02 March 2009

Why They Chose the Caltrain Corridor

A lot of peninsula residents now becoming aware of the California High Speed Rail Authority's plans are concerned that HSR will require extensive eminent domain takings along the Caltrain corridor, and suggest that HSR be routed instead via the existing (pre-blighted) corridors of highways 101 or 280. Those options were studied and formally eliminated in the CHSRA's Bay Area to Central Valley Final Program EIR/EIS, certified in July 2008. It's worthwhile to examine why the CHSRA chose the Caltrain corridor.

The simple answer: there's a lot more room in the Caltrain corridor than most people realize.

Right of Way Statistics

Average width: 112 ft (34 m)
Percentage 75 ft or wider: 94%
Percentage 80 ft or wider: 88%
Percentage 85 ft or wider: 80%
Percentage 90 ft or wider: 77%
Percentage 95 ft or wider: 70%
Percentage 100 ft or wider: 68%

The chart at right shows a graph of the width of the railroad right of way (in feet) versus milepost, constructed from official Caltrain right of way maps.

CHSRA documents indicate that the minimum width required for four tracks is about 75 feet; this is shown by a dotted red line in the chart. A comfortable width (allowing access roads and landscaping) is about 100 feet. The results:
  • Along the two thirds (68%) of the peninsula rail corridor that are wider than 100 feet, HSR is an easy fit within the existing right of way.
  • For another quarter (27%) of the corridor that is between 75 feet and 100 feet wide, HSR is a tighter fit, but possible without eminent domain
  • For the remaining 5% of the corridor that is narrower than 75 feet, some eminent domain is necessary to achieve a minimum width of 75 feet.
How Much Eminent Domain?

One can calculate the area of land required to bring the entire corridor to 75 ft minimum width. Again some corridor length statistics, straight from the chart above:

50 (minimum) to 55 feet wide: 0.38 miles (needs 25 feet extra)
55 to 60 feet wide: 0.09 miles (needs 20 feet)
60 to 65 feet wide: 0.59 miles (needs 15 feet)
65 to 70 feet wide: 0.06 miles (needs 10 feet)
70 to 75 feet wide: 1.75 miles (needs 5 feet)

Adding up the series of strips with the dimensions above, the grand total amount of land required to widen the entire peninsula corridor to a minimum of 75 feet is less than four acres.

To put that figure into proper perspective:
  • the entire corridor is about 700 acres, so the required land is about half a percent more.
  • the CHSRA has a budget of $4.2 billion for the San Francisco to San Jose segment. At Atherton prices ($4 million per acre), the required land is worth about a third of a percent of that budget.
(Disclaimer: this analysis is based on Caltrain corridor maps, which are not official survey documents. Your mileage may vary; discrepancies of several feet have already been noted in some 100+ year old property lines. Also, temporary construction easements are not included.)

At the turn of the 20th century, the Southern Pacific secured enough land to expand the railroad to four tracks, precisely what is now envisioned for high speed rail. Is it any wonder that the California High Speed Rail Authority considers the Caltrain corridor a slam-dunk?


  1. Nice work as usual.

    But do note re adjacent property takes -- which, as you note, are trivial in the contexts of the local, city-wide and regional stock, of absolute land required, and most particularly of budget -- that being wide enough isn't sufficient by itself: the ROW needs to be both wide a located in the correct location, which is not the case (hello San Bruno! CEMOF! Hayward Park! Redwood Junction!) in a number of locations.

    There are going to be modest numbers of property takes -- or at least there should be, if rational planning gets a look in or even if affected owners act in a rational, self-interested, non-hysterical way -- even where your nice diagram shows space available.

    Of course you know this, but it doesn't hurt to be scrupulously honest.

    PS Re $4m/acre super-premium price (and what land abutting a horn-blasting, ding-bell-clanking, diesel-roaring railroad is premium property?): the tunnelling and trenching being advocated by Local Concerned Citizens comes in at north of half a billion a mile -- just look at the unnecessary and nose-bleed expensive (thank you again, Quentin Kopp!) BART subways in San Bruno and Millbrae, and try not to think about BART to Warm Springs.

    I'd lay odds that putting, say, the 3.8 miles of Caltrain in Palo Alto underground would be at least a $1.5bn undertaking, or 375 acres' worth. If I have my crazy 17th century units straight, that corresponds to about 30 miles of 100 foot wide new right of way at $4m/acre. Alternately, that's enough to buy outright an 400 foot wide buffer on both sides of the tracks for those 3.8 miles. Or the equivalent in rods, furlongs and chains.

    PPS $4m/acre conveniently works out as $1000/m^2.

  2. A bit more than 60' will work, too. This should be analyzed in the EIR.

  3. Excellent technical post as always! If this had been available I'd have printed it out and brought it to the scoping meetings to hand to people.

  4. Another downside of using the 101 corridor is that they'd need to build the line as all-elevated, and in many places, elevated above existing overpasses. Think JFK AirTrain. And the 101 will be a mess during construction, with two or four lanes closed for a couple of years at least. Which people will also complain about bitterly.

    As I think I've mentioned before, you don't even need 75 feet for a four track line. About 60-64 feet would do, if you build the outer edges of the catenary supports right at the property line. You do need more space if you're going to be building embankments, but how many places are really going to need that?

  5. Clem, of course you realize that simply calculate ROW acquisition is just the first drop in the bucket in terms of cost. The equation is much deeper and broader. The costs of mitigating harms must be taken in to account (moving or avoiding historic landmarks, mitigating creek and water table damages), cutting down and replacing massive numbers of hundreds year old trees, and so much more. But even beyond that, the concept of degredation of ~remaining~ property values is a financial consideration for the state - the system as a whole, that Diridon and Kopp are so far glossing over. (This will be changed.) The issue with regard to degredation of residental property values isn't even the loss value to owners. The bigger issue is the loss of property tax base for the counties and municipalities.

    You may or may not be aware that basic aid school districts are not 'wards of the state' they are not on per pupil allocations from the state, they are primarily self funded through property tax revenues. Will they have upside potential in good times, they have no guaranteed bottom on the downside, they also are not compensated on a per pupil basis (which is why pupil growth without property tax base growth is very damaging to these districts)

    In any case, hits to property values in the surrounding community (not even necessarily directly on the ROW) (10%? 20%? 50%?) will be like injecting poison directly into the veins of some of the highest perfomring, most productive (in terms of college bound students, test scores, etc) K-12 schools and school districts in the country.

    Kopp and Diridon's equation for comparing Eminent Domain costs to Overpass costs is severly faulty, its damaging not only to the communiteis, but to the STATE's educatino system, and will result in a)elimination of this route down the Peninsula, b)elimination fo the powers of the CHSRA authority (for negligence), and c)a political backlash this Authority hasn't seen likely in their life times.

    Adding up the cost of inches of Eminent Domain frankly couldn't possibly be more than the worlds hugest financial and political miscalculation of all time. The mother of all miscalculations.

  6. So in summary, HSR will harm the children?

  7. Clem, how would one find (or request copies of) all the specific CHSRA documents related to studies and cost analysis related to the 101 corridor between SF and SJ?

    Or perhaps we should start calling that 101 from Millbrae to SJ - clearly the HSR could cut over in Millbrae and still end up in SF...

  8. @anon 09:49 there are hundreds of pages of analysis in the CHSRA's library. Look in the left column for the Bay Area to Central Valley Final Program EIR/EIS.

    There's analysis of each corridor option, cost estimates, and the rationale for selecting the current alignment. It's not very navigable, but if you spend some time rummaging around in there, you'll uncover lots of detail.

  9. No. In summary, HSR through 50 miles of high value residential areas will degrade wide swaths of very highly productive property tax generating properties, which will harm the school districts.

    Whether than harms children or not, that's debatable perhaps, but I'd argue there are more (many more) constituents than mere children worried about the quality and funding of schools in California.

    Is there some debate to be had about the political forces that protect schools?

  10. No. In summary, HSR through 50 miles of high value residential areas will degrade wide swaths of very highly productive property tax generating properties, which will harm the school districts.

    Whether than harms children or not, that's debatable perhaps, but I'd argue there are more (many more) constituents than mere children worried about the quality and funding of schools in California.

    Is there some debate to be had about the political forces that protect schools?

  11. Anonymous: I'd REALLY like to see the numbers on the property tax. Because of Prop 13, I strongly suspect that much of that property is being taxed at far below its present value. And I will speculate that the NIMBYs (or HSR opponents if you want to be polite) are people who have been around there longer, and so pay less tax than others. So... NIMBYs are hurting our schools?

  12. Arcady, we'd REALLY like to see it too!

    On your speculation that the old timers are the ones that are protesting, frankly, you couldn't be wronger. The school community is absolutely livid. Quality of schools, and protecting schools, in this neck of the woods, is a big deal. Like the biggest.

    The heaviest hitters in terms of community activism in this area by far and away are the k12 school organizations. Plus you'd probably be surprised that in a town like this, precisely because schools are THE draw to the area, there is a very high # of young families in the area.

  13. Anonymous: You have yet to give any fact-based argument as to why property values would fall. Here are the relevant factors that could affect property values:

    Noise - Equal or reduced relative to present values due to elimination of diesel locomotives and horns at every crossing.

    Safety - Vastly improved. No grade crossings, better protection of ROW.

    Pollution - Vastly reduced. Electrification is zero emissions.

    Transportation access - Substantially improved. Faster local Caltrains, more express Caltrains.

    Aesthetics - No substantial impact except in places requiring retained fill.

    The only factor that possibly goes in the negative direction is aesthetic, and even then it's outweighed by at least 3 positive factors. It is simply irrational to expect property values to fall.

    In fact, if they were going to fall, you should have already started seeing it soon after the election. If all these terrible things are going to happen, then why would anyone buy property near Caltrain? I'm sure that these sophisticated Palo Alto buyers are not idiots - they price in what will happen in the future. Please show me evidence that these properties have already dropped by up to 50%.

    As a CA taxpayer, I feel quite safe that the net mitigation payments that Caltrain/CHSRA could need to make to Palo Alto would be close to zero. There are too many positive impacts on property and too few negative ones. They're not going to tank (or more precisely, they won't tank any more than the rest of the country is).

  14. Great analysis Clem. Regarding Palo Alto, which appears to becoming "ground zero" for this issue, I don't see why it would be necessary to use retained fill.

    If you look at the Caltrain ROW maps, you will see that the ONLY grade crossing in Palo Alto with a constricted ROW is Churchill Ave. If you can take care of Churchill, then you can run all the way from University Ave to 1000' north of W Meadow Ave at grade (maybe with short sound walls and/or trees lining the edge of the ROW and abutting properties). As you approach W Meadow Ave, come up to maybe 8'-10' on a short berm - the ROW is 95'-100' wide there. With landscaping, it will look similar to what's there today. Cross W Meadow and W Charleston slightly above grade (i.e. the tracks come up a bit, the roads go down a bit).

