Published Tuesday, March 3, 2009, by the San Jose Mercury News
Palo Alto residents march for high-speed rail tunnel
By Will Oremus
Daily News Staff Writer
If Palo Alto didn't want bullet trains racing through town, it should
have spoken up earlier, California High Speed Rail Authority Board
Member Rod Diridon told the city council Monday. The decision to run
the 125-mph trains up the Peninsula via the Caltrain corridor was
made in 2008 after years of debate, and revisiting it now could
cripple the $40 billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project.
Instead, the city ought to focus on how to make the train work now
that it has been approved by the state's voters, Diridon said. The
rail authority has heard the city's desire to study running the
line underground, and it will study that possibility, he added. No
decisions about the specifics of the tracks' design will be made
until after an environmental review.
After unanimously endorsing the high-speed rail plan last fall, Palo
Alto officials are struggling with its potential impacts. One possible
alignment would put the tracks on a 20-foot-high concrete platform so
the trains wouldn't intersect with cross streets. Residents, inflamed
by the prospect of a "Berlin Wall" dividing their neighborhoods, have
been packing public meetings on the topic.
On Monday, more than 50 people marched on City Hall ahead of the
council meeting, carrying signs with slogans such as "Too close to
my school," "Do it right," and even "Revote on Prop 1A." Voicing
an increasingly popular sentiment, they chanted, "High-speed rail
underground, we don't want to hear a sound."
The council responded by unanimously approving a formal letter to the
high-speed rail authority calling for it to study the possibility of
building a rail tunnel under the city. Despite Diridon's comments,
the letter will also call for the rail authority to reopen the
possibility of running the trains through the East Bay or along
the Highway 101 or Interstate 280 corridors rather than along the
Caltrain tracks. Another suggestion is to stop them in San Jose,
forcing riders to transfer to Caltrain to get to San Francisco.
"That's not the end of the line," Council Member Larry Klein said
of the authority's 2008 decision on how to route the trains. "Laws
do get changed. That's what our legislature is for, that's what the
initiative process is for, and that's what the courts are for, in
Speaking of courts, the council also discussed the possibility of
filing an informational brief in a lawsuit challenging the decision.
At this point, Palo Alto is not considering joining Menlo Park and
Atherton as a plaintiff in the suit. For all their reservations
about the details, many Palo Alto residents and leaders continue
to support the concept of high-speed rail.
The city is, however, taking the lead in a potential consortium of
Peninsula cities aimed at gaining leverage in negotiations with the
rail authority, the nine-member body appointed to oversee the
implementation of the statewide high-speed system. Included in the
council's vote Monday was an authorization for Mayor Peter Drekmeier
to establish a subcommittee to represent the city in the consortium.
So far, Mountain View, Menlo Park and a few other cities have
expressed interest in the consortium, while San Mateo and Redwood
City have dismissed it as a distraction. Officials in those two
cities continue to express optimism about the rail line, though
some in San Mateo on Monday said they, too, would be interested
in studying an underground option in the downtown area.
Diridon told Palo Alto it was welcome to join a consortium, but the
rail authority wouldn't give such a group any special negotiating
The city council was divided on forming a citizens' committee to
further study the impacts of high-speed rail, with some arguing a
new body would duplicate the work of the existing Planning and
Transportation Commission. As of midnight, the council had not
decided on that point.
Klein rejected Diridon's warning that any delay could cause project
costs to skyrocket, noting that construction costs have actually
declined in the past year. "If this goes forward, it is going to be
in existence for 100 years, 200 years," he said. "So if it gets
delayed by a year or whatever, I don't think that makes too much
difference. It's much more important this gets done absolutely
E-mail Will Oremus at woremus@...