09 August 2009

The Effect Of Heavy Freight

Heavy freight trains operate nightly on the Caltrain corridor. "Heavy freight" is characterized by very high axle loads (up to 30,000 kg or 65,000 lb) and very high mass per unit length (up to 7,500 kg/m or 5,000 lb/ft). Today, they are not much of a nuisance and few people notice them, but what will happen when the high speed rail project is built on the peninsula? HSR will bring a lot of changes, but some of them will be attributable to freight more than high speed rail. This is an attempt to tease out the specific community impacts of heavy freight trains.

The Caltrain corridor has more than 40 grade crossings, every one of which will be eliminated. Grade crossings can be eliminated either by closing them permanently, or by building a grade separation overpass or underpass, similar to the many grade separations that already dot the corridor. Usually, the easiest way to build a grade separation is to keep the railroad tracks at ground level and detour the road over or under the tracks. In some cases, though, detouring the road is not practical because of nearby residential or business frontage, or major roads and intersections.

Those situations are where the railroad tracks must be elevated above or sunk below ground level. Those situations are causing quite a controversy in the communities along the Caltrain corridor, because the HSR project's preference is for cheaper elevated structures.

Getting Trains to Climb

You might think that 125 mph (200 km/h) passenger trains would need very gentle grades and a vertical track profile that is as flat as possible--but you'd be wrong! What determines train safety and comfort is vertical curve radius (at that speed, a minimum of 6 miles or 10 km), and not the steepness of the grade. Powerful high speed passenger trains and modern EMU commuter trains planned by Caltrain can easily climb grades that are very steep by railroad standards, like a whopping 3% (i.e. 3 feet up for every 100 feet along the track). It's the heavy freight trains that have difficulty with those grades, because freight locomotives will start spinning their wheels if they attempt to drag a massive train up such a steep incline. That's why heavy freight trains are typically limited to grades of about 1% (i.e. 1 foot up for every 100 feet along the track). Grades any steeper than that require additional locomotives, shorter trains, and cost more to operate.

Grade Separation: Rail Overpass

When a grade separation is built over a road that cannot be lowered, the railroad tracks must be raised about 20 feet above the level of the road. That includes the clearance for road vehicles, plus the thickness of the bridge deck, plus the height of the rails, as shown in the diagram at right. (Trains go on the top, cars and trucks on the bottom.)

To get the rails up to that height, long sloping approaches are needed on either side of the crossing, forming an elongated hump. If you were to stand close enough to such a hump structure, you would see a retaining wall.

What will heavy freight trains do to the design of a typical grade separation rail overpass? They make the approach ramps much longer and greatly increase the area of the retaining wall that neighbors would have in their back yard, as shown in the figure at left, with the vertical scale greatly exaggerated. Walls block sight lines, are themselves ugly to look at, reduce property values, and can attract graffiti and neighborhood blight.

Compare and contrast a typical 1% rail overpass with a 2.5% rail overpass:

Parameter1% Grade2.5% GradeFreight Effect
Minimum Vertical Radius10 km (6 mi)10 km (6 mi)0% tighter
Height6.1 m (20 ft)6.1 m (20 ft)0% higher
Length of Wall > .3 m (1 ft) High1250 m (4100 ft)870 m (2800 ft)44% longer
Length of Wall > 2.4 m (8 ft) High840 m (2750 ft)550 m (1800 ft)53% longer
Wall Area4200 m2 (45,000 sq ft)3000 m2 (32,000 sq ft)40% larger
Fill Volume (75 ft Width)125,000 cubic yards

(12,500 truckloads)
90,000 cubic yards (9,000 truckloads)40% larger

Exact values may vary, but the relative percentages will be very close. Smaller walls mean lessened community impact, but heavy freight trains make the walls significantly bigger.

Grade Separation: Rail Underpasses

The other possible option is to sink the rails under the road. When a grade separation is built under a road that cannot be raised, the railroad tracks must be sunk over 30 feet below the level of the road. That includes clearance for trains, high voltage overhead electrification, and the bridge deck. The resulting trench must be dug even deeper than rail level to account for the foundation of the structure.

Once again, to get the rails down into a trench, long sloping approaches are needed on either side of the crossing, forming an elongated sagging profile. Adding a twist, heavy freight trains can be up to three feet taller than regular trains, which requires digging the trench three feet deeper than would otherwise be needed, as shown in the figure at left. On a structure that's 75 feet wide and well over a mile long, that adds up to a lot of extra dirt to remove.

Compare and contrast a typical 1% rail trench underpass with a 2.5% trench underpass:

Parameter1% Grade2.5% GradeFreight Effect
Minimum Vertical Radius10 km (6 mi)10 km (6 mi)0% tighter
Depth of Trench
9.8 m (32 ft)8.8 m (29 ft)10% deeper
Length of Trench > .3 m (1 ft) Deep1850 m (6100 ft)1000 m (3400 ft)80% longer
Trench Wall Area9300 m2 (100,000 sq ft)4600 m2 (50,000 sq ft)100% larger
Excavated Volume (75 ft Width)280,000 cubic yards

(28,000 truckloads)
140,000 cubic yards (14,000 truckloads)100% larger

Exact values may vary, but the relative percentages will again be very close.

Heavy freight trains double the amount of excavation needed for a railroad trench underpass. That may be fine with neighbors because the trains would stay even more out of sight, but since a trench is more expensive, an elevated solution will be preferred. That's right: where a wall might not have been required, heavy freight trains could tilt the balance in favor of an elevated wall. The Churchill Avenue crossing in Palo Alto is a great example where this trade-off may occur to the detriment of the neighborhood.

Rise and Fall

Heavy and long freight trains perform poorly on a track profile that rises and falls across each road crossing like a roller-coaster. Such undulating profiles complicate train handling and can cause hazardous slack action. That's why the grade separations in Belmont and San Carlos are built on a continuous elevated embankment that stretches for several miles, simplifying the handling of trains using the primitive manually operated air brake.

In contrast, modern, powerful electric passenger trains with advanced automatic train control systems can glide over these ups and downs without causing their passengers any discomfort. In the manner of an airplane's autopilot, the train's control software automatically adjusts throttle and braking in concert with the vertical profile of the track, which is stored in an on-board database. This capability allows considerably more rise and fall in the vertical profile, which minimizes the extent of elevated structures and thus lessens impact on communities.

Heavy freight trains tolerate very little rise and fall and will increase the impact of elevated grade separations because the stretches between grade separations may stay elevated.

Bridge Columns

On sections of track elevated over roads, or open viaducts to allow community access to both sides of the tracks, trains run on what is effectively a bridge. Bridge design depends on the load that will be carried. A good proxy for this load is the linear mass density of the heaviest train, or how much the train weighs per unit of length.

ParameterHeavy FreightPassengerFreight Effect
Linear Mass Density7,500 kg/m (5,000 lb/ft)2,500 kg/m (1,700 lb/ft)200% heavier
Load On a 15 m (50 ft) Span113,000 kg (250,000 lb)38,000 kg (85,000 lb)200% heavier

While these values are approximate and do vary quite a bit, heavy freight trains can be two to four times as heavy as a passenger train! Throw in the usual factors of safety, and you don't have to be a civil engineer to guess what that does to a bridge design:
  • Bigger and/or more concrete columns
  • Shorter spans with columns spaced closer together
  • Thicker bridge decks
  • Costlier construction
These are not characteristics that you might call neighborhood-friendly. Heavy freight trains will make the design of graceful elevated structures nearly impossible. (For a representative attempt, visit San Carlos.)

Track Maintenance

The interaction of wheel and rail is an arcane subject that mixes black art with cutting-edge research. It is the stuff of academic journals, so we won't venture out of our depth here. Wheel and rail profiles are typically engineered as a system, in order to achieve a balance of cost, wear, fatigue, and noise characteristics. In a nutshell, as quoted from a journal article, "Lines that handle high-speed passenger trains during the day and freight traffic at night represent the most challenging conditions under which to properly maintain rail and track."

