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Guest opinion: End the Caltrain-High Speed Rail Authority alliance

Original post made by Morris Brown, Menlo Park: Park Forest, on Oct 23, 2015

Time moves on and it has become obvious that the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the High-Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain is no longer viable.

Since the two systems agreed to the MOU, circumstances and conditions have changed dramatically. Back then, in exchange for Caltrain allowing the high-speed rail project to use Caltrain’s right-of-way, the rail authority was to fund and construct its own dedicated tracks. In exchange for access to this right-of-way, the authority was going to fund the electrification of Caltrain’s existing separate tracks. All the tracks would have all road crossings grade-separated, and this funding would also come from Proposition 1A bond funds.

With the huge cost escalation of the high-speed rail project, a new plan was conceived. No longer would Caltrain and the high-speed rail run on separate tracks. Rather, they would share a two-track roadbed — an idea dubbed the” blended plan.”

Funds for grade-separating the road crossings now are no longer available. The latest plan shows Caltrain would run six trains in each direction at peak times, and high-speed rail, four trains in each direction. Thus during peak travel times, a total of 20 times each hour, the crossing gates would come down. The gridlock and congestion to our cities thus produced is simply not acceptable.

Adding on to this is the major upsurge in passenger traffic on Caltrain. It is obvious that in the near future, six trains per hour in each direction for Caltrain will not be sufficient.

The Peninsula communities have been unanimous that four tracks along the Peninsula corridor are simply not acceptable. The blended plan is simply not adequate so long as high-speed rail is allowed on the corridor.

It is time for the Peninsula communities to step up and demand that Caltrain dissolve its alliance with the High- Speed Rail Authority. Caltrain will need the full passenger carrying capacity provided by the two-track “blended system” for its own use.

Yes, this will mean the loss of around $600 million that the high-speed rail project was going to provide to Caltrain for its electrification project. New sources for this funding must simply be found elsewhere.

Morris Brown is a longtime resident of Stone Pine Lane in Menlo Park.

(This opinion piece was published in the Oct 21, 2015, print edition of the Almanac.)

Comments (24)

Posted by Kate T
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Oct 23, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Quit stalling and build it.

Join the rest of the industrialized world with high speed rail.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 23, 2015 at 2:00 pm

A handful of vocal NIMBYs and BANANAs have effectively stalled actual progress. We need a 4-track system, grade separation optional (would be nice, but I wouldn't block on it), and we need it yesterday.

Perhaps we could interest the NIMBYs in a move to Scottsdale?

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 23, 2015 at 2:20 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

It's not "high speed rail." It's medium speed at best. We don't need it and we don't want it.

Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 2:26 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

This is so disingenuous. The blended plan was developed precisely because of the fear-mongering generated by Morris Brown and others opposed to high speed rail. This "editorial" is a bunch of wishful thinking. The relationship between Caltrain and CHSRA is just fine, high speed rail will be built, and then a decade later we will be expanding to four tracks because that's obviously what was required, only it will cost untold billions more. We will build it, because not building it is simply not an option- California will see huge growth over the next two decades, our existing transportation infrastructure is already at full capacity. There is no room to expand SFO, SJC, or OAK. 300 flights a day between the Bay Area and the LA basin are a strong indicator for demand.

But this editorial of magical thinking would have us believe that it will all fall apart. Sorry, not buying it.

Posted by interested
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 4:16 pm

Bury the trains. This is what Cline and Burt have pushed for from the start. Bury the trains.

Posted by MultiK
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2015 at 6:20 pm

Let's end the Atherton-Palo Alto-Menlo Park NIMBY alliance against high speed rail.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 23, 2015 at 6:22 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


how about we end the politicians pandering to labor unions instead?

Posted by JSLeno
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2015 at 6:25 pm

The author says that new sources of funding must "simply be found elsewhere". Well, where??? What other possible source could there be for the $600 million needed for Caltrain electrification? Because CalTrain has already said that they cannot go forward without electrification.

And if that $600 million cannot be found, is he prepared to deal with the alternative effects on Peninsula communities? More crowded freeways and streets, heavier traffic jams, and lower air quality because more people are forced into their cars?

The funding from California HSR would be mutually beneficial for both HSR and CalTrain. The only reason to object to it would be to throw a monkey wrench into the HSR project. To some people, killing CalTrain does not matter at all, as long as they can kill California HSR with it.

Posted by makfan
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2015 at 9:37 am

I'm really sorry I have to inconvenience you all by passing through your lovely towns on my way to work, but there is very little housing. Besides, my spouse works near where we live, so at least one of us has to commute. Caltrain is a lifesaver for me and has been for years. It must go forward with electrification.

Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

@Menlo Voter: Breaking out the labor union boogeyman AGAIN?

This isn't 1970's Great Britain, you know...

Posted by Linda Hutchinson
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 24, 2015 at 11:18 am

The Almanac speeds up its slide into irrelevance every time they publish something from Morris Brown. This is the guy the Almanac itself has described as a gadfly, who is best known for getting signatures for the Derry project with the promise "let the people vote on it!", and then dragging out the 'negotiations' so long that everything collapsed. His endorsement for Council races is basically a death sentence. Why are we listening to him, again?

