News

Palo Alto blasts high-speed rail project for moving too fast

City Council urges more collaborative process for Peninsula segment of controversial rail line

With plans for California's high-speed rail system accelerating on the Peninsula, Palo Alto officials on Tuesday ramped up their opposition to a process that they argue is moving too fast and in the wrong direction.

In a special meeting devoted exclusively to transportation, the City Council criticized the California High Speed Rail Authority's recent decision to launch an environmental analysis for the Peninsula segment of the proposed rail line — a review that the state agency expects to conclude in 2017.

This schedule, the council argued, would unnecessarily expedite the planning process for the hugely controversial line, precluding any real collaboration between the state agency and the communities on the northern portion of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line.

For the council, the discussion was the first full hearing on a project that galvanized a torrent of opposition in 2009, and that culminated in the council adopting a position of "no confidence" in the project and calling for its termination in 2011.

Back then, the proposed design for the rail system featured four tracks, with Caltrain on the two outside tracks and high-speed rail on the inside, running along a set of elevated tracks. Today, the design is a "blended" approach in which high-speed rail and Caltrain would share the same set of tracks.

Tuesday's conversation indicated that Palo Alto's apprehensions about the $68-billion rail project remain entrenched. To address these concerns, the council voted 7-0, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss absent and Councilman Eric Filseth recusing himself, to reconstitute its defunct Rail Committee and to lobby the rail authority to commit to "context sensitive solutions" (CSS), a process that involves extensive collaboration with community leaders and other stakeholders.

The council also agreed to pursue the same process in its own plans for the future of the Caltrain corridor.

Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of the local watchdog group Californians Advocating for Responsible Rail Design, urged in her public comments to pursue the CSS process, which is commonly used in highway construction and which emphasizes continuing communication between stakeholders and a "shared vision."

"There's always time to do CSS if you want your project to get to the finish line especially when you deal with a situation like we have here, where there's a lot of complexity and where in order to make all the pieces fit together you may have to change the process," Alexis said.

The proposals to pursue CSS and to recreate the Rail Committee were made by Councilman Pat Burt, a former committee member and one of the founding members of the now-defunct Peninsula Cities Consortium, a coalition of elected officials from various Peninsula cities.

Both groups were dissolved two years ago as the rail authority shifted its plans from the Peninsula to the Central Valley. Now, Burt said, is the time to reconstitute the council's committee and to re-engage other cities.

"I think what they are planning to do is a prescription for failure," Burt said of the rail authority. "It is the sort of process that resulted in the horrendous backlash on the Peninsula previously.

"We need to recognize this is not a four-track system, it's a hybrid 'blended' system, so eventually the impacts aren't so great, but they are making the same process errors. An 18-month cycle time for this complex of an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) is not realistic."

His colleagues agreed and said they were surprised by the shift in the rail authority's plans. City Manager James Keene said he and city staff were shocked to see the rail project "back on the scene" on the Peninsula while the Central Valley segment remains far from completion.

Councilman Marc Berman agreed, saying, "It's baffling. It really does lead to a lot of distrust from our end, which was something that I thought they were trying to remedy after what happened previously."

The rail authority, which is charged with building the rail line, kicked off the environmental-analysis process last month with a series of community meetings throughout the region (though none in the Midpeninsula area).

At a meeting in San Francisco last month, the rail authority's Northern California Regional Director Ben Tripousis called the series of meetings the "beginning of the conversation" with the Peninsula communities and stressed that the goal is to make high-speed rail an asset, "not an eyesore," for the cities along the proposed line.

He also told the audience that as a safety measure the rail authority plans to install quad gates at each grade crossing to limit auto access. Eventually, Tripousis said, the agency plans to consider grade separation (an under- or overpass) for the rail line and to work with each community individually to discuss this long-term change.

In Palo Alto, however, grade separation remains a critical priority, whether or not the rail line actually gets built. With Caltrain now embarking on the long-awaited electrification of the rail corridor, a project that will increase the number trains, council members are advocating for a Caltrain trench and scouring for funding to make the project possible.

On Tuesday night, they discussed several sources of funding, including the transportation-sales tax that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority plans to put on the November 2016 ballot and various state grant programs that could partially fund the project.

Councilman Tom DuBois recommended talking to other cities, including Redwood City and Mountain View, about forming a joint effort to create a trench along the Caltrain corridor. He pointed to other examples in the state and across the country, including in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Reno, Nevada, where tunnels and trenches were successfully built.

"I'd really like us to learn from examples of how other cities and areas pulled this thing off," DuBois said. "I think we really need to think big and consider all sources of funding (and) cobble everything together. Should we go for minor changes on Churchill? Sure. But I'd like to see us think big and really think about a Midpeninsula trench that could really impact a lot of people."

According to the city's preliminary estimates, a trench for Caltrain would cost between $500 million and $1 billion in the southern half of the city alone. But given the rising demand for Caltrain and future rail improvements, the council agreed that grade separation should be pursued regardless of high-speed rail.

