Meeting Announcement: Rail Authority Board meeting in downtown L.A. on March 3 @ 9:00 a.m.

The California High Speed Rail Authority Board will hold its regular monthly meeting for March in downtown Los Angeles at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Headquarters. Metro Headquarters is at the backside of Union Station.

The L.A. to San Diego line is on the agenda (posted below). The contractors responsible for that line will present their preliminary alternatives analysis report. That report is expected to recommend that the Rail Authority board consider only the I-10 freeway and SR-60 freeway routes for the high speed rail project between Union Station and the 605 freeway. It will also recommend the board withdraw routes that use and run adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way. The report is expected to be released a few days before the board meeting.

Public Comments

Public comments are taken at the very beginning of the meeting, at 9 a.m. If you would like to speak, you must get there early. You likely need to fill out a card before proceedings begin to notify the Board that you wish to address them. I intend to make public comments during the meeting.

Date/Time:

Thursday March 3, 2011

9:00 a.m.

Location:

One Gateway Plaza – Metro Board Room
Los Angeles, California


View Larger Map

Public transit options:

You can get to Union Station from Alhambra using public transit. I recommend Metro’s Trip Planner.

  1. Metro Local Bus — Line 76: This bus travels down Valley Blvd. and will go directly to Union Station. Time table.  Cost: $1.50 each way.
  2. Metro Local Bus — Line 78: This bus travels down Main St. and will go directly to Union Station. Time table. Cost: $1.50 each way.
  3. Alhambra Community Transit (ACT) Blue Line to Metro Silver Line: The ACT Blue Line travels in a loop around Alhambra. Part of that loop includes the Metrolink station at Cal State L.A. Metro runs an express bus service, the Silver Line, from El Monte station that will stop at Cal State L.A. Time table: ACT (PDF); Silver Line. Cost: $0.25 (ACT) + $2.45 (Silver Line) = $2.70 each way.

Agenda

The Board has published its agenda.


City of Alhambra’s February 1 letter to the Rail Authority

This post is a follow-up to my posts a few weeks ago:

Letter to the Rail Authority

The City of Alhambra web site provides the City’s latest letter to the Rail Authority. It reminds the Rail Authority that the city opposes an elevated platform (aerial structure) and any project plan that would impact the quality of life of its residents. It also asks the Rail Authority to explore putting the trains in a trench like the Union Pacific trains that traverse the city along Mission or a tunnel like Metro and Caltrans are considering with regard to the 710 extension between Alhambra and Pasadena.


Draft Letters

That letter was chosen from among three letters drafted by city staff. The City Council had directed staff to prepare a letter during its January 24 meeting. Here are the drafts.

710 freeway gap closure: Scoping meetings start…. NOW!

Metro and Caltrans have restarted the environmental study and review (EIR/EIS) process for the 710 freeway. They intend to complete the freeway. Meetings start this week in South Pasadena, Alhambra, and other area cities. Some meetings will be webcast.

Metro has a web site it will use to share information: http://www.metro.net/projects/sr-710-conversations/

Series 1: Transportation where have we been? Where are we going?

Tuesday, February 15, 6-8pm
Jefferson Middle School
1372 E Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Wednesday, February 16, 6-8pm
Alhambra Civic Center Library – Reese Hall
101 S First St
Alhambra, CA 91801

Saturday, February 19, 2-4pm
Lake Avenue Church
393 N Lake Av
Pasadena, CA 91101

Wednesday, February 23, 6-8pm
South Pasadena High School
1401 Fremont Av
South Pasadena CA, 91030

Thursday, February 24, 6-8pm
Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church
2241 N Eastern Av
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Saturday, February 26, 2-4pm
Glendale Community College
1500 N Verdugo Rd
Glendale, CA 91208
Series 2: Protecting Communities through an Environmental Process-CEQA/NEPA

Tuesday, March 1, 6-8pm
Lake Avenue Church
393 N Lake Av
Pasadena, CA 91101

Wednesday, March 2, 6-8pm
Jefferson Middle School
1372 E Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Thursday, March 3, 6-8pm
Alhambra Civic Center Library – Reese Hall
101 S First St
Alhambra, CA 91801

