05 December 2009

Elevated Obsession

Another creative proposal (see also PDF brochure) has emerged from Palo Alto architect Joseph Bellomo, this time for an elevated high-speed rail line built down the middle of the Caltrain right of way, partially enclosed in a tubular structure with sound baffles, solar panels, and if one believes the sketches, optional LED lighting. More broadly, Bellomo is calling for an international design competition to come up with the best world-class design; he laments that the design has so far been dominated by teams of engineers working separately on each segment of the line.

Design is nice, but what about engineering function? For something as utilitarian as rail transportation infrastructure, function obviously trumps form. That inevitably leads one to ask the most obvious question about Bellomo's concept.

Why Elevate?

It is a useful exercise to identify the reasons for elevating the tracks.
  1. because it looks sexy and futuristic, just like the Disneyland monorail or other gadgetbahn concepts like maglev or Tubular Rail. These are so often depicted on elevated guideways that elevation itself has become associated with modernity and speed. The average American, who has little or no exposure to high-speed rail, is especially vulnerable to this pop-culture association--and it's a terrible reason to build elevated tracks.

  2. because it allows the tracks to collect solar energy, as envisioned by Bellomo. Solar panels sure are green and trendy, but they are far from proven as an optimal way to power a peaky and very high electrical load (a single accelerating train can draw about 10 megawatts). If renewable energy is used to power the trains, its source should be a choice that is not locked in by design of the infrastructure. The problem of powering the trains is adequately decoupled (through the electrical grid) from the problem of how to generate the power.

  3. because of a need to fit more tracks into a constrained right of way. If you can't spread out horizontally, then go vertical. Again, this is a solution to a problem that mostly doesn't exist on the peninsula: the vast majority of the railroad right of way, including the portion through downtown Palo Alto, has ample width for as many tracks as would ever be required to provide both commuter and HSR services. Even in those few locations that are constrained, acquiring additional land is far cheaper than the construction cost and ongoing maintenance cost of elevated structures or tunnels. That available width is why they chose the Caltrain corridor in the first place. Where Bellomo's renderings show an elevated across University Avenue, the railroad right of way is over 160 feet wide!

  4. because it provides unimpeded access from one side of the tracks to the other for pedestrians, bicycles and motor vehicles--something that is better known as grade separation. This is the only good reason ever to elevate the tracks. Unfortunately, the Bellomo proposal falls short on this as well: the existing commuter tracks stay at grade, forming the same community barrier that they already are today. Worse, elevating HSR over Caltrain would severely curtail the options for later removing grade crossings.
Of course, there are plenty of valid reasons not to elevate the tracks, including noise, shadow, visual blight, expense, safety (passenger evacuation) and operational flexibility.

Missing the Point

While Bellomo's HSR concept has obviously been polished from an architectural design standpoint, the basic premise of an elevated HSR is not rooted in any realistic functional or engineering need. That flaw makes Bellomo's complaints that engineers are in charge ring a bit hollow.

While he can be lauded for proposing fresh solutions, Bellomo clearly needs to review his concept with civil engineers who have direct experience with high-speed rail infrastructure. (Hint: there are precious few of them in California.) In the meantime, we can easily state...

The Three Rules of Elevation
  1. Don't elevate the tracks if you can avoid it.
  2. If you can't avoid it, then elevate solely to provide access from one side of the tracks to the other, i.e. grade separation, and return to ground level as quickly as possible.
  3. Keep all tracks at the same elevation, to provide operational flexibility--allowing trains to easily switch from one track to another as dictated by operational service needs.


  1. That "Tubular Rail" proposal seems almost too absurd to be taken seriously -- I notice a lack of simulation of turning trains.

    That aside, I think that the most reasonable approach for elevated tracks would be to build a BART-style viaduct, perhaps with the piers and side beams and spans appropriately decorated.

    Perhaps something like all those low wooden doors in the railing in the Milpitas viaduct. I find that to be an esthetic oddity, but one could think of nicer forms of decoration.

  2. Good comments. A very cogent explanation why these “visionary” alternatives have zero likelihood of getting taken seriously. However, Clem, there is another, far less abstract reason. We underestimate the willfulness of the CHSRA Board and its “mental model” of what they want to build and how they want to build it. They have been, and continue to visit the extensive HSR systems overseas. We hear a great deal of what sounds like penis or train-envy. Theirs is bigger than ours. We need to be number one, etc. etc. Diridon, without blushing, bragged about his upcoming trip to Rome and then elsewhere in Europe. All the in name of research, of course. The fact that European rail manufacturers are wining and dining him is of no consequence. But, I digress.

