Mountain View Voice

News - January 30, 2009

High-speed rail worries Peninsula residents

State begins hearings on $45 billion project's potential impacts

by Palo Alto Weekly

The state agency charged with building a high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles has yet to convince all Peninsula residents about the merits of having electric trains zip through their communities at 125 mph.

But last Thursday, officials from the California High-Speed Rail Authority took a step toward quelling fears with the first of three "scoping sessions" this month on what should be included in an environmental impact study on the 800-mile project. The other two meetings were Tuesday and Thursday of this week, in San Francisco and Santa Clara, respectively. All three addressed only the stretch between San Francisco and San Jose.

The first meeting, held at the SamTrans headquarters in San Carlos, attracted nearly 150 residents, some whom raised concerns about the cost, noise and traffic impacts of the project, which was approved by voters as Proposition 1A last Nov. 4.

Dominic Spaethling, regional manager for the project, said the new rail system would ultimately be quieter and safer than any system in place today. The trains would run on a four-track system, with two tracks being used by Caltrain and freight trains.

"We're talking about upgrading this to a point where the vibration is reduced, the noise is reduced and it's a safer and better operated railroad than we have today," Spaethling said.

Mountain View is in the very early stages of figuring out how to accommodate additional tracks for the trains along the Caltrain corridor downtown. There is currently no room for the two additional tracks that would have to be built alongside the Caltrain line, as the light rail stop takes up space there. And unless Castro Street is closed off at that end, a grade-separated crossing of some sort will have to be built so that the trains can rush through downtown without posing a danger to cars and people.

The authority is in the "amoeba phase" of putting together its environmental impact report for the project. Thursday's scoping session was one of the early steps in the process of putting the report together. The authority expects to work on the analysis and engineering for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment until 2011.

Mountain View officials attended the scoping session in Santa Clara on Thursday and will be providing written comments to the authority by March 6.

Timothy Cobb, project engineer for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the high-speed rail, said engineering for the project will begin in February. It would likely take about six months to put together possible scenarios that could be presented to local city officials for consideration, he said.

"Before we do the engineering, we really won't know what is feasible," Cobb said.

Cobb described the proposed system as "state of the art" and as a much-needed tool for bringing the United States in line with Europe, where such systems have been in place for more than 25 years. The trains would travel at speeds of up to 220 miles per hour, delivering passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 38 minutes. Speeds on the Peninsula would be around 125 miles per hour, Cobb said.

But even though California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond for the system in November, it's not yet entirely clear where the rest of the funds for the $45 billion project will come from. The federal government is expected to provide another $10 billion to $12 billion, and local and regional agencies are expected to contribute up to $3 billion. The rest would have to come from private sources.

Quentin L. Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said 28 private companies, including Goldman Sachs, had previously expressed interest in investing in the project. But he said it's not clear what effect the worsening economy would have on private contributions.


Residents also have until March 6 to submit written comments on the scope of the environmental review for the Peninsula segment of the project. Comments should be sent to Dan Leavitt, deputy director, attention San Francisco to San Jose, California High-Speed Rail Authority, 925 L St., Suite 1425, Sacramento, CA 95814; or e-mailed to with the subject line "San Francisco to San Jose HST."

Staff writer Daniel DeBolt contributed to this report.


Posted by Martin Engel, a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Mountain View, you have a wonderful opportunity to take a stand against the deleterious imposition of the rail authority's indifference to the needs and wishes of each of our cities on the Caltrain corridor.

Join with Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto so that we can all speak with one voice to say truth to power. Consider creating a multi-town
taskforce that negotiates its agenda and produces unified Resolutions addressing all our anticipated problems with the coming of the high-speed train.

Some day, in the future, the Peninsula will become one continuous dense city. The doubling of the population of California will guarantee this.

