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Study: High-speed rail could slow down emergency responders on Peninsula

New environmental analysis indicates High-Speed Rail Authority plans to rely on gates — not grade separations — to limit collisions between cars, trains

This conceptual rendering shows a high-speed-rail train moving through the Pacheco Pass in south Santa Clara County. Rendering courtesy California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Despite a decade of delays, funding uncertainties and political hurdles, California's embattled high-speed rail project continues to slowly advance, with plans to complete the section between San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2033.

On Friday, the effort hit a milestone of sorts when the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is charged with implementing the project, released an environmental analysis that describes the latest proposal for the Peninsula segment and lists some of the impacts — both good and bad — that communities along the rail line will experience once the project is in place.

The draft Environmental Impact Report identifies about a dozen impacts that are "significant and unavoidable" and, as such, would require a statement of overriding consideration from lawmakers before the project can proceed. Some of these involve disruptions to bus routes during the construction period, while others deal with noise and vibrations relating to rail operations. The new document also suggests that emergency responders in the Peninsula area may face significant delays in crossing the tracks once the new train system is up and running.

Consistent with the rail authority's prior plans, construction is envisioned in two major phases, with the first part of the system stretching between San Francisco and Los Angeles and subsequence expansions to Sacramento and San Diego. The rail authority has already been constructing a portion of the line in the Central Valley, with the goal of ultimately connecting this segment to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The new environmental document focuses on the northernmost segment of the first phase. It analyzes two similar alternatives for the segment between San Francisco and San Jose. Each would rely on the "blended approach," with high-speed rail and Caltrain sharing the same two tracks on the Peninsula.

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The most notable differences between Alternative A, which is the agency's preferred alternative, and Alternative B, are that the latter calls for adding another set of passing tracks in San Mateo County and a dedicated viaduct for high-speed rail in the southern part of the segment, near San Jose. As such, Alternative B would involve more construction, great impacts and higher costs, according to the environmental document.

The system described in the EIR would operate at speeds of up to 110 mph on the Peninsula, with high-speed rail and Caltrain operating on a "coordinated schedule" and with high-speed rail trains having the ability to pass Caltrain trains at the existing four-track segment in the Millbrae station (as well as a new passing track, if Alternative B is adopted).

The main goal of the new system, according to the EIR, is to decrease traffic congestion, lower greenhouse gas emissions and support the California economy. The current statewide and regional transportation system "has not kept pace with significant increases in population, economic activity and tourism in the state, including in the Bay Area," the EIR states.

Currently, the trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles takes between four-and-a-half hours and 11.5 hours, the document states. The completion of Phase 1 of high-speed rail would allow for travel times between the two cities of less than three hours.

The construction plan calls for building two lines — one in the Central Valley (between Madera and Bakersfield) and one in the Bay Area, and then connecting them through the Pacheco Pass tunnel to create what the document calls a "Valley-to-Valley connection," with continuous service from San Francisco to Bakersfield.

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"After that portion of the system is built, it is anticipated that the system would be extended to complete all of Phase 1 and ultimately Phase 2," the document states.

The 49-mile section between San Francisco and San Jose would have three high-speed rail stations in San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose.

Even though the rail authority has abandoned its earlier plan to build a station or a set of passing tracks in the Midpeninsula area, the document indicates that the rail system will create some problems for local jurisdictions. While cities along the Caltrain corridor are exploring ways to separate the tracks from local streets so that they no longer intersect at grade crossings (a realignment known as "grade separation"), the new document suggests that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has no immediate plans to assist with that effort, which is widely seen as necessary to both ensure safety and prevent heavy congestion around intersections.

The rail authority's plan for preventing collisions between cars and trains is not grade separation but the installation of four-quadrant gates that would extend against all lanes of travel, blocking cars from entering the tracks.

"These gates would prevent drivers from traveling in opposing lanes to avoid the lowered gate arms," the document states. "Pedestrian crossing gates would be built parallel to the tracks and aligned with the vehicle gates on either side of the roadway."

