Viewpoint - December 14, 2011

Guest opinion: High-speed rail critics have come a long way

by Martin Engel

As early as 2003, when Menlo Park was threatened with grade separations that would have achieved what the high-speed rail authority is now threatening to do on the Caltrain corridor, there was hardly any opposition.

The City Council promoted this idea aggressively, and refused to hear any opposing opinions.

By 2004, high-speed rail began to lurk seriously in the Sacramento legislative background. It was opposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger — that is until 2008, when he "flip-flopped" and supported it.

From those early days, the only local vocal opposition came from three people, who spoke before the City Council, wrote angry letters to all the local papers that always were rejected, to many elected officials, and seldom had opinion pieces published by those local newspapers.

Those opposition voices went pretty much unheard. The Almanac, initially favoring both rail separations and high-speed rail, became convinced of how bad that would be for Menlo Park, the Peninsula and California.

The Almanac published our guest opinion pieces and letters to the editor. They published editorials, written by their editor. They understood just how harmful this project would be for us, and were not afraid to say so and have others say so in their pages. Gradually their stance was followed by other Midpeninsula newspapers and finally, today, the main-stream media newspapers in the Bay Area have followed suit.

The three of us (Mike Brady, Morris Brown and myself) worked with a few legislative members (Republicans, as it happens) who opposed high-speed rail and Proposition 1A on the 2008 ballot.

We wrote drafts of the opposition for the ballot books. Mike, the attorney, organized the three of us into a 401(c)3, called DERAIL. We made numerous trips to Sacramento. We had the pleasure of being publicly insulted by Rod Diridon.

Needless to say, we were among the Menlo Park minority that voted against Proposition 1A and this threatening nightmare of a project, knowing full well what a disaster it would be environmentally and financially.

We lost. Proposition 1A, which the Palo Alto City Council supported unanimously with a resolution, passed. We continued to "politik" as vocally as we could against high-speed rail. We rejected it through Menlo Park, on the Caltrain corridor, and in California.

Most newspapers, until the most recent three or four months, supported this project by parroting the rail authority press releases. At first, state Sen. Joe Simitian wouldn't even listen to us. Now, finally, things are different. There is a daily media outpouring of high-speed rail criticism. There are a number of lawsuits pending against the rail authority.

I'm trudging out all this history, not for any personal reasons; I'm too old to really care. (I'm long past career building.) But, it's to remind everyone of how long this fight has taken to bring us to this point: whereas last year's polls continued to find more Californians sympathetic to high-speed rail, things are different now.

The media now do their due diligence from reliable sources, not the rail authority press releases. Numerous government agencies in Sacramento, the Legislative Analysts' Office the most prominent, have been courageously critical of the project and its mismanagement. The newest Field Poll now shows that a majority of Californians oppose this project.

It's about time! I just hope that it's not too late. I might point out that four years after having unanimously supported high-speed rail, the Palo Alto City Council now unanimously opposes it.

"Ye shall know the truth; and the truth shall set ye free!"

You're welcome.

Martin Engel lives on Stone Pine Lane in Menlo Park and is a longtime critic of the high-speed rail project.


Posted by Jim Loomis, a resident of another community
on Dec 14, 2011 at 1:42 pm

My favorite line in Mr. Engel's commentary is "Republicans, as it happens". Ah ... so by sheer coincidence, the legislators who sympathize with Mr. Engels anti-rail view just happen by chance to be members of the GOP. What I don't get is how these folks can confidently trash a mode of transportation that has been a proven success in Europe and Japan for more than 30 years. Good heavens, they're starting to build a high-speed rail line in Uzbekistan! Even in this country, despite Republican efforts to starve Amtrak to death and block rail everywhere else, people are riding trains in ever-increasing numbers and demanding more and better service. Finally, a simple question: As California's population increases by 20-25 million over the next few decades, how do the anti-rail folks propose to move them around? Without rail, there is only one possible answer to that: more highways, which cost as much as $75 million per lane, per mile. Do the math folks!

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 14, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Mr. Loomis:

we can trash a mode of transportation that has been a success in Europe and Japan for several reasons:

1. Japan and Europe have much higher population densities along the routes served by high speed rail.
2. European and Japanese high speed rail are heavily subsidized by the governments in which they are located. Something that was SPECIFICALLY stated by the propositiona that got people to vote for it would NOT, repeat NOT happen. Now it is becoming quite clear this is not the truth. The facts are that HSR in California will REQUIRE subsidies from the state. Something we CANNOT afford. This was a Lie sold to the voters by the proponents of HSR.
3. HSR was sold with a price tag of $33 billion. Now it's $98.5 billion. Another lie. You can bet the ACTUAL costs will be MUCH higher.
4. HSR was sold with a price of $30 for a ticket. Now it's at least $200. Another lie used to sell HSR.
5. HSR was supposed ot be built at least 10 years earlier that the latest projection of 2033. Another LIE used to sell HSR.
6. The trip to LA was supposed to be 2 1/2 hours, now the projections are longer. Another LIE used to HSR.

Now do you understand why, Mr. Loomis, that the voters of California want a revote? We were LIED to. We no longer buy the garbage we were sold by the HSR folks. We do not want to subsidize this boondoggle into perpetuity, nor do we want our grandchildren and great-grandchildren subsidizing it either. HSR will never provide what the LIARS promissed and the electorate is finally figuring that out.

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