Palo Alto Demands Control Over HSR Project Design And Operations; Whines When They Don’t Get It

Mar 31st, 2009 | Posted by

UPDATE: The council did in fact vote to file an amicus brief in the Menlo Park-Atherton suit against the CHSRA. The vote was 5-3. Kishimoto, Barton, and Drekmeier were the no votes; Espinosa was absent. The original post starts now:

Last night’s Palo Alto City Council meeting showed just how absurd the city’s approach to the HSR project has become. Despite the fact that most residents still support high speed rail, and that even those who want a tunnel are trying to reconcile the city’s design preferences to the need for fast and environmentally friendly passenger trains, the city council seems to be demanding a level of control over the project’s operations and fundamental design that is wholly inappropriate for ANY one city to have, especially a small city like Palo Alto.

According to the San Jose Mercury News report of the meeting:

The city council on Monday voted unanimously to send a letter to Caltrain’s board of directors asking them to change the wording of a memorandum of understanding with the state authority, which is in charge of building a Los Angeles-to-San Francisco rail line. The letter objects to the “level of specificity” of the agreement, which would lay the groundwork for the high-speed trains to share Caltrain’s land. Caltrain’s board of directors will vote Thursday on whether to approve the deal.

These council members are pissed off at the four-track plan contained in the proposed Caltrain/CHSRA Memorandum of Understanding. As the article explains:

The council’s specific objection was to a passage of the agreement stipulating that “ultimate configuration of the Caltrain corridor will be a four-track grade-separated high speed rail system, with mixed traffic from Caltrain commuter rail and the high speed train service capable of operation on all four tracks to enable Caltrain to achieve service levels of no less than eight trains per hour in each direction. In some places the corridor may consist of more than four tracks.”

The city responded, “This level of specificity indicates that options and alternatives will be determined without meaningful public input and consultation. Palo Alto requests removal of any commitment to specific track design or operational condition without public input and required environmental review.”

Translation: Palo Alto believes that a four-track design will make it difficult to build a tunnel, and therefore will almost certainly mean an above-grade structure. Palo Alto doesn’t want that, and even though a four-track design is the best solution from an operational perspective Palo Alto’s city council seems to believe they have the right and the power to impose inferior and inefficient solutions on the rail corridor to suit their own purposes.

Palo Alto city council members who are whining about this are implying that the four-track arrangement in the MOU is the same as saying an above-grade structure will definitely be built. It’s a dishonest stance, as some people tried to explain last night:

Transit officials have said the passage actually does not commit Caltrain or the high-speed rail authority to any specific track design. A four-track, grade-separated system could be achieved through any number of design options, including a tunnel, a trench, or an above-ground structure. The authority has stated for years that its system would be fully grade-separated, which means that cross streets must pass either under or over the tracks.

The agreement does specify a minimum number of tracks, which Caltrain officials said was a safeguard to ensure the high-speed trains don’t squeeze out local service. Council Member Yoriko Kishimoto passed on that message to her colleagues Monday night, but they still felt the three-county transit agency had overstepped.

Several city officials pointed out that High Speed Rail Authority Board Member Rod Diridon had told the council no decisions had been made and all options were still open. They said the agreement the authority was poised to sign with Caltrain contradicted that claim.

With each passing day the Palo Alto city council is losing credibility, and last night’s meeting was a stunning example of this. They were told that no decisions had been made regarding the structure, but proceeded to dishonestly behave as if they had been.

What does the proposed MOU actually say about all this?

Ultimate configuration of the Caltrain corridor will be a four-track, grade-separated high speed rail system, with mixed traffic from Caltrain commuter rail and the high speed train service capable of operation on all four tracks to enable Caltrain to achieve service levels of no less than eight trains per hour in each direction. In some places, the corridor may consist of more than four tracks.

What the MOU lays out are the basic operational requirements of the Caltrain corridor. I don’t see a damn thing that precludes a tunnel. I do not see any clear indication that Union Pacific’s freight demands have been met, but that’s another matter entirely. What the MOU lays out are the conditions that ANY implementation, whether above-grade or below-grade or a tunnel, will have to meet. And what some in Palo Alto are upset about is that the conditions weren’t rigged to ensure a tunnel will be built.

Gennady Sheyner’s recent article in Palo Alto Online is useful in shedding light on this ridiculous attitude on the part of the council:

Councilman Pat Burt, who is a member of a recently formed council subcommittee focusing on the high-speed rail, said the section of the memorandum describing the track design “stuck out like a sore thumb.”

Burt said he was concerned about the contradictory statements from rail authority officials, who have long presented the four-track design as one of several that would be considered.

Is that actually what was promised? And does the proposed MOU actually violate any such promise? I am unconvinced that it does. Sheyner writes:

As recently as March 2, Rod Diridon, member of the rail authority’s board of directors, told the council that the agency would consider every viable option.

“We’re going to look at every alternative that was brought before us,” Diridon told the council. “We’ll do a thorough evaluation of every one of those alternatives.”

Diridon also indicated in October — one month before California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond measure for the project — that Palo Alto staff would be involved in the decision-making process, which will involve a wide range of alternatives, including two-track systems and four-track systems.

“All of those will have to be examined,” Diridon told the council in October. “Whether (the trains) will be in a tunnel, in a trench covered, in a trench open, whether they’d be on-grade and elevated would be studied.”

“Your staff would be deeply involved in that,” he added.

As I read Diridon’s quote, he didn’t make absolutely clear whether a two-track or four-track implementation would be among the items Palo Alto would be involved in. Nor is it clear what “involved” would include – and we do not know what meetings were held between Caltrain, the CHSRA, and city staff. Sheyner and some of those that he quotes appear to believe that “deeply involved in” a process meant that Palo Alto would get to help decide the outcomes, which would be an interpretation they chose to make and not one that is inherently truthful or accurate.

