High Speed Rail Board Nixes Beale Street Alignment and Peninsula Berms

rail.jpgClick to enlarge. Downtown San Francisco alignment alternatives. The Beale Street routing was rejected today. Image courtesy CHSRA.
Transit advocates in San Francisco and residents up and down the Peninsula breathed a collective sign of relief today as the California High Speed Rail Authority Board ruled out two of the more unpopular routing options for the planned bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The board endorsed a Preliminary Alternatives Analysis report that struck down the ideas of using a Beale Street alignment in San Francisco or a raised berm (or artificial embankment) configuration along the Peninsula, similar to what Caltrain travels on now through San Carlos.

Instead, high-speed rail planners will focus on a 2nd Street approach to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, and will look at range of configurations for the Peninsula, including aerial viaducts, at-grade travel, below-grade uncovered trenches, and underground tunnels.

Both of the jettisoned ideas had met with vocal opposition, and as Curbed SF points out, acquiring property to make way for the Beale Street alignment would also have cost three-and-a-half times as much as the 2nd Street option.

Robert Cruickshank, Chair of Californians for High Speed Rail, said the route recommendations make the discussion about the rail line much more concrete.

"Over the past year or so, it's been fairly hyperbolic from a lot of people, like those who said they were going to build a Berlin Wall through Palo Alto," said Cruickshank, referring to opponents of the berm option. "Because there hasn't been a clearly defined set of alternatives, that hyperbole gets spread around."

While the CAHSRA will continue to study a tunnel alignment through the Peninsula, the report warned that some of the alternatives under consideration might prove to be too costly. Though Peninsula cities including Menlo Park and Palo Alto have agitated for a tunnel alignment, the report notes that building the most expensive alternative in every case along the full stretch of the line would put the project far over its budget.

"Some people on the Peninsula aren't opposed, but want to see the best options," said Cruickshank. "They can have a more realistic assessment of the options now."

The high-speed rail line would travel up the existing Caltrain corridor through the Peninsula, potentially stopping in Redwood City, Palo Alto, or Mountain View. It would also stop in Millbrae to connect to San Francisco International Airport and then continue on to a final stop in downtown San Francisco.

The CHSRA board voted 6-1 to endorse the report's alignment recommendations. Next up is a 75-day public comment period. A draft environmental impact report and a draft environmental impact statement are scheduled for public comment in December of 2010, with the board aiming to finalize the alignment next spring.