News

Residents share high speed rail ideas

Officials, residents talk rail at Palo Alto 'teach-in'

High speed rail officials vowed Saturday to collaborate with Peninsula residents on the design of the controversial rail line, which has galvanized pockets of opposition in Palo Alto and surrounding communities.

Officials from the California High Speed Rail Authority shared information and solicited input from elected officials and concerned residents at an all-day "teach-in" in Palo Alto, organized by the Peninsula Cities Consortium.

More than 250 people showed up at the Cubberley Community Center for an event that was part information session, part pep rally and part group therapy. The 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. schedule stretched to 4:30 p.m.

The consortium consists of elected officials from Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame. Members have long complained that state official have been too hasty in their decision-making process and too dismissive of local concerns about 125-miles-per-hour trains zipping through their communities in addition to existing Catrain commuter and Union Pacific freight traffic. Some estimates show one train or another passing through just minutes apart.

The Saturday event took place just days after the rail authority pledged to apply the "context sensitive solutions" (CSS) method to the high-speed rail segment between San Francisco and San Jose. The method, which the state already uses for major highway projects, includes an aggressive outreach process and consultation with stakeholders along the corridor.

Many residents and elected officials interpreted the rail authority's commitment to CSS, as well as its participation in Saturday's event, as hopeful signs that the Peninsula's sometimes strident call for more collaboration is finally getting through.

Robert Doty, director of the Peninsula Rail Program, a partnership between Caltrain and the rail authority, encouraged the public to remain involved in the project but cautioned the audience not to have unrealistic expectations. He warned that a project such as high-speed rail could easily die of lack of funding if people demand more than can be realistically achieved.

"Let's dream, but let's be realistic about the dream," Doty said.

Dominic Spaethling, the rail authority's regional manager in charge of the Peninsula segment, said the agency has yet to determine how to bring the CSS process to each of the cities along the Peninsula.

"One size does not fit all," Spaethling said. "We'll have to sit down and discuss what the high-speed-rail authority's needs are and what the community's needs are."

Like other rail-centered meetings, Saturday's teach-in featured many more questions than answers. Rail-authority officials said they had not yet determined whether the trains would run on elevated tracks, through a deep underground tunnel or through a different alignment altogether. Residents worried about having their properties seized through eminent domain also came away with little new information about the right-of-way requirements of the proposed line.

Spaethling said the rail authority has scheduled a series of workshops focused on the alignment of the Peninsula segment. The first workshop is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. on Sept. 30, in the Caltrain headquarters in San Carlos.

Several panelists Saturday said they were skeptical about the proposed line and criticized the way the rail authority has been handling the $40 billion-plus project thus far.

Gary Patton, special counsel for the Planning and Conservation League, said government projects only work when the public gets involved.

Richard Tolmach, president of the California Rail Foundation, warned that the high-speed rail project could end up being a "scam," that the rail authority's business plan is inadequate and that the project's costs could easily spiral out of control.

The project's primary initial source of funding is the $9.95 billion bond California voters approved in November.

"I encourage everyone to keep an eye on the project costs, to rein in the politicians and to make them redefine the project as something that can fit within the available budget," Tolmach said.

The event concluded with an exercise in which residents wrote their main concerns about the high speed rail line on colored cards, which were then taped to the walls. Participants with shared concerns congregated in clusters around the cards and discussed possible solutions, which were written down.

After mingling for about an hour, the group sat in a circle and used words such as "hopeful," "encouraged" and "gratified" to describe the exercise.

Palo Alto Council member Yoriko Kishimoto, who chairs the consortium, said participants' ideas will be posted on the consortium's Web site, www.peninsularail.com. She thanked rail authority officials for committing to a more collaborative design process and asked the participants to continue to give their input.

"We need to take advantage of the CSS process and to make sure that we do this important work upfront to define our vision for the Peninsula," Kishimoto said.

Comments

Posted by Gabriele, a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2009 at 3:19 pm

I think the rail should be built where it is necessary - between the Bay area and LA. If it ends in San Jose, that's good enough - people can take the commuter train. It's like flying you don't get to your doorstep.
In the long run, of course the last leg from SJ to SF should be added but that is costly, prone to litigation and short. Let's focus on the biggest benefit first.


Posted by C, a resident of Jackson Park
on Sep 14, 2009 at 4:15 pm

Gabrielle,
AGREED!! SJ-LA first...


Posted by Andrew, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 14, 2009 at 6:20 pm

It needs to go the distance. LA to SF.


