Reed Sticks Up for High-Speed Subway

*Updated below.

Mayor Chuck Reed sent a letter to the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) today, asking that the group reconsider a decision regarding the route of the Sacramento/San Francisco/Los Angeles line, which may pass through San Jose’s Diridon station.

In December, the CHRSA board decided to proceed with two options through the city—along highways 87 and 280, or along the Caltrain right-of-way through Diridon Station. The board rejected a proposed underground route, estimating that it would cost almost six times as much money.

In his letter, Reed points out that residents and businesses attending a “Good Neighbor” meeting, which was held by the San Jose Redevelopment Agency, were unanimously opposed to eliminating the underground option.

Reed asks that further study be done in spite of the additional costs and the possible environmental impact on the groundwater of tunneling.

“We do not seek to slow the EIR process to the point it could jeopardize the ‘shovel-readiness’ of the project in the eyes of federal funders,” Reed writes in the letter, which was also signed by Councilmembers Sam Liccardo and Pierluigi Oliverio. “We ask that the underground option be further studied.”

Local leaders hope that the High Speed Rail line could create new jobs while bringing downtown businesses additional traffic and revenue. The total estimated cost for the rail line is $45 billion, with funding coming from federal, state, and private interests. It was approved by voters as Proposition 1A in 2008 and is expected to create 130,000 jobs throughout the state.

*UPDATE: California High Speed Rail Authority boardmember Rod Diridon reports that the underground option will be studied fully during the next phase of the DEIR through March.

Diridon’s email to Mayor Chuck Reed and the Councilmembers said: “I have asked the engineers to work closely with the councilmembers involved and the mayor to schedule in-home meetings to share current and future data as soon as available and will attend those myself when possible.”


  1. This is one area of SJ politics where I might have to disagree with our city leaders.  If they want further study of a possible HSR tunnel through downtown SJ, that’s fine.  But IMHO, a tunnel/underground station is not only unecessary but will cost billions of extra dollars to build; perhaps even making HSR through San Jose unrealistic.  Hopefully for Mayor Reed and others on the city council, this won’t be a case of tunnel or nothing.  For the record, HSR won’t travel through downtown SJ at 220mph (more like 60-80mph because of the station, curves south) and the actual aerial’s will be more like 20-30ft. high; with mitigations in place for noise.

    In terms of a station that would act as some sort of “Berlin Wall” and tower over the downtown community, such sentiment is nothing more than the fear of the unknown.  There are outstanding train stations/“Hauptbahnhof’s” throughout Europe that are true destinations that add vibrancy/life to the city; and they are all above grade.  Magnificant “trainsheds,” with ticketing, shops and restaurants, surrounded by transit oriented developments.  This is what we should strive for at Diridon, not “hide” everything deep underground because a few still think of San Jose as that “Mayberry” of the 1950’s.  San Jose is a major Amercian city now; let’s start acting like it.

    Check this out yourself!

    • San Jose is a major Amercian city now; let’s start acting like it.

      I have never understood why people think our quality of life needs to be lowered in order to be “a major Amercian city”.

  2. Why are we doing this anyway?

    High speed rail is an insanely expensive and monumentally stupid idea.

    Rod Diridon was dropped on his head as a child and has been obsessing ever since on the Lionel train set he didn’t get for Christmas.

    This is the twenty first century.  Choo choo trains are a nineteenth century solution.

    If we’re going to get high speed trains, why not high speed stage coaches and high speed oxcarts with high speed pooper scoopers.

    Deranged, mentally ill people should never be appointed to government boards or commissions.

  3. Thank goodness!  If we build this and rule out the underground strictly on cost we’re going to shoot ourselves in the foot…  we’re not talking about a temporary installation here.  We do not need any more “this or that” side of the freeway, “this or that” side of the tracks, nor will the system work as well as we’d like it to if it has to keep adjusting for what is going on around it. 

    All the big cities whose public transportation we might use when we visit both in the US and Europe put so much of this underground for a reason. And if we want to make sure all our public transportation is available for the maximum number of people to use and support it…  we can’t get people to live in high density next to the train tracks if the train is more eyesore and more noise pollution then already exists, but we could if the trains passed underground and weren’t bothering anyone.  Let’s seriously consider it, because I think we’ll be sorry in my lifetime if we don’t.

  4. Mayor Reed is making things happen.

    We salute his efforts.

    Rod Diridon is the Master Builder.

    Bill Bailey is interested in trying to block this effort.  These opponents should work growth and stop looking at websites.