Tuesday, March 8, 6-8pm
Glendale Community College
1500 N Verdugo Rd
Glendale, CA 91208

Wednesday, March 9, 6-8pm
South Pasadena High School
1401 Fremont Av
South Pasadena CA, 91030

Thursday, March 17, 6-8pm
Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church
2241 N Eastern Av
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Series 3: Scoping: Going on the Record

Tuesday, March 15, 6-8pm
Jefferson Middle School
1372 E Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776

Wednesday, March 16, 6-8pm
Alhambra Civic Center Library – Reese Hall
101 S First St
Alhambra, CA 91801

Monday, March 21, 6-8pm
Online Open House
Participate online at your convenience.

Tuesday, March 22, 6-8pm
Glendale Community College
1500 N Verdugo Rd
Glendale, CA 91208

Wednesday, March 23, 6-8pm
South Pasadena High School
1401 Fremont Av
South Pasadena CA, 91030

Tuesday, March 29, 6-8pm
Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church
2241 N Eastern Av
Los Angeles, CA 90032

Wednesday, March 30, 6-8pm
Lake Avenue Church
393 N Lake Av
Pasadena, CA 91101

Prop 1A Ballot Language Lawsuit

The California State Legislature recently lost an appeal in the California Court of Appeal regarding the ballot language used for Prop 1A, the November 2008 proposition that provided a down payment for the high speed rail project.

Despite the State losing the lawsuit, there is no actual impact on the high speed rail project. The court did not look at the language of the ballot in issuing its ruling. Rather, it only looked at whether the Legislature violated the law when it demanded the Secretary of State use a particular ballot title and summary.

California law requires the Attorney General to draft an impartial title and summary to ballot propositions. The Superior Court ruled in 2008 that the Legislature had violated the law by requiring the Secretary of State to use a specific ballot title and description. The Appellate Court agreed with the Superior Court. “Simply stated, the Legislature cannot dictate the ballot label, title and official summary for a statewide measure unless the Legislature obtains approval of the electorate to do so prior to placement of the measure on the ballot.”

This is an important decision. Apparently, the Legislature has required the Secretary of State to use specific language a number of times over the past ten years, including with prop 1A. The ruling should put an end to that practice for now. The Legislature likely will ask the California Supreme Court to hear and overturn the earlier decisions.

Even if the California Supreme Court agrees with the District Court and Court of Appeals, the only real effects of the suit will occur on future ballots. For example, Gov. Brown has asked the Legislature to place a tax extension proposition on the ballot for the next statewide election in June. The Legislature will not be able to write the text of the ballot. That job belongs to the California Attorney General, Kamala Harris.

Bottom line:

  • The Legislature violated the law when it required the Secretary of State to use specific ballot language
  • There is no effect upon Prop 1A, the Rail Authority, or its high speed rail project.
  • The Court of Appeals did not rule on whether the title, summary, or other descriptions for prop 1A were false or misleading.

Note: Information about the disposition of an appeal, including a copy of the opinion, is available on the Courts of Appeals web site. I have embedded the opinion below.

Confirmed: No Funding for L.A. to San Diego High Speed Rail Project in State Budget

Governor Jerry Brown’s budget does not include funding during the 2011-2012 fiscal year for the L.A. to San Diego segment of the high speed rail project. See page 4 of the Entire High-Speed Rail Authority Budget (PDF)(Google Docs)(also embedded below).There is no money allocated under the 2011-12 column in the Summary of Projects table.

SUMMARY OF PROJECTS

State Building Program Expenditures 2009-10 20010-11 2011-12
20 CAPITAL OUTLAY
Major Projects
….
20.60 Los Angeles to Anaheim $- $11,085 $8,350
….
20.70.010 Los Angeles to San Diego $- $3,700 $-

This means that the Rail Authority will not have any money to allocate toward design, engineering, or outreach for the L.A. to San Diego segment of its project during the fiscal year 2011-2012. The new fiscal year begins July 1. In all likelihood, little will be done after the March 3 Rail Authority board meeting in which the staff/contractors will present the preliminary alternatives report. Rail Authority staff/contractors will need to spend time and money winding down the project to put it on hold and prepare information necessary for their successors to pick up the project where it is left off.