In fact, if one read the actual proposed MOU, they’d find that it does indicate that local governments like Palo Alto will continue to be involved and consulted:

III. C. High speed rail must be designed, constructed and operated in a manner fully consistent with the operational requirements of the Caltrain commuter rail rapid transit service and with consideration of the cities on the Peninsula through which the high speed rail system will be constructed and operated….

IV. A. Formulation of a plan for community outreach to the affected community, counties and governmental and regulatory agencies, and other operating entities in the corridor

That looks to me like they’re planning to involve Palo Alto.

As Sheyner’s article makes abundantly clear, however, to some members of the Palo Alto City Council, it’s not involvement or consultation they way – but veto power over the basic conditions of the HSR system. It is neither right nor democratic to give ANY city that power, and it is extremely bad planning to fit the system around Palo Alto’s own demands, instead of fitting Palo Alto’s requests around the system’s needs. But some in Palo Alto insist on going right down that road:

But even at that time, Councilman Greg Schmid warned that an above-ground line could hurt the community and made it clear that he was only supporting the proposition because of the possibility of running the rail underground.

“I think of high-speed rail lines going down the Peninsula and dividing the communities the way rivers used to divide communities in the Middle Ages,” Councilman Greg Schmid said at the October meeting. “It’s not necessarily in our interests to have this division take place in an area where the networking of ideas is the key to success.”

This comment is both absurd and revealing. Absurd, because rivers were until the 19th century indispensable to civilization as they were THE primary method of transportation, offering the cheapest and fastest and most efficient movement of goods and people for most of the history of human civilization. Communities usually formed around and because of rivers, not in spite of them. I’m not sure that Londoners who had to cross the Thames in the 1590s to attend the Globe Theater would see the river as a barrier, but of course, some dude in the 21st century obviously knows better than they do about their own lived experience within their communities.

Which shows how ignorant Greg Schmid appears to be about Palo Alto’s own history. In the 19th century and for some of the 20th century as well, railroads played the same role as rivers – providing the basis for communities. Palo Alto exists because of the railroad and was built around it.

The comment is also revealing because it shows that, in fact, members of the City Council were aware of the plans for the HSR line to be built above-grade before the November election, despite the claims of many residents that “omg we had NO idea!” Schmid’s comment shows that those who say they didn’t know about the above-grade possibility were not paying attention – and I don’t see how that’s the CHSRA’s fault.

Other city officials made clear that they believe they should have the ability to determine the operational requirements of the system, a totally inappropriate demand:

Burt said he was concerned about the inclusion of the four-track design in the memorandum between the two agencies.

“We thought it was inappropriate,” Burt said Friday. “It’s a cart getting ahead of the horse.”…

“I think the point we’re trying to make to the HSRA (High Speed Rail Authority) is that they should not predetermine the outcome,” Kishimoto said. “We expect that it will be a truly open process.”

The city has also drafted a letter to Don Gage, chairman of Caltrain’s board of directors, asking that the section specifying the four-track design be removed or altered.

“This level of specificity indicates that options and alternatives will be determined without meaningful public input and consultation,” the letter reads.

I’m sorry folks, but Palo Alto doesn’t get to determine alone what the entire state needs and deserves in terms of passenger rail capacity and service. You just don’t. That’s not democratic, that’s bad planning, and it’s just ridiculous. The CHSRA has shown it is willing to give the city the opportunity to participate in the process of deciding how the system and the service will be implemented. But folks like those quoted here are playing a different game entirely – thinking that if they want a two-track solution that they should get it, even if that is not practical or reasonable from an operational standpoint.

And when we see Palo Alto city council members making inflammatory and dishonest statements like these, from last night’s meeting:

“We think that’s a duplicitous message, and we intend on pointing that out,” said Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie. Council Member Larry Klein added, “There are decisions being made, decisions have been made by Caltrain, and I think that taints the process.”

Council Member Pat Burt said he was disappointed with Caltrain’s approach. “I’m less hopeful than I was that we’re going to have our voices listened to by just being persuasive and collaborative,” he said.

Well, it doesn’t speak very highly of the city council, which appears to have slid into outright HSR denial – just 5 months after unanimously endorsing Prop 1A, and in spite of their constituents’ desire to see HSR built and integrated effectively with Caltrain. And the council even went into closed session last night to discuss filing an amicus brief in support of Menlo Park and Atherton’s suit against the HSR project.

I’ll leave it to Palo Alto residents to explain what exactly the hell is going on with their city council. From my perspective they seem to have taken leave of common sense, honesty, and reality. They’re upset that Caltrain’s board did its job by ensuring Caltrain can continue to expand its operations under the Caltrain 2025 plan by signing the MOU. They’re willfully misinterpreting CHSRA statements and trying to poison the well – especially in the media and therefore in the public mind – with their deliberate distortions of the truth.

Their behavior makes it difficult for sensible and practical solutions to be delivered. There are some good people in Palo Alto pursuing tunnel solutions, and others who want to find ways to build an above-grade structure more effectively and in line with what the city needs.

  1. Anonymous
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 08:11
    #1

    I believe the city council is sending a message to Rod Diridon, through all available channels.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucEwHWG4Its

    You should also be concerned about duplicitous and fantastical thinking:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQ99bXJ5cW0

  2. Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 08:27
    #2

    Uh no. The city in fact was pointing out that specificity in the MOU is inappropriate given that Diridon keeps insisting that no track design decision are made. The only time design specificity can POSSIBLLY be mentinoed is AFTER appropriate project level EIR/EIS is completed. Otherwise, Caltrain and CHSRA are conspiring to end-run the environmental review process. Frankly, probably about half (at least) don’t want a tunnel. And let me remind you that one of the options that MUST be studied in the project level EIR is NO BUILD.

