City digs the trench solution | May 28, 2010 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - May 28, 2010

City digs the trench solution

Other high-speed rail options risk blight, council says

by Daniel DeBolt

If 125-mile-per-hour electric trains are going to whoosh through town as planned by the California High Speed Rail Authority, the City Council wants to put most of Mountain View's Caltrain corridor in a partially covered trench, members said Tuesday.

Helping to inform council members' opinions were a slew of new images showing what a trench would look like from street level at two key rail crossings — Castro Street and Rengstorff Avenue. With two additional tracks, the train corridor could remain at ground level with streets running underneath or be raised by 27 feet on a 90-foot-wide aerial platform that's much wider at the downtown station — neither of which council members find to be visually pleasing.

"I can't see anything but an immense risk of blight which will have an impact on downtown business," said Mayor Ronit Bryant. With an aerial structure, "housing values will go down. People will suddenly be facing an elevated structure with trains on it 24/7."

With overhead electrical poles 52 feet above the ground, so far it appears that the option of running an aerial platform through town is the least favorite among Mountain View's residents, and council members agreed.

Some residents would prefer to close Castro Street and make it a pedestrian mall to allow the tracks to remain at grade level.

"I think we really do need to fortify support for the trench and dissuade the aerial" platform, said council member Mike Kasperzak. "How it looks and what it does to San Antonio and Shoreline over-crossings — it just messes up too many things."

One resident said that if the aerial platform were to be built, "We should go ahead and change the name of the city. Instead of Mountain View it should be High Speed Rail View." Another balked at the idea of having heavy trains running overhead near homes, even though Mountain View has relatively few near the Caltrain corridor. "Who wants to live near that?" he said.

The trench option is the most expensive, however, and council members are wondering if the city is going to be asked to foot the bill. The rail authority is hoping to receive billions from local governments to help fund the project.

"I believe the costs are going to dictate more than anything in the end," said Councilman Jac Siegel. "If we don't come out strongly now — then forevermore hold your peace."

According to an online survey conducted by the Old Mountain View Neighborhood Association in which 33 downtown residents responded, only one person liked the aerial platform option for Castro Street, while 22 liked the trench option. Two wanted the tracks to remain at grade with Castro Street depressed, but seven others said they preferred the idea of closing off Castro Street to make it a pedestrian promenade, which would also allow the tracks to stay at grade. Association secretary Robert Cox reported the results.

Many support the trench option because it appears to have the least impact on the landscape. A covering over half of it would allow a pedestrian walkway from downtown to Rengstorff Park. But resident Doug Delong expressed concern about the "the bleeding gaping wound you are going to have for three-to-five years" from the construction of the trench option.

"I have no doubt this will be the Big Dig for the next century," Kasperzak said of the $40 billion rail project, which is mandated to run high-speed trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The city's downtown committee voted unanimously for the trench alternative, expressing concern about possible negative impacts to downtown business from the other options. But council member Tom Means, an economics professor at San Jose State University, said he believed high-speed rail would likely lead to more "human activity" downtown that would be good for the local economy.

Public works director Mike Fuller said there is enough room on Mountain View's Caltrain corridor for two additional tracks everywhere except the San Antonio train station, where additional right of way would have to be acquired. The rail authority has said the consequence of that could result in the loss of a lane on Central Expressway.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at


Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Castro City
on May 27, 2010 at 5:58 pm

I'd suggest closing Castro (or just closing crossing), as the construction of a trench has a very high impact, and unlike other cities, there's no shortage of space.

The HS trains in europe have a certain beauty to them, so don't see the need for hiding them.

Like this comment
Posted by Ken
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 27, 2010 at 7:32 pm

A trench will be not only expensive to build, but due to the high ground water level, expensive to maintain. Remember this corridor crosses Steven's creek and other streams that routinely cause flooding problems. Not to mention crossing the Hetch-Hetchy aqueduct near Rengstorff. How can any trench even be realistically considered?

I just took my first high-speed train ride two weeks ago in China. It was wonderful! All the comforts of airplane travel without the confinement or airport anxiety. As the train glided along at over 200mph, I thought about how this is possible in China and nearly impossible in USA. Local government and wealthy property owner obstruction is of course one of the biggest obstacles.

But ask yourself which would you rather have, the periodic whoosh of a high-speed train or the non-stop drone of an 8 to 10 lane freeway?

Like this comment
Posted by J Cierra
a resident of Sylvan Park
on May 27, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Electrical superstructure that tops out at five stories tall? What an abomination!

The onerous burden placed on Mountain View by this foolish train is maddening. At least the city council has finally chosen to attempt to protect the value of the community by voting to hide it.

If we must suffer the existence of the train, get it out of sight!

Like this comment
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2010 at 10:49 pm

A trench must become a tunnel under the Stevens Creek, as shown in the Alternatives Analysis. The local topography does not allow the rails to rise from a trench at Castro back to grade level across the creek, if freight trains are to be accommodated with 1% gradients.

There are thus two important facts--and they are indeed facts, in the sense that we are entitled to our own opinions but we are not entitled to our own facts. For some reason, these two important facts are not being clearly or accurately conveyed to MV residents:

(1) the trench at Castro requires the tracks to run underneath the creek

(2) the sole reason that the tracks must run under the creek is not Caltrain, not VTA, not high-speed rail, but two Union Pacific freight trains per day that can climb only a shallow 1% slope, rather than 3% for electric passenger trains.

Please keep these facts in mind when the high-speed rail authority eventually hands you a budget for what your trench will cost. Also remember that cost and environmental impact are being weighed equally.

If I may venture an opinion, a Mountain View trench is even less likely to happen than HSR being completed on budget.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Jackson Park
on May 28, 2010 at 8:16 am

I think the tracks should be set at grade level. We ALREADY have a barrier dividing the town in half. It's called Cal-Train. What's the difference?

Jeez, what would this town had done if BART had ever made it past the San Mateo gauntlet decades ago? The track requirements would have been the same (tunnel? elevated track? trench?). How did we ever get light rail in here?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.


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