The True Meaning of Track Sharing
The following exchange took place between Rod Diridon, board member of the CHSRA, and Tony Daniels, the program manager for the entire technical effort--a sort of godfather figure of the HSR project. They had been discussing and praising Caltrain's recently obtained FRA waiver, which allows Caltrain to operate European-style electric trains provided that certain conditions are met. Here's where the discussion went next:
Diridon: The joint track waiver that FRA is going to be giving now to Caltrain, is for them to use diesel and electric, their electric, not our vehicles, on their track.The key nugget is highlighted in red. Despite Caltrain's dogged insistence to the contrary, the CHSRA does not, repeat, DOES NOT, plan to share tracks with Caltrain on the peninsula. Their plan is to have their own pair of exclusive-use tracks all the way up to Bayshore. Those HSR tracks could only be "shared" by Caltrain under rare circumstances when another track is out of service--a sort of breakdown lane, and certainly not a mixed-use corridor that would allow Caltrain to provide both frequent AND fast service.
Daniels: Right. Compliant and non-compliant is the best way to look at it.
Diridon: I understand. But to be more graphic here, it's the difference between using diesel locomotives and the lighter European or Asian type electric powered vehicles.
Daniels: Only for passengers. No freight.
Diridon: For passenger service, on the same track.
Daniels: Not freight.
Diridon: Right, and of course that assumes positive train control.
Diridon: Have we thought about using their tracks for our … locomotives, or…
Daniels: We are. We are doing it…
Diridon: I meant their double-track system for our system.
Daniels: We are doing it.
Pourvahidi: Instead of our tracks, instead of having our tracks?
Diridon: No, I don't see in our alternatives any place…
Daniels: No no just, sorry, (…) it's not that we can't run on it, we can, if it was necessary, in the same way as the Caltrain trains can run on ours, our so-called tracks. It's just that there's not the capacity.
Diridon: Well I understand capacity.
Daniels: Right. But you can't work on either. We're planning to keep them separated except when you come in from Bayshore into 4th & King and ultimately Transbay, we have to mix ourselves on the track. As we go into Transbay, for example, we'll use the same track going in.
Diridon: Though we certainly wouldn't prefer it. But if we were stuck along the peninsula someplace with no more than a two-track system, … have you thought about that?
Daniels: Uhhh, it would change completely the whole plan. Right now, we're kind of…
Diridon: I'm not proposing it. Don't misunderstand me.
Daniels: We looked at it operationally, at 60,000 feet, and just… we're talking 22 trains an hour. That's not on, you can't turn around.
Diridon: You mean at maximum, there's 22 trains an hour. Not to begin with.
Daneils: No, but ultimately, when you're starting, you're going to be on the order of something like 18 trains an hour. Then you've got to turn them around at the other end. That's where the difficulty is, not running them on the tracks.
Diridon: You're talking about Caltrain now?
Daniels: Yeah. You can't turn that number of trains around at the terminal end.
This can and should be construed as a downright rape of Caltrain. HSR is going to be brutishly rammed up the peninsula corridor without due regard to the enormous benefits that a truly shared corridor could provide for peninsula commuters--whether they ride the train or drive.
Keep Your Hands Off My Stimulus
Another interesting exchange occurred regarding the $2.3 billion of federal stimulus funding that the FRA has awarded to California. As noted repeatedly at the operations committee meeting, the late 2011 deadline for stimulus funding is extremely tight, with environmental clearance (a.k.a "shovel readiness") of the peninsula high-speed rail project unlikely to be obtained, let alone litigated. Sensing the possibility that this time-critical federal funding could slip away to other parts of the state, the Bay Area congressional delegation is supporting Caltrain's effort to jockey for some of the HSR bacon.
Diridon: Also, when would be an appropriate time to talk about the impact of the attempt by the Caltrain system to acquire ARRA funds directly.Let the games begin. As a clarification, Caltrain board has not actually certified the electrification EIR just yet. That action, unexpectedly held up last April, is reportedly slated for early July.
Daniels: I think that's a separate matter for the authority, I think, to try and resolve what… is Steve Schnaidt [legislative affairs consultant] here? Because he brought this up as an item that we need to try and resolve, because there is some conflict between what the peninsula wishes to do and what we're doing on the high-speed rail, and that has not been cleaned up yet, I don't think.
Diridon: Can I ask a further question there, sorry to take so much time. [Friendly banter about Diridon taking so much time.] It seems to me that the environmental clearances that the Caltrain system has, that they want to fund, are based on a Caltrain type of service.
Daniels: That's right.
Diridon: Not on a four-track system.
Diridon: As a consequence, if you're talking about attempting to use ARRA funds to do their electrification on a two-track system, or to do grade separations on a two-track system, it's counter-productive to our objectives. Is that not a factual statement?
Daniels: It is and it isn't. It's not a black-and-white answer. I mean you could structure it, if you could do it under the environmental, our high-speed rail environmental process, it would help ultimately the building of our piece of it. You could state it that way, but …
Diridon: I absolutely understand that we could meld their clearance into ours and modify their clearance to include a four-track system instead of a two-track system or elevated or whatever ours is going to be. But the clearance that they have now, that they're trying to rely upon in order to qualify for ARRA funds directly, is based on a two-track system--on-grade, two-track system--which may not be what comes out of our study.
Daniels: It's very unlikely it will. We will be, we know already from everything we're doing that it's a four-track system to make it work for both sets of operations, commuter and high-speed rail.
Diridon: So, at some point Mr. Chairman we need to have a conversation on this subject. Because if ARRA funds go in to build for example an undercrossing for a two-track system, we then come along at a point in the future with a four-track system, that has to be accommodated by the undercrossing, we have to rebuild the undercrossing. That's the worst kind of government. We don't want to be tearing up brand new projects in order to change something.
Daniels: Well here's the answer to that movie, Rod. The question that we raised right at the beginning of them having some guidance from the FRA about how we're going to put these ARRA funds together will include whether we can or cannot do what you've said. On first glance, I don't think you can, because the ARRA funds are supposed to be for high-speed trains, and a two-track commuter line is not a high-speed train.
A Compromise Solution?
One of the many strings attached by FRA to their Caltrain waiver is that positive train control must be installed, tested, and FRA-certified before Caltrain can carry even a single passenger on an electric train. That puts PTC in the critical path. Unfortunately, Caltrain's PTC plans do not jive with high-speed rail's PTC plans. That lack of jive makes it exceedingly unlikely that ARRA high-speed rail money will be allowed to fund Caltrain's PTC project. In these lean times, just where is Caltrain going to find $230 million (opening bid!) to build something that's incompatible with high-speed rail?
A far better approach would be to grant Caltrain some ARRA money to become the first installation of ERTMS in the United States, blazing the path for high-speed rail. Everybody wins: Caltrain gets a lower-risk, timely PTC solution with funding to back it up--and HSR gets the bureaucracy of importing and tailoring ERTMS taken care of early, a state-wide benefit that is far from a parochial peninsula interest. With a viable PTC program in place, it might even make sense to start thinking of funding some Caltrain electrification infrastructure--infrastructure that would be quite useless without PTC. See the Catch-22?
When you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.