10 November 2009

CSS Kicks Off

Despite some earlier skepticism that the Context Sensitive Solutions process would be embraced in upgrading the peninsula corridor for high-speed rail, program officials now say they're signed up to it. This development was successfully precipitated by the Peninsula Cities Consortium (representing several peninsula cities in matters pertaining to the project) and Californians Advocating Responsible Railroad Design, (CARRD) a group of mid-peninsula residents concerned about project impacts.

A kick-off workshop organized by the Peninsula Rail Program was held on November 4th, featuring a nationally renowned CSS expert as well as the Peninsula Rail Program's newly hired CSS consultant, urban designer Bruce Fukuji. Here are the slides from their respective presentations:
(as a reminder, the Peninsula Rail Program or PRP is a 50-50 joint venture between Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority.)

For everyone who wants this project "done right," CSS presents a structured opportunity to build consensus about just what exactly "right" means. The commitment to use CSS is not a small one, considering that specific peninsula design alternatives are already being debated behind closed doors, and that the final project EIR/EIS is still planned for end 2011.

Playing out against a backdrop that includes the program EIR being decertified by the Atherton lawsuit, rail officials now seem to realize that the path of least resistance may lead through CSS. Failing to achieve a reasonable level of community consensus is likely to mire the project in CEQA lawsuits for a long time.

That's not stopping the local press from dismissing CSS as a gimmick.


  1. The problem lies with the "done right".

    Since Caltrain appears absolutely bloody-minded, damn-the-torpedoes, ignore-every-precedent, not-invented-here, US-railroaders-will-show-you determined to do everything wrongly, without exception, we're kind of without a leg to stand on.

    (Fast tracks on the inside, CBOSS catastrophe, failure to lift a finger to fix Transbay, 20 year failure to do anything about level boarding, hostility to pedestrian/transit connections at stations, massive overbuilding while ignoring operating efficiency, globally unique track, signalling, and electrification "standards", use of expensive passenger terminals as out-of-service train parking lots, etc, etc.)

    If anybody's aware of any instance in which Caltrain/CHSR plan to undertake a capital project which is any of cost effective, well justified, part of any sort of systematic plan for service delivery, best practice, or highest priority (other than random smash-and-grab earmarkage) then let us all know know. I don't see it, and God only knows I spent a decade trying to convince myself otherwise (after the bad old Samtrans criminals were replaced by the new say-the-right-things but in the end do-the-wrong-things new regime.)

    The whole concept of something good and acceptable coming out of a process, labelled "Context Sensitive Solutions" or otherwise, is that somebody somewhere is advocating the right thing, and that we try to balance off the engineering and transit right thing against other local concerns. So, start with the perfect, end up with the acceptable.

    But when everybody is actively seeking poor outcomes, I don't see how the result can be anything other than the worst of all possible worlds.

    So, look forward to Community Advocated Facilities like dog runs featuring children's art and a senior lunch center next to a rail line that's in the wrong place, configured incorrectly, delivered a decade late, and never performs as promised.

    It's all very sad, very disheartening, and completely unnecessary.

    But don't worry: We're Number One!

  2. The following letter was sent to the CHSRA Alternatives Analysis process in response to their request for community input regarding track alignments on the Caltrain corridor.

    Dear Dominic Spaethling and colleagues:

    How would you like to be rid of all us complainers and critics? How would you like to resolve the Union Pacific problem? How would you like to meet your and Caltrain's needs? How would you like to make this project a win - win - win - win?

    CHSRA wins. Caltrain wins. Union Pacific wins. And we, the residents and “rotten apples” of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto also win.

    What we don't want: At or above grade alignments.
    What we do want: Full-bore tunneling

    Details: Two 45 ft. two-track tubes from Redwood City south border to Mt. View north border, approx. 7 miles. Current Caltrain corridor stays as is (no changes) and Union Pacific continues to use in accord with trackage agreement. Caltrain occupies one tube, HSR occupies the other. Two construction easements, approx. 5 acres each at portals. Entry to portals requires grade changing 3.5% slope within trench.

    No Shoofly tracks needed; no eminent domain takings or construction easements except at portals; no grade separation costs (10 crossings); no lawsuits for adverse economic impact on three cities or inverse condemnation proceedings.

    Although apparently greater construction costs for tunneling , project actually pencils out.
    1. Full-cost accounting, with deductions of those work components and impacts -- off-sets -- unavoidable for all other alignment options.
    2. Insufficient compensation to three counties that “own” the public property that is the Caltrain corridor. Counties contribute corridor use itself for HSR use. (JPB administers; we ‘own’) HSR builds corridor up-grades it requires in order to operate profitably. Tunneling is part of the development and corridor improvement costs required of HSR for seeking access to our corridor in perpetuity.
    3. This alignment offers greatest protection to the urban environment than any other that HSR insists on penetrating.

    CHSRA wins with dedicated rail access through our three cities. Caltrain wins by obtaining its tunnel, upgrades and no track sharing. Union Pacific wins by being left alone and no track sharing. And, we in the three cities win by having both Caltrain and HSR below ground. This proposed alternative provides the greatest benefits to all the stakeholders with the fewest downsides. There are no 'losers.'

    At great risk of ridicule (standard blog practice), this proposal is posted here inviting substantive criticism of flaws.

  3. Anonymous @ 12:07: you forgot to discuss costly underground stations & platforms for Caltrain and/or HSR.

  4. According to a comment on the story Menlo Park asks for underground rail system, Martin Engel identifies himself as the author of the letter.

  5. Am I incorrect in recalling that the JPB actually owns the ROW between Lick and San Francisco?

    The counties and communities don't own the ROW.

    I really don't see how CHSRA and Caltrain "win" by having to pay for tunnels.

    The communities don't get "paid" by Caltrain and UPRR because, for one, Caltrain and UPRR (and in the future CHSR) offer a valuable transportation service to the communities.

    Martin Engel's "plan" still doesn't pay for the tunnels. It doesn't even attempt to do so by selling the air rights.

    Essentially it is simply an assertion that the tunneling will be worth it financially because everyone "wins." Everyone except for the party that has to pay for the tunnels.

  6. @anon 12:07

    If the cities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto pay for the tunnel then I'm fine with it.

    Otherwise you are just asking for a handout from the taxpayers of the state.

  7. @Reality Check: I propose that the stations stay where they are, at grade, and the platforms are in the tunnels accessed by escalator and elevator.

    @Peter: JPB “owns” the ROW the same way the National Park Service “owns” the National Parks. The Caltrain corridor was bought from private Southern Pacific with our public money, provided by the three counties. It is publicly, not privately owned. The “valuable” transportation service they provide is also subsidized with our money through Measure A sales taxes, among other public sources. It is not “they” that provide public mass transit services, we do. None of these are private services or investments.

    And, if you believe that JPB owns the rail corridor, by the same logic they must also own the air-rights. Therefore they are not ours to sell. And therefore I don’t see how I can include them in my plan. Air-rights development needs both JPB and UP concurrence. The trackage agreement gives UP the right to preserve the current rail corridor configuration as is, unless the commuter service (Caltrain) seeks to make major improvements on it (that agreement paragraph does not apply here). It is in both Caltrain and UP’s interests to occupy separate tracks and will certainly make it more likely for Caltrain to receive FRA approval to deploy European code EMUs.

    We are the “party” that has to pay for the tunnels, no matter who pays for the tunnels, if you see what I mean. Different pockets, same pair of pants. It is not, in my mind, correct to see HSR funding as a zero-sum game. Every dollar spent on tunneling does not draw on some finite, fixed pool account and thus become unavailable for HSR construction.

    So, let’s say they don’t build tunnels. I assume you do want them to build something. An elevated retained-fill wall? Or a viaduct structure with four tracks on it? An expanded at-grade corridor? Who pays for that? Who pays for the temporary shoofly tracks, the eminent domain takings, the grade separations and the construction easement takings? Who pays for the business closings and other revenue losses to the cities during the five or more years of construction? Tunneling, even if it costs more, eliminates some of these costs and reduces others.

    @lyqwyd: WE are the taxpayers of the state. WE will be paying for the tunnel, regardless of where the funding comes from. WE will be paying for the entire rail project, regardless of where the funding is coming from.

    The most recent posted price is $50 billion. Do you doubt that it will actually be twice as much? And, unless all that funding comes from Washington, it won’t ever materialize, certainly not from this State.

    Anyhow, if you are, as you say about this tunnel alignment, “fine with it,” from my perspective that’s half the battle and I appreciate your endorsement. I suspect that a lot of others on this thread, or Clem, won’t agree with you about that.

    At which point I want to ask, is this tunneling concept as described acceptable, and the only objection or concern is about funding it?

    As you can see, my goal is not conflict. I’m searching for agreement if that is possible. I’m seeking not to be the “naysayer” that I am frequently accused of being.

