News

Caltrain wants high-speed rail to start locally

Agency asks High-Speed Rail Authority to refocus its environmental review on a Peninsula 'initial operating segment' of overall system

Caltrain has joined a growing swell of Peninsula critics of California's proposed high-speed-rail system.

But Caltrain isn't opposing the system; it wants it to start first on the Peninsula. It is calling for the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to take a fresh approach to designing the controversial, 800-mile system, currently estimated at $43 billion.

Caltrain believes that "below-grade alternatives are achievable and constructible" through communities "where strong opposition to aerial structures has been expressed," Caltrain CEO Michael Scanlon said in a Sept. 1 letter to rail authority CEO Roelof van Ark.

Scanlon urged the authority to "refocus" its environmental-review process for the project, Caltrain's chief spokesman Mark Simon told the Palo Alto City Council Monday night in presenting the letter officially to the council.

Scanlon specifically requested that the authority consider building an "initial operating segment" of the rail line on the Peninsula. The authority's environmental review has thus far only considered a fully built-out system between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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"We remain concerned that all of the alternatives presented as a part of the CHSRA environmental review contemplate only the full-build-out system." Scanlon wrote.

"To date, the CHSRA environmental review has not included analysis of how project construction could be phased or how a phased approach could result in an initial operating segment.

"Such a segment could be cleared for construction to modernize and electrify the corridor and accommodate sufficient capacity for initial high-speed and Caltrain service levels," Scanlon wrote.

Caltrain's appeal to the authority to change its environmental-review process cites the growing concern along the Peninsula about the state's process for building the system.

Mountain View has largely remained on the sidelines while the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton have been part of a lawsuit challenging the project. In Palo Alto, a council committee has adopted a "no confidence" stance on the project and city officials have scheduled a meeting for Sept. 20 to discuss a possible lawsuit against the authority for failing to fulfill California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements.

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Caltrain's relationship with the authority has been more collegial, despite Caltrain asserting itself last May in a bid for a share of federal stimulus funds in the face of opposition to the move by the authority. Caltrain owns the Peninsula right-of-way that the authority plans to use for the new system and has been working with the authority on its design.

The two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2009 stating that "it is the intention of the parties to incorporate high speed rail in the Caltrain rail corridor on a phased basis."

Scanlon also alluded to the authority's recently released Alternative Analysis, which evaluates possible design options for the rail line. The document essentially eliminated the locally popular deep-tunnel and covered-trench options on the Peninsula and identifies aerial, at-grade and open-trench designs as the most viable approaches.

Scanlon wrote that "below-grade alternatives are achievable and constructible through a number of communities where strong opposition to aerial structures has been expressed."

The best way to achieve these acceptable alternatives and to defer the "more controversial elements of the full build out" is to adopt a phased approach to the 800-mile system, he wrote.

"We believe these options are available," Simon told the council. "They're viable and we're advocating with the HSR that they proceed and refocus their environmental report so they reflect these options as still viable."

Simon presented Scanlon's letter at a lengthy council meeting that featured a detailed staff presentation and comments from skeptical residents and council members, several of whom told Simon they appreciate Caltrain's position.

Palo Alto reaction

Rob Braulik, the city's project manager for high-speed rail, shared the latest staff analyses, which indicated that the rail authority's proposal to reduce lanes on Alma Street in Palo Alto would have "significant impacts" on northbound and southbound traffic along the busy artery.

Staff's traffic analysis also showed that if the rail authority elects not to grade-separate the tracks and to run the new trains along the two existing Caltrain tracks, local drivers seeking to cross the tracks would have to wait for up to 10 minutes before crossing.

"People will be sitting at these crossings for an indeterminable number of time," Braulik said.

He said much of the data coming from the authority is murky or inconsistent, which makes the task of analyzing the system's impacts particularly tricky. The city is in the process of hiring consultants to analyze the impact of the system on property values along and near the Caltrain corridor.

Council members, meanwhile, continued to express sometimes harsh skepticism about the project.

Mayor Pat Burt accused the authority of "strategic misrepresentation of the project," pointing to van Ark's recent assertion that the new system would increase property values along its segments. He also challenged the authority's assertion that its ridership numbers are valid despite a critical independent review from the Institute of Transportation Studies in the University of California, Berkeley -- commissioned by the state Legislature.

