16 August 2009

Palo Alto Innovates

While the city of Palo Alto has of late developed a certain ambivalence towards high speed rail, some residents are taking the planning into their own hands. Taking for granted that high speed rail will come through Palo Alto, a group of civic leaders and architects is elaborating some design proposals that may shape the California High Speed Rail Authority's ongoing analysis of alternatives.

The group proposes tunneling the train tracks through the entire 4 mile (6 km) length of Palo Alto, as first described in a Palo Alto Weekly cover story published before the 2008 election. This idea, which would liberate more than 40 acres of land currently owned and occupied by the railroad, has since been fleshed out into an urban design concept entitled Innovation Place. A presentation of Innovation Place earned the group a 2009 urban design award from the American Institute of Architecture California Council. As its creators note, Innovation Place is a collection of ideas rather than a specific project proposal.

The crown jewel of Innovation Place is a complete transformation of the University Avenue station area, as envisioned in the team's graphic above. High speed rail or not, this area of Palo Alto is in dire need of a redesign; today, access between three important zones of activity (the University Avenue shopping district, Stanford University, and the Stanford Shopping Center) is a circuitous and dysfunctional jumble that is both unpleasant and time consuming to navigate, whether by foot, bike, car or bus. Neighboring areas just a few hundred feet apart feel miles away from each other.

The remainder of the Innovation Place proposal consists of a 31-acre linear park adjoining Alma Street, featuring a bike and pedestrian path and uniting the two halves of Palo Alto formerly separated by the train tracks. The additional cost of putting the tracks underground would be financed by selling $700 million worth of air rights for development.

Tunnel Financing

The feasibility of the Innovation Place concept hinges on the financing for tunnel construction. Will air rights for residential and commercial development really be worth $700 million? Will Palo Alto's famously difficult development approvals process allow the construction of 660 homes and 814,000 sq ft of retail and the elimination of El Camino Park, Palo Alto's oldest public park? Will the incremental cost of tunnels (as compared to simpler track alignments) cost as little as $700 million?

These questions remain unanswered, and the technical challenges of building a cavernous four-track high-speed tunnel might not bode well for the cost. On simple grounds of environmental justice, the CHSRA has refused to contribute its own funding for any tunnels that benefit a local community rather than provide added transportation functionality. Instead, it encourages cities to pay for such tunneling costs, as Berkeley did with BART in the 1960s. That scenario might require Palo Alto to pay for the project by taxing itself through an initiative passed at the polls. For such an initiative to have even the slightest chance of passing, the benefits need to be distributed throughout Palo Alto, and not just be focused on the University Avenue area. That is why, out of political necessity, the linear park along the entire length of Palo Alto is a non-negotiable component of the concept. A partial tunnel just won't do.

The city of Palo Alto recently set aside $70,000, in large part for hiring an engineering consultant to provide independent review of tunneling plans. The consultant is Hatch Mott MacDonald, a mega-firm with extensive tunneling experience (and one of the key players in San Francisco's Downtown Extension project) that has previously provided advice to the backers of the Innovation Place concept. While such a consulting arrangement may be independent of the CHSRA, the firm does have an incentive to show financial feasibility of a tunnel because it may well end up bidding on its construction--a conflict of interest that should be mitigated to obtain the most objective evaluation of tunneling options.

Does It All Hang Together?

If Innovation Place has a weakness, it is that the concept really consists of two separable elements: the University Avenue redevelopment, and the tunnel / linear park. If Palo Alto were to become a high speed rail stop, the rare opportunity to reconfigure and redevelop the station area would present itself regardless of whether or not the tracks ran in tunnels. Most of the Innovation Place presentation is devoted to this intelligent urban re-design of the University Avenue area, which has great merit on its own.

On the other hand, the tunnel and linear park need the University Avenue development in order to make even the slightest bit of sense; otherwise, what's left is a billion-dollar public park, an idea that obviously won't get very far.

Beyond Innovation Place

One of the key features of Innovation Place is an underground station at University Avenue. However, it's worth considering an even wider range of options: this area could just as well be redeveloped without any tunnels at all. Streets on either side of the tracks could be reconnected using regular grade separations. Lytton Street could be connected to the bus depot, El Camino and Quarry Road, improving bus, shuttle and taxicab connections at the train station.

