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Opinion vs facts on high-speed train

Original post made on Oct 15, 2008

In recent weeks there have been a number of letters to the editor, "Viewpoint" opinions and high-speed rail articles in which there have been many questions raised about the cost of the project, ridership projections, availability of a business plan, land use impacts and many more. As we near a statewide vote on Proposition 1A for High-Speed Rail it is important that we review some key facts.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (16)

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 15, 2008 at 3:56 pm

Since Jim Bigelow is so interested in facts, here are some:

1. If the Caltrain corridor is developed to accommodate the high-speed train, the multi-year construction will do major harm to downtown Menlo Park, and many businesses will close. Those that can survive will still experience business downturns.

2. Menlo Park businesses are represented by the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce.

3. Jim Bigelow speaks for the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce.

4. Jim Bigelow supports the expanded development of the Caltrain corridor.

5. Jim Bigelow does not live or work in Menlo Park.

6. Jim Bigelow is, personally, in the Transportation and Housing business. Conceivably, he has a conflict of interest.

7. It is reasonable to conclude that Jim Bigelow, who is advocating the train and therefore irrevocable harm to Menlo Park businesses, is putting his personal business opportunities above the welfare of the businesses of Menlo Park which he represents.

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Posted by Roger Knopf
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2008 at 11:04 am

Martin, you offer this as a "fact":

1. If the Caltrain corridor is developed to accommodate the high-speed train, the multi-year construction will do major harm to downtown Menlo Park, and many businesses will close. Those that can survive will still experience business downturns.

Seems to me it is more like an unsupported opinion, and therefore a very poor logical basis for the rest of your argument.

I lived in San Carlos when the grade separation project was being debated, and almost none of the dire predictions of business impact came to pass. Before we accept your assertion I'd like to know why exactly you think this will negatively impact businesses, which businesses, and why?

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Posted by Angela Hey
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Oct 16, 2008 at 11:32 am

I can compare the high speed train with the train that links Leeds with London - a distance of 200 miles - in the UK. When the line was electrified and the journey time reduced to 2 hr 11 min for the fastest trains commerce soared in Leeds.

I suspect that looking at the big picture there'd be far more trade between northern and southern CA with a high speed rail network and people would commute from the areas between SF and LA to these cities.

With rising oil prices and fuel shortages looming long term an electric train will in the long term provide economic benefit and prestige to the region.

One could argue that a high speed rail network should go down the East Bay to enrich communities there, then Menlo Park will be a sleepy suburb - which maybe what people want.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 16, 2008 at 3:09 pm

This is comical. Angela Hey and Roger want voters to approve $10B right now on the promise of high speed rail. They ask for no plans (there are none right now), no financial plan (again, none exists) and they disregard what is potentially the worst economic recession in 30 years. How dare you take a concept and a dream and then reach into our pockets at a time when we don't know what our financial future holds.

This bond needs to be delayed or rejected. Period.

San Carlos has no homes along the rail, Roger. Take a walk in Menlo Park sometime before you pop off with that stuff.

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Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 16, 2008 at 3:54 pm

As to the comment by Roger Knopf, that none of the dire predictions that Mr. Engel made came true during the construction of the grade separations in San Carlos.

I had my office on the San Carlos airport at the time of that construction. Many small business operations on the east side of the tracks were severely affected, and some were forced to close.

During construction the congestion was terrible. Some time ago I talked with the San Carlos Chamber of commerce. I was told San Carlos was now very happy they had agreed to have the separations, that
traffic was much improved etc.

However, she admitted that some of the residential properties near the tracks had been affected negatively. Also remember this was to accommodate a 2 track system, not 4 tracks which the HSR project will require.

San Carlos has a much wider corridor than Menlo Park for the rails -- we will be affected much worse.

Finally I asked, what about your having to under new separations to accomodate the High Speed Rail. The response was "we would never want to do that".

So Mr. Knopf, I don't agree with you assessment at all

Morris Brown
Stone Pine Lane

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Posted by Roger Knopf
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2008 at 5:30 pm

"Truth", don't misconstrue my remarks. What I want is not necessarily a bond measure, I want a discussion with facts supported (and how about discussed politely)? If the argument has merits, lets get the facts out.

