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Menlo Park asks for underground rail system

Original post made on Nov 11, 2009

After some wrangling, Menlo Park's City Council approved the text of a letter to the High-Speed Rail Authority at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 10, stating the city's preference for the high-speed rail to run below ground.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 11, 2009, 11:44 AM

Comments (30)

Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Both Mr. Cline and Mr. Boyle are correct, despite their disagreement.

Yes, the letter needs to be a clear and forceful statement of what the City Council believes is the alignment alternative that will be the least harmful to the city.

And yes, the letter did not need to add a sentence suggesting that all the alternatives don’t need to be studied. Of course they do. It’s the CEQA law.

However, the letter was written in response to requests from Dominick Spaethling, the head of the entire engineering and CEQA process on the Peninsula. He asked what we wanted. He asked us to tell him. He stated that they were committed not only to community “outreach” but being responsive to our “input.”

Therefore, the city responded appropriately although I might have written the letter somewhat differently. And indeed, I did send a letter of my own. And, it looks like this:

Dear Dominic Spaethling and colleagues:

How would you like to be rid of all the complainers and critics? How would you like to resolve the Union Pacific problem? How would you like to meet your and Caltrain's needs? How would you like to make this project a win - win - win - win?

CHSRA wins. Caltrain wins. Union Pacific wins. And we, the residents and “rotten apples” of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto also win.

What we don't want: At or above grade alignments.
What we do want: Full-bore tunneling

Details: Two 45 ft. two-track tubes from Redwood City south border to Mt. View north border, approx. 7 miles. Current Caltrain corridor stays as is (no changes) and Union Pacific continues to use. Caltrain occupies one tube, HSR occupies the other. Two construction easements, approx. 5 acres each at each portal. Entry to portals requires grade changing 3.5% slope within trench.

No temporary ‘Shoofly’ tracks needed; no eminent domain takings or construction easements except at portals; no grade separation costs (10 crossings); no lawsuits for adverse economic impact on three cities or inverse condemnation proceedings.

Although apparently greater construction costs, project actually pencils out.

1. Full-cost accounting, with deductions of those work components and impacts -- off-sets -- unavoidable for all other alignment options.

2. Insufficient compensation to three counties that “own” the public property that is the Caltrain corridor. Counties will contribute corridor itself for HSR use. (JPB administers; we ‘own’) HSR builds corridor up-grades it requires in order to operate profitably. Tunneling is part of the development/corridor improvement costs required of HSR for seeking access to our corridor in perpetuity.

3. This alignment offers greater protection to the Urban Environment that HSR insists on penetrating than any other.

CHSRA wins with dedicated rail access through our three cities and no track sharing. Caltrain wins by obtaining its own tunnel, upgrades and no track sharing. Union Pacific wins by being left alone on the current tracks and no track sharing. And, we in the three cities win by having both Caltrain and HSR below ground. This proposed alternative provides the greatest benefits to all the stakeholders with the fewest downsides.

To those who criticize this ‘solution’ please let me know your objections so that I can incorporate them in this alignment description.

Remember, don’t let the unattainable perfect get in the way of the attainable good.

Posted by Frank Thorne
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:30 pm

So I am confused. Why should the train be tunneled through Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto, but not elsewhere?

It seems that if the train is tunneled through these cities then it should be tunneled through the entire peninsula (unless these cities offer to pay). Atherton/Menlo Park/Palo Alto should not be privileged just because they have complained loudly.

Posted by Alan Miller
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2009 at 2:31 pm

As stated elsewhere, I think the train should indeed be via tunnel for the entire peninsula and San Jose besides. However, I am not aware that other communities have made this formal request - have they?
As for "Atherton/Menlo Park/Palo Alto should not be privileged just because they have complained loudly" I agree as well, but that's not how politics works in this country... and CHSRA is running HSR as a political football, not an engineering improvement that makes business sense.

