19 August 2010

Another Wheel Gets Squeaky

With the recent release of the Supplemental Alternatives Analysis for the peninsula high-speed rail project, Redwood City has found itself with only one design alternative carried forward: an elevated four-track viaduct through downtown. This does not sit well with the mayor, who fired off a sternly worded letter to the Peninsula Rail Program, as reported in the Daily Post.

The letter points out that trenches are being carried forward only in those cities that have vigorously opposed the high-speed rail project, unlike Redwood City. The squeaky wheel seemingly gets the grease, and Redwood City feels left out.

The letter is noteworthy because Redwood City has not been at the forefront of HSR opposition so far. Councilwoman Rosanne Foust, a former mayor, is a strong supporter of high-speed rail and serves as CEO of SAMCEDA, the San Mateo County Economic Development Association. One of SAMCEDA's initiatives is the Alliance for Sustainable Transit and Jobs, a pro-HSR lobbying group.

Long-Standing Plans For An Elevated Station

The cover page of Redwood City's controversial 2007 Downtown Precise Plan (set aside in 2009 after litigation) prominently featured the architectural rendering of a downtown elevated train station shown at the top, similar to what the HSR project now proposes. The plan stated that "the preference and assumption has been that the tracks will be elevated above grade, and a new train station will be centered on Depot Circle and the pedestrian connection to Sequoia Station and El Camino Real. This elevated railway will be carefully designed to become one of Downtown’s major assets." The draft New Downtown Precise Plan, published in March 2010, also assumes an elevated railway, as revealed in Book 2.3, which features the diagram of a railroad frontage lane shown at left.

Does that make Redwood City's new-found stance a bit disingenuous?


  1. The problem is this: the tracks south of Chestnut St are fully grade-separated and four-tracked, so there's absolutely no reason NOT to have this section at grade. North of Cordilleras Creek, the tracks are already raised and grade separated.

    Excavating a trench between Cordilleras Creek and Chestnut St, while maintaining the 1% grade, requires going down and coming right back up, which doesn't make a lot of sense. Forget tunneling altogether - there isn't enough room overhead for it. Because most of this trench would be fairly shallow, most of the street crossings would still have to be raised, and the Jefferson Ave underpass would have to be replaced completely.

    Basically what I'm saying is that Redwood City is one of the places where a below-grade alignment makes the least sense.

    In the Supplemental Alternatives Analysis, note that for Redwood City north of Woodside Road, the aerial viaduct is the only option that is "consistent with adopted plans and policies"...

  2. Funny how much the train in that drawing looks like BART...

  3. I agree with RWC in one sense: it's absurd to consider putting the Menlo Park/Atherton/Palo Alto segment below grade (unless those cities indicate that they actually value putting it below grade by paying for it themselves, which they have shown no indication of doing).

    Until the below grade alignment is eliminated from every section except DTX (and mountains, e.g. the Bayshore Cutoff), Redwood City's argument makes some sense.

  4. The trench was an option included until the Supplemental Alternatives Analysis. The AA claimed there were major problems with constructability and high costs with trenching in that area (trench would have to go deep to pass beneath two creeks).

    Under CEQA and NEPA, that's all that is needed to reject an alternative. You just have to come up with a "reasonable" reason for rejecting it.

    Redwood City complaining now is not going to go anywhere.

  5. If Redwood City is going to make the downtown look at all like the picture, I say give them the HSR stop and screw Palo Alto. That looks like a great vision the city has. The train viaduct even looks good. It reminds me of a European style city.

  6. @ Eric

    I agree. Make those buildings true mixed-use TOD (offices, apartments, real stores like grocery stores), and that looks like a truly winning development plan.

  7. I have to agree with the mayor, it really sucks that redwood city which has been cooperating with the authority gets the short end of the stick and the cities that are being obstructionist would get the good alternative. (not that i think that option B should be done at all, it is sucks that the good citizen gets screwed)

  8. Caltrain First19 August, 2010 14:25

    It's a sad matter of reality that the squeaky wheel gets the accommodation, and towns are learning this quickly. Opposition will squeeze out concessions far better than complicity.

