24 September 2009

Context Sensitive Solutions

The California High Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain pledged in a recent project update to "Incorporate Context Sensitive Design Principles into project planning and outreach," apparently at the urging of the Peninsula Cities Consortium, a group representing several peninsula cities in matters pertaining to high speed rail.

As described in a City of Palo Alto press release, the cities hope that the Authority and Caltrain will apply an approach to decision making and design known as Context Sensitive Solutions.

CSS is a formal process developed over the last decade to involve all stakeholders throughout the planning and design of transportation projects, to ensure that the outcome meets the transportation need while preserving the community context in which the project is built. The CSS website contains a full description of goals, principles, case studies, etc. while Wikipedia provides a short summary. CSS can even be reduced to a pithy definition, presumably arrived at using some of the very same concensus-building tools:
Context sensitive solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in providing a transportation facility that fits its setting. It is an approach that leads to preserving and enhancing scenic, aesthetic, historic, community, and environmental resources, while improving or maintaining safety, mobility, and infrastructure conditions.
The push for CSS is rooted in a legitimate concern from peninsula communities that the rail corridor will be built up without sufficient regard for its community context.

Kumbaya or the Real Deal?

The CHSRA/Caltrain bulletin uses the words Context Sensitive Design Principles, stopping short of using the Solutions keyword. Semantics? Perhaps, but if the CSS process were being applied to the peninsula HSR project, many community design workshops would already have taken place.

It's getting a little late for that, with the CHSRA preparing to reveal the results of months of design work performed entirely out of the public eye by Parsons Brinckerhoff and HNTB--and then only because NEPA and CEQA laws require all the design alternatives to be fully and publicly documented. While the Authority has collected a large amount of community input through its environmental scoping process, all the exchange has so far gone only one way: into the black box. "Thank you for your comment card."

Key design decisions tend to made early, based on top-level requirements specifications and drawings. A list of these appeared in the CHSRA's July 2009 Program Summary Report, starting on page 54. These documents are very important because they establish the framework under which all design work is proceeding. When that work is made public, questioning a design will be ineffective unless we know what the requirements are that produced it.

CSS principles call for design collaboration and concensus building, early and often. Under CSS, the public would have open access to all the requirement specifications and directive drawings that drive the design. At numerous public meetings, however, the CHSRA and its engineering consultants have deferred, side-stepped or dismissed any specific design questions with a cursory "we don't know that yet." They may be concerned about showing bias, compromising the environmental review process, or inflaming community passions, but such coyness is definitely not among the qualities of Context Sensitive Design.

The Eye of the Beholder

CSS is most commonly applied to highway projects, where context-sensitivity can mean more than a few ornamental embellishments: sometimes, it's about slowing down traffic to make a road mesh consistently with the neighborhood. Applying that model to HSR, CSS can become a blank slate onto which community stakeholders may project their desire for fewer trains, tunnels, or slower speeds.

The CHSRA, meanwhile, intends to implement a service plan based on ridership studies and assumptions about service speed and frequency, painstakingly developed over the last several years. The plan calls for traffic of over 200 weekday trains running between San Jose and San Francisco in as little as 30 minutes, by the year 2030. The need for grade separations, the number of tracks, and the speed of the trains are all direct consequences of this plan, and the Authority's battle lines will be drawn around it. From their point of view, "Context Sensitive Design" might mean ornamental retaining walls (as shown above with a spoof on a famous visualization circulated by HSR opponents), fancy overhead electrification supports, or anything else that doesn't compromise the plan.

Without compromising the plan, the traffic-calming angle is an interesting one. Slowing down the trains through residential neighborhoods is an idea worth studying; the time penalty from slowing to 100 mph from 125 mph for a stretch of about 5 miles (40 seconds) is roughly equivalent to the time gained from straightening out a single curve in San Bruno. Of course, this raises some questions of environmental justice: why should some folks in San Bruno lose their homes so other folks in Atherton or Palo Alto can enjoy lessened noise and vibration?

When it comes to CSS, actions will speak louder than words.

84 comments:

  1. Nice post, Clem. CHSRA --and their pupper-masters PB and HNTB-- want nothing to do with genuine community input and involvement, unless it allows them to build even more "critical infrastructure" for California's future. They want to build big and heavy.

    So what is the ridership studies are grossly inflated?

    So what if the financing plan for Phase I is alarmingly incomplete?

    So what if the business plan of ultra-frequent HSR trains is completely unrealistic?

    So what if there is no system of accountability or recourse if the designs don't work out?

    Now we are getting to what this project is really about: building big! All at taxpayer expense and for the enrichment of private contractors.

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  2. @ anon @ 00:05 -

    or, CHSRA is simply trying to keep NIMBYs from pecking the project to death by imposing delays, huge additional costs like tunnels through suburbia, speed limits and other burdens that threaten the overall benefit/cost equation. Design by committee rarely works well.

    CHSRA does still have to prove it has heard peninsula communities' complaints about perceived bisection, noise and vibration.

    In purely rational terms, the railway existed before the towns did and cross traffic has always been limited to a relatively small number of locations. Full grade separation will actually increase the available transportation capacity between the two halves of e.g. Menlo Park, whereas retaining grade crossings would decrease it as Caltrain doubles its rush hour rail traffic volume through 2025.

    The problem is that a vertical structure, such as a retained fill embankment, is perceived on an an emotional level as more divisive even than a fast road like Alma/Central Expressway or a wide one like El Camino Real. CHSRA has hitherto downplayed this emotional response.

    Once an alignment is fully grade separated, running at 125mph is no longer a safety issue for cross traffic. However, CHSRA and Caltrain still need to prove that between the higher speeds and the increased rail traffic volume, they can keep the daytime sound exposure level for abutting properties within limits the law says must be tolerated. That means using technology to reduce noise production at source and noise transmission via the structure as well as via the atmosphere.

    Such proof could come in the form of relevant reproducible sound recordings taken elsewhere in the world and independently verifiable computer simulations. It's not good enough to make unsubstantiated claims that "HSR trains at 125mph will be 3dB quieter than freight trains at 79mph" if actual Caltrain and UPRR speeds today are well below 79mph in a particular location.

    Vibrations are likely to be a non-issue as modern, lightweight EMUs and track built to precise geometry tolerances should reduce them relative to the status quo.

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  3. I really don't think this project is about enriching developers. Maybe I'm being naive, but after working in city and state governments, I honestly believe that many government employees DO have the public interest at heart.

    It would be nice if you could at least not assume one of the best chances to change California for the better is just to line pockets. Argue the project on its merits, not on worst-of-the-worst assumptions.

    If you believe the worst in people, they'll act accordingly.

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  4. I think "pupper-masters" is a little bit extreme. Obviously, no one wants a 15' wall through there community, even if it allows for more connections across the tracks. However, does anyone seriously think that it is justifiable to have a tunnel in the middle of suburbia where there is already relatively ample Right of Way?

    What's almost definitely going to be one of two options: an aerial structure instead of a retaining wall, which will allow for public use of land under the tracks and isn't a solid mass to look at but ultimately puts the trains even higher than the retaining wall, or to keep the train tracks as near to grade level as possible. If the tracks aren't raised at all, there is going to be a huge impact on the local roads around the grade crossings, but how about if we only raise the tracks 5' instead of 15'?