    As for Churchill, in principle it would be possible to depress it and go underneath the ROW. It would look not unlike Embarcadero Rd does just to the north. You would likely retain the 4-way stop at Emerson & Churchill and probably place traffic lights at Kellogg & Alma and Coleridge & Alma. The bike lanes on Churchill could be physically separated from the road to ensure the safety of bikers as they cross under the ROW. The only negative impact is that traffic patterns for local residents would change slightly (i.e., those living within a 2-3 block radius). It would be up to the city to weigh this cost against the benefit of having no "walls" in Palo Alto.

  15. So in summary it is 50 ft at San Bruno, San Mateo, Hillsdale, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Willow Glen.

    Well, thats almost every city isn't it? There are a few not mentioned- Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and the ROW in those areas happens to be commercial.

    I don't think this chart does much to alleviate the size of ROW concerns at all.

  16. > I don't think this chart does much to alleviate the size of ROW concerns at all.

    It wasn't meant to alleviate concerns. It was meant to factually describe the existing ROW situation, and explain why the CHSRA chose the peninsula alignment.

  17. I don't think this chart does much to alleviate the size of ROW concerns at all.

    Depends what your concerns are. If your concerns are that it might be too expensive for CHSRA to obtain the necessary property while compensating the owners at an above-market price, then those concerns are alleviated. If your concerns are that CHSRA be able to build the whole thing without taking a single square foot of property via eminent domain, then those concerns are not alleviated.

    The world is a big place - there are concerns beyond your own!

  18. It's pretty easy to find the property tax info - I use Zillow.com, use the map to find a property you're interested in and click on it. Pretty tedious for the 10,000-foot view that you're interested in, but it's interesting nonetheless.

  19. So in summary it is 50 ft at San Bruno, San Mateo, Hillsdale, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Willow Glen.

    Well, thats almost every city isn't it? There are a few not mentioned- Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and the ROW in those areas happens to be commercial.

    I don't think this chart does much to alleviate the size of ROW concerns at all.

    No, it is 60' in Palo Alto in two places, 700' abutting Peers Park and 100' at Churchill Ave. It is only down to 50' at 5 places, and two of them are in San Jose. Your post is dishonest.

    Every one of these cities is commercial and residential.

    Only a selfish ninny thinks their communities is "residential" and therefore special. Where I come from, that use of the word "residential" is code for "where the well-off white people live."

    All of the cities have residential areas. The places where the right of way is narrow are almost always going to be where the railroad sold it to a commercial developer (the section in Menlo Park for instance).

    Getting the diesel trains and the horns off of the Caltrain corridor could be the best thing to happen to communities like Palo Alto in a long time...if they don't screw it up.


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  22. Please keep it on topic, folks.

  23. "I don't think this chart does much to alleviate the size of ROW concerns at all."

    Come on, you guys can't give up four acres that you'll be compensated for anyway? It's four freakin' acres.

  24. K12 schools and Palo Alto High are a big deal because their high academic performance commands a premium on the residential real estate market in the whole town. Therefore, anything that looks like it might cause academic performance to fall, even slightly, instantly raises alarm bells.

    Two avenues of impacts have been asserted: direct impacts on school property and increased noise levels in the classrooms and, indirect impacts via a reduction in the property tax base.

    Ok, lets look at both of these in more detail:

    - the relevant ROW maps are MP 30-to-31 and MP 31-to-32. These show the ROW immediately adjacent to the school to be 85' wide. It then narrows to 70' at Churchill Ave. and one adjacent residence before widening to 75.3'.

    Since 75' is enough for four tracks, only that one property will be directly affected by eminent domain and then only a 5' strip. Some have suggested that as little as 60' would actually be enough, but that may not apply at future top speeds of 90mph for Caltrain and 125mph for HSR.

    In any case, it looks like no school property will need to be taken via eminent domain. At all.

    - Keeping the tracks at grade in Palo Alto would cause the least overall disruption during the construction phase by far, including impacts on the water table, on the El Palo Alto tree and on existing over- and underpasses.

    This is especially true if the city decides that the intersections of Meadow, Charleston and Churchill with Alma can be sacrificed by rerouting traffic. Otherwise, Alma would have to modified along with the cross road in question.

    The one very notable exception is the chicane at Alma/University, which is far too severe to allow trains to pass at 125mph. Clem has analyzed this in his post on the top 10 worst curves in the Caltrain ROW and ranked it #3, a must-fix.

    One option would be a straight hump for Alma, high enough to maintain the vertical clearance of the underpass. The interchange connectors would be lost, traffic would have to be rerouted via Lytton, Hamilton, High and Emerson instead. Probably not a good idea.

    A second option would be to sacrifice the grade separation between Alma and University by reconfiguring Alma to dip far down, with knock-on effects at University and High. Probably not a good idea, either.

    Retaining the Chicane would mean that express trains would have to slow down to around 85mph, which Clem says amounts to a cost (to the railroad operator) of $21m over 15 years. CHSRA may have a different number in mind, but an offer of annual financial compensation for some period of time might be preferable to a construction nightmare.

    Or, the city could offer Caltrain a lump sum for the land the Alma chicane is on and, to use its influence on San Bruno to throw the painstakingly negotiated plan for moving the station there into the dustbin and starting over. The San Bruno curve is the #1 problem in the alignment, but it is politically difficult to fix.

    - Back to Palo Alto High: if the city decides to keep the tracks at grade in the area, with a deep underpass at Churchill, it might even be possible to avoid cutting down the old trees lining the ROW at the school's property line, though they would need to be trimmed.

    There would be impacts for access to Mariposa Ave and of course, the interchange with Alma St. That would be lost unless the intersection were also lowered - not a trivial road construction project. Whether it's worth the cost and construction nuisance, especially for the school, only Palo Alto can decide. Note that shallower underpasses for pedestrians/cyclists would be possible.

    After the trees are trimmed back on the railroad side, there would be room for a tall, thick sound wall - iff the city wants one. Available materials range from patterned concrete to glass, clear or frosted. For this particular stretch of ROW, it would make a lot of sense to aggressively minimize noise, even beyond the elimination of train horns and bells and the switch to much lighter, aerodynamic rolling stock with modern suspension systems. JR's latest generation of shinkansen, the E5, even features active suspension for greater ride comfort and minimal noise and vibration emissions.

    The objective of HSR is not just to not make things worse but, on the whole, to make them much better. Just because HNTB's first cut at a solution has provoked a rabid response does not mean the overall objective has changed. It may take a few iterations to arrive at something that works for everyone, but that requires some goodwill and patience on both sides.

    - This extends to the notion of real estate blight as well. An at-grade alignment would impact property values immediately adjacent to the tracks, but houses even 100' removed from the tracks would be impacted far less severely, at least initially. The risk is that property blight might spread over time, as properties change hands and the social environment changes.

    The city could choose to compensate, e.g. by reducing or waiving property taxes on those most directly impacted by the expansion of rail service and making everyone else pay a little bit more.

    In addition, physical measures such as the installation of sound walls or sound fences should be considered to mitigate the initial loss of value. Wrt long-term consequences of vibration on resident comfort and foundation slabs, some engineering analysis is in order. Yes, there will be more trains but that doesn't matter if each one treads lightly enough to avoid causing an increment of damage.

    Most homeowners won't know this, but non-compliant EMUs and bullet trains have axle loads that are at least a third lower than the FRA-compliant diesel locomotives Caltrain uses today. In fact, in terms of weight per unit length of the train, bullet trains are actually a little lighter than what is called light rail in the US. Same for BART trains, btw.

    I've already addressed the comfort issues related to vibration above.


    Bottom line: it's important not to assume and assert that worst imaginable outcome will definitely come to pass. There are lots of pluses and minuses to consider for each grade separation option and, lots of engineering solutions for mitigating negatives. It's really important to get well informed about the nitty-gritty of this.

    Don't vent at HNTB, ask them specific technical questions. Think in scenarios, identify potential trouble spots along the ROW, quantify the problem and look for ways to solve or mitigate it - technical, financial, social or otherwise. Ask, ask, ask again. Seek to take the emotion out of and accurate facts into the conversation.

    Request public workshops with HNTB if appropriate. Decide if you want your high school seniors to do some of the legwork for the community for extra credit or a competition prize: a fact-finding trip for a small group to either Europe or Asia, so they can experience, measure and document first-hand on what riding on high speed train and living next close to the tracks actually means in real life to real people.

    You need to invest some of your valuable time and energy constructively to make this work for yourself and your community. If you choose poorly, it may be decades before you get a chance to fix it, if ever.

    Try to make each scenario on your shortlist work as well as can be expected in a preliminary engineering context and obtain a cost estimate. I'd suggest looking at an above-grade, an at-grade and a below-grade scenario. Fight the impulse to rush to judgment. The trade-offs are complex, every scenario will have pros and cons that not everyone will attach the same weight to. You may want to organize calibration sessions without HNTB present (or there only to as a technical knowledge resource).

    You may need a decision matrix, which should also include the no-HSR scenario, with it's long-term ramifications for the region, the state and perhaps even the nation (since this is the first "real" bullet train project in the US).

    Only then can the community make an informed decision on which scenario it prefers and articulate why. That will prepare it for the negotiations on how to pay for it all.

  25. Rafael: I believe you're referring to me when you say that "some asserted that 60 feet is enough". My estimate is based on best guess at measuring the width of the ROW at several places on the NEC, including ones with track speeds of 125 mph or higher. I'm reasonably sure that they'll be able to fit four tracks and catenary supports (for portal-type structures) into 70 feet without even having to place the catenary supports outside the property line. The track spacing for this might violate Caltrain design guidelines and/or CPUC rules, but that would not be due to any high speed related reason, but rather for the safety of railroad employees riding on the sides of freight cars.

    As for the Churchill grade crossing, an underpass might work, a total closure might even work, with some kind of over/underpass provided for peds/bikes, or it might even be possible to retain the grade crossing. It doesn't carry all that much traffic, and keeping it closed for most of rush hour wouldn't be as big a disaster as, say, Rengstorff or Mary.

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  27. Rafael, a little bit more information for your analysis on Paly/Churchill..

    There is a driveway entrance to avery large parking lot for Paly within yards of the tracks. Parkinglot entrance is directly beyond the width (not length) of the football eld. This represents at least (if not more) than 1/3 of Paly's parking. It is used by students during the day, but it is also the only parking for the fields. Also all of Paly's fields are directly on Churchill meeting up with this parking lot; the baseball field, the softball field, and squeezed in between, a soccer field.

    Additinally, Churchill is a pretty narrow street (one 25mph lane each direction with homes along the other side of street. I assume a significant deepening for underpasses, would also require some widening, which would cause deep impact to Paly's fields and as well, more eminent domain on more expensive homes (this time, front yards, not back yards). And it would cutoff access to that parking lot.

    In addition, at the end of the block, Palo Alto Unified's District office headquarters is also located on Churchill, with (only) parking log entrance also on Churchill. The parkinglot entrance for the district offices also serves as the only driveway/parkinglot access to Paly's tennis courts (also used by the public, with lights).