The station platforms could even be elevated with a large pedestrian and transit plaza underneath, in the manner of Amsterdam's spectacular Bijlmer Arena station, a project that has won several architectural awards. Bijlmer was designed by Grimshaw Architects and completed in 2007 for 130 million euros. (Photo by tataAnne; view more photos.) While it is about double the size that Palo Alto would ever need, its design philosophy is light years beyond the unpleasant and unsafe walk through the 1940s University Avenue underpass:
Every aspect of the design process was informed by the need to civilise the viaducts and to create a pleasant and safe ground level public space. To avoid a dark 100 m long tunnel, the concrete structures were spaced apart. Each 20 m span was supported at each end on just one column via an integrated cantilevered saddle. Arrays of columns were then aligned on axis with the boulevard to maximize visual connectivity from east to west. However, the most important decision concerned the roof design in general and its soffit treatment in particular. It is the modulation of this surface, its ribbons of roof glazing and its acoustically absorbent Oregon pine surfaces that convey civility from the perspective of the boulevard below. [From the Grimshaw website]
If one thing is sure, there is no shortage of architectural possibilities--with or without tunnels.

Looking Ahead, Not Back

Palo Alto is unleashing its creative talents on how best to weave high speed rail into the fabric of the city. The city will be hosting design "teach-in" on September 12th, sponsored by the Peninsula Cities Consortium. On October 3rd and 4th, the creators of Innovation Place will host a high speed rail workshop geared towards developing solutions and tangible design products for use in the CHSRA's analysis of alternatives, a key document that will be published by the Authority by the end of this year. Legislators, civic leaders, Caltrain and the CHSRA will participate in both events.

Whatever quibbles one may have with Innovation Place, it represents a forward-looking vision for Palo Alto and an embrace of high speed rail, rather than a desperate clinging to the past, and for that alone, it is refreshing.

Full disclosure: this blogger may participate in these events.


  1. The Dublin/Pleasanton BART station won architectural awards too -- doesn't mean it is pleasant or ped-friendly.

    Admitedly, I've never visited Bijlmer station, but based on the Google Streetview I think the only award I'd give the station is the "great place to mug someone at night" award.


  2. Like there won't be any NIMBY problems developing this corridor.

    Good luck.

  3. As a Stanford student who has is frustrated with the lack of connection between the University and Palo Alto (and the rest of the state), this proposal is quite exciting and offers a complete overhaul of the Palo Alto mentality. In essence, they are taking Palo Alto away from its desire to be a small town bedroom community and turning it into an active, lively place. For that reason, I can see some opposition to the proposal.

    From a constructability standpoint, there are some issues. One, how do you do a 4-track tunnel here with active Caltrain service? The proposal's tunnel is definitely cut and cover, which would require shoefly tracks on people's property. To do it with a TBM would require at least two bores. Two, building an underground station that supports 6 tracks (two through, two Caltrain platforms, two HSR platforms) is not easy or cheap, especially under an existing, active station. Three, how do you tunnel under San Francisquito Creek, one of the deepest points under the entire Caltrain corridor? Tunneling as a rule of thumb is $300 million per mile, compared to the approx. $70 million per mile this section would cost at grade, the difference between the two being more than $700 million.

    In essence, I think this is a very exciting proposal, but I wish the Stanford group had put more effort into feasibility studies. There are some significant engineering questions that need to be answered. The way to get the Authority to do this is more the City of Palo Alto to guarantee the air rights money for the project, because it should not be the Authority's responsibility to take on the risk of recouping those costs.

  4. So, we now have two competing proposals: CHSRA's initial cut involving at-grade and elevated sections for four tracks and, a local proposal to put tracks underground and redevelop the land at grade to help pay for it.

    My primary beef with the tunnel idea has always been funding. If local communities can figure out how to bridge the cost gap, tunneling deserves to be considered since it does provide significant local benefits.

    That said, a couple of points of order:

    a) the railroad ROW belongs to PCJPB, not the city of Palo Alto. The body might well be ok with selling the air rights above any underground section, but that's not a given.