    Pringle, Kopp & Kompany have a mental picture of what they want, and that’s what they are going to get. They will elevate when and where they have to, tunnel as little as possible, do as much on the cheap (and at-grade) as they can and buy their rolling stock and all the “accessories” from the foreign manufacturer that gives them the best deal.

    My larger point here is that Mr. Bellomo may have a great idea. It doesn’t matter. You or Rafael may have great ideas. It doesn’t matter. All us NIMBYs have deep concerns. But, again it doesn’t matter. As you know, we are currently going through several charades. The Peninsula Coalition of Cities. Worthless. Context Sensitive Solutions. Worthless.
    And irrelevant. We are kept busy and out of their hair.

    All these are PR efforts to satisfy our collective need to be paid attention to, but, in the final analysis, decisions – “preferred alternatives” – will be made by the Board, regardless of all other “stakeholder” input. That process was on display at the last Board meeting. We will see a great deal more of it as they alternative analysis proceeds.

    I was recently severely castigated (actually a common occurrence) for being critical of a discussion that promoted the use of hybrid diesel locomotives for DMUs, rather than electrifying the Caltrain line. My point, misunderstood, was that it’s not that it’s a bad idea (I actually don’t know whether it’s a good idea or not) but that it simply won’t get paid attention to.

    It never ceases to amaze me how much energy is devoted to generating ideas and explanations for making this project work or making it better than it otherwise might be. Unless I am totally mistaken (a possibility) no one is paying any attention.

    Even as a tunnel advocate -- you could call it the tunnel obsession -- I appreciate that Diridon will reject it for the Peninsula and that is that!

    They know damn well that they will never be able to accumulate the billions necessary to build their 800 miles. What mega-project do you know of recent vintage that did not multiply in costs? Why would this one be different? So, the intention is to dig as many holes up and down California as possible and spend the rest of their professional lives lobbying and scrambling for federal dollars.

    This is not about building a vision for the future. That's what they want you to believe. It's about processing vast amounts of money. Everyone involved will have sticky fingers as contracts, sub-contracts and sub-sub-contracts are let. It's not about the trains, after all. It's about the money!

  3. Actually, the drawing (by Bellomo?) combines the worst of both worlds; an elevated tunnel.

    And, Anonymous 14:06, in the realm of far-out ideas, a vacuum tube has been proposed for maglev (Popular Science ?). If maglev trains run in vacuum tubes, there is (almost) no friction of any kind. Hence, there are no upper speed limits. One could ride the train, literally, faster than a speeding bullet. Cross the entire US in a single bound, faster than Mach 2.

    Joey, is it a conspiracy theory if there is empirical data of a conspiracy? Does it become a conspiracy fact?

  4. Don't get Rafael too excited about vacuum tubes and Mach 2 one-seat rides...

  5. @Martin Engel: Yes, if there was enough data to suggest a conspiracy. If all they wanted to do is spend money. then I would have expected a lot more expensive and/or gold-plated solutions (for instance, tunnels through suburbia).

    @Anon: Maybe in half a century or so...

  6. @ anon @ 16:19 -

    the idea of sitting in a vacuum tube doesn't excite me in the least. Don't know where you got that from.

    In California, we're talking about leveraging proven steel wheels HSR technology, not Swiss science fiction. Must be something in the fondue...

  7. Martin Engel is correct in stating that the CHSRA intends to spend an enormous amount of money following the whims of its board. Public input is strictly window dressing.

    The hsr as currently conceived is certain to be a money loser in perpetuity due to a circuitous route, too many stops and high labor costs.

  8. too many stops

    Ever heard of express trains?

  9. I question the safety over the long term of operating local and express trains on the same tracks. Murphy's Law.

    Here is a question for those in the know: how fast can an hsr train negotiate a switch - let's say going from a 2-track mainline to a multi-track station?

    I envision an I-5 racetrack with no switches.

  10. @ Anon 10:55

    From what I recall, the most modern switches allow the train going straight to travel at full speed, here 350 km/h. The train changing tracks can be going 250 km/h.

    We had this discussion a few weeks ago. I think you can run a search for it on the blog.

  11. Anon: there are switches that allow operation at 200 km/h, but they're complex and expensive, and are only used in mainline junctions. For stopping at local stations, the switches are the usual kind, with much lower speed limits. Those local station switches are standard practice on any HSR line in the world, and have never produced any safety problem.

  12. As a future train rider, I'd prefer elevated tracks where possible to make the view better. I doubt it's anything that could be ascertained by any remotely honest study, but I wonder if having a better view from the train would in the long run increase ridership?

