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Burlingame says underground tunnel the only option
May 05, 2009, 12:00 AM By Heather Murtagh

An underground tunnel would be Burlingame officials’ preferred method of bringing high-speed rail line into town, but how to cover the costs and ensure the below-grade option becomes a reality remains unknown.

An informational discussion on plans to bring high-speed rail to California, particularly through the Peninsula, was held at the Burlingame City Council meeting last night. Raising the track would split the city — a concern Burlingame residents have long expressed. High-speed rail officials encouraged city officials to continuously participate in the process to ensure their concerns and priorities are explored.

"We don’t need to look at all options. We want a tunnel. We want it out of the way. ... We keep hearing. ‘Thank you for your input; we’ll listen to all your input.’ Some of the options we don’t need to look at,” said Councilman Jerry Deal.

Deal was concerned there is not enough money for tunneling. He feels city officials are being told the process will be open, ideas will be vetted out, but in the end there will not be enough money for tunneling unless Burlingame foots the bill, which it cannot.

Dominic Spaethling, High-Speed Rail Authority regional manager, explained all options will and must be researched. Regardless of the option chosen, there will be grade separation, he said. Overwhelming support by community leaders for one option will be considered during the process, he said.

Burlingame officials and residents were resoundingly against raising the tracks, many to the point of pushing for a no-build option if underground could not happen.

"An elevated high-speed rail will create a physical divide to community. An underground tunnel is preferred option for the city, said Public Works Director Syed Murtuza, who added the city wants to maintain historical landmarks along the tracks like the eucalyptus trees, Burlingame train station and the Broadway train station.

Concerns were also raised for residential units, Burlingame High School, Washington Park and a number of car dealerships which are rather close to the train tracks.

Many feel the process is disingenuous, resident Russ Cohen said.

"Everyone is in opposition. At what point does the high-speed rail authority say, ‘you know what? No one is interested in this,’ and walk away,” he said, adding the no-build option needs to be a true option not just a baseline for other studies.

Resident Rob Huffman was happy to see many of his concerns were shared by the council, but added he has concerns over construction impacts. Huffman lives on Oak Grove Avenue near the tracks and worried the increased speeds and number of trains would be a nuisance.

Lauri Simonson, who lives on Bayswater Avenue, was concerned the construction plan would literally include her property.

"I want to make sure the things we found charming about Burlingame aren’t going to go away and that my house isn’t part of high-speed rail,” she said.

Residents encouraged pushing the options of an East Bay corridor or following Interstate 280 rather than the Caltrain tracks if above ground was the only option.

The High-Speed Rail Authority is in the preliminary planning stages to construct an 800-mile track that will move riders through the state at 220 mph. A trip between the Transbay Terminal in downtown San Francisco and Los Angeles Union Station would take about 2 hours and 40 minutes and would cost about $55 one way. There would be stops on the Peninsula in Millbrae and San Jose with possible stops in Redwood City or Palo Alto, according to the state rail authority.

Voters passed Proposition 1A in November granting about $10 billion in general obligation bonds toward the $40 billion project.

Caltrain has signed an agreement with the authority making electrification plans a joint project with high-speed rail. The project is slated to restore service to the Broadway station.

For more information about high-speed rail visit

Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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