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Town Square

Palo Alto looks to Hill to soothe high-speed-rail concerns

Original post made on Feb 15, 2013

California's high-speed rail project may have left the station last year, when the state Legislature approved funding for the first segment by a single vote, but Palo Alto officials still have plenty of concerns about the locally unpopular project, and they hope their newest representative in Sacramento can help.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, February 15, 2013, 9:43 AM

Comments

Posted by 4TrainLanes!!, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

How in the world would we have 4 train lanes!!!
Don't think there is enough space.
Homes would have to be moved I'd say.


Posted by anon, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm

"locally unpopular project"? Several polls have found that a majority of Californians oppose high-speed rail. It isn't just "unpopular" locally.

You should have also pointed out that Jerry Hill voted FOR high-speed rail, thumbing his nose at Palo Alto and Menlo Park. It's hard to believe he will do anything to help us now. He's owned by the unions, who are pushing high-speed rail.

I realize the Weekly is a strong supporter of high-speed rail, but try to be objective with your reporting.


Posted by Kim S., a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2013 at 2:28 pm

I totally agree with anon, Hill is in the Union's pocket.


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

A strong supporter of HSR? Not really, not at all. This site is chalk full of articles debating the issue, and most of those articles are full of angry comments from HSR opponents.

The majority of Californians oppose HSR? That's weird, because I remember having a statewide vote on the project and the people voted for it.

This whole thing has to do with Palo Alto and Menlo Park delaying the project and driving up prices because they refuse to be a part of the process. They refuse to budge an inch. My grandmother wasn't too happy about giving up part of her backyard so highway 85 could be built, but she did it. I'm sure plenty of people appreciate her sacrifice, and she never complained about it.


Posted by choo choo charlie, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 15, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously to support the HSR Prop 1A measure in 1998. It then urged Palo Alto residents to vote for Prop 1A at every following city council meeting and Palo Alto residents responded by passing Prop 1A with an over 70% margin. Even the Palo Alto Weekly chimed in with their overwhelming support of Prop 1A. So the current wishy-washy city council is spending taxpayer money on city lobbyists to persuade anybody who will listen to stop the HSR project. Incredible ignorance and stupidity seems to rule and now we all have to pay the price of a majority vote by a uninformed or misinformed city council, local media, and city residents. Spending taxpayer money won't erase your vote of ignorance.


Posted by Dan, a resident of Southgate
on Feb 15, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Palo Alto has a lobbyist?


Posted by Nicki, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 15, 2013 at 4:57 pm

Choo Choo Charlie has it exactly right. The PA City Council sold us down the river with their vote of confidence for the HSR, several years ago.
Jerry Hill will lobby for the interests of Palo Alto....really? He voted for HSR against the wishes of his constituents.


Posted by Homie, a resident of Southgate
on Feb 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Homes WILL have to be moved, which is why there are so many homes for sale cheap along Park Ave. The owners want to get out now, before they get ripped off by eminent domain.

My own HSR concern is the noise. The current Cal Train and freight noise is bad enough, since I live a block away from Alma. The other concern is what is this going to do to my property value? Other people in the first blocks off Alma are having trouble selling, presumably because of buyer worries about HSR.

I have heard several times that billionaires in Woodside, Atherton, and Hillsborough are suing to keep this from happening, and that Larry Ellison is among them. I so hope it is true.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 15, 2013 at 8:43 pm

P.A. Native -- the proposition voted in was only to fund initial phases and included lots of selling points, but few details. Once people realized what they were REALLY proposing, how the costs were grossly underestimated and the ridership figures exaggerated beyond recognition, many cities and citizens balked. The vote on 1A is NOT the current barometer of support for HSR -- all independent analyses and most public polls show strong opposition based on data the HSR failed to share with the public. Palo Alto and Menlo Park are not "failing to join in" in the way you suggest. All Peninsula cities are concerned.


Posted by Jerald, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 15, 2013 at 10:02 pm

I hope the city has some success reigning in the HSR Authority and their plans to install a 4 track highway down the Peninsula. However, thinking Jerry Hill will do anything that might hinder any thing the HSR Authority wants to do is highly unlikely. Jerry and his colleague Rich Gordon have made it abundantly clear that big labor groups are their main concern, not Peninsula residents. I sincerely doubt that either of them cares what damage HSR causes to communities in California, whether there are 2 tracks or 4, where the train goes, how much it costs, and who pays, just so long as the fraud keeps pumping dollars into the pockets of their biggest supporters. It's really disgusting


Posted by Council was blind, a resident of another community
on Feb 16, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Choo Choo Charlie is correct. The council and especially Yoriko and Larry were behind pushing for HSR. And then a few weeks after the vote....

