state agency is heeding public outcry over massive walls

By Jocelyn Dong

Palo Alto Online

Should high-speed rail come to the Peninsula, it will not sit atop a massive Berlin Wall, as some rail opponents have feared.

But the 125-mph trains still could zip along on an aerial viaduct, in an underground tunnel, through an open trench or at street level, according to a report released Thursday by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The Authority's "preliminary alternatives analysis" identifies ways that the 48 miles of tracks between San Jose and San Francisco could be configured. It also eliminates options it deemed unfeasible due to factors such as geology, various cities' regulations, negative effects on traffic, the need to protect natural resources and more.

The overall rail line, which would stretch from Los Angeles to San Francisco, received voters' approval for $9.95 billion in funding in November 2008.

Since then, rancorous debate and considerable grass-roots activism, along with city-organized lawsuits and lobbying, have ensued. Opponents, some protesting the rail line altogether and others advocating for a plan that will not harm residents' quality of life, have questioned the state agency's processes, calculations and receptivity to public input.

But holding fast to its prior plans, the Authority states that its analysis "reconfirms that a four-track, grade-separated, shared Caltrain and High-Speed Train system is feasible and the preferred ... alternative between San Francisco and San Jose on the Peninsula."

Furthermore, it asserts the costs for building the system are consistent with prior estimates, including those found in the 2009 Business Plan, which was released in December.

The agency did state that it has heeded community wishes, however, which have been vocally expressed over the past year and a half. The report promises that berms -- solid walls that would extend at least 10 feet into the air -- will be sparsely used in commercial or residential areas "where they would significantly reduce connectivity and mobility or where there is strong local opposition to this type of structure."

The agency removed high berms from consideration altogether from Redwood City to San Jose, though shorter berms may be used to connect aerial and underground or at-grade portions.

The report confirmed that tunneling -- an expensive method advocated by local officials as early as 2008 -- has been added "for further evaluation."

Using underground tunnels is only one of six options the Authority is studying. The other five include berms; aerial viaducts, which are concrete structures supported by columns, usually 10 feet or taller; at-grade tracks that run at or near ground level; open trenches, which are below-ground-level troughs; and covered trenches/tunnels, which are partly covered troughs that allow ground-level roads or buildings to exist above the rail line.

Robert Doty, director of the Peninsula Rail Program, a partnership between Caltrain and the High-Speed Rail Authority, said the communities along the route made it very clear that they felt the berms would be "extremely intrusive." Even though the structures are technically feasible, the rail authority opted to eliminate them from further consideration.

"The tunnel option is still in place," Doty said, referring to the Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton portion of the line. "All the options are in place, to be honest, from the feasibility perspective. All are available and can be done."

"We'll work with the communities and groups to pick from what's available."

The rail authority also eliminated the option of stopping the high-speed rail in San Jose, a design that some Peninsula residents have advocated at public meetings. Doty said stopping the service in San Jose would meet neither the purpose of the project nor the requirements of Proposition 1A, which specifies that the rail system should go between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

He also said the design would not meet the needs of Caltrain, which would have to absorb northbound rail passengers bound for San Francisco.

"There's no way the system we have out there today would absorb what happens if the system stopped in San Jose," Doty said.

Locally, all options other than the berm remain. But the detailed analysis showed that the rail line could affect city life in various ways.

For example, building either an aerial viaduct or an open trench crossing the Menlo Park and Palo Alto border would adversely affect San Francisquito Creek (in fact, the open trench is not considered an option for that stretch).

Some methods will be significantly costlier than others. Yet the Authority did not eliminate any option solely on cost, according to the report. Rather, it is opting to design the whole San Jose to San Francisco corridor and then estimate the costs for each segment.

The Authority warned that the most costly of alternatives may not be feasible. If every segment of the line was built with the most expensive method, the cost for the whole route could be four to five times more expensive than what has been estimated.

"Such high-cost alternatives would be impractical," the report stated.

The alternatives will now be analyzed with greater scrutiny for their potential environmental impacts and engineering feasibility. That environmental impact study is expected to be completed by December 2010.

In addition to analyzing design options, the state agency also confirmed that it is still considering whether to build a mid-Peninsula station. If so, Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City are all possibilities.

The California High-Speed rail Authority board voted 7-1 to accept the Alternatives Analysis, with Quentin Kopp dissenting and Vice Chair Tom Umberg absent. Kopp said that he wanted to see more discussion on options for the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco.

View the report.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner contributed to this report.

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Like this comment
Posted by Alan Miller
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 9, 2010 at 1:01 pm

When will we see an investment-grade ridership study or a believable business plan? Federal funds will not even come close to matching the drain on the state budget.

Like this comment
Posted by Alice
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2010 at 1:15 pm

There is no mention of the impact on Peninsula schools. Are they ignoring that education is in crisis and this will create more problems? Have they studied noise and vibration around schools?