    (I have a google account, but don't know my username or password. ) (Martin)

  8. I wouldn't characterize keeping a track at grade operational for UPRR to use a win-win scenario.

    PCJPB would still own that track and therefore have to maintain both it and all remaining grade crossings - at the expense of voters in the peninsula counties.

    PCJPB would not be able to sell air rights above the tunnels to developers to at least partially offset the high cost differential.

    There would still be bells ringing and horns blaring during the day and late at night, just less often.

    Residents of south Redwood City and north Sunnyvale would be treated to hundreds of tunnel booms every day, in addition to shouldering the brunt of the massive construction nuisance associated with bored tunnels.


    But I guess as long as the value of Martin Engel's real estate goes up at the expense of state and federal taxpayers, that's all that matters.

  9. I love how Martin complains that the expense of the project is going to balloon and then does everything in his power to ensure the same.

  10. Rafael, I was trying to follow the logic of your argument until, at the end, you started after me personally, making your case of what a bad person I am. Is that helpful to your case. You are the smartest guy out there. You shouldn't have to stoop that low to win your argument.

    UPRR made their needs clear in their four page scoping comments, which Jerry Wilmuth signed. They wish to continue their operations not interfered with. I would think that leaving them alone on the tracks will accomplish that.

    If JPB, which will continue to 'own' the at-grade tracks, delegates them to exclusive UPRR use, might they not ask UPRR to assume financial responsibility for maintenance? I would.

    I am aware of the air-rights obsession as a revenue source, as if the rail corridor only acquires monetary value with the tracks removed. I would argue that the corridor has monetary value and could be leased to an organization that seeks to run an inter-city rail system. And, having done so, could require that this rail operator also build two tunnels beneath the corridor, one for each rail operator. That would be the price of access to this valuable property. As I have said elsewhere, it's OUR public property and the cost of using it includes whatever construction is called for to not intrude into the life of the cities it passes through IF those cities don't want it.

    Then, Rafael, you suggest that removing the anticipated 124 daily trains won't change things very much. And the three or four daily freights will continue to be a problem of bells and horns. By the way, they won't need to be nightly any longer.
    I say again, don't let the perfect get in the way of the good.

    I am seeking to make an accommodation with you about the high-speed train. But you persist in rejecting any claims that anyone can make that is at variance with your perception of what the corridor should be like. If I don't deny your train, why would you deny my tunnel to not interfere with my life? Must your train go through my living room to satisfy your requirements? And, let us not forget, I get to pay for it regardless with my tax dollars.

    Writing on this blog, I am well aware of having jumped into the center of rejectionism. Yet, naively, I am still looking for logic and reason.


  11. Is the areal solution really that bad anyway? This whole uproar thing seems like much ado about nothing to me. And a tunnel seems like more of a luxury than a necessity (and therefore the cost difference should be paid for primarily by the people who request it). Not that a tunnel is easy to construct anyway.

  12. @ Martin

    Do you honestly think that leasing the rights to use the rail line would be able to raise ANYTHING close to the billions required to build a tunnel?

    Funding is the pretty much the main reason for why tunnelling isn't feasible. It's technically possible, but not financially possible.

    You (and others) keep on demanding a tunnel, but fail to come up with a reasonable way to fund it.

    Proponents of HSR and the Authority are ok with a tunnel, but it has to be paid for by someone. Come up with the funding, and you'll be in business.

  13. I think I might talk to some friends and call in some favors to have a lawsuit brought against the three cities in the lawsuit. I think enough is enough when a few people use the system to stop a project for their own personnal gain, when the majority voted for it. The money and time lost from these lawsuits that Martin and his buddies are creating is causing ME and YOU the taxpayer to loose money. So, now I think it is time to file suit at them and the city councils for blatently disregarding the peoples will of the vote!

  14. "If the cities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto pay for the tunnel then I'm fine with it."

    Interesting perspective. Those cities weren't the ones which decided to route trains via Pacheco instead of Altamont.

    And now you are suggesting they are the ones to pay for mitigations, instead of the lead agency?

    This is why CSS isn't going to work. All parties to the process have to share the same goals. Has it ever been attempted when two sides are engaged in a lawsuit?

  15. No, the lead agency will pay for mitigation.

    But a tunnel isn't mitigation, a tunnel is a luxury. If a tunnel is not needed technically, then it is an insanely expensive luxury.

    Mitigation could be sound walls. Mitigation could be a trench.

    And need I mention that Atherton and Menlo Park would still have HSR travelling through them with an Altamont pass.