While these gates would discourage cars from getting on the tracks, they also will result in greater delays at rail crossings. The document states that the increase in "gate-down time" from the added high-speed rail trains would "result in potential delays in emergency vehicle response times for fire stations/first responders in San Francisco, Millbrae, Burlingame, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Mountain View." While cities like Menlo Park, Mountain View and Palo Alto have been trying to mitigate the impacts of train-related delays by planning for grade separation, the rail authority lists the potential disruptions to emergency responders as a "significant and unavoidable" impact.

The document also found that additional traffic near the three new high-speed rail stations would result in "potential delays in emergency vehicle response times for fire stations/first responders," the report states.

Most of the other "significant and unavoidable" impacts pertain to specific locations along the line, including sites near the proposed stations where land-use patterns would have to be altered to accommodate the new system. Some are limited to the construction period. These include impacts of construction on air quality, noise and vibration.

The new line could also bring "continuous permanent impacts" on emergency access and response times in Menlo Park and Mountain View, unless these two cities opt to construct and operate "emergency vehicle priority treatments" east of Ravenswood Avenue and adjacent to Rengstorff Avenue, respectively.

The document estimates that the 49-mile segment between San Francisco and San Jose would cost between $4.3 billion and $6.9 billion. According to the rail authority's business plan, the estimate for the entire Phase 1 segment between San Francisco and Los Angeles is about $77.3 billion.

While the rail authority is planning to complete the system by 2033, progress to date has not gone as planned. Since California voters approved $9.95 billion in 2008 for the high-speed rail line and related transportation improvements, the cost of the new system has ballooned and the project has been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism from state and local leaders, as well as scathing audits from California's state auditor and from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General.

The EIR notes that in identifying its preferred alternative, the rail authority chose the option that balanced "the adverse and beneficial impacts of the project on the human and natural environment."

"Taking this holistic approach means that no single issue was decisive in identifying the Preferred Alternative in any given geographic area," the analysis states. "The Authority weighed all the issues — including natural resource and community impacts, the input of the communities along the route, the views of federal and state resource agencies, and project costs — to identify what both agencies (the rail authority and the Federal Railroad Administration) believe is the best alternative to achieve the project's Purpose and Need."

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Study: High-speed rail could slow down emergency responders on Peninsula

New environmental analysis indicates High-Speed Rail Authority plans to rely on gates — not grade separations — to limit collisions between cars, trains

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Jul 11, 2020, 8:34 am

Despite a decade of delays, funding uncertainties and political hurdles, California's embattled high-speed rail project continues to slowly advance, with plans to complete the section between San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2033.

On Friday, the effort hit a milestone of sorts when the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which is charged with implementing the project, released an environmental analysis that describes the latest proposal for the Peninsula segment and lists some of the impacts — both good and bad — that communities along the rail line will experience once the project is in place.

The draft Environmental Impact Report identifies about a dozen impacts that are "significant and unavoidable" and, as such, would require a statement of overriding consideration from lawmakers before the project can proceed. Some of these involve disruptions to bus routes during the construction period, while others deal with noise and vibrations relating to rail operations. The new document also suggests that emergency responders in the Peninsula area may face significant delays in crossing the tracks once the new train system is up and running.

Consistent with the rail authority's prior plans, construction is envisioned in two major phases, with the first part of the system stretching between San Francisco and Los Angeles and subsequence expansions to Sacramento and San Diego. The rail authority has already been constructing a portion of the line in the Central Valley, with the goal of ultimately connecting this segment to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The new environmental document focuses on the northernmost segment of the first phase. It analyzes two similar alternatives for the segment between San Francisco and San Jose. Each would rely on the "blended approach," with high-speed rail and Caltrain sharing the same two tracks on the Peninsula.

The most notable differences between Alternative A, which is the agency's preferred alternative, and Alternative B, are that the latter calls for adding another set of passing tracks in San Mateo County and a dedicated viaduct for high-speed rail in the southern part of the segment, near San Jose. As such, Alternative B would involve more construction, great impacts and higher costs, according to the environmental document.

The system described in the EIR would operate at speeds of up to 110 mph on the Peninsula, with high-speed rail and Caltrain operating on a "coordinated schedule" and with high-speed rail trains having the ability to pass Caltrain trains at the existing four-track segment in the Millbrae station (as well as a new passing track, if Alternative B is adopted).