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 24, 2015 at 12:27 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Not a "bogey man" Stop, the facts. Why else all would Brown and the legislature choose to move forward despite the lies, distortions and everything else that wasn't and isn't true about HSR? It's a public works projects. In case you didn't know, that means they have to be done at "prevailing wage." Of course, "prevailing wage" is based on union scale. Public works is the only thing unions can get work doing because they've priced themselves out of the private sector. So, yes, in fact, HSR is nothing but a big fat payoff to labor unions by politicians for all the money and support those unions have poured into those politicians coffers.

Posted by J. Wong
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Mr. Brown lives close to the right-of-way and doesn't want either HSR nor expanded Caltrain service.

The reality is that it is best for Caltrain to work with the CAHSR Authority for both electrification, signaling, and grade separations. Then the "simple" funds Mr. Brown would use to fund electrification could instead be targeted to grade separations like those that Caltrain has already built in San Carlos, Belmont, and San Bruno with Prop 1a or cap-and-trade receipts funding electrication.

Anything that Mr. Brown suggests would result in worse Caltrain service and worse traffic.

Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2015 at 12:38 pm

Oh noes! Ravenswood traffic will suffer terribly from increased gate down time! Gridlock will ensue!

Meanwhile, red traffic lights block Ravenswood traffic 75% of the time at El Camino. But that's just a normal rush hour.

Gates bad! Red lights okay! See the double standard?

Posted by gridlock
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 24, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Menlo Park has plans to mitigate the traffic at the Ravenswood / El Camino crossing. So when completed, traffic congestion there won't be the problem.

With crossing gates coming down more frequently, that will be the major problem. Then, of course, even solving that bottleneck, just where does all the traffic go once it reaches Middlefield. Turn right to get to Willow and Middlefield, to attempt to get to 101 after turning left on Willow, and experience 25 - 30 minutes to reach the 101 on ramp. Nice isn't it.

Only to get much worse. Palo Alto is one of the main contributors, as PA blocks Sand Hill road traffic from entering Middlefield and then going to through PA on MIddlefield. PA is gracious in allowing Stanford to add 25 new stores, as an example, and generating more and more traffic; most of it that want access to 101, comes to MP. PA is a lousy neighbor, period.

Posted by jim
a resident of another community
on Oct 25, 2015 at 6:43 am

In Sunday's LA Times I found this article on some SOCAL specific building and tunnelling issues as well as the likely cost overruns:

"Special Report $68-billion California bullet train project likely to overshoot budget and deadline targets ...After cost projections for the train rose to $98 billion in 2011, vociferous public and political outcry forced rail officials to reassess. They cut the budget to $68 billion by eliminating high-speed service between Los Angeles and Anaheim and between San Jose and San Francisco."

Is this now the blended system? Why not stop the line at SJ, take the $688 million from HSR and electrify the tracks, repaint CalTrain blue and yellow, and in return passengers can transfer if they wish and get to SF a bit later. Others who wish to stay in the SJ area can stay. Locals can board HSR in SJ just like choosing SJC over SFO. Throw in a couple above grade crossings here and there if you'd like, but no trenches or tunnels required.

Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 25, 2015 at 10:41 am

The LA Times has just printed a blockbuster report on the HSR project.

The online version of the special report is located at:

Web Link

You can view a scan of the front page article as it appears in the print edition of the LA Times Sunday paper (Oct 25 2015) by going to:

Web Link

Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Oct 25, 2015 at 10:48 am

@Menlo Non-Voter: If right-wing talking points is all you can provide as your argument, then you have NO argument.

Simple. As. That.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 25, 2015 at 11:09 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


excuse me? "right wing talking points?" Only a liberal that is dedicated to HSR would describe facts as right wing talking points. All of the things HSR won't do have been well documented here and elsewhere. Repeatedly. By the way, It is going to end up costing far more than $68 billion. IF it ever gets built. Given the lack of funding for building it with the exception of the current "train to nowhere," there is zero funding beyond that. Another prediction; if they have to go back to the voters for further bond money they aren't going to get it. The majority of Californians have figured out they were lied to so as to get their previous vote. They aren't going to fall for it again.

Also, I'm no right winger. Far from it. I just have a long career in the construction industry, some of which included public works projects. I know of what I speak. Union construction labor has priced itself out of the private sector save cities like San Francisco where they have political allies that give them power. The property owners are afraid of the power the unions wield there. Again, I've done work there too. I know of what I speak. Simple as that.

