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Editorial: Start planning for rail projects now

Original post made on Jan 6, 2008

High-speed rail, with its promise of bullet trains running between Northern and Southern California, presents a conundrum for residents who live in the Peninsula communities along the proposed route.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 2, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comments (12)

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 6, 2008 at 10:39 am

Much of this, I have been saying for over two years. But, let’s move on. Stop "agonizing?" I think not. This discussion is far from over. Just accept the inevitable? No, to that as well. Residents of Menlo Park will not just roll over and play dead for Caltrain, whatever it’s ambitions.

The “improvements” described in this editorial won’t improve anything, including Caltrain’s bottom line. Furthermore, the havoc created by Caltrain’s ostensible self-improvement is not, I repeat, is not “stepping up to the mass transit plate.” Digging up our streets and dividing our city ought to have a compelling reason that benefits the residents of Menlo Park, not the bureaucrats in San Carlos.

Let me make this central point, yet once more. It’s about the money. No money, no grade separations which cost more like $100 million EACH. (And, it’s four, not three crossings.) Without grade separations, trains will not be allowed to go faster than the present 79 mph, even if they were rocket-powered. Electrification won’t make any more than a cosmetic difference. (I don’t know why this point needs to be made repeatedly.)

None of this is inevitable, Caltrain’s noise machine notwithstanding. Indeed, those who really believe in urban mass transit should demand something entirely different (as they used to say on Monty Python). Putting new bells and whistles on Caltrain is putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. We need – repeat after me – a comprehensive, integrated, convenient, multi-modal transit system that makes Caltrain only one of many partners in such an enterprise.

No high-speed train bond issue in November? Then we will merely endure an endless succession of “studies” which keep our staff and hired consultants off the streets and out of mischief, and I can live with that.

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Posted by Roxie
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 7, 2008 at 11:23 pm

A high-speed rail system uniting California will be fantastic. It will help not just people wanting to see more of the state, but families that are separated and small businesses who would like to branch out to other parts of the state but can not afford the expensive plane tickets to travel to new markets. This is a huge state with millions of people, we need ways of getting around other than cars. You can not just ignore what tens of thousands, if not millions, of people need and want because it will anger a few property owners. When people buy property next to railroad tracks, they know what they are getting into.

Menlo Park should have grade separations. Grade separations will NOT divide the city, the city is already divided by the railroad itself. In fact, the separations will only make it safer and easier to get from one side of the tracks to the other. Even if the high speed rail does not pass immediately, Caltrains still needs to electrify its trains and improve service, so the grade separations will still be needed. The improvements will allow more people to commute to work, and the faster trains will make life better for those who already do commute. Let's do something real for our environment and ourselves. The city of San Carlos has it right.

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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 8, 2008 at 9:33 am

We really need to have a total end-to-end cost comparison of what high speed rail means financially and relative to global warming. It's really hard for me to imagine that the constructions costs, including use of eminent domain to acquire property, and ongoing (and escalating) operational costs will result in affordable transportation. If subsidized, what then is the cost to all taxpayers? How would this compare to other modalities of getting from points A and B?

We also really need to determine whether people will use this. To help determine this, we need a total comparison of getting from points of origin and ultimate destination. As a frequent business traveller, I can't imagine how the time required to reach my destinations would improve.

How will Menlo Park benefit? Taking a big picture view, it's abundantly clear that transit organizations view Palo Alto or Redwood City to be mid-peninsula nodes. Menlo Park will continue to lose direct service. Those who think otherwise are dreaming.

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Posted by Bill Dawson
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2008 at 3:46 pm

For those unsure about the proposed High Speed Rail (HSR) system, there fortunately exist such systems in France, Germany, and Japan on which one can take a "test-drive" to understand what a system would mean for California. For those fortunate to have done so, the benefits of such a system are immediately apparent: speed, comfort, safety, and freedom from reliance on crowded and uncertain freeways and airports. It makes economic and planning sense to combine HSR's installation on the Peninsula with Caltrain's plans to upgrade. Further delay in creation of this transportation system of the future will only make it more costly, and keep it out of reach another generation. We should strongly support the HSR November ballot measure.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 9, 2008 at 9:40 am

There are so many issues about this to discuss that I shall raise only one. Cost. The CHSRA projects a cost of $40 billion for this project. As we already know (and a 2003 Congressional Budget Office railroad report confirms), rail and other infrastructure projects typically project far lower development costs and far higher passenger miles and revenues than the final results. The Eurotunnel rail is a great example. There are others in this category: The Bay Bridge, the Boston Big Dig, even the Palo Alto Homer bike tunnel.

