Meno Park, Atherton want HSR underground if not via Altamont Pass
- Published Tuesday, March 3, 2009, by the Menlo Park Almanac
Bury the rails, say local officials
If high speed rail must come, run it underground, they say
By Sean Howell
When it comes to deciding how high-speed trains will shoot up the
Peninsula, officials in Atherton and Menlo Park have pretty much
one request: put them underground, and out of sight.
Their first preference, of course, is that the trains not come through
their communities at all. The cities have joined a pending lawsuit to
contest the project, contending that the High-Speed Rail Authority's
decision to shoot the trains along the Caltrain corridor -- rather
than through Altamont Pass in the East Bay -- was premature.
But if trains must come up the Peninsula, local officials and
residents would like to see them run in a tunnel or trench, rather
than at ground level or along a raised berm. Both communities are in
the process of drafting letters to the rail authority, outlining the
environmental considerations that should be taken into account as the
project moves through the planning phases.
In its letter, the town of Atherton outlines the possibility of a
trench that would begin at Fifth Avenue in Redwood City and terminate
at San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto, sending the train below ground
level as it passes through Atherton and Menlo Park. The trench would
be open-air for most of the route, but could be covered in some areas,
Atherton officials say -- such as near Atherton's park and town
offices, or by Menlo Park's entire downtown area.
The project, with an estimated total price tag of $40 billion,
promises to bring commuters from Los Angeles to San Francisco in
roughly two and a half hours. High-speed trains could be zooming
up the Peninsula at 125 miles per hour as early as 2014.
Atherton and Menlo Park officials argue that routing the rail line
through a trench or a tunnel would reduce noise, and would keep out
of sight the trains and the electrical lines that will be installed
to guide them. (The lines are similar to those that conduct San
Francisco's buses. [BATN: not so much -- they're surprisingly
similar to those that run above electrified rail lines, particularly
high-speed rail lines.)
In Atherton's letter, Public Works Director Duncan Jones makes the
case that fewer trees would need to be torn out if the trains run
below ground level, because the canopy wouldn't have to be cleared to
make way for the high electrical lines. "An amazing number of trees
need to be removed in electrification projects," said Mr. Jones,
refuting the rail authority's suggestion that it might be able to
avoid removing any trees.
In its letter, Menlo Park notes that a trench or tunnel would make it
easer for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as wildlife, to cross the
tracks. City officials maintain that a raised alignment would divide
Digging a trench or a tunnel is widely assumed to be more expensive
than building a berm, but Atherton and Menlo Park officials both argue
that that might not be the case -- especially because raising and
widening the tracks might require the purchase of additional property,
a costly proposition on the Peninsula. The potential loss in value
to nearby properties, and the potential financial losses to local
businesses during construction, should also be factored into any cost
estimate, local officials argue.
And the state would have to purchase "air rights" along the corridor
if it the rail authority opts to raise the tracks, Menlo Park
Rail officials have highlighted the benefits to local communities of
grade separations, which would allow streets to pass over or under the
rail line at local intersections. The grade separations would ease
congestion, and trains wouldn't have to announce their arrival with a
whistle, officials say.
But in its letter, Menlo Park wonders whether grade separations and
additional tracks would also mean that the rail line would be used
* The California High-Speed Rail Authority will hold an informational
meeting Wednesday, March 4, on the San Francisco to San Jose leg of
the high-speed rail project. The meeting will run from 7 to 9 p.m. in
the Redwood Room of the Veterans Memorial Center at 1455 Madison Ave.
in Redwood City.
* People have until April 6 to submit comment on the environmental
considerations that should be taken into account in planning the
local leg of the high-speed rail project. Comments can be submitted
via e-mail to <comments@...> (with the subject line "San
Francisco to San Jose HST"). Comments can be mailed to: Dan Leavitt,
Deputy Director, ATTN: San Francisco to San Jose HST Project,
EIR/EIS, California High-Speed Rail Authority, 925 L St., Suite 1425,
Sacramento, CA 95814.
* The project's Web site is http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov