Tunnels still possible in Palo Alto, officials say

New 'alternatives analysis' will evaluate underground, elevated options for high speed rail

Underground tunnels, elevated tracks and even "stacked trains" running through Palo Alto are all options still on the table for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building a $42.6 billion high speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The agency also plans to consider a "hybrid" option that would end the high-speed train line in San Jose and allow passengers to switch to Caltrain for trips further north, rail officials said Tuesday.

Rail Authority officials summarized their progress on the design of the controversial system at a hearing in Palo Alto on Tuesday afternoon. More than 150 people turned out for the meeting, many of them concerned and skeptical about the proposed line.

The meeting was scheduled to give the community a sneak peek at an "alternatives analysis" for the Bay Area segment of the 800-mile line. A document listing details about various design options for high speed rail on the Peninsula is currently scheduled for release March 4.

On Tuesday, Dominic Spaethling, a regional manager for the Rail Authority, said the agency's analysis is considering below-grade, at-grade and above-grade options for the system in the Palo Alto area. These include the popular but costly tunneling option and the locally reviled elevated-tracks option, which could involve a wall built along the Caltrain corridor.

Spaethling, who is in charge of the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment, said the width of the Caltrain right-of-way changes at different locations throughout Palo Alto. The agency's analysis is considering a range of design options to accommodate these widths, he said.

"There are spots in Palo Alto where the (right of way) is 100 feet and there are spots where it's 60 feet," Spaethling said. "We're looking at a variety of solutions that can accommodate these widths."

Tim Cobb, whose firm HNTB is performing engineering work for the Peninsula segment, said the alternatives analysis is also considering stacking train tracks in sets of two. This could entail keeping the two existing Caltrain tracks in their current alignment and building two new high speed rail tracks either above or below them. This appears to be a particularly viable option at areas where the right-of-ways are narrow, such as Churchill Avenue, rail officials said.

The design of the line became a hot topic in Palo Alto last year when residents learned that the system might entail a wall along the Caltrain tracks with trains running along its top. Rail officials didn't say Tuesday which of the alternatives is currently the most viable, but emphasized that all remain possible.

Spaethling said the agency will also consider investigating what he called a "hybrid" model. This could entail having passengers switch from a high speed train to Caltrain, or having the high speed trains proceed on existing Caltrain tracks at lower speeds.

These options will not be included in the new alternatives analysis, but would be considered in a later document, he said.

The Rail Authority is also planning to release a revised environmental review for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment in March or April, Spaethling said. The agency completed the report in 2008 but had to de-certify it after a Sacramento Superior Court judge ordered revisions.

Palo Alto resident Nadia Naik, co-founder of the group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, encouraged attendees to review carefully both the alternatives analysis and the revised environmental report and to send comments to the Rail Authority.

She also suggested that the alternatives analysis may be premature, given that the environmental impacts document supporting the analysis hasn't been officially approved.

"We're picking out curtains before the bank has approved the mortgage on our property," Naik said.

Spaethling and Cobb are scheduled to present the alternatives analysis for the Bay Area segment of the line at the March 4 meeting of the agency's Board of Directors. Rail officials are also planning to hold public meetings on the new analysis in late March and early April.


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Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2010 at 8:40 am

The MV CIty Council is getting walked all over! We'll end up with the most obtrusive part of the package-- the terminus of the Palo ALto boondoggle tunnel-- running through half of town. The entrance to downtown Mtn View will be a big concrete wall.

Man up, council,and pay attention! Anyone talking about how much of a financial contribution is expected from local cities? If this happens, MV will have no choice but to sell development rights that will turn the area in and around downtown into another Sunnyvale.

Like this comment
Posted by Sonny Vail
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 11, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Oh god, not another Sunnyvale!

Like this comment
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Feb 13, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I saw an interesting idea on a Google personal map. It involved running the Light Rail single track down the center of Central and letting the light rail right-of-way go to HSR. Now maybe think of a HSR terminus at Mountain view downtown - but with the whole top of the Central- Whisman, Light Rail, Caltrain (HSR) covered by a multi-acre multi-transit facility. Central, Caltrain, HSR all slide beneath, Light Rail ends like it does now - but on story #2. Think NYC Grand Central Station but on a smaller scale.

Of course, this only saves the $2,000,000,000 to underground through our neighbors to the north, and not the + $2,000,000,000 to underground through the I280 complex in downtown SJ.

One set of switches to track the HSR to an electrified Caltrain, several dozen overpasses and 100 miles of prefab sound barriers would make a much cheaper (and not much slower) system,

PS - Alma expressway and the current rails effectively cut PA in two anyway! What is that fuss?

Like this comment
Posted by james
a resident of another community
on Feb 15, 2010 at 1:52 pm

this is f'ing ridiculous! you penninsula nimby's ruined a chance for bart to extend down the penninsula back in the 70's when you voted down a 1/2 cent sales tax!

game over!

you get no more say in mass transit. you are all too stupid and selfish!

sorry. truth hurts, actions speak even louder.

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