    The criticism of PB and HNTB is also uncalled for. They are simply trying to design the cheapest alternatives that meet the technical requirements of the project - and in the case of the Peninsula, that is an embankment. The Alternative Analysis process is here exactly so a project is designed that will work with the project.

    People who think that a decision has already been made on the way the train will come through the Peninsula, you are very wrong. Currently, the subcontractors are working on finalizing the HORIZONTAL alignment - how straight to make curves, where ROW will be needed, etc. The VERTICAL alignment - tunnel, aerial, at-grade - is still very much up in the air and is waiting on community input and the results of Alternative Analysis. You always develop a horizontal alignment before picking the vertical alignment.

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  5. Well most of the "commnents" from the input were nothing less than unworkable ideas from a mindset base thinking Much like the anno posting ranting on about PB and HNTB. Remember once again prop1A PASSED in all towns but one along this line..Stop the ranting and scare lies and work with the MAJORITY

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  6. Isn't it the community forced undergrounding of BART through suburban San Bruno that lead to the cost overruns of BART-SFO that all the NIMBY FUD's bitch and whine about?

    I finally understand why they are all so confident that the cost of the CA HSR will excede estimates, they fully and actively intend to make it happen!

    The cognative dissonance of these people is absolutly stunning!

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  7. My discussion with Caltrain staff last week was that the San Bruno curve grade separation will upgrade the speed to around ~90 mph. That would not impact CA HSR they maintain because the distance to the SFO station means the trains would be going 125 mph there anyway.

    Clem, have you talked to Caltrain staff recently about the design and what speeds they are planning for?

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  8. "My discussion with Caltrain staff last week was that the San Bruno curve grade separation will upgrade the speed to around ~90 mph"

    Everything is OK and don't worry your pretty head about anything.

    By the time everybody works out that THEY WERE LYING AS USUAL and SCREWING OVER THE PUBLIC AS USUAL, it will be too late.

    I mean, when haven't Caltrain staff knowingly and deliberately done the wrong thing, outright lied in public about the non-existence of alternatives, outright lied about the superiority and inevitability of their sub-moronic course of action, outright lied about the future-compatibility of their "decisions", and then come back and lied again when they admit that maybe mistakes were made but for sure we'll be more careful in the future.


    Belmont-San Carlos grade separations? A long litany of unbroken lies for Caltrain staff.

    Gallery car purchase? A long litany of unbroken lies for Caltrain staff.

    Active endorsement of BART to Santa Clara (= HSR Pacheco) and screwing of Caltrain ROW and service? A long litany of unbroken lies for Caltrain staff.

    Level boarding coming Real Soon Now? A long litany of unbroken lies for Caltrain staff.

    Globally unique signalling system required?

    Three city blocks of train parking lot required in San Francisco?

    Tail tracks required at Transbay?


    Caltrain is just lying as usual.
    Caltrain staff are DELIBERATELY AND KNOWINGLY following a course of action (fast tracks in the middle middle is a completely avoidable mess for local service) that is KNOWN in advance to result in the worst outcome for rail service.
    Caltrain staff are lying about the non-existence of alternatives as usual.

    Caltrain staff have had FIVE YEARS to fix a fucked-up San Bruno disaster that THEY KNEW AND ADMITTED was a disaster, but chose not to. Instead, the agency staff have explicitly endorsed the far-worse-than-useless disaster as the top priority for the corridor.

    Don't worry .. there's a secret plan to make everything come out right! Just trust us! That'
    s worked so well the last 20 years, after all. What could possibly go wrong?

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  9. My discussion with Caltrain staff last week was that the San Bruno curve grade separation will upgrade the speed to around ~90 mph.

    Without going so far as Richard, I believe they are sadly mistaken.

    After it is rebuilt, you could do 90 mph in that curve as a stunt, I suppose. With passengers on board, it's another matter entirely: this isn't a roller coaster and the liability exposure would be enormous.

    Today the curve is at 3 deg 10' (1810 ft or 552 m radius) good for 60 mph at 5 inches cant and 3 inches cant deficiency.

    The curve simply can't be flattened out significantly without taking the residential properties in the inside, along Montgomery Avenue. The latest plans I have seen (admittedly dating back to 2003) show barely any flattening because they don't plan on using eminent domain.

    To run that curve at 90 mph with the maximum legal superelevation of 7 inches, you would have a cant deficiency of 11 inches-- something you could only achieve with a tilting train.

    Bottom line: you can't do 90 mph in San Bruno unless the properties on the inside of the curve are taken by eminent domain.

    The laws of physics and FRA regulations overrule anything that Caltrain staff might have to say.

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  10. I've cleaned up a few comments that didn't add anything to the discussion. I'm leaving Richard's because he is correct: 90 mph in San Bruno meets the technical definition of a lie.

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  11. "You always develop a horizontal alignment before picking the vertical alignment."

    So the PB engineers are incapable of working out problems in 3D!? Sorry, but no professional engineer I know has such limited mental powers.

    Regarding Clem's original post on CSS:
    I've sat in on some dog-and-pony charette sessions and found them a huge waste of time and money. Perhaps ok for designing a kids playground, but not appropriate solution for bigger projects.

    I can just see it now. The consultant asks the audience: "Here's a rendering of our forest-of-pillars aerial. What shade of grey would you like the concrete?" She calls on the the Grandpa Simpson in the back, who goes into some long rambling story about trains from the steam era...

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  12. "Bottom line: you can't do 90 mph in San Bruno unless the properties on the inside of the curve are taken by eminent domain."

    Not so. You could do it if there were a willing seller. The dollar amount to make a couple sellers very happy to walk away is peanuts compared to the $300 million (THREE HUNDRED MILLION UNITED STATES DOLLARS -- for one grade separation project THAT MAKES SERVICE WORSE!) budget of this black hole of stupidity.


    But rather the speed through one curve -- though that's indicative of the abysmal understanding of system engineering we're dealing with -- the total, complete, corridor-wide, multi-hundred-million clusterfuck here is locking in a slow-fast-fast-slow track order along the entire on the corridor, unnecessarily impeding operations forever and racking up perhaps a billion in extra cost along the corridor. (Think multi-level Diridon Pangalactic because otherwise how to trains reverse from the western-most, south-bound slow track back on the the eastern-most north-bound?)

    The gift that will keep on giving and giving and giving.

    Another gift from Caltrain Engineering: the people who brought you Millbrae Intermodal. The people who approved the TJPA's catastrophic SF extension. The people who will be bringing you their own PTC signalling system.

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  13. Maybe it is a bit unfair, but considering the now on-going disgust with what has happened on CalTrain with regards horn noise, how can anyone have any faith in anything CalTrain is doing on the engineering front.

    The whole project is in chaos. It is now obvious to those who have been deeply studying it for a few years, and this fact will come into sharp focus to the masses, in the next year or so, as local opposition increases and the now number one problem of funding become paramount.

    I have as much enthusiasm and optimism for any kind of success with CSS, as I have for the survival of a snowball being cast down below. It is a useless exercise.

