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Palo Alto residents demand HSR be built underground

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  • 2/27 Palo Alto Online
    Published Friday, February 27, 2009, by Palo Alto Online Residents demand tunnels for high-speed trains Rail authority to consider underground and elevated
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 27, 2009
      Published Friday, February 27, 2009, by Palo Alto Online

      Residents demand tunnels for high-speed trains

      Rail authority to consider underground and elevated tracks for new
      rail system

      By Gennady Sheyner
      Palo Alto Online Staff

      Anger, confusion and frustration about California's proposed high-
      speed rail system dominated a tense informational meeting Thursday,
      where dozens of Palo Altans demanded underground tunnels and one
      City Council member threatened to sue the state agency in charge
      of the project.

      The California High-Speed Rail Authority, an agency charged with
      building the 800-mile rail line between San Francisco and San Diego,
      organized the meeting to solicit the community's suggestions about
      the proposed rail line.

      The authority is preparing an Environmental Impact Report on the
      San Francisco-to-San Jose section of the line and wanted to hear
      residents' thoughts about what issues the report should cover.

      The message from the roughly 200 residents crammed inside the
      Mitchell Park Community Center was clear: Any high-speed rail line
      that runs through the city must run through an underground tunnel.

      "What will it take for us to get this train underground?" asked
      Judith Wasserman, member of the city's Architectural Review Board.

      Another resident received a round of applause from the crowd when he
      said the train should run "quietly and invisibly" through the city.

      Dominic Spaethling, regional manager for the project, said the tunnel
      is one of several options the agency plans to look at. He asked
      residents not to limit their options and warned them that they may
      not like all the plans they see throughout the design process.

      "We will look at the tunnel and we will put that through the
      process," Spaethling said. "But keep in mind, there will be other
      options you will see."

      The turnout for Thursday's meeting was the highest to date for
      meetings on the project, rail-authority officials said. Residents
      filled every available chair, crowded against the back wall and
      spilled out into the hallway.

      While opinions in the crowd ranged from enthusiastic endorsements
      to outright opposition, most speakers argued in favor of building
      the rail tracks underground. Some said they had always assumed the
      trains would run underground and were shocked to learn that the
      rail authority is considering building rail lines over the existing
      Caltrain tracks.

      The high-speed rail line would have to be grade separated, which means
      it would have to run either above or below existing roads and train
      tracks.

      If the rail authority chooses to build the tracks above the ground,
      they tracks would have to be elevated by about 16 feet. In recent
      weeks, residents in the Southgate and Charleston Meadows neighborhoods
      in south Palo Alto launched a movement opposing the construction of
      this new barrier, which Councilman John Barton referred to as the
      modern "Berlin Wall" at a recent community meeting.

      Some residents also said Thursday they were worried about the
      possibility of having their properties seized by eminent domain,
      which the agency has the authority to use.

      "How do we register this community under the Endangered Species Act?"
      south Palo Alto resident Hinda Sack asked rail authority officials.

      Vice Mayor Jack Morton, meanwhile, blasted the rail authority for
      not giving the city more time to study the issues surrounding the
      proposed line, which would run along the Caltrain corridor. The
      HSRA had previously set a March 6 deadline for comments regarding
      the environmental report, but extended the deadline to April 6 after
      requests by council members.

      But Morton said the extension is not enough and hinted that the city
      may oppose the project in court. Menlo Park and Atherton recently
      joined a lawsuit against the rail authority, arguing that the agency
      failed to properly evaluate the possibility of running the train
      through the Altamont Pass in East Bay. The rail authority chose the
      Pacheco Pass as its preferred route last summer.

      "Shouldn't we join other cities in suing you guys and stopping this
      thing?" Morton asked HSRA officials.

      But others said they support the high-speed rail. David Solnick,
      member of the city's Architectural Review Board, said he would like
      to see a high-speed-rail station built in Palo Alto. Solnick asked
      rail-authority officials what criteria they would use to determine
      whether the station should be in Palo Alto, Redwood City or at
      neither city.

      "I'm hoping you won't include how many public officials might be
      threatening to sue you," he said.

      The rail authority hopes to conclude its EIR in 2011 and Spaethling
      said the community would be kept informed about the project's
      progress along the way. The rail authority hopes to have the
      high-speed-rail line running by 2020, he said. It would travel
      through the Peninsula at about 125 mph before reaching speeds of
      up to 220 mph in the Central Valley.

      The authority ultimately plans to have about 240 trains run through
      the Peninsula, including 10 during peak hours in each direction.
      Once the high-speed rail is in place, trains from the two systems
      would run along corridor at a rate of about one every 3 minutes,
      Spaethling said.

      Meanwhile, city officials are putting the finishing touches on a staff
      report evaluating the high-speed rail's potential effect on Palo Alto.
      The City Council is scheduled to discuss the report at its March 2
      meeting.


      [BATN: See also:

      HSRA to consider costly tunneling HSR through Peninsula cities
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40530

      Oblivious Palo Alto NIMBYs suddenly notice decade-old HSR plans
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40529

      Atherton wants HSR underground -- prepares 28-page letter
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/40509

      Comment: Undergrounding Caltrain in Palo Alto an old idea
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39475

      Editorial: Undergrounding Caltrain, HSR tracks worth exploring
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39431

      Palo Alto leaders propose putting Caltrain, HSR underground
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39430 ]
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