Posted by dfb, a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 14, 2009 at 8:54 pm

Perhaps it should be sent up the middle of the 101. That route is already graded, would not impact the cities all that much, and allow quick deployment of the high speed rail. Of course, that would mean we take some lanes from the freeway but it could be sent back to the caltrain route around Hillsdale to finish the route.


Posted by Bikes2work, a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 14, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Gabriele and C,

The biggest benefit for us residents of the Peninsula will be the elimination of all Caltrain grade crossings. All the rhetoric about HSR "dividing communities" is total chicken little hogwash. HSR will reunite our communities. All along it we will be able to create connections for cars bikes and pedestrians wherever we want.

The small but very vocal groups of protesters that have the most to lose have homes and backyards right up against the existing tracks. Too bad. They knew this day was coming because the tracks were there long before their homes. They are demonizing this project to the detriment of us all. Eliminate the grade crossings and we will have a better community all along the corridor.


Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 14, 2009 at 10:15 pm

This is ridiculous. The State of California is paying its bills with IOUs, and we're all still pretending like this high-speed rail project, which has no chance of staying within projected budgets or having the levels of ridership predicted, is actually going to be completed in our lifetimes.

We have conventional trains that go between L.A. and the Bay Area. It would be so much more sensible, doable, and affordable to make the experience of riding them pleasant and reliable. And we have airplanes for people that are in a hurry. Do we really want to create state-subsidized competition for airlines, and all the local people they employ?


Posted by stephen c, a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 15, 2009 at 3:41 pm

are you people nuts????? the state is 40 billion in debt and you clowns want to put in place a rail system that will be needing subsidies forever...there is no fast transit system that pays for itself....


Posted by bikes2work, a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 15, 2009 at 7:25 pm

stephen c,

Would you prefer that California sit on our hands while Obama gives money for HSR to some other state? This is the ultimate Public Works project to stimulate our own stagnant state.


Posted by Rodger, a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 15, 2009 at 10:41 pm

This pie in the sky project will cost the state forever, it will cost to pay off the bonds (probably way more than $100 billion) and then to operate because the tickets will not even pay operating costs let along repairs and upgrades and paying off the bonds. Let's kill the project now. We have a much faster way to get LA which is mostly run by private firms, it's called flying and takes only 1 hour with a noise and blight impact only around the airports and we do not have pay if we don't want to go to LA.

We need a state proposition to kill this mistake


Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 15, 2009 at 10:46 pm

re: "Would you prefer that California sit on our hands while Obama gives money for HSR to some other state?"

Yes, yes, yes, please, let's pass on taking the stimulus money. Let some other poor state get sucked into a massive high-speed rail boondoggle.


Posted by bikes2work, a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 15, 2009 at 11:40 pm

It's not a boondoggle. Airlines move you from point A to point B and fly over everything else. HSR will have stops throughout California. All of a sudden there will be an easy way for the workers in Fresno to get to their jobs in Silicon Valley without driving. And yes, there are workers around here that live in Fresno. Think what this will do for the whole state. When it is done, places like Fresno and every other town with a new station will come alive.

Every day I see van pools that started in Manteca where I work nearby. Stop bashing HSR and start looking at the big picture. This project isn't about the Peninsula. Put away your NIMBY fears and open your eyes. It is about revitalizing a large portion of this sick state we're in.


Posted by eric, a resident of another community
on Sep 16, 2009 at 12:08 am

workers in Fresno are going to pay $125+ a shot?


Posted by bikes2work, a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 16, 2009 at 9:33 am

No eric, workers in Fresno will probably be able to buy a more affordable annual pass.


Posted by Mike Laursen, a resident of Monta Loma
on Sep 16, 2009 at 12:40 pm

When adults make decisions they look at the potential benefits and costs. They don't just think about how cool something would be and not ask about whether it is worth the price. We're becoming a nation of childish thinkers.

The costs of this project will be enormous -- the benefits would have to be on the same order of magnitude. That would have to be a whole lot more than a handful of people from a few rail stops being able to lighten their work commute to the Bay Area.

If the money is not spent on high-speed rail, it can go to more useful purposes. Can high-speed rail boosters not think of more useful things to spend money on? I can help you out with a list.


Posted by Bruno, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 16, 2009 at 2:55 pm

That list probably reads the same today as it did 5 or 10 years ago. The financial priorities of our state politicians are questionable at the least. It's the people of California voted for this HSR. Take it up with all 2.5 million+ of them.


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