By the way, why is it that the most acerbic posts are made by people who are afraid to use their real names?

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Posted by Roger Knopf
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2008 at 5:44 pm

Morris, thanks for providing some detailed perspective. I'd like to make a couple comments in reply.

There was without question impact on the businesses and some homes on the freeway side of the tracks, but almost ALL of the business that were there before are there now - certainly all the major ones and every one of the smaller viable ones that I remember. Of course that is not a comprehensive survey, but I believe that if there were one it would show that the long term benefit has far outweighed the short term pain for the great majority.

As for the housing, that area was marginal before the grade separation went in. I'm open to hearing more facts but I have a hard time understanding how elevating the train away from the front doors and allowing kids to go to downtown without having to cross the tracks ends up being a negative.

As for the traffic pain during construction, every time I was inconvenienced I only had to remind myself of the numerous times I had to wait two and sometimes three changes of the light to turn left onto Holly from El Camino when the train came through - it engendered patience.

Having ridden the train many times to the north Menlo, while I certainly could not vouch for the whole route, I know that there is a large amount of extremely marginal land use which could be diverted to the new tracks without causing serious damage to anyone's business. It has frequently astonished me what a wasteland much of the area around the tracks there is.

Not sure I understood your last comment regarding the new grade separation.

Again, thanks for the thoughtful and honest comments.

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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2008 at 9:28 am

The allure of cheap and fast train travel to LA is great, and I love TGV and Chunnel in Europe. But I really question what the price and speed really will be and urge honesty rather than wishful rhetoric.
Consider that Caltrain's current fare, which I understand is subsidized, between Menlo Park and San Francisco is nearly $12, possibly going up to $13.50 soon for a distance of about 30 miles (about 40 cents/mile right now but going up soon, and subsidized). The distance from San Francisco to LA is around 375 miles. At the same rate per mile as Caltrain, the ticket would be at least $150 - assuming an operating subsidy, too, and not counting any costs of construction, which is unrealistic.
The speed of a trip is theoretically possible, but does not consider the number of stops - and numerous ones are planned to be built in cities along the path - or the need to slow down in dense areas such as between San Jose and San Francisco and within the greater LA area. Add onto that the time necessary for likely security checks. Let's face it - 2-1/2 hours simply is not realistic!

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Posted by U. Block
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 17, 2008 at 9:59 am

"Skeptic": Caltrain is $5.75 from MP to SF and $11.50 for an all-day pass. That's about half the cost you've listed per mile and very similar to the fuel cost of driving a car, not to mention the added cost of car maintenance. Thus your price to LA (if you base it per mile) is half of your number... $75. A pretty reasonable price, in my opinion.

Though I suppose perhaps you were quoting only round-trip fares - but your distance of 30 miles was confusing if that were true.

Re: Subsidization... Remember that all of our auto driving is subsidized, too. The gov't pays for the roads, maintenance, etc., with our taxes.

In any case, it seems that the global (er... statewide) concerns about high-speed rail (cost, trip time, etc.) should be taken into consideration when voting for/against the proposition. Menlo Park's issues deal just with the effects it will have on our town. Menlo Park can debate all we want over the system's global worth, but it won't have much effect on the passage (or not) of the state proposition. If Menlo Park is going to try to stop the train, it needs to be done because of the local concerns only.

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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2008 at 2:33 pm

U Block - yes, I did not double the miles for round trip, but I didn't do that for either Caltrain or HSR so the ticket price comparison is as stated -- nearly $12 for Caltrain today (proposed to go to $13.50) compared with HSR ticket of around $150. Supposedly HSR operating costs would be paid by tickets, not by taxpayers. I just don't find the "facts" credible or persuasive at all.

My concerns are much greater than just temporary local impacts - I'm worried about a boondoggle that doesn't make economic sense, in the middle of a hideous economy. And I will vote "NO" on HSR.

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Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 19, 2008 at 10:12 am

I found this listing the other day.