    At the El Camino end of Churchill (about two blocks from the tracks), you would bump directly into Stanford's fields. Churchill is a significant access point for access to Stanford fields, Stanford parking etc, and although small is a major access point for students/pedestrians/bikes (of all ages K-Stanford) east to west.

    One more thing to consider would be that Alma street at Churchill is quite narrow, and directly across from Alma (along Churchill East), is a very old historic neighborhood (think "Addison Avenue" "The Garage" and "Professorville" - That's that neighborhood.) A very deep underpass also requires long approaches, high (deep) concrete walls, etc), and again street widening. Now, THAT would be a significantly hefty chunk of eminent domain change if those properties would even be legal to destroy.

    In terms of evaluating the direct cost/harm impact to the Paly property, you'll need to look slightly beyong the 75 foot row and proposed (lovely) soundwall.

    In terms of degredation of adjacent property values, again, be advised to look beyond the eminent domain along the ROW. (If you can bring yourself to some honest introspection, you will accept that many high value properties within many blocks will be degraded in property value due to proximity to blight, high voltage electrical, noise, vibration, extremely large increase in train traffic, changes in traffic patterns, huge underpasses, etc.) This is an issue of property tax revenues which are the DIRECT fundign for the school district.

    Keep in mind, PAUSD is a Basic Aid school district, not a Revenue Limit School district, this should factor in to your calcuations for impacts.

    One last point on Paly. Its one of only two high schools in the city, and its generally in the top 100 schools in the country. Most students actually live on the EAST side of the tracks, Paly is located on the WEST side of the tracks.

    Finally, you might want to keep in mind that by law, the project is responsible for the cost of the mitigations, not the town that is being victimized by it.

  28. Question:
    As the tracks rise/dive below intersections, will gradient have to conform to existing freight requirements? Or is that not an issue...?

    1. Even a fully-grade separated line will still have horn blaring. FRA has some pretty nutty rules, particularly where trains enter/leave stations.

    2. Let's also not the mistake of assuming CAHSR has perfect information when constructing grade-separations. This is government work, which means the quality of final result (and the cost!) will be very much different than what is described in a blog.

  29. As the tracks rise/dive below intersections, will gradient have to conform to existing freight requirements?

    I believe so. It appears that the peninsula corridor is part of STRACNET (the Department of Defense's Strategic Rail Corridor Network). I will have to dig deeper to find out exactly what this implies.

  30. yah, what I like about this blog is that it sticks to the technical aspects of HSR, in a very well done, professional manner. And we get some great posters like Rafael who really know their stuff!

    Don't let it degenerate into the flame war that the Cal HSR blog has descended into.

    Keep out the trolls, and flamers Clem! :-)

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  32. "So, why the secrecy and obvuscation of Prop 1A?"
    It's because the HSRA is being run by people like Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon, and because they (and the state government) are doing it wrong. The only thing that HSRA has managed to produce for all its years of effort is a recommendation that HSR be built, that it be built with conventional European-style trains, and that it go from LA to SF via the Central Valley and Pacheco Pass. Oh yeah, and that it will take 2:38. They don't have anything like an actual alignment, no idea about how the service would run, what regulations it would run under, what sort of agreements they'd need with Caltrain, Metrolink, Amtrak, and the freight railroads. And now we've voted them a $10 billion blank check to design and build the system as they see fit. I would have thought it prudent to at least have a preliminary design first, before voting on the bond issue. Then a lot of problems could have been avoided, especially the friction between HSR proponents and "concerned citizens" which is stirred up by the "it's going to be built whether you like it or not" message.

  33. Clem, STRACNET.. New term being introduced here.. Was this studied in the EIR/EIs? I don't recall seeing discussion of this before (but of course I'm a mere mortal). Would love to hear more about what kind of implications that has.

    Perhaps additional security measures? Government approval levels? (Red tape) operations during construction. right of way clearances (around tracks).

    Clem, you are doing a great service here, keep up the good work.

  34. If you look at the previous blog entries, in the comments you find really fascinating points about the technical aspects about HSR and Caltrain.

    Can't we keep this blog in that spirit? Can't we keep the back and forth flame wars to The California High Speed Rail Blog? Where every post now is a 70 comment long "shouting" match.

    It's good for blog traffic I suppose, but Clem do you want your blog to be serious or over-the-top? Judging from the quality of your previous posts, and previous comments sections, it seems you are going for more of a "Wall Street Journal" style, rather then a tabloid.

    Don't let B.A.R. or others drag this site down into a back and forth flame match. Let's keep this blog smart, and let trolling, and mud slinging happen on other HSR blogs. Let this be an oasis for eggheads!

    my 2 cents

  35. @ Resident -

    thanks for the additional insights. I'm not sure how much width would have to be added to Churchill to create a deep underpass, typically the concrete support structures for such a narrow underpass are more filigree than on a wide one. There may also be special construction techniques that rely more on steel and less on concrete to buttress the sides of the approaches.

    In any case, a deep underpass make no sense if any eminent domain is required to either side of the road. Only a civil engineer could say for sure if there's enough width for a shooting solution. Turning Churchill into a one-way street westbound is probably a non-starter.

    The distance between the tracks and the entrance to Palo Alto High parking lot/Castellija is roughly 400', for a total underpass depth of ~25' (rough guess), that translates to a 6% grade for vehicles and about 3.5% for the shallower pedestrian/bike underpass, both perhaps a little on the high side but still perfectly servicable. Of course, there need to be gradient transition sections, but it should be possible to avoid any impact on the access to the parking lot. The intersection with Mariposa would be lost.

    Similarly, it should be possible to return Churchill to grade by the time it intersects with Emerson. However, retaining vehicle access and parking spaces to the nice old houses on both side of that block looks like a tall order. Again, a civil engineer would have to look at that, it would not be acceptable to make those properties inaccessible by car.

    A split grade separation, with the track elevated a few feet to allow for a shallower underpass would make little difference to collateral impacts on the roads in this case.

    Let's consider the inverse, having the trains dip down and using a low hump bridge across them. Ideally, the hump should be just a few feet so the Alma intersection can be retained. There's about 1300' of run length between Embarcadero and Churchill, at a gradient of 2%, the tracks would end up 26' below grade. The hump elevation could be reduced a little more by using overhead conductor rails instead of the usual wires.

    Just how deep the tracks could really go depends on how large a vertical curve radius is required for trains at 125mph and, if train passengers would experience unacceptable discomfort (rollercoaster sensation). Collateral impacts on the existing Embarcadero underpass should be avoided if at all possible.

    Supporting extra-tall AAR plate H freight cars, something the Port of SF has asked for, might be a challenge. Considering the minimal revenue upside, it's worth asking if Caltrain, CHSRA and the peninsula communities if granting the request is worth it.

    Afaik, the maximum acceptable gradient for freight trains is 2.2%. Northbound freight trains would slow down between Churchill and Embarcadero in this scenario. The locomotive would need to step up the power, which means high transient emissions - not desirable near a school and "old growth" residential district.

    UPRR could deploy EPA Tier 4 locomotives with emissions control equipment for both smoke and NOx and run them on the already available ULSD fuel grade. All new locomotive engines will have to comply with this by 2015. UPRR is a large railroad, they probably buy some number of replacement diesel engines every year anyhow. Even if HSR were to fall through, the SF peninsula should be one of the first places UPRR deploys the new, much cleaner diesel engines.

    Btw, the southern approach to a split grade rail underpass at Churchill would not be a problem. Tracks would return to grade well before the California St. Caltrain station and bike underpass.

    The parking lot access to the PAUSD office and the tennis courts would not be affected by the grade separations works - except during the construction period, of course. You can't make an omelette without breaking any eggs. Major construction near the school is disruptive to students. Ideally, any grade separation work at Churchill should be scheduled for the summer vacation period - definitely not during finals.

    Wrt to your concerns about property blight, I understand them but perhaps you overestimate them. Yes, there will be more trains per hour but they will be quieter and cleaner than the ones you're used to. Nice 8' sound walls (lower half thick concrete with a decorative pattern, upper half thick glass, e.g. frosted; protected by curb/guardrail) would double as fences and provide drivers on Alma as well as homeowners along it a better sense of separation and safety.

    Vibration impacts from passing passenger trains are reduced by the switch to lighter non-compliant equipment. Note that bullet trains run on premium, continuously-welded rails that keep them from from moving side-to-side, so they run rock steady. Since heavy freight trains are not permitted to run on them, the rails suffer little wear and tear. Generous curve radii avoid the screeching noises of wheel flanges against rail flanks.

    The aerodynamically optimized noses greatly reduce wind noise. I don't have data to back it up, but I wouldn't be surprised if a real bullet train running at 125mph was actually quieter than existing Caltrain gear at 79mph, perhaps even than the new EMUs at 90mph.

    It would be fair to ask CHSRA to procure some high-quality audio recordings made under controlled conditions to compare and contrast status quo noise events of passing trains with those of the future rolling stock already in use in both Europe and Japan, with and without (simulated) sound walls.

    In addition to noise level, the frequency distribution and overall duration are significant psychoacoustic parameters. Such recordings could be played to focus groups of residents to assess the acceptability of quad-tracking at grade in terms of noise.

    The overhead catenary system isn't the prettiest thing in the world, but having lived in both the US and Europe, my experience is that you pretty much don't even notice them any more after a while if the supports are slender masts rather than visually massive portals. High voltage electrification does not present any known health risks, as long as you keep people (e.g. children) for touching them.

    Please know that I fully understand the concerns you raise, especially with regard to the importance of K12 academic ratings to property values in the whole city.

    All I'm asking is that you keep a sufficiently open mind to let HNTB show that a well-designed at-grade solution, possibly with a split grade rail underpass at Churchill and noise mitigation measures, can be a net improvement over the status quo and especially, over Caltrain Plan 2025 implementation without full grade separation, in spite of higher traffic levels. By all means, be sceptical and demand that HNTB convince you - but don't jump to a negative conclusion right away.

    You may feel like a victim of HSR right now, but again, the objective really is to serve the SF peninsula, not to destroy it. Palo Alto and CHSRA/HNTB have gotten off on the wrong foot here, it's time to hit the reset button and try to find a solution. After all, cities and counties up and down the peninsula voted in favor of HSR, even Menlo Park and Atherton.

    It's just that roughly $500-$700 million/mile, tens of miles of tunnels are made of pure unobtainium in the context of the budget for the starter line.

    Final point: in contrast to other parts of the state, the Caltrain ROW is publicly owned, by the peninsula counties via the JPA. That means they do have the legal right to deny CHSRA the use of all or part of this ROW. This ground rule should be articulated explicitly to residents, authorities and other parts of the Bay Area and state via the media.

    You did agree to the idea of HSR in the peninsula, so you owe it to yourselves and the state to give CSHRA/HNTB a fighting chance at making it work for you without breaking the bank. However, if at the end of a genuine good faith effort on both sides, the conclusion is that it's just not viable, you do still have a rip cord you can pull in a year or so.

    It's important to set expectations regarding the local/regional planning process now - very publicly - and to secure acknowledgment. ROW ownership has its privileges.