  13. I question the safety over the long term of operating local and express trains on the same tracks.

    Why? Other countries have been doing it for decades.

    See for yourself. Take a cab ride.

  14. Matthew, what you say about the view on elevated trains was a common argument against subways in the late 19th century. People in New York were sure that underground trains would be grim and nobody would want to ride them, and the city's future was on the els. It took decades until the city finally built a subway, which quickly eclipsed the els as the city's dominant form of transportation.

  15. In my opinion, improving the views of train riders isn't a particularly good reason to elevate the tracks. Riders only see a view for a few seconds. Neighbors see the tracks for a lifetime.

  16. The subways also had higher capacities, in general, than the Els that they replaced. For example, the 9th and 6th ave Els were three tracks wide whereas their replacements, the 8th and 6th ave subways are four tracks wide.

  17. Chris, capacity was not the issue at the time. Until the 1930s, the els provided more north-south capacity north of 59th than the subways did, 9 tracks versus 8. The argument that subways wouldn't work because they'd block the view was made in the late 19th century - and even in the 1900s, the city's engineers believed subsurface tunnels (they called them covered trenches) were the only tolerable construction, and nobody would ride deep-level lines of the type London was building.

  18. OT but in the last CHSRA Board meeting was there any discussion of the status of the new business plan which is due December 15th. Is there another board meeting scheduled before December 15th?

  19. Considering how important this business plan is supposed to be, it's due in one week, and CHSRA officialdom hasn't said a peep about it.

  20. The business plan will most likely be released and then approved by the Authority at the next hearing in January.

    This way there can be some public discussion on the plan.

  21. Oh, the did the legislature ask for a draft for public discussion by Dec 15th? Or did they ask the Authority to get their SH together by the 15th.

  22. @ anon @ 21:05 -

    would you rather CHSRA simply declare once again that it had fulfilled its obligation, without any feedback from the public on what the business plan is supposed to contain or the assumptions it is based on?

    Who is the final arbiter of what constitutes an adequate business plan for this type of project? It's never been done before in the US.

    Those who implacably oppose the project will anyhow never be satisfied with any document that indicates viability. Their objective is to kill the project. Public discussion prior to closure will force them to base their case on supposed weaknesses in the forecasting process rather than its conclusions.

  23. Sure, lets discuss. But to answer your question, in this case, by law, the Legislature is the final arbiter, and the LAO will assist in providing them analysis.

    We're more than happy to help rip their analysis apart.

    In the meantime. The deadline has been missed, and I for one will be asking loudly what that means for their funding. In their board meeting last week, they voted unanimously to move ahead with STAFFING, and yet, they have very little in the way of resources to STAFF with, AND they didn't even bother to discuss the business plan, which seems to be one of their main contingencies to get the second half of their funding for THIS YEAR.

    Why should the state of California fund their staffing when CHSRA shows very little interest in doing the business of people with integrity? By the way, the sooner they staff, the sooner they eat in to their $675M cap on administrative allowance from the bond. That $675 is to cover design engineering admin AND eminent domain. Of course the business plan will show us the math on that. Can't wait.

  24. @ anon @ 07:51 -

    well, if the legislature is the final arbiter, then all the more reason for CHSRA not to assert that the document it will present on Dec 15 is the updated business plan. It's a draft for discussion with lawmakers, if not the wider general public.

    Would it have been nice if CHSRA had presented that draft a month ago? Perhaps, though I don't know if they've had interim private discussions on the type and quality of additional data they are supposed to provide. Hopefully that has happened and CHSRA's draft document will include everything lawmakers have requested. If so, the discussion then turns to the assumptions made and conclusions drawn.

    Btw, it would be unreasonable to insist that CHSRA complete the update process by a certain date and at the same time insist that it's entirely up to the state legislature to decide when the process is completed.

    As for the $675m cap, can you explain how you arrived at that number or where it is written that this number includes eminent domain takings?

    The way I read AB3034(2008), there is a total of $9 billion for HSR as such, with no more than 10% of that (= $900m) available for environmental studies planning and preliminary engineering [section 2704.08.(b)]

    That particular clause doesn't mention eminent domain, which would fall under the heading of right of way acquisition i.e. estimated cost of construction [section 2704.08.(c)(2)(C)]. The state portion of those funds must be at least matched by non-state actors and can only be appropriated after lawmakers decide CHSRA has met a list of requirements. In addition, they must decide if a bond sale of the requested magnitude is feasible and desirable for the state of California at that time.