Over at a pro Prop 1A site was found this entry:

What has happened to the discussion of this project lately is the discussion has moved from a discussion of the project per se, to a discussion of the fiscal crisis the State and the Country is now immersed.

Robert talks about defeating the new “Hoovers”. He won’t recognize that the history of the 30’s was one where huge WPA projects did ease the depression but certainly did not take the country out of depression. Only World War II accomplished that.

Now we are hardly right now in a depression. What may happen in the future no one can say for sure, but to be promoting this project as it must be approved because we need to get out of this fiscal crisis in not appropriate.

In any case, those kinds of projects need to be instituted at the Federal level. The Feds can literally print money; thank heavens the State doesn’t have that ability. The State by constitutional law must approve balanced budgets. To my way of thinking, the State’s budget is hardly balanced. It is contrived; it would never pass accounting standards for publicly listed companies.

Now here is a project that from the beginning has never been about moving people from from the south to the north. One only need look at the routing and see all those bends so that the train will pass through the urban areas of the central valley to understand what this is all about. The project is welfare for the central valley. This project is a dream project for developers and land speculators. The project has been led by politicians who are only interested in feathering their own nests. When a highway was built to move us from south to north, I-5 was built. Look at its routing. Pretty straight isn’t it? That was a project designed for moving people and freight efficiently and has accomplished its goal.

How many faults does one have to point out in order to get voters to recognize this project for what it is. It is a boondoggle, as many media publications have written. No business plan. A route from San Gilroy that is not available, since it is owned by another RR, and they won’t allow it usage.

No, this is bummer. Kill it. Vote No on Prop 1A.


We must say the author has it right

Just Vote No On Prop 1A.

Morris Brown
Menlo Park

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Posted by M Fruth
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 20, 2008 at 5:00 pm

This is a boondoggle we can't afford. Asking for $10 million for a project supporters admit will cost at least $45 million and opponents claim will cost $100 million, does not make economic sense. Would you buy a house or a car with just a down payment and no idea of where the rest of the money will come from? Supporters are counting on federal funds that have aleady spent in Iraq. I live nowhere near this train, but I care about the future of Menlo Park.

I am not sure we can afford any of the three bond issues on the ballot right now. The others are good projects, but we can't afford them.

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Posted by Primo Binario
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 22, 2008 at 10:10 am

I agree that, in terms of economics, this is not the right time for the state to be borrowing huge sums of money for an infrastructure project of this magnitude.

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Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 22, 2008 at 3:12 pm

Let me alert anyone who might read this in time to the following.

On Thursday. Oct. 23rd, at 10:00 AM, the State Senate Transportation and Housing committee is holding a hearing on the thus far missing business plan for the High Speed Rail project, that would be funded by Prop 1A.

This meeting will be webcast and could be watched from you computer.

You can go to:

Web Link

and proceed from there.

I have posted information on the subject at:

Web Link

Voters should keep in mind, that here is a project, the largest in California history by far, and the controlling agency, the California High Speed Rail Authority, has yet to produce a business plan. Furthermore, the business plan was mandated by law in AB-3034, which created Prop 1A. The Authority in in violation of State Law.

The Authority must be abolished.

Vote No On Prop 1A

Morris Brown

Like this comment
Posted by leon
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 24, 2008 at 5:48 pm

Morris said:
"the California High Speed Rail Authority, has yet to produce a business plan."

I'm confused, then. What is this?...
Web Link

I understand the latest revision is a month late, but to say they have "yet to produce a business plan" seems disingenuous.

Like this comment
Posted by Cassandra
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 24, 2008 at 8:00 pm

I don't see a business plan there. I see the words "business plan" but the only documents look like marketing pieces to me. The core of any business plan is the financial analysis, but all I see are some pie-in-the-sky numbers that are reflect wishful thinking rather than fact.

As has been said many times already, no private venture firm would loan money to an organization so lacking in fundamental analysis. Yet I understand that HSR will need an infusion of private capital to move ahead. Where is that coming from?

My best guess: the proposition will pass, a small group of people will pocket the $10 billion, and the specter of HSR will gradually be eroded by time and insurmountable challenges, eventually vanishing.

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

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