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Palo Alto to hire consultants to review high-speed rail plans

(The following story by Will Oremus appeared on the Palo Alto Daily News website on August 4, 2009.)

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Not trusting the California High Speed Rail Authority to look out for locals' best interests, Palo Alto will spend $70,000 to arm itself with expertise on high-speed rail design options.

The city council voted 7-0 on Monday to hire engineering consultants and hold an informational symposium and a separate design workshop on plans for the Peninsula portion of the planned Los Angeles-to-San Francisco rail line.

Many in Palo Alto and neighboring cities are pushing for the trains to run underground while fearing that the rail authority will instead run them above-ground to save money.

The symposium will come first. On Sept. 12, the city will sponsor an all-day "teach-in" to educate the public on "urban design and planning concepts" related to railroad design. The $5,000 event may be funded partly by Caltrain, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said.

The city is hoping Caltrain will also chip in for a $15,000, two-day design workshop on Oct. 3-4. The charrette, open to the public, will include brainstorming sessions, briefings from design professionals and presentations of conceptual plans from "a team of national experts," according to a city staff report.

The larger expense is $50,000 for engineering consulting services, designed to provide the city with "independent peer review" of the feasibility of running trains underground. The state rail authority is expected to do its own preliminary review of that option in documents scheduled to be released this fall.

Emslie said the consultants could provide expertise that "the city could have some confidence in ... as far as providing good oversight."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

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