    In particular, any tunnel concept has to start with the requirement to maintain rail service (Caltrain + UPRR) during construction and expand that to include HSR at cruise speeds of 125mph after completion of the project.

    It's necessary to develop ideas for what to do with the air rights early on to articulate the benefits to the community, but you need only look at the SF TTC project to see what happens if you treat the legitimate needs of heavy rail operators as an afterthought to road and real estate development.

    b) Particular issues that will need to be clarified early on for any tunnel concept:

    - how many underground tracks are needed: 2, 3, or 4? This depends on the mix of services to be provided by HSR, Caltrain and UPRR. It also depends on regulatory relief from FRA, perhaps CPUC.

    - would it be possible and cheaper to rehabilitate the 100-year-old Dumbarton rail bridge such that UPRR can run its Mission Bay Hauler directly to its Fremont yard? Alternatively, would it be cheaper to invoke the "nuclear option" in the 1991 agreement and force UPRR to discontinue heavy freight along the entire peninsula?

    - how deep do the tracks need to run to avoid problems with the San Francisquito creek and other gravity-drained conduits? Will it be possible to close key underpasses during the construction period?

    - based on the vertical profile, how far would a tunnel have to extend into Menlo Park and Mountain View, respectively? Would those communities be prepared to also let PCJPB sell air rights to developers or otherwise bridge the cost gap?

    - based on the vertical profile, which tunneling method would be both appropriate and affordable?

    - how much construction nuisance and risk (subsidence etc.) are the communities willing to shoulder in order to put the tracks underground? Note that TBMs require substantial logistics operations at both tunnel entrances, which in this case would lie well outside Palo Alto city limits.

    - how many underground platform tracks are needed at the Palo Alto station: 2 or 4? Are separate through tracks needed? Note that if the city decides it wants a tunnel, that does not automatically mean CHSRA will pick it over RWC as the mid-peninsula station for the HSR network. HSR requires platforms fully 1/4 long. If that's too expensive or the tunnel considered too deep for an HSR station, what impact would that have on the value of the air rights in the downtown area?

    - a tunnel solution would eventually boost property values to either side of the ROW. Should homeowners and businesses be asked to accept a 30-year surtax on their properties to help defray the incremental cost?


    Bottom line: Palo Alto needs to figure out how to construct a tunnel solution first and formulate concrete redevelopment plans at the surface second, based on the incremental cost of tunneling.

    In addition, planning for this option has to be executed well but also quickly - CHSRA cannot afford to miss the boat on ARRA funding or start of operations just because Palo Alto is stuck in one if its infamous "process" iterations. Therefore, I would encourage neighboring cities, CHSRA, Caltrain, UPRR and other affected parties to all facilitate this local planning effort, as long as it's clear that the onus to prove that tunneling is viable is on the local communities.

  5. The details of this plan are a little less rosy upon close inspection. If you click through to the Innovation Place slides, there are some details to call out:

    1. Cars are conspicuously absent in the renderings. Try to image it with a lot of cars and it's a lot less utopian.

    2. The "New Park" label on slide 5 - when you look at google maps is actually the existing El Camino Park, but smaller after residential hotels are built over half of it or so. Seems like one of those funny advertising "New and Improved" labels.

    3. Additionally, there is something built (not clear from slide what) over a couple of Stanford Shopping Center's parking lots. I'm sure they'll love that.

    4. There are existing structures in a decent portion of this, so I guess they will be involved in eminent domain as well (and they'll blame it on HSR no doubt).

    A lot of aspiration in this plan, not a lot of details as to how to get from A -> B or how much it will actually cost to do.

  6. There are some very interesting proposals here. It's a good start, and will generate more interesting ideas. There has been a lot of vocal opposition to increasing density in downtown Palo Alto, and much of that has echoed the "things are fine I don't want anything to change" line of opposition to HSR as well.

    Nevertheless, there is also a lot of room for improvement in connecting the Stanford campus, the shopping center and the train station to downtown Palo Alto.

    A linear park would be a lovely idea, but unless backers can find a generous patron or two (or ten), I'm not seeing the funding for it.