That said, the Rail Authority will eventually come back and attempt to complete the project. We need to work together as a community and a region to define what we want the corridor to look like in 2050 and give the Rail Authority direction on what alignment we consider appropriate. This is what I implored the Alhambra City Council to do on Monday.

Bottom Line:

  • The high speed rail project through the San Gabriel Valley is about to be put on hold due to the state budget.
  • We cannot sit on our hands waiting for the Rail Authority to return to restart its project. Instead, we need to proactively address the I-10 corridor and, as a region, give the Rail Authority direction on where and how its rail project can traverse the area.

Proposal to Allow States Limited Power of Eminent Domain over Railroads

I recently asked our Congressional representatives, Adam Schiff and Judy Chu, to modify eminent domain rules over freight railroads. Without reforming eminent domain rules, the Union Pacific route will be eliminated. According to the Rail Authority engineers I spoke with, there are a number of reasons why the Union Pacific route is ideal compared with building high speeed trains along the 10 or the 60 freeways. For example, the trains will need to go slow to make a sharp curve south of Union Station to reach the I-10 freeway route. In contrast, it would make a more gentle curve at high speeds to reach the Union Pacific route. The Union Pacific route is also more straight, which will allow the trains to maintain speeds more than a route that uses the more curvy I-10 freeway route.

Goals
Such legislation to modify eminent domain rules over freight railroads has several goals:

  • to bring Union Pacific to the bargaining table (Without a chance at reform, Union Pacific has little to no incentive to come to the bargaining table and discuss selling or allowing the Rail Authority to use its right of way.);
  • to help resolve issues related to Union Pacific with other segments of the high speed rail project;
  • to provide one more alternative route for the Rail Authority to consider during its environmental impact studies;
  • improve potential for HSR nationwide.

Elements

The legislation would have four elements.

  1. Definitions
    • Underutilized Right of Way means less than 50% of the right of way is currently used for rail transport.
    • High Speed Rail means sustained speeds over 110 MPH in urbanized areas and capable of more than 200 MPH in rural areas.
  2. Power of eminent domain
    • States will have the power of eminent domain when less than 25% of the right of way is used for rail transport.
    • States may petition the Surface Transportation Board to use eminent domain when the railroad uses between 25% and 50% of the right of way.
  3. A role for the Surface Transportation Board, and continued federal oversight
    • The railroad may appeal to the Surface Transportation Board.
      • In which case, the Surface Transportation Board would analyze whether the exercise was appropriate.
      • Environmental study could continue during the appeals process.
    • Surface Transportation Board would have power to cancel an exercise of power of eminent domain
    • The Surface Transportation Board would be given some guidance about when to approve a state’s request or cancel an exercise, including the amount of space requested, impact on freight delivery, current and historical freight capacity, existing passenger rail usage, and type of rail line (main, trunk, spur, etc).
  4. Limitations to power of eminent domain
    • The state may not take more than 50% of the right of way unless the right of way has not been used for 5 years, in which case the state may seize the full property under eminent domain.
    • State may only exercise its powers of eminent domain for passenger rail transport.

Carrots

To pass, the legislation will require carrots to acquire support of other representatives and the business community. Here are some things that might help legislation gain necessary support:

  1. Transfer of Amtrak obligations
    • Any passenger rail obligations, including easements, on the freight hauler for that right of way would be transferred to the high speed rail agency. In that way, Union Pacific could transfer to the Rail Authority any obligations to Amtrak or Metrolink over that right of way.
  2. Waiver of liability/ limited liability
    • Railroads will ask for full waiver of liability regardless of fault.
    • Railroads may settle for the passenger rail company/agency taking the first bite after an accident regardless of who was at fault.
      • I was told, but have not verified, that the latter is the arrangement made by BNSF and Amtrak/Coaster for trackage between Orange County and San Diego.

This proposed legislation is aimed at giving the Rail Authority an opportunity to study the Union Pacific route. Even if the legislation is not helpful to my cause, which is to get the Rail Authority an opportunity to truly consider the Union Pacific right of way, I expect that such legislation will help promote high speed rail in other areas of the state or country. It may also successfully get Union Pacific and other railroad companies to the bargaining table, where it would not consider negotiating today.