The main goal of the new system, according to the EIR, is to decrease traffic congestion, lower greenhouse gas emissions and support the California economy. The current statewide and regional transportation system "has not kept pace with significant increases in population, economic activity and tourism in the state, including in the Bay Area," the EIR states.

Currently, the trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles takes between four-and-a-half hours and 11.5 hours, the document states. The completion of Phase 1 of high-speed rail would allow for travel times between the two cities of less than three hours.

The construction plan calls for building two lines — one in the Central Valley (between Madera and Bakersfield) and one in the Bay Area, and then connecting them through the Pacheco Pass tunnel to create what the document calls a "Valley-to-Valley connection," with continuous service from San Francisco to Bakersfield.

"After that portion of the system is built, it is anticipated that the system would be extended to complete all of Phase 1 and ultimately Phase 2," the document states.

The 49-mile section between San Francisco and San Jose would have three high-speed rail stations in San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose.

Even though the rail authority has abandoned its earlier plan to build a station or a set of passing tracks in the Midpeninsula area, the document indicates that the rail system will create some problems for local jurisdictions. While cities along the Caltrain corridor are exploring ways to separate the tracks from local streets so that they no longer intersect at grade crossings (a realignment known as "grade separation"), the new document suggests that the California High-Speed Rail Authority has no immediate plans to assist with that effort, which is widely seen as necessary to both ensure safety and prevent heavy congestion around intersections.

The rail authority's plan for preventing collisions between cars and trains is not grade separation but the installation of four-quadrant gates that would extend against all lanes of travel, blocking cars from entering the tracks.

"These gates would prevent drivers from traveling in opposing lanes to avoid the lowered gate arms," the document states. "Pedestrian crossing gates would be built parallel to the tracks and aligned with the vehicle gates on either side of the roadway."

While these gates would discourage cars from getting on the tracks, they also will result in greater delays at rail crossings. The document states that the increase in "gate-down time" from the added high-speed rail trains would "result in potential delays in emergency vehicle response times for fire stations/first responders in San Francisco, Millbrae, Burlingame, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, and Mountain View." While cities like Menlo Park, Mountain View and Palo Alto have been trying to mitigate the impacts of train-related delays by planning for grade separation, the rail authority lists the potential disruptions to emergency responders as a "significant and unavoidable" impact.

The document also found that additional traffic near the three new high-speed rail stations would result in "potential delays in emergency vehicle response times for fire stations/first responders," the report states.

Most of the other "significant and unavoidable" impacts pertain to specific locations along the line, including sites near the proposed stations where land-use patterns would have to be altered to accommodate the new system. Some are limited to the construction period. These include impacts of construction on air quality, noise and vibration.

The new line could also bring "continuous permanent impacts" on emergency access and response times in Menlo Park and Mountain View, unless these two cities opt to construct and operate "emergency vehicle priority treatments" east of Ravenswood Avenue and adjacent to Rengstorff Avenue, respectively.

The document estimates that the 49-mile segment between San Francisco and San Jose would cost between $4.3 billion and $6.9 billion. According to the rail authority's business plan, the estimate for the entire Phase 1 segment between San Francisco and Los Angeles is about $77.3 billion.

While the rail authority is planning to complete the system by 2033, progress to date has not gone as planned. Since California voters approved $9.95 billion in 2008 for the high-speed rail line and related transportation improvements, the cost of the new system has ballooned and the project has been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism from state and local leaders, as well as scathing audits from California's state auditor and from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General.

The EIR notes that in identifying its preferred alternative, the rail authority chose the option that balanced "the adverse and beneficial impacts of the project on the human and natural environment."

"Taking this holistic approach means that no single issue was decisive in identifying the Preferred Alternative in any given geographic area," the analysis states. "The Authority weighed all the issues — including natural resource and community impacts, the input of the communities along the route, the views of federal and state resource agencies, and project costs — to identify what both agencies (the rail authority and the Federal Railroad Administration) believe is the best alternative to achieve the project's Purpose and Need."

