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

October 13, 2009

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.

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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