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Atherton officials vow to fight high-speed rail

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  • 5/5 Palo Alto Daily
    Published Monday, May 5, 2003, in the Palo Alto Daily News Affluent town vows to fight plans for high-speed rail line By Nina Wu Daily News Staff Writer If
    Message 1 of 1 , May 6, 2003
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      Published Monday, May 5, 2003, in the Palo Alto Daily News

      Affluent town vows to fight plans for high-speed rail line

      By Nina Wu
      Daily News Staff Writer

      If they build it, Atherton town officials vow that they will fight
      it.

      Plans for a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles,
      which would make use of the Caltrain right-of-way between San
      Francisco and San Jose, poses a threat not only to the town's peace,
      but to its integrity, council members said at a recent
      transportation committee meeting.

      "My hunch is we're in for a future fight," council member Alan
      Carlson <acarlson@...> said during the town's regular
      meeting.

      Although the reality of the high-speed train may still be another 20
      years away, it alarms Atherton's leaders because the tracks would be
      too close to residential properties for comfort -- and it might
      cleave the town in two. That, in turn, might lead to violations of
      police and fire codes.

      In a presentation to Atherton town officials on April 8, Caltrain
      spokesman Darrell Maxey revealed the transit system's plans,
      complete with aerial maps and diagrams.

      In order to accommodate the high-speed train service, Caltrain would
      need to build two additional tracks in Atherton to meet the required
      four tracks along the corridor as well as grade-level separations at
      every station.

      But the town does not want grade separations -- meaning an overpass
      or underpass or combination of the two -- breaking up the town. The
      other option is to make the roads a dead end at the train station,
      Maxey said.

      "If you look at the amount of room needed for grade separations, how
      could some people get into their driveways or enter the park at Fair
      Oaks?" Carlson told the Daily News.

      "My fear is that because of the expenses involved and the physical
      nature of the surroundings, closing those crossings would cut one-
      third of Atherton from the other two-thirds."

      Carlson said that four tracks would need a minimum width of 65 feet
      to accommodate them -- and that would mean the train stations would
      be within 7-1/2 feet of several Atherton residences.

      A different grade

      Maxey said the federal government is pushing for grade-level
      separations at all train stations. Grade-level separations are
      supposed to reduce noise and traffic congestion and increase
      pedestrian safety. He added that Atherton has plenty of room to
      accommodate four tracks.

      "California's going to be growing in population and economy," Maxey
      said. "There is a need for transportation 20 years from now to
      answer the question of how everyone is going to get from San
      Francisco to Los Angeles. On the Peninsula, the goal is to get
      people out of their cars and to provide them with a viable
      transportation alternative."

      At the Atherton station, Caltrain plans to replace the center
      platform with outboard platforms and install a central fence and
      pedestrian gates at Fair Oaks. Construction would begin sometime in
      the summer or fall of 2004.

      The other question is how much it would cost. When Carlson mentioned
      to Caltrain that the town didn't have enough to pay for the required
      changes, he said Caltrain's response was: "We'll find the money for
      you."

      Not only would the new high-speed service ruin the town's
      aesthetics, Vice Mayor Kathy McKeithen said, it would increase
      pollution, considering that diesel freight trains use Caltrain's
      tracks.

      "It's something we will monitor and report back on," McKeithen
      <kmckeithen@...> said. "These plans are somebody's
      pipe dream."

      Eyes on Menlo Park

      Council members are keeping a close eye on what its neighboring
      town, Menlo Park, decides to do. Menlo Park considered grade
      separations 10 years ago and rejected the idea, but is now
      reconsidering it.

      Palo Alto has grade separations at University Avenue, Embarcadero
      Road and the Oregon Expressway.

      Despite a 15 percent decline in ridership, Caltrain plans to improve
      its services in upcoming years with more trains, faster trains,
      additional tracks, improved stations and a Baby Bullet express from
      San Francisco to San Jose. The Baby Bullet train, which will have
      possible stops at Mountain View, Palo Alto and Millbrae, is slated
      to be operational by 2004.

      Atherton town officials are not as concerned about the Baby Bullet
      train because it will not require additional tracks or grade
      separations. But they'll be watching.

      "We want to be prepared," Carlson said. "We want to be aware of the
      impacts and hopefully be able to mitigate any impacts on the town."


      [BATN: Related items: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/11561
      High Speed Rail Authority: http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov
      Atherton City Council: http://www.ci.atherton.ca.us/council.html ]
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