In a meeting Monday night about the consequences of high speed rail in Mountain View, local residents found themselves mulling the sort of questions usually left to those with degrees in transportation design.
"Can you Photo Shop some pictures for us?" said one attendee as many tried to visualize the various alternatives for the grade separated train crossings required in Mountain View at Castro Street and Rengstorff Avenue.
The city-organized meeting was intended to educate the public and California High Speed Rail Authority officials spoke in the crowded Senior Center ballroom about the various challenges, options and likely scenarios that could play out in Mountain View. In the effort to build the high-speed train line from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a major rail station is being considered for downtown and two additional train tracks could turn the Caltrain corridor into an aerial platform, a shallow tunnel or trench or remain at grade level.
In small groups, residents made their preferences known about those options, though little was said about the possible train station.
"People don't want the aerial or at-grade options," for running the tracks, concluded one group at the end of the meeting. "We want the whole thing to be invisible, really." Most attendees cheered and applauded the remark.
But the solution, as some found, isn't that simple. Stevens Creek and Permanente Creek are major obstacles for the trench or shallow tunnel options, which may also be prohibitively expensive. Rail Authority officials said a deep tunnel that could go underneath the creeks is not being studied for Mountain View. And while the aerial platform option has the advantage of making the land along the corridor useable and pedestrian friendly, it would require that Shoreline Boulevard and San Antonio Road overpasses be "leveled" as one participant put it.
Safety concerns about the aerial platform option were also raised.
A train going 100 miles per hour could "have the possibility of flying off the tracks and into houses," concluded one group.
But others disagreed, saying that high speed rail had a near perfect safety record in other countries, and that the real problem of debris falling onto the tracks and derailing a train was less likely on a platform than an open trench.
Rail Authority officials presented a picture of an aerial train viaduct in Paris with retail shops inside the arches. Some liked the idea, but others did not.
"Well that might work in Paris but this is Mountain View," said one participant. The remark got laughs when repeated to the entire crowd in the group's report.
Rail Authority officials said they were taking seriously the city's concerns about not running the 125 mile per hour train at grade across Castro Street, which would require the major traffic artery to be closed off.
"At this point, we need to keep Castro Street open," said Dominic Spaethling regional manager for the High Speed Rail, to the crowd.
Some attendees thought the exercise was a waste of time.
"This is like re-arranging the deck chairs on the titanic," said Sylvan Park resident Kathy Hall. She and resident Leslie Murdoch pointed to the recent state audit of the California High Speed Rail Authority which they said raises serious questions about the financial management the $43 billion project.