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  14. Today the curve is at 3 deg 10' (1810 ft or 552 m radius) good for 60 mph at 5 inches cant and 3 inches cant deficiency.

    If you raise cant deficiency to 9", which was planned for the Acela before it was built too wide, you can raise that curve's speed limit to 80 mph. With a 12" cant deficiency, you can raise it to 88 mph.

    Tilting trains are more expensive than non-tilting trains, but they handle mountainous terrain much better. California should seriously look into them, instead of gleefully talking about how 220 mph speeds require a curve radius of 8 miles.

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  15. The irony of course is that the environmental review process is supposed to be more or less a css.

    You define a need, look at certain alternatives and figure out which alternative addresses your need with the least environmental damage. Each stage of the process is supposed to be filled with public input.

    Just imagine where we would be if the spirit of this process had actually been followed, rather than just the letter (and not even that in this case).

    A silver lining of this whole clusterf**k would be if the environmental review process could be reinvented by the adoption of css principles.

    ok, ok. I'm a dreamer. But what if?

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  16. Tilting trains are more expensive than non-tilting trains, but they handle mountainous terrain much better.

    Very high speeds and very high cant deficiencies don't mix. That's why 220 mph tilt trains don't exist, and they never will.

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  17. @ Clem -

    actually, the Fastech 360 development platform did reach 224mph and did feature a mild active suspension/tilt system (2 degrees).

    In the end, the design could not meet JR East's extremely ambitious targets for noise emissions and emergency braking distance, so the production version (the E5) will be limited to 200mph. Afaik, the signature emergency air brakes of the Fastech were eliminated but the active suspension was retained.

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  18. Very high speeds and very high cant deficiencies don't mix.

    But I'm talking about operation at 200 km/h, not 350 km/h.

    Besides, the cant deficiency implied by CHSRA is much lower than what's common on existing HSR systems. In France and Korea, they're building curve radii of 7 km in order to allow future increases in speed, to 400 km/h and beyond. For 300 km/h speeds, 4 km suffices.

    There's nothing wrong with building wide curve radii in order to allow future increases in speed, but CHSRA has talked about curve radii of 12.8 km.

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  19. Solving simple problems with complicated technology is idiotic. Spend $5 million to buy the houses. Problem solved!

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  20. The cost equation is not tilt versus 5 million; it's tilt versus 5 million per curve to be fixed, plus whatever time cost is added due to the fact that without high superelevation and cant deficiency, trains have to slow down on the Gilroy-Pacheco curve.

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  21. trains have to slow down on the Gilroy-Pacheco curve

    The next question is, which clown designed a Gilroy-Pacheco curve?

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  22. which clown decided to go through Pacheco Pass?

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/19539506/Comment-Letters-on-Merced-to-Bakers-Field

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  23. Clem,

    I would be interested in the following subjects:

    1. What is the impact of HSR on the many road overpasses along the Caltrain ROW? Will they need to be rebuilt? If so, has any money been set aside to do so?

    2. What are the possible
    alignments of HSR in the
    vacinity of the Caltrain
    maintenance facility in
    San Jose?

    3. What are the consequences if any of the need to have crossovers and setout tracks along the Caltrain ROW?

    4. Which Caltrain stations will need to be modified because of HSR, and has money been set aside to to so?

    Keep up the interesting work. Pleaase destroy this after reading.

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  24. Joe,

    I can answer a couple of your questions.

    The current budget assumes that Caltrain disappears and High Speed Rail replaces it.


    Budget for modifying the 25 Caltrain stations that will not also host HSR: zero.

    Budget for modifying the 100+ existing grade separations: zero.

    We can argue (all day and night) about HOW much ROW is needed, but can all agree the number is more than zero, given latest plans. Budget for ROW (permanent and temporary for construction) along Caltrain: zero.

    Budget for each new grade separation (including contingency): approx $25 million.

    Hope this helps.

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  25. @ Elizabeth -

    got a reference for your claims? The MOU between PCJPB and CHSRA does not assume Caltrain will disappear during nor after construction.

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  26. Rafael, the Bay Area - Central Valley EIS/EIR has costing data that adds up to $4.2 billion for the peninsula. Since then the figure tossed about has risen to $5 billion. All the items that Elizabeth raises are indeed missing from these costs, and the estimated cost of a grade separation is a mere $18 million.

    I'm sure the CHSRA was assuming that the Caltrain counties would pick up some of the tab for corridor improvements. Too bad the counties are now counting on the CHSRA, huh?

    No matter how you slice it, there's surely a couple of billion missing somewhere...

    Oh, and no cost is included for context-sensitive features.

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  27. By the way, said MOU is about to be updated with a new funding agreement.

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  28. Clem and Rafael,

    I agree: Caltrain is staying and CHSRA is picking up the bill. This is why the absence of any indication that Caltrain exists in the current budget is so troubling.

    There is a history to this, more related to the battle of Pacheco vs Altamont for this than any hope that Caltrain would pay its own way. Nonetheless, the current numbers are more or less nonsense and need to be updated.

    If you can look at this, http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20080523150109_App%204_stacked.pdf, and find anything that hints at Caltrain's existence, you get a gold star.

    The numbers in the Business Plan come directly from here. The cost elements have been raised a little bit for inflation, the program mgmt 25% cost moved out of individual segments and the contingency raised from 25-30%, but these are the numbers.

    Clem - I'm giving as much credit as I can by adding in the contigency to the cost elements.

    I'm not a train person so I can't tell you everything that is missing or be the judge of the reasonableness of any one number but I do know that 25 x or 100 x anything starts adding up fast.

    Another item I've found out is not in 2008 Business Plan budget - prerevenue testing.

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  29. For Program level EIR/EIS, CHSRA can try to claim the grade-separations and Caltrain stations are beyond the scope -- to be resolved later in the SF-SJ study.

    And if this has the side-effect of making Altamont look way more expensive, well, them's the breaks.

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  30. Getting back to the ostensible subject...

    The basic problem with Caltrain and HSR "planning" on the SF Peninsula (and elsewhere) is garbage in to "technical evaluation" and "alternatives analysis", which happen years before anybody outside the consultant teams, resulting in garbage out in terms of "technical requirements" and "design standards" -- holy writs that you are unworthy to gainsay ... or even examine.

    So you can jump up and down all you like, but if the Industry Professionals working for CHSRA -- and we know they have the very best in the world, what with all of them being based in the USA, World Number One Number One Train Country -- have set standards that say that platforms are 0.00606 furlongs above the rail and that 9 high speed trains per direction per hour have to run and that Caltrain must be shoved to the outside and that AREMA track geometry is required and that trains take 40 minutes to change direction ... well, feel free to be a Context Sensitive as you like (aka good luck slapping some lipstick on that pig), but the game is over long, long, LONG before you ever knew it was even in progress.

    There is a fundamental inability to perform or consider any type of systems-level optimization and trade-off in even the narrowly technical design of the system. (Nobody with an ounce of intelligence would advocate Pacheco, for rail capacity and operational stability reasons along, leaving aside $15 billion of wasted cost and leaving aside massive and almost guaranteed tunnelling cost blowouts. And completely ignoring that the train line runs through communities and is supposed to serve, you know, human beings.)