  36. There is a driveway entrance to avery large parking lot for Paly within yards of the tracks. Parkinglot entrance is directly beyond the width (not length) of the football eld.

    This driveway is 380' from the Churchill grade crossing. In the westbound direction, Embarcadero comes back up to grade level 375' after passing under Caltrain/Alma St. There would be no problem with keeping this driveway while depressing Churchill under the Caltrain ROW.

    would also require some widening, which would cause deep impact to Paly's fields and as well

    Nope. Embarcadero is a much busier street, but it fits within a strip that is 65' wide, including sidewalks. Churchill plus its sidewalks are more than 65' wide.

    In addition, at the end of the block, Palo Alto Unified's District office headquarters is also located on Churchill, with (only) parking log entrance also on Churchill...Churchill is a significant access point for access to Stanford fields, Stanford parking etc, and although small is a major access point for students/pedestrians/bikes...

    And at the end of El Camino Real is Mexico, but so what? Nobody is proposing eliminating all of Churchill St...none of this stuff is relevant at all to Caltrain/HSR/grade crossings.

    many high value properties within many blocks will be degraded in property value due to proximity to blight

    Blight has to be caused by something. It's not a causal factor in and of itself - it's an outcome.

    high voltage electrical

    These wires will be considerably shorter than the high voltage utility wires that already run along Alma. Any "blight" caused by electrical wires has already been done to this neighborhood.


    Sorry, less noise from the elimination of diesel locomotives and horn blowing will not cause blight.


    Electric rolling stock is much lighter and thus causes less vibration. Less vibration will not cause blight.

    extremely large increase in train traffic

    This has three potential negative impacts: noise, pollution, and traffic at grade crossings. Noise will be more than compensated for by the quieter rolling stock and lack of horn blowing. Pollution is entirely eliminated by electrification. Traffic at grade crossing is totally eliminated by grade crossing separations. So again, no increase in blight.

    changes in traffic patterns

    Traffic patterns will improve (smoother flow) due to grade crossing separations. No increase in blight.

    huge underpasses

    In general, and particularly in Palo Alto, "huge" underpasses will not be necessary.

    In summary, you have yet to actually name a single factor that is likely to increase blight.

  37. Rafael - In principle it would be possible to fit a depressed Churchill in on the eastern side. The available land, including sidewalks, is 55'. If you want two 10' lanes on the depressed Churchill, two 9' access lanes at grade level, and two 4' sidewalks, then that leaves about 9' of width for the retaining walls. I don't think there would be room, however, for the bike lanes, which is a non-trivial issue. Landscaping would also be a challenge...perhaps large planters could be integrated into the tops of the retaining walls?

    At any rate, there are the types of issues and tradeoffs that Palo Alto would be wise to be debating. On net, an upgraded Caltrain hosting HSR will be a big plus for the Peninsula, and even for Palo Alto, but that doesn't mean that absolutely no one will suffer any negative effects. The question is how to minimize the effects and compensate the very small number that are negatively affected.

  38. Rafael,

    Here is an example of a street that is grade separated from itself in the Berkeley Hills:

    Two level street (click forward in the map to see exactly what is happening here.

    Note that 4 lanes of traffic plus the single retaining wall comfortably fit within 40'. Since Churchill has 55-56', that leaves at least 15' for the two sidewalks plus an additional retaining wall.

  39. I'm sorry, the link above linked back to the blog post.

    Here is the correct link for the two level street.

  40. Here's another example of a two level street (same area). Again, both levels plus a retaining wall fit within 40'.

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  42. You cannot close off Churchill. It is the main access (driving/ bike/ped) to the high school. Embarcadero is not a substitute for a lot of reasons. Oregon Expressway has no ped access.

    Any underpass would require wide bike lanes and sidewalks - probably wider than what is there now.

    Lowering Alma and Churchill would cost you a lot. While you can pay someone a little bit to take 5' of their backyard, you have to buy the whole house if you block their driveway. This will cost a fortune. You will also block the bike path which is parallel to the tracks.

    The train is either going up or the train is going down.

    You may think everyone in Palo Alto is crazy but please understand that people hate the way the existing train and Oregon Expressway create divisions (physical and otherwise) in the town. Adding two more tracks, possibly elevated, is extremely disconcerting to those next to the tracks as well as those much farther way.

  43. Mike, I used to live in the Berkeley Hills very near those streets you've linked to, and sadly I don't think they are great examples for a grade separation at Churchill. The first example, on La Loma, the "street" to the left side of the fork is a dead end- the cars you see facing outward have turned around to park where it is legal to park, and the right side of the fork is a one-way street. Also, the second example, on Virginia, the street is grade separated, but it is a one-way street on the right-hand side of the separation. Churchill is most definitely a two-way street.

    Does anyone know the history of the grade separation at Embarcadero? I'd always wondered why Embarcadero drops from four lanes (two each way) to three under the grade separation, and now I'm guessing that the decision was made to narrow the road in order to accomplish the grade separation without encroaching on any of the neighboring houses. Too bad that option isn't available at Churchill.

  44. @mike: what an odd coincidence, the spot on La Loma that you posted is exactly where my friend lives. I've parked there many times.

    You will also block the bike path which is parallel to the tracks.

    @Susan: the bike path is likely a goner. It was built on a temporary, revocable easement of PCJPB land with the full understanding that the railroad could take it back. I'd say the chances of this are 99 percent.

  45. I posted on the Palo Alto Awakening article - but got no response... I thought I'd try here as well:

    I was wondering what your thoughts are on the fact that the CHSRA has the final word on all decisions that are made? In a democratic society, there is usually a system of checks and balances. I'm surprised there isn't some sort of peer review or a vote from other agencies (maybe FRA?!) to be sure we are really making the right decisions - or that the processes used are correct, etc.

    The most frustrating thing for PA residents at the meeting was how Diridon pointed out to the citizens and the City that basically, each voice in the process counts equally. Here, Palo Alto is looking to invest money in engineering studies and traffic studies, etc. - when at the end of the day, they can only make a suggestion and hope that their suggestions are heard.

    Diridon also pointed out that he has been through 9 projects of this nature - so this guy obviously knows the system - but what about oversight? Outside of lawsuits - isn't there a better way?

    Forgive me if I'm missing something that is obvious to you guys who follow this - but can you shed some light on this?

    The City Council asked how we can be sure our suggestions are considered. Diridon answered that by law, they must consider them all - but you should hold on to a copy of your comments for your own record.

    When asked what happens if something "slipped through the cracks" and wasn't analyzed - what recourse, if any, might someone have? He seemed to indicate that legal procedures were the only way to add anything they might leave out when they synthesize their comments for redundancies and eliminate unfeasible ideas.

    This system doesn't seem to foster trust. Also, the unfortunate title of "Authority" is something that helps people feel better...

    any thoughts?

  46. Rafael and others - Actually, there is a deceptively obvious solution to the 55' constraint on Churchill: Make the depressed portion into a bidirectional single lane between Alma and Emerson. The single lane would be controlled by two lights (one under Alma, one 130' west of Emerson) that would allow each direction to proceed for 45 seconds before changing.

    The knee jerk reaction is that this will cause back-ups, and I think that is an understandable reaction. It doesn't stand up to analysis, however.

    With a 45 second cycle, any given light would be green approximately 33% of the time. (There's a 30 second period when one direction is green and one red, followed by a 15 second period when both are red so that cars can clear the 350' single lane stretch. A given light is thus green for 66% times 50% = 33% of the time). I'm not certain what the split is for Churchill vs Alma, but I'd bet that Churchill gets the green for less than 40% of the time. Add in the periods during which Churchill is blocked by Caltrain (which looks to be around 10% of the time during peak hours), and it's very unlikely that Churchill's current design actually allows drivers to proceed more than 33% of the time.

    In other words, the single lane depressed solution from Alma to 130' west of Emerson would have at least as much car capacity as the current Emerson, and far more bike/pedestrian capacity (bikes and peds would never face a red light).

    It's not a great solution, because ideally you want substantial improvement rather than just maintenance of the status quo. But, if Palo Alto residents really want to avoid raised tracks with walls for retaining fill, then it is an option that would at least provide a traffic flow comparable to what they currently have without requiring the tracks to be raised in this section.

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  48. Clem,

    Small world! I knew about that location because I grew up a few blocks from there. Interesting observation regarding the bike lane easement at Churchill...that was not apparent from the ROW maps. It's also notable that Caltrain owns the section of Alma that crosses University Ave. Perhaps Caltrain should exercise its property rights and kick the road off its ROW - after all, look at all the blight that that ugly asphalt is causing to their pretty ROW!


    I wasn't suggesting that the exact design of those locations be used - I was just showing them to give an example of the total amount of room that a split level roadway requires. In both the La Loma example and the Virginia example, you have one parking lane and one traffic lane (on each level). There would be no parking lanes in the Churchill case - just two traffic lanes for local access and either one or two depressed traffic lanes.

  49. I was wondering what your thoughts are on the fact that the CHSRA has the final word on all decisions that are made?

    Interestingly, I believe you are right. The CHSRA appears to be the decision-making body for the HSR system. This is not unusual at the state level (e.g., the CSU Board is the decision-making body on the EIR for changes at SF State), but it does seem a little odd that the law is set up that way.

    In a democratic society, there is usually a system of checks and balances.

    So in this case the check/balance is the judicial branch - CHSRA can be sued if their EIR appears to be incomplete or obviously inaccurate.

    I'm surprised there isn't some sort of peer review or a vote from other agencies (maybe FRA?!)

    Oh, trust me, you do not want the FRA involved! They'd make CHSRA buy some specially designed super-heavy American train that would cause more vibrations and noise than the more advanced, off-the-shelf European or Japanese stuff.

    The City Council asked how we can be sure our suggestions are considered. Diridon answered that by law, they must consider them all

    That is absolutely correct. If the City of PA conducts an engineering study that demonstrates a superior solution that is economically viable, and CHSRA doesn't consider that solution, the PA can (and should!) sue CHSRA. Of course, CHSRA knows this, and so they will consider serious comments seriously.

    The problem is that right now most of the suggestions being thrown out are not economically viable. (Build us a tunnel! Build it up I-280! Build it up US-101!) CHSRA will likely consider these solutions anyway, just to make sure that all bases are covered, but any realistic accounting will quickly show that these solutions are not economically viable. They're simply non-starters. Thus, suing CHSRA for not building a $1 billion tunnel under PA/Menlo Park or for not seizing two lanes of 101 and building a 50 mile aerial structure above them is not going to get very far. A court isn't going to consider those to be economically viable solutions.

    What PA should be doing (for its own benefit, not for the state's) is carefully considering the benefits (and there are many!) and costs of the different types of economically viable mitigations. For example, are they satisfied with the noise reductions that electrification and no more horns will bring, or do they want even more noise reduction from the status quo by building a sound wall as well (the trade off presumably being that even a landscaped sound wall may not look quite as nice as trees)? Do the overall aesthetic benefits of keeping the system at grade outweigh the complications in designing a depressed grade separation at Churchill? These are the types of suggestions that are economically viable and that CHSRA would undoubtedly listen to - at least to prevent themselves from ending up on the losing end of a lawsuit, if nothing else!

