14 February 2010

Stacked Nonsense

A preview of the alternatives analysis provided to Palo Alto residents reportedly included several stacked track alternatives. In a Palo Alto Weekly article, track stacking is described thusly:
Tim Cobb, whose firm HNTB is performing engineering work for the Peninsula segment, said the alternatives analysis is also considering stacking train tracks in sets of two. This could entail keeping the two existing Caltrain tracks in their current alignment and building two new high-speed-rail tracks either above or below them. This appears to be a particularly viable option at areas where the right-of-ways are narrow, such as Churchill Avenue, rail officials said.
Track stacking is a design that communities should beware. While it may solve the problem of threading four tracks through narrow right-of-way pinch points without taking adjacent properties, it has many disadvantages.
  1. If the tracks are stacked, one pair of tracks (Caltrain's) will remain at grade. This will result in continued noise from grade crossing bells and train horns (especially from freight trains, which will operate between midnight and 5 AM), and continued accidents and service disruptions caused by the occasional trespasser or stalled car. The impact will only get worse as Caltrain traffic increases from the current 90 trains/weekday.

  2. Grade separations can provide important community benefits such as reduced noise, smoothed traffic flows across the tracks, and a safer environment with a lower risk of accidents. Track stacking not only precludes these benefits, but it permanently prevents the future grade separation of Caltrain.

  3. If the HSR tracks are stacked above the Caltrain tracks, they will need to clear tall freight trains and high-voltage overhead electrification. That means the free clearance underneath such a structure must be ~25 feet, with the HSR tracks ~30 feet above ground level rather than ~16 feet for a conventional overpass grade separation. Sound walls and overhead electrification poles would raise the overall height of such a viaduct to a neighborhood-blighting sixty feet (as shown in the figure above, with a viaduct taken from TM 1.1.21). The noise and visual impact could spread far beyond the immediate vicinity of the crossing, affecting several blocks on either side of the tracks.

  4. If the tracks are sunk, all the surface disruption and expense of tunnel construction will be incurred with none of the benefits. After the dust settles, trains will still make noise, grade crossings will still close a hundred times a day, the tracks will still form a barrier through the community, and crossing accidents will still occur. The tunnel plus at-grade solution is now favored in Anaheim, where there is a 1.5-mile stretch of 50-foot right of way, far narrower than anywhere on the peninsula.

  5. Building stacked tracks will require land takes anyway, since stacked tracks cannot be built directly over or under active Caltrain tracks. Any stacked scenario would require temporary shoofly tracks to keep Caltrain operating during construction, and those shoofly tracks might require the very same land takes that stacked arrangements are intended to avoid in the first place. Whether temporary (for construction) or permanent, such land takes have the same legal and material impacts to residents.

  6. Stacked tracks are a waste of taxpayer money. For roughly the same cost and the same level of disruption, a simpler and functionally more effective four-track grade separation can be built instead. The only people who benefit from the tens of millions of dollars spent to stack the tracks are (a) the engineering and construction firms who build these complex structures, and (b) a handful of property owners immediately adjacent to the tracks, who get to hang on to their land in somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory.
One might reasonably conclude that stacked tracks are a badly overwrought solution to the perceived problem of residential takes.

Bloated Requirements

Taken for granted in this crazy talk about stacked tracks is an assumption that a 100-foot wide swath is required if all four tracks run on the same level. That 100-foot peg won't fit in some of the 60 or 75-foot holes that dot the peninsula corridor.

As it turns out, this 100-foot figure includes expansive margins for cable ducts, utility easements, maintenance walkways and drainage structures. In a pinch, the tracks can be spaced just 15 feet center-to-center. So are we going to build a 60-foot tall structure just so drainage trenches will fit and AT&T can run some fiber optic cable on the right of way? No, we shouldn't. With some creative engineering, four tracks can and do exceptionally fit within a 75-foot right of way, even with drainage and utilities. It makes no sense to build tall viaducts or tunnels because we're short a few feet for these ancillary items.

Which brings us to land takes, a.k.a. eminent domain... the third rail of peninsula HSR politics.

Destroying the Village In Order To Save It

With growing opposition to HSR on the peninsula, program managers are walking on eggshells, especially when it comes to taking any residential land. What they fear most in eminent domain proceedings is neither cost nor delay (both would likely be minimal), but the political fallout and galvanized opposition to the project.

