Atherton calls on feds to halt funding for state's high-speed rail project


The proposed elevated high-speed railroad would be akin to a six- to eight-lane freeway bisecting Atherton -- "a blight" on the community, say members of the Atherton City Council.

That sentiment was expressed in a letter to federal officials, approved Aug. 18 by all five members of the Atherton council, and calling on the federal government to halt funding for the California high-speed rail project.

There were intimations of support for the high-speed rail at the Aug. 18 council meeting, but with provisos: that the trains not pass through Atherton on their way to San Francisco, and that if they do, that they do so below ground.

Having heard from three or four speakers whose opinions ran in that same vein, the council members unanimously approved the letter to the Federal Railway Administration and local members of Congress, opposing the California High-Speed Rail Authority's application for stimulus money.

The city pointed out that the application did not contain any below-grade options, including open trenches, on the Midpeninsula.

Other complaints against the rail project included ill-considered funding schemes, poor analysis of passenger demand, unexplained rejections of alternative routes, illegalities, and simply being out of step with contemporary urban history.

San Francisco, the council members noted, demolished the elevated and earthquake-damaged Embarcadero freeway to "create a more livable city."

And, the letter asks, if the train goes below ground as it approaches the San Francisco's Transbay terminal, why can't that be done on the Peninsula?

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Like this comment
Posted by lies
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2010 at 9:04 am

stop your lies rich atherton...its less than 80 feet wide ..freeways are over 200 feet ..something you people use everyday and care not about its impacts

Like this comment
Posted by Keith
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 2, 2010 at 12:43 pm

The proposed trains, if their projections are to be believed would imply a high-speed train every 7 minutes all day. If you have ever heard the TGV in France, you would realize how incredibly intrusive and noisy this would be.

In noise, it is the quivalent of a freeway, and would divide the community. Why not end teh high-speed in San Jose, and have locals to feed it? Fast, efficient and reasonable, as well as saving billions.

Additionally, the projections for revenue and funding are largely made up of whole cloth and imagination. this is nothing but another giant government boondoggle, to soak the taxpayers.

Like this comment
Posted by HSRforCali
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:45 pm

The reason the high-speed rail line goes underground as it approaches the Transbay Terminal is because the surrounding area is far more DENSE than Atherton. There's also no existing railroad ROW to Transbay; unlike the existing Caltrain ROW that already passes right through the middle of Atherton. I swear, the arrogance of this city never fails to amaze me. If you guys are so worried, pay for a tunnel yourselves! I'm sure Whitman could throw in a bit of money, especially since she can afford to spend $100 million + on her campaign.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2010 at 7:40 pm


you sound like someone that is real good at spending other peoples' money. HSR is a boondoggle sold to the voters with BS ridership numbers and BS that it would be self funding. It's not and it won't. [Portion removed; stick to the issue.]

Like this comment
Posted by D. P. Lubic
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Well, I'll probably be condemned for responding as an observer from out of state, but I see this as an important issue, not only for California, but for the whole country.

Well, overall it sounds like railroads, including the high-speed variety that run on electricity, are not the cup of tea for many people here. At the same time, I think there are some very important questions to consider, and so far I haven't seen anything on them.

1. The USA uses two thirds of the oil it consumes for transportation. Something like 48% of total consumption is gasoline alone. Heavy trucks burning diesel fuel account for another 6%. That means that 54% of the oil used in this country is for motor fuel alone, strongly suggesting that our highway system is our Achilles heel. There is also the question of peak oil for the whole world. How would you address this?

2. One thing that has been suggested is more drilling for our own oil. This is certainly something to pursue, and it will be pursued, but the figures I’ve seen for total estimated reserves, including the offshore stuff that’s presently off-limits for a variety of real and political reasons, totals 79 bbs (billions of barrels). We currently use 7 bbs per year. At that rate, the estimated 79 bbs would last only 17 years. What would we do in year 18, and not just for cars, but for air service, too?

3. Electric and other alternative fueled vehicles are touted as the future of the automobile. I won’t say this is a bad idea–it’s not–but there are other problems. For instance, how do you deal with failing road revenue (which is mostly fuel taxes) when you get a significant number of vehicles on the road that do not burn fuel as such? What would be your alternate highway funding mechanism?

4. In a related matter, currently only 51% of highway expenditures comes from fuel taxes on a cash flow accounting basis. Not included in any of that are other costs, such as deferred maintenance, and external costs, such as air pollution. This strongly suggests the road system is badly underpriced. How would you deal with this?

4. We are, I believe, at the limit of what we can do with cars in terms of operating speed. The limit is not the cars themselves, but the abilities of drivers. This is becoming one of the attractive attibutes of even “higher speed rail,” or HrSR (as an editor of Railway Age suggested calling 110 mph operations), and of course is a core benefit of true HSR. Assuming you prefer to stay with a modern highway option, how would you improve overall running times, and do so with improved safety?