Posted by Shawn
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:21 pm

High speed underground would be much better in the neighborhoods of Menlo, Atherton and PA. I have a feeling by putting in high speed above ground, will create a faster paced, citylike culture in the neighborhoods close to the tracks. It also will pose a threat to all the kids walking and biking to and from MA and downtown.

Posted by Sam
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2009 at 3:54 pm

If Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto want a tunnel, then they can help pay for it.

Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 11, 2009 at 6:09 pm

All those who feel that Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto should pay for a tunnel if they want it, raise you hand. You are correct. Not only should they pay for it, they will pay for it.

And, even if they don't want a tunnel, they will still have to pay for whatever does get built. The fact is, the CHSRA has asked the residents and cities of the Peninsula to let them know what they want. They have done this many times. And, when we give them an answer, some of you turn on us as if we were thieves in the night. If you ask them for what you want, and they build it, we will have to pay for that also.

Every town and every resident should get a say in what they want blasting trough their neighborhood, community and city. Why? Because we will all be paying for whatever they build. The $9.95 billion bond issue will cost the California taxpayers $20 billion or more over the life of the bonds. By the time it is completed (if ever), the HSR will cost all of us around $100 billion. And, we will all pay for it, as will our children and their children.

Tunneling is not some gold-plated extra. Tunneling is what cities all over the world are doing for their trains, fast and slow. I, for one, don't intend to shove tunneling, or any other alignment down the throats of other cities. They should have the alignment they seek. But my understanding of our three cities is an increasing demand for tunneling.
Who should pay, or more accurately find the funds to pay? The people who want to put a train on the Peninsula in the first place. Those of us who want tunneling never wanted this train. If we must have the train, we don't want our cities devastated. Tunneling would be an acceptable accommodation. Why does that seem so unreasonable?

Posted by SPTRACKS
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2009 at 8:00 am

AND what is the all the crying about???? DID you people not MOVE next to this "horrible" railroad?? did not the SP run many loud freight trains in the past?? And now that people are ultra senstive crybabies you kids act like a 10 lane freeway is to replace Caltrain
"rotten apples" no crybabies is more like it. A grade free electric
railroad at grade with underpases is more than fine.YOU people pay for this tunnels extra costs as this railroad is already there

Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2009 at 9:09 am

I've had some experience with several construction projects in the MP area that included a below grade component. In every single case, the project cost estimate was negatively affected by "surprises" found as holes were dug. These surprises were related to previous unknown construction(people have lived here for a long time). I know of other projects that have had similar experiences due to items of historical or archiological significance(even more costly). My point is that a project that includes a 7 mile long tunnel vs one that is built at grade has enormous potential to present those paying the bills with some very unpleasant surprises--ones that can't be known ahead of time to insure the approach "pencils out". My advice, NEVER dig a hole unless its absolutely necessary.

Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 12, 2009 at 9:09 am

Perhaps we can set aside a little money for grammar lessons for SPTRACKS?

Describe underpass please. Show me you know the impact of grade separating.

MP residents heard from staff and council a study of grade separations and it has far reaching impacts. Businesses close, homes will lose road access and so on.

The bigger issue from what I see is the impact of having to add grade separations (some 50 or so along the ROW), but also the need to rebuild the current grade separations to bring in the targeted volume of trains.

This is just the beginning. Wait until LA residents realize what is coming, you will see a whole new population of challenges. Same for the mid-state towns.

Anyone who thinks that communities are wrong for standing up for themselves needs get the heck out of this country because you just lost the entire meaning of democracy. Voting to fund a small percentage of a government project does not mean voting to take away the rights of citizens, residents and communities.

Cruikshank and these rail loving enthusiasts, I can see why you are so demonized for your attitude. You come into our town and try to take our property and our rights and we will fight you. Period. Bianca, glad to see you aren't a PR hack, but you still simplify this way too much. But that is the easy way out, bomb from 20,000 feet (talk about trains and planes and green) and you don't need to see the carnage.

Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2009 at 10:11 am

The train tracks CANNOT go underground..Cant be done

Posted by odd
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 12, 2009 at 11:23 am

Anyone find it a bit odd that Martin Engel is trying to make the rotten apples comment seem like it was about him? Why do people have to become subject matter in issues that are so much larger?

Martin, thanks for all you do, but you are not my representative.

Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 12, 2009 at 1:39 pm

Interested -

And your references showing why trains CANNOT go underground are . . . ?
Of course trains can go underground. The Eurostar train goes 23 miles underground and 250 feet deep via the Chunnel. Seikan Tunnel in Japan is over 33 miles long and as almost 800 feet deep. A tunnel on the peninsula that is only 7 miles long at depths of no more than 50 feet is far from an Engineering marvel.
Not that it won't involve problems and expense but it can certainly be done.

Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 12, 2009 at 2:05 pm

odd, this is not the rotten apples thread, and I have yet to hear Martin suggest that he represents anyone other than himself. However, the governing bodies of the local cities have taken steps to present a case that favors a tunnel approach. If you don't agree with your elected officials, you should complain to them.

Given the number of subways that have been built all over the world, I feel confident that our world-class engineers can tunnel underground here.

Do I detect Ogilvy operatives on this thread? Come on, fess up! Surely you can find better things to do with $9 million than to lurk on this thread making ad hominem remarks

Posted by WhoRupeople
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Just wanted to make sure my advice to not dig holes unless absolutely necessary wasn't misinterpreted. I don't live near the tracks, and I personally don't see the benefits from HSR that those who support it do. However, I do pay taxes and I really am concerned that putting the HSR underground is going to wind up costing far more than the advantages to doing so will bring. My apologies to those who do live near the tracks, but selfish as it may sound, thats the way I feel.

Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2009 at 8:00 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

Why not put wings on the cars and make them fly? Bring back air travel?

Do you ACTUALLY think people from other countries who have had this system of travel, took the time to make these moronic arguments?

Menlo Park should be proud to have something to give it some personality.

Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 13, 2009 at 12:10 am

Steve. Obviously I was not saying tunnels cant be be built. I am saying that a seven mile tunnel through the middle of some of the richest areas of the peninsula cant be built, and I will bet dollars to donuts it wont be built. The difference between the Channel and Honshu tunnels is that fish don't read eir's and don't object to the massive amount of work and disruption that will result. Believe me the construction of the chunnel will look like a picnic compared to this idea.

Southern Pacific sells access to its right of way to every utility that provides service on the peninsula, even people that live nowhere near the tracks themselves when made aware of the cost and disruption will object to the idea.

Posted by S. Colbert
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 13, 2009 at 8:11 am

Those who purchased houses near the tracks knew what they were getting themselves into. A small and very vocal minority has no say... especially if the rest of the town approved of HSR.

Posted by thank you council
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 13, 2009 at 9:27 am

HSR in other countries goes underground in communities like ours. If HSR must come through the middle of mid-peninsula residential communities, it should go underground here, too.
Those who "approved of HSR" did not know how HSR would come through the city, as that still has not been announced. I am very happy the Council took this stand to push for the HSR alternative with the least negative impacts on our community.

Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 13, 2009 at 10:32 am

Did I just hear someone mention the Channel and Honshu as if they are some kind of expert on the topic?

Seriously? You web search high speed rail tunnels and you get some names and now you know the construction path and the process?

What kind of garbage is that?

Did anyone nod knowingly when you read this amazing piece of expertise?

This kind of fake expertise is the problem. There are experts like Bob Doty and the HNTB guys and they don't spew that stuff. Tunnels happen, over time, after long debates, when money is found.

Ask Berkeley about the North Berkeley BART Station. Ask Kopp about Devil's Slide. Wait, I just mentioned two tunnels, I must be an expert too.

Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 13, 2009 at 10:46 am

Truth, calm down you'll have a heart attack. If you read all the posts you will see that I was responding to a comment from Steve about the ability to build tunnels. He quite rightly pointed out that there have been far larger tunneling projects that what Menlo/Atherton et al are asking to be considered. My point is that the two examples Steve gave were not the kind of project that would be required. They were for the most part far from built up wealthy areas. I will say again that should the proposal for a tunnel be seriously considered, when the cost and disruption to the majority of people living in this area will mean they will not want a tunnel.