Seemingly bending over backwards to avoid residential land takes at all possible costs, HSR designers are now contorting themselves into these stacked design alternatives possibly as a veiled signal to the communities. Perhaps it is their calculation to elicit such a negative response that the communities themselves will suggest far more reasonable solutions--solutions that may involve a residential take here and there. Whatever the underlying motives might be, peninsula cities should be suspicious of stacked tracks, and weigh the relative community benefits of carefully optimized and very limited residential takes. And communities will need to take the initiative on this, because the HSR project politically can't and won't.

In some cases, eminent domain is not just a last resort: it may be part of the "best" and overall lowest-impact design solution.


  1. Is there a operational or safety benefit to having the head-span support next to the (emergency) walkway or could the width be reduced using poles and still have a walkway?

    Put another way, what is the minimum width of four elevated tracks with one diesel freight track? 21m, 20m, less?

    Also, stacking appears to put limits on the ability of HSR/Caltrain to share tracks since the transfer would need to be made before/after the stacked section.

    Stacking seems to be the worst combination of all.

    (Thanks for Pruning and Removing the spam)

  2. Or simply rely on two tracks for the narrow portions with the occasional passing track. Why make the design more politically difficult, complicated, and expensive?

  3. Why make the design more difficult than necessary?

    Because the UP and FRA probably leave no other choice.

  4. "Why make the design more difficult than necessary?"

    Um.... Because it is far more profitable that way (ie the Los Banos way). Like, duh!

    * Four tracks Santa Clara-Redwood City, no questions asked!

    * Four tracks Bayshore-San Francisco.

    * Two entirely separate terminal stations in San Francico.

    * 14 track, two level station in San Jose!

    * BART Fremont-San Jose-Santa Clara.

    So ... what's not to like?
    You did remember to get on the gravy train like a Smart Engineer would, right?

    Undertaking heroic, unnecessary engineering is a truckload more profitable than following the "wrong" conclusion from back of the envelope level cost-benefit analysis, after all. Our CHSRA/Peninsula Rail Program consultancy pals weren't born yesterday!

  5. Why all this drama over this project?? simply keep the tracks near grade and dip the roads!
    An example is right at the PaloAlto
    train station..Is this so awful that it cannot be done at most other crossings? its fine and has been for many decades

  6. Anon@14:51:

    One of the problems with dipping the roads is that it requires removing any access to the roads (cross streets, driveways, etc), not to mention the space required to construct the approaching trenches while maintaining traffic on the street. At some point it just becomes easier to elevate the tracks where grade separations are necessary.

    And Anon@13:38:

    Do you have any idea what an operational nightmare it is to run 16+ tph on two tracks, where many run at different speeds, some stop at all stops, some stop at a few, and some don't even stop at all? We'll have traffic jams before HSR even ramps up to its full ridership!

  7. @anonymous - dipping the roads instead causes impacts on all the cross streets - affecting things like sewers, utilities, driveways, etc.

    It takes some distance for the road to dip down, so the impacts go back about 300-400 ft (at least that is what I was told) from the center of the intersection. If you've seen the video on the HSRA website for Alma and Churchill - you'll notice the house on the corner ends up with a wall supporting what used to be their front lawn when they dip the road. (link: http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/gallery.asp?s=alma-street)

    Clem - perhaps a post on how dipping the road causes impacts would be helpful as we get closer to the AA

    Thanks for your tireless work on this topic. It is appreciated.

  8. Anonymous said...
    "Or simply rely on two tracks for the narrow portions with the occasional passing track. Why make the design more politically difficult, complicated, and expensive?"

    Of course, that implies that you guarantee that if HSR want it, it can have up to six slots out of around ten slots per half hour. At peak, Caltrain already used about five slots per half hour. And improving Caltrain trip speed while reducing its operating cost ought to go with more services in peak hour at the same operating subsidy.

    So that is a "solution" that ignores the problem to be solved.

    Four tracks can support Caltrain locals, Caltrain expresses, and HSR without any real conflict.

    With FSSF and center island local platforms, it would be feasible to narrow the slow track down to one for an inter-local-station stretch, FSF, but not without a price to be paid - in this case, at the cost of some rigidity to the local train schedule and a lower limit in total capacity (how much depends on how many single-track slow sections, how long, and how widely spaced).

    It is of course financially insane for the NIMBY's to be "protecting" their property from their strongest bet at protecting their property values from slumburbia in the event of repeated steep oil price shocks.