  16. I meant Altamont alignment.

  17. Altamont? ALTAMONT????

    May I remind you that Altamont goes through a wildlife refuge, multiple residential areas in the East Bay, and goes alongside UPRR property through all of them. Heck, Altamont would be a bigger mess than the peninsula could ever be, especially considering that UPRR's position would dictate that a large swath of houses would have to be bulldozed. Mark my words, there are plenty of NIMBYs in all those areas willing to push just as hard as anyone on the peninsula. This, IMO, is the epitome of tossing the problem in someone else's back yard (and a worse problem, at that). How do you justify that?

  18. @Martin -- with everyone's help I will make sure you are afforded the same courtesy as anyone else in this vigorous debate.

    The Caltrain corridor was bought from private Southern Pacific with our public money, provided by the three counties.

    You forget the approximately two-thirds of the funding provided by Sacramento under prop 116. If you wanted to play devil's advocate, you could claim that the California HSR Authority already "owns" a majority stake in the corridor. While the CHSRA walks, swims and quacks like a Parsons Brinckerhoff, it is still a public agency representing the state.

    It is in both Caltrain and UP’s interests to occupy separate tracks and will certainly make it more likely for Caltrain to receive FRA approval to deploy European code EMUs.

    The FRA waiver is not just a matter of compatibility with UPRR. More importantly, it is a matter of self-compatibility for Caltrain. Changing the fleet is not something that is done overnight by flipping a switch: diesels and EMUs will intermingle for a transition period likely to last many months. Without the waiver, the transition to EMUs is darn near infeasible without shutting everything down for a long time.

    Different pockets, same pair of pants.

    Who pays, who benefits? These two questions must always be asked together. If you suggest that state or federal taxpayers should foot the bill for a mid-peninsula tunnel, you ought to make a convincing case for how that tunnel benefits Californians or Americans in general.

    And if Atherton and Menlo Park, then why not Burlingame? Sunnyvale? Gilroy? Fresno? Ontario? etc. The question of environmental justice by itself is enough to make tunneling totally unaffordable state-wide.

    As a state and federal taxpayer, I don't think I'm alone in feeling that there are more productive uses for my hard-earned money than digging large holes.

    I will pull together another post to look at the details of the tunnel concept advocated by Atherton.

    I am still looking for logic and reason.

    I think we all are. And thanks for stopping by.

    Altamont? ALTAMONT????

    @Joey et al. Let's stay away from that one, shall we?

  19. It's justified simply by tossing it in someone else's backyard. Out of sight, out of mind.

  20. And if Atherton and Menlo Park, then why not Burlingame? Sunnyvale? Gilroy? Fresno? Ontario? etc. The question of environmental justice by itself is enough to make tunneling totally unaffordable state-wide.

    This is a somewhat flawed analogy.

    City of Fresno itself was the one that pushed for downtown alignment. Gilroy also actively lobbied for the Pacheco alignment. That is different situation than having outside agency foist a alignment decisions on a city.

  21. @Peter -- small correction: while the Dumbarton rail line (and therefore the Altamont HSR route) does pass through east Menlo Park and just adjacent to Menlo Park's Suburban Park between Hwy 101 and Marsh Road, it does not pass through any part of Atherton.

  22. As a PA resident, I'd love a tunnel.

    But two tunnel boring machines?
    That would cost a lot. And given the state of California's finances, we can't really expect state funds to be forthcoming to buy two TBMs.

    I also am highly doubtful that the federal government could fund two TBMs for the peninsula from a political perspective. Two TBMs for seven miles of tunnel under low density development would be seen, rightfully, as pork barrel spending

    And the TBMs would be digging 18m (45 ft) diameter tunnels, which, as far as I know, can't be physically done since no TBM that big exists. The ones used in Switzerland for the Gotthard tunnel are half that size, and those were expensive

    I just can't see how Mr Engel's plan pencils out. Especially without a funds source.

    And even then, that's assuming Mountain View and Redwood City wouldn't mine getting the terrible end of the deal with huge portal construction easements and perpetual tunnel booms. They can't be ignored if we put this much emphasis on peninsula communities

  23. Adirondacker1280012 November, 2009 00:15

    Without the waiver, the transition to EMUs is darn near infeasible without shutting everything down for a long time.

    They'd have to close down the corridor for a few Sundays for testing then "flip the switch" on the last Sunday. Assuming that they go with platform heights and loading gauges that also compatible with FRA compliant cars. 48 inches and 10'6" - more or less Shinkansen specs - would work. NJTransit probably has some old stuff they would be willing to rent. SEPTA is building the next generation of EMUs. The LIRR and Metro North might be interested in in dumpi.... surplusing some cars... I hear Metra likes to give stuff away....