Why arent's they considering a route through more open spaces instead of congested one?

Their pictures show trains running through open areas. That is very misleading

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:32 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

Whenever anything of controvery pops up, IMMEDIATELY the "children" are brought in along with the school system.
Who do you think you are fooling?
Keep it clean, brief and smart.
There IS going to be a HSR coming through some of your lawns whether you think you are above it or not.
Live with it.
I would prefer it be to those who are the most well off, and, at this time, not in a position to do any graft and corruption because of the STATE OF THE STATE.....Few of you speak of the plusses it will bring to California's future. This is more important that the trains were in the move West not that long ago.
Learn to live with less money and land. I have in several cases and I can even say I suspect you have. One or two million dollars less in your private bank accounts will not hurt your standards.
It is disgraceful to see how different most of you who are "NOUVEAU" fail to respect the fact that California is a great state and one must make sacrifices for having to give up certain selfish things.
I have never seen such bad behaviour from a fifty mile radius of San Francisco. Have some style like Steve Jobs, who, while almost dying, conducted himself with dignity in Woodside when its citizenry was on his ass while he concentrated on work and lived in a dump of a house because he was forced to.
Grow up and stop thinking you have wounds to lick..........YET.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 9, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Mr Gordon:

please enlighten us unwashed "nouveau" as to the "benefits" of this boondoggle. It won't have the ridership projected, it will cost a lot more than estimated and will end up having to be subsidized by the tax payers. Where's the benefit other than for those who would rather ride a train than fly?

Like this comment
Posted by Alice
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2010 at 6:30 pm

I wonder what Mr. Gordon has against children? Perhaps this attitude is the reason education in California is in crisis?

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2010 at 8:42 am

R.GORDON is a registered user.

My interests ARE for the children and THEIR children.
All of you have no respect for the evolvement which will affect mostly them.........It is YOU who has no interest in the children and their futures. Such fragile pomposity and fake concern is what most of you show when you throw the baby in the wash.
As for the "unwashed" (an adjective I did not use) NOUVEAU, I am speaking as a fifth generation San Franciscan with two homes in San Mateo County, which was NEVER very law abiding while trying to obtain its present growth.
Now, it is overrun by more corruption than concerned citizens.
THAT is coming to an end since the reception and masses of ongoing investigations.
Stick around and you will get the picture.
The only truly consistent citizen you have on this board who knows his laws and is fed up as much as I, is Peter Carpenter, who I admire for his "take no enemies" stance.

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2010 at 8:44 am

R.GORDON is a registered user.

Change "reception" to recession.

Like this comment
Posted by Alice
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2010 at 10:22 am

I have been a volunteer in schools near train tracks and have seen first hand that teaching comes to a halt when trains pass. As a nurse, I have seen the results of teen suicides.

Trains running 30 ft. from classrooms is not a good environment for learning and makes it more convenient for student suicides. A good environment takes into consideration both body and mind.

We base our feelings on past experiences. I respect the opinions of otherss and would hope they respect mine.

note: I live 30 miles from the tracks; this route would not affect me. However, the environment and education affects all.

Like this comment
Posted by think corruption
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2010 at 11:06 am

I'm surprised R. Gordon isn't suspicious of corruption related to HSR. Just think about how the ballot measure was sold - with outrageously high ridership estimates, high speeds for trips, low prices, and other people's money with no future obligations on us taxpayers. Think also about why the path doesn't go as straight as possible, now creating new stations in the valley that will promote sprawl there...
For the record, I also don't live near the tracks, my children are grown up,and yet still worry a lot more about the diversion of scarce funds away from education and local transit. I worry about climate change and believe deeply that we won't get people out of cars until there is decent local and regional transit. If there were unlimited funds I might consider HSR, but still not at the top of the list of worthy investments. But there aren't and everyone knows it.

Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Apr 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm

No BERMS for high-speed rail. Sorry. I misunderstood. I thought is was no GERMS for high-speed rail. My mistake.

And, regarding our voluble discussant, Mr. R. Gordon. As a voting member of the riff-raff, I love being chastised by the members of the fifth generation aristocracy. That's what makes this country so great.

For all those who so avidly support high-speed rail, and realize that the rail authority is confronting serious financial difficulties, I am organizing a fund to collect $10,000. from all HSR advocates to pay for this train without which, we are told, California will no longer be the jewel in the American crown. Send you checks to the Almanac which has my power of attorney to collect them.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 10, 2010 at 2:20 pm


bet you won't be seeing a check from Mr. Gordon.

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

To Menlo Voter et al:

You will be seeing a check from me having up to 6 zeroes.

If your kids are suicidal, it must be from having to listen to all this crap which they know isn't about them.
As far as the corruption is concerned, I think few of you are aware just how many "officials" will be making early retirements on account of the investigatory work going on right this moment.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:47 pm

Sure we will Mr. Gordon. Sure we will.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 24, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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