Comments

Dave
Rengstorff Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 9:41 am
Dave, Rengstorff Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 9:41 am
105 people like this

OMG, will someone put an end to this "high speed train" project, its an absolute train wreck financially. Its a disaster that keeps growing in costs with 0 chance of any future profitability or even break even point; an endless maintenance money sink (if built) with no public benefit.


Why a new railroad?
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2020 at 10:42 am
Why a new railroad?, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2020 at 10:42 am
87 people like this

I expect to take an unmanned air taxi to Tahoe or Carmell; within 10 years.

"High Speed" Rail (cough, cough) is a boondoggle. The CA $50 billion shortfall Covid19 is solved, your welcome. Cancel and retrain affected workers to more sensible road and bridge repairs. The consultants can spend their time elsewhere.

I suspect the farmers between Merced and Bakersfield will travel in style only if the travel is heavily subsidized.

Maybe an underground tunnel from San Diego to San Francisco that we can ask Cartel members to cost share would be more fiscally responsible.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 10:46 am
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 10:46 am
106 people like this

It shows that entrenched bureaucracies and special interest groups, like cockroaches, can survive short-term protests. Of course high-speed rail on the Peninsula would be a disaster. Indeed, all mass transit is now in jeopardy with the coronavirus and the realization that mass transit will often produce mass infection of this and other diseases. Mass transit advocates will have alot of explaining to do. But high-speed rail speeding through Mountain View. Absurd.


infrastructure
Bailey Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 11:02 am
infrastructure, Bailey Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 11:02 am
8 people like this

"I expect to take an unmanned air taxi to Tahoe or Carmell (sic) within 10 years."

And I was expecting we'd each have jet-packs and flying cars by now. Ain't it great to fantasize as a kid?

Build it. Every other serious country has. America last?


xbr
another community
on Jul 11, 2020 at 11:17 am
xbr, another community
on Jul 11, 2020 at 11:17 am
44 people like this

It's just never made any real sense. One can currently--for business purposes--go from the bay area to so cal as a long day trip, but it's hard to envision how that could ever happen using HSR (I don't believe for a second that travel time will be three (3) hours). When I lived in the valley, I'd go to LA maybe every couple of years but I never really thought if I could take a train I'd go there a whole lot more. Furthermore, the subsidies this train is going to require to make tickets even remotely competitive with airplanes are going to be enormous. Even what should in theory be the easiest part of the route under current construction is proving very, very difficult. This system was sold under false pretenses and voters stupidly approved it. This is turning into a fiscal Vietnam for the state. Trump is actually right (god, I hate typing that) to want to w/h funds from the project. It's clearly failing to meet it's constantly downsized targets. End it now.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 12:24 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 11, 2020 at 12:24 pm
71 people like this

Some of you might have been here and attended at the MV Center for the Performing Arts a discussion pf high-speed rail sponsored by then-state senator Joe Simitian. I like to ask what others don't. So I threw out: what about terrorists? Would not HSR be an easy target? Yes it would. Blow up a tiny piece of track ahead of one train derailing it. Nobody but overpaid employees would ever ride HSR again. Not true of buses, for example. Attacking a single bus would not much discourage bus use. But why worry? Terrorists and viruses are like comets and space aliens. Imaginary threats. No they are not.


zoop
Martens-Carmelita
on Jul 12, 2020 at 6:08 am
zoop, Martens-Carmelita
on Jul 12, 2020 at 6:08 am
9 people like this

Wow. Is this really Silicon Valley? The "Can't Do" attitude here is amazing. I guess this is why BART doesn't run on the Peninsula. You people would have argued against the Bay Bridge because a terrorist can destroy one of the towers but they can't sink all of the ferries.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 12, 2020 at 8:41 am
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 12, 2020 at 8:41 am
50 people like this