    Palo Alto is setting forth explicit expectations that the EIR process will prevail, not some end run short cuts that CHSRA and Caltrain are crafting up behind closed doors. Period.

    Funny though – because last time you didn’t actually listen to the PA planning meeting but only used lopsided reporting as your source, you got PA city council’s position all wrong, and couldn’t wait to blog about PA’s 180. Now, you are using same source of info, which is NOT you bothering to actually listen to the meeting, and jumping to further conclusions, and getting it all wrong again. You’d think your blog readers would start to get wind of your nonsense – who’s credibility is fading now?

  3. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 09:41
    #3

    As has been stated here repeatedly, the choice of this route through every small town will derail this project. These towns will fight for their lives, and then all the associated groups like the parts of San Jose affected by the train will demand the same treatment. This is no different than a childish VP of engineering in a startup company slashing weeks off the design delivery date to satisfy his financial objectives. Its bad manaagement and it may even kill this project.
    And thank goodness for Palo Alto city council meeting online archives! GOTYA Rod Diridon!

  4. BruceMcF
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 09:47
    #4

    The city in fact was pointing out that specificity in the MOU is inappropriate given that Diridon keeps insisting that no track design decision are made.

    If four tracks are required to meet the operational requirements of HSR and Caltrain, it has to be in the MOU. If no decision has been reached for any stretch of track whether it is fully elevated, semi-elevated, at grade, semi-depressed, or fully depressed, nor whether the track is SFFS, FSSF, SSFF, or FFSS … then that would be “no track design decision has been made”.

    Just throwing together what is contained in the MOU and what has been promised not to be in the MOU and pretending that there is a contradiction does not create any contradiction. Its just smoke and mirrors to try to polarize the situation to prevent workable compromises from being hammered out.

  5. Rafael
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 09:50
    #5

    Making do with just two tracks is not an option because the FRA forbids FRA-compliant trains from sharing track with non-compliant equipment such as off-the-shelf bullet trains. We are definitely NOT going to repeat the Amtrak Acela Express nonsense on behalf of Palo Alto.

    Dedicated HSR tracks are a hard FRA requirement at this point, end of story. It’s not up to CHSRA, Caltrain or the city of Palo Alto to decide otherwise. Moreover, UPRR – which still owns exclusive intercity passenger rail service rights in the SF peninsula – has endorsed this federal safety policy in its recent letter to CHSRA. It’s possible that the Obama administration will force FRA to re-write the rules, but a planning body such as CHSRA cannot base its work on that assumption.

    In addition, it point blank isn’t possible to run express trains at 125mph on the same tracks as locals averaging less than 50mph. Forcing HSR to waste time on the peninsula undermines the entire point of HSR, which voters have approved at the state level. It’s simply not within Palo Alto’s purview to override that.

    The no-project alternative has already been studied and rejected at the program EIR/EIS level – twice over, since the route out of the Bay Area was studied again after CHSRA received complaints. You may not agree with the outcome (I don’t) but at some point you’ve got to accept the process for what it is – especially after voters explicitly endorsed its results to date.

    The no-project alternative is not up for revision at this time, though non-preferred alternative routes already studied may be considered if the preferred alternative turns out to be infeasible.

    What’s left to decide is how HSR will be implemented, e.g. between SF and San Jose. The implementation option that CHSRA published – albeit in an appendix – in 2007 and used for cost estimation purposes calls for a tall retained embankment 75 feet wide.

    One alternative would be a nicely designed viaduct that provides space underneath the tracks that the city could use more or less as it sees fit.

    It would also be possible to put just the HSR tracks underground and leave the tracks for Caltrain locals and UPRR at grade with grade crossings. However, that would mean Palo Alto would have to pay for expensive grade separations at Palo Alto Ave, Churchill Ave, E Meadow and Charleston by itself once Caltrain traffic ramps up to a level that effectively closes these crossings during rush hour.

    Moreover, indiscriminate trenching to accommodate HSR would tear up existing road underpasses at University, Embarcadero and Oregon Expressway. It would also risk local flooding during or after winter storms and quite possibly, kill the the El Palo Alto tree as well. These impacts can be avoided with a judicious combination of at-grade and trench sections, as discussed here.

    Bored tunnels could not be restricted to Palo Alto, you’d pretty much have to include at least Menlo Park as well because of the overburden required at San Francisquito creek. Throw in Atherton and pretty quickly you’re looking at a project half as big as the $20 billion Channel Tunnel, with severe environmental disruption and potential subsidence risks during construction.

    Switching to Dumbarton is major change that CHSRA is right to resist at this point. A causeway between Dumbarton and Alviso is not possible because there is no available ROW down to SantaClara/SJC for HSR to use. Every other option would have a significant negative impact on the SF-LA line haul time, which AB3034 specifically limits to 2h42m, or else require abandoning plans to leverage Palmdale as a relief airport for LAX.

  6. Former PA resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:06
    #6

    There is a very simple explanation for why the Palo Alto council is acting like they are. They’re working in the interest of their own political self-preservation.

    A small group of Palo Alto residents cares very strongly about HSR, a much, much larger group of Palo Alto residents vaguely supports HSR.

    Pissing off the former group would immediately put the council member in cross-hairs of an active, visible, and politically mobilized group. This would cause the member plenty of political headaches and jeopardize any future political career they would have.

    This whole episode reminds me of the chapter in Mike Davis’ book ‘City of Quartz’ where the poor LA area council member got dragged into the asinine fight between petty-minded groups trying to change the name of their city.

    I really hope that a small group of antisocial malcontents with too much time on their hands aren’t allowed to hold-up the social and environmental benefits of HSR.

