San Carlos Real Estate Agent, San Carlos Realtor Is High-Speed Rail a Good Idea for San Carlos or the Peninsula? | The White Oaks Blog

Is High-Speed Rail a Good Idea for San Carlos or the Peninsula?

by Chuck Gillooley

I enthusiastically support California’s High Speed Rail Initiative. I believe there’s a very real need for a high-speed alternative to air travel to connect the major metropolitan areas of California.  Imagine how cool it would be to hop on a train, pop open your laptop or favorite book, and in few hours you pull into Los Angeles?  No weather delays, no getting stuck on the tarmac for hours, and no need to navigate the endless I-5.  I’d definitely use this mode of travel.

France, Japan, and now China all run very successful high-speed rail systems, and it’s high time not only California but the entire United States got on board.   Ideally, a standardized high-speed rail system should be extended throughout the Western states…Imagine the possibilities.   But with all the talk about how and where the system should run, there’s one facet of the proposed plan that I don’t agree with:  Running the high-speed rail line up the Peninsula.

California, yes.  Peninsula, no.

Under the proposed route map, the high-speed rail system will connect San Jose and San Francisco via a route straight through the Peninsula, most likely following the existing Caltrain right-of-way.

rail map

As I got to thinking about what this service is really supposed to do, and how people will use it, it became very clear to me that running this line up the gut of the Peninsula is a bad idea.   Here’s why:

  1. CalTrain.    We already have an under-utilized rail service in place that connects the two cities.  Granted, it can take 90 minutes to get from San Francisco to San Jose if it hits every stop, but CalTrain has addressed that issue by running express trains that take about 30 minutes out of the trip.   Will the high-speed rail system speed up this time?  It depends on how many stops are planned.    Obviously, the fewer the stops it makes the faster the trip.  But if there are no stops on the Peninsula, what’s the point of having it in our back yard in the first place???   If the sole purpose of running the route up the Peninsula is to connect San Francisco to the network, then it’s a bad idea for Peninsula residents.
  2. Noise.   There has already been an uptick in complaints lately due to train noise, mostly from the placement of the whistle to the top of the train.   The more trains that are added, and the faster they go, the more the noise will be a problem.   No matter how high-tech this train is, anything pushing the kind of speed this thing is capable of is going to generate some serious noise.
  3. Safety.   There are still a significant number of suicides and crossing gate wrecks that plague the existing CalTrain network.   How will this be mitigated with a new, faster train?   How will this system of high and low-speed trains be isolated from car and pedestrian traffic?   Does this mean elevating the entire line  or submerging it?  I can’t imagine that will be too cost effective.
  4. Inconvenience.    It wasn’t too long ago that we endured the construction of the elevated berm that now runs through San Carlos, so many of you remember how big of a pain it was getting across El Camino.   The grid-lock that will be created by a massive construction project such as this would make traversing any city on the Peninsula a nightmare.
  5. Cost.    Obviously, implementing this ambitious project is going to cost a breathtaking amount of money.  Unless I’m missing a great reason to run this rail line up the Peninsula, it would be better to put these funds elsewhere in the system.

I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t been able to attend any of the Town Hall meetings where these issues may very well have been discussed — unfortunately, Realtors tend to work when others don’t (and vice versa.) So there may be a good explanation for all of the issues above.

But if the high-speed rail system is built in my lifetime, I would have no problem catching CalTrain in San Carlos and then switching over to the bullet train in San Jose.   I really don’t see the benefit of running yet another rail line up the Peninsula.

What are your thoughts??

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Is High-Speed Rail a Good Idea for San Carlos or the Peninsula?, 3.2 out of 5 based on 3 ratings
Comments 7
  • High speed rail going up the peninsula will *improve* caltrain due to required infrastructure upgrades. The only way caltrain will get the funds for these upgrades is if the high speed rail project goes up the peninsula. For instance, high speed rail will…
    – fast track the need for electrification. This makes for faster and cleaner trains.
    – add more passing tracks which will enables more creativity with the schedule and faster service
    – force the need for more grade separation making service safer, faster and quieter. (more grade separation means less time pulling the whistle)

    Yes. There will be short term gain, but in the long term this will improve my life with an improved caltrain.

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  • I’m a San Carlos resident and a fan of this blog primarily because it helps me stay informed about San Carlos news. I’m also a fan of Robert Cruickshank’s blog regarding High-Speed Rail at http://cahsr.blogspot.com/ . I strongly encourage you and your readers to check out his blog for detailed information about CA HSR with a Peninsula focus. To address your specific concerns:

    1) Caltrain and HSR are not mutually exclusive; in fact, the success of HSR depends on excellent local and regional transport systems to deliver passengers to their final destinations. Caltrain has an unparalleled opportunity to piggyback on the funding that will be made available for HSR to build a better system. HSR and Caltrain are working together so that both systems can benefit from the improvements that will be made in coming years. You can find out more than you ever wanted to know about this at http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/ , a blog that focuses specifically on the interaction between Caltrain and HSR.

    2. HSR will actually improve the noise situation. HSR requires grade separation (see #3) which will allow Caltrain to avoid having to use their horns. Studies have shown that the speed-related noise (as opposed to horns for at-grade crossings) caused by HSR is not a significant factor.

