Caltrain workers are already out on the Peninsula "yellow tagging" certain of the trees that will be removed. There are 20,000 trees between San Francisco and San Jose, many of them mature and beautiful. There are more than 1,000 trees between the northern border of Atherton and the southern border of Menlo Park, the heart of the Peninsula and the area served by this newspaper.
Why is Caltrain doing this? They say it is because the trees on the right-of-way "interfere" with their plans for electrification. Therefore, they have to be taken out. Of course, Caltrain cannot be bothered to keep the trees pruned so that removal is unnecessary. That would be too much trouble on an annual basis.
Of course, once the trees are removed, it will be too late to do anything about it. The damage is irretrievable. Therefore, local residents better wake up and do something about it before the removal starts. Following is the catalog of the damage:
• Historical beauty: The Midpeninsula is famous for its beauty and its trees; in fact, Menlo Park's motto is "The City of Trees." These trees line a right-of-way that goes through the heart of our beautiful towns and cities — not blighted towns and cities, but truly beautiful. Imagine the ugliness that will result when our trees are removed: The Midpeninsula will look like the railroad trip from Newark, New Jersey, to Philadelphia — ugly, urbanized, blighted, denuded of vegetation. The historical beauty of the Midpeninsula will be destroyed forever.
•Property values: Obviously, thousands of homes for blocks on both sides of the right-of-way will suffer serious declines in property values as the beauty of the neighborhood disappears.
• No screen: The trees act as a filter or screen for pollution and dust picked up by the train. If you think an electric train will not kick up dust and particles from the earth and air, you are crazy. The filter action provided by the trees will no longer exist.
• Bird habitat: The trees are the habitat for many birds. Why aren't bird lovers and bird-watchers up in arms along with clubs like the Audubon Society?
• Noise: The trees act as a barrier for noise, just like a sound wall (except trees are much more beautiful). Electric trains are not quiet; the noise will increase, especially if they are elevated.
We do not need an electrified Caltrain. The Peninsula has become "conflicted." Residents know the disadvantages of electrification, but they seem to be in love with an electrified Caltrain.
If you get to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco four and a half minutes earlier than you would on a modern diesel train with an electric motor is the slight difference in arrival time worth the destruction of hundreds of our trees and the radical change in the beauty of our Peninsula?
And what about the cost? The electrification program for the entire corridor is going to cost $1.5 billion. If hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved, with an alternative, would it be worth it? Caltrain has suppressed all discussions of any alternative, blanketing the Peninsula with the argument that its survival depends on electrification, with that as the only solution.
However, as Jack Ringham and Paul Jones of the Atherton Rail Committee have demonstrated, modern diesel alternatives (called DMUs) with electric motors inside, can do the job. These are modern diesel locomotives, not what Caltrain is currently utilizing. They can pull lightweight cars, not the heavy steel cars that are presently being pulled. The speed, the efficiency, and the acceleration are virtually identical to Caltrain's electrified proposal with its ugly catenary towers and 55 miles of complicated and elevated wiring, which is deleterious to the ambience of our towns.
Have you checked the cost of electricity lately? And do you realize that electricity is generated by fossil fuels (all you environmentalists pay attention)? In the long run, self-propelled diesel will require less energy, with the United States fast moving in the direction of energy independence once our resources are released.