You can pretend there are no diseases or that they cannot be spread human-to-human or that there are no terrorists or hostile foreign regimes that would ever seek to kill Americans here or abroad or that there are criminals bent on extortion or destruction. Or you can consider real threats in assessing how to organize society - including in selecting or rejecting a form of mass transit. A few years ago, the VTA had a mentally ill man on top of a light rail car. It took all day to get him down. The entire line in San Jose was blocked and could not be used. Half the light rail service in the county was halted. If light rail is that vulnerable, it is not worth the investment. Here, though, is some good news. Not everyone needs to commute to work. Remote working and learning and other living is available. Come on folks. This is Silicon Valley. We don't need BART. We need some new thinking and action.


zoop
Martens-Carmelita
on Jul 12, 2020 at 9:03 am
zoop, Martens-Carmelita
on Jul 12, 2020 at 9:03 am
3 people like this

Yes, we can hide from the bad people in our bunkers with internet access and Amazon will ship us food. Come on folks. Everyone can look out for themselves, except for the people that bring you water and gas and electricity and internet and clean air. A good terrorist will get to you whether you have trains or not.

So a mentally ill man inconvenienced you. There, but for the grace of god go any of us.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 12, 2020 at 9:06 am
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 12, 2020 at 9:06 am
2 people like this

Correction: pretend there are NO criminals. And on that topic: how many RUBLES are being paid to FACEBOOK as we post to keep Donald Trump in office? What does FACEBOOK even do for the big money it receives? What good is FACEBOOK when society needs face coverings? Why is more money spent on new weapons than on preventing the spread of diseases? How many voting and counting machines are being targeted for manipulation in the November election? How will mail-in votes in swing states ever be counted if the President shuts down the U.S. Postal Service for lack of funds or to prevent "voter fraud"? Are these real risks to guard against? Or here in Silicon Valley is it just DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY?


Jim Neal
Old Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2020 at 8:22 pm
Jim Neal, Old Mountain View
on Jul 13, 2020 at 8:22 pm
24 people like this

Gary! Good to see that you're still keeping busy! I agree with most of what you said regarding HSR. As you know, when I ran for city council, I was opposed to it for the reasons that you mentioned, plus the fact that if that boondoggle ever does get built, it certainly won't be affordable for the masses unless it is highly subsidized; but I agree that it is ridiculous to even consider making a high speed rail virus spreading train to nowhere. Couldn't that money be better used elsewhere; like, Oh I don't know EDUCATING OUR KIDS, (cough). Sorry, that wasn't the virus I swear!

All that said, I can't help but wonder if your comments regarding the President were sarcastic? Hard to tell with the written word sometimes. There's no way the President could shut down the Post Office even if he wanted to. Every time he tries to do ANYTHING, it gets immediately challenged in court (usually here in California so it's a slam dunk that the ruling goes against him) and then it's off to the Supreme Court where most of the time, the ridiculous decision by the 9th Circuit gets overturned. So far, the President has NEVER failed to abide by a court ruling, and if he did, I'm sure that 99.9999% of the media would be happy to say how unconstitutional that is and get people rioting. (Sarcasm intended for that last bit)

Anyway, hope all is well with you and yours. Take care.


Jim Neal
Modesto, Ca
(Formerly Old Mountain View)


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 13, 2020 at 10:05 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 13, 2020 at 10:05 pm
2 people like this

Hey Jim. Don't forget our bet. Trump will not serve out his term. He will almost certainly lose his re-election bid unless he shuts down the Postal Service. I will come back to that. After the election, Trump will - at a minimum - resign so he can receive a pardon from President Michael Pence. There is no such thing as pardoning oneself. The Postal Service is not operated by the State of California or any state. It is a federal agency. When it has insufficient money, it cannot pay employees and can be shut down. The President cannot in good conscience allow the Postal Service to not pay employees or run up the national debt. No. Better to shut it down by executive order. Where? Well especially in swing states. Why? Because a candidate who only has 26% support needs a 50% turnout to win. Lower the turnout - or the counting of votes - and Mr. 26% can carry a state and another and win in the electoral college. Sound evil, corrupt? The kind of crap Putin would pull? Exactly why it may happen. No kidding. As to courts, the U.S. Supreme Court has 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. Of course, I want all citizens to register and vote - especially in swing states. And, as you may know, I am not a Democrat. I am part of the second largest group of voters in California after Democrats. We are members of no party.


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