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High-speed rail pushing for phased approach
July 05, 2011, 02:06 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is moving forward with a phased approach on the Peninsula that will allow for an initial limited level of service on the Caltrain corridor.

It is not ditching plans to study a full buildout of the system on the San Francisco to San Jose section of the line, however, as proposed by U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, and two state lawmakers on the Peninsula.

The authority continues to pursue an environmental study that calls for building a complete four-track system that will mostly be elevated on the Peninsula, despite Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and Eshoo urging the authority to minimize construction impacts on the Peninsula.

The three lawmakers want high-speed rail trains to share the existing two-track system with Caltrain in a "blended system” and scrap the environmental impact report for the full buildout.

The three made the proposal to quiet the controversy related to a four-track elevated viaduct alternative, which is shown to be the primary option for the Peninsula in early designs.

Ditching the EIR for the full buildout, however, is inconsistent with Proposition 1A and could open the authority up to lawsuits under the California Environmental Quality Act, rail authority Deputy Director Jeff Barker previously told the Daily Journal.

Selling the full buildout idea on the Peninsula hit a snag Thursday, however, when the authority’s public relations firm abruptly resigned.

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide had a $9 million contract with the rail authority to promote high-speed rail activities throughout the state but came under fire in recent months by the former chair of the rail authority for "the worsening legislative, media, academic and popular comments in the public domain” about the project.

Since voters passed Proposition 1A, a $9 billion bond, in November 2008, sentiment regarding the project has grown negative based on false ridership projections, a broken business plan and threats of eminent domain.

The authority was allegedly going to terminate the contract with Ogilvy at its next board meeting July 14 in Bakersfield.

Before leaving the authority board earlier this year, Quentin Kopp, its former chairman, blasted Ogilvy for billing the agency excessive amounts related to gathering news clippings or for attending meetings.

Kopp’s last official act on the board was to send a letter in March to the authority’s Executive Director Roelof van Ark urging the authority to terminate the contract with Ogilvy.

Tom Umberg, the rail authority’s new chair, had little to say about Ogilvy yesterday.

"Not much to say about Ogilvy but that we are moving forward to select another contractor beginning on July 14,” Umberg wrote to the Daily Journal by email yesterday.

Ogilvy, with an office in San Francisco, was awarded a multi-year contract to handle the rail authority’s public relations in November 2009. The contract was not set to expire until sometime in 2013, however.

The authority has set aside about $2.3 million for public relations this fiscal year, which just started Friday.

Ogilvy charged the authority more than $2.4 million for little more than a "plan,” Kopp told the Daily Journal.

Kopp took extra offense to invoices detailing $500 an hour charges for someone to read news clippings.

In response, Ogilvy said it was unable to develop a good rapport with the agency.

"We are unable to develop a solid working relationship with your agency and that impeded the kind of top-notch work we are accustomed to providing our clients,” Michael Law, Ogilvy’s local managing director wrote to van Ark last week.

Kopp introduced the legislation that created the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996 and is one of the staunchest proponents for the $43 billion project that will link San Francisco to Los Angeles with bullet trains.

Van Ark is set to lead the discussion related to a phased implementation/blended system for the San Francisco to San Jose section of the line next week.

He has previously indicated that Simitian’s plan for a blended system could only work in the beginning stages of the project.

Simitian called for having only a handful of high-speed trains use the Caltrain corridor daily to get to San Francisco while having most of the trips terminate in San Jose.

"The goal is to get trains into San Francisco as soon as possible,” CHSRA Deputy Director Barker previously told the Daily Journal. "San Francisco is where the riders and revenue are.”

Stations are planned for San Francisco, Millbrae and San Jose. There is also potential for a midline station in Redwood City, Palo Alto or Mountain View.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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