Posted by A Proper Perspective
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Oct 26, 2015 at 10:50 am

Projects of the scale of the High Speed Rail project are not common. HSR is a large and expensive project with a physical footprint covering a large part of the State. The main failure so far, I believe, is that the Organizers haven’t equipped the public with the proper perspective to properly evaluate this project. If you read through the many impassioned comments about HSR, either here or elsewhere, few of the reasons raised in arguments reference back to the underlying need for this project. It is important to remember that the objective of HSR is to address the future transportation needs between SF and LA. Those needs won’t change. And so, what is really at play here is, what is the best solution for this problem? When you really look at the numbers – the needs in 20, 40, or even out to 100 years from now – the decision isn’t to do HSR or do nothing at all, it is, do we do HSR or some other alternative. And here, alternatives of the appropriate scale include building new airports in the Bay Area and in LA, or constructing a new interstate.

Long ago, all of these options were considered and compared in excruciating detail, and the best option for the specific needs at hand, emerged as HSR between SF and LA. That was a resounding finding and the least-cost option. I think this point is completely missed by the general public. However, once this point is understood, it becomes much easier to think about how best to implement HSR along its route. With regard to “blending in” with Caltrain, to me, I tend to take the long view. Decisions to go with 2 track or 4 track, or elevated or buried aren’t decisions you get to redo. A decision is made, money is allocated, and steel and concrete are laid. We are then stuck with the result for what will sure to be, our lifetimes and beyond. Do I want to be looking and listing to trains whizzing by on elevated trains for 50 years? Hell no. I’m in favor of ripping off the band-aid. Spend the money, bury the train and turn the land above into an exceptional biking expressway and pedestrian parkway. This is a 100-year project and we only have one shot at it. What do you want to live with?

Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Oct 26, 2015 at 3:08 pm

> It is important to remember that the
> objective of HSR is to address the
> future transportation needs between
> SF and LA.

Exactly. Not SF/SJ. Not SF/Oak. Not Oak/SJ. Not East Bay/Peninsula. Not North Bay/South Bay.

The pro-HSR sycophants continually harp on the need for improved Bay Area public transit to improve commutes and reduce traffic congestion, but completely miss the point that HSR as currently proposed does next-to-nothing for improving peoples Bay Area commutes or reducing Bay Area traffic congestion.

(I'd also point out that the CAHSR proposal violates Prop 1a requirements for funding in so many ways as to be laughable, but we're already venturing pretty far off-topic).

More on-topic, for funding "Caltrain" electrification, Caltrain is trying to have it both ways: get funding from the HSR project, but don't call it a HSR project (funding non-hsr projects with hsr funds is a violation of Prop 1a).

I agree with Mr. Brown that it's probably in Caltrain's best interest to better distance itself from HSR. But I suspect they've just decided it's easier to participate in breaking the law to get funding for their electrification project than to get separate funding.

Posted by Ben
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 26, 2015 at 9:25 pm

Caltrain is like a crack *****, HSR offered up some cash for electrification and Caltrain took the bait no questions asked.

That 'MOU' works for HRS, because it gets their trains on the peninsula, period. Caltrain and local communities will just have to make due with increased train traffic, gate down time, increased hazard, etc. CA HSR simply just doesn't care. That same MOU as I recall, specifically keeps the HSR 4 track plan as the actual preferred plan in writing, and the 'blended' plan gets lip service so local politicians have something for a photo-op. The blended plan is a joke. There never were any provisions, plans, or even a discussion about grade separations anywhere on the peninsula. In fact, HSR has been very clear on the point, as far as they are concerned, grade separations for Caltrain are a local problem, not their problem. Why this is suddenly realized, what, 2 years later, is beyond me. Are people involved with this HSR/Caltrain swindling that ignorant and/or forgetful? Go back to the HSR proposition that got the current boondoggle started. There were NO plans to grade separate Caltrain in that plan either! HSR was going to run on separate tracks, and their tracks, and only their tracks would be grade separated.

People, the whole thing reeks of corruption, a hundred billion dollar stink.

At this point, Caltrain would be wise to abandon HSR, nothing good will come of that so-called partnership. Caltrain should aggressively work with all affected communities along the Peninsula to seek federal, state and local funding to really grade separate the tracks; trench, tunnel, under/over pass. Plan for HSR using the tracks, and welcome them as a a fee for use customer. CA HSR is driving Caltrain these days, it's time to put a stop to that nonsense.

Posted by ReportReader
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 27, 2015 at 11:56 am

$600 million spread across peninsula cities is not that much. Menlo Park alone has over $100 million in bond measures for its schools and parks. Got a CalTrain stop in your city or nearby? Time to pay for it.

Posted by underground the train
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 28, 2015 at 11:13 am

@A Proper Perspective - you are so right! HSR is a 100+ year project and should be looked at in the longer term context. That means undergrounding the trains. Yes, plural, HSR and Caltrain. Look to Europe - that's what they did. Why can't we learn from them?

This is not a matter of pro/con HSR or trains. It's about the best way to do it. Funding can be made available. Private investors, bond issues at numerous levels, federal and state funding. And then there is revenue and benefits from the at-ground-level development possible by removing the eyesores, dangers, and obstacles of the train tracks running through our towns. At least Atherton and Palo Alto are taking stands. Menlo Park needs to take a stand, too.

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