  7. Anonymous
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:06
    #7

    “If four tracks are required to meet the operational requirements of HSR and Caltrain, it has to be in the MOU.”

    If four tracks are required to meet operational requirements, it should have been in the previous EIR.

    The previous EIR used a 50 foot footprint to calculate impacts on the Peninsula, saying exact configuration would be determined during the project level EIR.

    If this is a non-negotiable operational requirement not requiring detailed analysis, then it should have been in the program level document.

    IF this is really true and is being driven by Caltrain, then it strengthens the legal case protesting the conclusions of the previous EIR.

  8. jim
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:10
    #8

    Where’s Palo Alto? Never heard of it.

  9. Morris Brown
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:17
    #9

    Also should be noted the PA council decided in closed session on a 5-3 vote to file an Amicus brief in support of the Lawsuit filed by Menlo Park, Atherton, PCL and others against the Certified EIR.

    Palo Alto has just awakened to the realities of what Prop 1A and this project, as presently designed will mean to their City. Menlo Park and Atherton were much earlier to realize the impacts.

    Robert is ready to dismiss the objections of a “small” city, population 80,000 (2007).

    Taking Diridon’s “recent” comments out of context is really dis-ingenious. This is the same man who when asked last year what would be the outcome if communities objected; his reply was “THEY WILL BE OVERRIDDEN”

    The MOU is an important document that would seem to point the way for the relationship between CalTrain and the Authority. The Palo Alto council did an excellent job of analyzing its possible impacts, and responded accordingly. Approval of this document is set for Thursday April 2, at the Board meeting in San Jose. From what I gather the Authority has already signed it.

    This will be the first public meeting on the document. The PCJPB (CalTrain) has the deed to the SJ to SFO corridor, which was paid for by the 3 counties. As as been pointed out in this blog, owning the corridor should convey special control for the owners. The PCJPB does not have eminent domain authority and must, and in general, has worked for the interests of the 3 counties in the past.

    There is a real question as to whether this MOU agreement with the Authority is in the best interests of the 3 counties. Furthermore, PCJPB only has certain rights on the corridor, even though they own it.

    The UPRR still has a vested forever right for freight and inter city passenger service (as distinguished from commuter service).

    The UPRR may well have veto power of any use of that corridor by HSR. They certainly have veto power of the corridor from San Jose south and have made quite clear they want nothing to do with HSR on that route.

    Lots of questions.

  10. mike
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:32
    #10

    The city in fact was pointing out that specificity in the MOU is inappropriate given that Diridon keeps insisting that no track design decision are made.

    There has never been a Caltrain alignment that involved less than 4 tracks. That’s simply a given. A 2 track Caltrain option is no more feasible than a Peninsula-only maglev option, a steam train option, or a wooden rails option. Let’s be serious here.

  11. Robert Cruickshank
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:38
    #11

    @Resident is proving my point. Palo Alto city council is deliberately confusing design with operations. They insist on control over both. But the notion of four tracks on the corridor is NOT a design choice, it is instead mandated by FRA rules and the realities of what it takes to maintain HSR express trains and Caltrain local service along the route.

    Palo Alto is whining because they think a four-track operational plan will make a tunnel less viable. Perhaps it will, but that would be a case of form following function.

    In any event the council is proving to me that the following things are true:

    1. They are dishonest

    2. They are moving, as I predicted, toward outright HSR denial

    3. They demand total control over the project, and if they do not get it they will spin it as CHSRA being dishonest (a classic case of projection) and try and poison the well in the process.

    It’s a shame, because there ARE many good and smart people in Palo Alto who want a fair and reasonable solution. I support that approach and always have. But the council doesn’t, and now they’re going to try and undermine HSR.

  12. Rob Dawg
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:41
    #12

    Robert,
    Ask yourself honestly. If the word “HSR” were replaced with “freeway” would the Council’s arguments sound so outrageous?

  13. Robert Cruickshank
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:45
    #13

    Well, Rob, that’s a completely inaccurate analogy, as I have reported before. The HSR project will fill existing ROW and only in a few places will takings be required, and it is not anticipated that very many homes at all will be taken.

    Contrast that with the community-destroying Century Freeway in South Central LA, where whole city blocks were razed for what became Interstate 105.

    As we have argued ad nauseam here, the rail corridor was there before Palo Alto was there. The city has grown around it and with it for over 100 years. The corridor already “divides” the city but smart solutions, like Rafael’s vitrine, can provide both the HSR functionality that’s required as well as improvements to the community.

    There are so many differences between a freeway and an upgrade of an existing rail corridor that you simply cannot reasonably compare the two. At all.

  14. Clem
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:49
    #14

    it point blank isn’t possible to run express trains at 125mph on the same tracks as locals averaging less than 50mph.

    @Rafael, to amplify your point: the fastest Caltrain Baby Bullet averages less than 50 mph. Locals average less than 30 mph.

    The PCJPB does not have eminent domain authority and must, and in general, has worked for the interests of the 3 counties in the past.

    @Morris, the PCJPB effectively has eminent domain authority through its member counties’ transportation agencies. SFCTA, Samtrans and VTA can and will do as the PCJPB directs. I think the distinction is meaningless, in practice.

  15. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:52
    #15

    DOT has asked for 3 tracks on a few locations on the Peninsula. Wouldn’t DOT be aware of these FRA regulations?

  16. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 10:55
    #16

    Clem,
    @Rafael, to amplify your point: the fastest Caltrain Baby Bullet averages less than 50 mph. Locals average less than 30 mph.

    CORRECT! And has been stated on this blog and elsewhere, REPEATEDLY for months. And yet the HSR trolls constantly remark that this isn’t true and that Caltrain runs at 79mph.

