Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bring your shovels; here comes more from the California High-Speed Rail Authority

Here's my daily dose of anger for you.  More BS from HSR is coming to the Peninsula in the form of CEO Roelof Van Ark.  Why are smart people not wise to what's going on by now?  (Rhetorical question!)

The Peninsula population, instead of agreeing and speaking with one voice to keep high-speed rail off the Bay Area Peninsula, are all over the map, some opposed, but most, especially the local politicians, actually willing to embrace high-speed rail on the Peninsula. 

Meanwhile, CEO Roelof Van Ark is complaining that the Peninsula residents don't get together and agree on anything; yet at the same time, he is meeting with select representatives from different towns in private.  Divide and conquer, eh, Mr. Van Ark?

Now, let's be absolutely clear.  The high-speed rail authority wants to use the Caltrain Corridor to connect San Francisco with San Jose, even though, at the current time, there is a regular commuter train already in operation. 

1. There is no need to run an additional rail line on the Caltrain Corridor.

2.  Commuter Caltrain is currently doing a lousy job, needs to be shut down, and a much more effective Peninsula commuter rail system be placed under new management Bay Area wide. 

3. The new strategy is that the rail executives will first say, we can use Caltrain to complete the trip to San Francisco from San Jose, and don't need to build an elevated viaduct with two additional tracks right away. That elevated viaduct intention upsets everyone, from the residents to the local and state politicians who say they don't want that.  So, the HSR solution is to postpone it.

4. However, that also means that the high-speed rail authority, without Peninsula funding in hand, can make its foot-print on the Caltrain corridor and therefore cannot be prevented from coming there. It's a small step toward inevitability!

5. And if they ever do get further federal funding, there is no way in hell that they won't build an elevated viaduct, no matter how much local and state politicians as well as residents object to it. 

Of course there will be another 'secret' meeting with Van Ark.  They've been taking place already.   I know, it sounds paranoid, but there is planning and plotting with HSR going on against the will and behind the backs of the people on the Peninsula.  

Those local politicians, most of them Democrats, are already suckers for high-speed rail -- they like to say "if it's done right." And here comes one more tiny incremental step that will bring HSR ever closer to our doorstep.

Watch out for "electrification."  That's a key feature and code for inviting HSR to join Caltrain. And, it's on the agenda. 

Here's their new strategy.  Since the Republicans have cut off any future funding for HSR in California (for the time being), the Rail Authority is proceeding to lock in its route in any way that it can without funding.  One of the most disputed sections of the entire California route has been the Caltrain Corridor.  

Let us agree herewith that there is no need for a high-speed train on this corridor. It sounds like a nice idea, but really isn't. More about that in a moment.

By sneaking around the actual elevated viaduct construction issue -- which they don't have funding for anyway -- they will say that Caltrain can carry the burden of HSR traffic from San Jose to San Francisco on the existing two tracks -- BUT ONLY TEMPORARILY.  Eventually, with future funding, they will definitely build two extra tracks and elevate all four tracks on a viaduct. Count on it!

But, back to HSR on the corridor.  The fact, mostly ignored, is that the city of San Francisco (pop. 80K) and the Peninsula, with a much smaller population, is the least important place to run trains connected to Los Angeles. This decision to go to San Francisco has been political from the beginning.  The East and South Bay, with most of the population of the Bay Area, is far more important and should also be connected to the State Capital, Sacramento, further north.  That isn't going to happen. San Francisco is a dead-end for this train.  It's really a spur line.  And totally unnecessary.

The bottom line on all this is that none of us will be told the truth by the rail authority.  They have lied about tunneling, trenching and everything else for a very long time.  They will continue to lie.  They want the elevated viaduct because it's the cheapest way to use the Caltrain corridor to run four tracks.  So here comes yet another sales and snow job from Van Ark.

Here's the best way to understand the underfunded high-speed rail authority strategy.  Like a dog, mark all the intended rail corridors as their territory. Even though they can't afford to do more than put down some track in the Central Valley doesn't keep them from marking all the rest of their territory. Like bad dogs, they ought to be put back in their kennels.  

Don't trust our local politicians to be smart about any of this.  They haven't been so far.
High-speed rail chief coming to San Mateo for closed-door confab

By Joshua Melvin

Posted: 04/19/2011 06:16:08 PM PDT
Updated: 04/19/2011 06:16:08 PM PDT

The boss of California's bullet-train agency is slated to appear at San Mateo City Hall on Wednesday afternoon for a closed-door meeting on an alternate idea for running high-speed rail across the Peninsula.

Staffers and officials from along the Caltrain line -- but not the public -- have been invited to the meeting with California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark on the topic of installing the Peninsula segment of the $43 billion project in phases.

Some cities, including San Mateo, have lobbied for this approach, which carries the hope of avoiding the construction of a massive rail infrastructure through their cities, a notion that has sparked controversy.

Several officials who are planning to attend said the meeting is private in order to allow for a frank discussion on a topic that is furiously disputed.

The closed-door policy may end soon, however. Also on the agenda for Wednesday is whether the group of cities, which have been meeting since last year, will open the gatherings to the public.

Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel and San Mateo Mayor Jack Matthews said they both support an open forum.

"Eventually, the public will be included," he said. "We're going to have that discussion tomorrow."

A spokesman for the rail authority confirmed van Ark's attendance at the 3 p.m. meeting, but said it is the cities that decided to make the session private and directed all inquiries to them.

What officials refer to as "phased implementation" could be a lower-cost way to connect the San Jose and San Francisco portions of the 520-mile line. Instead of building an additional two tracks for the bullet trains, the agency would, at least at first, rely on the existing Caltrain rails.

This idea contains the hope that the two tracks could end up being enough for both high-speed rail and the commuter trains, making for a cheaper and less disruptive project. But it could also just be putting off the inevitable building of additional tracks and infrastructure.

"People have interpreted it in different ways," said Nagel. "That would be a rare opportunity to find out what it means to (van Ark)."

The high-speed rail head is also expected to respond Wednesday to a letter several Peninsula cities sent him on their ideas and questions about the project. Matthews said the missive included a request for explanations from the authority on how it decides to eliminate or move forward with certain features -- such as placing the trains in a trench.

This won't be the first time van Ark has had a closed-door meeting on the project with San Mateo County officials. In October he spent several hours talking to Burlingame, San Mateo and Millbrae officials about the line, according to Matthews.

During that meeting he told officials freight trains, which would also need to use the tracks, can't operate in deep tunnels because their diesel engines need ventilation. Freight officials later said the trains can run in the tunnels as long as enough time and money is spent to ensure proper aeration.

Matthews said that same meeting produced a request from van Ark for a more unified voice from the cities.

"He was feeling it was very difficult to negotiate with the 14 cities on the Peninsula," the mayor said.

Contact Joshua Melvin at 650-348-4335.