  25. Item#11 in the board meeting, The slide occurs at about 1:50 in the presentation.

  26. The depicted structure must be really large indeed to accomodate four tracks. :-D

    For comparison, look at this gallery to see real world structure of this kind.

  27. @David, that is a pretty interesting OCS system

  28. @ anon @ 10:36 -

    Ah, I think I'm beginning to understand.

    Please refer to the slides for Agenda Item 11 of the November CHSRA Board meeting, slides 12

    "Certain Capital Costs: (1) acquisition of interests in real property and right-of-way and improvement thereof (A) for preservation for high-speed rail uses, (B) to add to third-party improvements to make them compatible with high-speed rail uses, or (C) to avoid or to mitigate incompatible improvements or uses; (2) mitigation of any direct or indirect environmental impacts resulting from the foregoing; and (3) relocation assistance for property owners and occupants who are displaced as a result of the foregoing"

    and #19:

    "Except for $675 million of preliminary costs, before committing bond funds for construction and real property and equipment acquisition costs on a corridor or useable segment, the Authority must prepare a funding plan for review by certain entities and a finding by the Director of Finance."

    AB3034(2008) section 2704.08.(b) does specify an upper limit of 10% of $9 billion = $900 million that CHSRA may spend as it sees fit on environmental studies, planning, preliminary engineering.

    Awkwardly, this is elaborated in sections 2704.08.(g) and (h). Up to 7.5% (i.e. $675 million) may be spent as you indicate, the other 2.5% (i.e. $225 million) are the upper limit for administrative overheads incl. staff salaries.

    In concert, CHSRA can spend a maximum of $675 million on a number of tasks including eminent domain takings without making a formal application for appropriations of prop 1A(2008) bonds for the purpose of actually constructing a specific corridor or usable segment thereof.

    Anything, including funding for right of way acquisition, over and above that dollar limit has to be packaged into just such formal applications.

    The reason it's split this way is that CHSRA may have an opportunity to amicably acquire required land or else need to prevent a land use change that would preclude construction later on, even before all the conditions for a formal application are in place.

  29. @ David Jaša -

    the structure shown at the top of Clem's post is Architect Joseph Bellomo's concept of an elevated open tube for a single HSR track. This would be virtually useless for HSR operations.

    He has a separate concept for dual elevated HSR tracks, but even then he's proposing to keep Caltrain/UPRR at grade. This would fail to eliminate grade crossings, in spite of a projected doubling of Caltrain traffic from 5 to 10 trains per hour each way during peak periods.

    The photographs you show are instructive, but in California there would have to be additional columns for a four-track aerial. First, US-style freight trains have maximum axle loads of roughly 37 metric tonnes. Second, the structure must survive a major earthquake.

    Assuming the slow-fast-fast-slow track order CHSRA is proposing gets implemented, that would imply columns under each the outer tracks plus columns in-between the center tracks. For seismic safety, it might be necessary to split the structure into three separate aerials with a certain amount of lateral spacing.

    If all operators - including UPRR - were limited to axle loads of 22.5 metric tonnes, a single wide aerial supported by a single row of wide column of the type shown in your pictures might be feasible.

    Failing that, a single retained fill embankment will support four tracks regardless of axle loads, permit turnouts between the tracks at any location and also do a better job of damping structure-borne noise and vibrations. The downside is the much greater visual and actual mass. Also, an embankment does not make the space at grade available for parking, bike paths or other uses.

  30. An embankment also spreads out like a hill, increasing width requirements?

  31. Not a retained embankment. How it works AFAIK is that vertical retaining walls are built on either side and then the space in-between is filled. The width requirements are basically the same.

  32. @ Joey -

    correct, massive concrete walls are used to contain the packed soil between them. It's very effective and efficient in civil engineering terms, but the result lacks the grace of a nice aerial (there are lots of ugly ones, too)

    Surface textures, living walls etc. can greatly improve the visual appeal, but there's no denying that it is a massive wall. It is often initially perceived as a barrier, even though it practical terms it actually makes the right of way much more permeable to pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. It also does a good job of damping structure-borne noise and vibration.

    It takes time for people to appreciate these positive aspects, mostly because they've become so inured to the status quo: bells, whistles, closed crossing gates, rattling freight trains etc.

  33. But to answer your question, in this case, by law, the Legislature is the final arbiter, and the LAO will assist in providing them analysis.

    Business Plans are produced in order to attract private investment. The final arbiter will be the franchise operator.

    The Plan won't be worth the paper its printed on, until realistic bid is solicited by private investor and actual money changes hands. Don't hold your breath.

