Palo Alto residents protest high speed rail

March 2, 2009 6:41:03 PM PST
Ever since voters passed the high speed rail bond measure last fall, planning is moving forward, but despite years of public hearings, many people are only now realizing what will soon be happening in their back yards. In Palo Alto on Monday night residents are taking their worries to city hall.

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A High Speed Rail Authority animation shows one version of what the trains could look like, racing up and down the state of California at more than 200 miles an hour. But it is just an artist's vision and the real trains won't be rolling until 2018. That's still several rail authority board votes away.

"We don't know anything yet because we're prescribed by law from making any decisions yet," says Rod Diridon, a High Speed Rail Authority board member.

Diridon says the big-picture is decided, the route the trains will take across the Pacheco Pass and on the peninsula. The trains will roll along the existing Caltrain right of way.

But whether the trains will be elevated or trenched, whether there's enough room in the existing right of way for more tracks, those details will be worked out over the next couple years. And that's what has Palo Alto residents worried.

"We understand these are preliminary ideas, but right now the preliminary plans call for a raised, elevated train to the most densely populated part of the peninsula and if you ask just the average citizen, the first reaction you get is, 'No way.' Let them tunnel it," says Nadia Naik, a Palo Alto resident.

Naik is working with a collection of Palo Alto neighborhood groups to ask the city council to create a citizen's advisory board.

"The citizens in those communities are going to immediately be affected, are starting to galvanize and realize what the potential impacts will be," says Sara Armstrong, a Palo Alto resident.

The Rail Authority says it's already had hundreds of public meetings over the past 15 years. After the current round of hearings wraps-up, rail authority engineers will analyze the options, and the board will vote.

"The buck stops with the board of the High Speed Rail Authority. That board will ultimately make the decision on the preferred alternative," says Diridon.

Diridon says current public hearings will continue until no new ideas are coming out of them.

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