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September 10, 2009



Kudos to Peninsula Cities Coalition (PCC) for the impressive High Speed Rail (HSR) teach-in held in Palo Alto on Saturday. With a range of experts on all sides of the issue, it was a balanced and abundantly informative event. My single biggest take-away was reiterated by speakers throughout the day:

“Now is the time to act. Do not wait. Later is too late. You must participate. You can make a difference.”

I was most impressed by keynote speaker Gary Patton, Special Counsel, Planning and Conservation League, who is an attorney, long-time Santa Cruz County politician and community activist who gave direction and specific local examples of how community members can change the destiny of a project considered “a done deal,” like many Californians currently consider the HSR initiative.

The teach-in’s clarity on complex issues surrounding HSR validated the legitimacy of the communities’ concerns and at the same time, reinforced my opinion that the HSR Authority’s responses to our questions continue to be inadequate.

Based on the statistic of a “$1Billion annual revenue surplus” screaming from a slick flyer provided by the HSR Authority, I asked for the math behind the number. I was told by Dominic Spaethling, Regional Manager for HSR Authority, that he could not answer the question because his area of responsibility is the Peninsula. This is consistent with previous responses I have received to questions posed to the HSR folks, as well as the never-failing response “I’ll get back to you with an answer,” which never happens.

There were two keynote speakers and seven additional participants that gave brief presentations and then participated in Q & A panels on “What are the opportunities and challenges regarding key technical and operational issues?” and “How can the public influence the process and final outcome?”

Robert Doty, Director, Peninsula Rail Program, Caltrain/California HSR Authority was the second keynote speaker. Having been involved in rail projects internationally, he was a wealth of knowledge on the topic, however not on the details of the California project. Not his fault - I think he is a straight-shooter and as he learns more, will honestly share information. He did note that Tokyo has the only self-supporting rail transit system globally, due in large part to the commercial development partnerships created throughout the system. This is what prompted my unanswered question about the $1B annual revenue surplus.

Rich Tolmach is President of the California Rail Foundation and his presentation gave great visuals of HSR in other countries. We learned that European HSR is never constructed through neighborhoods but follows freeways, that the last 4-track elevated rail project in Europe was in the 1930’s, that the proposed speeds for the 2.5 hour trip to Los Angeles are considered abusive speeds at up to 217 mph. The current HSR plan is for 12 trains per hour. According to Rich, by comparing similar regions in Europe, legitimate ridership projections would be met by a train every ½ hour. Mr. Doty noted that the system will require 8 trains per hour for feasibility.

Dave Young from Hatch Mott MacDonald gave an exhaustive lesson on tunneling and we learned that tunneling is possible, both above and below the water table. It is just a matter of cost when dealing with many geological challenges. This is why, it is my personal belief, HSR Authority has no intention of considering tunneling. With their current $40B price tag on this project, I am not sure how they will actually afford to buy trains once they build the massive wall and lay track, much less pay for tunneling.

Ryan Ojakian, Legislative Aide to State Senator Simitian, reiterated our need to participate with passionate yet reasoned arguments NOW. Our 120 state legislators dole out the funding to the HSR Authority and currently they are demanding a viable business plan, due December 15th, before they approve the next round of funding. He emphasized our responsibility to let our political leaders know what we think about this project and that is the only way in which they can act on our behalf.

Lastly, we were told that our local politicians, our City Council members, have some of the greatest influence on our state legislators and that we need to insist that they take a strong and active role in HSR planning. I contend that this is our single biggest campaign issue in the upcoming City Council election. While I am certain that all candidates will give lip-service to this issue, I want to be confident that actions reflect their claims.

One City Council member up for re-election voted against Burlingame’s membership in the Peninsula Cities Coalition, the organization designed to make sure that Peninsula cities do not get “Railroaded” by HSR. I believe there are two candidates with the will to work vigorously on Burlingame’s behalf and these are the only two who will be checked off on my ballot!


We were out of town for this event, but appreciate the informative summary. I hope the important points will be repeated on Sept.26th at our own Burlingame meeting.

During our road trip down south, we looked for the freight train rails several miles south of Gilroy that we've heard so much about.

The lines that we noticed are mainly single tracks, 'not sure if there are spur tracks somewhere, but there must be, (maybe somebody out there familiar with freight trains knows) -- We did see a couple of (rather slow moving) Amtrak trains and though there doesn't appear to be conflict in grade, we couldn't figure out why they seemed to be traveling so slowly.

What appears to be the Right of Way there is definitely on the narrow side. It will be interesting to see how that is resolved.


Thank you for the summary. When you write that the proposed speeds for the 2.5 hour trip to Los Angeles are considered abusive speeds at up to 217 mph what did they mean by abusive. Was it abusive to the surroundings, the tracks, the cars?