Of course Larry and Yoriko were so blinded with the "public transportation=less traffic" issue that they did not do any research on HSr.
They were practically orgasmic is their support.


Posted by Midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 16, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Homie

I can guarantee you that HSR will be quieter than CAltrain. Electric vs diesel engine, not even close. And no horn since all the crossings will be gone.


Posted by Zeester, a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 16, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Yup...Hill ? Didn't he forget his base case at the audition? He has no base to fit the Bill...right? Right. The blended approach is a drunkards dream.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 16, 2013 at 6:39 pm

I have never thought that HSR made any practical sense. It was, and is, a green dream project, even though it is not very green, and it is very disruptive and expensive.

For some time, I have thought that rational politicians would wake up and kill it off, as they have in other states. However, with the reelection of Barack Obama and with Jerry Brown in state office, I think it will be pushed through, because it means union jobs, and deficit stimulus spending.

I also think it will become an elevated system, as originally proposed, because that is the cheapest way to do it.


Posted by lucinda, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 16, 2013 at 7:24 pm

HSR quieter than caltrain, really? Fast trains, and the plans HSR has for the peninsula is for 200MPH trains, are really noisy, who are you kidding Midtowner? HSR fully implemented will sound like a rocket as it passes, the relatively quiet electric motors won't be audible over the wind noise the train will make. In addition, there are NO plans, and certainly not one dollar, for ANY grade separations ANYWHERE on the Peninsula ANY time in the next few decades. In the mean time, all those extra trains on the caltrain tracks will be blowing their horns, as they are required to do, crossing gates will be down more frequently due to increased train traffic, trains will be running almost twice as fast as they do now (back to the wind noise problem), and faster trains and no grade separations will sadly probably lead to more unintended fatalities on the tracks.

I don't believe Hill or Gordon could care less.

That is HSR on the Peninsula, Jerry's legacy.


Posted by big, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 16, 2013 at 10:39 pm

big is a registered user.

The noise will devalue real estate.


Posted by Brian Guth-Pasta, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Brian Guth-Pasta is a registered user.

I'm embarrassed to say I grew up in Palo Alto with all these NIMBY's. Grow the hell up and realize this infrastrcture is vital to California and stop acting like a bunch of spoiled rich snobs. I can't believe Palo Alto of all places would NOT want this. Oh wait, I forgot, you may have to live with some construction for a few months. Boo-freaking-hoo.


Posted by Stan, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 17, 2013 at 8:28 pm

"some construction for a few months. Boo-freaking-hoo." sounds like a suppressed quote from the HSR public relations brochure.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2013 at 8:56 pm

@Brian Guth-Pasta

Its generally a very specific demographic people who aren't only against this, but against everything. They've somehow got it into their heads that they live in a bubble, and think that the city shouldn't change even though the whole world is changing around them.


Posted by Brian Guth-Pasta, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2013 at 12:26 am

Brian Guth-Pasta is a registered user.

@Robert "Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!

@Stan You can't have any construction plan this big without noise. It just isn't possible. This needs to happen at point in the 20 years. I'm sorry if you don't want the noise during construction but Palo Alto will be here long after you and I are dead. These tracks are necessary and will be there for much longer and provide a better service than either one of us could provide for our entire lives.


Posted by alex, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

I agree with Brian Guth-Pasta.

Also, We can use our agreement to this as leverage to eliminate our ABAG problems with excess low income housing. I'm low income and I still don't agree with it.

We can also insist on special considerations as far as how it's built in our community.

We are a special community. We create value for all surrounding areas.


Posted by GoPublicTransit, a resident of University South
on Feb 18, 2013 at 10:41 am

"A strong supporter of HSR? Not really, not at all. This site is chalk full of articles debating the issue, and most of those articles are full of angry comments from HSR opponents."

So Embarcadero Media and the folks on Palo Alto Online speak for the other 99.99% of the public? I doubt that the majority of Palo Altans are so anti-progress. If the residents of this town are so against tax-and-spend government, then why do they vote overwhelmingly for liberal politicians guaranteed to pursue exactly that course of action? And why do they tolerate a spendy city government?


Posted by GoPublicTransit, a resident of University South
on Feb 18, 2013 at 10:50 am

"We can also insist on special considerations as far as how it's built in our community.

We are a special community. We create value for all surrounding areas."

We are not half as special as we think we are. 'Specially stuck up, whiny and elitist perhaps, which is why the surrounding areas derisively refer to us as Shallow Alto. The reality is that we are no better or more special than anyone else. Our detiorating downtown provides ample proof of that.