  7. doesn't El Camino Park belong to Stanforfd?

  8. First, if you want to see what construction of a four-track urban undergrounding -- two HSR, two commuter train -- looks like, there's a perfect example under construction right now in Valencia.

    Here's what you're looking at for Palo Alto (or San Mateo, or Burlingame, or anywhere else that thinks undergrounding will be any of simple, cheap, straightforward, uncontroversial, or worthwhile.)
    The C-3 commuter train line has two tracks in the tunnel to the left; the AVE high speed tracks are in two separate, larger, one track tunnels.

    Another view.

    Note that this isn't being constructed underneath the existing tracks, and that there is no station involved in this construction. Also note that Spain is building the most and the best new rail infrastructure in the western world -- the mess and impact you see isn't because it's CHSRA-style amateur hour at ADIF's planning department.

    Good luck.

    "HSR at cruise speeds of 125mph after completion of the project"

    People have no idea of the aerodynamic and safety (= evacuation, ventilation, emergency services access, etc) implications of such crazy numbers.

    Single track tunnels for 200kmh need an internal free air cross section of ~50m^2 -- meaning an internal radius of 4.5m or more for a round section. Double track tunnels for 200kmh are problematic for safety reasons everywhere, and and are almost certain not to be allowed locally without a fire-hardened, airtight, ROW-width-consuming track separation wall at a minimum. Regardless, 80m^2 is about the minimum section -- for just two tracks, no platforms, this is a box with internal dimensions circa 8x10m.

    We've already been over this many times already, of course.

    And we haven't yet considered siting a station on those buried tracks yet. 200kmh through running will not happen at underground platform tracks, so one is looking at either an operationally poor two-platform station (ie Caltrain and Palo Alto don't benefit at all from HSR blowing through in a separate boxed-off structure) or the station gets four platform tracks, two wall-off blow-by tracks, and expands way into the surrounding neighbourhoods.

    (Elevated, a four-track, four-platform, two-islands solution works fairly nicely -- though not nearly as nicely for anybody as a two-track (= Altamont HSR) elevated station.)

    "how many underground platform tracks are needed at the Palo Alto station: 2 or 4?"

    Given the correct, uncorrupt, most ethical, lowest cost, lowest environmental impact, lowest community impact, best HSR service, best Caltrain service Altamont HSR routing: 2 tracks suffice, forever..

    All Caltrain trains stop in Palo Alto. the most important stop on the Peninsula, so over-engineering for 200kmh running would be counter-productive, and it is simple to arrange an optimum timetable -- optimum from rail operations, rail infrastructure, and from passenger attractiveness perspectives -- schedule without express/local overtakes near Palo Alto.

    Under the grotesquely corrupt, highest cost, largest impact, kickback-driven, ultra-mendacious Los Banos-Pacheco route, 4 tracks, minimum. With the added joy of unnecessary 200kmh blow-bys through the city.

    How hard can it be to keep this most basic stuff straight? Perhaps best to stick to designing fantasy Marin tram lines.

  9. @ Bianca -

    I suspect there will also be a lot of pushback on any plans to mess with El Camino Park, currently used for baseball and soccer. Perhaps the concept design could be refined such that the entire park is retained as green roof on top of buildings.

    The development of additional commercial (office) real estate on top of the vast parking lot at Stanford shopping center strikes me as a good idea, provided it is easily accessible from the downtown/station area.

    A pedestrian tunnel under El Camino Real might be a good idea, motor vehicle traffic on that road would increase if Alma loses traffic lanes to make room for three rows of trees.

    The biggest problem, though, is that any tunnel must extend into Menlo Park to the north and possibly into Mountain View to the south. Palo Alto cannot pursue this idea in a vacuum, it absolutely must partner with its neighbors. They are the ones that will have to contend with tunnel boom and virtually all of the construction nuisance in case TBMs are used to bore either 2 or 4 deep tunnels.

  10. @ Richard Mlynarik -

    in your analysis suggesting quadrupling of tracks at Hillsdale only, it's not clear to me if you're talking about just Caltrain service or Caltrain + HSR. If it's the latter, at what frequency and cruise speed would HSR operate between SF and SJ? What would the line haul time be?