  24. Adirondacker1280012 November, 2009 00:19

    Oh, lets not forget this . . .


  25. @ Martin -

    I apologize for my ad hominem statement.

    It's just that when you pitch your solution of a seven miles of four-bore tunnel through suburbia as a win-win is hopelessly disingenuous. In truth, the only people who win are those who chose to buy property within a block or so of the active SP/UPRR/Caltrain tracks. And perhaps, the developers who would acquire air rights.

    Everyone else loses.

    @ Pete -

    often, TBMs are leased not bought outright. You're probably thinking of mega-projects like the Channel Tunnel or the St. Gotthard.

    Payroll, the logistics of removing the spoil, the construction of the tunnel behind the cutting face and especially, covering the financial risks of uncertain geology are what make tunneling so expensive - less so the TBM as such.

  26. @ Reality Check

    I'm sorry, my knowledge of the exact city boundaries is likely incomplete.

    @ Adirondacker

    Yes, I continue to be amazed by how people continue to ignore the fact that the grade separation planned for Menlo Park has already been studied. There were no plans for a 30 foot wall. There just aren't. Most likely they will end up splitting the difference, literally, and build the "split" option. But to continue to deny it and make outrageous claims is just stupid. I'm thinking of "Berlin Wall" claims. I grew up there, and get a bit offended when privileged rich people compare the two.

  27. Berlin Wall - 12 feet high- http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5d/Berlinermauer.jpg/300px-Berlinermauer.jpg

  28. Would there be guard towers? Land mines? Guard dogs? Border checkpoints? Searchlights? Booby traps? No, no, no, no, NO!

    Oh, and let's toss in low-altitude supersonic flyovers by Soviet fighter jets to harass the populace. And tanks rumbling down the main streets a couple of times a week. Ever had your school bus escorted along its route by a Jeep with a mounted machine gun? With a soldier with an M16 sitting in the front seat? Ever stood out in front of your house with hundreds of other people watching a desperate escape attempt from the East with a home-made balloon?

    THAT'S what living on the west side of the Berlin Wall was like. I can't even imagine what it was like for the people on the other side.

    Would an elevated be taller than 12 feet? Yes. Would access to the other side be possible? Yes. Would access to the other side be better than before? YES!! Would you have trains blasting their horns? No. Would you have bells dinging every couple of minutes throughout the day? No!

    You seriously cannot compare the two. Anyone who does so has NO idea what they're talking about.

  29. Anonymous at 10:15

    If you're going to show the wikipedia image to show that it was "only" 12 feet tall, let's include the text underneath it as well:

    View in 1986 from the west side of graffiti art on the wall's infamous "death strip"


    Removed prior comment, messed up the timestamp of Anon's comment.

  30. And I meant to say "with a soldier with an M16 in the front seat of the school bus."

  31. Interesting perspective. Those cities weren't the ones which decided to route trains via Pacheco instead of Altamont.

    I thought the San Jose and the Peninsula both lobbied for Pacheco in order to avoid being put on a spur.

  32. It doesn't make sense to place the tracks below existing grade anywhere on the peninsula, with the exception of just north of Tunnel 1 in SF (where of course our genius Caltrain and TJPA friends are NOT planning to grade separate 16th or Common Streets.)

    Everywhere else, above grade construction, mitigated by informed, service-quality-aiding, ARCHITECTED (not US-civil-engineer-slapped-together) construction and levels of build out will provide the very best solution (even context senstive solutions for everybody.)

    But of course Caltrain and CHSRA have no interest in doing anything right. So, the worst of all possible worlds is inevitable.

    PS how to do it right:
    * Four track only where a SERVICE PLAN shows it is necessary, and for a realistic-on-planet-earth level of service.

    * CENTRAL ISLAND PLATFORMS at all stations. The unmitigated, unncessary, world-beating incompetence of our fine US Railroading Professionals in screwing up rider convenience and in completely fouling up Caltrain (which will always be 75% of corridor ridership) service flexibility is breathtaking. Death is too kind a fate.

    * DESIGN FOR CALTRAIN SERVICE. Those are the riders. Those are the people who live in the communities. The needs of a Flight Level Zero airline -- or, more accurately, the cost-maximizing, arbitrary, ignorant diktats of kindergartner domestic CHSRA engineering consultants (Not even the slightest cirve on any platform! Four tracks everywhere! 350kmh through city centres! 9 trains per hour! North East Corridor platform height! Non negotiable! Screw you!) -- are tertiary.