5. As a corollary to the above, we have an aging population, with problems due to failing eyesight, hearing, reactions, and other problems. What would you propose as an alternative transportation system for people who are, through no fault of their own, becoming unfit to drive? (P.S.: I’m facing this personally, with failing night vision, specifically vision that does not recover from headlight glare as readily as it used to.)

6. Part of the reason for pursuing the HSR option is highway capacity problems. In many places, roads can no longer be widened, due to constraints of a filled right-of-way. If you were to add still more road capacity, where would you do it?

7. Other problems include incompetent drivers, rude drivers, drunk drivers, and finding a parking space. Many of us are weary of dealing with this same old garbage day in and day out. How would you address this?

I’m going to say I know HSR is not an answer to many of these questions; rather, I would argue that a general change of lifestyle, largely based around a turning away from the car culture as we currently know it and returning to a "rail culture," much like what this country was in the 1930s and 1940s, would be be strong answer to a good deal of these questions. This would include reviving streetcars and interurbans such as the old, gone and beautiful Sacramento Northern, intercity rail service (i.e., Amtrak), and something that wasn't around then, high speed rail.

Now,others would say I’m full of hooey (and I've also been called a rotten Communist, which was hooey), but these questions still remain. What would be your opinions on how to address these things, and do so without a greatly expanded rail component, including the high-speed stuff?

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Thank you for some common sense D.P.Lubic.
While all of these people are in denial based strictly for selfish and fearful of personal property loss, they do not give a damn about the rest of the country, and without the country, they are not worth a cent. Greed and avarice and a false sense of their status is really becoming a bore along with these lawsuits.
At this point, they are having trouble deciding that if Menlo Park and Atherton do incorporate on account of their horrible leadership in the past 15 years and mostly during the banking scandals, neither town or city has an idea what they will end up calling it. It is like a really hilarious British comedy of the 60's.
One thing I do know for sure. They have no leaders either politically or creatively and do not envision progress on any level.
The poor lost their homes and rebuilt in every American disaster hit part of this country, yet, these rich or pretend rich, are creating an entire set of barricades which look as if they are meant to get this country out of hock, but they come off looking like what they are. Bourgeous, ill advised and panic struck individuals.
If they DID have what is sadly lacking in the Bay Area, great legal teams and firms, they could have handled this in a less noisy and mature way. Let them spend the money for new law suits, but this is one thing I have insisted HAS to happen.....and already is in San Francisco.
Thank you again for your real and human approach with logic and lack of pretense.

Like this comment
Posted by TheTruth
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Outstanding comment from D.P.Lubic you really need to copy that over at PaloAlto online..

Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Sep 3, 2010 at 6:00 pm

I'm really excited about high speed rail. I also think it will be great to avoid all of the grade crossings in Menlo Park and Palo Alto. While a tunnel would clearly be nicer looking than a berm or elevated structure, obviously it's a lot of money. Perhaps you could talk to people in Belmont and San Carlos about how they like the new grade separations at Ralston & Holly? I think they are a big improvement.

I'm very skeptical about the people who are complaining about HSR in Menlo Park--they are the kind of people who let the perfect be the enemy of the good. That's why Menlo Park's main thoroughfare is lined with rotting, empty car dealerships and other unused commercial establishments rather than have anything useful & productive on that very valuable real estate. They oppose everything and would prefer nothing to be done and let the existing infrastructure rot (like Caltrain without electrification).

Like this comment
Posted by D. P. Lubic
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Thank you for the kind words. Actually, I put this over at Palo Alto first--and the reaction, whoo-ee, at least for some of them.

I've had a fair number of comments on this site, and others do, too. There is a considerable amount of at least semi-technical expertise there, and in my case, some nostagia stuff, too--it is most important to remember where you have been, and to where you may wish to return. . .

Web Link

If it's worth anything, a lot of the whoopee on this subject seems to be generational. As I have related on the above HSR weblog, others as well as myself have been noticing a pattern that the people who would like to see a revival of rail are usually over 90 or under 60; the ones who fight against it so strongly are currently between 60 and 90. I can remember that 20 years ago these break points would have been at 40 and 70.

I think this comes from when people come of age, which is about 20 years old or so. For the people who used to be over 70 and are now over 90, this means they remember what we had and are sorry we let it go. The younger crowd, under 40 before and under 60 now, takes cars for granted, maybe doesn't appreciate them properly, and is certainly environmentally aware; they see no great status in driving, as it used to be. The group in the middle would have been 20 between about 1950 and the first oil crunch of 1973; they would have grown up feeling trains were supposed to go away like the stagecoach, and that the automobile was the future.