Posted by Forward, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2013 at 1:25 pm

I want to repost something not many in this debate saw. It solves a lot of the problems of high-speed rail and retains many of the advantages. It's not without its challenges, but maybe we should stop and reflect about how we could move forward in a better way rather than playing such expensive catch up.

Kill High-Speed Rail in favor of Self-Driving Car Autobahn?
Web Link


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I have been a proponent of HSR until the costs started getting astronomical. I believe that this could be the way forward. Self Drive (rental or zip car) autobahn.


Posted by Casey Jones, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 18, 2013 at 2:38 pm

If your only experience with trains is from Palo Alto, it's easy to be anxious about fast trains. However, real HSR on elevated tracks is much quieter than the current trains through Palo Alto. If you visit the many places in the world where they run, much of this anxiety goes away. If you travel on them, enthusiasm might even build.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Feb 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"However, real HSR on elevated tracks is much quieter than the current trains through Palo Alto."

True, however HSR is NOT prepared to elevate (or tunnel or sub grade) the system on the Peninsula.

Sadly, HSR will run out of money long before it get here.

Done right, by tunneling or placing below grade, would be great but HSR does not have the funds to do it right.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 18, 2013 at 4:22 pm

>True, however HSR is NOT prepared to elevate

I believe that (elevation) was the original concept. It is a lot cheaper than digging tunnels, and it provides grade separations. To leave it at grade is as absurd as the original vote to approve it...imagine the East/West commute in Palo Alto!

HSR will push its way through Palo Alto, thanks to Obama and Brown and our city council. No political way to stop it, at this point. Maybe PA should switch its approach, and support elevated rails?


Posted by Ernst, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 18, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Regarding HSR's plan to elevate the tracks; yes, it is true that was, and I believe until it's officially off the table in writing, it still is their plan. HSR Authority does talk a lot about the two track Peninsula 'solution', but again, a 4 track alignment is still the official plan that the HSR Authority wants to ultimately implement on the Peninsula. I think Jerry Hills current proposed legislation attempts to legislate a 2 track alignment on the Peninsula, so, it would seem that until or unless changed, the 4 track plan, is the plan.

As far as grade separations and elevated track, I believe that the plan was for the HSR trains to run on elevated tracks. Caltrain and Union Pacific would still rumble by on their ground level tracks, resulting in grade separations for the HSR trains, same bad situation for Caltrain and UP freight trains.

Another point about elevated trains, a train passing at 200+ MPH makes a heck of a lot of noise as it parts the wind as it passes. Lift it up 20 feet in the air, and that noise projects even further than the same train at ground level. In the US, elevated trains seem to be reserved for poorer neighborhoods without political muscle. Look where the NYC subway is above ground, Harlem, and where it is below ground, Manhattan. Chicago is not so different. Elevated trains are hardly a status symbol.

Tunneling seems to be simply too expensive, but trenching the tracks results in grade separations everywhere, and possibly some decent noise abatement too, and possibly some degree of out of sight, out of mind.


Posted by Forward, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 8:09 am

Elevated trains are also a physical barrier. There's no way to get around that, unfortunately. Go look at elevated trackks in san leandro and similar. It would bisect our town.

Look at the link for the self-driving car aurobahn... Where are our forward thinkers here?!


Posted by Not cheap, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2013 at 3:11 pm

This is prohibitively expensive, and there is not enough guaranteed ridership for it to ever run in the black. Too many of the HSRs in the world run in the red, most notably the TGV in France. The only one I have been on or read about being truly profitable is the Shinkansen in Japan.

I suspect that it requires a really, really dense population to make HSR pay off, and we do not have that anywhere in this country except the East Coast Megalopolis.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:01 am

What I find funny is the deeply delusional claim that it is somehow 'vital to california's infrastructure'. Not even close! It is a boutique rail service that a few hundred tourists will enjoy every day, and whose business riders could have been flying just as easily.

Make no mistake, it is a $100 billion dollar pay off to big construction companies and unions. There is enough money available here to buy the next two decades of california elections.


Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@lucinda, you can't have it both ways, both a whooshing speeding 200 mph train AND clanging bells and honking horns. Only if it grade separated can the train go fast with the wind noise. Only if it is not grade separated will you have bells and horns, but a slower train.