    * Don't overbuild for freight traffic and other fairy-tale nonsense (Amtrak relics, steam trains), which are GOING AWAY. The visual and fiscal cost of over-building massive structures to carry behemoth coal trains is considerable. Shallower-depth, longer-span bridge spans and slenderer supporting columns can make all the difference.

    * DESIGN FOR HUMANS. Caltrain uniformly "designs" its stations by having some US railroader civil engineer just slap down some junk on their CAD systems, regardless of human needs or desires. Stations in the first world have convenient and direct and plentiful pedestrian access routes. Access routes lead to and from real destinations, without engineer-imposed blockages or engineer-dictated detours. Bus drop off points are located as close as possible to platform access points -- something made super-convenient by raised stations and island platforms. Platforms include passenger shelter, and platform canopies that extend over train roofs to provide a completely sheltered route regardless of weather.

    * Poles, not headspans or portals, for overhead where ever feasible. A small detail, and of greatest benefit for railway operations and maintenance, but it also makes a considerable difference in the appearance of an elevated route.

    Along the same line, adopt a modern, first-world electrification overhead standard, rather than grotesquely overspecifying the structure to some known-nothing local "standard" (150 foot pole spacing on straight track for sub-160kmh? WTF!!!!). Minimizing the spacing of catenary masts -- and, how coincidentally, maximizing the amount of metal erected and amount of Special Local Expertise involved, rather than just using off-the-shelf design programs from Foreign Parts -- is a good way to both drive up costs and make the result look like crap. Exhibit A: The "modern" North East Corridor, a textbook example of bad engineering, local expertise, and systematic contractor fraud.

  33. I think Richard meant to reference Slow Traffic Keep... Left? in his "CENTRAL ISLAND PLATFORMS at all stations" point.

  34. @ Richard

    So, you would require Caltrain and CHSR to have worked out all the operational details to determine when and where four tracks versus three are required?

    Wouldn't it be better to plan so as to achieve maximum operational flexibility?

  35. "So, you would require Caltrain and CHSR to have worked out all the operational details to determine when and where four tracks versus three are required?"

    That's how grown ups around the world do it.

    Timetables are planned years ahead, services are promised to communities, a work plan is developed to deliver that service, and infrastructure is built when and where needed to support service ... you know, the train-like things that are supposed to benefit the people travelling in them, not just the people who drive them and build the tracks.

    Oh, and trains actually run according to timetables, and 5 minutes late isn't "on time". (This is hundreds of times cheaper than throwing money at concrete, but requires somebody to actually care about delivering value for money.) Little details like that.

    I'd give examples, but, well, they're not in New Jersey so they don't count. (Though if you search the intertubes for "Route Utilisation Strategy" you'll find that even backwards English-speakers can cotton on, eventually. But ignore that ... because We're Exceptional. CBOSS, DUDEZ!)

    "Wouldn't it be better to plan so as to achieve maximum operational flexibility?"

    Wouldn't it be nice if we all could have ponies that poop rainbows?

  36. @ Richard

    Well, if you're going to get personal, why don't we discuss how exceptionally over-idealistic you (and others) look at overseas rail systems. I'm especially entertained by your notion that trains run on time everywhere else.

    Travelling on DB, for example, on an interesting summer day in 1998 or 1999, I witnessed a near complete meltdown of the service through the entire region. I, and the group I was travelling with, was stranded for hours in an extremely depressing station in former East Germany, because there was a single train that had broken down. This led to cascading delays throughout the entire system.

    Now, wouldn't it have been nice to have had some operational flexibility in the system?

    Or how about the frequent delays I experienced nearly daily on the U- or S-Bahn in Berlin? We never really knew when the S-Bahn was going to pull in, which is why it was mostly safe to show up a couple of minutes late... How about that for punctuality.

    Now, I'll admit I haven't travelled by train outside of Germany, and that on the whole the experience was positive, but it's not the shining example that others claim it to be.

  37. @ Peter : It's not like late trains are unheard of or impossible in German DB-land, but it was my consistent country-wide impression over many trips that dependability/reliability was an order of magnitude (or so) better than with intercity (Amtrak ... shudder) or even local rail transit here.

  38. @ Reality Check

    Yes, overall my opinion of DB is quite high (except lately as they've been skimping on maintenance). I'm just glad I'm not in Berlin for the S-Bahn debacle.

    I was just trying to illustrate to Richard why maximum operational flexibility must be built in to the system from the get-go.

    I'm admittedly not a railroader by profession, so there will be certain things that others know more about. But that's not an excuse to turn it personal.

