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Meno Park, Atherton want HSR underground if not via Altamont Pass

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  • 3/3 Menlo Park Almanac
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 3, 2009
      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
      the city.

      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
      officials note.

      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
      for freight.

      INFORMATION

      * 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
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