    Note that at this stage, planners have to assume FRA will not permit heavy freight and bullet trains to share track and/or that maintaining tracks to the level required for operation at 125mph is not economical if they are used by even a small number of freight trains. They cannot design a solution based on the assumption of regulatory relief.

    Fwiw, I'm perfectly aware that running through tunnels at 125mph is a tall order because of the aerodynamics involved.

    If, for whatever reason, your approach and/or tunnels through selected peninsula towns were to increase the HSR express line haul time between SF and SJ beyond 30 minutes, then the increase would have to be made up somewhere else along the route or else, AB3034 updated. The law currently requires CHSRA to plan and build the system such that SF-LA line haul time is no more than 2h42m, which is very aggressive.

    Also note that absent an available and constructable ROW for a dedicated HSR spur down to SJ Diridon in the east bay, any HSR alignment via Dumbarton to Altamont would simply split at the RWC wye. It would not keep HSR trains from having to run through Silicon Valley, though their number would be lower.

    Given that both SF and SJ want every single HSR train to run through their downtown stations, politics dictate that Altamont is no more than a fallback position in case CHSRA can't obtain a ROW down to Gilroy.

  11. Richard, why do you think that under Altamont, SF would get 4 tph and SJ 6? Not even the HSRA thinks there is 10 tph demand into the Bay Area under any scenario.

  12. @ Clem -

    I won't be able to attend the teach-in on 9/12, but perhaps you could ask a question on my behalf:

    Does the plan to redevelop Palo Alto necessarily depend on putting train in a tunnel below ground?

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to keep tracks at grade but enclose them in a vitrine with just one (max 2) floors of commercial real estate on top in some places and an accessible green roof in others? The sides of the vitrine would feature lots of large double- or triple-glazed windows for a clear line of sight at grade level.

    There could be a ped/bike paths along the entire length of the structure on either side, cantilevered off the structure at the roof line of the vitrine. The would be accessible via stairs/elevators at selected locations.

    Admittedly, this approach would generate less opportunity for real estate development and also not improve the University Ave underpass. On the other hand, it also wouldn't require any super-expensive rail tunnel construction.

    The station's ticket hall would be above the tracks. It and any island platforms would be accessible via sloped moving sidewalks that are also convenient for pedestrians who just want a lazy way to cross the tracks. Cyclists could use them as well, as long as they push their bikes.

    The vitrine would end at California Street, south of there only tall double- or triple-glazed sound walls would be installed to keep the cost down. A key advantage over tunnels is that Palo Alto could keep this project local, Menlo Park and Mountain View would be left to negotiate their own grade separation solutions with CHSRA.

    As part of the package deal, the remaining four cross roads in Palo Alto would all be converted to deep underpasses:

    Palo Alto Ave crosses the tracks very close to El Palo Alto. It might make sense to instead let Alma descend just north of Lytton and turn west under the far end of the Caltrain parking lot, pass under the tracks and re-emerge at El Camino Real/Quarry. Alma would end up with a vertical discontinuity just south of Everett. The space currently occupied by Palo Alto Ave west of the tracks could be used for parking accessible from El Camino Real or else, added to the park.

    Charleston Ave currently features two traffic lanes, two bike lanes and one parking lane. First, relocate the bike lanes to a new, well-lit bike/ped underpass located further north. It would run from the dead end of Kingsley near Emerson to the small triangular patch of land bordered by Alma, Embarcadero and Kingsley. Continuing parallel to Embarcadero in a trench, it would feature a second tunnel section under Alma and the tracks to reach the grounds of Palo Alto High.

    Second, convert Charleston to three traffic lanes plus a parking lane. Only the center lane would pass under Alma and the tracks. It would be one-way eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon to support traffic to and from the school. The at-grade lanes west of the tracks would be combined to create a turnaround loop.

    At Charleston and East Meadow, create underpasses for the center lanes and loopbacks for the remaining traffic lanes on the west side. Each sidewalk and bike lane would get its own shallow, well-lit underpass.

