20 January 2010

Development Oriented Transit

In San Carlos, plans are afoot to build a so-called "Transit Village" on a strip of vacant land adjacent to the train station. The land, owned by Caltrain and SamTrans, the county transit agency, was acquired for construction of the grade-separated berm (see Focus on San Carlos).

The Draft EIR for the Transit Village project is currently open for public comment.

The plans are remarkable for their amazing lack of coordination with the high-speed rail project. The Transit Village FAQ dismisses the issue in one fell swoop:
How will the project affect the proposed high speed rail service?
The project will not affect the proposed high speed rail service because the project site design already incorporates the necessary space for the future high speed rail service.
A recent article in the San Mateo Daily Journal, highlighting concerns about the project, failed to mention the high-speed rail issue even once.

Meanwhile, HNTB, the engineering firm in charge of the peninsula rail corridor, is actively considering several design alternatives that would widen the corridor to well over 100 feet at the San Carlos station. One of these alternatives is to run a pair of HSR tracks west of the existing station, right where the Transit Village buildings are planned. Perhaps this is a game of who gets there first, but no matter which way you slice it, four tracks plus platforms are going to exceed 100 feet in width.

The project EIR includes several site sections, an example of which is reproduced above superimposed with one of the HSR configurations currently under consideration. (Click for the complete diagram, drawn to scale, without any utility easements--i.e. as narrow as possible). If the railroad right of way is not expanded eastward into Old County Road and the adjoining East San Carlos neighborhood, then the required rail corridor will quite literally overlap with the planned buildings as shown in the figure. Short of an actual overlap, even close proximity would be unacceptable from an interior noise standpoint, and would preclude emergency vehicle access to the rear of the buildings. The inescapable conclusion:

The project will very much be affected by HSR, quite possibly up to eminent domain and demolition.

Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you a Transit Village. Who will pay for this egregious lack of foresight? Probably the suckers who buy the residential units, and the suckers who pay taxes to fund needlessly expensive right-of-way acquisition. Remember, this little soap opera will take place on land that is currently owned by Caltrain and SamTrans!

Why pull another San Mateo? Have Caltrain and SamTrans learned nothing about sacrificing valuable railroad right-of-way on the altar of cities' pet projects? Is somebody in Sacramento going to wake up and knock some heads together? Or is it on us to foot the bill after the mess is made?


  1. If they can build 60 foot high flyovers through downtown Fresno, why can't they build them over 101 for the Peninsula section? I find it impossible to believe that the costs of 101 freeway modifications between SF and SJ would be greater than the costs of remodeling every town between SF and SJ.

  2. So presumably this is something where the city of San Carlos, which is blessing the project, would actually care? I assume you've tried writing them; why the comment about Sacramento?

  3. Fast-fast-slow-slow (or SFFS for that matter) "under consideration" means:

    * HNTB are complete idiots (already known, no surprise there.)

    * Caltrain are complete idiots (ditto.)

    * CHSR just don't give a damn about anything (ditto.)

    * Caltrain is totally screwing its own service and its own riders for no reason.

    So, isn't there supposed to be somebody who is doing Strategic Planning for the Caltrain corridor? I mean, other than Clem?

    Can somebody remind us all again how Bob Doty (who is said to have worked on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and all that before ending up at Caltrain and making everybody all excited with Powerpoint presentations that sound great but somehow always end up with the wrong things being built) is supposed to be our Great White Hope?

    Come to think of it, name one capital project Mr Doty has planned, approved or delivered which improves (rather than screws) Caltrain.

    OK. There are the missing crossovers north and south of Millbrae added as part of the "North Terminal" project. Wow! Two turnouts. Contrast with...

    CEMOF? Oh. Dear. God.

    San Bruno? A catastrophe, freely undertaken by Caltrain, in order to screw Caltrain.

    "North Terminal" ($100 million didn't improve track layout of reduced the number of route conflicts at Fourth and King at all!)

    "South Terminal"? (All platforms will be connected a single main track in a simple fan. Maximum route conflicts! Hooray.)

    $200 million wasted on platforms all built at 8 inches high when they've said for decades that level boarding was coming?

    Planning to standardize level boarding on unique, obsolete, unpowered Bombardier coach design? (Now there's forward thinking! Screw up for 20 years based on 16 cars which have immediate resale value and that can be gone tomorrow. Just brilliant!)

    Planning for two different, incompatible platform heights on the Caltrain line? Fucking awesome world-class engineering skillz.

    Actively shilling for Pacheco, directly killing off regional taxpayer approved (Regional Measure 2), San Mateo County taxpayer approved, Santa Clara County taxpayer approved Caltrain Dumbarton Rail project.

    Active hostility to the Caltrain Downtown Extension project, active planning to continue to terminate most Caltrains at Fourth and King, not where taxpayers were promised, not where riders want to go, and not what is being sold to the public even today.

    CBOSS. Say. No. More. Perhaps the most blatant failure of engineering judgement and engineering management of all this side of the Downtown NON-Extension.

    We keep waiting to see these great things come out of the Peninsula Rail Program Grand Pooh Bah, but ... where's the beef?

    I want to believe! I like the Powerpoint presentations! He sounds great in public. He sounds like less of an idiot than Rod Diridon when they're up on a stage together. But, um, well, that's setting the bar pretty low.

    Come on, Bob Doty! Do the right thing just once, for God's Sake. If you've forgotten how, just ask Clem!