    Its like the people "protecting" their children from vaccines on the basis of what turned out to be a rigged epidemiological study.

  9. If the subway HSR tracks are deep enough, grade separation are still possible by dipping the roads under the Caltrain/freight tracks and above the HSR tunnel. Yes there would be impacts from the dips, but it is possible if designed right.

    Same goes for an elevated HSR configuration. Create a dip under the surface tracks.

    Some impacts yes, but still very possible.

  10. Also, without getting rid of freight, how is HSR suppose to share tracks? Is not the weight of freight traffic problematic for HSR track?

    It seems that getting rid of freight first needs to be dealt with before any track-sharing arrangements are considered. Getting rid of freight could save a billion or two dollars but it seems to be a non-starter for some reason. Without advocating for removing freight, I don't see how advocating for a shared-track arrangement makes any sense.

  11. Again, if you're going to build a tunnel deep enough for possible future grade separation, why not just grade separate to begin with? It'll probably be cheaper than the tunnel anyway.

    And there are a couple of solutions to the freight problem: (1) Run freight trains only on the local tracks (as opposed to express), which aren't used by HSR or (2) Limit the axel loads of freight trains such that they don't cause too much damage to the tracks.

  12. it would be feasible to narrow the slow track down to one for an inter-local-station stretch, FSF, but not without a price to be paid

    That is indeed one of the many advantages of FSSF, and if combined with clockface scheduling the price can be made near-zero. Train "meets" can be arranged to always occur near certain locations and away from others (such as a short stretch of FSF track).

    Of course, there's the "design to fail" bit... as failure to keep a schedule is pretty much an accepted way of operating a railroad around these parts.

  13. Re freight (off-topic, but that's where this has all circled again):

    There's a misconception that just running a 30t axle load freight train (or a porcine Caltrain diesel locomotive-cum-tank for that matter) on the same steel rails as those used by less neolithic trains is all by itself, by by dint of physics and mechanics, a cause for expense and grief.

    That's not entirely so, all by itself.

    The biggest, baddest 400 pound gorilla of freight is that you are forced into (or actively volunteer for, in crazed Caltrain's case) infinite levels of FRA regulatory nonsense, and infinite amounts of Not Invented Here signal system reinvention and 19th century operating practices and operating rules.

    (It also means being dragged into the pit of freight-centric US AREMA standards for the absolutely critical wheel-rail interface. In a rational world the Caltrain+HSR non-FRA system would adopt without change UIC or Shinkansen track, turnout, and wheel standards, and could buy trains known and tested to work at any speed. But no. Instead we get turnouts optimized for grain silo sidings in Nebraska, and track optimized for coal hauling.)

    Throw that FRA nonsense overboard and you're already 30 years, hundreds of millions in capital cost, and millions a year in operating cost of where we're so disastrously heading. And that has nothing at all to do with overweight and poorly maintained freight trains beating the hell out of the track, or not.

    Another point is that the volume of freight on the peninsula is completely negligible. That's good news first because it means it can be cut off entirely (temporarily or permanently) without any measurable environmental or economic impact. But it's OK news even if the lumbering behemoths were to make an occasional appearance, because it's traffic measured in millions of gross tonnes/tons that drives up maintenance costs. ("MGT": Google it.) Our minute amount of freight needn't necessarily have a huge maintenance cost impact.

    However ... accommodating heavy axle loads at all does have an up-front capital cost and does have unfortunate effects on the size, mass, visual intrusiveness and neighbourhood "porosity" of the civil structures that carry the track. Compare the BART viaducts in the East Bay with a Caltrain (= freight RR) overbridge on the Peninsula, for an extreme example. Deeper and shorter bridge spans mean more concrete, additional cost and significantly less design flexibility for human-oriented stations and road or pedestrian underpasses. It also means significant expense for higher road overpasses, and it means unnecessary unpleasantness for station design -- for example, canopies over platforms can't extend over the edge of the train to provide rain-free (and level!) boarding if the vehicle clearance is dictated by the imaginary need to run imaginary triple-deck autorack freight cars.

    It does also have an effect upon the track system, of course: deeper shoulder, heavier ties for ballasted track, for example, but, sadly, this sort of expense is going to be hidden way, way, down in the cost rounding errors given the outrageous consultant and agency "oversight" expenses with which we are so badly reamed here in the US. In isolation, for our trivial amount of freight, ignoring effects on civil structures, ignoring regulatory doom, this probably wouldn't be that big a deal. But those factors can't be rationally ignored.