    So to hope that "Context Sensitive Solutions" will cause any sort of sanity to prevail ignores that hopelessly bad rules of the game have already been established (and they're hopeless bad both for running trains and for serving communities of humans!)

    Perhaps you'll get a Community Garden alongside the tracks. Or Sense of Place Design Element in the choice of concrete tinting on the overpass columns. Or Local Disabled Children's Art will be incorporated into the parking lot bollards.

    But the question of what sort of service is run and why and where the tracks go and how many of them there simply won't be on the table.

    That's how these things work.
    Projects are built to please (ie enrich) project management, not to serve taxpayers. That's the fundamental context to which one must be sensitive.

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  31. Drunk Engineer-

    My point is not refighting the Altamont vs Pacheco battle(although that's always fun to do).

    Whatever crazy justification was used for ignoring billions of dollars of very real costs in the Program EIR in order to choose routing, that same justification does not extend to the numbers used in the Business Plan.

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  32. Clem,

    IMO, your blog provides the best, most balanced, and most technically-grounded analysis of HSR issues for any section in the entire state - it's a fantastic resource for the community.

    That said, are you absolutely certain that higher speeds (90 mph) are not possible through the San Bruno curve within the confines of the ROW?

    I ask for two reasons:

    (1) The 2003 plans that you link to do show a significant realignment of the curve in question. In particular, the current curve runs from 765 to 774, while the realigned curve runs from 761 to 774. It's unclear what the smallest radius is in the entire curve (either before or after), but overall the curve is at least 40% longer than it used to be.

    (2) I went to the Shore Line (i.e., Amtrak NEC east of New Haven) and traced out a curve with an 85 mph speed restriction. That curve (located around MP 87.4, ~1.5 miles west of Guildford) appears as if it could fit within the confines of the San Bruno Caltrain ROW. Note that the SR is for non-tilting Amfleet equipment (Acela should be higher), which are allowed 5" of underbalance east of New Haven. I don't know what the superelevation on the curve is. It may be less than the max of 7", however, since the Shore Line also hosts frequent freight trains (which, presumably, could be generally excluded from the Caltrain/HSR express tracks).

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  33. Whatever crazy justification was used for ignoring billions of dollars of very real costs in the Program EIR in order to choose routing, that same justification does not extend to the numbers used in the Business Plan.

    You mean the Business Plan which projects more SF-Anaheim ridership than even the most successful TGV lines in Europe? The Plan which projects 3x the ridership of London-Paris? Of course, the Business Plan numbers are bogus.

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  34. Please allow me to eat a heaping serving of blog crow.

    Without having the actual radius of the curve handy, I went back and did some more reverse engineering on the Caltrain plan. This involves a laborious series of estimations based on the plan, then Google Earth, and a whole bunch of trigonometry in Excel... very very tedious and clunky, yeah. Upon close examination, I get something close to 825 m (2700 ft) radius.

    That would indeed be suitable for 90 mph, but only at an east-coast like 12 inches of equivalent cant (7 inches actual + 5 inches excess)

    That is probably as wide as you could possibly make the curve without taking those properties, something I still think should be done.

    If they happen to read this, I give my sincere apologies to the track design engineers whom I have lambasted and doubted in this blog.

    It wasn't a lie after all.

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  35. R=2083.683' (feet! What is this? 1750?)

    R=635.1m

    Let's look at typical track design law from and advanced industrialized first world democracy:

    v_max = (sqrt (* (/ r 11.8) (+ u u_f))

    where v_max is in kmh
    r in m
    u (superelevation) in mm
    u_f (cant deficiency) in mm

    Design standard maxiumum for u is 100mm for plain track (no turnouts, platforms); exceptionally 160mm on ballasted track (maintained to a level that the sledgehammer-wielding monkeys of Amtrak couldn't even dream of) or 170mm with direct fixation.

    Limit for cant deficiency u_f 130mm.

    (sqrt (* (/ (* 2083.683 12 0.0254) 11.8) (+ 130 160)))
    = 124.93kmh = 77.63mph


    But this isn't the point.

    The real point is that our "friends" at Caltrain have completely fucked over their own service and completely screwed the public interest all the way from San Jose to San Francisco by inexcusably casting into concrete a stupid, unnecessary and sub-moronic SFFS (fast tracks in the middle, where they unnecessarily impede local service flexibility) service pattern.

    All this for no purpose, and no gain. It's just rank, inexcusable, world-beating imcompetence.

    In other words, it's exactly what we always get from our world class local engineering "professionals" ... even if some of us (ie me) were crazily inclined to put unrealistically and ahistorical charitable interpretations on the inaction and non-achievement of Caltrain's "new" management of the last 10 years. How stupid can you get?

    Well, plus ├ža change, plus c'est la merde.

    Crucifixion is too kind a fate for any of them, frankly.

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  36. Limit for cant deficiency u_f 130mm.

    Where? Not Japan, which seems perfectly capable of running trains at 270 km/h on a line with curve radii of 2.5 km (=344 mm of equivalent cant). Not even the US, where the Acela already gets 177 mm cant deficiency and could get 228 if it were 10 cm narrower.

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  37. Adirondacker1280028 September, 2009 07:03

    could get 228 if it were 10 cm narrower.

    Or CDOT and Metro North moved their tracks a bit. . .

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  38. Please allow me to eat a heaping serving of blog crow.

    It happens to the best of us - I appreciate that you took the time to revisit this.

    The (current) Caltrain plans definitely include some straightening...MT3 appears to encroach on someone's backyard and on the structure north of San Bruno Ave. But in reality it is the backyard that encroaches on the Caltrain ROW and the structure in question is owned by the TA.

    Regardless, I agree that eminent domain (after a generous offer to purchase) could still be worth it in this case, but it's no longer the slam-dunk case that it was before. Potential time savings are now closer to 10 seconds or so.

    Hopefully this means that there may be some truth to the other items in Brian Stanke's original post (on cahsr.blogspot) as well. In particular, the possibility that the TBT throat/tunnel will be redesigned.

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  39. Or CDOT and Metro North moved their tracks a bit.

    No, on Metro-North property the Acela can't tilt at all, so it's limited to a cant deficiency of (I believe) 3". Part of it is distance between the tracks; another part is that Metro-North is intentionally slowing trains down to avoid constraining commuter rail capacity.

    The Acela's 4.2 degree tilt limit holds even in areas where track center distances aren't the limiting factor. But even then, if the Acela had been 10 cm narrower, as intended, it would have not only been able to tilt 6.5 degrees, but also gotten some tilting in areas with closer track centers like Connecticut.

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  40. @Alon and Adirondacker

    Tilting trains are great for existing track. But when you're building a new high speed system more or less from scratch, you really don't want to build it in such a way that you're required to use tilting equipment.

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  41. The point is that in the Peninsula the trains will be running on existing track, with a few modifications. There's no need for tilting trains, but it's a good idea to plan on equivalent cants of 10-12" rather than 4-5" as CHSRA is implying.

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  42. @ Clem

    What would 90 mph through the San Bruno curve do for the SF-SJ express time?