"The challenges remain whether they're coming or not," Burt said, referring to high-speed rail. "It really behooves us to re-engage on this and to begin trying to take the bull by the horns ourselves so that we really are moving as much as possible away from a reactive mode."

Comments

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Posted by Palo Alto resident
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Go Palo Alto! This High Speed Rail project has been controversial since its inception. Spending billions of dollars in tax money to build an archaic rail system between 2 cities that already has TONS of other options - namely air, car or bus (and combinations thereof) does not make sense. As per latest plans, we already know that it will not even match the speeds already being achieved in Japan & China. With city specific requirements it will just slower. Do we really need just another train that is not actually HIGH SPEED, besides its name?

Instead, lets figure out how our Tax Money can be better utilized to fund Elon Musk's vision of hyperloop travel, or something similar to that in a private-public partnership. California needs to be visionary in solving commuting problems.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2016 at 11:56 am

This train will be just as fast as any other high speed train system. it only takes maybe 5 miles for a TGV to get up to about 170 mph for example.
As for the hyperloop...even if they do eventually get it to work (doubtful) it will take years just to figure out the engineering, how to design and build it. Then, they have to build it, a process we're already in the middle of. why would we want to start over with a system we don't know will work at all?


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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Eric:

It's not what was promised. It's not high speed if you can't exceed 79 mph for the 50 or so miles between San Jose and San Francisco. That's no faster than Caltrain. Billions of dollars poured down a rat hole that doesn't deliver what was promised and never will.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2016 at 12:40 pm

it was never promised to be 200+mph for the entire journey. Even in the initial studies back in the late 90s it was only envisioned to be up to the max speed on the straight flats of the central valley. The speed restrictions you're talking about on the peninsula (and in SoCal) are the result of efforts to bring the costs down. I have no doubt that once the system is up an running, there will be demand down the line to straighten or provide a new higher speed alignment. I don't see how that argument translates to favoring of the hyperloop, which isn't proved to even be possible/buildable/functional as yet. Even if it was, it will require a completely new infrastructure so cost savings measures like the "blended plan" would be impossible. New infrastructure means all new right of way, and with its desired speeds, curvature radii in the vertical and horizontal will be much larger, probably on an order of magnitude - so your alignment options become much less flexible.
If the route between SF and San Jose was straight enough, and didn't have to deal with caltrain traffic, the train could easily attain high speeds. Check this video out-
Web Link
it shows a passenger on a TGV Duplex using a portable GPS tool to readout speed. You can track that with the clock of the video time, to get speed on a graph with time. with those numbers you can use math to figure out how far the train travels in its acceleration climb to 180 mph, and its only about 5 miles. If the braking profile is similar, and for normal operation (non-emergency stops) it probably is (for passenger comfort), that means if the track would allow, that the train could be at those speeds for 80% of a 50 mile trip.


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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 12, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Eric:

it was sold as making the trip in just over two hours. That's not what this train will do. That was lie number one. It was only cost $50 to ride from SF to LA. Lie number two. I could go on but I'm not going to waste my time. the lies used to sell this thing have been well documented.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2016 at 5:06 pm

I believe that the express train (SF-LA no stops) can still make the trip in the time allowed/required under the law.
And I do recall seeing some $50 pricing for some trips (don't remember which ones) tossed around back in the late 90s also, though I'm wise enough to take cost projections from 20 years ago with a grain of salt and not get upset over them. if you want to call that a "lie" and not "inflation" then get over it.
most of what you term "lies" have been debunked or settled by lawsuits in favor of the rail system. If you're just anti rail just say so, and stop trying to justify it.
I wonder if in 20 years, when hyperloop flops, would you still be mad that Musk lied and the system wasn't as "promised"?


2 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 12, 2016 at 5:13 pm

...and it was just 2 hours 40 minutes, not "just over two hours"
wonder what else you may have misremembered.

2704.09. The high-speed train system to be constructed pursuant
to this chapter shall be designed to achieve the following
characteristics:
(a) Electric trains that are capable of sustained maximum revenue
operating speeds of no less than 200 miles per hour.
(b) Maximum nonstop service travel times for each corridor that
shall not exceed the following:
(1) San Francisco-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40
minutes.
(2) Oakland-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40 minutes.
(3) San Francisco-San Jose: 30 minutes.
(4) San Jose-Los Angeles: two hours, 10 minutes.
(5) San Diego-Los Angeles: one hour, 20 minutes.
(6) Inland Empire-Los Angeles: 30 minutes.
(7) Sacramento-Los Angeles: two hours, 20 minutes.
(c) Achievable operating headway (time between successive trains)
shall be five minutes or less.
(d) The total number of stations to be served by high-speed trains
for all of the corridors described in subdivision (b) of Section
2704.04 shall not exceed 24. There shall be no station between the
Gilroy station and the Merced station.
(e) Trains shall have the capability to transition intermediate
stations, or to bypass those stations, at mainline operating speed.
(f) For each corridor described in subdivision (b), passengers
shall have the capability of traveling from any station on that
corridor to any other station on that corridor without being required
to change trains.
(g) In order to reduce impacts on communities and the environment,
the alignment for the high-speed train system shall follow existing
transportation or utility corridors to the extent feasible and shall
be financially viable, as determined by the authority.
(h) Stations shall be located in areas with good access to local
mass transit or other modes of transportation.
(i) The high-speed train system shall be planned and constructed
in a manner that minimizes urban sprawl and impacts on the natural
environment.
(j) Preserving wildlife corridors and mitigating impacts to
wildlife movement, where feasible as determined by the authority, in
order to limit the extent to which the system may present an
additional barrier to wildlife's natural movement.