    So, yes, freight has to go. (At least temporarily, until it comes back on our terms, not hysterical historical ones.) But this is not just because running one freight train on the same tracks as those used by higher speed passenger trains will crush those tracks to smithereens. The damage and expense is incurred long before that. And the best part is that Caltrain is actively seeking out this sort of damage.

  14. BobDoty again stated 100 feet was needed for 4 tracks on the KPFA radio program. Since is is about as high as you can get in the chain of design for CalTrain, I presume this is what is needed.

  15. However, what is a reasonable axle load to design the slow lines for, to ensure future ability to operate reasonable electric freight into and out of San Francisco?

    Is it safe to presume that the 22.5 metric ton axle loads of some of the continental European mainline systems would have suitable standard worked out for regular commuter EMU's?

  16. Caltrain is running 5 trains per hour in each direction, during only ONE AM and ONE PM hour per day currenty. For many many hours of the day, caltrain is running only ONE train per hour. PLENTY of room to run an occassional HSR train through (and HSR is NOT a commuter line, no need to muck with the commute hours).

    There is no reason to assume one trillion high speed trains per hour need to travel through the Peninsula between SF and SJ.

    Terminate all but a few HSR trains in SJ. Send A FEW high speed trains through at hours other than 7am, 8am, 5pm or 6pm. All the traffic that could ever want to get on high speed rail from Peninsula to LA can either get on at SJ (most will anyway), or can get on a Caltrain on the Peninsula and make an exceedingly simple transfer at Diridon. SAVE BILLIONS.

    Caltrain can grade separate and electrify itself two track wide, and EVERYONE lives happily every after.

  17. "... electric freight into and out of San Francisco ..."

    Quick little logistical question: just where are the bulk material handling, container trans-shipment, and boxcar unloading facilities going to be located in San Francisco?

    Note that the best and brightest railroad engineers in the entire country can't seem to position even a single small workable passenger terminal within the city boundaries.

    Quick followup question: assuming an answer to the preceding, just what logistical advantage will these magnificent San Francisco facilities offer over others situated, oh, three miles away but in a different city and different county, off on The Mainland?

    (Trucks are evil! A rail spur will be run to every retail store and every domestic trash bin. Diesel bad! Etectric good!)

  18. BobDoty again stated 100 feet was needed for 4 tracks on the KPFA radio program. Since is is about as high as you can get in the chain of design for CalTrain, I presume this is what is needed.

    Incorrect presumption. Amtrak's 4-track Northeast Corridor has several stretches where the ROW narrows to 85', such as in parts of Trenton, Iselin, and Elizabeth, NJ. It also has elevated sections as narrow as 60' through New Brunswick and Newark, NJ. These are operated at speeds as high as the maximum proposed between SF-SJ. Minimum preferred is not the same as minimum needed, regardless of what an official claims. You don't need more than 15' track spacings for 125mph.

    CAHSR likely won't be completed before even Texas HSR (which hasn't even begun an EIS) unless they quit demanding Utopian perfection and overkill standards. Your state and local governments have painted themselves into a corner and can't afford the expensive solutions required to meet all the demands. Tunneling under suburban Anaheim neighborhoods is the height of absurdity, the final cost of the CAHSR core routes are going to be double what a common sense plan could be. You don't need total grade separation initially on the peninsula, the only limitation on 4-track grade crossings are artificial bureaucratic restrictions, not technical ones. 110 mph instead of 125 only costs a couple of minutes, and 30 tph (found on light rail lines with crossings) won't be reached until well after a second phase can be built. $40 billion extra because 'The ballot says 2:40" and you couldn't possibly settle for a 2:50 or 3:00 first phase. And won't kill 4 routes with 1 stone by utilizing the Altamont routing. Overreach and the resulting faked numbers and budget-busting will set this back years. CA pols and HSR hacks are basically insuring that Texas HSR gets built, by providing a worst-case scenario that their upcoming plans will look great compared to. Thanks!

  19. Anon@20:40:

    Oh, and I suppose you don't think that people won't want to ride HSR during the morning and afternoon commute hours? For such short trips, those hours are, in fact, likely to be some of the most popular. Granted, HSR will not have the same time dynamic as commuter rail, but you can't neglect the considerable travel demand at that time just because some NIMBYs refuse to have a few feet shaved off their back yard.