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  43. Also: another reason to consider tilting trains is that when Amtrak realizes 3:30 is too slow for New York-Boston, it's going to need tilting trains capable of 300+ km/h for true HSR in the Northeast. So it might as well share technology with CAHSR.

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  44. R=2083.683'

    For those interested, Richard's figures come from the following document:

    http://www.caltrain.com/pdf/SB_C.pdf

    It is correct that the minimum curve radius in those plans is just under 2100', which would limit speed to ~78 mph. What is unclear is how much the actual plans are deviating from the original 2003 plans.

    Interestingly, even in 2003, they acknowledged that the planned alignment included a sharper than desired curve and that it would likely be refined in the future:

    At 1,800 feet, this is the sharpest curve on the Caltrain mainline tracks between San Francisco and San Jose, and requires that the maximum allowable passenger train speed be lowered from 79 mph to 60 mph...JPB has acquired the property previously occupied by the San Bruno Lumber site on the northwest corner of San Bruno Avenue and San Mateo Avenue intersection which will be used to increase the radius of the curve. The current design increases the radius from 1,800 to 2,083 feet which will provide for speeds of 70 mph [at only 5.75" of superelevation and 3" of cant deficiency]. This is an improvement over the present 60 mph speed, but still under the desired speed of 90 mph.

    This design is based upon keeping all tracks within the JPB right-of-way, i.e., with no property takes. JPB has begun a detailed boundary survey to refine the exact right-of-way, and upon completion of the survey, the track alignment will be adjusted accordingly...

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  45. What would 90 mph through the San Bruno curve do for the SF-SJ express time?

    It would drop it by 25-30 seconds, since the current run simulations assume that HSTs would slow to ~65 mph for the San Bruno curve.

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  46. @ Alon Levy -

    IIRC, the reason why Acela trains cannot fully utilize their tilt capability is because FRA insisted on 12" of minimum clearance between tilting and non-tilting trains in any given curve at the maximum permissible speeds for both trains in that location (i.e. worst case scenario).

    Also, the width of the train cars had to be increase slightly to accommodate ADA-compliant restrooms.

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  47. Yes, the width was increased because of the ADA-compliant bathrooms, and as a result the Acela's tilting mechanism doesn't fully work.

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  48. That curve (located around MP 87.4, ~1.5 miles west of Guildford) appears as if it could fit within the confines of the San Bruno Caltrain ROW.

    Actually, I have my own correction to do as well. The source I had been using (Rich Green's track maps) turns out to be inconsistent in whether it is labeling Acela speed restrictions or Amfleet speed restrictions. Now that I have access to my NEC timetable, I see that the curve at MP 87.4 is rated at 85 mph for Acela, not Amfleet. However, the curve at MP 100-101 is rated at 85 mph for Amfleet (no SR for Acela - track speed is 90 mph) and appears to fit within the confines of the Caltrain ROW.

    It appears that overall the conclusion is that at 12" of equivalent cant, it should be possible to align the tracks for no less than 80 mph within the current ROW and no more than 90 mph.

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  49. ...the width was increased because of the ADA-compliant bathrooms...

    Ugh. There has to be a corollary of Godwin's Law that any thread on passenger railroads in the US will inevitably result in a discussion of Acela's too-wide ADA compliant bathrooms. Can't we just move on? I think at this point that horse has been beaten into bloody pulp and left totally pulverized by the roadside.,,

    The bottom line is: (a) CHSRA will not be using/designing for tilting equipment and (b) ~12" equivalent cant (sorry, 305 mm, for Richard) is easily possible without tilting equipment and is practiced both domestically and abroad.

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  50. All the items that Elizabeth raises are indeed missing from these costs, and the estimated cost of a grade separation is a mere $18 million.

    This is true, but it doesn't tell the whole story.

    Using "Caltrain 3" as an example (i.e., Millbrae-RWC), I see a total of $590 million allocated to 18 grade separations. This includes: cut/fill/drainage, retaining walls, street undercrossings, environmental mitigation costs, and +50% for implementation costs and contingencies.

    Bottom line: $33 million allocated per grade separation.

    Caltrain's last major grade crossing project was the Ralston-Holly-Harbor grade-seps that were finished circa 2000. That included 2 stations and 3 grade separations in a 1.5 mile stretch. My understanding is that the total cost of the project was $61 million. Allocating $10 million to the 2 stations, actual costs were ~$17 million per grade separation, or half of what CHSRA is budgeting.

    Of course, costs have risen since 2000, but one can only hope that they have not more than doubled...

    Elizabeth is correct, however, that there are no allowances in the itemized costs for widening the existing grade crossings to 4 tracks, though she greatly overstates the magnitude of the problem. Ironically, some of the worst offenders are the most recent grade-seps, primarily in Belmont/San Carlos.

    Another item I've found out is not in 2008 Business Plan budget - prerevenue testing.

    Don't know about the business plan, but it's definitely in the EIR tables you cite. It's folded into the implementation costs...that's why you didn't see it (see p. 4-D-7).

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  51. Mike -

    A couple of things.

    The 25.5% implementation cost in the Bay Area costing is moved OUT of the segment costs, as it doesn't really below there, so it is not a 50% margin on top of these costs.

    Reread that page. "These costs are not included". If you add up all the other percentages, they add up to 25.5%.

    I have no idea how big a cost item testing is. Do you?

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  52. Elizabeth,

    The 25.5% implementation cost in the Bay Area costing is moved OUT of the segment costs, as it doesn't really below there, so it is not a 50% margin on top of these costs.

    I honestly do not understand what you're referring to here. The tables are pretty clear on this point. Take, for example, "Caltrain 4" (pp. 4-A-3 to 4-A-4). When I add up all the sub-items, I get $44.1 million. 25% of $44 million is $11 million, which is what they list for Implementation Costs and for Contingencies. $44m + $11m + $11m = $66m, which is what they list for Grand Total. Clearly they are including both Implementation Costs and contingencies.

    Reread that page. "These costs are not included". If you add up all the other percentages, they add up to 25.5%.

    My apologies, I interpreted their inclusion in the DBOM contract as implying that they would fall under implementation costs. But, as you note, they are excluded from implementation costs at the Program EIR level, and instead are folded into contingencies (i.e., the subsection right below).

    Nevertheless, it would be incorrect to say that they are not in there at all - they just aren't itemized at the program level. They're clearly aware of them, and they fall into the contingency bucket.

    On a slightly different note, I can see why Caltrain/CHSRA would be keen on moving ahead with San Bruno relatively quickly. Outside of the terminal areas (SF & SJ), the most challenging grade separations look to be San Mateo (clearly the most challenging) and then (in no particular order) San Bruno, Menlo Park, and Redwood City. If you finish San Bruno now, you knock out one of the four challenging grade separation projects.

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  53. R=635.1m

    Thank you, Richard. That settles the issue, and removes the need for my complicated (and unreliable) estimation. Even so, calls for crucifixion were a little over the top... I'll assume that was a rhetorical flourish.

    Caltrain currently practices a maximum of 8 inches of total equivalent cant (a measure of how fast you can run a train through a curve of a given radius). My post on the top 10 worst curves assumed 10 inches (a bit faster). Trains on the east coast and in Europe often run at 12 inches (a bit faster yet.)