  39. @ Reality Check

    If Amtrak got the funding to increase the passenger dedicated tracks they have, they'd be able to be more punctual.

  40. The 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was held recently and it would be helpful if people do not belittle the memory of that historic event by comparing any part of this project to it. As another poster explained, it's a comparison that makes zero sense and it's actually quite offensive.

  41. Richard may get a bit, uh, passionate when it comes to criticizing the current state of passenger rail planning and operations in the nation, but he makes good points. Foreign rail systems are not perfect (I should know, I live in Japan, and even the highly regarded rail system here has its (occasional) problems. Railways are run by humans, after all. However, Amtrak and what passes in N.A. for on-time or "reliable" service just doesn't cut it by any first world standards. Applying unique, home-made engineering standards rather than adopting worldwide best practices will do no good (see BART). Flexibility can be built into the system using established, proven train control systems without the need to overbuild and overcost. In Japan, schedule disruptions are handled effectively by JR East's COSMOS for shinkansen operations, and ATOS for commuter lines.

  42. Simply building Caltrain and HSR to the same platform height would provide far more operational flexibility than the 4-tracks everywhere approach for schedule recovery.

    Integrated ticketing wouldn't hurt either.

  43. Adirondacker1280013 November, 2009 10:07

    I'd give examples, but, well, they're not in New Jersey so they don't count.

    New Jersey isn't a good example. Electric trains running on the same tracks as the diesel trains, passenger and freight. Some places it's two tracks, some places it's three tracks, a few places it's four tracks and in a few short stretches 5 or 6 tracks. Branches. Different destinations. High level platforms that all the trains use. Intermodal stations that work. Not at all like the single line that Caltrain is or will be.

  44. BTW, for good laugh, check out the Caltrans CSS web page.

    It isn't a soundwall. It is a collaborative effort between stakeholders to integrate highway with built environment.

    Or something like that.

  45. Why do I have the feeling that CSS is Bureaucratese for "Blight-inducing sound walls for East Palo Alto and South Central, deep-level tunnels for Palo Alto and Beverly Hills"?

  46. pssst Alon Levy, the Caltrain ROW doesn't run through East Palo Alto, so no sound walls for them.

    I do have to wonder why a sound wall, which mitigates noise, is "blight", but having a diesel freight train running by your backyard with no sound mitigation isn't.

  47. pssst Bianca, the freight runs by only briefly whereas the wall is a permanent structure.

  48. pssst Board Watcher, the freight trains run in the wee hours of the night, and are really LOUD. I used to live two blocks from the Caltrain ROW and those bleeping trains with their bleeping horns woke me up every night. And I was two blocks away. It may only last for a few minutes, but good lord it's a PITA.

    Here's the thing: if the people who own property abutting the Caltrain ROW are used to the noise of freight trains running through their back yard in the middle of the night, then who is to say they won't be able to get accustomed to HSR going through in the daytime? Or that they won't be able to adjust to a sound wall with ivy growing on it and trees planted in front of it?

    It's not like the status quo is a nature preserve.

  49. I know the Caltrain corridor doesn't go through EPA. That's why it won't get concrete sound walls; it'll get planted walls and pretty els with arches.

  50. One thing we can be sure of, its not a gimmick - CHSRA isn't smart enough to pull off a 'gimmick' (and when this was hatched, they didn't even have a PR firm).

    This is much more insidious. This is CHSRA's way of saying - we fulfilled our duty, we sat there and politely 'listened' (with our earphones on), and that now gives us the 'all clear' in EIR world to do whatever the hell we want. Thank you, come again.

  51. I know the Caltrain corridor doesn't go through EPA. That's why it won't get concrete sound walls; it'll get planted walls and pretty els with arches.


  52. @ Anon @ 23:15

    You ALWAYS run that risk with NEPA & CEQA.

    The idea with CSS is that it is in fact more in-depth than the others. From what I gather, the CSS process is actually quite successful at producing good compromises.

    There will, as ALWAYS, be people who aren't happy with the end result. However, a compromise where no one is happy with the result is most likely the best compromise achievable.

  53. Honestly -- and I'm not being hyperbolic or rhetorical -- I don't see what there is to compromise about.

    CHSRA and Caltrain want to over-build the most expensive and least useful system, with mis-configured tracks, rider-hostile stations, and what-planet-are-they-on costs.