Yvonne in Congressman Schiff’s office said they will research the economic effects and put out some feelers in Congress. Congresswoman Chu said she would consider the legislation as well as possibly asking the Congressional Research Service to study its effects.

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.

    More detail: Routes to be dropped, 75 foot high viaducts, and budget woes

    This follows-up my last post. Alhambra city staff will present an update to the Alhambra City Council and residents during the next city council meeting on Monday at 7pm. Staff will tell us that it recently learned that the Rail Authority will continue to study routes along the I-10 and SR-60 freeways. Rail Authority staff will also recommend that it drop the two routes that use and are adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way. City staff will also inform 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. Representatives from the Rail Authority will not be in attendance. 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.

    In addition, I learned today that the Rail Authority likely will put further study of the L.A. to San Diego line on hold until funding becomes available. The state budget does not include funding for further design work, supplemental alternatives analysis, or the EIR/EIS process. In addition, folks in El Monte need to know that an El Monte high speed rail station likely will force the use of eminent domain and destruction of homes near the current El Monte station.

    COG Meeting

    The Rail Authority met with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (COG) High Speed Rail Working Group on January 13, 2011. Below is a memo that summarizes the meeting. It highlights a timeline of events to come and decisions by Rail Authority staff (in reality, contractors) about what they will recommend to its board in the preliminary alternatives analysis report that will be presented on March 3.

    Highlights (my notes follow each):

    • Staff/contractors will recommend the Rail Authority continue studying the routes along the I-10 freeway and SR-60 during the EIR/EIS process.
      • The City of Alhambra web site makes it appear as if the SR-60 route will be dropped — it will not be dropped. That said, apparently the Rail Authority only discusses the negative aspects of the SR-60 route when talking to the COG and cities, including the superfund sites, Whittier Narrows Dam, and the San Gabriel River.
      • Separately, I confirmed with the Rail Authority that the SR-60 route will continue to be studied. The route along the Union Pacific right of way will be dropped because the State of California lacks eminent domain over freight railroads (federal jurisdiction). It will also withdraw the route that is adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way because it is too destructive.
    • The Rail Authority is using an elevated platform as its default alignment along the I-10 freeway between the 710 and 605 freeways. It says it will continue studying a trench/tunnel option.
      • Note that a trench and tunnel are both prohibitively expensive. If the Rail Authority will not build a trench/tunnel through the uber-wealthy communities on the San Francisco Peninsula, what makes us think it would spend gobs of money to do so through our communities?
    • Coming from Union Station, the trains would approach the 10 freeway from a tunnel beneath Boyle Heights. The east portal for the tunnel will be located somewhere around Eastern Avenue in the City Terrace area of L.A., near Cal State L.A. See Map #1 below.
    • The minimum height for an elevated platform is 27 feet from ground level (or structure) to the bottom of the platform.
      • That means the tops of the wires would be about 50 feet high. That also means trains may continue to run below the elevated platform along the I-10, since it would only need 16 feet of clearance for cars and buses but 27 feet minimum for trains.
      • The maximum grade change allowed for high speed trains is 2.5%. That means the trains will stay level as the road dips and the platform height will vary based on depth of dips in the road.
      • The high speed train platform will be higher than 27 feet through much of Alhambra, San Gabriel, and Rosemead. As the City of Alhambra web site says, that 27 feet is a minimum height from the road level to the bottom of the platform. The trains will travel above the 10 & 710 freeways interchange. At that point, the platform will be 40 to 50 feet above the interchange (75 feet above street level of the I-10 freeway). The trains will also be about 100 to 110 feet above the street level at the wash (just past the 710).
        • For perspective, view Map #1. It is split into two sections. The top shows an elevation profile that shows the height of the platform relative to the ground. The bottom section shows a birds’ eye view of the map.
        • Map #2 is likewise split into two sections. The elevation profile is the bottom section, although I have not had time to calculate or insert the path of the trains to provide perspective similar to Map #1.
    • The Rail Authority intends to build above the existing pedestrian and auto bridges along the route if it builds an elevated structure
    • A station in El Monte likely will require homes and/or businesses to be torn down, but the Rail Authority cannot say how many yet because it is too early and it has not done enough work to give a reliable answer.
      • A high speed train station will require a space 7,600 feet long by about 100 feet wide. That much space is necessary to accommodate 4 tracks, with platforms 1,600 feet long and 6,000 feet to maneuver/switch trains to the platform tracks. In addition, the Rail Authority will need space for the station itself.