    It's not a mere coincidence that the train in the station image looks like BART.

  9. What is wrong with people anymore!!
    what a bunch of babies everyone is
    Now what the hey is so ugly or unlivable about that train station thats shown? they needed to go to Reno and see what a trench thru downtown really looks like

  10. It's not at all certain that the "squeaky" towns will in fact get concessions. All they've gotten so far are continued studies. The result most likely to come from these continued studies are the elevated structures the "squeaky" towns hate so much.

    The only way a trench will ever happen is if a LOT of money suddenly magically appears.

  11. It's funny how Redwood City planned to have the rail line grade separated (raised), much like how Menlo Park planned to do something similar. I also find it very convenient that previous plans to elevate Caltrain seemingly do not "exist" anymore in those two cities, most likely for fear of the NIMBYs.

  12. Oh no, they still have plans to elevate everyone's familiar and beloved Caltrain. But the new and scary HSR pushed by evil big-city interests, that's different. way to go, HSR planners, your desire to be special has made you a whole lot of enemies.

  13. They have had plans since 2007 for an elevated rail line and are complaining? Are there heads stuck straight up their arses? The cover iamge is beautiful and if they want to go ahead with the full plan, I'd be more than happy to give them the station for the HSR if possible. All that TOD and the vibrant core of DT would be great for HSR.

  14. @ political_i

    Menlo Park has had really nice plans to grade-separate AND QUAD-TRACK Caltrain for a lot longer than 2007, IIRC. They're even more hypocritical than Redwood City.

  15. So if they had plans, why do they want full tunneling? I must be missing something not being from California.

  16. @ political_i


    New mayor, new city council, new priorities, new feeling of "Must 'protect' our property values at all costs!!"

  17. Remember that in 2004 HSR was not at all real, and at best, a pie-in-the-sky-it'll-probably-never-happen pipe dream for Menlo Park (and all the other PAMPA/PCC/Peninsula cities). That's if council members and trackside NIMBYs even knew of the incipient HSR plans brewing in the minds of some dreamers off somewhere far, far away from their worlds.

    So, with that being the case -- and it was -- there was no realistic expectation or realistic possibility of there being a very real and huge multi-zillion-dollar marquee project with visibility all the way up the White House and federal government ... with seemingly gobs of other people's (free) money to throw around for, what at the time, was dismissed out of hand (if even briefly considered) extravagant and costly tunneling. Elevated was the best that could even be hoped for at the time.

    Fast forward to today, and the PCC PAMPA's (and possibile late-to-the-party PCC wanna be's like Redwood City) of the Peninsula sense that if they scream and kick hard, long and loud enough that they'll get something extra (trenches/tunnels) "for free". Why not go for it? With HSRA/PRP doing a piss-poor job of selling/explaining a convincing upside to the project, the cities have got nothing to lose by trying like hell for the maximum they can get out of it now.

    Few, if any of them, give a damn if the whole project implodes and Caltrain goes back to a suffering hanging-on-for-dear-life barely surviving lame-ass "Commuter Rail" system forever after.

    Viewed this way, it all seems pretty unsurprising and, yes, even sort of rational.

  18. @Peter

    Unbelievable. I'm surprised they haven't expunged that from the city website yet. Both hypocritical and incompetent...great combination.

  19. @ Mike

    Cutting it from the website would be even more controversial. They'd then be accused of covering stuff up.

    The saddest part is that the grade separations as designed look quite attractive...

  20. The Menlo Park 2004 study was just that- a study that I think was managed by Caltrain. The council never endorsed or acted on anything- they just reviewed the preliminary results once or twice. That's kinda par for the course in Menlo. Anyway, just making it clear that the document didn't necessarily represent the city's preference.

