PCC chair: elevated HSR a "death knell ... we have to fight it"
- Published Saturday, August 7, 2010, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
Cities' frustration rising after tunnels ruled out
By Diana Diamond
Daily Post Associate Editor
Frustration, anger and a sense of inevitability were apparent at yesterday's Peninsula Cities Consortium <http://peninsularail.com> when representatives from four cities discussed the California High-Speed Rail Authority's decision to drop plans to put the new train system in a tunnel or a covered trench on the mid-Peninsula.
Instead the authority voted to go with putting the high-speed train on elevated tracks, in an open ditch or leaving it at ground level.
Atherton resident William Grindley, who attended the rail authority's board meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, said it was pretty clear "the board still listens to themselves."
"If there ever was an example of exactly the kinds of arrogance that we have been met with time and again from the High-Speed Rail Authority, it manifested itself yesterday when (authority board member) Rod Diridon said, 'There is going to be a high-speed rail on the Peninsula, and you better get used to it,' " Grindley said.
Atherton wanted tunnels or a covered trench -- but it looks like it will not get either option.
"I have some fundamental questions of where do we go from here ... I am not very optimistic that things will work out for us," said Atherton City Council member Jerry Carlson. "Aerial is not a consideration for us. Our whole town will be impacted by the noise."
"I was shocked when I saw the alternatives," said Belmont Mayor Christine Wozniak. "We are not being heard. They are acting like it's no big deal to add a couple of tracks 40 feet high."
As of Thursday, the authority has slated Belmont for elevated tracks.
[BATN notes Belmont and San Carlos both agreed to elevate the Caltrain tracks through their cities about 20 years ago in order to simultaneously eliminate five at-grade crossings and the associated horn-blowing, traffic impacts and danger of collisions, while creating some new bicycle/pedestrian underpasses; Caltrain and freights have been running on the resulting elevated berm through those cities since October 1999.]
Burlingame had issued a statement to the authority saying it wanted tunnels or nothing.
But as of Thursday, Burlingame is getting either elevated or ground-level tracks, according to Bob Doty, a High-Speed Rail Authority project manager for the Peninsula.
"I cannot live with an open trench," said Terry Nagel, Burlingame's vice mayor.
"My biggest frustration is having only two options. The aerial option is not one we can support."
Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline was the most indignant consortium member. "We saw photos of elevated tracks," he said. "It looked like a freeway way up there. It was disgusting."
'A death knell for our city'
Cline said the authority's new CEO, Roelof van Ark, who visited Menlo Park, "is not worried about your feelings."
"He does not like a trench with stacked trains (two rails on top of two rails)," Cline said. "He probably wants aerial. We want underground and will fight for it."
Cline complained that the authority is saying that the value of properties near the tracks will increase, especially if the tracks are elevated.
"That's completely false," he said. "Aerial is a death knell for our city. We have to fight it."
Local residents who have been following the rail debate weighed in on the discussion yesterday.
Morris Brown of Menlo Park, a strong opponent of high-speed rail going through Peninsula cities, told the consortium that van Ark had said that the applications for federal funding submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration yesterday are only for aerial alternatives -- and that the CEO said his group is not even costing out undergrounding.
"This means we're going to get aerials," he said.
"We are delusional if we think the authority will use an uncovered trench," said Betsy McGinn of the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail, who presented a bleak view of the authority's decision. "They will go with at-grade or an aerial structure."
Cost issues disputed
Bill Cutler of Palo Alto said the cost is not the issue, although the authority claims it is. An uncovered trench would cost $1 billion more out of the $5 billion cost for the train going through the Peninsula, he said.
But the whole project's estimate of $43 billion is way too low, he said, so the extra $1 billion for trenching high-speed rail on the Peninsula is not a big percentage of the overall cost.
Board will send letters
The consortium board, with Mayor Pat Burt of Palo Alto absent, decided to send letters -- one to the authority asking for more transparency by taping their board meetings; one to the Federal Railroad Administration, noting their objections to elevated tracks; one letter to state and national legislators asking them to oppose aerial tracks and listing the consortium's concerns; and another one to the High-Speed Rail Authority asking that their committee meetings be webcasted or teleconferenced, allowing the public to find out what is going on.
[BATN: See also:
HSRA trims Peninsula options during packed 5-hour meeting in SF
New SF-SJ HSR plans don't include costly tunnels, upsetting some
Elevated HSR still an option on the Peninsula, frightening some
SMCo. business group urges HSR combatants to dial down rhetoric
HSR planners aim to narrow right-of-way needed along SF-SJ route
HSRA narrows SF-SJ alternatives to those that require less property
HSRA drops tunnel, covered trench alternatives for Peninsula route
Notorious HSR-foes pull papers to run for Menlo Park City Council
Assemblyman Hill defends constituents accused of trying to kill HSR
Business group says Peninsula HSR critics real aim is to kill HSR
Bay Area Council knocks Peninsula HSR critics in scathing letter
Bay Area business group blasts HSR-hostile Peninsula leaders
CA HSR Blog: Bay Area Council Slams PCC
HSR advocates urge Peninsula Cities group to tone down rhetoric
5 Peninsula cities want HSR stopped until their demands are met