Viewpoint - August 31, 2011

Letter: High-speed rail chief not happy with 2 tracks

This letter is in response to an article last week saying that high-speed rail could use the Caltrain corridor.

Several months ago, Sen. Joe Simitian proposed what has become known as the SEG plan (because it was also endorsed by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Assemblyman Richard Gordon). This plan envisioned a "minimal intrusion" on the Peninsula with CalTrain and high-speed rail trains using the same tracks on the CalTrain corridor.

The central elements of the plan insisted on by Sen. Simitian were these: this would be a two-track system, rather than a four-track system; it would be built "at grade," meaning no grade separations; and the system would be built within the existing right-of-way, avoiding eminent domain and property condemnation.

This proposal then started getting enthusiastic support from certain Peninsula city council people and other politicians. But on Aug. 17, as the Almanac article points out, the California High-Speed Rail CEO, Roelf van Ark, in a statement, said that this "two track" system was only the "initial" step and that eventually a four-track system would be required.

This is a complete betrayal and borders on deceit; the support given to SEG was premised on a minimally intrusive two-track system, yet the Peninsula stands to get the full package, which will wind up being the hated viaduct system, 60 feet up in the air (which is the cheapest method).

All local politicians/council members who support the SEG proposal should now withdraw their support in light of these inexcusable tactics. If they do not, what does it say about them — that they knew the four-track system was coming but support it anyway, but couched their SEG support in a way that would make them look "protective" of Peninsula towns and cities?

Furthermore, Sen. Simitian, Congresswoman Eshoo, and Assemblyman Gordon should now announce that, in light of California High-Speed Rail's position, the SEG proposal is withdrawn.

CalTrain itself was a big player in this dishonest game, and this should sour Peninsula residents on supporting their grandiose and unnecessary spending plans, in light of the fact that they have exhibited no interest in the legitimate concerns of the Peninsula communities about the dire effects of HSR on the Peninsula.

When the federal government announced that the initial focus of the high-speed rail project would be in the Central Valley, the Peninsula breathed a sigh of relief. Now, SEG threatens to revive the nightmare.

All Peninsula residents should understand clearly that SEG is the device now being used to put high-speed rail on the CalTrain corridor. If they oppose this, they should contact their council representatives and tell them so. As the Almanac itself has repeatedly reported, this project is dying of its own accord, due to incompetence and huge cost overruns. The last thing we need is to give it some adrenalin here on the Peninsula.

Michael J. Brady, Redwood City


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