    "Balanced" against this, the cities don't know or care about train service, don't care about the practical convenience of making transit useable and useful, and are just out for maximum parking with a veneer of landscaping paid for by somebody else. If they can get CHSRA to build a police station (see BART SFOX) or dog run or bike path, bring it on, but there just aren't going to be any real issues of any real public interest on the table.

    So where's the compromise going to happen? We'll get a wretchedly misconfigured rail system courtesy of America's Finest Industry Professionals, and the CSS compromise will be about the tinting applied to the concrete of the overbridges.

    Tunnels and trenches are or no use to Caltrain or CHSRA, are of no real value to the residents of local cities (fear and doom and ignorance nothwithstanding), and lastly nobody is going to come up with any money for them. So, where's the CSS compromise going to happen?

    I just can't see any of this as other than make-work. Nobody's bringing anything to the table other than half-baked, ill-conceived and unrealistic schemes; the only difference is that one half-baked, ill-conceived and unrealistic party has a billion of your tax dollars to squander, while the other party brings nothing beyond h-b, i-c and u.

    In summary: slap some lipstick on that pig. Lipstick up the process and lipstick the same-old-same-old outcome.

    So sad.

  54. @ Richard

    A possible compromise may be a trench option with measures to aim the sound of passing trains away from the neighboring houses. Maybe a tunnel might be the best choice for a certain stretch (although very unlikely due to the extreme cost).

    Naysayers on both sides may be very unhappy with the final results.

    You're sounding like a very grumpy, cynical person. Maybe a nap would help.

  55. If they can get CHSRA to build a police station (see BART SFOX)...

    San Bruno got a LOT more than a police station. BART runs almost entirely underground through that city. Even the Colma cemeteries got a tunnel.

    The CSS process is being run by and for Parsons. They have enormous financial motivation to solve community related issues with most expensive option possible.

    Even better, when the project blows its schedule and budget, they will have perfect scapegoats.

  56. "They have enormous financial motivation to solve community related issues with most expensive option possible."

    What a coincidence. Communities along the route want the most expensive option possible. It's a match made in heaven :)

  57. @Drunk Engineer: So therefore it is our duty to make sure the same thing doesn't happen to HSR. There is a very large gap between acknowledging (potential) problems and working toward fixing them (and I'll admit, I often fail to bridge that gap myself).

    Anyway, one way or another, I believe that communities do deserve SOME input as to how a project is built, even if they don't get their way in the end. If nothing else, input can help planners to implement solutions that best fit with their surroundings (but within financial and practical reason). But that doesn't mean caving in to something like a tunnel (no pun intended) just because that's exactly what they want.

  58. @ Peter -

    trenches aren't necessarily desirable in the SF peninsula, where lots of gravity-drained conduits cross the right of way: creeks, storm drains, perhaps even some sewer mains.

    Unless an adequate solution is identified and implemented in each case, there could be local flooding of city streets as well as the trench every time a winter storm dumps a few inches of rain on the area.

    IMHO, the existing view across the Caltrain tracks at grade is overrated. What's on the other side? In many locations, a busy frontage road. Is preserving that view really worth spending additional billions, relative to a well-designed elevated structure or else, additional under- or overpasses so tracks can remain at grade?

  59. Confused about Trenches17 November, 2009 22:31

    Off topic - but since you mention trenches - how exactly can Caltrain continue to operate while they are building a Trench? That doesn't make sense to me.

  60. It might be possible to build the trench two tracks at a time where enough space exists. Anywhere else, shoofly tracks would have to be built, probably accompanied by eminent domain.

  61. Adirondacker1280018 November, 2009 11:43

    What's on the other side? In many locations, a busy frontage road.

    Sometimes it's parking lots or the backside of a commercial building or both...

  62. IMHO, the existing view across the Caltrain tracks at grade is overrated.

    So what's so great amount the view in SOMA? One can just as easily argue for aerial there too.

    Even in Paris, the Grandes lignes run above ground. And let me tell you, SOMA ain't no Paris.

  63. It's not the same thing. There isn't physically enough room to weave an areal through the medium to tall buildings leading up to the TBT. Remember, HSR needs wide turn radii (about 200m minimum) to avoid wheel squeak and equipment wear. If you can see a viable route, by all means, let us know, but I see nothing.

  64. Just run it straight up 7th. Terminate in the vicinity of Mission, still walking distance to the Civic Center BART station.

    CSHRA isn't interested in the TBT anyway.

    (BTW, I only point this out as counter-example. Palo Alto's request for tunnel is no more nuts than San Francisco.)

  65. How about we put the station in a good location, rather than just a functional/easy location. There's so much more going on in terms of transit/business at the TBT vs 7th street.