  34. The crossing's are not at issue when we speak of barriers. Its teh visual line of sight - with a track at grade, you see the views of a neighborhood. With "massive" concrete walls - you see barrier. And that's not going to happen. If CHSRA can't afford to build the HSR correctly through neighborhoods - and that means without destroying the aesthetics and property values - then they're simply going to have to take it elsewhere. Sorry that buget for the HSR is hamstringing their apparent options - that's not the communities' fault - that's bad planning and frankly arrogance on the part of CHSRA.

  35. In the July/August 2009 issue of Mass Transit, Rod Diridon wrote a fluffy article on "High-Speed Rail: Does the U.S. Really Need It?"


    Diridon himself lays out the role of business plans: to attract private investment.

    "Business plans developed by two top bond-worthy financial consulting firms (Charles River Associates and Cambridge Systematics) estimate that the completed CHSRA system will have the significant positive cash flow after all operating and maintenance costs as described. That net will amortize a significant amount of private investment to help build and later expand the basic system."

    Note the vagueness of "significant amount of private investment" -- is it $10 billion or $.10? After two business plans, the amount still stands at $0. After scolding demands from the state legislature, will the third business plan demonstrate financial soundness to attract private capital?? Who will be the very first private investor???

    For the CHSRA true-believers, feel free to pony up and invest in whatever business plan is put forward. CHSRA needs the cash badly, and they have some wild estimates they want to sell to you. Smart people with real money ain't buying it.

  36. For those who think HSR is all about the working stiffs and the transit regulars...

    Diridon writes:
    The primary target for high-speed rail is the business travelers who use the system several days per week assessing the metropolitan areas.

    Enormous public subsidies for the rich. Lovely.

    Diridon continues :
    An added bonus to HSR commuters, at least in some areas, is that employers often will subsidize mass transit use for employees, which will further reduce the cost to the user and increase ridership.

    Is this how CHSRA hopes to get its private "investment" and inflated ridership?!? Watch out Caltrain and Baby Bullet: CHSRA is going after your economic base!

    Wait until the corporate membership of SVLG gets a load of this taxation plan.

  37. Another policy revelation from Rod Diridon:

    The 24 cities in which HSR stops are to be located have agreed to fund the construction and maintenance of the stations, which will save the project $2 to $3 billion.

    The 24 cities have already agreed??? I think that might be news to them.

    Lynn Schenk was also recently claiming again that the project would pay for itself.

    It's good to know that CHSRA has such honest and responsible leadership... (sarcasm)

  38. @Anon

    Views? Of What? A vast sea of one-story houses? By all means, we must protect that view at all costs!

  39. AndyDuncan: the catenary system itself is actually standard czech "J" system for 3 kV = electrification. Only the curved supports are special. There should have been similar ones on the 4-track bridge too, but that was changed.

    Rafael: my post was a bit of flamebait in this respect. All I wanted to say that keeping any track level with roads or footwalks is a nonsense.

    Regarding the bridge on "New Connection" in Prague - I don't think it would have be considerably stronger if it was built for american railroads. It has quite long spans and loads per train lenght aren't that different (roughly 8 vs 9 metric tons/m).

  40. The Agenda item 11 slide shop has been posted to YouTube at:


    The requirement for the business plan to be delivered on Dec 15th, was set by the Simitian sub-committee. Requirements to be met by the business plan are well established. The Authority's funding for the second half of this fiscal year has not been approved pending receipt of this plan. It had better meet the requirements or they won't be funded.

    This is not a document for public discussion to get it changed. It is a document to ascertain if the project is viable and should be funded.

    @Drunk Engineer:

    This is not produced to attract private investment, it right now is to satisfy a mandated order of the legislature.

    As the slide show comments, all funding for the project must be approved by the legislature --- thank heavens for the Lowenthal committee last year putting in place restrictions they must obey.

  41. "Smart people with real money ain't buying it."

    That's why we should have passed Prop 1A in 2004 before the real estate bubble burst and stupid people still had money!

  42. I'd like to see the CHSRa peddle Palmdale-Tehachapis to Richard Branson.

  43. Considering the technical implications of the two routes, it doubt it would take that much convincing.

  44. Why isn't there a railroad going over the Grapevine now?

    The current tracks roughly follow the 5 from LA to Santa Clarita and divert to Palmdale.

    You armchair railroad builders know?

  45. @ Spokker - the grades, I would guess. The route through Soledad Canyon is pretty flat. Take a look at the region in GMaps using the terrain mode.

  46. A more revealing question might be why haven't the freight railroads seen fit to upgrade the Tehachapi Loop after 150 years?