    Additional Rail Authority Statements

    I also asked questions of the Rail Authority that are related but not addressed in the COG memo. Here’s what I found out:

    1. After the March 3 Board meeting, the Rail Authority likely will place further work on the L.A. to San Diego line on hold. The state budget currently does not fund the supplemental alternatives analysis or the EIS/EIR for L.A. to San Diego.
    2. The Rail Authority will post the alternatives analysis report to its web site the week before the March 3 Rail Authority Board meeting.
    3. The Rail Authority has completed about 2% of its design and engineering work. It must complete a minimum of 15% before it can begin the EIR/EIS process. In addition, it will need to have formal scoping meetings before it can begin the EIR/EIS.
    4. There are no plans for Metrolink trains to run down the center of the freeway as they do right now. Instead, there are discussions about sharing the elevated platform with Metrolink trains. The Rail Authority also thinks it is possible that Metrolink trains use Union Pacific’s Alhambra Line. That line runs in a trench down Mission Blvd through Alhambra and through San Gabriel and El Monte.
      1. I am skeptical that Union Pacific will ever allow Metrolink long-term access to its tracks if it is openly hostile to the idea of sharing a right of way with the high speed rail project.
      2. Union Pacific and Metrolink currently have an informal quid pro quo that allows either to use tracks that belong to the other when necessary. That usually boils down to times when construction needs to be completed, a train has broken down on the tracks, or some other closure necessitates temporarily re-routing trains.

    COG Memo

    This memo was prepared by the COG to summarize what occurred at its working group meeting.









    Map #1

    This map was prepared by the City of Alhambra staff based on diagrams shown during the COG working group meeting. It has two sections. The first is an elevation profile that shows the height of the high speed rail platform relative to ground elevation and structures such as the 10/710 freeways interchange. The second section is a bird’s eye view of the area. Scroll to see the rest of the map.









    Map #2

    This map shows the path of the trains through the rest of Alhambra into San Gabriel and Rosemead. It includes an elevation profile; however, it does not include information about the height of the trains. Scroll to see the rest of the map.








    Bottom line:

    • Attend the City Council meeting — Monday January 24 @7pm in City Hall. Now is when you voice your concerns and opinion to the City Council so it may incorporate your feedback into how it pursues this matter. If you are not in Alhambra, then you need to contact your City Council and demand it respond to the Rail Authority’s plans. This is part of the democratic process.
    • The SR-60 freeway route will still be studied. Only the two routes that use and are adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way will be withdrawn from consideration.
    • The Rail Authority likely will put further study on hold until funding becomes available. The state budget does not include funding for further design work, supplemental alternatives analysis, or the EIR/EIS process.
    • An El Monte high speed rail station likely will force the use of eminent domain and destruction of homes near the current El Monte station. Get the word out.
    • The high speed trains will fly by on elevated structures that at times are 75 feet or more in the air.

    Meeting Announcement (MONDAY): Alhambra City Council meeting

    This is short notice, but an update regarding the high speed rail will be given at the regular Alhambra City Council meeting — on MONDAY.

    According to the city web site, the Rail Authority staff will only recommend one route to its board — the I-10 freeway. We already knew it would drop the routes using and adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way, but now it appears the SR-60 route will not receive further consideration either. In addition, the trains will run on an elevated platform that averages 74 feet above street level through Alhambra (I’m not sure about the other cities). I called and emailed the Rail Authority’s outreach contacts as well as the City Manager’s office for clarification.

    So attend the meeting to hear an update and give comments. And tell your neighbors, family, friends, and anyone else you think will be interested.