  50. PA_Marcher: the HSRA isn't as omnipotent as Rod Diridon wants to think, and it would probably be beneficial for everyone if he would admit as much. For example, I'm fairly sure that the FRA would have to approve the actual operation, especially on the peninsula corridor. They could just prohibit the non-compliant HSR trains, and that would be the end of CAHSR. The CPUC also has jurisdiction over railroads in the state, and among other things, makes the rules for grade crossings. They could also put a spanner in the works, as they nearly did for the Expo Line in LA. Finally, the ROW still belong to PCJPB, and they are the ones who have the final say over what happens on their ROW.

  51. @Arcady and Mike

    I don't even know where to research such a thing - but according to Diridon - the Board of CHSRA makes all the final decisions - he made no mention of either FRA or even the Governor.

    PA council members asked specifically - who oversees the Board - since it is an unusual situation to have a Board of officials who are not elected to have a final say on anything. Diridon said - only lawsuits would really work (I'm summarizing what I understood) but he did point out that the Board was appointed by elected officials.

    You can imagine how uncomfortable that makes people feel.

    I mean, really, the amount of money it would take to file lawsuits to ensure that it is done correctly is just a waste. There should be a better system that doesn't require the legal branch to step in. It would be better for everyone - especially since any lawsuits would delay the project and cost millions.

    Anyone who questions the Authority would likely be accused of trying to kill the project - no matter how legitimate their concerns. HSR supporters should want some peer review, or something - to justify all the work they have to do by law anyway. It would ensure that someone else other than the obviously interested parties checked on the process.

    Is there precedence for this with other "authorities" that might have been used for transportation projects? I understand the concept of "overarching concerns" overriding - for instance- the opinions of Palo Altans. However, if the methodologies used or if other politics is in the works - how can we prevent potential misuse or abuse?

    I think this is a central issue, particularly around trust - I believe most Californians in general would react badly to the idea that a non-government entity can do make citizens do something "because they said so." There would be some serious backlash - no matter how fabulous the HSR could be. If rights are considered "violated" by a private entity - the fight would be vicious and everyone would lose...

    Am I off base here or does this make sense? Thanks for responding - and great posts by the way..

    @ Mike

    One thing about Churchill - there is a restriction on turns when traveling westbound to the Alma intersection. It is restricted by time of day (ex: No Left Turns between 7AM and 9AM M-F) - but I can't remember what it is (because I usually avoid it at that time anyway). That might have an effect on your Emerson Street proposal...

  52. there is a restriction on turns when traveling westbound to the Alma intersection

    Actually, it's the opposite: during peak morning commute hours, it's Left Turn Only. You can't cross Alma going westbound on Churchill. I'd always interpreted that as an accommodation to the number of trains going through, something that would presumably disappear with a grade separation...

  53. PA_Marcher: There are definitely issues with governance of HSRA, but in the end, the board is appointed by the state government, and that presumably provides the requisite level of oversight. What worries me more, though, is that the HSRA is basically a political board, a skeleton staff, and a huge amount of money flowing to contractors, who do all the actual work, including supervising each other.

  54. Clem,

    According to this http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/published/Final_decision/18177-01.htm the ROW near Paly is owned by the school district and Stanford. The JPB owns the part north of Embarcadero.

  55. @Susan, I was going by the Caltrain ROW map. Anything owned by Paly is by definition not railroad ROW.

  56. On further thought, the Caltrain map does not show easements. I think Stanford owns the land under the Palo Alto station, which is also shown on the map as Caltrain ROW. In practice, it's probably the same thing if there is an easement in perpetuity. At this point my legal knowledge runs dry!

  57. PA_Marcher, As I said, this set-up is standard at the state level - there is nothing special about the CHSRA in this regard. For example, check out the EIR of the SF State Master Plan. It makes clear that the final say on the plan is given by...the CSU Board of Trustees.

    The best case scenario for the anti-HSR crowd is that their lawsuits cause significant delays. But even this won't delay the entire project - there's no reason why the other 99% of the railroad couldn't be built, with a small choke point in the Palo Alto area that would be resolved a couple years after initial operation.

    It's kind of amusing that the CPUC bike path document includes the city installing a 6 foot high, steel chain link, "Gitmo style" fence, and yet when someone like Rafael suggests building an 8 foot sound wall in the same location it's met with howls of protest. Ironically, the aesthetic impacts of that fence were considered so minor that the project didn't even undergo the full environmental review process!!

  58. Susan, what you just uncovered there is absolutely critical.

    Please forward that finding to the city attorney, Kishimoto, PAUSD school board and Superintendent, and the attorneys for the Menlo Park, Atherton lawsuits.

    You should also post this on the palo alto city council feedback forum (the website).

    If true, the 'pressure points' have just been extended well beyond just PA City council, now should be directed at PAUSD BOE, and Stanford.

    I'd also like to know if that was disclosed, studied, costed, in the EIR/EIS.

    If not, sounds like we have a completely invalidated EIR/EIS on our hands.

  59. @resident, remember the EIR/EIS process is tiered, top to bottom. At the regional level (Bay Area / Central Valley), I don't think details like the bike path ownership are relevant. One way or the other, I think the statute of limitations prevents any attempt to invalidate the EIR/EIS on that basis.

    The bike path should certainly be addressed in the SF-SJ EIR/EIS now being scoped. Lest we forget, this scoping is the purpose of all the meetings taking place over the past few weeks.

    I suspect there's a lot more legalese that we don't know about regarding the easement situation. It might be worth dropping a line to the PCJPB secretary to get the full text of the agreement.

    Curiously, this issue is absent from the scoping comments prepared by Palo Alto city staff. Do they know something we don't, or the other way around?

  60. @Susan, I went to read the link you provided. The pertinent language states:

    South of Embarcadero Road and parallel to the CalTrain right-of-way the Project will extend for 1,600 feet to Churchill Avenue and then 300 feet west along the southern margin of the Palo Alto High School campus parallel to Churchill, on a nonexclusive easement granted to Applicant by the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) and the Trustees of Stanford University.

    I read that to mean that the PAUSD owns the land on the 300 foot segment that runs parallel to Churchill, not that the PAUSD owns the right of way itself.

  61. Clem, did you find out if Caltrain is actually designated in that STRACNET thing?

    I did a search on the CHSRA pdf version of the final Bay Area to Central Valley Program eir/eis. I couldn't find any mention of it.

  62. Your explanation is exceptionally well prepared and almost academic in its data based clarity, Clem. It’s worthy of Doctoral work.

    However, your discussion of eminent domain has already been contested by other commenters who disagree, as I do, about the actual land values of properties that would need to be acquired.

    Unfortunately, you omitted one major reason why the Caltrain corridor route was chosen and that is because of the eponymous Diridon Station. Mr. Diridon imperial ambitions are boundless and his vision of the station as a Crystal Palace to be the crowning monument to his career, a temple of rail through which all the world’s travelers would pass, costing what, $2 billion? The route on the Peninsula, Kopp and Diridon’s personal political stamping grounds, were the default route of choice – that is, Pacheco Pass – for some time. Never underestimate the power of ambition.

  63. Yes, it turns out that Caltrain was part of STRACNET as of the late 1990s. Nothing indicates otherwise today. As a friend put it, this must be to support military shipments of Tactical Hot Air.

    STRACNET was established in the 1970s, when freight railroads were sinking into decrepitude, to maintain reliable rail corridors for the Department of Defense. There are design criteria on speed, loading gauge, axle load, track maintenance, etc. which Caltrain (and HSR) would pass without even lifting a finger. I don't think it will mean much in the grand scheme of things.

  64. I think this STRACNET designation is actually very important. Is this a recent designation, as opposed to when the system was set up in the 1970s?

    The current Peninsula corridor hardly carries any freight these days, and the vast majority of it is low-value sand and gravel. Four-tracking the corridor just for the sake of separating the the rare freight train is not worth all the expense and community disruption through eminent domain. The freight can easily be handled late at night.

    As most institutions seek to expand, I have no doubt the Port of San Francisco and the Port of Redwood City have wild and hopeless fantasies of becoming major freight movers because of the CHSRA proposal for four-tracking, but can it possibly be justified on a cost-benefit basis? Caltrain and CHSRA trains can comfortably share two tracks, even at the optimum of 12 trains per hour in each direction: simply allow some passing tracks at key stations or points. Enormous sums of taxpayer money saved!

    But if this freight corridor is of STRATEGIC DEFENSE importance, we MUST have the ability to move frieght at any time, just in case! (sarcasm) In practice, if SF did suffer from a severe earthquake, the HSR trains simply wouldn't be running, and emergency freight shipments could easily use the two or three tracks. Four-tracking the entire Peninsula is simply redundant and a waste of resources.

  65. Bianca,

    The wording is definitely ambiguous. However, from the description it seems clear that Stanford owned the land that the bike path currently occupies between Embarcadero and Churchill. In particular, it notes a "260 feet long [platform], located at the north end of [the Stanford] easement." That is exactly the distance between Embarcadero and the southern end of the platform.

    That being said, it is unambiguous that JPB (Caltrain) owns the land containing the bike path north of Embarcadero. It should also be noted that the CPUC document predates the Caltrain ROW maps by 6 years, so I wouldn't assume that the CPUC document is a more accurate description of how things are today than the Caltrain ROW maps. It's not clear to me why Stanford would even want to own this property (other than possibly as leverage to get Caltrain to service Stanford football games). Especially after the bike path is built and kids are riding on it, all it does is expose Stanford to additional liability with zero benefit. Perhaps they transferred it to JPB...who knows.

    But regardless of who owns it, I doubt that Caltrain will encroach on the bike path in the area near Paly. The position of the 75' ROW south of Churchill ensures that the tracks will be closer to the Alma St. than they will be to Paly. They may encroach on the bike path further north, however (e.g., on the land that they clearly own).

  66. Mike, I've heard many (including I believe Clem) say Paly would lose that pathway to Caltrain (which was theoretically OK because it was Caltrain owned land anyway). Clem, do they, or do they not need that width? Can they just bulge out into Alma? If they need that space, that represents a heck of a chunk of ED.

    But back to STRACNET - what I saw was that those designated corridors are particularly valuable for their ability to carry wide/tall loads. That would have implications for the overhead (catenary) heights/clearances, the clearnaces on either side of tracks (and widths between tracks), perhpas the load bearing capabilitys of the structures supporting the tracks, types of approvals and MOUs needed, etc.

    And I believe (vague memory here), caltrain tracks have some sort of an offshoot to Moffet Air Field, down the road a bit. Which isn't used as a military base anymore, but is still still used as a staging areas in state and national emergencies (like Katrina, like wildfires, etc).

    What sort of implications would this have for heights and such at stations? tunnels? trenches? What sort of implications for connectivity in SF?

    It doesn't necessarily seem to completely be a non-issue.

  67. Anonymous - It is completely a non-issue. Whether or not the bike lane is on JPB land will also not be a big issue for construction of the tracks because even without the bike lane there is still 75' of width (which is what the corridor constricts to just south of Churchill anyway).