    Private entrepreneurs will not pony up their own money to build 99-Tehachapis-Palmdale because they have the business acumen to recognize that it will not make money. It is possible that the I-5-Grapevine would not be profitable either, but it has a better chance due to a faster schedule from the Bay Area to LA. Plus it would prove much easier to tweak the I-5 line to higher speeds - less public objection to noise and vibration.


    I pity the maintenance effort that would have to take place with this option. Solar panels need cleaning on a regular basis otherwise they loose their juice. Aerial guideways require special access from below to maintain...often this is done from above using flatcars with mounted retractable arms or baskets. This tube of solar panels would block access from the trackway compounding maintenance headaches.

    Architects of the modern and post-modern variety are historic failures. This proposal is of the post-modern variety with a cloud of green smoke. The world of the model is not the same as the world of reality. For example, the public space between square residential boxes filled with women and children in the model ends up being a cold, creepy area with little human activity).

    James Howard Kunstler is right when he says "they should have a special olympics for architects." This idea proves it...he should get a hardcopy in the mail.

  48. http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/library.asp?p=8200

    They published a business plan - And when did the CHSRA Board sign off on this? Not in the last two business meetings.

    Wonder how that flies with the legislature?

  49. parking concessions.

    Well, having parking lots at all seems like quite a concession, since these stations are all supposed to be built smack dab in the center of towns so they can be so close to the precious TOD.

    What do they think they're going to rob (er uh I mean) Eminent Domain parking lot space from the cities downtowns, then collect parking fees from them?

  50. @ anon @ 19:10 -

    the document you point to isn't a business plan designed to attract additional funding from non-state sources.

    It's a status report to the state legislature, which is supposed to oversee CHSRA's activities.

  51. @ anon @ 19:13 -

    CHSRA isn't going to build and operate BART-style free parking lots, though it will insist on local transportation planning to ensure stations can generate sufficient ridership to justify the large investment being made in the HSR infrastructure.

    Beyond ridership goals, the development of station environs will be mostly up to cities. This includes decisions on how best to get passengers to and from the trains in the local context. Multi-story car parks near HSR stations may well be owned and operated by private companies. Whether that would count as private investment in the HSR project is questionable.

    SF is banking heavily on its TTC project to coax passengers from the North and East Bay into arriving via public transportation. Indeed, many of the grade-level parking lots near the TTC will be developed into affordable housing (as in: housing without dedicated parking spaces). Ergo, the net result could even be a reduction in parking capacity south of Market.

    At the other end of the scale, Palmdale will probably rely primarily on passengers arriving in their own cars. This is even more true of a beet field station east of Hanford, if Kings and Tulare counties manage to twist CHSRA's arm into building one.

    One size does not fit all.

  52. Rafael, first of all, there is a whole business plan document posted below the 'report' on the CHSRA website. How they post a business plan and submit to legislature without Board review and approval in a public meeting is quite a mystery!

    If on the other hand, they only sent a "report" to the legislature, they didn't meet the requirement to provide a business plan.

    Secondly, the business plan suggests that parking concessions (fees from parking) would be one of the sources of private funding. And that's a really rich suggestion. First of all, that is not identified private funding source up front (which is required before the legislature can appropriate the bond funds), thats a long term business operation - subsidy is one word that comes to mind. Second of all, parking fees are NOT the CHSRA's to claim for funding, unless the local cities GIVE their precious downtown real estate to CHSRA to pave over for parking structures. Which is a RIDICULOUS suggestion. (or maybe CHSRA plans to eminent domain those prime downtown lands too?)

    Lastly, so much for all the visions of TOD dancing in the CHSRA's PR BS. Because lo and behold there they go building parking structures. Why? To bring riders of course! Which OF COURSE will be required because its california, and the fact is the mass transit doesn't exist to bring the vast projected ridership into the stations without autos and auto parking. Nor could it possibly be in a bazillion years that downtown TOD residents could possible need that many long distance high speed train rides between LA and SF to deliver that level of ridership. So DUH. Parking lots are required. In which case, tell us again exactly why the stations MUST be in the middles of busy downtowns (nightmarish to reach by auto) and not on the outskirts near freeway exits/airports?

  53. From the Mountain View Voice:

    Meeting on high speed rail draws 200 residents

    Mountain View is a special case in the peninsula in that its station is served by both Caltrain and VTA light rail. The latter currently relies on a single dedicated track in the right of way, except for dual tracks and a platform at the station itself.

    That means at least five tracks will be needed between the MV station and just south of CA-237 to accommodate four distinct rail services. At the station itself, six tracks and platforms for at least Caltrain and VTA light rail will be needed.