    Monday, January 24, 2010

    Regular City Council Meeting

    7 p.m., City Council Chambers

    “The train will utilize a tunnel from Union Station in Los Angeles to a portal in East Los Angeles around Eastern Avenue in Los Angeles. The train will climb to approximately 475 feet above sea level. The I-10/710 interchange will be easily cleared, in that it stands about 415 feet above sea level at its highest point. The train will maintain a level course of travel through the City of Alhambra at approximately 474 feet above sea level, which is about 74 feet above grade.”

    The top part of the diagram shows a cross section showing elevations, while the bottom part shows a bird eye view of the route. You might need to scroll to see either portion of the diagram.

    Stay tuned for more info, and I will see you on Monday.

    Recap of 2010 and what to expect in 2011

    Happy new year! I want to recap what happened in 2010 and identify what to expect in 2011 with regard to the California High Speed Rail Authority’s proposal to put its trains through Alhambra and our neighboring cities. We have a busy year ahead of us.

    UPDATE: Some of this is apparently is now outdated. The day after I made this post, the City of Alhambra announced that its next City Council meeting (Jan. 24) would address the Rail Authority’s staff decision to recommend only the I-10 route and placement of an elevated platform 74 feet above street level.

    Recap 2010

    1. Alhambra and neighboring cities in the cross hairs

    In August, we learned that the California High Speed Rail Authority is talking seriously about sending high speed trains at speeds up to 150 miles per hour through residential neighborhoods on either the north or south sides of the I-10 freeway or in the center of the I-10 freeway where it will potentially take up the carpool lanes and the existing Metrolink tracks. Click to view maps. The train would go by every 7 to 15 minutes, from 5 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year, and tower more than 35 to 50 feet high.

    That proposal is part of a high speed railway between Los Angeles Union Station and San Diego. Environmental review would begin by the end of 2011 and construction could begin two to three years later (2015), assuming the project is funded. However, the Rail Authority currently does not intend to actually begin construction until 2020 the earliest, after it has completed the first phase of its high speed railway from San Francisco to Anaheim.

    The Rail Authority will decide whether to include the I-10 corridor west of the 605 in its full environmental review during its board meeting in March 2011. Initially, it had intended to make the decision on October 7, 2010; however cities, their residents, and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG), which represents 31 cities in the region, urged the Rail Authority to delay any action until February.

    2. General background on the progress of the statewide high speed rail network

    The Rail Authority has divided the construction of its statewide high speed rail project into phases. The first phase will be from San Francisco to Anaheim. It is slated to begin construction during 2012 and finish in 2020. The second phase is the L.A. to San Diego segment that the Rail Authority has proposed routing through the San Gabriel Valley. The Rail Authority intends to begin construction of the second phase between 2020 and 2025. Other phases would foreseeably connect Irvine, Sacramento, the Central Coast, Las Vegas, and Northern California.

    The Rail Authority continues to work on the first phase of its project between San Francisco and Anaheim. It is compiling environmental impact reports for the segments, arranging financing, and working through the details of how to accomplish its goals and building the project. At the same time, it has been criticized for rubber stamping plans issued by its contractors, not properly tracking expenses, and overestimating ridership estimates while underestimating costs.

    Significantly, the Rail Authority decided during November to begin construction of its project in the Central Valley when it decided to start with a section between Fresno and Corcoran. A few weeks later, it added a section between Corcoran and Bakersfield. In both decisions, the Rail Authority board was given a Hobson’s choice (a choice that really is not a choice) by the Obama Administration.

    The federal government awarded the Rail Authority nearly $4 billion in grants toward construction of the high speed network during 2010. The first grant (around $3 billion) had a series of conditions that seemed to limit construction of the first segment to the Central Valley. A second grant made in December apparently identified the segment the money is intended to fund (Corcoran to Bakersfield). Construction is expected to begin next year on the segment between the Fresno area to Bakersfield.

    The Rail Authority still has not identified how it will finance the first phase of its project. The first segment is officially forecast to cost about $45 billion. Unofficial estimates put the price tag closer to $75 billion. Proposition 1A, approved by voters in 2008, covers about $9 billion. The federal grants provide for about $4 billion. Together that is about $13 billion. More recently, the Japanese government has offered to lend about 50% of the cost (another $22-23 billion). The Chinese, French, and Germans are likely to make similar offers. That leaves the Rail Authority about $8 to $9 billion short of its project costs. Wall Street is the most likely source of any remaining amount.

