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California city asks for underground rail system

(The following story by Sean Howell appeared on the Almanac website on November 12, 2009.)

MENLO PARK, Calif. — After some wrangling, Menlo Park's City Council approved the text of a letter to the High-Speed Rail Authority at its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 10, stating the city's preference for the high-speed rail to run below ground.

"Increased public outreach activities ... have clearly identified an overwhelming community preference for a below grade (underground) Caltrain/High-speed-rail system through Menlo Park," the city states in the letter, drafted by Public Works Director Kent Steffens.

Though city officials have long stated their preference for an underground system, this is the first time the city has taken a formal stance, according to Mr. Steffens.

While council members agreed that the underground option would be ideal, Councilman John Boyle dissented in the 3-1 vote, over a statement in the short letter that Menlo Park would support the rail authority if it decided not to analyze the prospect of a rail line running on an elevated platform, or at ground level. Given how little the city knows about the potential design or viability of the various alignments, it would be premature to ask the rail authority to rule out any of them, Mr. Boyle argued.

Councilman Rich Cline responded that the city needs to make its preference for an underground system known as clearly as possible, and that he couldn't see any scenario under which a raised platform would be a desirable option. While Mr. Boyle took issue with what he believed was a disrespectful tone in the letter, Mr. Cline said the city needs to be forceful if it wants the rail authority to listen to Menlo Park.

Councilman Andy Cohen was absent from the meeting, and is recused from discussing issues related to high-speed rail anyway, because he lives near the tracks.

Atherton's City Council at its Oct. 21 meeting voted unanimously to send a strongly worded letter advocating an underground system, and repeating a request for the rail authority to consider bypassing the Caltrain right of way altogether. The letter passed without comment.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

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