Loaded to 30,000 kg per axle (65,000 lb), freight cars can operate with wheel flat spots that measure up to 2 inches in length. The resulting thump-thump-thump is not only loud, but it wreaks havoc on tracks that are carefully aligned for passenger trains.

On the peninsula, passenger trains will always outnumber freight trains, and by a vast margin. Is heavy freight worth the extra track maintenance cost, likely to be borne by the taxpayer? Is it worth the additional noise, especially if so much more track will be elevated?

A Foreign Idea: Light Freight

While it may initially read like it, the foregoing is not a manifesto against freight. Rail is an environmentally friendly way to move freight on the peninsula, and removes trucks from highway 101. The problem isn't freight per se, but heavy freight. It is possible to operate freight trains with much lighter loads and more compact loading profiles. In other countries, such trains are routinely and safely mixed in with high speed passenger train traffic. American manufacturers like GM and GE export hundreds of light freight locomotives to those countries, so it isn't like this would require any development effort. You can pick up the phone today and order yourself a JT42CWRM (photo at right by CargoFighter), made right here in the U.S.A., and hook it up with freight cars that maybe aren't loaded quite all the way to the brim to keep the weight down. This would be more expensive to operate, but may be worth the enormous savings in capital cost (big structures, more concrete), and especially--most importantly--improved urban design and quality of life in the communities along the Caltrain corridor.

There are many ideas about how high speed rail on the peninsula should be "Done Right". For the reasons enumerated above, doing it right means heavy freight should be banished from the peninsula. The benefits are probably not worth the additional cost to communities. Such a ban would probably enjoy little support from the Union Pacific Railroad, Caltrain, and even the California High Speed Rail Authority and its coterie of engineering consultants, whose U.S.-centric cultural inertia may exceed that of even the heaviest freight train. Are they capable of thinking outside the boxcar?


  1. US freight railroads kept themselves alive in the late 20th Century by hauling as much heavy freight as possible over long distances. No help and nothing but government contempt until the bailouts of the 1970's. The rest of the world does not play by the same laws as physics and marched down a completely different evolutionary path. There is a lot of criticism of BART for reinventing the wheel and operating a very unique system. Are we trying to do the same here despite widespread use of EMU's with german and french accents throughout the world?

    So here is the billion dollar question: do we really have time to build completely new and incompatible rail systems from the ground up? As far as North America goes in the sunset of cheap money and cheap energy...what are we really trying to do with this high speed rail project in California?

    If you are wrong on your vision: it is a hard lesson to learn that we are in fact a different creature and the more we try to ignore it, the more of a disservice one does to this overall cause. The fatal flaw could be that we are missing an important middle step. I know it sucks to hear that but gravity is different on the moon (europe or asia) as opposed to north america (earth). Evolve with it but don't reinvent it or you will have conjured up...dare I say...SUPER BART in EMU form.

  2. Anonymous asks

    "what are we really trying to do with this high speed rail project in California? "

    Well it sure isn't trying o build a train to carry passengers from the north to the south as its primary goal.

    No No NO.

    Its all about the money. Its about A guy from SJ wanting to build a monument to himself. Its about SJ wanting to become the center of northern Cal., and certainly not to play second fiddle to SF.

    Its about the central valley wanting to inflate their land values, making millions for land owners and developers.

    Its about PB making a few billions along with all their rail buddies.

    I sure wouldn't hold up BART as any kind of example of what is needed. How many systems like BART, sucking funds from everyone can one State afford.

    Its about a project being the worst possible kind of project, planned by politicians, for their own gratification and egos.

  3. Caltrain First09 August, 2009 23:59

    Well done, Clem. You're right on target with this piece. I think you have identified the single issue that will make or break the effectiveness of this HSR project on the Peninsula. CHSRA and Caltrain can ignore heavy freight and build a small-footprint speedway that can move light trains quickly, efficiently, and flexibly with a minimum of NIMBY disruption; or they can substantially increase structure design costs and the resulting NIMBY fury in the name of catering to heavy freight movements that are obsolete on the Peninsula. The more complicated and convoluted the final trackage/ROW design, the less likely it will ever surpass NIMBY challenges and attract enough funding to pay the huge construction bill.

    I don't think UPRR will be all that upset about losing the ability to run heavy freight cars up the Peninsula. How much business are they doing on the Peninsula anyway? Hardly any. The real heavy freight interests come from area politicians trying to brush up their union labor credentials in promoting the empty rhetoric of "keeping industrial jobs" in an area that has almost completely lost them to outsourcing and gentrification. The ILWU will want to keep a small handful of longshoremen jobs in San Francisco regardless of the net benefit. CHSRA's contractors are always happy to oblige to "keep the meter running" in designing and building bigger and more complicated projects.

  4. @ anonymous 22:06pm

    Yeah, that's pretty much what you tell yourself before bed to help you sleep. By your logic, all of us HSR proponents should get a check shortly after it's built. I can't wait!

    FYI, You lose all credibility as an anonymous poster.

    Now let's keep the discussion technical.

  5. With respect to the wear of the freight trains on the new rails, if the plan for the Caltrain corridor is to quad-track it with the HSR tracks only supporting HSR and Caltrain Express, is there really a problem? The heavy freight should be on the other two tracks and hopefully will never have to cross onto the HSR tracks, although that is a big possibility depending on the final track configuration. In general though, I am really in favor of getting rid of heavy freight on the peninsula, it is only mucking everything up. Too bad the complete rights to the corridor weren't just bought off of UP in the beginning...

  6. I wonder if UPRR would be willing to share an inventory of its customers on the SF peninsula and the type and volume of freight it handles for them. Clem has analyzed the impact continued heavy freight operations would have on the design and cost of the improvements to the Caltrain corridor.

    What's missing is some quantitative information on the impact that discontinuing heavy freight in the SF peninsula would have on road traffic, employment, the local tax base, redevelopment opportunities etc.

    Some of the freight could probably be carried by barges instead, but most would have to switch to trucks. The alternative is that customers go bust or pick up sticks and set up shop elsewhere. Whatever the scenario, discontinuing freight on the SF peninsula altogether would cost someone a chunk of change. That would have to be weighed against the additional construction cost heavy freight imposes on the Caltrain corridor upgrade and against property blight due to any freight trains running on elevated structures at all, especially at night. Shutting down heavy freight would also have impacts on jobs and air quality, though new EPA emissions standards for new heavy duty trucks will reduce those by 80-95% per vehicle starting in 2010.

    Clem's idea of operating more but shorter freight trains between SF and Santa Clara with lighter electric locomotives is intriguing. Unfortunately, FRA-compliant rail cars are also very heavy and feature wheels with bald spots. Customers want the lowest cost per ton of freight, so they'll balk at not loading cars to the gills. AAR plate H cars in particular can match or even exceed the axle loads of the heavy diesel locomotives. Even with the PTC mandate in PRIIA, I suspect it will be many years before FRA will allow long-distance freight trains to include any UIC-compliant freight cars, so those are not really an option.

    Ergo, switching lighter locomotives and more but shorter trains may therefore not be a workable approach after all.

    However, it may be useful to study the case of Hansen Cement in Cupertino. Back in the day, they used coal delivered on the Vasona line to stoke their kilns. Environmental opposition to mercury emissions from that coal prompted them to switch to natural gas instead. The finished cement presumably goes out on trucks now, not sure how much was ever moved by rail. Part of the line has since been used for a new VTA light rail service to Winchester Blvd. The rest runs west of hwy 85 and may be converted into a bike path before long.

    Conclusion: in special cases like the SF peninsula, there are actually environmental upsides to abandoning heavy rail freight, even though it makes eminent sense on busy lines. For example, I expect the waterfront property of the Port of SF would be more valuable if converted to affordable residential housing after the requisite soil cleanup. Both would create more jobs than closing the port would cost. Access to downtown would be possible via buses and/or the planned Central Subway.

    Note that high speed cargo trainsets can handle lightweight, high-value freight like mail, packages, perishable foods, fresh cut flowers etc. With appropriate planning, UPRR (or US Mail, FedEx, UPS etc) could operate this as a brand-new service, piggybacking onto single-trainset passenger trains. The jobs would be at the transshipment facilities co-located with HSR yards around the state.

