Palo Alto residents demand HSR be built underground
- 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
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
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
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
"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,
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
[BATN: See also:
HSRA to consider costly tunneling HSR through Peninsula cities
Oblivious Palo Alto NIMBYs suddenly notice decade-old HSR plans
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