  4. I don't see anything in these plans that accounts for two extra tracks.

  5. Bob Doty also used to work for BART, which is far from a credential of professional excellence in railroading.

    It is indeed mighty strange how Mike Scanlon and Caltrain staff are actively hostile to the Transbay Terminal extension project, yet Caltrain service (remember, the actual public that use transit!) stands to benefit tremendously from such a critical link. Caltrain the institution has a long and sad history of undermining and sabotaging Caltrain the service.

  6. @anon, a reminder that I would appreciate a basic level of civility. Don't call people idiots and don't drop f-bombs. Next one like that will be cut.

  7. The San Carlos Mayor spoke at last nights meeting and didn't mention anything at all about their transit village plans, although he was very favorable to HSR remodeling peninsula cities, and the authority in general. Well, actually he was favorable to the grade crossings and raised berm in San Carlos - which miracle of all miracles, were put in place WITHOUT HSR. (What, Caltrain improvements can be put in place without HSR???)

    He did say one thing at the end that might have been a cryptic clue to this brewing conflict (which might just eventually turn our San Carlos cheerleader into a denier) -he warned that 'land use' issues are the toughest of all issues. brilliant.

  8. Well, of course CalTrain has received incremental improvements over time. We know that CalTrain has managed to get the Baby Bullet, select grade separations, CEMOF, and a few other things. Look at the big picture though. CalTrain is still the poster child of an outdated diesel commuter railroad. CalTrain can't seem to find the funding for major projects, especially if BART has anything to say about it (just look at Dumbarton Rail and electrification). The improvements brought by HSR have the potential to turn CalTrain into a fast, efficient, clean, modern, and effective commuter line, something it could never do on its own.

  9. but no matter which way you slice it, four tracks plus platforms are going to exceed 100 feet in width.

    Bull. Everywhere else a 50' ROW can fit 2 electrified tracks and platform station, in fact it is quite commmon for transit agencies to reserve 50' wide corridors for future lines with the intent of fitting the entire track and platform area within that ROW when needed. 50' can certainly fit 2 electrified tracks with room for drainage, walkways, and requisite support utilities. That won't fit only if CHSR insists on their own bloated width standards. Plus even those have exception standards for tight ROW. For example you don't have to put all the poles to the outside of the tracks, they could just as easily go in the platform area. Objections for aesthetic or idiot-proofing reasons are preferences, not technical limitations.

    The only possibly reason they couldn't fit 4 and platform in 100' would be if Union Pacific insists on X amount of offset of freight tracks from the HSR ones. That could be alleviated here by restricting freights to the outside platform track.

  10. BS. No reason whatsoever that Caltrain can't apply for federal funding as easily (if not more easily) than HSR. They haven't found the funding YET... neither has CHSR. My bets would be on Caltrain coming up with a few bill well before CHSRA comes with 45+++ bil. Too bad they're now running around like CHSRA's lap dog.

    CHSR has nothing to do with and no interest in Caltrain's commuter line service, other than to constrain it and muscle it out of the way.

  11. CHSR has nothing to do with and no interest in Caltrain's commuter line service, other than to constrain it and muscle it out of the way.

    That seems rather silly. If they really could care less about CalTrain then they would choose a FFSS track configuration and not bother upgrading CalTrain in the process.

  12. Oh, Joey, you don't even know how right you are...

  13. Have any decisions been made yet regarding the specific alignment on the Peninsula?

  14. Other than the fact that they're using the CalTrain corridor, not really.

  15. It seems that some people should save themselves a stroke and not go ape until actual decisions have been made. In the meantime we could probably benefit from constructive criticism without the hyperbole.

    Clem's blog posts are on the mark, his blog's commentators not so much. Maybe we should all calm down, *myself included*.

  16. If commentators are hyperventilating, it is because they know of past history:

    -Caltrain ROW encroached for I280 seismic retrofit.

    -Caltrain ROW lost due to placement of Millbrae BART station.

    -Loss of passing tracks in Mountain View due to LRT project.

    -Hundreds of millions spent on new stations and grade-separation projects that will have be torn up and replaced to accommodate express tracks.

    -ROW lost at Sunnyvale due to parking garage plonked right up against tracks.

    So one minor quibble with Clem's posting, is that it suggests this latest encroachment is some kind of "accident". There have been so many instances of ROW loss -- with active collusion by staff -- that there is a clear pattern emerging. We are way beyond calling this just another accident.

  17. BART has always wanted the Caltrain corridor for itself. With the epic financial and ridership failure of the BART-SFO extension, BART had to lower its ambition a bit, but I don't think BART's political lobby has given up on the idea of BART ringing the Bay. Regardless of how operationally silly, ringing the Bay is still a powerful symbol to them, and I wouldn't be surprising if the current Caltrain/HSR planning is making room for the eventual replacement of Caltrain with BART.

    Conspiracy? Not if you look at the history of the relationship between BART and Caltrain.

  18. BART is sabotaging Caltrain. The CHSRA is sabotaging Caltrain. Developers are sabotaging Caltrain. Caltrain is sabotaging Caltrain.

    I don't say sabotage. You say sabotage. I say sabotaage.

  19. I don't follow the centerline gaps.

    It looks like the gaps from the centerline of the adjacent HSR and Caltrain track include the spacing required for the outside edge of the corridor ... if the HSR centerlines are 15', why would an extra 7' be require to separate HSR from Caltrain? Is not as if a pole every second track is required for catenary if spanning across the corridor will save 7' of corridor width.

    Now, of course the HSR should be traveling to the outside of the Caltrain tracks, so if they decided that taking back the property they gave away was better than taking from the road or bringing the HSR over top of the platform, the platform's in the wrong place.