    To summarize the San Bruno discussion:

    The existing San Bruno curve (radius 552 m) is good for:

    - 60 mph @ 8" (today's speed limit)
    - 67 mph @ 10"
    - 73 mph @ 12"

    The planned San Bruno curve (radius 635 m) is good for:

    - 65 mph @ 8"
    - 72 mph @ 10"
    - 79 mph @ 12"

    So, as of the 2003 design (which is unlikely to have changed much), the curve indeed was not good for 90 mph. The curve still qualifies as the #1 worst curve, and I was premature in my apology to those who designed it.

    (and where does one return blog crow?)

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  54. Mike wrote that the Belmont - San Carlos grade crossing project cost 68 million.

    These minutes

    link to minutes

    say they cost 90 million.

    CalTrain has said that SF to SJ cost for electrification and grade crossing for their two tracks is calculated at nearly 5 billion.

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  55. So, as of the 2003 design (which is unlikely to have changed much), the curve indeed was not good for 90 mph.

    I thought the primary issue at hand was what the maximum possible radius is for the curve without eminent domain takings rather than what they might have designed back in 2003?

    Generally I would assume that the 2003 design would target the maximum possible radius with the constraints of the ROW. But, given Richard's perspective that all things related to Caltrain are completely incompetent, that may not be a good assumption...

    Regardless, I also am skeptical that Caltrain will deviate far from the original 2003 plan (despite the fact that the track alignment itself has been thrown out the window at this point - they're talking about 2 tracks now instead of 4). In particular, the "90 mph" answer that Brian received sounds suspiciously like the Caltrain design criteria (which calls for a 90 mph design speed as a general mandate, if you check out the San Bruno Grade Separation docs) rather than what may be technically achievable with the ROW itself. And certainly there's no way that they could achieve it at 9" of equivalent cant.

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  56. @anon: when all was said and done, the total for Holly, Ralston and Harbor was $99.2M, up from a budget of $57.8M in January 1996 when construction started. The cost increase was attributed to delays and the addition of two pedestrian underpasses at Arroyo in San Carlos and F Street in Belmont. These numbers do not include Howard and Brittan, which were built 1993-1995 using other funds.

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  57. Mike-

    There were changes made from the Program numbers (the ones we have in detail) and the ones in the business plan that end up with a $4.2bn price tag for SF-SJ. One of those changes was the elimination of the 25.5% program implementation addition to cost items.

    We can throw testing into the large pool of items that the contingency is supposed to cover. A contingency, however, is supposed to be for those unknown items that always happen. It is not supposed to be for the known items you randomly decide not to include.

    The bottom line is this: there are new cost numbers coming and they will be much higher than the $4.2 number and cost overrun is not really the right term to describe the reason for the increase.

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  58. Mike wrote that the Belmont - San Carlos grade crossing project cost 68 million.

    The only definitive numbers I found said $60,916,667. But it sounds as if those may be only the total Measure A funds. $90 million would certainly be in line with this article.

    At $90 million, costs are closer to $27 million/separation. California construction costs have increased 95% over the last 10 years.

    I agree that $33 million/separation, while much more than the $18 million number that was being thrown around, is still overly optimistic on the part of CHSRA.

    On the flip side, at these prices there will be virtually no additional grade separations built on the Peninsula over the next decade or two without the benefit of state/federal HSR funding. (Which no doubt would suit some trackside NIMBYs just fine.)

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  59. There were changes made from the Program numbers (the ones we have in detail) and the ones in the business plan that end up with a $4.2bn price tag for SF-SJ. One of those changes was the elimination of the 25.5% program implementation addition to cost items.

    That may well be true (though it should be noted that the $4.2b business plan figure does not include an additional $2-3b systemwide implementation cost item). But I don't understand how it's relevant to the discussion at hand.

    The claim was that the detailed cost estimate allocated only $18-25 million/grade crossing. That's simply not true - it's around $33 million/grade crossing in that cost estimate.

    We can throw testing into the large pool of items that the contingency is supposed to cover. A contingency, however, is supposed to be for those unknown items that always happen. It is not supposed to be for the known items you randomly decide not to include.

    I agree you can't just throw any old thing into contingencies. But in this case they were pretty clear that it was a cost, it would be included in DBOM contracts, and that they could not give a precise estimate of it at such an early stage, hence it would be in contingencies (which they explicitly state are not potential savings).

    The bottom line is this: there are new cost numbers coming and they will be much higher than the $4.2 number

    Unfortunately we're probably in agreement here (conditional on what you mean by "much"). One can only hope that if/when the cuts come, prime targets will be:

    (1) Get rid of the ridiculous tunnel from Santa Clara to SJ Diridon.

    (2) Cut the twin single-track tunnels north of Bayshore to one single-track tunnel (i.e. only 3 tracks north of Bayshore...why would we ever need more?).

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  60. Mike -

    I'm sorry to beat a deadhorse AGAIN but I don't want anyone to be surprised when new numbers come out.

    The numbers in the program level are not the latest budget numbers. These numbers are the numbers in the Business Plan.

    In that plan, the 25.5% program number no longer is used in the same way.

    As far as testing going into the contingency -

    1) There is no reason why they couldn't have made a line item for this (e.g. 2%). They just chose not to.
    2) Everytime you do something like that, you reduce the true amount of contingency available for things like grade crossings.
    3) You need a lot of contingency money when you are at 1% engineering level and you are specifying the cheapest solution.

    Underestimating costs is much more of a problem in California than it is in other places.

    In this state, it is exceptionally difficult to get new sources of money so you either squeeze other projects (e.g. bart-sfo and buses in San Mateo County) or you do half the project.

    The Feds will help you with official budget - and they are assumed to come up with $20 billion. This is still $20 billion less money than this project will need from them and the Feds now make you sign a bloodoath that you will cover cost overruns.

    This is why you see all the various regions trying to get while the getting is good.

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  61. "(1) Get rid of the ridiculous tunnel from Santa Clara to SJ Diridon."

    Word is that this is already gone -- but not for any legitimate emperor-has-no-clothes grown-ups-did-a-review engineering reason, but because the SACRED SET IN STONE ENGINEERING CRITERIA WHICH YOU MAY NEVER QUESTION didn't allow the grade from underground up to the ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED AND YOU MAY NEVER QUESTION IT second, full-width, HSR-dedicated, oppressive, unnecessary upper deck at Didiron Memorial Interglactic Spaceport.

    "(2) Cut the twin single-track tunnels north of Bayshore to one single-track tunnel (i.e. only 3 tracks north of Bayshore...why would we ever need more?)."

    As I've said before, I'm completely unconvinced that there is the slightest operational need for such fabulously expensive and redundant infrastructure, at least if the system were operated in anything like a competent fashion.

    (And as I've said before, I have no expertise in or good information on the seismic stability of the tunnels, and as I've said before I grant that there is a very small but legitimate argument to be made for a new tunnel #4 (nearest to Bayshore and longest) on life-safety (ie evacuation) grounds. But I'm far from convinced.)

