A large crowd of state and local dignitaries – from Gov. Schwarzenegger to Council President Eric Garcetti – are scheduled to gather this morning at Union Station to rally in support of the multibillion dollar California High Speed rail line. But some residents near the proposed route – which would cut through Atwater, Cypress Park, Glassell Park and Lincoln Heights – are not ready yet to join in the festivities. Many are less than thrilled about the idea of an approximately 100-foot wide trench being dug along San Fernando Road so that a train can zip through at 110 miles an hour. There is “going to be a price to paid by any community that it runs through,” said Glassell Park activist Helene Schpak. “How are we going to negotiate for our community?
The $14 billion project has attracted widespread support among politicians, unions and the pubic at large by promising to create a high-speed, high-tech rail network with trains speeding as fast as 220 miles an hour. If built, the system’s backers promise that an express train would zip between downtown Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours and 38 minutes. But, before and if it gets built, the state agency responsible for the line must secure enough funding and complete an exhaustive planning and review process. It must also deal with hundreds if not thousand of residents and activists like Schpak, who focuses on land use issues as a member of the Glassell Park Improvement Assn.
The final rail route is still be determined and the exact alignment may not be selected for about two years. But, the corridor now being looked at would place the tracks somewhere between San Fernando Road and the Los Angeles River (a video simulation of two alternative lines through Taylor Yards is posted on the rail authority video gallery). What concerns Schpak the most is that the project would require digging an approximately 100-foot wide trench through the area. That would keep those high-speed trains safely away from cars and pedestrians but would require tearing up an area filled with homes, industrial buildings, parks and schools. Some sections of the trench would be covered after the construction but Schpak worries that the project might only create another barrier between residents and the river. The “appearance of and visual impact of the project could be devastating,” she said.
However, building the rail line could also provide some opportunities to buy and build more parkland and public improvements in the area, Schpak said. It could also lead to the consolidation of existing Metrolink and freight train lines into that trench. In terms of noise, the high speed trains are expected to be quieter than the freight trains that currently rumble through the former Taylor Yards and other riverside neighborhoods.
But Schpak said residents need more information to make decisions. “People are not able to visualize the impact as it comes through the community,” she said of the trench and train. So, Schpak is organizing a “walking photo shoot” of the proposed route between Cypress Park and Glendale to give residents a better idea of what’s in the path of the trench.
Schpak herself is still seeking more information about the potential harm and benefits high speed rail will bring to her neighborhood. Schpak plans to attend today’s event at Union Station but she won’t necessarily be part of the cheering masses. “I don’t know if I’m taking a stand on a particular position.”
* Update: Councilman Ed Reyes, who who represents many of the neighborhoods in the path of the high speed rail line, said he was a supporter of high speed rail but had several concerns, including the location of a downtown station and the impact on efforts to revitalize areas along the Los Angeles River.
“I have some serious concerns about how the proposed rail route will impact our neighborhoods, including those along the Los Angeles River,” Reyes said in a statement. “Especially since we have invested more than $80 million to provide new parks at the Cornfield and Taylor Yard. With limited land space in L.A., I want to be sure that we have studied other routes so as to maximize opportunities that provide multiple benefits to our residents. These include safe access to public transit, park space and bikeways, mixed-use development, environmental and economic renewal.”
* State applies for federal funds for high-speed rail line. LA Now