  7. @ Alex M -

    I think you may be missing Clem's point. The Caltrain corridor upgrade will almost certainly feature the same vertical elevation profile for each of the four tracks. In other words, even those that will only ever be used for lightweight UIC-compliant passenger trains will follow the profile imposed by heavy rail freight considerations.

    If there were no heavy freight rail to accommodate, engineers could build a much cheaper, more filigree passenger-only above-ground alignment that would be more acceptable to peninsula communities.

  8. Another very compelling post, Clem. I have to admit about halfway through I started to think "hey, what if they just made the freight trains less heavy? Would that be a possible solution?" and then I see that's where you were heading all along.

    It is going to take a fair amount of education of folks on the peninsula that instead of agitating for tunnels they should be asking for light freight. Light freight means smaller, less obtrusive grade separations. It means lower construction costs. It means more design options are available for communities to shape a design that works for them.

    How much more expensive would it be for UPRR to run light freight instead of heavy? I have no idea what those numbers look like.

  9. Of course, if you use special, lighter Peninsula-certified freight cars that has its problems too. Currently freight cars on the Peninsula can come/go from/to all over the US and Canada right now. If you have a special Peninsula feet that is either lighter or maintained to a higher standard (ie. no flat spots allowed, etc.) then you must transload loads on/off these cars so they can remain available nearby.

    The most feasible scenario would be a strictly-enforced axle load limit. Shippers would be required to limit loads headed for the Peninsula, and then there would have to be some type of weigh station in Santa Clara or San Jose to ensure axle loadings are all in compliance before a train (or car) is cleared to come onto the shared Caltrain/HSR Peninsula line.

    This also means today's 30 car string of hopper cars full of heavy aggregates (gravel, sand, etc.) for Granite Rock at the Port of RWC or for Granite Rock at Lowrie Avenue in South SF might be twice as long in order to deliver the same load. So some sidings may need to be lengthened.

    The other issue with preserving freight that Clem didn't touch on is engineering and building the requisite spurs coming off elevated or depressed/tunneled areas. An example of this is the spur that Caltrain was forced to build at substantial expense as part of the San Carlos/Belmont grade separation project. It comes down off the elevated line just south of San Carlos station and crosses Old County road. It preserved UP's existing rights/abilities to serve a small concrete batch plant and the large Kelly-Moore paint factory. Of course, neither business ever used this spur to receive car loadings. A Kelly-Moore executive once told me that UP just wasn't practical/competitive anymore ... so they have remained an all-truck operation.

  10. Whether restricted to light or restricted to light and medium freight, this would clearly be an abandonment of heavy freight rail service, to be run through the STB abandonment process.

    I have seen a state 1998 STRACNET map that shows the corridor on STRACNET, but thought I saw a recent national STRACNET map in a NY State document that looked like it was Oakland-only (I wish I had bookmarked or downloaded that document, I can't find it again now).

    If it is still a STRACNET corridor, a STRACNET abandonment would also be useful for moving to high platforms on the local lines, since STRACNET loads are wide loads and are largely incompatible with high platforms.

    I assume that the bridge loads would be in proportion to axle weight loads, but it would be interesting to know how cutting axle loadings to ~50,000lbs and ~40,000lbs (that is, 22.5 metric tons and 18 metric tons) would affect the grade separation design parameters.

  11. I don't see any practical advantage here for running "light" freight. It still means having to run under FRA rules, and given the relatively minuscule amount of tonnage, there is simply no cost-benefit.

    Even if "light" freight reduces a few of the FRA requirements, in the end it still just adds up to a lot of pain if CHSRA wants to use modern signaling, modern operating practices, modern catenary, etc, etc.

    Unfortunately, the project will probably get stuck with the FRA baggage -- partly because there are too many relics working at Caltrain.

  12. Caltrain First10 August, 2009 23:01

    The long-term solution is for FRA to ease its obsolete requirements regarding car weight and safety -- it was a silly rule based on a false understanding of safety -- and it's annoying that HSR promoters don't seem to be lobbying for this change. It's a convenient excuse to over-build, but new technology actually makes light vehicles safer than heavy vehicles.

    In the short-term, just ban dedicated freight trains when considering the design layout. Freight can still be carried in specialized parts of CHSRA and Caltrain trains. Most future freight on the Peninsula is going to involve high-value, low bulk goods such as mail and consumer packages. In the future, if sufficient demand develops, dedicated freight trains can adapt to the high-speed nature of the corridor. No need exists for running heavy trains on the Peninsula regardless.

  13. Clem, do freight trains really weigh 10 tonnes per linear meter? That would imply they weigh 250 tonnes per car, which I'm pretty sure is too high. If I'm not mistaken freight cars weigh 120 tonnes, not 250, and have twice the axle load of lightweight EMUs, not four times.

  14. "Caltrain First" is right: it's the FRA which is the main disaster.

    133,200 kg locomotives (which are what Caltrain's "passenger" deadweight MP36 fuel-wasting monsters weigh) are something one might almost (almost!) live with, at least south of Redwood City, but the crippling costs and operation inefficiencies that comes with being under the thumb of the FRA neaderthals is something that no public service operation can afford to countenance.

    Which is not to say that lighter and more attractive track structures (especially in elevated stations) wouldn't be a huge win. Likewise lower track maintenance costs, and all the rest of the goodness.

    Something else that should be on the table but that doesn't seem to be: Caltrain and CHSRA should be adopting non-freight (= non-Amtrak, non-AREMA) track standards to go with non-stone-age trains. Getting trains and tracks to play together nicely is hard work -- it's a much better idea to just reuse something that's know to work and that others have debugged than to get in the (contractor-profitable, delay-prone) business of local design, local acceptance testing, local research divisions, and all that baggage. Pretty much all of Caltrain's track is going to be pulled up or relaid anyway, so why not put in German (or Japanese, or French, or whatever) standard track as that's happening?

  15. It was pseudonymous "bikerider" not pseudonymous "Caltrain First" who's on the money re FRA. Just say no!
    (Or to be all nuanced and sensitive: sure, consider freight, but not at any cost.)

    Alon Levy: Clem's 10t/m loads are a bit off -- it takes heavy haul iron ore will to get all the way up there. Closer to home is a still-elephantine 6.25t/m (263000 lb in 53 feet; 29.8t/axle if evenly loaded) of a standard hopper car. That's also the weight per length of our obscenely overweight and inefficient Caltrain locomotives (293500 lb in 70 feet.)

  16. There are theories that if the United States had adopted light freight earlier, our passenger rail systems would be more extensively developed and largely electrified. It makes sense since, as Clem has demonstrated, light freight is certainly more compatible. But for the Caltrain corridor, while there may be overall benefits in terms of construction and maintenance cost, it does not make sense to implement them unless they are going to be adopted systemwide. On its own, light freight on the Peninsula only seems operationally impractical.

    It disturbs me that the CHSRA would spend so much effort, and adopt an incompatible rail solution, in an attempt to appease the NIMBY. Frankly, the NIMBY position does not does not deserve this much effort on the Authority's part. Furthermore, I doubt that a change to light freight will be a sufficient solution to the NIMBY problem. Remember that the local NIMBY opposition was largely galvanized by vocal "HSR deniers" with extremist views on high-speed rail. At the end of the day, residents will probably still be calling for a tunnel.

  17. do freight trains really weigh 10 tonnes per linear meter?

    Clem's 10t/m loads are a bit off

    Alon, Richard, thanks for catching that error. I think I mixed up my units at some point. It's all fixed now, but doesn't detract from the basic point which remains that freight trains so heavy that they drive bridge design.

  18. If axle load can be controlled somehow, you might be able to get away with heavier freight trains by scheduling them so that they never pass on a bridge at the same time as another train. That creates a lot of problems, chief of which is that Union Pacific believes schedules to be the definition of hell, but technically it's doable. They do haul heavy freight on rail through tunnels in Switzerland - often together with the truck that will carry the freight once it gets off the tunnel.

  19. @Alon, structurally the tracks are separate and it doesn't matter if two trains occupy an overpass at the same time. Each track has its own row of support columns.