  68. @anon: military loading clearances are a non-issue (ignoring the fact that Caltrain really shouldn't be part of STRACNET in the first place). The military loading gauge is far smaller than the AAR Plate H profile that Union Pacific and the Port of San Francisco desire, and to which Caltrain is (oddly) designing their entire electrification project. HSR promises to perpetuate this madness in sizing all their infrastructure for gigantic freight cars.

    (For reference, HSR trains are scrawny featherweights compared to big, bad, manly American freight trains!)

    I may do a post on this STRACNET silliness to put it to bed once and for all.

    The Caltrain-VTA connector to Moffett was dismantled a few months ago. If a train needs it some day, the switch can be re-assembled on a few days notice. As you can observe if you ride Caltrain that way, they left all the parts in a neat pile next to the tracks.

  69. Clem: Plate H isn't completely insane, since the corridor already mostly accommodates it. The true insanity is horizontal clearances: nothing is higher than 8 inches is allowed to be within 7.5 feet of track centerline. That's why the tracks swing out so far at side-platform stations, to allow enough clearance for the fence between the tracks. That's why you have those silly little mini-slightly-higher platforms for wheelchairs, rather than just building the entire platform higher. And what's the point of all of this? Why the safety of railroad workers riding on the sides of freight cars of course.

  70. @ PA_marcher, arcady, mike -

    afaik, the JPB has not yet legally ceded any portion of the Caltrain right of way to CHSRA yet.

    Quentin Kopp likes to pretend that all publicly owned rights of way are at his disposal by default, but that's only true of those owned by the state. Federally owned land may also be available at no charge and few if any strings attached.

    However, the Caltrain ROW is owned by a consortium of the peninsula counties represented by the JPB. Therefore, while CHSRA is indeed the final arbiter in all things HSR unless overruled by the FRA or the courts, that only applies to ROWs that they have been given or purchased.

    Ergo, Palo Alto and other peninsula towns do have much more influence over the outcome than CHSRA's stance would suggest, albeit indirectly. The final decision on whether the entire Caltrain ROW or a fraction of it is offered to CHSRA lies with the PJB.

    The county officials that are PJB's (i.e. Caltrain's) paymasters are elected by peninsula voters, which gives peninsula residents political leverage. Get organized and you will have a different type of conversation with CHSRA and its consultants. Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon are savvy political operators, but they're not omnipotent.

    That said, you do need to make a good faith effort not to ask for the moon. While using both the southern (SJ-RC) and the northern (Dumbarton/RC-SF) section of the Caltrain corridor is definitely Plan A, CHSRA's budget for the peninsula section is quite tight.

    There is no official plan B yet, but if need be one will be identified. I don't know where CHSRA's head is at on this one, but Robert Cruickshank and and I are of course already looking into that contingency. We won't make our ideas public until we feel we have to, primarily because it's not fair to property owners to be perceived as being on a plan B. It would negatively impact their ability to sell that asset or use it as collateral for no good reason, other than to put pressure on peninsula communities to relent. It's not appropriate to use third parties as bargaining chips in negotiations without their consent or, to pit city against city, county against county. That's precisely why CHSRA has zeroed in on just one official preferred route.

    We want the focus to be ona good faith effort to make plan A work. oth sides have the right to say thx, but no thx in these negotations. Both sides stand to gain a great deal from reaching consensus and a great deal to lose from butting heads. That's why it's important to collaborate mile-by-mile, crossing by crossing.

    If the peninsula ends up walking away from the table altogether, that means all of the costs associated with the Caltrain 2025 program and all grade separations on the section of the ROW not offered will ultimately have to be founded out of county taxes, with no assistance from state or federal sources (at least not from funds allocated for HSR). In particular, the long-sought Caltrain extension into downtown SF will most likely not happen at all or at least, much later.

    If Caltrain still manages to triple its ridership and double its train per hour count to 10 by 2025, an remaining grade crossings will become major time sinks/sources o annoyance for motorists and, the number of grade crossing accidents could well increase as a result.

    HSR is your chance to help Caltrain make a quantum leap forward in its service quality, in addition to gaining all the benefits of having a zero tailpipe emissions, zero oil transportation alternative to long drive or short-hop flights.

    If it's done right, there will be positive knock-on effects like transit-oriented development, a state economy that doesn't collapse like a souffle if the price of gasoline goes over $4/gallon and, infrastructure investments avoided: freeways, runways, perhaps even water and electricity distribution.

    The 13 million new residents by 2030 will need to live somewhere; HSR will make the Merced-Sacramento stretch (aka where the water is) that much more attractive.

  71. "Palo Alto and other peninsula towns do have much more influence over the outcome than CHSRA's stance would suggest"
    Wouldn't it have been more politically convenient to admit this up front, rather than waving around your supposed omnipotence and stirring up fear, uncertainty, and resentment?

  72. "If the peninsula ends up walking away from the table altogether, that means all of the costs associated with the Caltrain 2025 program and all grade separations on the section of the ROW not offered will ultimately have to be founded out of county taxes, with no assistance from state or federal sources (at least not from funds allocated for HSR). In particular, the long-sought Caltrain extension into downtown SF will most likely not happen at all or at least, much later."

    Just stop now with the veiled threats. What you just wrote there is utter BS.

    First of all, Don't Worry. We'll fund it if its a priorty and if the changes suit our communities needs, and if the process is fair. Thanks for your all your generous 'help' but no thanks.

    Second, there NO REASON AT ALL that the important Caltrain corridor wouldn't attract state and federal funds in the future. "HSR" funds are not the end of be all of funding opportunities.

    Besides, Not HSR funds? - Maybe, maybe not, depends on how they define "high speed", and it depends on what Caltrain eventually agrees to become a feeder for (for example Caltrain connection in Diridon)

    Just stop your angling. The jig is up. If your REAL motivation is to get HSR done in California, you'll go get it done somewhere that makes a heck of a lot more sense. Even stopping it in SJ.

    If your REAL motiviation is to grab a bunch of lucrative Bay Area real estate on the cheap, and hand swaths of prime Peninsula towns over to greedy developers, then I have no doubt you'll keep angling.

    If your budget is tight, which we all know it is, and you freely agree that it is - then you have NO BUSINESS going after 50 miles worth of prime California Real Estate. That's NOT LOW BUDGET TERRITORY.

    Again, CHSRA has made a massive miscalculation here, on many fronts. And its damaging only those who really want to see HSR happen quickly and cheaply.

  73. then you have NO BUSINESS going after 50 miles worth of prime California Real Estate.

    @anonymous: I have to wonder, did you even bother to read the original blog post? Do you have information to indicate that HSR will need to purchase more than 4 acres of prime real estate, in strips wider than a few feet? If so, please describe. This blog values facts over speculation.

  74. If your REAL motiviation is to grab a bunch of lucrative Bay Area real estate on the cheap, and hand swaths of prime Peninsula towns over to greedy developers

    If this is what concerns you, can you provide some evidence, some rational basis for this concern? Did you read the actual post? We have here an active, existing railroad. One that is used both day and night (I can hear those freight trains 2000 feet from the tracks.) In very few places the existing Right of Way isn't quite wide enough, and a little more land will be needed, and nobody has any illusions that taking will be done for cheap.

    Take a deep breath. Remember that CHSRA has been operating on a shoestring for the last two years. They haven't had the bandwidth to come up with devious plans or sneaky ulterior motives. If there were "greedy developers" behind this, I think they would have made sure things were handled a bit more smoothly. Don't go attributing malice where simple lack of resources to plan appropriately would suffice as an explanation.

  75. Rafael - It has been my belief for several weeks that "stacking" the JPB is the only possibly effective strategy that the NIMBYs have to force high cost changes. I doubt they yet realize this though - they're too busy fabricating absurd exaggerations and wallowing in their own self-pity. They love to talk about lawsuits, and lawsuits can certainly cause delays, but at the end of the day they will not be successful because the facts simply are not on the NIMBYs side (i.e., the negative impacts are not nearly as large as the NIMBYs imagine them to be, and it will not be too hard to prove that in court).

    That being said, even stacking the JPB is a very long shot. JPB has three members from each county: San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara. Needless to say, the 3 SF members have no more political interest in catering to the Peninsula NIMBYs than a Nevada congressman has in working hard to secure earmarks for a district in Oregon. That leaves the 6 San Mateo and Santa Clara members. The 3 San Mateo members could, I think, find some political gain to insisting on super costly alternatives (e.g., a 20 mile trench) in exchange for using the ROW. The 3 Santa Clara members, however, effectively represent San Jose and VTA. They know that if they push too hard, CHSRA might well switch back to Altamont, which is the last thing that San Jose wants. In fact, it's not an exaggeration to say that Santa Clara was in fact the political force behind picking the Caltrain ROW (i.e., picking Pacheco).

    The bottom line is that both Santa Clara and San Mateo will have to be on the same page for JPB to move against CHSRA, but the interests of the two counties are radically different. Anyway, should be entertaining to watch!

  76. "In fact, it's not an exaggeration to say that Santa Clara was in fact the political force behind picking the Caltrain ROW (i.e., picking Pacheco)."
    If by Santa Clara, you mean San Jose, then you're right. And is it any real surprise that a board with Rod Diridon on it would pick an alignment through Rod Diridon's hometown, and through Rod Diridon Station?
    On the topic of county government, by the way, one of the things you have to keep in mind is that the City of San Jose makes up a majority of the population of Santa Clara County, which makes for some interesting county-level politics, and it tends to make Palo Alto feel like they're not getting their concerns heard at the county level.

  77. Clem - the 'going after' extends well beyond ROW, as I've mentioned before. consider the impacts (extensive townwide remodeling) that would be required for something like a station (and the accomanying transit hub, dense housing etc.)

    We can(and will) argue all day long about how good or bad this all would be for the towns, but the fact is that it does represent a massive TARGETING of big swaths of Peninsula cities for HSR purposes.

    Think bigger when you think about impacts. Please

  78. just in case! (sarcasm) Sure, cuz we all know Earthquakes around here - who cares.

    wrt stracnet: "There are design criteria on speed, loading gauge, axle load, track maintenance, etc. which Caltrain (and HSR) would pass without even lifting a finger."

    The more important questions would be not how easily Caltrain/HSR could "pass" under those requirements, but rather what sort of OVERKILL design elements (like width beyond track perimiters or widths between tracks, or safety zones parallel to tracks, or overhead clearances, or distances from surrounding structures - I have no idea what they could really be, that would have to be studied, I guess we shoul go look at the EIR for those details...)

    Could any requirements be potentially be well beyond what Caltrain/HSR would otherwise have required for themselves, that might kick in due to this designation.

    I'm talking about needing to design for military capabilities 'just in case', not whether HSR and Caltrain can operate within those parameters.

