WireWorld » Bicycling » Bike Blog » Palo Alto complaining about high speed rail

Palo Alto complaining about high speed rail

There was a big dustup about the California High Speed Rail and Caltrain partnership. Now that voters have approved the line, now we get to see how expensive it will be after everybody realizes there will be rail running through their backyard.

Bikes and trains go together like cake and frosting. You can't eat more than a finger full of frosting because it's super-sweet. But the cake is better with frosting. They balance each other out. Same with bikes and trains. Rail is expensive to lay and it works best to have long trains that go fast, so you want to use it as a transportation artery. You could drive to the train station, but that's about the worst possible way to commute, being before your engine and catalytic converter has a chance to warm up which leads to more pollution, less fuel efficiency, and often a car that doesn't last as long as it ought to. Bikes are a much better answer to how to get people to the trains.

Thus, right now, there's the Caltrain lines going between San Francisco and San Jose, with commuter trains down to Gilroy. And there's a fairly significant bike-to-train population, so the stations get loaded with tons of bikes and the bike cars get full too.

There's also some Amtrak lines up and down the coast, but they aren't great. The problem is, it's all shared with cargo rail, so passenger rail doesn't always keep to a good schedule. It's also fairly slow. It works better for my parents, who don't have a job to return to, than it works for us. But if you think about how many cars take the I-5 and US 101 up and down the coast, plus the huge number of flights up and down the coast, you realize that getting there at a decent speed is kind of important.

Now, the California High Speed Rail actually, at least out here, prepared to solve two problems at once. See, Caltrain is diesel. So, when the gas prices went haywire in 2008, they were getting heavy use, but were also spending a lot of money to power the trains. Thus, they need to go electric so they aren't exposed to that, plus so they can run tunnels underground to the Transbay Terminal, plus it'll make the already speedy service even speedier. The high speed rail needs somewhere to lay track, and it's easier if there's already some of the work done.

Places like Redwood City and San Mateo recognize that the improvements to CalTrain have made their communities better.

Unfortunately, Palo Alto and Menlo Park and Atherton refuse to consider such a thing. A poster on Palo Alto's daily yellow journal claims that "An elevated high speed rail train thruogh this town would bring devastating impacts across the community - including miserable traffic, ruination of property values from 101 to El Camino, that will equate to ruination of school district, terrible noise impacts, terrible hits to our school sites, fields, parks, historic character, and so much more more. This is direct threat to the very nature and character and value of Palo Alto, and many of our neighborhing cities as well."

Which totally ignores that once you electrify CalTrain and maintain the tracks to HSR standards, the trains get quieter and CalTrain service will improve further. Likewise, it's not going to add to the traffic because people will be able to start at the closest existing commuter station.

Pretty much, what these communities really want is for all four tracks of CalTrain + HSR to be running underground, however they don't want to pay whatever above-and-beyond costs this would require above the costs to either run four tracks parallel or running two tracks on ground-level, plus two tracks above in a concrete platform. But they don't want to say this, so they'll claim that they've been bamboozled by the various authorities or other such BS.

As is, in what the Palo Alto folks are calling a victory, there's a partnership but now the partnership doesn't specify exactly what arrangement of rails is used. Which is really just kicking it down the curb leaving room for future nasty battles.

Me? I want it today I'll be able to bike to visit my friends in southern California.

Comments