  13. @ Rafael

    Re: Redevelopment
    I would like to see them Innovate with elevated tracks. The Palo Alto station area needs a significant feng shui make-over.

    Re: Traffic
    I understand you are taking a 10,000 ft view of the ROW and the streets in Palo Alto, but some the changes you propose would have to be extensively studied and discussed by the locals before they were finalized.

    Note: Some of your references to Charleston sound like you meant Embarcadero.

    One-way traffic on the cross streets may not work in some cases. There are limited routes across the tracks that are heavily traveled in both directions.

    Palo Alto directs commute traffic around neighborhoods so even though more access is needed, it is problematic to add new automobile access points. Bicycle access is much lower impact and is generally accepted.

  14. As for financing an expensive tunnel one question that comes to mind is not can the Palo Alto community and like minded communities raise the funds to add a tunnel to the HSR but should they tap their resources on what amounts to an indulgence. There must be other more deserving priorities on which to focus community resources.

    Let the architects apply their talent to a clever and innovative redevelopment using elevated tracks.

  15. @ James -

    no problem with revamping the University Ave station. In my concept, it would double as an easy ped/bike overpass thanks to moving sloping sidewalks.

    However, I don't see why tracks would need to run on aerials over existing underpasses in Palo Alto. Why not keep the tracks at grade and spend the money to all but eliminate train noise emissions?

    See map for details on the vitrine section and the proposed underpasses.

    The single-lane underpass is meant for Churchill Ave, not Charleston - sorry for the confusion. My understanding is that Churchill is used mostly for traffic between Professorville and the high school. The am/pm split is just a suggestion, you could also use regular traffic light phases to enable limited two-way traffic all day long.

    My proposal leaves the existing road underpasses at University, Embarcadero and Oregon Expressway well alone. Idem the bike underpass at California Street. Clem told me the overpass at San Antonio could not accommodate four tracks and is anyhow no longer up to seismic code, so it might well have to be replaced in any case.

  16. By community resources I mean public income from city revenues, parcel taxes on properties, private donations, Stanford assistance to the city to offset other development, Utility profits. As mentioned the air rights above the ROW may belong to whoever owns the ROW. Whatever the source it is a lot of money to sink into a tunnel and that takes away from other needs. Public needs such as Police, fire fighters, teachers, libraries, programs, city services, and private needs such as support for non-profits. Government does not need another way to be inefficient.

  17. I don't understand why the linear park part needs a tunnel. Why couldn't that part be on top of a vitrine? According to the elevation profile at focus on Palo Alto (jpg), you'd need to raise Alma about 10 feet to get it over a trench descending into a tunnel where the trench is above the San Francisquito creek, but the other side is perfect for a tunel that comes back to the surface for the existing Embarcadero underpass and then rises above Churchill Avenue ... and bringing the vitrine with its linear park on top and over Matadero Creek, Barron Creek and Adobe Creek sure is a lot less trouble than trying to tunnel on that side of PA.

    Add that linear park would still make for a really boss bike trail.

  18. "Richard, why do you think that under Altamont, SF would get 4 tph and SJ 6?"

    Because 6 is bigger than 4 and because San Jose is the very most importantest city in the world. I could as well say 8 or 10tph, and throw in Fremont-SJ Oakland-SJ or Livermore-SJ regional trains. The point is to be bigger than That City Which Must Not Be Named Because That's Beneath Us And Besides Which We Never Even Think About It At All.

    I also think that offering many SF-Sacramento trains would be difficult because of line capacity and turnback (TTT) capacity on the peninsula, so it might make most sense to run all or most trains SJ-Sacramento with a cross-platform or same-platform transfer in Fremont for SF.

    (Given the corrupt Los Banos-Pacecho route, Sacramento-Bay Area service is completely off the table. What a waste.)

    It also shows that if you do the correct thing and don't have multiple different traffic classes (HSR + multiple Caltrain) gumming up the works on long sections of shared approach lines with many stations you can shove a lot more trains through.

    "Not even the HSRA thinks there is 10 tph demand into the Bay Area under any scenario."

    BTW with Altamont there might be -- 4tph from southern Californian, 2tph from Sacramento, maybe a couple locals from Livermore or Tracy or Stockton.

