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Palo Alto is “suspicious” of California HSR

(EDITOR’S NOTE: the “comments” section contains some excellent information and local insight. THANKS TO OUR READERS!)

The Almanac Online reports Palo Alto officials have some concerns about the proposed California HSR splitting the community in tow and taking private property to expand the existing right-of-way.

The draft memorandum of understanding between the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board and the California High-Speed Rail Authority lays out the framework for cooperation between the two agencies. But the document also indicates that the two agencies already have a fairly clear idea of what the Caltrain corridor would look like when the high-speed rail is built.

“Ultimate configuration of the Caltrain corridor will be a four-track, grade-separated high speed rail system, with mixed traffic from Caltrain commuter rail and the high speed train service capable of operation on all four tracks to enable Caltrain to achieve service levels of no less than eight trains per hour in each direction,” the agreement between the two agencies reads. “In some places, the corridor may consist of more than four tracks.”

The statement appears to contradict earlier assertions by rail-authority officials that all design options — including running the high-speed rail through an underground tunnel — are still on the table. Palo Alto officials and residents have strongly argued that running the line underground would be in the best interests of the city.

So the question arises, are they living in some sort of alternate universe? The very idea of building this tunnel brings up ugly visions of Boston’s “big dig.” The price tax makes a tax-and-spend liberal like me wince.

Pesky details like the original agreements for the right-of-way may drasticly change the situation. Who knows? Otherwise, there’s always politics. How can the local needs be accommodated in the bigger picture?

This is not an easy situation. In Little Rock, for example, a freeway cut through the central city neighborhoods 25 years ago. What emerged is a   vast sector of substandard housing and crime. This is in place of middle income  neat neighborhoods. If the railroad must be expanded, as much of the streets and local amenities must remain.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

9 Responses

  1. Avi says:

    Can the line be rerouted to stop on the outskirts of the city instead of in the middle? Sure it’s not an ideal stop for the train, but if it stops the city from being cut in half it may be the best alternative.

  2. Pat Lynch (not signed in right now) says:

    Without being an expert on local geography, I think the likelyhood of that would be slim. The point of HSR is (generally speaking) to deliver passengers into the middle of town.

    We’re talking European style 200 mph trains and you also want to keep the track fairly straight. There are all kinds of engineering issues.

    The price of land being what it is, following the existing lines usually makes a lot of sense.

    Anybody else want to take a swing at it?

  3. Eric H says:

    As a Boston resident let me just throw out there the figure of $800,000 per foot, which was the final combined cost of building the underground portions of the Big Dig.

    I think this is a little misguided personally. I’ve never found that routing a set of train elevated train tracks through a neighborhood has nearly the same dividing effect that an elevated highway can have. For one thing the highway is nearly twice as wide as the train tracks would be, creating a dark, uninviting and noisy area underneath. For another, highways typically have busy on and off ramp intersections beneath them that cannot easily be crossed on foot.

    In Chicago, for example, it is hard to imagine that people would find the relatively quiet Metra tracks going through Hyde Park to be nearly as disruptive to the neighborhood as the Dan Ryan cutting through the neighborhoods a few miles to the west. The difference is night and day.

  4. Eric H says:

    Oops. I do want to receive follow-up comments by email. 😉

  5. bossyman15 says:

    I HATE PALO ALTO! DAMN THEM TO HELL!!!! Just trust them to this! they have said the protery taking will be last resource!

  6. Walter says:

    Luckily for Palo Alto, a four-track right-of-way has already been pounded through cities and offers lessons for what may occur.

    In the Bronx, the Harlem/New Haven Lines of Metro-North have sliced through the borough since they were part of the New York Central’s early 1900s expansion, and did nothing to kill that area of the city. In New Haven, the railroad ends in a gigantic yard, which also had no adverse affects upon the city. In fact, both areas were enriched by the rail service, and still are.

    Someone tell the city officials in Palo Alto that a four-track right of way is no big deal. Also tell them to ask officials in the Bronx and New Haven how the Cross Bronx Expressway and I-95/I-91/Rt. 34 have affected those cities.

    Oh, four tracks also wind their way through Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, Norwalk, Westport, and Fairfield. I guess those towns were just destroyed by it, weren’t they? (Oh, what’s that, those towns actually turn profits on their parking lots next to stations? Who would have thought?)

  7. Bianca says:

    I live 2000 feet from the Caltrain tracks (the right-of-way where CHSRA plans to build the high speed rail line segment between San Jose and San Francisco.) In most areas the existing right-of-way is wide enough for four tracks. For those who are unfamiliar with the area, the current two-track line has an active commuter train service running commuter trains all day long and some freight at night when no passenger service is running. There are numerous at-grade crossings, and at peak commuter hours the trains crossing at grade cause all sorts of traffic backups, and the grade crossings mean loud horns blowing at all hours, day and night, in addition to the loud diesel locomotives.

    Caltrain is noisy and disrupts traffic, and impedes easy bike/pedestrian flow. Achieving an electrified, grade-separated train line will be and improvement for most of the community, and it is something that Caltrain is planning for regardless of HSR.

    Some people around here fear that HSR will be some sort of Robert Moses-esque wholesale destruction of the community. But the rail line is already in place and in use. It *already* divides the community in half. In addition to the nosebleed-inducing cost, I question the wisdom of tunneling in such a seismically active area. When the Big One hits I don’t want to be in a tube 50 feet underground, thank you very much.

  8. mszv says:

    Not everyone in Palo Alto is like that. We voted for the high speed rail proposal. I for one support it, including an elevated train.

    Just wanted you to know that.

  9. Rafael says:

    The irony is, it’s perfectly possible to turn this into something positive for the community at far less than the cost of a four-bore tunnel. Sure, just about anything’s going to be more expensive than what the California High Speed Rail Authority used for its initial cost estimates, but there’s no need to go to the other extreme, either. More details here:

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