    This is why nobody pays any attention to the constant ram job that Caltrain is an EXISTING corridor and any impacts putting in 125mph trains every 10 minutes is low impact.

  17. Anonymous
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:17
    #17

    ” The HSR project will fill existing ROW and only in a few places will takings be required, and it is not anticipated that very many homes at all will be taken.”

    Famous last words. Willing to put money on that?

  18. Martin Engel
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:18
    #18

    @Rafael

    The Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto tunnel would be 7 miles long. The Chunnel is 30+. There’s not point in discussing this with people who have ideological and pre-determined fixations and will therefore dismiss anything, anything with which they don’t agree. “Don’t tell me anything I don’t want to hear!”

    So, let me present this to you as a problem to solve. There would be two tunnels each with two tracks. 7 miles in length. The biggest problem is not the construction itself, but the situation at each portal and how intrusive that will be. I assume greatly. There are lots of technical issues, including accommodation for freight, ground toxicity, aquifers, etc. In my mind, all soluble.

    The biggest obstacle is cost. When I tried to explain the offset and full-cost accounting, Clem was dismissive of my hypothetical numbers. Sorry I misled you Clem. My numbers were there to make a point about the deductibles, not the actual anticipated costs. When I hear billions for tunneling, I always assume that doesn’t take into account what would have to be spent on any other alternative, and that would include eminent domain takings, construction easements, shoofly track systems, and grade separations, to name a few. Furthermore, although Robert loves to nail us as rich, selfish bastards, we do live in houses, we work for a living and we live in towns along the tracks. We vote and we pay taxes. In my case, my enormous wealth comes from having been a civil servant in the US Department of Education. My wife still works for NASA. No wonder we’re so wealthy!

    An elevated alignment through our three towns will have major deleterious impact on our homes, communities and cities. I don’t want to hear from anyone who doesn’t live in exactly the same circumstances as we do, chastising me for anything. First wear my shoes before you criticize my walk. My point is that there will be enormous costs for all of us if they don’t build this tunnel. Since there will be no compensation, we endure losses not shared by our critics or anyone not living in our actual circumstances. All of which is to say that tunneling is not such a bad solution, or as Churchill famously said, Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest.

  19. Andrew Bogan
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:24
    #19

    @Robert

    “Palo Alto city council members who are whining about this are implying that the four-track arrangement in the MOU is the same as saying an above-grade structure will definitely be built. It’s a dishonest stance, as some people tried to explain last night:”

    I was at City Hall last night, it is not dishonest it is just ignorant. Several Council Members simply did not understand that 4 tracks grade separated did not mean they would have to be above ground. Nobody is really disputing the need for 4 tracks, Council Member Kishimoto explained it clearly.

    The problem is that communication between CHSRA and the Council has been poor (which is as much the Council’s fault as CHSRA). The NIMBYs got hold of the “4 track means no tunnels” nonsense with the help of Palo Alto Online (an incompetent media source). Council Members panicked in response to the uproar.

  20. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:28
    #20

    Martin under social justice rules, if Palo Alto/Menlo Park/Atherton gets a tunnel, San Jose will get a tunnel. It doesn’t even matter who pays for it. The parts of San Jose that this train is running through, on its way to Diridon and maybe afterward are designated as blighted, low income areas on citywide community action plans. That means CEQA environmental justice rules are practically tailor made for them. Plus, the residential San Jose areas in question here – if you exclude Edenvale which is more south – are less than 1.5 miles in length – total. You simply won’t get a tunnel on the peninsula without tunneling a large amount of the while route. Another option might be to move the route to Caltrans for the socially troublesome areas, at least for the central San Jose portion this looks possible given that there are freeways available.

    Let me repeat again- A tunnel in Palo Alto + Atherton means a tunnel everywhere.

  21. Bianca
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:35
    #21

    @Bay Area Resident: Caltrain’s current peak speed is 79mph. When you account for the time the train spends accelerating up to 79 and then decelerating to stop at a station, the average is obviously much lower. Average speed and top speed is not the same thing.

    If I were to try to argue my way out of a speeding ticket by arguing that my average speed was lower than what the radar gun clocked my speed as, I don’t think either the cop or the traffic court would be sympathetic to that argument.

  22. Andrew Bogan
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:42
    #22

    Filing the amicus brief, assuming Morris Brown is correct that they did decide to do so in closed session, is a major error. It will greatly reduce the likelihood of the tunnel that both Martin Engel and I would prefer ever being built. I fear the NIMBYs have taken the day and shot themselves in the foot in the process.

    Palo Alto will be viewed by CHSRA as obstructionist NIMBYs best overcome with state and federal authorities like eminent domain and only listened to in court. It is an utterly foolish move that will probably result in the cheapest possible above grade structure being built. Any NIMBY who thinks they can stop HSR entirely or even in San Jose needs to go speak with Presidnet Obama, VP Biden, or Secretary LaHood. The bipartisan support for intercity HSR is extraordinarily strong right now. Not a good time to be an obstructionist.

    While my City government tries to antagonize CHSRA, I will stick to talking with the Authority and trying to convince them of the merits of a tunnel, as I did again last night. My conversations so far have been surprisingly constructive and tunneling will definitely be in the EIR scope. Our Council should have tried talking to CHSRA, too, instead of panicking about 4 track grade separations in the Caltrain MOU and concluding there was some grand conspiracy against them which could only be challenged in court.

  23. BruceMcF
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:49
    #23

    @ BAR … what Bianca said. When you have to hinge an argument on a blatant and obvious deception … trying to confuse average and maximum speed … it normally suggests to readers that your argument has holes in it.

  24. K.T.
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:53
    #24

    3-track option?