    (Note, for light passenger trains you can have two tracks on one row of columns, as demonstrated by the CHSRA's concept drawings of one LA-Anaheim alternative.)

    The Swiss truck-on-railcar operations to which you refer do not conform to the definition of heavy freight. The axle loading is very light, far below 30 tonnes.

  20. @ Alon Levy, Clem -

    it's pretty important to get the axle loads of freight trains right, because wear and tear on the track geometry is roughly proportional to its fourth power (and linear with axle count). Even at "just" 125mph, HSR operation is only possible if tracks are built and maintained to tight tolerances.

    Perhaps this would be a good time to (once again) point out the advantages of modern intermodal freight systems, e.g. Modalohr. It supports random access and parallel roll-on roll-off (RORO).

    Unlike the "rolling highway" shuttle trains through the Channel Tunnel and the Alps, the tractor trucks stay local on both ends in this system. It is therefore better suited to intermediate distances (hundreds of miles), with local trucking companies acting as subcontractors.

    Note that the end supports and electric motors for pivoting the flatbeds are integrated into the special transshipment terminals, not the rail cars.

    The system is UIC but not FRA compatible. Modalohr's articulated rail cars (specs on p16) weigh 42 metric tons empty and feature two pivot bays and three standard bogies (four 920mm wheels each). The two loaded trailers together are limited to 44 tons, i.e. 14.3 tons/axle (if perfectly distributed). Even in real-world situations, that means it should stay under the limit of 17 tons/axle used internationally for HSR tracks.

    Certified top speed is currently 120km/h (75mph), though the Swiss are thinking about pushing that envelope a little.

    What this means is that in theory, the California HSR network could be used to take a lot of trucks off the state's freeways. A major caveat is that they could only do so at night and not during scheduled track maintenance.

    Another caveat is that the system's transshipment terminals require a lot of width (52m for one-sided, 104m for double-sided loading).

    The economic analysis done by Ecoplan suggests that the Modalohr system is the most economical solution for routes supporting 400,000 to 800,000 trailer movements per year. Below 400,000 units, the cheaper and more conventional Bombardier-NT system comes out ahead. Its cars transport tractor-trailer combinations on non-articulated rail cars with 16 small diameter wheels. Average axle load is below 8 tons, well within HSR limits. Top speed is 100km/h (60mph).

  21. From the (revised) bridge table:

    7500:2500=300%, 200% heavier.

    If that is 30 tonnes (33 short tons), then 17 tonnes (18.75 short tons) is:

    4250:2500=170%, 70% heavier.

    22.5 tonnes (Euro heavy freight) is:

    5625:2500=225%, 125% heavier.

    Treat this like a short freight line. There are lots of short lines around the country that have weight restrictions, mostly for this same reason ... the support structures for culverts, bridges, etc. for 33 short ton axle loads would cost more, and the quantity of freight does not make it worth while to invest in that.

    First, if its on STRACNET at all (I have only seen detailed maps from the 1998 report, not from last year's), check with the Pentagon to see if they want to pay the extra cost for viaducts and overpasses to be a STRACNET corridor (two M1 tanks on a six axle flatbed is so close to 30 tonnes they just specify the heavy freight mainline), otherwise they can relocate the railhead. That clears that hurdle.

    Then, assuming they decide to relocate the railhead (of if they have already done so), proceed with formal abandonment as a heavy freight line, and establish a 17 tonne axle load freight envelope for the track available for freight in a 12midnight/6am time slice.

    I understand from the artist's reckonings that the Transit Oriented Development towers they are going to be building in all the Transit Oriented Development that is supposed to happen are going to be made out of soap bubbles and joy held up by Unicorn daydreams ... but as a back up plan, it probably makes sense to retain some freight capability up the Peninsula that is not entirely dependent on gasoline and diesel, in case some steel, cement, or bricks are needed.

  22. @ BruceMcF -

    30 tonnes <-> 4250
    22.5 tonnes <-> 5625

    Please explain.

    The idea of a short freight corridor based on multiple less than fully loaded but still clapped-out FRA-compliant equipment between midnight and 6am isn't going to be at all popular with the locals.

    Light freight trains that can run slowly (speed limit 60-75mph through towns) and quietly on the HSR tracks would be a different matter. That would certainly apply to cargo on modified HSR trainsets, perhaps even for intermodal freight (depends mostly on how much the semi-trailers rattle and squeak). Both would require several transshipment facilities and spurs off the planned HSR network.

    The problem is that UPRR is a cranky 147-year old organization that is very set in its ways. I doubt they want to compete against US Mail, FedEx et. al. The idea of running intermodal freight just within California (perhaps incl. Las Vegas some day) might be more appealing.

    However, while a switch to light freight would give UPRR an incentive to partner with CHSRA on ROW issues elsewhere in the state, heavy freight customers in the SF peninsula would be left in the lurch. Paying them off may be possible and affordable, someone would have to look at that vs. the cost of retaining heavy freight on the upgraded Caltrain corridor.

    As for building materials for one-off TOD projects, you know as well as I do they can be supplied by trucks. Compared to all the extra earth, rebar and concrete needed to enable heavy freight rail in the design of the grade separations, the amount needed for TOD is small.

  23. @ BruceMcF -

    bricks in earthquake country? Not a good idea...

  24. @ Rafeal:

    "30 tonnes <-> 4250
    22.5 tonnes <-> 5625

    From the table, 30 tonnes => 7500


    30 tonnes<->4250 isn't there ... 30 tonnes=>7500 is from the table.

    Regarding freight, the corridor is being built for the conditions 10, 20 and 50 years from now. Simply airily declaring that "the heavy stuff can go on trucks" is an extraordinary leap of optimism.

    As far as the gee whiz kewl intermodal experiments ... set a design envelope and let the potential freight users decide whether they want to find a way to fit into the envelope. It may be what is put into practice is even more gee whiz kewl ... and it may be very prosiac, like dual mode hybrid diesel/electric CargoSprinters offloaded with a small container lift.

    Re: bricks ... I want to say that I had some particular people in mind for the brick houses, but I guess that adobe on foam that gives such a good thermal mass is better than brick facings.

  25. "Regarding freight, the corridor is being built for the conditions 10, 20 and 50 years from now."

    What is going on on the peninsula that makes you think freight is going to take off there?

  26. @ BruceMcF -

    ah, I misread your original comment regarding the weight conversions. Thanks for clearing that up.

    Btw, I don't think all the heavy stuff can go on trucks. Perhaps some of it can, some could perhaps go on barges, the rest would just go away altogether. The businesses involved would either relocate to a location outside of the SF peninsula or else close their doors.

    As for light freight of an kind, there is one salient aspect I forgot to mention: the cars are unpowered, so one or more locomotives are needed. Typical European electric loco's for light/medium freight come in at just under 22.5 tons/axle. I don't know if any with less than 17 are currently on the market, other than tractor units for HSR trains.

  27. Typical European electric loco's for light/medium freight come in at just under 22.5 tons/axle.

    So does the JT42CWRM (a.k.a. Class 66), which would be capable of switching assorted freight sidings and tail tracks where electrification is not justified. That is why I mentioned it: cheap, tried and true, no techno-whiz R&D stuff need apply.

    That ought to be a general principle for all things on the peninsula corridor. Invent nothing new and use fully debugged products that are proven elsewhere.

  28. @ Clem -

    I agree on the approach of using proven equipment, but any loco weighing in 22.5 tons/axle would not be allowed to run on the HSR tracks.

    That's ok as long as we're talking about converting the SF peninsula into a short freight line in the sense suggested by BruceMcF. There would have to be at least two, shorter Mission Bay Haulers per day in that model.

  29. Rafael said...
    "As for light freight of an kind, there is one salient aspect I forgot to mention: the cars are unpowered, so one or more locomotives are needed. Typical European electric loco's for light/medium freight come in at just under 22.5 tons/axle. I don't know if any with less than 17 are currently on the market, other than tractor units for HSR trains."

    I assume you mean tonnes ... that's why I asked about 22.5 tonnes as well as 17 tonnes ... bouncing back and forth between metric tons and short tons makes me nervous about "tons".

