Elevated high-speed rail platforms still alive

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Although some design options for high-speed rail have been eliminated, the controversial proposal to put trains on elevated platforms through San Mateo County remains a possibility.

Residents in numerous Peninsula cities, including San Mateo and Burlingame, have pleaded with officials from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to refrain from operating the trains on aerial viaducts due to fears that the massive structures will divide communities, inflict economic pain and increase noise pollution.

Authorities released two potential alternatives for passage through the county. One presented long stretches of at-grade or aerial crossings and one showed the possibilities of open-trench tunnel designs.

Some design alternatives that weren’t technically feasible, such as a “stacked” option where two rails of tracks would run at-grade above another set of tracks underground, were eliminated.

Numerous political officials from the Peninsula, including state Assemblyman Jerry Hill, attended the rail authority’s meeting Thursday in San Francisco to request patience in the design phase of the rail alignment. Conversely, several San Francisco political, business and planning officials attended the meeting to urge the authority to act expediently.

“It is completely understandable that residents along the right of way have concerns, and some will argue that it should not be built unless all their concerns are addressed,” said Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, a San Francisco public policy think tank. “But that is an impossible wish. There is not that much money in the world to address all the concerns.”

Digging trenches or tunnels is generally considered more expensive than building aerial structures, but the rail authority has not determined cost estimates for either of the two options, according to Robert Doty, director of the Peninsula portion of the train line.

A new financial model is expected to be released in February, and the rail authority will continue to work on narrowing down design alternatives in the Peninsula until the final engineering and environmental reports are due in 2011.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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