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  80. I'll do a post on this soon. The military stuff is definitely not a design driver. The accommodation of commercial oversize freight is. (please fight it!) The steam-era regulations of the California Public Utilities Commission are also a big deal. ("men riding on side of freight cars" and all ye olde tyme railroad practices)

  81. Clem, you're right that freight interests are driving this elaborate corridor design, especially the full-length four-tracking. The CHSRA contractors are happy to oblige, since a big project is more lucrative than a small project. As long as the funding for (re)design and construction flows, the contractors have little incentive to see the full HSR system actually completed. When asked why the line has moved relatively little freight since the 1960s and the prospects for the Port of SF are in tourism and real estate development, they will argue that the STRACNET need has to be maintained until glorious freight returns... maybe, one day...

    NIMBYs are up and down the Peninsula and in SF, so do you think they are going to ever tolerate a new shipping container facility?!? That's for Oakland.

    Building four tracks along the entire length of the Peninsula just for the two daily roundtrip freight trains the corridor currently handles is patently ridiculous. In the future, I suppose we could have monthly earthquake emergencies or annual military invasions, so we can argue that all this tracking will indeed be necessary?!? The Peninsula needs gravel, and communities must be disrupted for it!

    As a planning organization -- they certainly haven't built anything yet -- CHSRA has been lavishly funded to date. This is shocking when you consider that CHSRA claims not to know even the most basic ballpark estimates for tunneling, trenching, or retained fill per mile. What have they been doing with the $70 million in studies?

    BART had always planned to use the Caltrain ROW to San Jose, so that would have implied no freights.

  82. "What have they been doing with the $70 million in studies?"

    Studying, it's a huge project

  83. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  84. @Spokker: you are welcome to comment if you have something of substance to add to the discussion. Otherwise, please refrain.

  85. Since you lack a sense of humor, let's discuss it seriously then.

    People don't like Rod Diridon. They even imply he's corrupt for the reasons arcady states.

    "And is it any real surprise that a board with Rod Diridon on it would pick an alignment through Rod Diridon's hometown, and through Rod Diridon Station?"

    Whatever one thinks of Diridon, it would seem to me that San Jose is a priority station in its own right, no matter what the San Jose station is actually called.

    Now if we're not supposed to call each other names, why is it okay to call the planners of this high speed train names or imply that they are corrupt?

    I happen to agree with the route option picked. Am I in Diridon's pocket? I don't even know what the guy looks like.

  86. "consider the impacts (extensive townwide remodeling) that would be required for something like a station (and the accomanying transit hub, dense housing etc.)"
    Doesn't Palo Alto already have a station? It even has an accompanying transit hub. If the HSRA folks are really proposing a townwide remodeling, then they're doing something wrong.

    Oh and by the way, I agree that the HSR really does need to serve San Jose one way or another. But there's still just something not right about a politician in a position of power to decide train service at a station named after himself.

    Clem: I'd really REALLY like to see a post on platform-train interface. This is a HUGE issue for operations, and I've not heard very much about it at all. How would European or Japanese high-floor HSR trains interact with 8 inch Caltrain platforms? What about ADA?

  87. "But there's still just something not right about a politician in a position of power to decide train service at a station named after himself."

    Which is why I felt that my original joke was appropriate. Let's go to Diridon and say, "Listen, San Jose is great and all, but would you mind if we changed the station name to something a bit less... you?" It seems like a name change would please A LOT of people the way some are carrying on about the guy.

  88. Rod Diridon is a public figure, and now is precisely the time that CHSRA's unelected board members be held to account with proper oversight. Movement in the state legislature to reign in the unelected and unaccountable CHSRA Board is underway.

    Rod Diridon hasn't held elected office since 1994, so he's not quite a politician anymore. He is certainly a political operator, and like Dick Cheney, understands that he can get more done behind the scenes in appointed positions than in elected office. As much as he loves trains, he knows next to nothing about the technical operation of them. He is a dreamer and a backroom deal-maker, not an engineer. This should concern those who are interested in the technical specifics of HSR.

    Diridon is a liability for HSR, and those looking for a pressure point to influence CHSRA, Diridon is it. He will be a magnet for criticism in the years ahead. Since we the public will be building a new station at the old San Jose Diridon, the station should be renamed to something more generic like "San Jose Central". Sounds fair.

    Have a read about some of Diridon's "pay to play" activity:

  89. @Ozymandias




    Here's a start, Ozymandias, king of kings. I'm looking on your works, and I despair! But not as much as when I'm looking on Sacramento.

    If you wish more articles that examine the background of the high-speed rail mafia, let me know.

    By the way, when Kopp is asked about the Boston Big Dig and the court-ordered penalty fees leveed against Parsons Brinckerhoff, he states that it was all Bechtel's fault. I find that convincing, don't you?

  90. VTA Light Rail is a joke. But I think Diridon's insistence on San Jose being a big player in CAHSR is the one thing he got right, perhaps by accident.

    People are so pre-occupied with this man and the name of a stupid train station that changing its name would probably be a net benefit for Diridon's cause.

    Call it whatever the hell you want, just ensure sure fast trains go in and out of it.

  91. @ arcady -

    in my defense, my beef with the sudden backlash against HSR - which may be slowly subsiding now - was the demand for a tunnel alignment paid for exclusively with funds that CHSRA was supposed to rustle up.

    If tunnels are what the city of Palo Alto really wants, then its officials should have said so clearly and publicly long before the election last year. There would have been discussion and pushback, but I'd have been fine with that process. Worst case, CHSRA would have selected a different preferred route.

    It's the gotcha after that fact that riled me. Either city officials were incompetent or they were being devious. My guess is the former, but that's bad enough. CHSRA no doubt has made its own mistakes but let's not limit demands for accountability to them alone.

    Also, I did not fully understand the ownership structure of Caltrain at first. Once I did, I immediately moderated my stance. Not all HSR supporters did, but I can't do more than try to influence their thinking with my comments.

  92. @ High Tech Crossings -

    the quad tracking is needed because Caltrain local trains operate at an average speed of ~50mph, whereas express HSR trains will run at a 125mph. There will be no tracks dedicated to freight.

    That said, there needs to be an arrangement with the Port of SF and UPRR regarding plate H cars and ye olde tyme railroad practice of unionized workers hanging off their sides. The benefits have to outweigh the costs.

    This is the 21st century and other industrialized countries manage to move freight just fine with level boarding platforms and limited horizontal clearance to adjacent tracks. Freight rail cannot be a law unto itself, especially in the SF peninsula corridor where every foot of ROW width is extremely precious. If the operating practices need to be changed, so be it - it's much cheaper to compensate the few that would lose their jobs than to uphold antiquated rules.

  93. "other industrialized countries manage to move freight just fine with level boarding platforms"
    Most of the Northeast has 4 foot high platforms on the busier lines. In fact, the Acela can only use high platforms, as it lacks the steps for low platforms due to the Tier II collision strength requirements.

  94. @Ozymandias

    Here are two more articles about Diridon and his minions.



    I would think, that no matter how attractive the high speed rail concept is, its execution really does matter. And the history of this one is sorry indeed.

  95. Re: Platforms.

    The answer is 760mm above top of rail.

    That's what the Spaniards (who know a thing or two about building new HS systems from scratch and about renovating existing stations) use, it's one of the two (count, 'em, TWO) European HSR interoperability standards, it allows a good deal of flexibility in rolling stock design, and it results in suburban stations that are better integrated into surrounding suburbs and more human-accessible.

    Anything related to Amtrak (western or eastern) is immediate grounds for exclusion.

    Re: Freight.

    Always was insane, always will be insane. Tail wagging the dog. This isn't 1940 any more.

    Re: Grade crossings.

    They all have to go. This isn't 1940 any more.
    Regardless of the suicides and regardless of the self-promotion of some dubious technology, the issue is that rail service disruptions from train-motor vehicle crashes are unacceptable, and that the risk of catastrophic train-car-second-train collisions is non-zero today and rises rapidly with more rail traffic.

    The least disruptive and most human-friendly way to grade separate Caltrain is to raise the tracks and to very moderately depress roadways. We've been through this before. Raised tracks less of a barrier to human circulation than existing fenced-off, ground-level, impenetrable tracks, and in fact offer the opportunity to reconnect suburban destinations at a pedestrian level.

    Re: Underground through the suburbs.

    It isn't going to happen.

    Some other issues that haven't even been mentioned:
    * life safety (extra $$$$ underground construction width for evacuation routes; an almost certain requirement that tunnels be divided by wide and expensive fire walls into totally independent, separately-ventilated operating structures; siting and construction and operation and maintenance of above-ground emergency access, firefighting and ventilation routes and structures); and
    * construction phasing (ummm... what do you do with the existing tracks while you're digging out a new tunnel that requires over twice the ROW width?)
    * stream crossings.

    Consider BART (thank you, Quentin Kopp) through San Bruno.

    Re: Quadruple tracking.

    It isn't being driven by freight (though surely the Mighty Port of San Francisco will be happy to oblige in anything that adds cost and provides no value).

    Strategic, limited, cost-justified and service-driven (ie timetable-driven) amplification is necessary in some locations primarily for Caltrain use (Caltrain is and will remain the primary operator and primary ridership base on the line and its operating needs must always be primary) and in some others where operating discipline and timetable optimization are insufficient to provide reliable HSR/Caltrain interaction.

    What is driving non-strategic, cost-maximizing build-out plans are the usual toxic local combinations of contractor rent-seeking, agencies and political actors that see maximized capital construction projects as ends in themselves, a culture in which capital costs are pork-driven and externally funded from infinite slush piles, and a culture of complete ignorance of 20th (let alone 21st) century rail operating practice.

    In short: the bigger the project the better for everybody, since the project is not designed to serve public transportation riders. This holds for CHSR exactly as it held for BART-Millbrae, VTA Light Rail, BART-San Jose, Muni Light Rail, etc, etc. There is active disincentive for doing things correctly and for considering cost-benefit and operating-capital trade-offs, so of course we always end up with the worst of all possible results.

    Re: Diridon.

    While it is undoubtable that the man is sleazy and corrupt, utterly and completely technically ignorant, embarrassingly shameless and self-promoting, and has a consistent and unbroken record of failure in delivering "promised" transportation benefits; that's not the issue.

    The issue with Pacheco (and HSR via Henry Coe State Park, and HSR via King City, which Father of VTA Light Rail and Mineta Memorial Transportation Insitute Director Diridon has advocated in the past) is that it will result in a worse regional rail system for northern California; a massively higher cost regional rail system for Northern California; higher costs for HSR; worse impacts on Caltrain operations; and worse service for San Jose and Santa Clara County.

    It's not that High Speed trains should not run to Diridon Not Yet Dead Memorial Internecine MultiModal Station; it's that sending all trains via that location, regardless of the destination of riders, completely ignoring all riders from urban and suburban Alameda County and completely ignoring all SIlicon Valley transportation needs other than SJ-Los Banos-LA is a bad dead for San Jose and a disaster for the region (where "the region" includes as far away as Sacramento.)

    It's easy and sleazy to go after straw men. Nobody has ever advocated cutting Mighty San Jose the Tenth Largest Low Density Sprawl Annexing City in The County out of the HSR system; so claiming that only the highest cost, lowest benefit, highest construction risk, lowest ridership route will provide all the service that the city (and the adjacent sprawlburbs where the real economic action of Silicon Valley lies) can possibly use.