    Will that be 2 tracks for HSR/Caltrain Local/Caltrain Baby Bullet, and remaining one line for UPRR?

    Also, when we discuss speed of the train, we have to be clear on “what” speed are we talking about.
    1) Design Standard of the Track
    2) Maximum Speed that Train can handle within that track
    3) Average Speed between two stations

    One example i can think of is Japan’s shinkansen, 500 series, with its Maximum Speed for Tokaido Line is 285km/hr and Sanyo Line is 300km/hr. However, avarage speed between Tokyo and Hakata is somewhere around 230 km/hr. And I also remember that Tokaido line was initially built with design speed of 240 km/hr.

  25. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:53
    #25

    Bianca and Bruce, what are you trying to say? My point has always been that Caltrain runs about 35mph through the neighborhoods I am familiar with. It is close to that in many neighborhoods. The fact that the *average* or whatever you are claiming is, is immaterial. If Caltrain goes 35mph through neighborhoods then that means claiming that Caltrain is an existing, long range transportation corridor and that putting HSR in there is low impact, is disingenuous, period. That is the issue, nothing you say refutes that, and I am not the one who constantly brings up 79mph. We are talking about towns, and the impact through towns, and currently Caltrain- while running through them- is going 35mph (with no horns). BIG BIG IMPACT here.

  26. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:54
    #26

    I don’t get the 3 track option or what it achieves, I was hoping somebody here would explain it to me. Spokker, Cruikshank, other train wonks?

  27. Anonymous
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 11:57
    #27

    Dear Palo Alto;

    “The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri river, and such principal stream of it as by its course and communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean whether the Columbia, Oregon, Colorado or any other river may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across this continent for the purposes of commerce.”

    Thomas Jefferson’s charter to Lewis and Clark Expedition.

  28. Robert Cruickshank
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:00
    #28

    Andrew, thanks for confirming my suspicions about Palo Alto Online. The original version of this post, written last night, contained a more direct criticism of Gennady Sheyner in particular, who persistently writes sensationalist articles that seem designed to heighten public anger and controversy.

  29. jim
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:16
    #29

    If I’m not mistaken concerning UP, UP is subordinate to the FRA and the FRA is subordinate to the Obama Administration. So if it is the Obama administrations wish that high speed rail succeed I have to imagine they have every power to make it happen.

  30. Andrew Bogan
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:18
    #30

    @Morris Brown

    “Robert is ready to dismiss the objections of a “small” city, population 80,000 (2007).”

    Palo Alto’s population was 61,200 in 2007 according to Wikipedia. Menlo Park was about half that (~30,000) and Atherton only ~7,000. Not to nitpick but your number was 30% too high.

    Robert is correct that these Peninsula cities all have small populations compared to San Jose with nearly 1 million residents. That does not make them irrelevant, since their combined tax base at the county, state, and federal levels is much larger than their populations would imply. Population is not the only relevant measure.

  31. jim
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:19
    #31

    and the rail corridor is already 4 tracks wide. always has been. just because there are only two tracks right now doesn’t mean that 4 tracks couldnt be revived at any time for any reason as the railroad was there first. UP could want four tracks for increased round the cock freight operations – then what would PA do?

  32. Andrew Bogan
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:26
    #32

    Jim is correct, it is a 4 track-width right of way all along the Peninsula, presumably going back over 100 years. The fact that most of the route currently has 2 tracks does not really impact the right of PCJBP to expand to 4, which they will likely do someday just for Caltrain, HSR notwithstanding.

  33. Clem
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:32
    #33

    CORRECT! And has been stated on this blog and elsewhere, REPEATEDLY for months. And yet the HSR trolls constantly remark that this isn’t true and that Caltrain runs at 79mph.

    @BAR, you’re both correct in that top speed and average speed are different things. There’s no basis to claim this as a “gotcha”.

    It is factually correct that Caltrain (even locals, yes!) operate at 79 mph through parts of Palo Alto.

    The average speed is far below the 79 mph top speed due to station dwell time.

    Caltrain locals and Baby Bullets run at the same top speed of 79 mph, and yet achieve widely differing average speeds of 29 mph and 49 mph respectively.

    HSR will average about 95 mph on the peninsula, assuming a 125 mph top speed.

    Apples to apples:
    Top speed – HSR 125; BB 79; local 79
    Average – HSR 95; BB 49; local 29

  34. Morris Brown
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:40
    #34

    @Andrew Bogan

    I apologize on the population of Palo Alto; you are correct. I got my info also from Wikipedia and miss-read the numbers.

    I don’t appreciate anyone posting invalid information and I certainly was guilty here.

    sorry

  35. jim
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:51
    #35

    i swear I saw a medfly in PA – I think we’d better spray them with malathion.

  36. Spokker
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 12:59
    #36

    “If Caltrain goes 35mph through neighborhoods”

    But does it? I have found nothing in my Internet searches that say that Caltrain has to run at 35-40 MPH in residential areas, simply because they are residential areas.

    Can anyone who is more familiar with Caltrain set the record straight?

  37. Jarrett Mullen
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:01
    #37

    @BAR

    Like others have said, Caltrain’s top speed is 79mph. While local trains may not reach 79 in the vicinity of Palo Alto, limited and express service blast through the city at 79mph.

  38. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:06
    #38

    San Jose has one million residents but is not universally for this train either. The Willow Glenn area is heavily impacted and then the economically disadvantaged areas near Diridon, then the southern part Edenvale where people are so upset. The only reason there isn’t the same level of angst coming out of San Jose is that the city council is not reflecting the views of the public because there are competing business interests there. Then there is a whole other group of people around Almaden who don’t really care.

