Comment: What's behind UPRR opposition to accommodating HSR?
- Published Thursday, June 5, 2008, by California Progress Report
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
" "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
"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
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
UPRR opposes HSR on its land or near its trains; HSRA undaunted
CHSRA officials brush off UPRR refusal to sell ROW for HSR