Burt, a member of the council's High-Speed Rail Committee, said he is more than skeptical about the project.

"Our skepticism is based on what we believe to be realism," Burt said. "There are very prominent academics who have studied mega-transportation projects throughout the world and what they found -- what we are experiencing now-- is a pattern: the projects are grossly understated in capital costs and grossly overstated in projections of ridership.

"You can't build, within their budget, anything close to what this community thinks is acceptable."

The council plans to continue its discussion and possibly vote on the High-Speed Rail Committee's "no confidence" resolution at its next meeting Sept. 20.

The council is also scheduled to hold a closed session at the end of the meeting to determine whether the city should sue the authority.

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Gennady Sheyner
 
Gennady Sheyner covers the City Hall beat in Palo Alto as well as regional politics, with a special focus on housing and transportation. Before joining the Palo Alto Weekly/PaloAltoOnline.com in 2008, he covered breaking news and local politics for the Waterbury Republican-American, a daily newspaper in Connecticut. Read more >>

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Caltrain wants high-speed rail to start locally

Agency asks High-Speed Rail Authority to refocus its environmental review on a Peninsula 'initial operating segment' of overall system

by / Palo Alto Online

Uploaded: Tue, Sep 14, 2010, 11:09 am

Caltrain has joined a growing swell of Peninsula critics of California's proposed high-speed-rail system.

But Caltrain isn't opposing the system; it wants it to start first on the Peninsula. It is calling for the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) to take a fresh approach to designing the controversial, 800-mile system, currently estimated at $43 billion.

Caltrain believes that "below-grade alternatives are achievable and constructible" through communities "where strong opposition to aerial structures has been expressed," Caltrain CEO Michael Scanlon said in a Sept. 1 letter to rail authority CEO Roelof van Ark.

Scanlon urged the authority to "refocus" its environmental-review process for the project, Caltrain's chief spokesman Mark Simon told the Palo Alto City Council Monday night in presenting the letter officially to the council.

Scanlon specifically requested that the authority consider building an "initial operating segment" of the rail line on the Peninsula. The authority's environmental review has thus far only considered a fully built-out system between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"We remain concerned that all of the alternatives presented as a part of the CHSRA environmental review contemplate only the full-build-out system." Scanlon wrote.

"To date, the CHSRA environmental review has not included analysis of how project construction could be phased or how a phased approach could result in an initial operating segment.

"Such a segment could be cleared for construction to modernize and electrify the corridor and accommodate sufficient capacity for initial high-speed and Caltrain service levels," Scanlon wrote.

Caltrain's appeal to the authority to change its environmental-review process cites the growing concern along the Peninsula about the state's process for building the system.

Mountain View has largely remained on the sidelines while the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton have been part of a lawsuit challenging the project. In Palo Alto, a council committee has adopted a "no confidence" stance on the project and city officials have scheduled a meeting for Sept. 20 to discuss a possible lawsuit against the authority for failing to fulfill California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements.

Caltrain's relationship with the authority has been more collegial, despite Caltrain asserting itself last May in a bid for a share of federal stimulus funds in the face of opposition to the move by the authority. Caltrain owns the Peninsula right-of-way that the authority plans to use for the new system and has been working with the authority on its design.

The two agencies signed a memorandum of understanding in April 2009 stating that "it is the intention of the parties to incorporate high speed rail in the Caltrain rail corridor on a phased basis."

Scanlon also alluded to the authority's recently released Alternative Analysis, which evaluates possible design options for the rail line. The document essentially eliminated the locally popular deep-tunnel and covered-trench options on the Peninsula and identifies aerial, at-grade and open-trench designs as the most viable approaches.

Scanlon wrote that "below-grade alternatives are achievable and constructible through a number of communities where strong opposition to aerial structures has been expressed."

The best way to achieve these acceptable alternatives and to defer the "more controversial elements of the full build out" is to adopt a phased approach to the 800-mile system, he wrote.

"We believe these options are available," Simon told the council. "They're viable and we're advocating with the HSR that they proceed and refocus their environmental report so they reflect these options as still viable."