Posted by tax payer menlo park
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 13, 2009 at 12:31 pm

The entire train deal is a dumb idea from start to finish. Open your eyes.

Posted by Ruth
a resident of another community
on Nov 13, 2009 at 12:47 pm

HSR say they want to copy Europe/Asia. These countries do not ruin their communities but go around them or tunnel under cities. (I have seen this first hand in Spain). This could be done in California and would be much less expensive if they selected more open spaces. (HY 85 has light rail running beside it - that seems a good example of what could be done on the peninsula and throughout California.) People will lose their homes; businesses will be forced to close, and the environment will suffer if HSR selects routes through cities. Why create more social problems when it could be avoided?

Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Nov 13, 2009 at 2:41 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

This is NOT about Menlo Park.

This is about getting the U.S. back and moving with jobs, having ALL colors work to bring back a middle class by working to unite the sad U.S. for lack of work. Menlo Park is not worthy of having a tunnel built to hide a modern necessity.

If I had to rate most of your minds, I would not say you are unintelligent. [Portion removed; disrespectful language and personal attacks violate terms of use]

Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Nov 13, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Save American jobs. Do not support overpriced, inefficient, wasteful projects that are primarily meant to redirect funds from productive uses to the connected friends of politicians.

The train project is a fabulous example. If we want to save the environment, then how about we stay home and telecommute? Who *really* needs to go to LA all that often? Sure looks like a vanity project to me.

Posted by Ray of Sunshine
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Nov 13, 2009 at 6:34 pm

The comments made by Martin Engel, a resident of the Menlo Park: Park Forest neighborhood are clear concise and make sense! Thank you Martin for your voice!!!! You are appreciated!

Posted by MOE
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 15, 2009 at 6:28 pm

Martin Engel your comments are concise, rational and to the point. Thank you.
Taxpayer Menlo Park, your advise is correct but incomplete. I suggest you add: Open your eyes after you get your head out of the sand.

Posted by get real
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 16, 2009 at 12:05 am

Mr Engel makes good sense, except when he starts saying the local communities should be willing to pay to have the project put through a tunnel. That makes no sense and simply is not going to happen.

The cost for two deep bore tunnels will be of the order of $1 billion per mile. In Menlo Park alone, that means about $1.5 billion. Our City budget is of the order of $40 million per year. A city the size of Menlo Park simply can't begin to pay for this kind of structure, nor should they have to.

No project should be able to rip through a community without doing so in the least destructive manner possible. The Authority's plan to put rails through the centers of urban areas means they must pay to have them done in a manner that the communities find acceptable.

In the case of Menlo Park, with a corridor as narrow as 55 feet when 85 feet are needed at a minimum, that means they should go underground.

Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 16, 2009 at 8:37 am

The local communities cannot pay for the undergrounding of the train. However, we all WILL be paying for whatever train is built, as well as the accompanying shenanigans, because we passed Prop 1A.

Martin says:

"Who should pay, or more accurately find the funds to pay? The people who want to put a train on the Peninsula in the first place."

Hard to argue with that.

Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Nov 16, 2009 at 8:52 am

I would be interested (naturally) to know how many posters have made the awful mistake of trying to take the current train from the peninsula to LA. I can guarantee you only try it once. I am not sure high speed rail is necessary. Some decent service is.

Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 16, 2009 at 9:24 am

I have taken the train to LA a couple of times, including with all four kids. The trip would have been tolerable if not for the fact that Amtrak doublebooked our seats and managed to sideline us for four hours on the return so that our train arrived in San Jose at midnight rather than 8 pm.

Why not fix Amtrak? That has to be a lot cheaper than HSR, and there's no reason that Amtrak can't get from San Jose to LA in under 8 hours.

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