    The many overpass bridges in the area, including two busy freeways, more or less preclude an elevated alignment for HSR there. Grade separation will have to come from running some or all of the tracks underground or else, in the form of deep road underpasses at Rengstorff and Castro. That would modify the intersections with Central Expressway and have impacts on properties abutting Rengstorff the either side.

    Closing Castro entirely, diverting cross traffic to Shoreline and Whisman and, turning the downtown area into a pedestrian zone would be the most radical option but perhaps worth considering. Experience in Europe has shown that far from eliminating foot traffic for local retailers, pedestrian zones actually increase it. Cafes and restaurants with al fresco dining fare very well when vehicles and parking are removed from the equation.

    Note that elevated tracks and platforms for VTA light rail might be feasible at the station, since those vehicles can negotiate steep gradients and the route terminates at the Mountain View station. A new line between downtown MV and Shoreline area east of 101 might be possible one day if NASA Ames allows VTA to construct a spur along Perimeter Road and Stevens Creek. Afaik, no plans for that exist right now.

  54. Where in the new business plan does it even suggest that parking fees will fund HSR construction?

    And yes, people will drive to HSR stations. Anyone that thought otherwise was delusional. You can't provide local transit to every populated corner of a city. That doesn't mean that HSR won't encourage people to take local transit when possible, or create TOD in the form of medium-high density housing and jobs within walking distance of the station.

  55. "The Authority
    is targeting $4-$5 billion in local support and through publicprivate
    partnerships (P3s) such as transit-oriented development,
    parking concessions and naming rights opportunities."

    Go to section called Paying for the System.

    By the way, Business Plan Fail. In this paragraph they say they are targeting $9B in Prop1A plus $19B from Feds, and finally $5B in "P3s" (public private partnerships). Using even the high end of their ranges, that adds up to $33B.

    They had already stated their total cost is now at $42B. Woops, about $9B short...

    They go on to say, they'll use the revenue stream (from their ludicrous revenue projection/ridership streams) for another 12B in 'creative financing' from P3s.

    In other words, CHSRA is now taking it upon itself to turn the voters approval of $9B in borrowing, to extend that to $21B in borrowing - committing tax payers of the state to whatever 'creative financing' schemes the CHSRA feels fit to cook up.

    I'm sorry, did the tax payers sign up for that in Prop1A? Where?

  56. @ anon @ 22:30 -

    the $33 billion figure is in 2008 dollars. The new $42 billion figure is in year of expenditure dollars, because that's a requirement for obtaining federal ARRA funds. The federal method is actually bogus economics, because it simply tallies amounts with different base years instead of converting them all back to a single base year via a net present value calculation.

    You might as well add logarithms with different bases and pretend the result has any meaning at all.

    It's really important to interpret numbers in the context of how they were computed. It's not CHSRA's fault that there is such a thing as general inflation or a federal requirement to obfuscate the math.

  57. General inflation in the construction industry? Where have you been for the last 2 years?

    P.S. Year of construction is (supposedly) 2011-ish. That's one hell of an inflation rate.

  58. First year of construction is 2011. Last year is 2018.

  59. I request that "Rod Diridon Station" be put up to a naming rights bid immediately. If he wants the title, Rod should pay for it!

  60. Did the CHSRA adjust their CO2 benefits for the reduced ridership (ie: less cars taken off the road, and less airplane rides avoided)


  61. Clem, saw your comment about added cost for ariels, reduced cost for grade sep's on the Peninsula segment. This would have an environment impact that would knock this project out of the Peninsula. They originally counted on reduced horn and crossing gate noise to offset their increased noise from HSR trains. If they don't elmininate the horn and grade crossing noise, their noise impacts become severe. Peninsula quickly becomes infeasible from an environemtnal impact perspective.

  62. @ anon @ 8:21am -

    in theory at least, it would be possible to fully grade separate only HSR and to implement FRA quiet zones for any remaining grade crossings with tracks used by Caltrain and UPRR.

    SMART up in Sonoma/Marin plans to implement quiet zones. In addition to FRA, California's Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and the railroads using the tracks would have to agree to that. There should be no additional liability for cities as long as the design and implementation of the required supplemental safety measures passes muster with FRA and CPUC.

    What quiet zones cannot do, however, is address the negative impact that doubling Caltrain traffic would have on the availability of cross roads. At the 10tph envisaged in Caltrain 2025 and assuming average closure periods of 90 seconds, any remaining gates would be closed 50% of the time. Capacity, rather than noise, is the reason why CHSRA is proposing to include the Caltrain tracks in its grade separations.

