29 June 2009

Draft Scoping Report

The CHSRA just released its Draft Scoping Report on the San Jose to San Francisco segment of the route. This report summarizes and categorizes the numerous comments received from federal, state and local agencies and governments as well as members of the public. Numerous appendices include all the raw input for this process, the so-called "scoping comments" that were submitted a few months ago in response to public scoping meetings held on the peninsula. The CHSRA is taking no chances with the environmental clearance process, leaving an extensive trail of documentation that proves the process was scrupulously followed.

Process Context

The environmental clearance process can be a bit obscure to a newcomer. The CHSRA provides an overview that includes the figure at right.

The process is governed by federal (NEPA) and state (CEQA) law. Due to the large scope of this project, the law allows for tiering of the environmental review, with a statewide program-level environmental review (completed and approved in 2008) followed by a more detailed project-level review of the peninsula, which is now getting underway and is due for completion in late 2011.

The final result of the environmental review process is an environmental impact document known as an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) under CEQA, and an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) under NEPA. A single document satisfies both regulations, thus resulting in an alphabet soup known as an EIR/EIS. When the project EIR/EIS is approved by the board of the CHSRA, any litigation has run its course, and design has proceeded sufficiently far, the project is "shovel ready". That is planned to happen on the peninsula as early as 2012.

What just happened over the last few months is scoping, and you had to live under a rock not to know about it since it was covered extensively in the local press (see archive). As its name implies, scoping determines what will and won't be included in the environmental review. After scoping is complete, it's too late to raise new issues to stop the project under CEQA or NEPA.

Scoping is pretty bland at this point: a giant pile of inputs is collated into broad categories and decomposed into an all-encompassing listing of the issues raised by all the stakeholders. Everything is still on the table at this point. It's mildly interesting to dig through it to see what everyone has to say, although reading the phone book might be more entertaining.

Where Next?

The next step in the environmental review process is alternatives analysis. The CHSRA will describe a broad set of alternatives (based on scoping inputs) and then select those that will be carried forward for detailed analysis. This involves discarding any alternatives that are not considered feasible or practicable, using structured evaluation criteria. This is where design options will start getting taken off the table, and sparks will really start to fly.

You can read an example of an Alternatives Analysis report for another segment of the HSR project, from Los Angeles to Anaheim, to get a flavor of what's coming to us. This project is slightly further along the process than San Jose to San Francisco. The alternatives analysis for the Caltrain corridor is currently expected around January 2010, just six months from now.


  1. Caltrain First29 June, 2009 23:41

    That's a good description of the EIR/EIS process so far. The Alternatives Analysis will be where it really gets interesting. It's going to be especially interesting to see how the "No-Build Alternative" is construed. Looking at what evaluation criteria are used (or neglected) is often highly revealing. The EIR/EIS is most certainly a political document, so don't expect balanced, reasoned analysis from it. Read between the lines to see the true guiding motivations.

    Once the serious design alternatives are revealed (still so vague and probably intentionally so), then the battle lines will truly be drawn...

    If CHSRA goes forward with only dedicated tracks all for itself, cutting out the Baby Bullets, prepare for war.

  2. "The Alternatives Analysis will be where it really gets interesting."

    Quite ... it is in the alternatives analysis where the most serious funny business is normally done in one of these processes.

    E.g., I have been following the ongoing efforts to rip out the downtown rail line in Newcastle, NSW Australia, and the most recent transport options report, commissioned by the a public property development corporation that wants to rip out the line, omitted a No-Build option, included rail investments that were too expensive for their benefits while ignoring cost-effective rail investments, and included a technically infeasible "tram-train" option that was not actually a tram-train in order to divert attention from the extant tram-train proposal.

    Once you get the Alternatives Analysis framed the way you want it, from there on out its just a matter of tweaking.

    If an honest pooled Regional HSR alongside local tracks option is included, it seems highly unlikely that a fully segregated option will have superior environmental impacts.

  3. Note Amtrak's Vital Stakeholder Position.

    The entire post-HSR corridor must be designed to facilitate the operation of two (up from one!) round trips per day "Coast Daylight" to San Francisco.

    What next? Exhaust hoods for SP2472 at Transbay?

    (Postscript: I thought I was joking. But No joke! The Transbay Authority is explicitly called out as being obliged to handle the Coast Daylight.

    January 27, 2009
    The HSR authority, Transbay Authority, Caltrain, Caltrans and Amtrak need to coordinate in order to accommodate the Coast Daylight train which will be an Amtrak route funded by Caltrans and will run two round trips daily.


  4. which will be an Amtrak route funded by Caltrans and will run two round trips daily.

    That doesn't mean the actual train has to go to San Francisco. Ask the people on the Keystone Corridor, the Empire Corridor or the trains to Springfield MA how it works....

  5. Keystone and Empire trains do go to Penn Station. Are you talking about something else?

  6. Keystone and Empire trains do go to Penn Station.

    Only some of the Keystones and the Empire nowhere else. There's one train a day to/from Springfield that continues past New Haven, the Vermonter. Everybody who wants to go someplace else, changes trains. Want to go from Poughkeepsie to New Brunswick, change trains. Hartford to Old Saybrook, change trains. Paoli to Wilmington, change trains.

    Are you talking about something else?

    Yes. Penn Station isn't the center of the universe. Neither is San Francisco. Going to San Francisco is great for the people who want to get to SF. Otherwise it's like having trains from the north of NY go into Grand Central. Gets you to New York but not particularly useful for much of anything else.

    Whatever manages to mosey up the coast can replace either a Capitol Corridor run or an ACE run. People who want to get to San Francisco can transfer to a Caltrain express or HSR. It will get them there faster.

  7. Want to go from Poughkeepsie to New Brunswick, change trains. Hartford to Old Saybrook, change trains. Paoli to Wilmington, change trains.

    In all of those cases, you're more likely to drive, precisely because of the hassle of changing trains.

  8. There's more than one through train a day from Springfield! In addition to the Vermonter, there's at least one 14x series train running through from Springfield to New York and Washington. Both it and the Vermonter have an engine change in New Haven, and I suspect the Coast Daylight can just have an engine change in San Jose (or Gilroy or Salinas if the wires ever get that far)

  9. A couple more things worth mentioning about the environmental review process and reports that are generated....

    NEPA stands for "National Environmental Policy Act" The "P" in the acroynm is not for 'protection.' NEPA protects nothing. It assures discosure of environmental impacts... and does not require mitigation measures be implemented or identified.

    CEQA is California's environmental legislation. CEQA does require that mitigation measures be identified where adverse or significant impacts are found.

    All that said... the environmental reports generated for a project do not result in a determination of 'pass' or 'fail'. They are reports... only reports. It is left to the decision making body to accept/approve a report.

  10. Curioser & Curioser02 July, 2009 02:15

    It is left to the decision making body to accept/approve a report.
    Who, precisely, is that in the case of HSR?

  11. Who, precisely, is that in the case of HSR?

    The CHSRA is the state lead agency for purposes of compliance with CEQA and the FRA is the lead Federal agency for purposes of compliance with NEPA.

    Sounds a bit conflict-of-interest-y until you realize that the intended mechanism for challenging the compliance of an EIR/EIS with CEQA and NEPA law is... litigation.

    As Brandon pointed out, CEQA regulations are more restrictive and are therefore more likely to be used as the basis for a lawsuit (as was done by Atherton et al. for the program EIR/EIS)