I think the sound of the wind would be less than the sound of diesel, bells and horns. I hope one day to go near to an active TGV (French HSR) rail line where the trains go fast, to hear for myself their noise level. The TGV is a great way to travel and much less polluting than flying. London had a proposed HSR with residents concerned about noise, so they commissioned a demonstration to superimpose sounds from the TGV upon typical ambient sounds in a few locations near the proposed rail line: Web Link In that project, it appears they have planned for a noise barrier, so if HSR comes here and it is not trenched (or maybe even if it is) we could push for a sound barrier of our own.

In addition to the change in noise characteristics, the HSR project requires electrification, so there would be no diesel pollution from the trains, and diesel fumes are toxic so that is a net benefit. The grade separation would dramatically reduce suicides and eliminate accidental deaths.

In the absence of HSR from SF to LA, there will need to be more flights, maybe airport expansions, and added freeway lanes, so blocking HSR would produce other cost and noise and air pollution impacts. Our infrastructure challenges will not be solved by ignoring them, and any solution will have trade-offs.

From a publication by the CA HSR Authority (Web Link) with handy graphs of noise levels:
High-speed trains are generally quieter than conventional trains.
+ Because high-speed trains are electrically powered, there's no noisy diesel engine, so a high-speed train has to travel about 150 mph before it makes as much sound as a commuter train at 79 mph.
+ And because California's high-speed trains will be grade-separated (they'll go over or under streets and roads) there's no need for noisy bells or horns required at existing level crossings.
Fast trains make for shorter sounds.
+ A train moving at 220 miles per hour will only be heard for about four seconds.
+ In comparison, a 50-car freight train traveling at 30 miles an hour can be heard for 60 seconds.


Posted by Not cheap, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm

It seems as though it is all stacked against the people who it will affect most. I hope that it is true that there are billionaires who have lawsuits against HSR. It is impractical at best, and divisive and destructive of communities.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 20, 2013 at 9:53 pm

I don't think the noise will be as bad as the visual impact, and the dividing of the city by elevating the train. But the real problem is the terrible waste of money. How can the state possible afford this as cities are going bankrupt, and the states obligations continue to spiral out of control.

If you want to get a sense of what it might sound like, this is a good recording of the TGV passing. Kind of an annoying sound, but probably not as bad as the freight horns in the middle of the night.

Web Link


Posted by Ernie, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Feb 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm

Cedric, you make some interesting points, however, when you use the HSR Authority as your source of some of your information, well know distributors of outright lies and false information regarding their version of high speed rail, your claims ring hollow.

As someone pointed out, there are zero dollars for any grade separations anywhere on the Peninsula. Zero. Until that changes, bells and horns will increase in frequency as train traffic increases, whether the trains are diesel or electric. A fully implemented high speed rail plan makes the Peninsula one of the last segments of the system to accommodate high speed trains > 150 MPH, and that would not happen for decades, and again, only if the money materializes to pay for it some how. Also, the preferred high speed plan for the Peninsula is to elevate the high speed trains, and leave caltrain and UP freight where they are on the ground. Then you have the shriek of a fast trains up in the air, and the constant ringing of bells and horns on the ground. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?

Regarding the elimination of diesel pollution. Yes, that would be a real benefit. However, freight trains will almost certainly continue to run on diesel fuel, and where exactly do you think the electricity to power all those electric trains [estimated to be up to 3 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year] will come from? Maybe the Palo Alto biomass generation plant?

High speed rail in CA is a solution to a transportation problem that does not exist, and will cost the tax payers of CA, and probably the rest of the country, several hundred billion dollars after paying off principal and interest, just to build it. Annual subsidies to offset lacking ticket revenue are expected to be a billion dollars or so.

It's a fraud.


Posted by Martin, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2013 at 5:35 pm

There are some wrong facts here, that it's no wonder everyone in Palo Alto is so anti HSR. Here are some corrections/comments:
1) Speed: Top speed for peninsula was never 200mph, but rather 125mph. Latest proposal has it down to 110mph. 4 comments draw wrong conclusions about the noise from that
2) Grade separations. Whether you're for or against HSR, but I'm surprised there's so much angst against grade separation. Palo Alto is practically ground zero for suicides with one just last week. Then there was the car wreck two years ago where a woman died when she stopped on tracks. I feel that for sake of the children who committed suicide and others, someone should favor grade separation.
3) Noise. Noise will decrease with grade seperation. Additional sound walls can be put up like those on 101 to mute noise further.
4) Dividing town. I think people are talking about "visual" divide. If anything, crossing tracks will now be faster and safer when you're not waiting for gates to come down for the 100+ trains per day. We can plant trees, vegetation, ivy and other things to mask the elevated tracks. Plus, honestly, how bad is the grade separation at University ave? I don't see too many walls. Perhaps rather than asking for tunnels, someone can work on similar proposal.