    Since 22.5 tonnes is a common Euro heavy freight axle loading, it would not assume equipment specially made for the Peninsula or speculate on establishment of a 17 ton axle load freight standard or emergence of a de facto standard.

  30. Freight on a electrified rail line in Japan, Possibly a HSR route.

    Notice the freight cars are more simple and permit smaller loads than the Overloaded, heavy, U. freight cars.

  31. @ BruceMcF -

    If the SF peninsula does get four tracks, then two of them can easily be built to support higher axle loads, e.g. 22.5 metric tonnes. It's just that freight would still have to be carried on heavy FRA-compliant cars to make it beyond San Jose. That leaves little headroom for payload, effectively making freight on the SF peninsula unprofitable - at least with UPRR's existing customer base there.

    The 17 metric tonnes (tons?) axle load limit is a de facto standard for dedicated HSR tracks. It's just that virtually no freight trains of any kind are allowed to use those anywhere in the world. France's LaPoste is an exception, but it uses converted HSR passenger trains for the purposes.

    I was thinking of running intermodal freight within California on the HSR tracks, at night, to help defray the high cost of the infrastructure. Auto trains carrying both passengers and their cars would be another possibility, especially if they could easily be loaded and unloaded at intermediate points along the route as well.

    Mail and packages could be run during the day at full speed by piggy-backing unmanned high speed cargo trainsets onto single-trainset passenger trains.

    My point is, perhaps we shouldn't think of HSR tracks as dedicated to passenger traffic. Some special types of light freight could run on those fancy electrified tracks without chewing them up.

    @ dave -

    I suspect that's not a shinkansen track, at least not one a main line.

    Clue #1: the station platform to the right is on a noticeable curve.

    Clue #2: a slow freight train in the middle of the day could not share track with fast passenger trains, at least not for any appreciable distance.

    Clue #3: even though those tank wagons are quite small, I bet the locomotive used to pull them still comes in at axle loads in excess of what would be permitted on a shinkansen main line.

    1. The two tracks in the foreground are definitely not at Shinkansen standard. The track next to the retaining wall in the background may be a Shinkansen route; it's obviously of a much higher engineering spec. The nearest two are probably a suburban service route from which a chemical factory is served.

  32. Rafael said...
    "If the SF peninsula does get four tracks, then two of them can easily be built to support higher axle loads, e.g. 22.5 metric tonnes."

    Two of them can "easily be built" for 30t axle loads ... the issue is not whether it can be accomplished, the issue is the design limits enforced on the design of elevated rail structures if it is done.

    More to the point is the ruling grade ... once that breaks 1:100 (1%), you've got a shortline scenario in any event, and you might as well work out what other access limits should be put on the shortline.

    If stress on the track increases with the square (?? is that right?), 22.5t is 47% less stress, which eases the task of keeping the 80mph tracks in shape for the locals.

    "It's just that freight would still have to be carried on heavy FRA-compliant cars to make it beyond San Jose. That leaves little headroom for payload,"

    ? How do you figure? 22.5 tonnes is 75% of 30 tonnes, payloads are often around three times tare, so limiting to 22.5tonnes would mean payloads a bit over twice tare.

    That's another reason beyond the wide availability of 22.5t axle load electric locomotives why 22.5 tonnes is a design parameter to include as an option for evaluation ... double stacked container traffic with 30 tonne axle loadings could just be shifted to single stack as long as the weight ratio between heavy bottom containers and lighter top containers is no more extreme than 2:1.

    "effectively making freight on the SF peninsula unprofitable - at least with UPRR's existing customer base there."

    22.5t would require around 25% more freight cars for the same load (or equivalently two consists with 63% as many freight cars each) and a change of locomotive, with no major change in other operating costs down the line.

    17t axle load, 1:40 ruling grade is not really making anything other than notional accommodations for freight. IOW, just build the line as a passenger line and specify what the access envelope, and if a freight user can fit inside the envelope, they get access too.

  33. Dave,

    That is not a shinkansen track for more obvious reason than the clues provided by Rafael.

    Train Gauge of EF65 is narrow gauge (1067mm), so it is not possible for that train to run on standard gauge (1435mm) shinkansen track


    If you are looking for freight train with less axle road, these multiple-unit freight trains may work:



  34. If you are looking for freight train with less axle road, these multiple-unit freight trains may work

    Those are some very exotic solutions, but why reach that far? My point was that an off-the-shelf, widely produced locomotive paired with under-loaded AAR/FRA freight cars might significantly mitigate the impact of HSR+freight on the peninsula.

  35. Clem, looks like you got someone's attention.

    "Peninsula Freight Rail Users Group"? Goodness. Are these people for real or are they some manufactured misguided NIMBY front? Their membership numbers look to rival that of "Environmentalists for Sarah Palin."

  36. For those that don't wish to click through, the article title states that "electrified Caltrain may prove disastrous for freight rail." I would submit that what proves even more disastrous for freight rail is that there is miniscule percentage of industry remaining on the Peninsula that ships or receives very heavy freight.

  37. Another article concerning this subject.

    According to the Mercury News, talks of freight only being allowed to run from Midnight (12:00AM) to 5:00AM on the new electrified line is not enough??

    Don't they run like two trains a day through the peninsula?

    I don't think this means that a diesel train can't sort cars and couple them together on track that is not on the mainline during the day, allowing the sorted and coupled train to use the mainline at the stroke of 12PM. Seems reasonable to me.

    I think they just want the liberty to move their cargo conviniently when they want.

  38. Ah, mike, you beat me.

  39. @ K.T

    That M250 series looks nice, maybe U.P. will look into it.

    Of course they should look into getting all new lightweight train cars that meet the electric wire clearances.

    They can probably sell or scrap rail cars that don't meet the clearances. Isn't scrap metal high priced these days?

    That is if UPRR actually owns the cars and not the companies that use them.

  40. The amusing part about the SJ Merc article is that the Peninsula shippers don't want the Caltrain electrification/HSR project cancelled - they just want 5' more clearance on the catenary and expanded operating hours. This means:

    1) Extra visual blight at grade or on elevated structures (because the catenary is now higher).

    2) An even stronger preference for elevated structures over trenches/tunnels (because now you have to dig another 5 feet deeper to get sufficient clearance, and the transition sections to get down there have to be even longer).

    3) More noise and pollution from noisy, polluting long freight trains throughout the day.

    The freight interests are diametrically opposed to the NIMBYs' interests, as Clem predicted. The amusing thing is that so few of the NIMBYs actually realized this (and some still may not!).

  41. Clem said...
    "My point was that an off-the-shelf, widely produced locomotive paired with under-loaded AAR/FRA freight cars might significantly mitigate the impact of HSR+freight on the peninsula."

    That's exactly what my back of the envelope reckoning was further up ... a 22.5 tonne axle load limit and 1:40 (2.5%) ruling grade would mean more or less 3/4 full hopper or tanker cars, single stacked containers, shorter consists, and of course an electric locomotive to pull the train up or down the corridor ...

    ... but it wouldn't require "outlawing FRA compliant freight cars" or hypothetical high fixed cost freight shifting capability for a few loads of freight a day.

    Indeed, there would be not tehnical reasons that there should not be some freight slots on the local tracks during the day ... not during peak morning and evening commute hours, of course, but one or two mid-morning and mid-afternoon slots would possible.

    Of course, that requires the FRA comes to the table with a reasonable safety regime for mixing the freight trains meeting the spec with trains that provide effective local service ... but of course there is no pure engineering fix for regulatory risk, and if the FRA requires hobbling the locals to allow for daytime medium weight freight slots on the all-stations line, then a freight curfew may be required to sidestep the FRA.

  42. I wouldn't put too much faith in copying freight rail technology from Japan or Europe. While in passenger rails those areas are decades ahead of the US, in freight rail they're behind, especially Japan, where rail freight mode share is in the single digits. The US railroads are actually more competitive with trucking than the European railroads, and much more so than the Japanese railroads.

  43. Alon, they are more profitable because they carry such enormous payloads. That leads right back to the challenge before us on the peninsula.