I had a similar observation on a heritage railway or railway preservation web page, with some discussion that followed. While the subject is old trains (i.e., steam), much of what came up there applies here.

Web Link

Web Link

Thank you again.

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2010 at 9:44 am

Thanks for the web links, which were not, for a change, a boring bunch of numbers and court case filings.
Everyone knows why the electric trolleys were removed across the country, and most profoundly in the Los Angeles area where they were geographically designed to serve the masses and later, their routings were changed when the bulky and oil burning and lung clogging diesel and gasoline powered vehicles took over for the oil and rubber companies. One of my classmates of a HUGE tire manufacture
family, is legally changing his name, which begins with "F" because he, as an environmentalist at our University, is ASHAMED at how his family thrived in the rubber business, slavery, and dozens of off shoots of his family name.....all polluting.
He has been "cut off" from his inheritance when he goes through the name change.
He already has begun an environmentally friendly company which is employing hundreds and eventually will have thousands of jobs all over the country.....
Some people care.

Like this comment
Posted by Marion O
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 5, 2010 at 1:10 pm

The solution is simple. Have the Town declare Caltrain a historical artifact and then buy the right of way on the cheap.

Like this comment
Posted by Beata
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Sep 6, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I am guessing HSR authorities knew we would be upset about noisy, fast, frequent trains dividing our very small communities and never intended to underground it...they know we will find a way to pay for it.

The question is, how will some of us come up with our share? Not all of us are financially wealthy....and, (this for D.B.Lubic) I personally drive my elderly friends (not to LA!) who have vision/driving impairments...they do not expect the tax payer to subsidize them.

Or, a more improtant question is do we expend resources and energy fighting this now or save our energies for paying to underground it through our communities?

Hopefully, we can fight it now so we don't have to subsidize it forever and instead can maintain some funding for the priorities of education and research to save CA from going down the drain.

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2010 at 6:40 pm

[Portion removed; be respectful of other posters.] I hope you are jesting when you mention building a system underground when the San Andreas fault moves an inch a year lately.
You shouldn't take it personally since the PENINSULA has a lot more to gain with the new cell towers going up and the night games with the new lighting to help our kids play sports and be healthy.

Like this comment
Posted by D. P. Lubic
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2010 at 12:02 am

Dear Beata'

I'm glad you take care of your older friends. I have and continue to do the same, although it has not been in the driving mode (it has been shoveling snow and mowing grass). However, I'm afraid you're mistaken in thinking driving is not subsidized.

In 2008 (last year for which statistics are currently available), this country, as a whole (Federal, state, and local governments), spent over $182 billion on roads, but only collected a bit over $94 billion in fuel taxes and tolls ($84.9 billion and $9.3 billion respectively). The $88 billion difference, spread over the approximatly 174.5 billion gallons of motor fuel sold that year, works out to a bit over 50 cents per gallon. This is on top of whatever you are paying now.

Web Link

Web Link

All this material comes from a USDOT website called "Highway Statistics." Curiously, for all the statistical information there (and the site is a gold mine of information!), the subsidy cost I just mentioned above is not in it; you have to work it out yourself between the two tables listed above.

General link:

Web Link

Now, if we had an honest accounting, the additional 50 cents per gallon would be bad enough to pay on top of, say, $3.00 per gallon, but there are other costs, such as deferred maintenance, poor design and compromise in construction standards due to limited available funding, and external costs such as air pollution, unrecovered accident costs, and, at least until recently, a couple of oil wars.

My seat-of-the-pants estimate is that gasoline in this country really costs about $7 to $8 per gallon, and I'm conservative. There are others who estimate the cost to be as high as $15 per gallon. (You'll have to do an internet search for the "true cost of gasoline" to find out more about this, due to the limited ability of this page to relay links, otherwise I would have a couple for you.) You--we--are paying that $7 or whatever now, hidden in our income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, insurance costs, and so on.

This comes back to several of the questions in the original post. How do we get off the oil diet, particularly in transportation? How do we pay for roads when cars use little or no fuel as such, or, in other words, how do we divorce road revenue from fuel consumption? How do we come up with answers to the other questions?

Finally, I know a lot of the concern about rail and grade seperation in Palo Alto and other places is about the potential of noise and other nuisance factors. Believe me, it will not be what so many naysayers claim.