    A major spanner in the works is diesel-based UPRR heavy freight traffic, because it limits transition gradients to 1%, creates an air quality/fire hazard in any tunnel scenarios and requires at-grade access to freight spurs.

  63. Rafael writes:

    "Capacity, rather than noise, is the reason why CHSRA is proposing to include the Caltrain tracks in its grade separations."

    No, Rafael that is not the reason. The reason is CalTrain would not allow HSR on its tracks unless they got full grade separations. That is the price the Authority is paying, along with electrification for CalTrain.

    If the PCJPB had been ever able to fund their desired improvements, even only electrification, on their own, HSR woujld be going elsewhere.

  64. What about tax? Today, gas pricess have heavy taxes included. In California, what about 50Cents a gallon? or more?

    So CHSRA needs to show what a taxed HSR ride will cost, OR they need to start comparing to the before tax cost of the price of gas.

    And they need to take in to account the effect on demand of the fully taxed cost to the consumer of riding HSR - that will eat in to demand.

  65. What about tax? Today, gas pricess have heavy taxes included. In California, what about 50Cents a gallon? or more?

    No, the federal tax is 19 cents. And together with state taxes, it still only pays for two-thirds the cost of highway maintenance - it's essentially a subsidized fare, rather than a true tax.

  66. And with the State tax? People who buy gas don't distinguish between federal cents and state cents, it all comes out of the bank account in the transaction. And the total gas tax per gallaon in California is closer to 40 or 50cents I believe. The point being, CHSRA needs to use an apples to apples comparison - pre-tax gas price to pre-tax train fare OR Taxed to Taxed. The fare including tax is more relevent because ridership demand will be effected by the TOTAL price of the ticket. If the tax is 20%, then one way ticket @ $120, round trip at $240 per person, then family of five pays about $1200. Then you tack on parking fees, car rental fees, or mass transit fees on both ends of the trip, that's a pretty exhorbitantly priced transportation for a trip to Disneyland. Certainly not competitive by a long shot with driving.

  67. What taxes would you expect to see on a HSR ticket? Airfare isn't subject to state sales tax. There's a Federal excise tax (included in the price of your ticket, not shown on the stub) and some other fees related to airports and security (the ones you see itemized on your ticket). Much like the federal gas tax, those don't cover the actual costs, so they're more like subsidized user fees.

    What taxes would a HSR system have? The ticket itself is the use-tax. It's more like a toll road than an airfare.

  68. I don't know, what kind of taxes can YOU imagine state lawmakers can cook up to fund the variety of HSR related costs that CHSRA won't be covering??? Maybe a tax to pay for the State electricity grid improvements needed to serve HSR . Maybe a station tax or a parking tax to fund all the surrounding infrastructure improvements required to remodel around HSR stations, in station cities where the LOCAL governemtns are not going to be able to afford without a new tax source. Maybe baggage taxes or bike fees or ticketing fees or whatever other kinds of fees and taxes you can imagine the State will slap on to this user base. Rather than ask why there would be a tax on HSR users, you should be asking why not.

  69. If they want to encourage use, they may want strike some deals with connecting transit agencies to allow high speed rail users to ride local transit at no additional charge (a nominal fee is included in the price of the ticket, the CHSRA or whoever operates the damn train would pay a lump sum to the connecting transit agency).

    I doubt that high speed rail will have such a huge security fee tacked onto it.

    Also, if the system is run like Amtrak there would be no taxes added.

  70. The many overpass bridges in the area, including two busy freeways, more or less preclude an elevated alignment for HSR there.

    That is quite simply incorrect; the tracks can indeed be elevated over Castro without impact to any bridges. Stay tuned for more about Mountain View.

  71. What's wrong here is not elevation, but the fact that what is elevated is a train. Elevated transport is great - the views are better up there. Your rule regarding elevation is wrong. It should be always elevate unless doing so is impossible.

    Unfortunately, trains are rubbish. They are inefficient, they are nowhere near as green as advocates usually claim, the service they offer is terrible (they either go very fast or they go close to your actual destination, but never both at the same time), and the overwhelming majority of trains outside of India and Japan are moneypits that suck money from taxpayers by the bucketload and throw it down the drain. The only reason trains still exist is because the people who make them spend hundreds of millions lobbying politicians, who are always willing to be persuaded to build enormous monuments. If it were left to the private sector (who know the value of money), the last train (small nostalgic tourist lines excepted) would have left for the scrapyard decades ago.

  72. Highways waste even more taxpayer money. Let's get rid of them!