    3. Burdens await

    We learned that once operational:

    • a train would go by every 7 to 15 minutes;
    • trains would run from 5 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year;
    • the trains are likely to be elevated on a platform at a minimum of 35 feet high (more than 3 stories) and quite likely 50 feet high (the freeway sound walls are 14 feet high through most of Alhambra); and
    • @ 125 MPH high speed trains at ground level are about 77 decibels loud. They even louder when elevated. In contrast, Caltrans expects the freeway to register about 70 decibels after it finishes construction and puts the new high occupancy toll lane in service (currently an empty buffer lane next to the carpool lane).

    4. Alternative routes

    The Rail Authority has proposed 4 alternative routes between L.A. Union Station and the 605 freeway. Two of those routes are not feasible at the moment.

    • Union Pacific (UP) right of way: Not feasible because California lacks power of eminent domain over railroads. Union Pacific refuses to cooperate.
    • Union Pacific adjacent: Not feasible because it is too destructive. The route would tear through commercial and industrial businesses, & homes
    • SR-60 freeway: The 60 freeway may not be feasible depending on whether Metro chooses it for the Goldline Extension from East L.A. By September, Metro will complete an environmental impact report for the the Goldline extension. At that point, it will decide on whether to route the light rail down the 60 freeway or Washington Blvd to Whittier.
    • I-10 freeway

    5. Community opposition produced results

    Since opposition appeared in August, the Rail Authority has been forced to hold community meetings, present to city councils multiple times, and modify its presentations to better address our concerns. It is likely that less outreach would have been done had our communities not been so vocal.

    Another positive sign is that the Rail Authority has backpedaled and scaled back its initial proposals. When it first approached Alhambra, the Rail Authority proposed cutting through residential neighborhoods between the 710 and 605 freeways. As it stands today, its staff and consultants are promising not to make any proposals that would go outside the footprint of the freeway or force any resident from their homes. That said, the staff and consultants do not have the power to make such a promise. Only the Rail Authority Board makes decisions on routes, although it does strongly consider advice from its staff and consultants.

    6. The California High Speed Rail Authority was a troubled agency throughout 2010

    • Two board members held other public offices that directly conflicted with their duties and obligations to the Rail Authority. One member, Richard Katz, also sat on the boards of Metro and Metrolink. He ultimately resigned from the Rail Authority to preserve his seats on those boards. The second, Curt Pringle, was also mayor of Anaheim and sat on OCTA. His terms as mayor and on the OCTA board ended in December thus ending the conflict. Also in December, Mr. Pringle was reappointed to the Rail Authority board in one of the last official acts as governor by Arnold Schwarznegger.
    • Misters Katz and Pringle were also accused of having personal financial conflicts of interest.
    • Reports issued by the State Auditor and State Inspector General cited poor contracting and oversight practices.
    • The Rail Authority began work on a third set of ridership estimates that forecast how many people are expected to ride the high speed trains and the stations those riders will use. The first two ridership forecasts were not reliable. Ridership forecasts are extremely important because they estimate how much business the high speed rail system will generate for the Rail Authority. Those forecasted numbers are the basis for a number of things including where the trains and stations should go, whether the system can generate enough revenue to cover operating costs, and whether the Rail Authority can expect to pay back bonds it will need to construct its high speed rail network.
    • The non-partisan Legislative Analyst was critical of the Rail Authority’s business plan in its last analysis in March 2010 According to the Legislative Analyst’s report, the Rail Authority’s business plan lacks important details such as a discussion of risk management and identifiable deliverables or milestones against which progress can be measured.

    What to expect during 2011

    1. The Rail Authority will focus on Phase 1

    The Rail Authority will spend 2011 focused primarily on Phase 1 of its project, which is the main line between San Francisco and Anaheim. The L.A. to San Diego route is part of Phase 2 and is lower in its priorities list. Federal grants of money, totaling around $4 billion, requires the Rail Authority to meet certain deadlines such as breaking ground in 2012. That means we are likely to see action items on the board’s calendar or to-do list related to the L.A. to San Diego route bumped in favor of Phase 1 items.