    3. Yes, it means elevating the entire line. HSR requires grade separation. Tunneling is always an option but this is far more expensive than elevation. Today every community that Caltrain runs through has either an ugly fence (everywhere except Belmont/San Carlos) or a berm (San Carlos). San Carlos has it easier than other communities in this regard, since we already have the berm. Let’s face it, the berm is an eyesore, but this is the result more of a failure of vision than an imposition of the berm. Elevated railways can be developed in clever ways that enhance the community and provide new development opportunities. The fact that Caltrain has failed to do so should not be interpreted as proof that this is the only option.

    4 and 5. Yes, the construction will be inconvenient and the cost will be high. Unfortunately, there’s no way around that. It’s clear that for CA HSR to be viable it must terminate in SF; any HSR system that skips one of our flagship cities is a joke. What other options besides the Peninsula are there? The two alignments that were considered were the Pacheco Pass (through SJ and up the Peninsula) and the Altamont Pass (through Livermore and the East Bay). The Altamont pass was rejected; many people don’t realize this, but Prop 1A actually specifically endorsed the Pacheco Pass option for both environmental reasons and practical reasons (HSR can’t skip San Jose, a more populous city than SF). How else can HSR get from SJ to SF without running up the Caltrain Right-Of-Way? The fact is, the ROW predates the communities that grew up on the Peninsula, and it’s there because that’s what makes the most sense for running trains between the Bay Area’s two biggest population centers. The construction will present challenges for the Peninsula, but we stand to gain far more from having one of the world’s best local and long-distance public transit systems running through our communities.

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    • JD & Ellis,

      Great insights — thanks for taking the time to weigh in with this info. As I speculated, there’s much more to this than the casual observer is aware. Just for clarfiication, I’m not advocating skipping San Francisco. There are other ways to connect SF, Oakland, and San Jose without using the Peninsula — BART figured that out.

      I think the whole project will be much more palatable if there’s a tangible benefit to Peninsula residents. Having a few stops on the Peninsula would be a plus. But there will be a battle that will brew over an entire length of elevated track – there are many in San Carlos who still feel that the berm that was erected for Caltrain is a scar that divides the City in half.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      CG

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  • I read on Mercury news that HSR will run through a tunnel in South San Carlos but not in North San Carlos. Any comment on why that is the case?

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  • Several points from the original post:

    Caltrain does have a bullet service, but the bullet runs a few times in the morning and a few more in the evening, during peak hours.

    Regular trains which run once an hour between 10 and 3 are hardly convenient to use for a connection to something that is likely to run even more infrequently.

    Caltrain is not under-utilized during peak hours (lots of people have somewhere to go to, and trains run conveniently)

    However, it is clearly empty in between. Well, people still have somewhere to go to, but the route is not as predetermined as when you need to go to work, and the once-an-hour aspect, together with hardly synchronized bus schedules on either side is hardly conducive.

    So would I prefer to catch Caltrain in San Carlos at 11, get to San Jose 50 minutes later and then spend another 30-40 minutes waiting for a connection to HSR?

    I’d rather board HSR directly somewhere in Redwood City, and 25 minutes later won’t even notice we passed San Jose.

    Passage of time is only noticed during stops. It takes 14 minutes on the bullet from Redwood City to Mountain View, and 20 on the local; the difference is between “oh, MV already?” vs. “I have read half my book, and it is only California Av.”.

    Getting off the train and waiting for another would add not just 55 minutes to the trip; it will make it tedious.

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  • The HSR should be terminated at San Jose. Not everyone coming from southern California will want to go to San Francisco. A “grand central” station could be built in San Jose with connections with BART, Caltrain, VTA and Amtrak so that HSR passengers can go to the east bay, the peninsula or to San Francisco.

    Duplicating an elevated rail line along the Caltrain corridor would be expensive and take years to build (Look to the building of 4.5 miles of the Bay Bridge as an example. It might be finished 24 years after the 1989 earthquake). Caltrain can be brought into the 21st century and having a HSR train making stops along the peninsula will defeat it’s purpose of being “high speed”.

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  • I believe that HSR is a great idea and will yield many benefits. However, I have very little faith that any part of the overall vision will be realized in my lifetime (give or take next 30 years). CA really just does not have the political, community or organizational will to see this thing through in any real manner. It is all just a puppet show keep State and local authorities busy and for lawyers, environmentalists, contractors,to make solid money (on proposals, studies, counter-proposals, etc.) By the time anything substantial happens on this project, the technology and probably the entire idea will be dated. Let’s face it, we just cannot do these type of projects anymore in CA, or really in this country. I travel alot to Asia, and see these types of projects get completed in a matter of years (example, the Macao-to-Hong Kong 63km over open water bridge). It just puts our country to shame sometimes- the 21st century of infrastructure being built in other countries. Of course, many of these countries operate in a fairly centralized fashion, with many environment and human factors considerations comprised significantly. However, there is a trade-off/balance to be made. CA is too out of balance, really, to get anything done. Silicon valley, Hollywood, etc. will continue to mint money (which is great!), but CA infrastructure will continue to rot and fall behind year by year. Despite its natural beauty and wonderful spirit, most of the Bay Area is an embarrassment in terms of basic infrastructure.

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