    The point, if there was one, is that the line and terminal capacity is there. Running all trains through SJ and then gumming up the Caltrain line (operationally) and screwing over (environmentally) the southern Peninsula by sending far too many partially empty trains to the very worst bottleneck in the state -- the low-capacity, completely incompetent Transbay Terminal -- is simply insane.

    But very profitable for some people.

    So no, I don't think there's 6tph LA-SJ demand, but if there were, there'd be a place to terminate the trains, which there simply isn't and won't be in SF.

  19. @ Richard & Rafael: Is there any possibility that the capacity issues at the Transbay Terminal will be fixed? Someone mentioned the plans aren't finalized yet, but that they would be soon. Does CAHSR have any ability to force a redesign?

  20. Another question, since we still don't know how the operations are going to work and who's going to be operating the thing (it's entirely possible that Caltrain may decide to run HSR compatible express trains along the SJ/PA/SFO/SF route, sort of a "Daddy Bullet" option), what if they fixed the station throat and approach radii and limited the transbay terminal to HSR-compatible (loading height and length) trainsets? And kept all their FRA-compliant transets at the existing/improved 4th and King terminal?

    I understand that doesn't fix the ungodly ugliness of everything below ground level of TTT, but would that solve the operational issues? You'd have a full 6-platforms within which to run any combination of HSR/Caltrain Express you needed.

  21. First, if you want to see what construction of a four-track urban undergrounding -- two HSR, two commuter train -- looks like, there's a perfect example under construction right now in Valencia.

    If you are referring to Valencia-Madrid, total infrastructure cost is $6 billion Euro for 365km high-speed track, with a considerable amount of tunneling. At least, that is what the ADIF website said.

    Which just goes to show that when Parsons-Bechtel-Soprano isn't the contractor, it opens up a lot more possibilities.

  22. Adirondacker1280018 August, 2009 17:23

    And kept all their FRA-compliant transets at the existing/improved 4th and King terminal?

    One of their options is "no FRA compliant trains north of San Jose"
    It might be cheaper to buy new trains that fit the system than making the system fit the existing trains.

    It's going to be awhile before the system opens. Trains wear out. Most of it is at the end of it's service life or close to it right now. Might make sense to keep it running for another decade. It makes less sense to design a multibillion dollar project that's going to last a 100 years or so, around trains that probably won't be in service when it opens.

    Someone with a sharp pencil would have to figure out if building to accommodate for it costs more than abandoning it and buying new equipment.

    In any event 20 years from now the stuff out on the tracks today isn't going to be in service.

  23. @ adirondacker12800 -

    one of the driving forces behind Caltrain's desire to electrify asap and switch to lightweight EMUs (e.g. bi-level Siemens Desiro) is that their FRA-compliant equipment is rapidly nearing end of life / due for overhaul. They don't want to shell out for new EPA Tier 3/4 diesel engines, they want to go electric.

  24. With the lawsuit ruling now in hand, the current program level EIR for the Bay Area is about to be de-certified. A new EIR must be prepared, and current project level work that has been done, must be destroyed and no new work started until a new certified EIR is prepared.

    This is what is going to happen, whether any of the writers on this blog believe it or not.

    As Diridon has now concluded, the delay will keep stimulus funding from coming to the Bay area projects. It won't keep stimulus funding from going to the projects down south, which qualify and which are certainly great enough in requests such that the amount of funds the Feds finally produce, will be on the same level whether or not the Bay area projects were included.

    Morshed previously told the Authority board, that the Bay area project could not conform to the stimulus time deadlines. Diridon convinced the board to over rule its executive director, the only qualified technical person in the whole organization (he is a civil engineer).

    So the Bay Area work is going to be delayed, probably 1 year --- big deal. The money issue for project work in the Bay Area may rear its head, since the Authority has nowhere near the funds they need to complete even the SF to Anaheim system, even with all the glorious FED funds projections that Kopp keeps spewing (12 to 14 billions).

  25. current project level work that has been done, must be destroyed and no new work started

    The homework must be force-fed to the dog? I find that exceedingly unlikely to happen, since taxpayers have been footing the bill.