  5. A critic is hardly strident when all he can do is attack the good intentions of a idealist like Rod Diridon.  The family has always been involved in trains and that is hardly something to scoff at.  The best engineers for the Navy came from railroads.  If rail traffic is so obsolete than why do most advanced mass transit systems rely on train systems which still remains one of the cheapest ways to move freight?  I have known Rod for twenty years and he remains with his son and daughter, as other members of his family dedicated to the community. There have been several instances where we have been quite on opposite sides, but Rod is still one of the people everyone seeks to be part of a cause or a campaign.  That speaks for itself.

    • > . . . but Rod is still one of the people everyone seeks to be part of a cause or a campaign.  That speaks for itself.


      I have NEVER sought Rod Diridon to be part of ANY cause or campaign.  Are you purposely diminishing my role in the community by excluding me from “everyone”.

      If you are not Diridon’s official publicist, you should check and see how much his publicist is paid . . . . and then demand equivalent compensation.

      Also, next time you see Diridon, check out his head closely and see if their isn’t a flat spot or an indentation somewhere on his skull.

  6. As a voter who rejected the high-speed rail bond measure in November 2008, I agree with Tony D. in that having HSR underground in the downtown SJ area is a bad idea. 

    I also know from reading about other high-speed rail corridors worldwide that their stations are above-ground and with some form of grade separation.  As for this country, the reason New York’s Grand Central Station and Penn Station are below-ground is a city ordinance banning diesel-powered locomotives below ground.  I challenge anyone to name a city in the world whose intercity station is below ground.

    I noticed that Pamela never mentioned the real reason why cities put their (local and intercity) trains below ground.  It’s because those cities like New York were growing with population and businesses at their core at the time.  It also helps that cities like New York area built on bedrock, and can better support an underground infrastructure.  Also remember that BART is proposed to run under downtown San Jose with a station nearby linking with HP Pavilion.  How will HSR accommodate for all of that? While there is currently a short tunnel for VTA light rail near Diridon station, it is forgotten that what is underneath San Jose is basically sand that supports your groundwater, near an area prone to earthquakes.  (Note yesterday’s 4.1 shaker.) 

    It is likely that another (possibly local) bond measure or sales tax will have to be passed just to support HSR tunneling in the South Bay.  As with all bond money (read: loans), it has to be paid back with interest in addition to bond fees – something I have seen little of in this debate so far.  Given our current state of affairs in California, are residents willing to tolerate having the nation’s worst roads and worst education system for another generation just to avoid having their intercity trains above ground? 

    The more I read about those with sudden concerns to HSR in the South Bay, the more I start wondering:

    * how did these people originally vote on HSR in November 2008? 
    * Did these people go to any of the information meetings on HSR before they voted and asked hard questions at these meetings?  Did they get all the facts about the proposal from supporters AND opponents before they voted?
    * Did these people read the full text of Proposition 1a and its consequences before they voted?

    The story above suggests that those suddenly concerned might not have done their homework in full before voting. 

    Let these concerns serve a lesson to us all to get the full facts and accountability on any long-term infrastructure project first before approving at the ballot box.

    • Eugene:

      I suspect that many people who voted for the HSR bond last fall just considered the concept in abstract before voting “yes.”

      If one took the time to look, there were disturbing signs on the high speed rail project before the 2008 election. For example, see here:

      Why route HSR via Pacheco instead of Altamont? After they selected Pacheco, they realized that Altamont would require upgrading anyway, so we get the “Altamont Corridor Rail Project:”

      By routing HSR via Pacheco instead of Altamont, any future extension to Sacrament becomes twice as long and twice as expensive. And those pre-election promises of $55 fares from SF to LA just vanished in a puff of reality as the new HSR business plan is now talking of fares north of $100, which is no surprise to anyone familiar with Amtrak’s fares on the northeast “corridor.” see

      Also, according to the above article, “The plan also notes that the projected cost of the new rail line has ballooned from $33.8 million to $42.6 million, though 80 percent of that increase was attributed to inflation and the new methodology used to calculate costs.” We all know, as seen with public projects like the Bay Bridge East span replacement or Boston’s Big Dig, that these huge infrastructure “improvements” always go billions over budget:

      As more facts of the CAHSR plan come out former supporters become opponents. This isn’t a problem with high speed rail per se, but rather a problem with the way the CA HSR Authority does business.

  7. I eagerly anticipate this train and the shifting mentality with regard to travel in this country, but I wonder how we can have this underground along with BART in the future. Neither of these run at grade, so obviously one will have to be elevated or shoved down even further. What’s the planning here?