    Should we take on hundreds of millions, if not billions, of additional construction and maintenance costs to ensure the continued profitability of heavy freight railroad operations on the peninsula?

    While I'm sure that UPRR and all their customers would love that, I can't help but wonder if we (taxpayers, rail passengers) aren't better served by a compromise solution.

  44. @mike -

    Whether or not this is a legitimate group, "Peninsula Freight Rail Users" obviously have a very legitimate interest in this project. So what if they get their two-bits in? Your comparison to a Palin front-group is just obnoxiously dumb.

    Also, one needs to consider the reverse-side of the NIMBY coin here. Removing freight would remove (some minor) impact from the wealthy areas of Palo Alto, Atherton, etc. But it creates new impacts from additional trucking through disadvantaged areas near industrial zones. This creates an "environmental justice" issue in areas which are already organized against exactly such thing. How many NIMBY fires can CAHSR afford to fight?

    And that's not getting into the Port of San Francisco, and the teaming mass of political hacks within.

    Bottom line is that the idea of removing freight doesn't solve any political problems, it only creates new ones. It's worthy to bandy around the engineering implications, but ultimately it's not going to fly.

  45. Alon Levy said...
    "I wouldn't put too much faith in copying freight rail technology from Japan or Europe."

    Note that using electric traction to support steeper gradients is US technology ... the last Milwaukee Road started electrifying its Rocky Mountain sections in 1915.

    Adopting 22.5 tonne axle loads is not about "adopting European technology", its just about taking advantage of economies of scale.

  46. using electric traction to support steeper gradients

    Bruce, overcoming gradients is a matter of tractive effort, not power. It explains why heavy freight locomotives are deliberately made as heavy as possible. Electric traction is irrelevant to this issue unless significant tunnels are built on the peninsula... which I doubt there ever will be.

  47. Clem, I'm not sure US freight rail is more profitable - it just has a higher modal share than European and Japanese freight rail, while trucking has a lower modal share. (So it's not just that heavy freight in Europe and Japan is shipped by sea).

  48. @ Alon Levy -

    the biggest problem for European freight rail was and is the plethora of incompatible track gauges, signaling, electrification parameters etc. The EU and rail equipment vendors are gradually chipping away at the problem, such that eventually, there will be no need to change equipment or drivers at the borders. It's still going to take a while, though.

    Meanwhile, heavy bulk goods are moved around by sea and inland waterways.

    I'm not as familiar with the issues faced by freight rail in Japan, but I suspect that most bulk goods are shipped by sea and then loaded directly onto trucks because virtually all of the population centers are on the coast.

    Bottom line: geography has a lot to do with the ship vs. rail modal split for heavy goods.

  49. It's not just ship vs. rail - in Europe and Japan freight rail maintains a lower mode share against trucks, as well. An article by JNR privatization architect Ryohei Kakumoto gives the freight modal split in 1995 as 4% rail, 53% road, and 43% sea in Japan; 6% rail, 66% road, 23% sea, and 5% pipeline in Britain; and 24% rail, 63% road, 3% inland waterways, and 10% pipeline in France. The corresponding modal split in the US is 37% rail, 29% road, 8% sea, 10% inland waterways, and 16% pipelines.

    The explanation in the case of both Europe and Japan isn't continent shape, or track gauge. It's priority for passenger rail. There are very few major infrastructure projects geared toward improving freight rail in Europe or Japan, on a par with the massive construction of regional rail in the decades following WW2. The only such project that's as extensive as HSR for passenger rail is the tunnels under the Swiss Alps, which are meant to allow both faster train speeds and heavier freight loads. On top of that, freight trains are required to maintain minimum speed and limit axle load, which increases operating costs.

  50. Please keep it on topic, folks.

  51. @ Alon Levy -

    "There are very few major infrastructure projects geared toward improving freight rail in Europe [...]"

    Not true. In fact, the majority of the EU's continental-scale TEN-T framework of 30 priority axes for upgrading transportation infrastructure is geared toward rail and the majority of that toward shifting medium-to-long distance freight from road to rail.

    The individual projects are financed primarily by the member states, so progress has been uneven. However, it is happening, here's just a few big projects designed - among other objectives - to boost freight rail:

    France/Italy: Mont d'Ambin basis tunnel
    France/Spain: Perpignan-Figuearas, Basque Y
    Austria/Italy: Brenner basis tunnel
    Austria: Lainzer tunnel, Wienerwald tunnel, Koralm tunnel
    Germany/Denmark: Fehmarn Belt bridge
    Spain: Pajares base tunnel
    France: Belledonne tunnel, Grande Chartreuse tunnel

    These come on top of the St. Gotthard and Loetschberg basis tunnels in Switzerland that you mentioned and some major freight-cum-passenger rail projects that were completed fairly recently, e.g. the Channel Tunnel, the Oresund fixed link (Sweden/Denmark), upgrades to the West Coast main line in the UK, the Betuwelijn (Netherlands/Germany) etc.

    In addition, there are plenty of new public works in earlier stages of development, e.g. Rail Baltica from Warsaw (Poland) to Tallinn (Estonia), a tunnel from there to Helsinki, a base tunnel through the center of the Pyrenees etc.

    Driving all this is the liberalization of the European rail grid. By 2010, member states must have segregated ownership of rail infrastructure and train operations, previously bastions of nationalized monopolies. The idea is to encourage cross-border electric freight rail traffic and competition, because the EU logistics sector is overexposed to the risk of high oil prices.

    Btw, it's true that many rail lines in Western Europe are limited to 22.5 tonnes axle load, but that's not an issue for light/medium rail freight looking to compete or integrate with trucking. Line haul time is typically more important for rail freight than lowest cost per ton.

    The business model for freight rail is simply different on each side of the Atlantic. Of late, European operators have found it more difficult to make money than their US counterparts. However, given the regulatory changes and fresh investment in infrastructure, that will hopefully change over the next decade. Note that US operators were in a hole in the 80s, prompting a wave of mergers and the sale/abandonment of many legacy lines and spurs - especially out west.

    Of course, there are exceptions like short lines for ore and coal trains. Those are profitable all over the world.

  52. @ Clem -

    since you're the one who brought up the "foreign" idea of light freight for the SF peninsula, is it off-topic to discuss why that model is common in Europe and Japan but rare in the US?

    No-one's going to operate light freight just between SF and SJ, it has to make financial sense to ship less than full rail cars out of the Bay Area. Either the value of the goods is high enough to support a hike in the cost of moving them or, John Q. Public subsidizes the arrangement to keep trucks off the freeways and reduce the cost of upgrading the Caltrain corridor.

    The alternatives are (a) to spend hundreds of millions extra on the grade separations just so the Port of SF, Granite Rock and a handful others can stay in business without subsidies or (b) paying off UPRR and its customers in the context of abandonment proceedings.

    In the latter case, rather than shift bulk goods from rail to road, most of that particular industrial activity would simply disappear from the peninsula altogether. It theory, it might be replaced by other industrial activity compatible with light freight, creating new jobs and tax revenue for cities.

    In practice, replacement would not happen without a political commitment to support the emergence of such industry via soft loans etc. That goes against the grain in California, especially as long a there is no shortage of private investment in knowledge-based businesses like software development and biotech. Those, however, require special skillsets that laborers in heavy industry do not have. For them, an end to heavy freight rail in the SF peninsula could mean looking for work in the East Bay or moving out of the area altogether.

  53. The alternatives are (a) to spend hundreds of millions extra on the grade separations just so the Port of SF, Granite Rock and a handful others can stay in business without subsidies or (b) paying off UPRR and its customers in the context of abandonment proceedings.

    Or (c) : implement the Altamont alternative, which requires just 3 tracks to accommodate HSR+Caltrain. The 4th (pre-existing) track can be left "as-is" (at-grade) to be used by freight and legacy operators.

  54. @ bikerider -

    keeping freight at grade would mean retaining grade crossings incl. signaling, gates, bells etc. However, the majority would not have to be closed more than a couple of times a day. Perhaps more importantly, turnouts to existing freight spurs would not need to be modified.

    The space next to the remaining freight track could be converted into a bike path, cp. SMART up in Sonoma county.

