Local elected officials from Atherton, Burlingame, and Palo Alto joined forces with three environmental groups urging California’s High-Speed Rail Authority to reconsider sending bullet trains to San Francisco over Altamont Pass and US 101 after a new study concluded the alternative is faster and will cause less environmental damage than the Pacheco Pass route.
The report was prepared by the French firm, Setec Ferroviaire, experts known for building successful high-speed rail lines in France. The three groups, the California Rail Foundation, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, and the Planning and Conservation League submitted the study as part of the public comments on the revised environmental impact report.
“For the operation of a high-speed rail service, the route through Altamont has many more advantages than the Pacheco plan,” the report states. The firm also cautioned that using Caltrain rights of way, as proposed by the Authority, would add further speed impediments.
“We’ve been very concerned about trying to shove high-speed rail into the Caltrain corridor,” Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt. “It would be a permanent disruption” to 17 Peninsula communities.
Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock also voiced concerns, specifically about the impact to her community and to Burlingame High School where high speed trains would travel just a short distance from the campus.
Under the Authority’s current plan, the high-speed rail route would utilize the Caltrain network, spanning 79 miles between Gilroy and San Francisco. The report suggests if the trains went through the East Bay, traveled over the Dumbarton railway bridge and connected with Caltrain in Redwood City, they would only travel along the corridor for 26 miles. This would free up 53 miles of track and reduce speed conflicts between faster and slower trains.
“The Altamont alignment as proposed goes through agricultural areas and some lands of the Tri-Valley Conservancy,” said Richard Tolmach of the California Rail Foundation. “We think there is an opportunity, by using this new route, not only to design a better high-speed rail system, but also to consolidate and expand agricultural protection. We envisage a permanent continuous greenbelt preserving the vineyard lands, to protect them from development and protect neighborhoods from the noise of high-speed trains.”
The report also proposed further review of running bullet trains along Highway 101 between Redwood City and San Francisco International Airport instead of through the middles of seven San Mateo County cities citing possible operation and maintenance cost savings.
High-speed rail authority Board Member Rod Diridon dismissed the French firm’s study.
“We’ve already studied (the Altamont Pass),” he added. “The route is going to be going now from San Francisco to Gilroy and under the Pacheco corridor for the main line high-speed-rail system.”
David Schonbrunn, president of TRANSDEF, disagreed.
“We’re hoping that the new leadership at the high-speed rail authority is no longer going to continue its very biased approach to designing a route. They haven’t been fair for the last 10 years on this issue, and this report, we believe, is going to be legally adequate to do the right thing … to study (Altamont) in a way that doesn’t trash it.”
Setec Ferroviaire knows a lot more about high-speed rail than anybody at the high-speed rail authority or hired by the high-speed rail authority,” he said.
“Setec Ferroviaire was selected to prepare the report because the French company has expertise building high-speed rail projects,” Tolmach said. “The real question is, does the public want a high-speed rail network based on expert advice of people who build bullet trains or by a group of semi-retired California politicians?”