    • You should take a look at London’s subway grid.  There are times where 3 lines overlap in the same station, each going in a different direction.  You just stack the lines at the station.  It think most of downtown has 60-90ft of underground terrain that can be used for subway, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

  8. Hey why should SF always get the preferential treatment and be undergrounded while SJ is above—all for the HSR—-and agree that those opposed to above ground definetely are overstating its impacts but personally—if you can keep it underground through downtown your freeing up some valuable land—

  9. Perhaps consider looking at a bigger picture such as:
    A. build a world class truly international airport in So Country, ie, near Hollister.  Have a HSR terminal there.  The new SJC airport terminal becomes a rail transit hub for HSR, BART (which would continue up to SF) and LR.  the remaining (existing) airport land is now high value commercial/high density housing and downtown can grow even taller making that real estate more valuable.
    there will be an economic boom over the next 20 years.

  10. > The more I read about those with sudden concerns to HSR in the South Bay, the more I start wondering:

    > * how did these people originally vote on HSR in November 2008?

    NO! NO! NO! HELL NO!
    > * Did these people go to any of the information meetings on HSR before they voted and asked hard questions at these meetings? 


    > Did they get all the facts about the proposal from supporters AND opponents before they voted?


    * Did these people read the full text of Proposition 1a and its consequences before they voted?


    None of these deep and probing questions is really relevent.  All an intelligent person needs to do is realize that the concept is a dumb idea.

    More data doesn’t change the conclusion.

    • I’m really surprised you can’t see the value of HSR in the Bay Area. Maybe you should go to Europe or Japan and experience a HSR system before saying all of this random crap. California voters are highly educated, maybe they are not the ignorant ones.

      • > I’m really surprised you can’t see the value of HSR in the Bay Area.

        I’m really surprised you can’t see the cost of HSR to the Bay Area.

        It merely requires the borrowing of more BILLIONS of dollars from the Chinese, making our children perpetual debt slaves.  And for what?

        So that the eternallly adolescent products of the public school system can have a shiny circus ride to transport them from one urban voting block plantation to another.

      • The problem isn’t with the concept of high speed rail per se, but rather with the CA HSR authority. They got their vote for the bonds but were forced by the state legislature to come out with a revised business plan. All of a sudden, those promises of cheap fares went out the window, and the costs escalated by 9 billion. Then you have CAHSRA board member Rod Diridon making statements like this one:

        Is it any wonder that people are growing skeptical about this project?

  11. SJA’s,
    The above-ground train station would be built on top of the already existing train platforms of the current Diridon Station.  Historic station depot would also be incorporated into the new station.  No “valuable land” would be freed up in underground scenario.  In fact, build it underground and you’d wipe out nearly all of Montgomery St. between HP Pavilion and the proposed A’s ballpark; see the map in today’s Mercury News.

    And for the record, the 90 ft. aerial would only be for a portion of the track over 280/87, and the 87 ft. high train station is the actual “trainshed” height.  I’m sure a compromise could bring the “shed” down to 50-60 ft. in height.

  12. VTA Light Rail and BART to San Jose were designed by San Jose politicians and do not go to or go slower than cars to highly desired travel destinations
    and are laugh-stock of US public transit systems and will only get worst until part time appointed politician Board is replaced

    HSR above ground in downtown will result in less desirable housing and business development with lower taxes and fewer jobs as we see in other cities

    Few desirable businesses or high income people with many other choices will live next to above ground train tracks so we will get mostly low – middle income residents and less desirable low – middle income worker businesses with less taxes and jobs in downtown again

    Other Silicon Valley cities – love it – when San Jose’s politicians and city staff repeat again and again bad public transit, policy and land use choices that encourage desirable businesses and high income people to locate in their cities not San Jose

    San Jose has most of SV’s undesirable facilities – airport, sewer plant, public transit, bars, sports stadiums, worst traffic, low income worker companies while building most of SV’s low income housing and having SV’s lowest quality of life and highest taxes

    If Silicon Valley had a “Dumb-Ass City Award”  San Jose would win it every year

  13. Since we’re now on the crazy tip, speaking nonsense and way off-topic, how about moving SJC to Moffett?!  Look at a map or Google Earth: new 8,000 ft. east/southeast approach runway, paralleling north of W. Caribbean Dr. and 1st Avenue in Sunnyvale, ending in the current golf course at Moffett.  Land/business acquisitions north of 1st Ave., including relocating current Yahoo HQ’s, would be similar to new runway projects currently being undertaken at Chicago O’Hare Airport.  Hangars 2 and 3 transformed into magnificant check-in halls and/or terminals.

    New runway would 1) bring arriving Moffett aircraft over mostly commercial areas of Sunnyvale/SC/SJ, 2) prevent over-flight noise over Sunnyvale proper, 3) move SJC flight path further east of downtown SJ (over 101?) and place it much higher over SJ, 4) lift development ceiling of downtown SJ and 5) allow for a world-class urban development at the current Mineta site.  A win, win all around.