It is entirely plausible to anticipate that this $40 billion project will end up costing $100 billion or more. How will it be paid for? By borrowing. Can California afford to borrow $40 to $100 billion? Are you reading the papers about California's structural financial crisis? CHSRA promises the train to be profitable. Freight trains are profitable. Passenger trains -- world-wide -- are not. Subsidies are huge tax drains. Who pays? You do. I do. Operating costs will come from our tax dollars; such as sales taxes, for example. The Eurotunnel train was projected to carry 16 million passengers per year and now, after 16 years, carries only 9 million. A trip from London to Paris is about $200. And, by the way, their construction debts are even now constantly being restructured.

One estimate suggests that each man, woman and child in California will pay around $12,000. to cover the bond and other borrowing costs of this train. Are you willing to make those payments? Let me ask this another way. For you, are there any upper limits in costs where you would draw the line, no matter how attractive this train would be? At what point would you say, wait a minute, given our priorities in this state, this project is simply too expensive? If we have to trade off school costs and medical costs for the train, the train comes first? PLEASE!

At least, can we have an informed discussion about this, rather than wishing for fantasy trains that will in fact be luxury trains -- the Disneyland Express -- for the well-to-do?

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 10, 2008 at 9:28 am

Web Link

All you high speed train lovers who can’t wait for the November $10 billion bond issue to pay for this shiny new toy, are you reading the news? The California economic ship of state is sinking and you want to dump more water into the boat? Please, THINK.

Let me put this another way: You are already in deep debt at home and you want to borrow even more because this new, super-expensive appliance, promoted by snake-oil salesmen, is promising to make life more pleasant for you? Are you crazy, or what?

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Posted by Elizabeth Lasensky
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 12, 2008 at 6:47 pm

That's the same attitude that killed BART to the Peninsula. Now we wish we had BART at 1960's prices.

Menlo Park residents and business people will indeed benefit from HSR. Being able to go to either Redwood City or Palo Alto and hopping a train to LA is far more enticing that having to deal with any of our airports, including getting there and parking.

We need to invest in our future infrastructure or this area will not remain competitive. And we need to look at new solutions to transit, transportation and pollution.

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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 13, 2008 at 9:25 am

While I agree we need to invest in our future infrastructure, it seems to me that the biggest problems we have are the lack of safe bike and pedestrian paths around town (which will get worse with all the pressures for density) as well as vehicular transit within our community and better means to get to/from EXISTING transit.
What would BART do? It takes far longer to get to San Francisco than CalTrain because of its circuitous route. It's an absolute joke right now to attempt to use public transit to get to airports because BART and CalTrain don't have round the clock schedules and don't coordinate their schedules.

I still want some comprehensive comparisons of the total costs (construction and operation) of various alternatives, including the "final mile" that's so missing now. This needs to be done looking at both the financial and total transit time costs. So far, I am not persuaded at all.
Let's solve the problems we have right now with transit and traffic, which HSR will do little.

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Posted by Elizabeth Lasensky
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 13, 2008 at 5:22 pm

SamTrans runs bus 390 from Page Mill Road up through SFO and into San Francisco. Although it is not round the clock, it is frequent and it is cheap. To go from El Camino in Menlo Park to SFO costs $1.50, worth every cent. There are 4 stops within SFO.

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Posted by Elizabeth Lasensky
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2008 at 7:35 am

Correction to my statement above: the SamTrans bus that runs to SFO is the KX. It runs from Page Mill Road to SFO and on into San Francisco. If you catch the bus within San Mateo County, the fare is $1.50, a real bargain for those going to the airport.

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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 14, 2008 at 5:41 pm

Good information!
But how are we supposed to get to and from El Camino with luggage? And what if our plane lands after 9:30 pm and we need to get our luggage and still make the last bus? It's just too risky.
BART and CalTrain don't work at all well with each other for airports, largely due to limited schedules and too tight connections.

Other problems - how to get back and forth to Kaiser in Redwood City or Stanford's clinics opening up there?
Don't get me started about school kids' schedules and the mismatch with any existing transit.

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Posted by observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 18, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Ms. Lasensky is again passing along bad information. Having been here when Bart was being formulated, what as much as anything killed Bart coming down the peninsula was the Bohannon political machine, which didn't want Bart since they wanted to protect their lucrative Hillsdale Shopping Center and they saw Bart as a threat. Then,just as now, they are a powerful lobby.

In general there was also the fact that most peninsula residents resented paying the high cost for infrastructure in San Franciso. If the costs had been fairly allocated so that the peninsula residents would only be paying for the additional costs to bring it down the peninsula, it might have gotten approval.

Whatever, it failed and maybe much for the better. I don't want Menlo Park to be a Walnut Creek with its 20 story buildings etc.

The ridiculous cost projections and inflated ridership for the proposed HSR should doom this project if it makes it to the ballot. In case you haven't read their garbage propaganda, they project 113 million riders a year. Just think about that number. What are they smoking? The total projected cost is now 45 billion that cost is headed upwards every day.


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