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HSR backers alarmed by UP ROW snafu; officials unflapped

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  • 6/6 SF Chronicle
    Published Friday, June 6, 2008, by the San Francisco Chronicle Union Pacific won t share with high-speed rail By Michael Cabanatuan Chronicle Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2008
      Published Friday, June 6, 2008, by the San Francisco Chronicle

      Union Pacific won't share with high-speed rail

      By Michael Cabanatuan
      Chronicle Staff Writer

      California's largest railroad has heaved an obstacle in the path of
      the state's high-speed rail plans, saying it doesn't want to share
      its rights of way with a 200-plus-mph passenger train system.

      And while high-speed rail officials say the Union Pacific Railroad's
      disinterest in sharing is "much ado about nothing," critics hope it
      will slow the speedy train project and possibly delay a $10 billion
      bond measure scheduled to appear on the November ballot.

      In a May 13 letter <http://tinyurl.com/5pj8gr>, a Union Pacific
      Railroad official in Roseville told the California High Speed Rail
      Authority that it is not interested in having high-speed rail use
      its rights of way, preferring to save the space for future expansion
      of its booming freight operations.

      "As your project moves forward with its final design, it is our
      request you do so in such a way as to not require the use of Union
      Pacific operating rights of way or interfere with Union Pacific
      operations," wrote Jerry Wilmoth, general manager of network
      infrastructure for the railroad. "The state of California and
      the nation need railroads to retain their future ability to meet
      growing demand for rail cargo transportation or that cargo will
      be in trucks on the highways."

      High-speed rail officials downplayed the significance of the letter
      and the railroad's position, saying their alignments are neither
      firm nor final and that their plans don't hinge on using existing
      rights of way.

      "We already figured they wouldn't let us acquire their right of
      way," said Quentin Kopp, the retired judge and former legislator
      who serves as chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority.
      "We'll just acquire adjacent right of way in that corridor and
      proceed accordingly."

      Kopp said the authority expects land acquisition to account for
      about 50 percent to 60 percent of the estimated $30 billion cost
      of building the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles segment of the fast
      rail route. The authority hopes to get the balance of the money
      not included in the bond measure from the federal government and
      partnerships with private companies.

      But critics of the authority said the Union Pacific's letter marks a
      major setback that will result in huge cost increases and possible
      alignment changes for the project. At a minimum, they said, it
      should force the authority to redo its environmental impact studies,
      a process that could take years.

      Stuart Flashman, an Oakland attorney representing the Planning and
      Conservation League, Transportation Solutions Defense and Education
      Fund and California Rail Foundation, sent a letter to the authority
      and the Federal Railroad Administration asking for the environmental
      studies, which have not yet been certified, to be sent back for more
      analysis, revision and public comment.

      "This (the railroad's letter) says to me that the authority really
      needs to go back and do it right," he said.

      The three groups fought the authority's choice of Pacheco Pass
      over Altamont Pass as the high-speed rail gateway to the Bay Area,
      and threatened to oppose the high-speed rail bond because of the
      decision. Flashman said they support high-speed rail and haven't
      taken a position on the bond measure but would like it to be delayed
      while further environmental studies take place. Those studies would
      include Altamont versus Pacheco analysis, whose revision would
      surely rekindle the debate over the best route into the Bay Area.

      "All three groups feel the bond measure is premature," Flashman
      said. "We really need to get the project right before we get the
      money."

      Kopp said critics have seized on the Union Pacific letter to further
      slow the project, which he thinks is ready to speed forward.

      "I'm not concerned about the UP issue," he said, "and I'm not
      concerned about the (critics). We're going to win this bond measure."


      E-mail Michael Cabanatuan at mcabanatuan@...


      [BATN: See also:

      Comment: What's behind UPRR opposition to accommodating HSR?
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38661

      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

      8-group coalition blasts HSRA on Pacheco vs. Altamont route pick
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/37623 ]
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