    Three elevated tracks on a wide aerial with two rows of columns may be good enough for HSR + Caltrain if the timetable is fully integrated and the switches long enough to be used at 125mph.

    As Clem has pointed out before, three tracks would be easier to implement than two in places where the ROW is narrow, e.g. San Mateo. Operationally, four tracks at the same grade is preferable, even if an additional freight-only track remains at grade.

    However, your idea of 1 at-grade + 3 elevated tracks has absolutely zip to do with Altamont vs. Pacheco.

    Getting HSR across the bay at Dumbarton would require a new tall bridge, perhaps hugging the eastbound lanes of the existing road bridge before switching to the available median in the eastern approach (impact on toll booth). In Union City, a subway tunnel would be required under Decoto, with a station next to BART. This would connect to an S-shaped bored tunnel across to Pleasanton.

    The UPRR right of way between Newark and Niles is not available. The eastern approach to the old rail bridge lies within the boundary of the Don Edward National Wildlife Refuge.

    The cost of the new bridge plus the tunnels would make Altamont-via-Dumbarton at least expensive than Pacheco. At the very least, the Manteca-Merced section of phase II would be shifted into phase I of the project. Altamont-via-Dumbarton would also do nothing to grade separate Caltrain south of Redwood City and, be subject to just as much NIMBY opposition as the Pacheco route.

  55. @ bikerider -

    CORRECTION: Altamont-via-Dumbarton has another major drawback in that it forces the starter line to split, reducing service frequency to both SF and SJ. Especially early on, high train frequency is essential for building ridership for the new system. Having the option of stopping any given train in both SF and SJ ensures high seat capacity utilization into the CV and down to SoCal.

    Unfortunately, thanks to the BART extension, there is now no obvious way to run HSR tracks between Union City and San Jose Diridon via Milpitas. Since San Jose will never in a million years accept being cut out of the HSR network altogether, that implies splitting the line at the Redwood City wye.

    Ergo, anyone who casually advocates "Altamont" (via Dumbarton) in the belief that it would keeping HSR out of Silicon Valley should perhaps reflect on the constructability of that approach, especially that of the connection south to San Jose Diridon.

  56. Unfortunately, thanks to the BART extension, there is now no obvious way to run HSR tracks between Union City and San Jose Diridon via Milpitas.

    @Rafael: Then perhaps you better warn the CHSRA about this fatal flaw in their plans. They've already selected a SJ-Fremont HSR corridor and even done considerable environmental work studying it.

  57. @ bikerider -

    we're getting a bit off the topic of freight in the peninsula here, but what you are referring to is part of the "high speed commuter overlay" which is not part of the core network and therefore unfunded.

    The status of the Altamont Corridor Project is documented here.

    NO specific alignment was selected as of May, scoping is still ongoing.

    I suspect this will quickly morph into an effort to improve frequency, punctuality and line haul time for ACE, with a new Modesto-Oakland service.

    Intermodal transfers to BART may become possible in Livermore (all trains) and in Union City (Modesto-Oakland trains only). Intermodal transfers to Amtrak CC could remain possible in Fremont Centerville (Stockton-SJ trains only).

    With parking limited at SJ Diridon and Tamien and constraints on double-tracking the Alviso line, a subset of trains could perhaps use the alternate Milpitas line, with a BART intermodal at Fremont Warm Springs.

    AECOM, the outfit CHSRA hired for EIR/EIS consulting on the corridor, will figure out soon enough that there just isn't enough ridership potential or money to build a fully grade separated solution or even a radically different alignment.

    This is a candidate for incremental tinkering up to "emerging HSR" at up to 110mph in the CV and more like 79-90mph west of Altamont. Think trackage on UPRR tracks and upgrades to sections of UPRR ROW, FRA-compliant diesel equipment (possibly fuel-sipping DMUs), retained grade separations with quiet zones (liability issues permitting) and priority for passenger trains.

  58. Ugh. Why doesn't California investigate going the TGV route, electrifying the Altamont corridor and upgraind its signaling so that it can run HSR trainsets on it?

  59. @Rafael: Which segment are we talking about, SJ-Fremont or Fremont-Merced? Make up your mind.

    SJ-Fremont is a no-brainer. It is part of the official HSR plan (SJ-Oak), and also a matter of State Law (AB 3034, Sec(2), Par (C)). Quenten Kopp and Rod Diridon have given their personal assurance that the World's Best Consultants have deemed this route feasible, so obviously we have no reason to doubt them.

    As for Fremont-Merced, you know full well that the weasel words "Altamont overlay" came much later in the process. There is *nothing* in the Central Valley-Bay Area EIS that found a HSR Altamont route to be infeasible. And as far as UP is concerned (bringing this back to the issue of heavy freight), Altamont has far fewer impacts on UP operations.

  60. @ Alon Levy -

    FRA rules currently point blank prevent running HSR trains on the same tracks as heavy freight trains. Besides, afaik UPRR still runs something like 25 freight trains a day through Altamont, so they're not going to sell trackage rights for operations based on anything that isn't FRA-compliant.

    A dedicated HSR alignment via Altamont in addition to one via Pacheco would be prohibitively expensive at this point.

    Perhaps in addition to ACE, Amtrak CC could be upgraded to 110mph north of Benicia with some bypass tracks and, its route changed to enable an intermodal transfer at either Union City or Fremont Warm Springs BART. There's already a shuttle bus between SF and Emeryville.

    @ bikerider -

    SJ-Fremont is an integral part of the Altamont Corridor Project, i.e. the separate overlay. I was simply trying to giving you some context.

    The assurances of constructability you refer to are a decade old. Even then, engineers referred to the I-880 section as "extremely challenging".

    In particular, Santa Clara county voters yet again endorsed the BART extension down to Santa Clara and the once-available medians of hwy 262 (a city street) and I-880 have been asphalted over.

    An partially alternate alignment past the SJC terminals and across to I-880 via aerials over Trimble was considered as well. Independently, the Bay Rail Alliance's proposal for Caltrain Metro East to Union City suggests using UPRR's Milpitas line instead of I-880, but the section between 101 and Niles is still used for freight.

    To date, UPRR has not shown any willingness to sell air rights above any of its ROWs to enable the construction of grade-separated passenger-only tracks for non-compliant rolling stock, citing concerns about liability. Note that CHSRA's latest plans for LA-Anaheim do include a 5+ mile aerial section above a BNSF yard, but that's a different company. I don't know if VTA would permit stacking HSR tracks above BART in the WPML.

    Even if air rights above someone else's tracks or city streets could be secured between I-880/Trimble and Niles, there's still the issue of the Hayward fault that runs parallel and right next to that section. It's considered California's second most dangerous fault right now, after the southern San Andreas.

    Delaying the whole HSR project twice without preserving that particular ROW for it means dedicated HSR tracks between SJ Diridon and Niles are not longer feasible IMHO. Trains can't fly and freeway corridors aren't a terribly realistic option unless there's an available median.

    If you think I'm wrong and there still is a viable ROW for bullet trains between SJD and Niles that doesn't involve tunneling, by all means let's hear it. Believe me, I've looked - just in case CHSRA can't secure a ROW down to Gilroy.

    HSR and UPRR just don't mix as well as HSR and BNSF.

  61. Bottom line is that the idea of removing freight doesn't solve any political problems

    Did anyone claim that it did? You're nominally responding to me, but your response seems to be orthogonal to anything in my post. Maybe you're trying to respond to someone else here, but it certainly isn't clear.

  62. SJ-Fremont is an integral part of the Altamont Corridor Project, i.e. the separate overlay. I was simply trying to giving you some context. The assurances of constructability you refer to are a decade old. Even then, engineers referred to the I-880 section as "extremely challenging".

    @Rafael: True HSR service SJ-Oak (through Fremont) was part of the Central Valley-Bay Area EIR/EIS. That study was completed in 2008 -- not "a decade ago". The East Bay has more population than either SF or South Bay, so clearly any difficulties in the Oak-SJ segment will catastrophically affect the EIR/EIS ridership analysis.