Is it not appropriate to put both Caltrain and the high-speed train underground, in a tunnel? Most other major cities have their major rail systems underground. Why not do it now? Would that not solve all our problems as well as those of Caltrain, which can continue to operate at ground level until construction is complete? There would not need to be eminent domain adverse takings, no traffic issues, no temporary Caltrain tracks, no ugly and intrusive retaining walls 15 ft. high and 100 ft. wide.

Caltrain wants to switch to electrified EMUs (electric motorized units), which would make it more like a subway system on the ground. Why not put Caltrain underground?

Tunneling is already planned for the section of rail corridor from S.Tomas Expressway to Diridon Station. Also there will be tunneling beneath San Francisco entering the Transbay Terminal. So the idea of tunneling is not out of the ordinary.

All our cities, including Mt. View, should join to speak with one voice to the rail authorities in order that we will be listened to.

Posted by Matt Raschke, a resident of The Crossings
on Jan 31, 2009 at 7:41 am

Trains underground make a lot more sense than cars underground (see Big Dig in Boston Web Link) ). High Speed Rail is a worthy project, but the impacts to the Peninsula warrant a tremendous mitigation. Putting the system underground along with Caltrain is a great solution. It will be expensive, but now is the time for Federal stimulus to fund a worthy project such as this.

Imagine the awesome linear park that could be created above the tunnel right-of-way. Biking between cities up and down the Peninsula without cars zooming past.

I'm with you Martin!

Posted by Lynne, a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 2, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Agreed. It has to be underground. Our "death by train" rates alone justify this.

Posted by Dave, a resident of North Whisman
on Feb 3, 2009 at 9:56 am

Building a tunnel is hard, and expensive. If you don't do it right, it's easy to undermine surface structures, for example.

Also, keep in mind the water table. If you want to build a tunnel, there needs to be enough space below underground pipes and above the water table for it to fit. If there isn't, you'll constantly be at risk of flooding.

And quite frankly, if you want to convince me that an infrastructure project will be easy, don't use the Big Dig as an example. And don't talk about how Menlo Park is opposed. Menlo Park always says "no" to anything transportation-related.

The HSR will be grade-separated at all auto and pedestrian crossings, and the project will lead to Caltrain being grade-separated as well. That means that the HSR/Caltrain combination will be safer than Caltrain is now. I'm eagerly awaiting HSR.

Posted by trains, yes; hsr, no, a resident of Rex Manor
on Feb 3, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Everything is expensive, but people build subways all over the world and somehow manage despite geological challenges far greater than those we face. Besides, undergrounding the train would free up acres and acres of land that we could use for parks or other projects that would benefit the public.

Personally, I don't think that running HSR along the peninsula makes any sense, and it's pretty clear that it's only being done to further the careers of a small number of politicians, not for any public interest. But if it's going to happen, it should be done right, and that means undergrounding.

Residents of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton are already starting to figure it out. I agree with Martin: Mountain View needs to hop on board this train before it's too late!

Posted by John, a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 12, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Hmmm, a tunnel that runs parallel to one or more earthquake faults - sounds good to me...and goodness knows our state has plenty of money to add to this cost.

I was recently in Switzerland, they have high, medium, low speed trains everywhere - cities, countryside up and down the mtns. I must confess I do not know the death rate from train accidents there, but most everyone, including myself REALLY enjoys having them. Seems that everyone traveling to Europe remarks on the great high speed train service but once again when it involves our backyard we seem to have a different view.

Yes, stand together and oppose trains. We can continue to rely on our global-warming, pollution generating cars - after all they don't lead to any kind of death or injury.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Castro City
on Feb 20, 2009 at 7:10 am

A tunnel is the way to go! This is our chance to get a greenbelt with parks, bike and walking paths down the center of our city. Won't more of us want to bike to town if we had a beautiful scenic bike path that we could ride there? Let the Peninsula cities that want the tunnel, get the tunnel. This is the only opportunity to get rid of the tracks and make our city more bikeable, walkable, and beautiful! I do NOT want a 'Berlin Wall' splitting our city into East and West!! Underground is the only way to go!

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