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Comment: What's behind UPRR opposition to accommodating HSR?

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  • 6/5 California Progress Report
    Published Thursday, June 5, 2008, by California Progress Report Comment Why Is Union Pacific Messing With California High Speed Rail? By Robert Cruickshank
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 5, 2008
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      Published Thursday, June 5, 2008, by California Progress Report

      Comment

      Why Is Union Pacific Messing With California High Speed Rail?

      By Robert Cruickshank
      California High Speed Rail Blog

      According to an article the LA Times on their website yesterday
      <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38659>, Union Pacific
      Railroad is balking at sharing its right of way with high speed
      trains. For context, the CHSRA plan has always involved building
      HSR-specific tracks alongside existing rails currently owned by UP,
      to minimize environmental impacts and disruption to existing urban
      development. So this has the potential to be a serious problem:

      "Officials at Union Pacific railroad recently told the California
      High Speed Rail Authority that they have safety and operational
      concerns about running a bullet train close to lumbering freight
      trains.

      " "Just look at what happened in L.A. a few years ago," said Scott
      Moore, a Union Pacific vice president, citing the 2005 crash of a
      Metrolink passenger train that killed 11 and hampered rail
      operations.

      "Those accidents happen."

      This rationale is flatly ridiculous. As UP well knows, the accident
      referred to is the subject of an ongoing trial of Juan Manuel Alvarez
      who tried to commit suicide by parking his truck on the Metrolink
      tracks near Glendale. He did this on an at-grade crossing, which will
      be eliminated as part of the HSR project. And as is the case around
      the world, the HSR tracks will be fenced off from the public, making
      it difficult for a similar accident to occur. In fact, accidents of
      any kind are very rare on HSR systems, and it is very uncommon for
      HSR trains to hit passenger vehicles.

      Further, I know of no specific problems where HSR trains have ever
      had an issue sharing tracks with any other trains -- and I find it
      interesting that UP had to cite the 2005 Metrolink crash, since they
      couldn't come up with any actual issues of HSR and freight running
      in close proximity. Trains commonly share multiple tracks next to
      each other without any problems.

      So we have to ask what UP is really up to with this statement. I
      believe they are holding out for more money. They've done it before
      -- several years ago Santa Cruz County resolved to purchase the
      branch line from Pajaro to Davenport, running through Santa Cruz and
      paralleling Highway 1, from UP. The negotiations dragged on for years
      as UP tried to overstate the value of the line and get the county to
      assume responsibility for all repairs of tracks and bridges -- and
      when the county balked, UP threatened to refuse to sell the line.
      UP's statement may well be a ploy for more money, some role in
      operations or profits from HSR, or other assurances from CHSRA and
      the state.

      And of course, UP had no objection to -- and has benefited greatly
      from -- government-funded projects such as the Alameda Corridor. For
      them to turn around and try and screw HSR is inconsistent at best.
      The state and federal governments should play hardball with UP over
      this -- if they continue to drag their feet on negotiating with
      CHSRA, then perhaps UP doesn't need the Alameda Corridor East, or
      the Colton flyover, or continued deregulation of the industry.

      Some want to believe this is a crisis for HSR. If UP holds firm in
      its refusal to share ROW, there's always eminent domain, but that
      would involve a long and drawn-out court process. If the CHSRA has to
      abandon the ROW-sharing plan, then they'll need to completely redo
      the environmental impact reports, which could add 3-5 years to the
      construction time on the project.

      That would be inconvenient, but it is long past time for us to get
      started on HSR. Gas prices and global warming have finally given
      urgency to HSR, and that should in turn give the public and their
      representatives the clarity of vision and sense of purpose to ensure
      that UP doesn't hijack the project for their own concerns. State
      and federal political leaders need to ramp up the pressure on UP --
      and we need to do the same. High speed rail is too important for
      one company -- even Union Pacific -- to block. We can find ways to
      assuage their concerns while staying on track to get the high speed
      rail system approved and under construction by 2010.


      Robert Cruickshank is a historian, activist, and teacher living in
      Monterey. He is a contributing editor at http://Calitics.com and
      works for the Courage Campaign, in addition to teaching political
      science at Monterey Peninsula College. Currently he is completing
      his Ph.D. dissertation in US history, on progressive politics in San
      Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s. A native Californian, he was raised
      in Orange County and educated at UC Berkeley. This article originally
      appeared on <http://cahsr.blogspot.com> the California High Speed
      Rail Blog which he publishes.


      [BATN: See also:

      HSR backers say HSRA and its plan ignored UPRR opposition
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38660

      UPRR opposes HSR on its land or near its trains; HSRA undaunted
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38659

      CHSRA officials brush off UPRR refusal to sell ROW for HSR
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38647 ]
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