4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 12, 2016 at 7:11 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Eric:

" it was just 2 hours 40 minutes" Thank you for making my point. It isn't going to take 2 hours and 40 minutes either. It will be LONGER.

The people that voted for it now would not vote for it. They've wised up to the BS they were sold to let our politicians pay off the labor unions and large civil builders that gave them money. It's clear you're a "believer" in HSR (actually MEDIUM speed rail). Nothing I say, nor any facts are going to change your mind. Have a nice day.


2 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2016 at 10:53 am

It seems the only lies are the ones you tell yourself. First its just over 2 hours, then you say that 2:40 is making your point...when it was never "just over 2 hours"
Try not to let facts dissuade your fear. I'm a believer in numbers, data, and the real world. In the real world HSR has been around for 50 years. Its not new. We're not reinventing the (rail)wheel as they literally had to do when developing HSR.


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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 13, 2016 at 5:53 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Eric:

Let me say this slowly so you can understand. It's not going to be 2 hours and 40 minutes. It's going to be LONGER, Get it now?


2 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2016 at 11:25 am

according to the 2014 business plan, the projected run time is at 2:34. Granted those are ideal circumstances, but it would meet the requirements of the legislation.
Web Link (page 97 of 114)
If it were not for the blended plan, which I agree reduced the ultimate capabilities of the system at the endpoints, this wouldn't be an issue. But the blended plan was done at the insistence of the locals basically, so insisting it share track with Caltrain rather than a true HSR alignment plays a part in this result. You can't insist on changes and then complain you "weren't getting what you were promised." And as I said before, Once the system is up and running I am confident the a future HSR alignment at the SF and LA end corridors will improve operating times even further.


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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 14, 2016 at 1:23 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

I didn't insist on changes. I've never liked the idea and voted against it. I knew it would never do or cost what they said it would. It would be slower and cost far more to build and would cost much more for a ticket than they said it would. That kind of money would be better spent elsewhere.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Why? its been shown that a similar capacity upgrade to existing freeways and airports would cost far more. If you're going to spend money on transportation, this really is the most bang for the buck. We need alternatives. I don't doubt that there are other needs. Rather than increase water storage or conveyance, I think we need more supply - municipal scale desalinization. But all needs of that scale are going to cost money, and they are NEEDS not wants, and we as a state / country have to be willing to pay to build them.


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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 15, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Similar capacity upgrades would likely cost less as we don't know the true cost of HSR. First it was 37 billion then 68 billion. I can pretty much guarantee it will end up north of 100 billion. How far north is anyone's guess.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2016 at 2:08 pm

actually, no. HSR has been shown to have the capacity equivalent of a 12-lane freeway. Upgrading the I-5 Grapevine by 12 lanes would easily cost half a billion dollars by itself. so I can pretty much guarantee that your guarantee doesn't have a basis in actual numbers.
Remember, that the large number of 67 billion is an inflation adjusted number for the duration of the build.


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Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 15, 2016 at 2:09 pm

whoops meant trillion.


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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 15, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

I know from experience what happens to these types of public works projects. It will cost more than 100 billion. One only need look at the Bay bridge to see what happens with these projects.


Like this comment
Posted by Eric
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2016 at 10:17 am

its a self fulfilling prophecy. The more NIMBYS sue and delay, the more it costs.


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Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 21, 2016 at 10:28 am

If it were moving any slower, the project would be moving backwards.

It's time to convince the NIMBYs to move to Scottsdale so we can actually move forward!


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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 21, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Eric:

Sorry, it's not a self fulfilling prophecy. The numbers they are publishing now are what are called, "engineer's estimates." Those estimates are based on nothing. They are nothing more than a SWAG (silly wild ass guess). That is exactly why the 1 billion dollar engineer's estimate for the Bay Bridge ballooned to an actual cost of 8 billion. Until the work is actually put out to bid with final plans we have no idea what the actual cost will be. Even then, the final plans are frequently incomplete and subject to additional costs in change orders which where the contractors really make their profit.

Nope, this thing will cost more than $100 billion. You can take that to the bank.


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

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