    Downtown San Jose is one of the density bumps and minor job concentrations in the southern and eastern sprawl of the Bay Area; the issue is whether it should be exclusively served and at the direct expense of other density bumps such as North San Jose, Milpitas, Fremont, Oakland (ever heard of it?), Berkeley, San Ramon, Dublin, Livermore.

  96. Richard: 760 mm platforms aren't going to happen on the Caltrain corridor. They're not compatible with western low floor trains, including both Caltrain's current and future fleet. Unless we do like Spain and build an entirely separate HSR network with an incompatible track gauge, compatibility is going to be an issue. Also, Spain doesn't have the level boarding constraints imposed by ADA. Whether or not this is a good thing, it's the regulatory reality which we live in.

  97. Right...we need to let the 1950's gallery-car purchase, and incompetently-designed Caltrain platforms dictate platform height of 21st-century HSR. HSR is going to be incompatible with "western low-floor trains" for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with platform height.

    Incidentally, can we stop using the term "downtown San Jose" to describe Diridon station? According to Google maps, it is 0.9 miles from the station to N. 1st. St (not counting extremely long distance it is going to be from HSR platform to station exit).

    I only bring this up as the Authority and VTA plans on spending many billions of dollars digging tunnels. You would think they'd at least put those tunnels in the right place. Reminds me of those old Bugs Bunny cartoons where he's tunneling and misses that left turn to Albuquerque.

  98. @ arcady -

    Caltrain will eventually implement whatever platform height and length is needed for its new, off-the-shelf, non-compliant rolling stock going to the two platform tracks to SFTT (i.e. 12 cars per train before increasing tph). There may need to be temporary cloodges for the platforms until the fleet has been cut over and platforms can be raised to the required level. That means installing automatic train control first to ensure trains stop within a couple of inches of the designated location at each station.

    As for HSR, its tracks will indeed be brand-new but standard gauge just like Caltrain. Anything else would be brain-dead, even if the Siemens Velaro RUS features both Russian gauge (1520mm) and wider car bodies. Both Caltrain and CHSRA will seek exemptions from the usual FRA rules, based on modern signaling, crash test simulations etc.

    So frankly, Western low floor trains are irrelevant because they won't be running on the Caltrain alignment much longer. UPRR will figure out a way to change its operating practices and, FRA will provide the necessary exemptions because Obama is in charge now. As in, someone with a clue about rail for a change.

    There's no need to perpetuate idiotic rules that only hamstring attractive, modern, electric passenger rail service.

  99. bikierider: the 1950's gallery cars actually aren't such a problem, as they can be adapted to match any platform heights. Indeed there are gallery cars in Illinois, which look almost identical to the ones Caltrain uses, except the doors are configured for high platforms, and they're EMUs. The Bombardier cars, on the other hand, cannot, since they have their doors on the lower level. Same goes for the California Cars and Superliners. And as far as I know, there are still plans in the works to run through service from SF to Gilroy, Salinas, and San Luis Obispo, which will presumably use the Bombardier bilevels or California Cars.

    Rafael: I referred to the track gauge just as a way to indicate that Spain's HSR network is completely separate, in the way that even CAHSR won't be. CAHSR will have to share tracks and platforms with Caltrain, Metrolink, and Amtrak. So if CAHSR goes with a platform height that's not compatible with existing trains, either those agencies will have to change all their rolling stock, or else there will have to be major operational pains with different height platforms. And incidentally, I looked it up, and apparently the ICE-3 has basically the same 48 inch floor height as the standard Amfleet. And also, you might be surprised to hear this, but humans actually do a better job of precisely stopping trains than automatic systems, at least so far.

  100. 760 mm platforms aren't going to happen on the Caltrain corridor. They're not compatible with western low floor trains ...

    That's right. Amtrak's Coast Daylight should determine the platform interface and rolling stock design for CHSR and Caltrain.

    Of course.

    Colorado Railcar ought be able to up with a God-fearing American Designed and Made With Pride in the USA high speed train which is 100% compatible with Superliners.

    Don't forget to allow clearance at platforms for the steam locomotive's cylinders to pass, and don't forget to allow space under the catenary wire for brakemen to move along the top of the train and crank down the brake wheels.

  101. Richard: What about Metrolink and Surfliners in Southern California? Remember that they'll be sharing tracks, and possibly platforms at Anaheim. Anyway, 760mm platforms seem to not be a viable option, since they don't match the floor height of the ICE. Steps up to the train might be okay in Europe, but in the US, it means a bridgeplate or lift. It might be easier to just use the standard 48 inch platform, which has the advantage of both being used in the US and matching the ICE floor height. In any case, it's absolutely critical that Caltrain and HSR pick a compatible entrance height for their trains. And I haven't heard anything from either one about it.

  102. That God fearing American company went out of business. and since we have 0 experience with HST Im more than fine with Europe products

  103. Richard,

    This certainly isn't 1940, and it's not 1956 either. A statewide or nationwide HSR program should not simply be a highway building program for rail, grade separating all the tracks. It's 2009, and it's time that HSR embraced the technology of the age, namely advanced electronics, precise global positioning, advanced inertial measurement, and far-better-than-human sensor technology.

    If the nation seriously wants to improve the speed and safety of its rail network, it can't simply rely on very expensive and disruptive grade separations. A more cost-effective and innovative solution has to be found -- just count the number of at-grade crossings along major passenger train routes! The budgets and political will only go so far.

    Hark, this Peninsula even offers some solutions. This is Silicon Valley we're talking about, right? Japan and Europe have many things to learn too.


    We must never forget that the rail industry has to continuously innovate -- not just imitate the Europeans and Japanese, playing catch-up -- because other transportation technologies are advancing rapidly. Autonomous vehicle technology can most certainly be applied to train and crossing control, making them safer than crude yet expensive grade separations. With all the budget savings, nice urban design projects can be implemented beyond just moving a lot of dirt.

    Building an advanced train control industry is far better an economic stimulus and national competitive advantage than aimlessly repeating the earth-moving of the highway program. Even Caterpillar is embracing autonomous vehicle technologies, because it recognizes the benefits of sensor safety and precise positioning of equipment.

  104. @ arcady -

    afaik, HSR will have dedicated tracks in SoCal except for one short stretch (Fullerton-Anaheim) where the ROW is too narrow to accommodate four tracks.

    HSR stations in Palmdale, Sylmar, Burbank, LA, Norwalk and Anaheim will all have to support proven, off-the-shelf European or Japanese train designs with full-length platforms (400m = 1/4 mile). If existing Metrolink platforms are not compatible, then separate new ones will have to be built for HSR.

    Phase I is a $33 billion project and expected to serve tens of millions of passengers each year by 2030. With all due respect, that dwarfs anything plying the rails today. That's why LA Union station will get a second train deck with run-through tracks. It's why even Anaheim ARTIC will have half a dozen platform tracks. This isn't about tinkering in the margins.

    @ high tech crossings -

    your unshakable confidence in technology misses two key aspects of grade crossings:

    a) there are always some pedestrians, cyclists and motorists who desperately want to win at least one award in their lives, even if it's a Darwin award. The lucky winner gets to give a train engineer nightmares for weeks on end and, to cause chaos for train operations in the entire corridor for at least a number of hours.

    b) FRA rules permit grade crossings with "impenetrable barriers" for track sections rated at up to 125mph. Above that, grade separation is mandatory on safety grounds alone. The end.

    The speed limit on the HSR tracks in Caltrain corridor will be right at that dividing line. The decision therefore comes down to operations risk and capacity considerations. Caltrain is currently running 5tph in each direction during rush hour. It expects to triple ridership and double tph (i.e. run more and longer trains) by 2025.

    CHSRA is planning to run 3-6 tph from the get-go, with ultimate capacity for at least 12tph - though that would not be used until several decades from now, if ever. A 16-car bi-level HSR train provides 1100-1600 seats, depending on the manufacturer.

    For the corridor as a whole, you're looking at a rush hour total of 10-12tph in 2020 and theoretically as many as 22tph sometime in the 2030-2050 timeframe. That's in each direction. Even the highest of high tech cannot overcome a simple fact of life: when two vehicles try to be in the same place at the same time, someone's gonna get hurt - or killed. That means one or the other has to wait.

    With or without HSR, hardened grade crossings in the Caltrain corridor would only be appropriate for secondary roads that a city would be prepared to close entirely during rush hour if and when the anticipated rail traffic volume actually materializes. At that point, if not earlier, it would need to make a decision on the permanent fate of the crossing, i.e. close it permanently or grade separate it for the sake of maintaining capacity.

  105. @Rafael, is the number of tracks at a grade crossing (four vs. two) treated differently by the regulations?

    I agree that no amount of technology can make a grade crossing truly safe (e.g. vehicular suicide). Lots of sophisticated sensors may indeed improve safety, but will also create a false alarm problem. There is no technological solution as robust as grade separation.

  106. Beyond 125mph train speeds, I would recommend grade separations, but a large share of a nationwide HSR network would not exceed 125mph. The Midwestern linee are not expected to exceed 125mph, and if you have several close stops, 125mph is just fine. Given the high expense of grade separating long stretches of tracks -- the US has many, many long stretches of tracks -- it will often simply not be worth it to have trains exceed 125mph in much of the country. Anyway, reliability and service quality are more important than sheer speed.

    Likewise, train speeds on the Peninsula corridor will not exceed 125mph and will likely average 100-110mph.

    The current track security of Caltrain is deplorable, but that has a lot to do with a severe lack of fencing and awkward intersection designs that leave vehicles exposed. I am actually surprised many more incidents don't occur. Many of the deaths on the line are due to suicides and people walking on the tracks. Grade separations don't stop people from walking on the tracks, but fences and active security monitoring can.

    Regarding Darwin Award earners at grade crossings, studies show that the vast majority of culprits willingly swerve around the crude single gate, trying to beat the train. I recommend the FRA-allowed hard crossings that completely close access to the crossing, stopping the fools. Anything left within the secure area can be detected.

    I am not against grade separations, but considering their great expense, I think they should be incrementally phased in AS THE TRAFFIC JUSTIFIES. I don't think this corridor will ever exceed 10 trains per hour per direction, and that's going to be decades away. While the Bay Area is growing, Peninsula communities are very restrictive of growth. This corridor may eventually justify full grade separation, but many other less dense corridors around the country are going to have to get by with grade crossings.

    Even with complete grade separation, HSR has to consider the significant advantages of sophisticated train control and corridor monitoring. Stray things and people can still get on the tracks, and many failsafes need to be built into an effective system.

  107. As a random data point, the LIRR Main Line has 99 round trips per day on a two track line, which is twice as many as Caltrain runs now, and even slightly less than what Caltrain plans to run in 2025. The trains are mostly third rail electic MUs, with some diesels. Track speed is 80 mph. There is a project in the works to grade separate the line and build a third track, but it has been "in the works" for a while now.