HSR backers alarmed by UP ROW snafu; officials unflapped
- 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
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
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?
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
8-group coalition blasts HSRA on Pacheco vs. Altamont route pick