Simon presented Scanlon's letter at a lengthy council meeting that featured a detailed staff presentation and comments from skeptical residents and council members, several of whom told Simon they appreciate Caltrain's position.

Palo Alto reaction

Rob Braulik, the city's project manager for high-speed rail, shared the latest staff analyses, which indicated that the rail authority's proposal to reduce lanes on Alma Street in Palo Alto would have "significant impacts" on northbound and southbound traffic along the busy artery.

Staff's traffic analysis also showed that if the rail authority elects not to grade-separate the tracks and to run the new trains along the two existing Caltrain tracks, local drivers seeking to cross the tracks would have to wait for up to 10 minutes before crossing.

"People will be sitting at these crossings for an indeterminable number of time," Braulik said.

He said much of the data coming from the authority is murky or inconsistent, which makes the task of analyzing the system's impacts particularly tricky. The city is in the process of hiring consultants to analyze the impact of the system on property values along and near the Caltrain corridor.

Council members, meanwhile, continued to express sometimes harsh skepticism about the project.

Mayor Pat Burt accused the authority of "strategic misrepresentation of the project," pointing to van Ark's recent assertion that the new system would increase property values along its segments. He also challenged the authority's assertion that its ridership numbers are valid despite a critical independent review from the Institute of Transportation Studies in the University of California, Berkeley -- commissioned by the state Legislature.

Burt, a member of the council's High-Speed Rail Committee, said he is more than skeptical about the project.

"Our skepticism is based on what we believe to be realism," Burt said. "There are very prominent academics who have studied mega-transportation projects throughout the world and what they found -- what we are experiencing now-- is a pattern: the projects are grossly understated in capital costs and grossly overstated in projections of ridership.

"You can't build, within their budget, anything close to what this community thinks is acceptable."

The council plans to continue its discussion and possibly vote on the High-Speed Rail Committee's "no confidence" resolution at its next meeting Sept. 20.

The council is also scheduled to hold a closed session at the end of the meeting to determine whether the city should sue the authority.

Comments

James
Castro City
on Sep 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm
James, Castro City
on Sep 14, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I think CalTrain smells the $ running out quick for this and wants them to upgrade the CalTrain lines to electrical before the project dies.
Works for me.


Mark
Shoreline West
on Sep 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm
Mark, Shoreline West
on Sep 14, 2010 at 3:35 pm

I agree that building a below-grade ("trenching") system is a good alternative to overhead on same-grade construction. In the UK you see the medium-speed express trains (about 100mph) passing through small towns below grade and are relatively quiet. The brick-lined walls below grade seem to act better than simple freeway-style soundwalls here because there's nothing for the sound to go through. Houses can be just above grade (usually on the other side of a frontage-road next to the trench) and you can't hear the trains when they pass. Also, at those speeds trains pass a house in about 5 seconds - before you know it. A bit different than the constant din of living next to a California freeway soundwall.


Seer
Blossom Valley
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:22 am
Seer, Blossom Valley
on Sep 16, 2010 at 12:22 am

This is completely ridiculous: CalTrain, run by a conflict-of-interest CEO who also heads SamTrans, proposing ideas about how HSR should be implemented when they can't even manage their own finances?


R. Pollak
North Whisman
on Sep 19, 2010 at 8:44 pm
R. Pollak, North Whisman
on Sep 19, 2010 at 8:44 pm

At-grade crossings are not viable at high speeds because of safety issues.

At grade, Japan's Shinkansen (120mph) noise level at 25 m (82 ft.) is 82 db(A), Intercity Express (Germany)at 200 mph is 92 dB(A).Noise generated by high speed trains is objectionable above ground. The only noise-reduction alternative is covered trench or tunnel.

There is documentation of reduced property values along high speed train right-of-ways.

To reduce noise level to acceptable levels, at grade, for speeds close to 200mph, one needs a 480 ft. corridor approximately.

I'd be worried if I was an Atherton resident living next to the proposed tracks.


Name hidden
Sylvan Park

on May 27, 2017 at 11:07 am
Name hidden, Sylvan Park

on May 27, 2017 at 11:07 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


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