The meeting was in a unheated school auditorium, and as you may have heard, we're having a cold snap. Yes, I know this doesn't compare with the kinds of cold you get in other places, but when you live in a place where it rarely gets below freezing, temperatures at or below freezing are difficult to handle. My hands were like ice, but I couldn't put on my gloves because I needed my hands free to take notes. I was shivering, but I don't know if it was because of the cold or if I was quivering with anger over the comments from most of the attendees at this meeting. Most of the people present were classic NIMBY types -- keep those trains out of my backyard! They don't give a damn about anything at all except the impact on them alone. They want all of those nasty other people to just go away and leave them alone. Build transportation improvements Somewhere Else.
Dumbarton Rail, even though it has a currently projected price of about $600 Million, is an incredibly cost-effective rail project. It ties together so many loose ends of the existing transit system. A minor potion of the project even reduces freight rail congestion, by providing a better route for Oakland-Stockton trains, reducing the number of trains that have to sit idling near Centerville.
In transportation, there is something called the "network effect," where you increase the utility of a system by making more interconnections. An analogy with highways might go something like this: You can build a multilane freeway from A to J with no exits. It would be very useful for people traveling from A to J, but not to B through I. Another freeway from D to Q might also be useful for those two points. But if you connect the two freeways at E, then the utility to all of the people increases. If you put exits on the freeway at the intermediate points, the utility increases substantially.
The existing rail systems are okay, but if you connect the existing pieces together and allow one to transfer between them relatively seemlessly, the overall utility increases at a fantastic rate. The Dumbarton connections, by rebuilding existing railroad tracks with only a tiny bit of new build (a couple of connections between lines that currently don't connect) provides that sort of multiplicative utility.
The fellow from Caltrain who is leading this project was very patient with the very hostile and in many cases, uninformed and flat-out ignorant audience he faced. He handled the abuse ladled upon him and this project with aplomb. He tried to explain points about which several people repeatedly made mistakes. For example, there were people who seemed to think that this was just a railroad from Union City to Menlo Park/East Palo Alto, and who didn't seem to "get" that you could keep riding (without having to change trains or transfer) to points on the Caltrain line north and south of Redwood City as well. I even tried to give my own personal example: I would walk to the Centerville station, get on a train, and ride it to San Mateo without changing trains. Yes, I'd have to ride a shuttle bus to my office, but that bus is already there, serving the existing Caltrain line, and used by my co-workers. The shuttle's schedule is tied to that of the railroad. It's not an uncoordinated local bus running on its own route. But this sort of thing goes right over people's heads.
They called on me about halfway through, which was pretty good timing, since by then we'd had a pile of negativity. I stood up, faced the hostile audience, and read from the notes I had been taking:
I have lived here in Fremont for about five years. I live about a thousand feet from the railroad tracks in Centerville. BUILD THIS LINE. BUILD IT NOW. I work in San Mateo, commuting over the Dumbarton or San Mateo Bridges. If this line existed today, I'd be riding it tomorrow. You'd get my car off the road, that's for sure.
I voted for Regional Measure 2, raising my own bridge tolls that I pay every day, because Dumbarton Rail was part of the project. Someone here said, "Nobody I know will be better served by this project." I WILL BE BETTER SERVED. The existing Dumbarton Bus Service is useless. Dumbarton Rail would work.
I think the ridership projections for this system are, for change, too low, unlike the foolish projections made on the BART SFO extension. Thanks to the "network effect" when systems join sensibly, you should expect even more people to start using the trains. This project is one of the most sensible rail projects the Bay Area has ever seen.
Growth is inevitable. Saying "Not in my backyard" is putting your head in the sand. Instead of pretending that we can make other people go away, let's build a sensible system for the future.
I kicked myself for forgetting to include my intended closing line, which was, "Do I want this railroad? YES, IN MY BACKYARD, PLEASE."
Tomorrow is the last official day of comment for the scoping session. I need to submit my comments in writing by then. If you're interested in this project, see the Dumbarton Rail Project Scoping Meetings web site. In particular, they have a Comment Form, but you can also submit comments by e-mail to the address on the form. (I won't give it here as Marie Pang at Caltrain probably is getting enough spam as it is -- it's in the PDF I referenced.) If you, like me, would like to see rail service restored across the Dumbarton bridge as part of a larger package of transportation improvements, particularly if you live in the Bay Area, I encourage you to submit comments in favor of this project.
This isn't the end of the process by a long shot -- really more like the beginning. In a year or 18 months, the Draft EIR/EIS will come out and there will be more rounds of questions. To a certain extent, these scoping meetings aren't about answers -- more like "what questions do you want the EIR/EIS to answer?"
(I may even toss one in one such question myself: "What would it cost to grade-separate the Centerville line? I assume the most likely way of doing such a grade-separation would be by trenching the line such as was done in downtown Reno several years ago.")