    PS How about "(3) make the modest and blindingly obvious Transbay and Mission Bay through station design and capacity fixes which would get rid of the completely redundant, 3-city-block-sized, passenger-hostile-terminus-location Caltrain train parking lot south of Market"? There's another $200 million for you right there, even without the development potential of the freed up urban land.

    Or "(4) SJ Cahill station -- a 100% through station for HS service, if we believe CHSRA -- would have excess capacity if it were configured with "just" 7-8 platforms (2 for FRA steam trains, the remainder shared Caltrain/HSR segregated from FRA) which would all fit on a single, urban-friendly, passenger-friendly level. Terminating fewer than 8tph Caltrain (some can reverse at Tamien), 2tph stream trains, 0tph HSR and serving through traffic doesn't justify 14 platforms on two levels anywhere outside the pork-swilling dreams of CHSRA contractors. For that matter, additionally terminating 4tph HSR in SJ (4tph running through) wouldn't raise a sweat at such an appropriately-sized, flexibly-configured, CONTEXT SENSITIVE, fiscally real, single level, non-Diridonistic station"

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  62. (and where does one return blog crow?)

    On twitter?

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  63. @Elizabeth

    At this point I think we agree more than we disagree.

    The numbers in the program level are not the latest budget numbers. These numbers are the numbers in the Business Plan.

    I have no doubt that is true. My point was simply that in the EIR numbers that you posted (and originally referred to), the total allocated cost per grade separation was more than $18-25 million. But I don't disagree that these numbers may now have been superseded by new ones.

    In this state, it is exceptionally difficult to get new sources of money so you either squeeze other projects (e.g. bart-sfo and buses in San Mateo County) or you do half the project.

    Completely agree. If you want to be mildly depressed, check out this old SM Co Measure A pamphlet I came across when looking for cost details on the Ralston-Holly-Harbor Project:

    http://www.smcta.com/Expenditure_Plan/1988-2008_Expenditure_Plan_Part_Two.pdf

    Look at the long list of potential grade separations on p. 5. In fairness, they don't specify how many separations they expect to achieve - they just say how much money they expect to allocate and that crossings will be eliminated based on prioritization. By my count, they've only closed 7 of the 42 listed grade crossings since Measure A passed 20 years ago.

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  64. @Richard

    Word is that this is already gone -- but not for any legitimate emperor-has-no-clothes grown-ups-did-a-review engineering reason, but because the SACRED SET IN STONE ENGINEERING CRITERIA WHICH YOU MAY NEVER QUESTION didn't allow the grade from underground up to the ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED AND YOU MAY NEVER QUESTION IT second, full-width, HSR-dedicated, oppressive, unnecessary upper deck at Didiron Memorial Interglactic Spaceport.

    LOL. I love it. Well, that's good to hear. Who says two wrongs don't make a right (or at least reduce down to one wrong)?

    BTW, I would think it would be obvious that you want to have UP freight trains running up to the upper deck of Diridon Grand Central for no particular reason at all. So surely their engineering criteria did not allow more than 1%?

    As I've said before, I'm completely unconvinced that there is the slightest operational need for such fabulously expensive and redundant infrastructure, at least if the system were operated in anything like a competent fashion.

    Personally, I don't have faith that the eventual CHSRA/Caltrain operator will have enough discipline to ensure that inbound express/locals will arrive in the correct order (that's the only reason I suggest keeping a third track north of Bayshore).

    If existence of 22nd St turns out to be the major impediment to further reducing from 3 tracks to 2, they should just drop it (or drastically curtail service). One station with 2.4% of Caltrain's total boardings vs. 2 miles of tunneling...hmmmm...this shouldn't be a hard choice to make.

    PS How about "(3) make the modest and blindingly obvious Transbay and Mission Bay through station design and capacity fixes which would get rid of the completely redundant, 3-city-block-sized, passenger-hostile-terminus-location Caltrain train parking lot south of Market"? There's another $200 million for you right there, even without the development potential of the freed up urban land.

    Of course I am 110% behind that (or would be, were it mathematically possible). The reason I didn't mention it in the original post is that I don't think CHSRA is going to allocate any more money to the DTX/TBT project than laid out in the original EIR (if even that). Thus, the savings from redesigning TBT to
    be non-retarded are already being assumed in some sense. Of course, the danger is that they choose to save money by continuing to do build something stupid, but just bulding less of it.

    Or "(4) SJ Cahill station -- a 100% through station for HS service, if we believe CHSRA -- would have excess capacity if it were configured with "just" 7-8 platforms (2 for FRA steam trains, the remainder shared Caltrain/HSR segregated from FRA) which would all fit on a single, urban-friendly, passenger-friendly level.

    Again, totally with you there, but technically they've only budgeted ~$200 million (plus contingencies?) for Diridon Grand Central in the EIR. Obviously that will not be enough to build the fine cathedral they desire. One can only hope that budget realities will force a more sensible solution.

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  65. BTW, Clem, Richard, others:

    The reason I originally asked about the maximum possible design speed for the San Bruno curve without eminent domain takings is the following.

    Suppose there's no way you will run faster than 75 mph w/o property acquisition (I'm not sure any of us has the tools and skills to determine this with certainty, except possibly Richard?). In that case we all agree that San Bruno should be "done right."

    Instead of sitting here talking about it, why not actually do something to try to influence the outcome?

    Specifically, inform the residents/owners of Montgomery Ave what's about to happen (big grade separation project in their back yards) and see if they do anything. The houses are already adjacent to an Interstate highway and a railroad ROW. It's not a great location, and now it's going to be a construction zone too. Some might actually prefer it if JPB/CHSRA bought them out at above-market rates. Of course JPB/CHSRA appears to have no desire to do so, but that might change if the Montgomery Ave residents actually approached them and told them they wanted buyouts or else they were going to fight the current project (not that there's much they can do...).

    It probably won't change the outcome, but there's a small chance that it might. Which is more than can be said of doing nothing. Just some food for thought...

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  66. No doubt the Montgomery Ave area is already blighted and ripe for a buy-out, but eminent domain will incur the wrath of Alice Barnes and friends. The BART-SFO folks and San Bruno pols know her well.

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  67. My guess is that many -- if not most -- of the buyout candidate properties along Montgomery Ave. are rentals. I'm guessing buying out/off rentals would be easier than dealing with owner-occupied properties.

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  68. "Suppose there's no way you will run faster than 75 mph [around San Bruno curve] w/o property acquisition (I'm not sure any of us has the tools and skills to determine this with certainty, except possibly Richard?)."

    Can't be certain, but we can make assumptions, and if somebody doesn't like those assumptions we can try theirs. We can assume (for now) the r/w is 100 ft wide, and we can assume (for now) the total curve angle is 23.64 degrees, and we can assume (for now) a r/w-centerline radius of 1900 ft. Then what overall width should we assume for the railroad-- will 70 ft cover everything, including catenary poles?

    Having made those assumptions we can make a good guess at the largest possible curve radius. (Incidentally, it turns out that a two-track railroad that sweeps across the r/w west to east to west will be good for 90 mph without additional property.)

