Thursday, September 11, 2008

High speed rail brouhaha

A brouhaha is being stirred in Menlo Park between supporters and opposition over the proposed high speed rail and Proposition 1A. On Tuesday, the City of Menlo Park held a study session with board members from the High Speed Rail authority, advocates for the Altamont Pass alignment, and neighbors living near the Caltrain tracks, who were concerned about impacts of the proposed project. The study session was attended by over 150 people. Last month, Menlo Park joined a lawsuit against the High Speed Authority over the EIR, which the HSRA used to justify the selection of Pacheco Pass rather than Altamont Pass.

After the study session, the debate continued online. At the California High Speed Rail Blog, the author, Robert Cruickshank, suggested that Menlo Park and Atherton "believe it is their right to make decisions for the other 36 million people in California," and that the study session was used by HSR opponents to "to push their anti-HSR arguments to the media."

Cruickshank may want to try to make the issue black and white, but the brouhaha is actually a product of Rod Diridon, who has done more to divide people and destroy the natural coalition necessary to make high speed rail a reality.

Realistically, high speed rail is still largely an unknown. A lot of studies need to be done as to the exact infrastructure and mitigations needed. Because high speed rail proposes to use the Caltrain alignment, Caltrain will also have to work out with the High Speed Rail Authority to maintain local train service. Although the city should keep an open mind about the project, there's nothing wrong with the neighbors expressing concerns and asking hard questions.

At the session, Rod Diridon told Menlo Park that several cities in the East Bay voted against the Altamont Pass. In reality, Diridon got their opposition to the Altamont Pass by using the same political tactics HSR opponents used in Menlo Park and Atherton - by telling them that HSR is so scary and would destroy their neighborhoods. Last year, Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the HSRA, told Pleasanton and Livermore that under the Altamont Pass alternative, a 6 track corridor would run through their city. If Rod Diridon believes that HSR shouldn't impact Fremont, Pleasanton, and Livermore because that, why should Menlo Park and Atherton be any different? Should HSR run through Menlo Park and Atherton because the residents there are wealthier than those in Fremont, Pleasanton, and Livermore?

Even with all the right reasons for Cruickshank and others to support high speed rail, Rod Diridon is not their friend. Just because of the selection of Pacheco Pass, HSRA is being sued for its biased EIR. Some environmental and transit groups, who are otherwise natural allies, are withholding their support for Proposition 1A because of it. Besides high speed rail, Rod Diridon is the "father" of the failed VTA light rail system and supports the misguided Measure B on the November ballot in Santa Clara County. How could any serious transit advocate want to associate with and beholden to him?

Despite the brouhaha in Menlo Park, Menlo Park and Atherton won't be able to kill high speed rail. The key swing votes on high speed rail are in the Central Valley and Southern California. High speed rail supporters like Cruickshank should be more concerned of what Proposition 1A won't do for residents in cities like Tracy, Stockton and Modesto.


Anonymous said...

This High speed rail proposal bothers me. First, it drives the State deeper into debt at a time when the state owes too much and our taxes are too high. Second, the project costs are $40 billion, before the inevitable cost overruns. Third, the route is bad on both ends. Up north, they should have gone with Altamont, down south they should have followed I-5, and not gone via Tehachapi. I'm voting "NO" on this one.

295bus said...

At risk of being drummed out of both the pro-transit and railfan communities, I have to agree with anonymous.

Mostly I just feel like we (CA and the country as a whole) ought to work on running regular trains *well* (avoiding head-on collisions for starters) before dabbling in bullet trains.

And building up regular, regional train travel would probably build up more more ridership for $bn invested too.

arcady said...

295bus, I totally agree. Walk before you run, and get Normal Speed Rail working well before you go for High Speed Rail. I think the biggest problem with the HSRA is that it is primarily run by political types (like Rod Diridon), rather than by people who actually know how to run trains or build railroads.