  39. Bay Area Resident
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:09
    #39

    Jarrett, on this 79mph issue, I am not going to let this constant misinformation that comes out of this blog continue.
    The stretch in San Jose through the curvy areas of the tracks goes 35mph, in all cases, for every route, baby bullet or no baby bullet, period. At least some other cities are similar. That means, for all intents and purposes, that through that portion of town, Caltrain is a 35mph train. Thats all that matters to those people – not the fact that 79mph is possible through some sparsely populated area. I doubt very seriously Caltrain rolls through PA at 79mph baby bullet or not. But even in the unlikely event PA does allow high speed service through their town when it doesn’t stop- this is not universally true.

  40. Clem
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:11
    #40

    Can anyone who is more familiar with Caltrain set the record straight?

    It’s seventy-nine. Anyone who doubts this can show up at Churchill Ave at 4:40 PM on any weekday, and wait 10 minutes. If you’re still not convinced, bring a radar gun, and remember that large moving objects appear slower than they really are.

  41. Andrew Bogan
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:16
    #41

    Caltrain tops out at 79 mph between nearly all its stations, both for locals and baby bullets. And, yes, that is true in Palo Alto. So in fact Caltrain goes every speed from 0 to 79 in Palo Alto. The speed behind your home would depend on how close you are to the California Ave or University Ave stations.

    Using average speeds to describe the motion of a train that stops a lot is only instructive for line haul times. The peak noise, which is the relevant impact to be mitigating is a question of train speed at a given point on the track, weight, design, track quality, and propulsion system (diesel v. electric).

    We all need to wait for proper noise studies before we jump to conclusions, but a shinkansen moving at 125 mph (roughly half speed) is not unbearably loud in my opinion and the duration of the noise at any point along the track is very brief as compared to a slower train. The biggest noise issue with HSR trains is tunnel boom. With Caltrain it is diesel engine roar coming out of stations and deafening whistles at all the at-grade crossings. I can hear them from my bed at night and I live a few blocks away from the train with many large building in between.

    Clem was spot on:

    Apples to apples:
    Top speed – HSR 125; BB 79; local 79
    Average – HSR 95; BB 49; local 29

  42. mike
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:23
    #42

    B.A.R. – As others have pointed out, you are confusing maximums and averages. So much for the vaunted Palo Alto education system.

    Anyway, let’s settle this once and for all. I have a friend on PAPD. I can have him clock a bunch of Caltrains with a radar gun. If one or more of the Caltrains is running through Palo Alto at 70 mph or above, then you pay me $500. If none of them is running through Palo Alto at 70 mph or above, then I pay you $500. Easiest money you’ll ever make, if you actually believe the stuff you’re saying.

    So which is it? Do you actually believe your claims? Or are you intentionally being disingenuous?

  43. mike
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:29
    #43

    Anonymous @ 12:17 pm:

    That's a great idea. The entire Caltrain corridor from SJ to SF is roughly 700 acres. I will bet you $500 that, if CHSRA uses the Caltrain corridor from SJ to SF, total eminent domain takings of private property contiguous to the Caltrain corridor (from south of 7th & King to north of CEMOF) will not exceed, say, 30 acres. Do you want to put your money where your mouth is?

  44. Rob Dawg
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 13:31
    #44

    sCaltrain averages 30.104846248066 miles per hour.

    Go ahead and call Caltrain a liar by objecting to their NTD submission.

  45. Anonymous
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 14:02
    #45

    If we’re doing this HSR to go green, let’s also build a nuclear power plant to power this sucker. And I say let’s put it in Monterey, right next door to Robert. Or maybe eminent domain his house.

  46. K.T.
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 14:12
    #46

    Sorry if this comment gets off topic…

    I guess average speed/maximum speed discussion may not be a concern to the people who are currently living next to the track. I’m thinking that their main concerns would be speed of Caltrain/Baby Bullets (CT/BB) when it passes at their backyard, and whether it blows horn or not. And as for High Speed Rail, whether it will make noise situation better or worse.

    Where CT/BB are on high speed and blows horn at grade crossing (is there location like this btw?), then it would not be too difficult for High Speed Rail to claim that they are improving existing condition. It would be a bit questionable or challenging at a location where CT/BB are slowing down for a stop, but High Speed Rail does not.

    BTW, does anyone have a good knowledge on soundwalls and its ability to cancel the noise?

  47. Spokker
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 14:19
    #47

    “let’s also build a nuclear power plant to power this sucker. And I say let’s put it in Monterey, right next door to Robert. Or maybe eminent domain his house.”

    If some element conducive to building a nuclear power plant existed next to his house, I’d be all for it.

  48. Rafael
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 14:52
    #48

    @ Morris Brown -

    a) according to CHSRA documents, any tunnel system longer than 6 miles must have an escape tube or location. That would be the case if CHSRA decided to site the mid-peninsula station in Palo Alto, but it would be deep underground and therefore hard for pedestrians to access. Ambient temperature at the stations might be a problem. If the station ends up in Redwood City, you might need a third bore.

    b) all other things being equal, the cost of boring a tunnel is very roughly proportional to the volume of rock that must be removed. Dual track tunnels have almost twice the cross-section of single-track versions, so the savings from 2×2 vs. 4×1 tunnels won’t be as great as you may think. Another factor is the distance between the surface and the drillhead, which is why I suggested the cost per track-mile would be lower than in the Channel Tunnel project.

    If you have HNTB price it out, perhaps you’ll end up at 30% of $20 billion instead of 50%. A big difference, but does that really matter? The sums are astronomical either way.

    c) unless someone tells the mighty Port of SF to take a hike, any tunnel for Caltrain/UPRR would need to accommodate extra-tall AAR plate H cars.

    d) running diesel locomotives through a 7-mile tunnel is most definitely not recommended, for both air quality and fire safety. It can be done, but electric locomotives are preferred. Better yet: fix the old Dumbarton bridge already and persuade UPRR to use that instead of the Caltrain ROW between RC and Sunnyvale.