    Rigid time constraints seem crazy at first, but then you start to see a method behind the madness. Think of it this way: we cut the speed a little because of a couple of NIMBYs here and a couple of cost-savers there. No harm done, right? Now maybe we have NIMBYs somewhere else that want the same thing done. Still pretty close. But before long you'll have everyone asking to slow it down or cut costs somehow, and you'll end up with something that doesn't even qualify as HSR.

    Don't get so wrapped up in the details that you fail to see the big picture.

  20. Don't get so wrapped up in the details that you fail to see the big picture.

    Perhaps your pompoms are blocking the view, so here's the big picture:

    2:50 or 3:00 for $40 billion in 8 years is better than 2:40 for almost $80 billion in 15+ years.

  21. "Rigid time constraints seem crazy at first,"

    No. They're perfectly sane, if you're on the take or in on the game.

    The legislated numbers are there to require that all trains into the SF Bay Area run via Los Banos, not Fremont, thereby enriching BART contractors beyond anybody's dreams of avarice.

    Busy state legislators don't just dream up phrases like "San Francisco-San Jose: 30 minutes" or "San Jose-Los Angeles: two hours, 10 minutes" (or forget to remember to dream about "San Jose-Sacramento" or "San Francisco-Sacramento") all by their little lonesomes, you know.

  22. The legislators I've spoken with say that it was the Authority that insisted on the time limits.

    From the Authority's perspective, they allow them to say no to all sorts of things - some that make sense and some that don't

  23. When one is conducting an alternatives analysis it is pretty common to include a couple of stupid alternatives to be able to say "see, we studied everything." This is especially the case when the agency really likes one alternative (In CHSRA's case this is grade separated quad track) and wants to show why its the best. I would expect them to not study potentially cheaper alternatives like tripple tracking some sections where 4 tracks are difficult to construct.
    This shouldn't be a difficult project, but Bay Area politics seems to be making it so. With the way things are going, I wouldn't be shocked if all the stimulus money ends up going to construct tracks in SoCal and the Central Valley.

  24. With all of the noise over this route and only 2.2 billion in stim funds I dare say outside of the SanBruno grade project and TBT most of the funds will go to the Central valley and LA-ANA segments
    The idea of HSR stopping in SJ is a big NO..At least one train an hour needs to travel all the way to SF TBT the rest can stop in SJ.
    That said the grade crossings need seperated 2 tracks or more as its becoming a weekley event that Caltrain hits something!

  25. Please enter this into the record of absurd 12 HSR tph and "quad-tracks-all-the-way!"...

    Rail ridership estimates were 'faked' to hoodwink public

    As the retired manager of long range transit planning at the Southern California Association of Governments, until 2008 I had to deal regularly with the California High Speed Rail Authority. It is, without a doubt, the most dysfunctional and possibly corrupt transportation agency in the state, possibly the nation. It is unprofessional, mismanaged and not accountable to the Legislature or the taxpayers who will have to pay off the bonds.

    Those of us who have studied high-speed rail systems, including ridership estimates, operational costs and fare structures, immediately knew that these numbers were faked, and this nonsense of a "typo" is an obvious lie. The results produced and the lack of transparency on the purported estimation methodology (until now) generated astounding and impossible results. It is now increasingly apparent that these ridership estimates were faked to deliberately and willfully to hoodwink the public.

    And these deliberately faked results were used in subsequent policy and environmental documents, rendering those findings meaningless, at a cost of
    millions of dollars willfully and fraudulently taken from the taxpayers to pay for these results.

    Over the last couple of years I've worked with several international firms that have done high-speed rail private investment projects around the world and were interested in possible opportunities in California. I note that these people were not fooled by these clearly ludicrous modeling estimates, and are now even less inclined to make any private investments in the authority.

    I support high-speed rail and now serve on several non-profit transit and rail advocacy and educational boards that support a responsible, well-planned, cost-effective, high-speed rail component as part of our California system of high-speed, intercity and regional rail services.

    However, no one should be fooled into thinking that the incompetent and possibly crooked crew at the California High Speed Rail Authority will deliver a carefully designed and cost-effective high-speed rail system for California under the current dubious authority management team or the apparently equally dubious oversight of the current authority board.

    Bob Huddy
    Transportation Program Manager
    (now retired and able to speak freely)

  26. And where is that from? TRAC?

  27. It's not quad-tracked all the way; it's double-tracked, with an extra pair of tracks for Caltrain locals north of San Jose.