The high-speed rail fight
September 16, 2009, 10:27 PM By Quentin Kopp (Daily Journal)

The 2008 salient event in the march to confer high-speed rail upon Californians, consistent with the type of electrically-powered, almost noiseless, swift, safe, supremely-comfortable transportations Asians and Europeans have used for nearly 45 years, was the Nov. 4 passage of Proposition 1A, the $9 billion financial foundation for the project’s first phase from San Francisco to Anaheim, through San Jose, the Central Valley and downtown Los Angeles.

The California High Speed Rail Authority immediately intensified the project engineering work and accompanying environmental analyses needed to advance construction by 2011, open two or three sections for revenue service by 2014 and finish the 480-mile first phase by 2018. Those endeavors represent sturdy progress of the California High Speed Rail Project, the subject of daily questions to this scribe in whatever setting I find myself, private or public.

Pugnacious advocacy by critics and professional naysayers, often misguided and misinformed, means the historical record of California High Speed Rail and in some respects the contemporary public record needs reaffirmation and some correction.

Editor's note: The full text of this article can be found at the following URL:



To answer commuter's question, "abusive speeds" refers to the impact on the surrounding environment - in this case, the communities through which HSR will pass.

I would like to add that in my opinion, the HSR Authority, is continually dismissive of community concerns, as demonstrated by Kopp's article posted above. While consistently referring to implementing the "will of the California's voters" or the "voter's decision," they fail to mention that even now their plans are intentionally vague to the extent that they are unable to answer the most fundamental questions about their own claims on ridership, profitiability, funding, etc.

I contend that in November 2008, voters where duped in their commendable desire to "do the right thing" for our environment and our future. I am by no means a high-speed rail opponent and would love to step out of the security lines at the airport.

I find it appalling that whenever we call upon the HSR Authority to do the right thing for our community, we are called names like "tricksters" and "Mischief-makers," as in Kopp's SF Chron piece of August 13th.

Let's grow up and treat each other with respect and consideration as we work together on the best outcome for all.


Interesting perspectives on:



There was a counter point to the above Quentin Kopp perspective that should in all fairness be posted. Here is an excerpt and a URL to view the full text:

A chance for high-speed rail reconsideration
September 16, 2009, 10:27 PM By Stuart Flashman, SM Daily Journal

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenney’s recent decision rejecting the environmental work for the Bay Area high-speed rail project is an opportunity. The judge found that the environmental studies were defective in several respects, most notably in failing to consider what it meant that Union Pacific is refusing to allow its right-of-way to be used. Now the question is how the California High Speed Rail Authority will respond.

Former Board Chair Quentin Kopp was at his arrogant best as he described the decision against the authority as nothing more than a bump in the road. Of course, this could be a very large bump, which could not only slow the authority down but maybe force it to rethink its decision.

Certainly that was the intent of the court’s ruling.
Underlying this decision is a major choice for the authority. There are two major options for high-speed rail to get from the Central Valley to San Francisco: One way, the Pacheco Pass alignment, would head west from Merced, come across Pacheco Pass following Highway 152, and then head north past Gilroy into San Jose using the right-of-way now used by Caltrain and Union Pacific. The other option, the so-called Altamont alignment, would go further north past Modesto before turning west and coming across the Altamont Pass into Livermore.
While the right-of-way between San Francisco and San Jose is owned by Caltrain (actually the Peninsula Rail Joint Powers Authority), that south of San Jose belongs to Union Pacific. If Union Pacific sticks to its guns in refusing to allow its right-of-way to be used for high-speed rail, the High Speed Rail Authority has a major problem on its hands. The Union Pacific right-of-way is closely bordered on one side by route 152, the Monterey Highway, and on the other side by many homes and businesses. Putting through a new right-of-way would disrupt and/or displace one or the other — a major impact that the authority hasn’t considered.



Does it really have to end in San Francisco? The population of Alameda and Contra Costa counties is much larger than San Francisco so why are we going so far out of the way to make SF the end of the line?

Picture this: A mega-station in Oakland adjacent to the Oakland Airport to include, BART, Capitol Corridor trains, ACE trains, the airport and a ferry(hovercraft) to connect to South San Francisco and SFO. Imagine how nice it would be to connect SFO and Oakland Airport with a regular water service?

This would provide access from around the Bay and it would avoid the need to tunnel under the bay. Without this tunnel, the Altamont option is much better. Are there really any good arguments for why the train has to end at the glorious transbay terminal in SF or is it just politics?


You are exactly right! San Francisco is just a spur off the main line which, in theory, should eventually proceed to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. There are plenty of ways to pick-up SF passengers without ruining the Peninsula. You have great instincts.

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