Here we go again!
Depot Circle, a large residential/commercial development authorized by Redwood City's recently updated Downtown Precise Plan, threatens to encroach on a vital piece of station real estate in Redwood City. The city recently released a Request for Qualifications that outlines the project and describes its role as a future focal point for Redwood City's downtown.
Here's the problem: the railroad right of way is only 60 feet wide in this area, but the station is nearly certain to be expanded to four tracks with two island platforms to accommodate the following likely operational scenarios:
- the mid-peninsula high-speed rail stop, since neither Palo Alto nor Mountain View seem likely to welcome a station, and also because Redwood City has the best freeway access of all three corridor locations under consideration;
- Dumbarton commuter service, long planned but unlikely to be left with sufficient track capacity to continue beyond Redwood City under a constrained "blended" Caltrain + HSR plan--thus forcing passengers to transfer at Redwood City, hopefully across a common platform;
- a mid-line overtake location, where Caltrain express trains could exchange passengers with Caltrain local trains, across a common platform. One of the most promising mid-line overtake scenarios now being considered under Caltrain's corridor capacity analysis assumes that four tracks would be built right through the Redwood City station.
Here are some specific constraints, which are based on detailed HSR technical requirements and Caltrain engineering standards:
- A four-track elevated station with two island platforms will be at least 125 feet wide (if built as narrow as possible), more than 200 feet wide (if built to the CHSRA's elephantine station design standards), and over a quarter mile long.
- A four-track underground station, however unlikely to be built because of the astronomical price tag, would need even more space to accommodate temporary shoo-fly tracks during construction (30 feet), space outboard of the trench walls for construction equipment movement (15-20 feet each side), as well as clearance for trench wall tie-backs that can't interfere with nearby building foundations.
- Even if the station were moved north or south from its current location, away from Depot Circle, the tracks would still need to spread apart gradually (in conformance with the track alignment standards) and would occupy a wide swath well before and after the station itself.
If Redwood City wants to become what Palo Alto could have been, it's time for the city, Caltrain, and developers to make the station itself the focus of downtown, provide it with enough land, and build it to be as architecturally striking as the elevated Amsterdam Bijlmer Arena station. If there isn't enough vision to do that, please just avoid hemming in the rail corridor.