    So if you believe there to be a fatal flaw in CHSRA analysis, then by all means call up Stuart Flashman, or city attorneys for Menlo Park and Atherton. No doubt they will find your info quite useful in their lawsuit challenging the accuracy of EIR/EIS.

  63. FRA rules currently point blank prevent running HSR trains on the same tracks as heavy freight trains.

    ...except on tracks where PTC/ATS guarantees time separation.

  64. @ mike - Apologies, that was a general comment.

    The tone of the comments here seem to imply that one could pacify Pennisula NIMBYS by with "less obtrusive" construction that isn't freight compatible.

    IMO, this is incorrect because the locals aren't reacting to any specific engineering proposals (CAHSR has none), while it only creates other very formidable political problems beyond what was expected.

  65. @ flowmotion -

    CHSRA has stated that nothing has been decided in the peninsula or for that matter, any other segment. They have to say that to comply with the CEQA process.

    However, they did base their cost estimates on a first cut spelling out specific implementation details: zoom in on the peninsula section of CHSRA's Google map of the route and the Caltrain corridor portion of Appendix 2-D of the Final Bay Area to Central Valley Program EIR/EIS. It's dated 05-04-07 and was online long before the election.

    Now, even a casual look at these documents will reveal that they are preliminary. Indeed, in some cases, they call for 3.5% gradients (too steep for freight), retained fill embankments on top of road underpasses (too heavy) and other questionable tidbits. Therefore, the first cut for rough cost estimates should not be considered a blueprint for actual construction. We're not in the final engineering phase of the project yet.

    The technical and financial viability of any alternative concepts studied in the context of project-level EIR/EIS will be de facto evaluated against this baseline.

  66. flowmotion said...
    "@ mike - Apologies, that was a general comment.

    The tone of the comments here seem to imply that one could pacify Pennisula NIMBYS by with "less obtrusive" construction that isn't freight compatible.

    IMO, this is incorrect because the locals aren't reacting to any specific engineering proposals (CAHSR has none), while it only creates other very formidable political problems beyond what was expected.

    The question is not whether a particular design will pacify NIMBY's, but whether a particular design will undermine the ability of NIMBY's to mobilize support and act as an effective obstacle to successfully upgrading the corridor for HSR and higher speed, higher frequency, electric Caltrain services.

    It would be silly for an HSR supporter to get wed to a particular option when there are a range of options that gets the job done.

    Option 1: Slow tracks accommodate 1% (1:100) gradiant, 30 tonne axle load mainline freight traffic. Fast tracks could have a 2.5% (1:40) or 3% (1:33) gradient, and need only accomodate 17 tonne axle loads, but they would not normally have a separate elevation, so that would only be useful in presenting a softer "face" for viaducts in the FSSF configuration.

    Option 2: Both slow and fast tracks are 17 tonne axle load, 3% (1:33) gradient lines, so only freight that can mimic passenger trains can have access.

    Option 3: Slow tracks are 22.5 tonne axle load, 2.5% (1:40) gradient lines, fast tracks are 17 tonne axle load, 3% (1:33) gradient lines, so with electric locomotives, single stacked container freight and 3/4 loaded hopper cars could go through, but, eg, triple high car carriers would be out.

    Obviously, underground stations and diesel freight do not mix, so option 1 rules out underground stations, while options 2 and 3 are compatible with underground stations, if someone comes up with the incremental cost.

  67. @ BruceMcF -

    if any tracks are limited to 1% gradient and infrequent elevation changes, they might as well all be.

    The key issue is that grade separations are more difficult to implement wherever tracks ascend or descend. A 25 foot elevation change at 1% gradient requires a run length of 2500 feet.

  68. So, what is the collection of customers?

    North of Redwood City, that is.

    Granite Rock seems to be the "heaviest" customer. Can their aggregates traffic be served by barge instead? They seem very close to the shore.

    The Port of San Francisco is a ridiculosity. Can they be relocated to somewhere else in the Bay? :-)

  69. Let me get this straight.
    1. Freight requires a longer length of elevated track for crossings than HSR or Caltrain.
    2. Freight has more burdensome construction requirements when underground.
    3. Freight traffic is infrequent along the Caltrain ROW.
    4. Freight does not require grade separations.

    A practical solution is to:
    1. Leave freight above ground ‘as is’. Use existing overpasses, underpasses and at-grade crossings.
    2. Tunnel the passenger/commuter service underground.

    This is a compromise which addresses multiple stakeholders (one of the major issues that’s screwing up the Peninsula is that stakeholders are not willing to acknowledge each other’s existence and legitimate points of view). The stakeholder positions are:
    1. Maintain community livability along the corridor (includes shopping, working, traveling through, etc.)
    2. Ability to provide freight service.
    3. Add new HSR service.

    For those who insist on using the N-word, note that the first two stakeholders are already in existence. IOW, they were here first. A genuine willingness to look at the situation from another’s perspective would greatly improve the project’s prospects.

  70. Arthur Dent,

    That sounds reasonable, but I have a few questions:

    1) how does the tunnel for commuter and HSR get paid for, if the air rights over the ROW are not available for development?

    2) If freight is the sole user of the ROW at grade, would it still be limited to overnight use, or would UPRR have the right to run freight trains all day and all night? Without Caltrain sharing the tracks, what would prevent UPRR from using them 24 hours a day? Having freight at grade, day and night, seems to conflict with maintaining "community livability along the corridor."

    In that scenario, a very large amount of money has been spent for a tunnel, without any tangible benefit to the surrounding communities.

  71. @Bianca --
    1) Pay for it the same way the rest of the project is paid for. Isn't it odd that a couple real estate developers come up with the idea to sell land rights so they can develop the existing strip owned by Caltrain, and suddenly everyone thinks that's the only way a tunnel can be paid for? If a tunnel is what's appropriate for all involved (as I pointed out, HSR is only one stakeholder) then they're obligated to build it that way - and pay for it as a normal part of the project.

    I don’t see anyone suggesting that Rod Diridon’s neighborhood be handed the bill for the tunnel that’s proposed through his Santa Clara neighborhood.

    2) Without Caltrain sharing the tracks, what would prevent UPRR from using them 24 hours a day?

    UPRR's restrictions would continue to apply since they’d continue to share tracks above ground.

    The tangible benefit is that the bulk of the future track service (passenger/commuter trains) will be routed underground, leaving only the hard-to-engineer and infrequent freight service above ground.

  72. @ Arthur Dent,

    Would you clarify something for me? First you said:

    2. Tunnel the passenger/commuter service underground.

    Then you said:

    UPRR's restrictions would continue to apply since they’d continue to share tracks above ground.

    If both HSR and Caltrain are tunneled as you state in your previous comment, with whom is UPRR sharing the tracks?

    The notion that HSR is going to pay for the tunnel because the Peninsula communities are special snowflakes and want it isn't going to get far. When BART was going through Berkeley, it was Berkeley that demanded the tunnel, and they came up with the money by taxing themselves with a bond measure. I don't see this situation playing out any differently.

  73. I recognize that a 1% maximum grade is optimal if one is designing a freight-compatible railway from scratch, but if we're talking about only a handful of trains per night, wouldn't it be possible to build with steeper grades and use operating techniques frequently applied in mountain railroading? Plenty of heavy freight main lines reach grades of 2% (http://www.alkrug.vcn.com/rrfacts/grades.htm), never mind the 4.7% grade on the infamous Saluda Pass. Surely the cost of additional locomotives and fuel consumption would be more than made up by the savings in terms of concrete and community impact on the peninsula corridor.

  74. About light freight — it's not feasible on the North American continent. All freight cars have be compatible. It's impossible for a few customers on the SF Peninsula to buy a few "light", European-style cars because just about all cars are part of the North American Freight Car Pool. The way it works is when a customer orders a car to load, the nearest empty freight car is sent. Therefore, converting to "light freight" would require replacing every single car in the North American Pool (and there are hundreds of thousands of cars; the process would take decades). And about the JT42C, it is illegal to use in the United States because it doesn't meet US Crashworthiness standards (it's designed for England.) Also, EMD quit making it last year. If you want to talk about these things, you should know what you're talking about.