Recap: Alhambra City Council to send letter opposing high speed rail project through the city

The Alhambra City Council discussed the high speed rail project during last night’s regular council meeting. It decided to send a letter opposing the California High Speed Rail Authority’s plans to send its high speed trains through the city. City staff will draft the letter and present it to the Council next week.

As reported earlier, Jessica Keating, Assistant to the City Manager, told us that she, other city staff, and Councilman Placido recently learned that the Rail Authority will continue to study routes along the I-10 and SR-60 freeways. She further added that Rail Authority staff will recommend that it drop the two routes that use and are adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way. Jessica also informed us that the high speed trains will fly by on elevated structures that average 75 feet or more in the air and at times are over 100 feet above the ground.  As expected, representatives from the Rail Authority were not in attendance (they were not invited).

The city has been asked to send a letter of formal support or opposition to present the Rail Authority board at the March 3 meeting. The City Council asked staff to draft a letter telling the Rail Authority that it will not accept an elevated platform through the city. All the council members were in agreement that current plans by the Rail Authority are not acceptable to the city or its residents. Staff will present a letter supporting a trench/tunnel option and the council will consider it during next Monday’s “study session” in the Alhambra Public Library. The study session is a public meeting and members of the public may comment. The meeting begins at 5:30pm.

The Rail Authority board will meet on March 3 in the Metro Headquarters next to Union Station in downtown L.A. (9am, I think) — more firm details to follow when they are available. During that meeting, the Rail Authority staff will present its recommendations regarding the L.A. to San Diego train line. Public comments occur at the beginning of the meeting.

Here is a copy of the letter the Council sent in August:

My Comments

I spoke to the City Council when it invited public comments regarding the high speed rail project. I asked the City Council to proactively address the high speed rail project during the next year or two while the L.A. to San Diego line is put on hold due to budget problems. It is important that the city take a leadership role in leading the San Gabriel Valley and L.A. County in discussions about the future of the I-10 corridor and the best uses of that corridor in the future.

  1. It appears that design, engineering, and study of the L.A. to San Diego line will be put on hold for a year or two.
    • I was told on Friday by Genoveva Arellano, outreach coordinator for the L.A. to San Diego line, that the Rail Authority and state budgets do not include funding for further work on Phase 2 of the high speed rail project, including the line that would possibly go through Alhambra.
  2. The City needs to spend that time wisely
  3. We need to re-frame the debate and make the Rail Authority’s plans fit our needs and address our quality of life concerns
    • One of our biggest issue with the high speed rail project has been how the Rail Authority communicates with the community, or should I say, fails to communicate
      • The communication stream is one way instead of the two way dialog that is necessary. It seems to not use our input (or uses is sparingly).
      • When the Rail Authority does give information, it is often limited or misleading
        • For example, Rail Authority presentations have only referred to noise generated by trains at ground level, which has never been an option through this area.
      • And it fails to build from available information
        • For example, although we started asking for information about noise in August, the Rail Authority did not include any info about noise in the presentations until October. General information about noise was available well before August and was provided in early scoping documents for this section of the rail project as well as in environmental documents prepared for the San Francisco to Central Valley segment of the rail project.
    • The city should expect that when the Rail Authority does get funding for the L.A. to San Diego line, we will get more of the same communication style. We need to be proactive so that when that does happen we can tell the Rail Authority, as a region, what will be the  acceptable methods of crossing our cities.
  4. The City, cities in the I-10 corridor, and, more broadly, the San Gabriel Valley and other stakeholders such as Metro and Caltrans need to talk about all the uses for the I-10 corridor now and in the future
    • We need to all talk realistically about the corridor we want and need in 2050.
    • Our population will only increase. Do we expect everyone to drive? Do we want that congestion?
    • What quality of life do we want for those that follow?
    • The I-10 corridor needs to get the maximum number of people moved
    • We need to relieve congestion
    • We need to decrease pollution. Auto exhaust is not the only problem. Apparently a lot of asthma near a freeway is tied to the particulate matter that comes from tires.
  5. Most community comments regarding the high speed rail project actually are about the I-10 freeway.
    • The burdens are already so great. the trains are just one more heavy burden.
    • So it only makes sense that this debate be broadened to address the I-10 freeway as well.

Press Coverage

The Alhambra Source and Pasadena Star News both covered the City Council meeting.

Alhambra Source: Alhambra Council members, residents object to plans for elevated high-speed railway by Tim Loc

Pasadena Star News: City weighs in on rail authority’s proposal for elevated line by Adolfo Flores

Some of the statements made by the Rail Authority in the Star News article require a response.

“In urban areas like Alhambra, high-speed trains will travel at speeds of 125 or less, rail officials have said. The trains would produce an hourly equivalent sound level of about 77 decibels from a distance of 50 feet.”

  • We were told on a number of occasions by Rail Authority representatives and engineers that trains will travel up to 150 MPH and that speed will be determined by a number of factors such as the distance from a station, straightness of the track, incline/decline, and other topographic features. In addition, speed is dependent upon whether the trains need to make up for time lost at other portions of the line. The Rail Authority is mandated to have trains capable of traveling between L.A. Union Station and San Diego in one hour and twenty minutes.

“The sound from a high-speed train operating on an aerial structure could be one or two decibels higher than at ground level, officials said.”

  • None of the current information I’ve seen says that there is a one or two decibel difference between trains that are at ground level and those that are elevated. Of course, I have not read everything. 🙂 This is where the lack of communication hurts us all. What we do know is that: 1) “For trains on elevated structure, HST noise is increased, partially due to the loss of sound absorption by the ground and partially due to extra sound radiation from the bridge structure.” 2) “Speed is a factor in the amount of noise created by high speed rail. The faster the train, the more noise it will create. So, one way to mitigate noise issues is to slow the trains down.” And 3) “[T]he sound from trains on elevated structures spreads about twice as far as it does from at-grade operations of the same train because of clearer paths for sound transmission.” San Francisco Bay Area to Central Valley High Speed Train Program Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement [EIR/EIS], 3.4-10, May 2008. In addition, Caltrans produced a noise survey for its EIR related to the current I-10 construction project between 710 and 605 freeways. It found that decibel levels in Alhambra range from 65-69 decibels. In places where there are no sound walls, noise measured up to 73 decibels. Caltrans expects noise to measure between 65 and 72 decibels after completing its construction and opening the high occupancy toll lanes.
  • p.s. This was a regular City Council meeting so other business was conducted. The best quote of the meeting belongs to City Manager Julio Fuentes who said: “The City is in good financial shape…” We are in a good position “as long as we continue to do what we do best, and that is develop.” This was said in regard to Gov. Brown’s budget plans to dissolve local redevelopment agencies.

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