Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 13, 2010

How far to go for high-speed rail?

If Mountain View wants a high-speed rail terminal here there is a major catch: the city would have to provide 3,000 parking spaces, including 1,000 adjacent to the station, as well as make room for a 65,000-square-foot terminal building, Mayor Ronit Bryant said last week.

When they considered adding high-speed rail to its transit center, which already accommodates Caltrain, Light Rail, and county buses, city officials had no idea what the commitment entailed. But after Mayor Bryant disclosed what the city would have to do to be in the running to host the terminal, the council may have second thoughts.

At this point, it is not clear that the city could even find a location for 1,000 spaces adjacent to the station and another 2,000 no more than three miles away from the transit center. For comparison, the city's new garage at California and Bryant streets has 405 spaces, which is less than half the requirement for hosting a terminal. And if Mountain View is the chosen stop, the rail authority "is planning to build just the basic stuff. They are budgeting for basic infrastructure. Cities would pay for enhancements," Mayor Bryant said.

In another high-speed rail development, at a San Francisco board meeting last week the authority announced that deep tunnels and covered trenches have been ruled out as options on most of the Peninsula rail corridor, leaving either open trenches or at-grade installation the only options for Mountain View.

At this point, it is not clear how Peninsula cities will cope without the heavily favored deep tunneling option, which is viewed by the rail authority as too costly. The remaining below-grade option, open trenches, will now be the preferred design, as other Peninsula cities are almost unanimously against elevating trains 45 feet off the ground on a berm or viaduct, which they feel would erect a huge barrier between neighborhoods on either side of the tracks.

With its decision last week, the rail authority made no friends among Peninsula cities, which had been promised that designs and presentations would be posted online at least five days ahead of board meetings. But on this occasion, city representatives did not learn about the decision until just minutes before the meeting. Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline, who chairs a consortium of cities with concerns about high-speed rail, said the authority was not "playing by the rules."

At this stage, the City Council will need to take a hard look at whether it is worth going forward with the idea of hosting a high- speed rail terminal in Mountain View. Besides providing a large "intermediate" terminal of 65,000 square feet, the platform would have to be extended to accommodate the longer high-speed trains of up to 1,300 feet, a quarter of a mile. It is not clear how such a long platform would fit if trains were running in an open trench, with passengers embarking below grade and accessing the terminal via escalators or stairs.

The council is not yet solidly behind becoming an intermediate stop between San Francisco and San Jose, but members did vote in 2009 to have the rail authority study a potential stop, which put the city in competition with Palo Alto and Redwood City. So far, the authority has not said whether a study is underway.

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