    The focus on Phase 1 likely will lead to some uncertainty in our community about what the Rail Authority is planning, especially if there are sizable delays in the timeline provided by the Rail Authority. On the positive side, we should start to learn more information about the high speed trains as the Rail Authority releases environmental impact reports for segments of its project from San Francisco to Anaheim. More specifically, we’ll learn about impacts on other communities, steps to mitigate those impacts, aesthetic design, and about noise issues.

    2. Alternatives Analysis process, and beyond

    The Rail Authority is currently engaged in the early stages of the environmental review process. Its actions are controlled by a state statute called the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and a federal statute called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Together, the two statutes set out the process that must be followed by the Rail Authority in making decisions that affect the environment.

    The Rail Authority is currently in a stage it calls the preliminary alternatives analysis process. During this time, it has identified certain alternative routes that seem to make sense to its engineers to get from point A to point B. In our case, point A is Union Station and point B is El Monte. This process will culminate in March when the Rail Authority staff and contractors will present a report to its board recommending routes that should be studied in further detail.

    Rail Authority representatives will recommend in its March report that both routes along the Union Pacific right of way be discarded and no longer considered. That is at least what I was told its representatives conveyed to the San Gabriel Council of Governments transportation committee last week. The State of California lacks the power of eminent domain over the Union Pacific. Without cooperation from Union Pacific then the state has no way to utilize that right of way. The route adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way is way too disruptive to the local and state economies. Put another way, the Rail Authority staff will recommend only the routes along the I-10 and SR-60 freeways be studied in detail as possible routes.

    A few months later, the Rail Authority will issue its final/supplemental alternatives analysis report. At that point, the Rail Authority will begin the environmental impact report/statement (EIR/EIS) process, which it expects will take two to three years. CEQA requires an EIR. NEPA requires an EIS. Both laws allow for a combined document, to save us the trouble of reading two mostly duplicate documents. 🙂

    3. Political Activism

    We must be politically active to achieve our goals and ensure the communities along the route are not unreasonably burdened by the high speed rail project. Ultimately, most decisions by the Rail Authority are political in nature, including the routes it chooses, how it uses the state’s scarce resources, or how it spends the taxpayer’s money.

    To that end, several of us have actively engaged our elected representatives.

    • Last Friday, a small group of us met with Congresswoman Judy Chu in her offices in El Monte. We spoke with her about some of our concerns regarding the high speed rail project. We made two requests: 1) to publicly support a delay in the alternatives analysis process; and 2) introduce legislation that would give California and other states limited rights of eminent domain over underutilized railroad rights of way.
    • I made the same requests to Congressman Adam Schiff’s office.
    • The same group that met with Congresswoman Chu will meet with Assemblymember Mike Eng this coming Friday to voice our concerns.
    • We have attended city council meetings and spoken with our city council members to voice our concerns

    To be successful, larger numbers in our communities must get politically active during 2011. I intend to post “action alerts” from time to time asking you to organize your friends, family, and neighbors to contact and ask our elected representatives to act. The first action alert will ask everyone to repeat our demand of Congresspersons Schiff and Chu, demanding Congress allow states limited rights of eminent domain over underutilized railroad rights of way.

    4. Community Involvement

    We must better engage San Gabriel Valley communities that will be affected. The residents and businesses need to know so they may raise their concerns about the project and suggestions on how it may be improved before it is too late.

    Send email to dan [at] alhambra123.org if you would like to get even more involved, whether it be: helping with 3d modeling on the computer; involving your PTA, church, or other community group; canvassing neighborhoods and businesses; or setting up booths or passing out flyers at community events such as the farmers’ market or lunar new year festival.

    Together our communities can limit any burdens the project might have on us. No matter how negative it might look, the high speed rail proposal is something we must continue to actively address. We have already had a significant affect on how the Rail Authority approaches the cities and residents along the I-10 freeway corridor. Working together, we can continue to successfully force the Rail Authority to consider our needs and limiting the impacts of its project.

    I’ll continue to post developments and information to this web site –> http://www.alhambra123.org/ You do not need to visit the web site daily to know when I make new posts. You can subscribe to receive updates by email or for RSS feeds by clicking the links on the top right corner of the web site.