The High Speed Train Project (HST) arrived at our front door before Palo Alto and Menlo Park have had the time and funding to address the Caltrain issues of electrification and grade separations. Accomplishing these upgrades would make for a quieter and less polluting public transit system. For years we have made do without these upgrades but HST, an electric system, requires such improvements. The questions of right of way accommodation and speed of the Los Angeles/San Francisco trains add grist for the mill.
The HST Authority seems to be withholding information that residents in communities along the Caltrain right of way need now. Why delay until 2011 the decision to designate stations? Neither Redwood City nor Palo Alto can make plans regarding Transit Oriented Developments, zoning and funding for public amenities without knowing if their city is to be selected.
If HST would scale back their project in the Mid Peninsula area to a 2-track system for a discreet number of trains destined for and leaving San Francisco, it could at a later date adjust the number based on actual ridership.
For example, the initial service plan might have only 20 southbound and 20 northbound trains a day between Los Angeles and San Jose. 10 of these trains would terminate in San Jose and 10 would continue on to San Francisco.
In this scenario the trains running between San Jose and San Francisco will run no faster than the current Baby Bullets, 79mph. The entire line would be grade separated and electrified resulting in quieter and less polluting trains.
In this scenario no eminent domain actions need to be carried out. The existing width of the right of way is ample for a two-track version of the HST, shared with Caltrain.
In this scenario the argument as to tunneling or berming the HST would be moot. The Mid Peninsula is a region with small towns built on a modest scale that is suburban in style. The HST should recognize both the aesthetic and the monetary value of the property along the CalTrain right of way and take the path of least resistance. One of the reasons BART was rejected by the towns on the Peninsula is that the system of few stops requiring huge parking structures is inappropriate for the scale of this area.
The towns from San Francisco to San Jose along the CalTrain corridor might consider forming a commission that would insist on a more realistic and modest approach, one that would gain support for the HST concept rather than the angry opposition that is mounting today. The question should not be to tunnel or to berm.
Hopefully a 2-track system can accommodate High Speed Trains and co-exist with CalTrain. A 4-track system with stops only in San Jose, Millbrae and San Francisco creates a sacrifice too great for the Peninsula to bear, even if electrification and grade-separations benefiting CalTrain are paid for by the HSRA.