HSRA to consider costly tunneling HSR through Peninsula cities
- Published Friday, February 20, 2009, by the Palo Alto Weekly
Tunnels to be considered for high-speed rail
Residents, city officials prefer underground option despite added
By Gennady Sheyner
As Palo Altans continue to define their love-hate relationship with
the high-speed rail project, residents and city officials are
increasingly looking to deep-underground tunnels as a possible
On Tuesday night, city officials and dozens of concerned residents
voiced concerns and vented frustrations about the project at a packed,
two-hour community meeting with officials from the California High-
Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the 800-mile
rail line between San Francisco and San Diego.
Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the rail authority has assured
city officials that it will consider the option of installing tunnels
for high-speed trains on the Peninsula. But local officials have been
floating the idea of building underground tunnels for months, with
Emslie, Councilman John Barton and former mayor Bern Beecham among the
leading proponents of the underground alternative (for an in-depth
look at the tunnel discussion, see Weekly's Sept. 26, 2008, edition)
[BATN: Or just see <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39430>
On Tuesday, residents voiced two clear messages: They want a bigger
say in the design process and they would much rather have a rail line
that zips through tunnels than one that whooshes past over their heads
on raised tracks, which some city officials are calling a "Berlin
Wall" dividing Palo Alto.
It would be "the difference between blight and Park Avenue," Judith
Wasserman, a member of the Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board,
said of the tunnel-versus-elevated tracks alternative.
"If somehow the High-Speed Rail Authority decides to put it above
ground anyway, is there recourse or do we all just have to lie down
on the tracks?" Wasserman asked the crowd gathered in a Palo Alto
Unified School District conference room at 25 Churchill Ave.
Others were less blunt but equally vociferous in opposing an above-
ground design. Because the system must be grade separated, the new
tracks would have to be elevated 16 feet above existing streets or
speed through the less disruptive but more costly tunnels several
dozen feet underground.
With the engineering for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of
the project just getting started, it's not clear which option the
rail authority will choose. It's also not clear whether Palo Alto
or Redwood City will get a station, for which Redwood City officials
are reportedly already lobbying.
Emslie said staff is working on a report on the high-speed rail
project, which the City Council is scheduled to discuss March 2.
On Tuesday, Emslie joined many others in preaching the benefits of
tunnels. He said many major transportation projects around the world
are utilizing state-of-the-art technology to create below-grade
"Obviously, cost is a major consideration," Emslie said. "But the
high-speed-rail authority has confirmed with us that they're
obligated and will study the tunneling option through the Peninsula."
[BATN: See also:
Atherton wants HSR underground -- prepares 28-page letter
Comment: Undergrounding Caltrain in Palo Alto an old idea
Editorial: Undergrounding Caltrain, HSR tracks worth exploring
Palo Alto leaders propose putting Caltrain, HSR underground