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  69. No doubt the Montgomery Ave area is already blighted and ripe for a buy-out, but eminent domain will incur the wrath of Alice Barnes and friends

    No doubt. But the idea is that the owners would actually want to be bought out, rather than resorting to eminent domain. According to Zillow, one or two of the properties are likely under water. A bunch more were bought back in the 80s.

    What you really need is for the PA trackside NIMBYs to convince the Montgomery Ave folks that the world as they know it will end if the grade separations are built, and they should cash out while they can. Put some of that angst and FUD to good use!

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  70. In order to qualify for stimulus funds, work needs to begin ASAP on the project. Eminent domain takes a long time, even when the owners are willing participants.

    Incidentally, the real tragedy isn't the defective design of the grade separation, but that the stimulus funds could have gone to other more deserving projects. As usual, the MTC has applied its inverse ranking system, where projects with least cost/benefit get the most funds. A direct consequence is that a lot of AC Transit riders in the East Bay are going to lose all bus service.

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  71. Incidentally, the San Bruno grade separation will be funded mainly through ARRA stimulus funding for "high-speed" passenger rail.

    As I recall, definition of "high-speed" is only 90mph. One wonders whether Caltrain is simply claiming 90mph on the curve because that's what the grant says. Surely they wouldn't be that mendacious?

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  72. @ Drunk Engineer -

    "Eminent domain takes a long time, even when the owners are willing participants."

    Ahm, no. If someone sells their property willingly, eminent domain isn't exercised. It's a simple commercial transaction between two parties.

    "the stimulus funds could have gone to other more deserving projects"

    No, they couldn't. ARRA specifically designates the $8 billion available to HSR projects. AC Transit wouldn't qualify. This decision was made by Congress and the WH, not by MTC.

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  73. Isn't the Alternatives Analysis presentation in San Carlos going to be pretty significant? This is where CHSRA will show its ideas for what can be done on the corridor.

    http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_13451076

    They're supposed to have diagrams, illustrations, renderings, etc on hand so we should get a pretty clear idea of what CHSRA considers to be a "context sensitive solution" for the peninsula.

    We might also get an idea of whether they are realistically considering trenching/tunneling any of the corridor at this point.

    Or, am I completely wrong, and nothing new will be presented at all tonight?

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  74. @Owen

    I would think the Alternatives Analysis should be of substantial interest, though I haven't read anything about it on any of the blogs.

    For comparison, this is what the already-released LA-Anaheim Alternatives Analysis looks like:

    http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20090611110104_20090602162631AgendaItem9.pdf

    A lot of info in there.

    I also love how even cities like Burlingame - through which the ROW is 100-200' wide through the entire city (save two blocks where it narrows to "only" 75') - are asking for a tunnel. While they're at it, why not ask the state to buy every resident a pony too? These guys are either high as a kite or are going for the "let's make an absurd request and then eventually go down to something reasonable" negotiating strategy...

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  75. Incidentally, the appendices for the LA-Anaheim Alternatives Analysis actually include estimated curve radii. It will be interesting to see what they assume on the Peninsula for San Bruno and some of our other favorite curves. They're being conservative in their assumptions for LA-Anaheim (max 5" superelevation + max 4" unbalanced).

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  76. Mike, you must be new to megaprojects on the Peninsula. Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno, and Millbrae all got tunnels for the BART-SFO extension, so why shouldn't Burlingame and all the other towns get tunnels too?

    It's a smart negotiating strategy that surprisingly works. Look at the track record and history. Is it effecient or cost-effective? Hell no, but it's all about the getting...

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  77. Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno, and Millbrae all got tunnels for the BART-SFO extension

    True! But there are two key differences here. First, for BART SFO, the additional cost of tunneling was a minority of the total cost of the extension (particularly because of the over-engineered SFIA + Millbrae stations). This would not be true of a 50 mile tunnel from SF to SJ. Second, to my knowledge, BART/Samtrans did not already own a continuous ROW between Colma and San Bruno.

    I predict that there will never be a Caltrain/HSR tunnel under Burlingame (unless the city wants to chip in a lot of money, which I doubt). Now bring on the crow! ;-)

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  78. CHSRA has put the slides showing the SF-SJ alternative alignments still "on the table" on their website. These are presumably what will be the featured attraction at tonight's meeting in San Carlos.

    Rafael has already commented on them on the Robert's CA HSR Blog.

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  79. @Mike: BART-SFO was built along pre-existing, publicly-owned railroad ROW. Moreover, tunneling was a major contributing factor to cost overruns (but certainly not the only factor).

    @Rafael: The San Bruno project also relies on Prop 1B funds, which have considerable flexibility. And even in the case of the Federal stimulus dollars, MTC is very adept at playing shell games with rail dollars. So while it is true those dollars can't go directly to AC Transit, they can be used to pay "capital-intensive projects" (MTC euphemism) which are, in essence, stealing AC's funding.

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  80. BART-SFO was built along pre-existing, publicly-owned railroad ROW.

    Really? Even through the cemeteries and auto dealerships? That seems hard to believe...

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  81. Yep, the BART extension through Colma, South San Francisco, and San Bruno used the old SP mainline ROW to Daly City. This SP route lost its mainline status in 1907 when the Bayshore Cutoff was completed from San Bruno to South of Market in SF. It was a major railroad engineering triumph of the day to achieve a more direct and efficient route into SF. Who runs on the Bayshore Cutoff mainline today? Caltrain!

    Caltrain always offered the more direct link, but Caltrain didn't have the political pull of the wasteful BART machine.

    I laugh at how the new BART map tries to de-emphasize the circuitousness of the route from downtown San Francisco to SFO via Daly City.

    Note that BART-to-Warm Springs had a groundbreaking yesterday. The madness continues!

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  82. Yep, the BART extension through Colma, South San Francisco, and San Bruno used the old SP mainline ROW to Daly City.

    I'm aware of that. What I'm very skeptical of is your claim that this ROW was not already encroached upon in the Colma area. Check out the maps. I remember all the talk about relocating graves and stuff as they tunneled under the Colma cemeteries. Why was there any relocation going on if they were tunneling the whole way on a publicly owned ROW?

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  83. Some of the cemeteries had acquired slivers of the ROW in Colma. I believe the cemeteries had leases on the land or "gentlemen's agreements" rather than outright ownership, but it was a serious property dispute. It's representative of the typical foolishness involved in Bay Area infrastructure management, and BART settled with the cemeteries for a substantial sum. I don't believe any graves were actually in the ROW, but some were very close to the boundary.

    BART built a cut-and-cover tunnel which involves major excavation. Tunnels are disruptive, even to adjacent properties.

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  84. On overall cost figures, David Crane was saying now $40 billion (I presume that is for Phase one and up from 32 billion, one year ago (Morshed at the State Legislature).

    Crane was quite curious if any mega project with funding at a
    9 : 31 ratio, had ever been accomplished. The consultant never answered the question, but did say that in general mega-projects are sponsored by agencies with deep pockets (countries which can print money)

    With the now quite apparent non-participation of private equity, at the very least until the very end of the project, this means 31 billions have to come from elswhere. Stimulus even at $3 billion leaves them short 28 billion ---- that's a lot of money. (please note LA to Aneheim has doubled in cost already)

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