  21. Adirondacker1280020 August, 2010 17:47

    Remember that in 2004 HSR was not at all real, and at best, a pie-in-the-sky-it'll-probably-never-happen pipe dream for Menlo Park

    But the thing is that in 2004 they were going to build a four track grade separated electrified railroad. Now that HSR is coming, building a four track grade separated electrified railroad is going to make those cities unlivable. I don't see it....

  22. @ Adirondacker12800 : I think I explained it pretty well. How else are you going to convince other people, using other people's money to spring for the far more costly trench/tunnel option if you don't do your best to forcefully and convincingly argue that elevated tracks as planned will result in the worst disaster imaginable for the community, etc.? They have nothing to lose by giving it their best shot because, for the most part, they don't care (or would even be pleased) if the project dies anyway.

  23. HSRA & PRP have failed to sell the PCC cities on the idea that they actually should want the project to succeed because of all the great benefits it holds for them. This blog, as I see it, is all about ensuring HSR -- in addition to its regional and state benefits -- results in major benefits for both Caltrain and the cities it bisects that would, as a side-benefit, actually make Peninsula cities want the project. Then they would have a stake in its success instead of what we have where many of them would be fine with it dying, and if not that, then pushing for the nothing-to-lose "can't see it, hear it, feel it or smell it" (aka "HSR done right") solution.

  24. @ adirondacker12800

    "Now that HSR is coming, building a four track grade separated electrified railroad is going to make those cities unlivable. I don't see it...."

    It's the color of the trains that make all the difference.

  25. Adirondacker1280020 August, 2010 19:30

    It's the color of the trains that make all the difference.

    And all along I thought it was the cooties on the Caltrain equipment that was the problem.

  26. The cooties come with the color.

  27. To follow up on the MP-Rider comment:

    "Planners" in the Bay Area burn through insane amounts of funding turning out study after study. These plans are nothing more than welfare for planning departments, and the revolving door of consults that produce them.

    While there is some effort at public outreach, usually the only citizens to participate in these plans are self-selected groups. The result is plans that are well-thought and can pass muster with rational thinking humans. But good luck getting buy-in from the Nimby mob.

    In the vast majority of cases, the plans are filed away, and gather dust. Rarely will a city Councilmember even read them. In cases where plans do get funded, the final result is radically different than what the original plan shows. Nimbys are smart enough to not pay attention unless there is danger of something actually getting built. That is true of any project, even really minor ones like a housing development.

    I don't know the details of the Redwood City study, perhaps that really was a different situation. But if they are like any other Bay Area city, then it is hardly surprising City Council is saying something 100% opposite than what the "plan" said.

  28. The cross-section drawing of the elevated alignment should be hollowed out across its entire width (i.e. construct a viaduct rather than a retained fill berm). That would leave enough room for a central, covered, shaded pedestrian path at grade level and storefronts to either side.

    In addition, the frontage roads would need to be laid out differently to attract the foot traffic needed to sustain a mall. Suggestion, from left to right: 8' sidewalk, 10' traffic lane (one way, speed bumps), 5' bike path (one way w/ divider against motor vehicle lane), 3' for plants w/ occasional breaks for cross-walks and bicycle parking, 10' sidewalk.

    Side note: there is a knee-jerk assumption that any underground alignment would be preferable to a well-executed elevated one.

    Trenching and tunneling are not just expensive but also more disruptive to construct than aerials. Messing with the water table increases the risk of subsidence to either side of rail ROW.

    In addition, all gravity-drained conduits crossing the ROW would need to be diverted vertically, unless a very deep tunnel is dug underneath them. Diverted storm drains can fill up with debris, pumps can fail. Local flooding, possibly including the electrified rail alignment, could ensue. If at all possible, planners should leave any and all such conduits well alone.

    Tunnels entail severe construction nuisance for nearby residents, who also have to contend with tunnel boom during operations. Elsewhere along the length of the tunnel, residents would be exposed to high fan noise whenever work crews have to perform maintenance in the tunnel (i.e. on certain nights).

    If any diesel trains at all are permitted into a tunnel, the distance between fan plants has to be much smaller. Even if UPRR were forced to operate electric locomotives in the peninsula (incl. on freight spurs) or else abandon freight service altogether, some properties would still need to be taken for emergency exits along the length of any tunnel.