Now, in the interests of disclosure, I've got to admit I'm a rail enthusiast, or as some others would say in less flattering terms, a "foamer" or "train geek." Having said that, I am also quite familiar with railroads, and have spent time about them, including steam roads; I've even lent a hand (for an impromptu two hours or so) to a steam locomotive overhaul. We have commuter and Amtrak service where I live, plus freight trains, including heavy coal trains over a mile long (with their corresponding returning empty trains). Like your own, these are all diesel powered and oil burning, except the steam heritage roads, which have locomotives that burn coal and spit much of it out the stack, where much of it comes down as hot, sand-like cinders around the third car in the train (guess how I know this).

A notable exeption, however, is the Amtrak service north of Washington, DC. This is the Northeast Corridor, or NEC, and is the former main line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was converted to electric operation in the 1930s. I've had the chance to see some of those trains whiz past stations on the line at well over 100 mph. Besides the visual speed (which is frightening the first time you see it), what was most impressive was how quiet the trains were compared to the diesel and steam trains I was more familiar with. I can easily imagine the possibility of one of these things sneaking up on you if you were on the tracks, and the engineer didn't see you in time to give a warning blast on the horn.

I will also mention that Palo Alto and other places would have good company if you got the electric HSR line built. Another line, also Amtrak operated, is the Keystone Corridor in Pennsylvania. Again, this is a former line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, running west from Philadelphia to Harrisburg (state capitol). It was also electrified in the 1930s, and recently upgraded to 110 mph operation. This line goes through what are called "Main Line" communities west of Philadelphia, which are some of the richest places in the state; the Paoli Local is an institution for those moneybags commuters. It doesn't sound like something to hurt property values!

Amazingly, this same semi-high speed route also goes through some of the prettiest farming country you ever saw, and this country, in the vicinity of Lancaster, Pa., is worked by old-order Amish people with horses! (This was the setting for a film called "Witness.") Also on the line are a sweet-smelling chocolate factory in Elizabethtown (Mars), an 1880s era station with a great steel canopy over the tracks at Harrisburg, and a working interchange (ironically, for freight only) with the steam-powered Strasburg Rail Road (yes, that's the way its corporate name is spelled).

To you and all, I welcome you aboard the train.

Like this comment
Posted by D. P. Lubic
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2010 at 4:37 am

For reference:

Web Link

Looks like a place Peninsula residents would be proud to call home.

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Lubic....insert applause here.......
That is such a great answer and Web Link.

You really captured how most of these non "Philadelphia blue bloods" have approached this entire subject. Yet, most already think that living near San Francisco and close to Stanford qualifies them as being to the "manor borne" with their attitudes or 'small' money which is never discussed by those who have it.
Good manners and a "naturally" composed behaviour is something which cannot be bought.
Lady Astor was a trend setter and she would have loved to see this happen, and she was the epitome of style.

Like this comment
Posted by D. P. Lubic
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Wow, Sandy, you are trying to butter me up :-)

I think much of what I call my "diplomatic" style comes from my job as an auditor. Most people hate auditors, they think they are just out to collect money. In truth, at least for the state agency I work for, we are just out to make sure the numbers are right. We want people to pay what they owe, and if they don't owe, they shouldn't pay. In addition to this, I personally take the view that the taxpayer pays my salary, and is deserving of the greatest respect, even if I find where the taxpayer has an error and must pay.

It also feels good to find refunds; I just had an audit last week on a small business, and found them a refund of $2,400.00. The secretary (wife of the president, it's a very small business with but two employees, and the secretary is unpaid) almost broke out crying at finding this money they could use. . .

Being married can test your diplomacy skills, too. I say we men should always love women because, among other things, they put up with all our bad jokes. When my wife was 38 and 39 years old, she had this awful moaning and groaning about "Oh, I'm another year older," "Oh, you don't care"--oh, I should have remembered her birthday.

After that nonsense, I figured I'd better remember the big 4-0. So, on her 40th birthday, I sang "Happy Birthday" to her, right in bed, the first thing as she awoke. She liked it, and I was inspired, as a second verse popped into my head, and out of my mouth:

How old are you now?
How old are you now?
How old are you, -----?
How old are you now?

I've had people tell me I live dangerously.

My mother commented, "----- was happy you finally remembered her birthday."

I have to ask, what is your own background? I notice you must be a college student (you mentioned a classmate with a family dispute), and you have an interest in some of the elegant parts of history (your references to Lady Astor). This is unusual to me; if you were what most younger people should be, you should be interested in the "sex, drugs, and rock and roll" lifestyle, or at least that is whay you are supposed to be based on what people where I live call "Hollyweird." In any event, you don't seem to fit that pattern--hooray!

On to the reason for coming in today--thought you (and everyone else here) would be interested to know the high-speed rail arguments in California have become an object of interest to a high-speed rail advocate (and newsletter publisher) in New Emgland. Links follow:

General link:

Web Link

Current weekly newsletter link:

Web Link

Take care, and thank you for the kind words.

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