  49. Brandon in San Diego
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 18:27
    #49

    I think this forum is fantastic. If it does nothing else… it diverts the attention of NIMBY’s away from peopel actually doing the heavy lifting.

    Aside from that… the MOU citing 4-tracks does not subvert environmetal review, nor translate as a lie made by CHSRA staff saying all options will be considered.

    Bascially, the level of service for CHSRA and Caltrain + frieght capability has already been cited in previous publicly documented planning efforts. Those services CANNOT oeprationally work at teh levels of service being planned for with a 2 or 3 track system.

    I shouldn’t speak for other bloggers here… but everyone here understands that like they need food for energy or tires on their car to move. If the city council, or naysayers and nimby’s here need convincing… they should attend the scoping sessions and educate themselves versus publicly whine at council meetings or on blog pages… and show their ignorance at the same time.

  50. jim
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 22:46
    #50

    I’d like a nuclear power plant here in sf so we could sell the extra electricity at a profit. I have no problem living next to one. If nuclear power and HSR work for france they work for me. Of course unlike americans, the french are reasonalbe people who believe in science and the good of the whole.

  51. Alon Levy
    Mar 31st, 2009 at 23:41
    #51

    Jim: no, the French have a very powerful central government that can overrule local communities. It has its own benefits, like clean nuclear power, and problems, like a political elite that doesn’t notice racial problems even when there are riots.

  52. TomW
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 06:04
    #52

    Bay Area Resident said These towns will fight for their lives.
    I am puzzled by this. These towns already have the rail running through them, and they seem very much alive to me. Given all road/rail interscetions will have to be grade seperated, HSR could actually result in these towns being MORE connected, not less.

  53. Bay Area Resident
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 13:08
    #53

    You’re going to run into the Freemont Field Mouse out there around Alviso, an endangered species. I’d avoid that area and work it out with Palo Alto which will be easier believe me.

    Never, never get involved with environmentalists and endangered species.

  54. Bay Area Resident
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 13:16
    #54

    TomW, I have discussed the current situation with rail here AD NAUSEUM. The trains don’t run hardly at all on the weekends, and there is a church in San Jose 5 inches away from the actual tracks to prove it- see slide #14.
    http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20090327162305_ScopingMtgBoards-FINALrev2.pdf

    See the quaint feel of that image where that little church is right up against the tracks? Well thats how it is for much of the route. It looks like a historic grade separation there also. Claims that the ROW is some loud industrial zone already- which is what HSR supports are trying to claim, are falling on deaf ears.

  55. Alon Levy
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 13:40
    #55

    BAR, if New York could build its East Side Access with vents facing the cathedral over the local archbishop’s objections, I think California will be able to run trains next to a church.

  56. Spokker
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 17:59
    #56

    Fighting Palo Alto is one thing, but we can’t take on God!

  57. jim
    Apr 1st, 2009 at 22:59
    #57

    Jim: no, the French have a very powerful central government that can overrule local communities. It has its own benefits, like clean nuclear power, and problems, like a political elite that doesn’t notice racial problems even when there are riots.” Whereas the US has been very effective in dealing with racial problems.

  58. Alon Levy
    Apr 2nd, 2009 at 17:32
    #58

    The US is a heaven of equality compared to France. American authorities at least acknowledge that there’s a problem and try to fix it. In France it’s illegal for the government to collect any sort of racial statistics on the grounds that “everyone is equally French” (indeed, everyone studies from textbooks that begin with, “Our ancestors, the Gauls…”).

  59. jim
    Apr 3rd, 2009 at 10:33
    #59

    @alon – well the french have the best high speed rail system in the world and the US has a crumbling 19th and 20 century infrastructure. The french know how to cook and the US is knows how to drive through. The french appreciate art and the US despises art. And at least the french know their history and ancestors, unlike americans who can’t find their own town on a map. I could ask 100 people today, to point to which way north is and 100 of them won’t know and that’s not an exaggeration. The Us might be well served but shutting up with the know it all attitude and try listening to the rest of the world once in a while.

  60. jim
    Apr 3rd, 2009 at 10:35
    #60

    and if the french don’t like being overrun by foreigners who want to ruin their culture then good for them.

  61. Joseph N. Hall
    May 19th, 2009 at 11:22
    #61

    Let’s look at a few facts.

    A four-track tunnel would cost, at a guess, $300M per mile, not considering the cost of several more years of construction delays? Consider the difficulties:

    * It will be below sea level (Caltrain’s tracks are at 10-20 feet ASL).

    * It will cross under at least one significant waterway, the San Francisquito river (which flooded large portions of Menlo Park and Palo Alto when it overflowed its banks during the last severe El Nino).

    * Increased construction cost due to seismic activity. Can a shallow tunnel even be built? I doubt it.

    The dream of replacing the Caltrain ROW with a greenway is just that – a dream. Union Pacific and the Port of San Francisco would have something to say about that. Could freight run in the passenger tunnel? Unlikely. Currently UP has a 23 foot height requirement. (Ever wonder why the upper platform at Millbrae station is so high?) Additionally UP owns and controls outright some of the ROW that HSR would use, and has made not-so-veiled threats to use that as leverage to ensure that their freight service is not disrupted.

    Of course there would have to be an entire new EIR.

    You know what I think? Buy the houses in the way and raze them. Compensate owners who think the train will be too noisy. There are plenty of other folks who will be more than happy to move into the “shadow” of the rail and install a little extra soundproofing.

    The selfishness and conceit of well-heeled Peninsulans never ceases to amaze and disgust me.

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