    Ergo: don't go underground unless you absolutely have to, even if you've got money coming out of your ears. Which CHSRA doesn't.

  29. The authority needs more visual examples of how nice and elegant a well-designed viaduct fits into a community as in the case of this example.. all one hears the press is ugly in 1960 freeways coming through town. This is one thing I do fault him about and that is a letting fear mongers get the upper hand without countering them images proposals.

  30. Sorry about all the weird wording its this dictation software I just bought.. it needs work .. I meant to say they as in the authority and countering feramongering with images of what can be built

  31. 1. How does Dumbarton Rail connect to this mess?
    I recall voting for it ... twice! In the last 5 to 10 years. (Somebody look it up, I'm lazy. But once was for Dumbarton road bridge tolls, and once was for a city tax or something.)
    How's that going to work?
    How are the "Altamont Overlay" high speed trains that are going to be built Real Soon Now going to connect?

    2. How come the Port of Redwood City gets everything it wants and the rest of us (OK I'm in the next town north but still) get less than zippo? Pork pork pork oink oink oink. How many billion extra dollars is this costing? Why do I need to pay out of my own pocket to keep a couple dozen people employed at a government agency that doesn't provide much but just won't die? Why do these people get to call the shots and have Caltrain bend over for them while thousands of residents all along the line get told to pound sand?

    3. Freight trains can go up and down at 2% in Palo Alto, but 1% in Redwood City. Is gravity different here, by government test?
    Is anybody home?

    Why do we need ALL trains down at ground level cutting off all the streets just so one freight train a week or whatever can rumble off to San Hoser?
    Totally nuts!
    Is anybody home?

    4. Everybody "knows" fast trains and Caltrain can't stop at the same platforms. So assuming Redwood City is the "HSR stop" (which I'd like), how MUCH WIDER is the station going to have to be to have four completely separate platforms, with elevators and escalators and stairs and ramps for all four? Where does it go? What extra stuff (buildings, property) gets sucked into it? I bet it doesn't fit into the land Caltrain owns here. And what about the big fat porky wide tracks that have to S-P-R-E-A-D out on both ends to get around the big fat porky four platform station? What extra space OUTSIDE the station is needed for that? Which houses and businesses get knocked down so we can have keep Caltrain and Non-Caltrain at arm's length?

    You can ask the same question for Palo Alto or Mountain View, this isn't just about what happens to Redwood City.

    These "high speed" stations are going to be nuts over the top. Who comes up with four separate platforms and two separate types of trains? Crazy stuff. My kids have way more smarts when they muck around with their train set.

    Is anybody home?

    5. Boy things would be 1000 times better if the high speed trains dipped right down into a nice trench (open or covered) underneath the old Dumbarton rail line and out to the bay. No construction interference with Caltrain or anything else. There's almost nothing out there! Two tracks wide has got to be a lot easier to build that a giant four track hole or berm or bridge. 100% grade separation, no problem. Out of sight, out of mind, heading out of town, and Caltrain doesn't need more tracks through the rest of Redwood City.

    Is anybody home? Why doesn't anybody care about this? It looks like a really bad deal for Redwood City ... and Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Santa Clara as well!

  32. Adirondacker1280021 August, 2010 14:35

    10' traffic lane (one way, speed bumps)

    12 feet wide so the fire trucks, ambulances and garbage trucks can get down it. In a Can't be very long either so that the fire truck or ambulance doesn't get blocked by a double parker or a disabled vehicle.... the store fronts, once they are able to attract a Dollar store or two after being empty for a decade or so are going to have deliveries. The fire truck or ambulance needs to get around those too.

  33. @ Anonymous 14:10

    "Freight trains can go up and down at 2% in Palo Alto, but 1% in Redwood City. Is gravity different here, by government test?"

    Look at the profiles. The 0.75% grade in Redwood City makes more sense than 2% because it decreases the amount the streets have to be lowered just south of the Redwood City station. If they dropped down at 2%, that would either mean that a) the street have to be lowered even more, or the viaduct would have to stay higher longer and start descending later.

    By all means, use 2% where it makes sense. It doesn't in Redwood City.

    Note that 2% is used everywhere that it makes sense.

  34. Adirondacker1280021 August, 2010 15:33

    the station going to have to be to have four completely separate platforms, with elevators and escalators and stairs and ramps for all four?

    Two island platforms like it would have if Caltrain and HSR pick the same height etc. On one side of the platform the rail is at one height and on the other side of the platform the rail is at a different height. The platform itself is almost as level as a pool table, just enough pitch so rain runs off.

    Not something you want to do if you can avoid it. Since everything essentially is going to be new, there's no reason why they can't decide to have the same platform height etc. Then any train can go to any platform.

    underneath the old Dumbarton rail line and out to the bay. No construction interference with Caltrain or anything else. There's almost nothing out there!

    There's not a lot out in the Bay, Keeping the trains out of the Bay or the Bay out of the trains gets pricey.

  35. Just to endorse what MP Rider wrote above.

    MP did do studies. They were never approved as being acceptable and in fact 4 track options through MP were considered absolutely not acceptable.

    The studies were done with "free" money, which I think came from Measure A funds. They were pushed by CalTrain, which has wanted grade trough MP for many years, just as they have through the whole peninsula. All they really accomplished was wasting a lot of the public's and council's time, as well has feeding a group consultants.

    San Mateo and Burlingame were quite clear that grade separations would only be acceptable when underground and when electrification was included.

  36. There is a definite disconnect, however, between the grade separations depicted in those studies and the world-ending concrete viaducts of DOOOOOM that they claim HSR will bring.

  37. Adirondacker1280021 August, 2010 21:02

    MP did do studies. They were never approved as being acceptable and in fact 4 track options through MP were considered absolutely not acceptable.

    I'm sure you have links to the pages on Menlo Park's site that document the objections. Or links to the newspaper articles documenting the objections. Or letters to the editor objecting.

  38. This artist's rendering does look good, but it hardly resembles the technical drawings issued thus far by the HSRA. As has been mentioned, the HSRA and PRP has done a terrible job of selling an aerial structure. The best renderings the HSRA consultants could produce for Burlingame were (1st attempt) a 30' wide x 10' high (plus dipped cross street)plain vanilla elevated structure at the station, and then (2nd attempt) a San Carlos style, fully elevated 60' wide by correct height, but wrong thickness and highly illuminated underneath, structure at the station. We all know these are grossly undersized representations and therefore misleading, which has lead to distrust rather than buy-in. I think the realities of the scale are what is causing RWC to think twice, that and the fact that the general population is starting to take notice and apply pressure on their council. As was said, most design studies take place within a limited group outside of the general public's awareness. I think it could be said that RWC's new stance (if it is truly new) is not so much disengenuous as it is reflective of its constituents' concerns.

  39. "As has been mentioned, the HSRA and PRP has done a terrible job of selling an aerial structure."

    If you don't buy this HSR we'll kill this Caltrain!

  40. Please do a post on this http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=18043

    Palo Alto isn't happy with the plans for a 4 track system, but is also freaking out about the possibility of it staying how it currently is?

  41. Oh for frak's sake: "But even this "improvement" could have a negative impact on Palo Alto and its Midpeninsula neighbors. The electrification project would require Caltrain and the rail authority to install overhead catenary system along the corridor, Braulik said. This system could be more than 20 feet tall and would create a major visual barrier throughout Palo Alto, he said." (From the story Michael linked to)

    This is not a major visual barrier. Get a grip on your hyperbole, Braulik.

  42. Adirondacker1280026 August, 2010 14:27

    yes those overhead wires are going to be just awful, ruin Palo Atlo's ambiance.

  43. Its that idiot at PaloAlto on line that covers HSR that makes up alot of this fear and doom stories so he can get people to post commnents