  28. What's really silly is the ruse that HSR train service is somehow special and different when compared to any other lightweight, electric train service, particularly along the urban corridors.

    Build a flat and straight track, and any train is going to go fast on it. Engine power and weight make some difference, but what truly matters is the flat and straight track. A Honda Civic on a smooth freeway will go much faster than a Ferrari on a dirt road.

  29. It's different in that it runs considerably faster and stops at only a fraction of the 25ish stops along the corridor. Is that different enough for you?

  30. The top speed on the SF-SJ corridor is 125mph and certain curves limit that, and even some steam trains can exceed 125mph. Any lightweight electric train is going to accelerate and decelerate quickly. Anything better?? Better restrooms? Pointier noses?

    Any train can run non-stop. Well, except for BART.

  31. Richard:
    "Quick little logistical question: just where are the bulk material handling, container trans-shipment, and boxcar unloading facilities going to be located in San Francisco?"

    Bulk material handling: the same place any bulk material handling is handled now.

    Container transhipment: at a truck/rail container transhipment location.

    Boxcar unloading facilities. Whatcar unloading facilities? The container unloading facilities will be at the loading dock, just as they are now.

    "(Trucks are evil! A rail spur will be run to every retail store and every domestic trash bin. Diesel bad! Etectric good!)"

    This proposal of yours is quite extreme and would seem to be among the highest cost way conceivable to achieve the necessary transition away from dependence on imported energy for our material transport system.

    For more sensible than either the current clearly obsolete and unsustainable system or this absurdly, even comically, extreme alternative would be to use electric trucks to haul containers the last few miles to their final destination.

    However, as far as "diesel bad, electric good!", while quite crudely stated ...

    ... given the massive opportunities to expand domestic electrical production on a sustainable basis and the certain to be dwindling domestic supplies of petroleum no matter what leeway we grant oil companies to pollute beach ecosystems, its not so far off from the truth.

    A more nuanced way to express it would be, "diesel, dead end road, electric, feasibly sustainable".

    However, I would not have directed a question at you simply in hopes of getting a diatribe, since diatribe is such a cheap and readily available commodity on the internet. I directed it at you because you claim to know something on the issue, and I was curious on that point.

  32. Anonymous said, as cluelessly as Spanonymous posters every are:

    "Caltrain is running 5 trains per hour in each direction, during only ONE AM and ONE PM hour per day currenty. For many many hours of the day, caltrain is running only ONE train per hour. PLENTY of room to run an occassional HSR train through (and HSR is NOT a commuter line, no need to muck with the commute hours)"

    HSR is an intercity line primarily selling two to three hour trips. Of course times arriving in advance of the beginning of business and leaving after the close of business are more valuable than times selected to be in low demand for local rail transport.

    And improving Caltrain trip times while reducing operating costs per trip of course means that Caltrain will experience more demand for its service and will be better able to meet that demand.

    And of course, the hourly schedule in the middle of the day is a recent service cut following the latest convulsion as your state's perpetual financial crisis combined with the genuine financial difficulties generated by the most severe recession since the end of the Great Depression and the start of WWII.

  33. Any train can run non-stop. Well, except for BART.

    The reason BART can't run non-stop is that it's limited to two tracks without enough passing tracks. The same situation will happen to Caltrain if it gets the same amount of traffic as BART.

    The law mandates 12 tph capacity for HSR, but the Caltrain express tracks should have enough capacity for 24 tph (in principle the line can hold 30, but that requires moving block signaling, which is a waste given the expected traffic. Caltrain isn't the RER and will never be.) This means that even under the 12 tph hypothetical for HSR, Caltrain can make full use of the express tracks for passing moves and, if it gets platform heights right, special express runs.

  34. McFly - HSR intercity, 2-3 hour trips, yes, sure, whatever, its wonderful.

    And they can get on at SJ Diridon, anytime.

    or, If they would prefer to start their trip in SF at rush hour, they can certainly get on an upgraded electrified Caltrain and transfer at Diridon.

    If they're business travelers, then they're traveling light, no kids, etc, then a transfer is no big deal. If they're tourists - then they really don't have some burning need to travel during rush hour, do they.

    Or they can simply wait about an hour and get on an HSR in SF at non peak time.

    The solution is really just so simple. Simply partition out a few dedicated NON-PEAK HSR hours on the Caltrain line, and terminate the rest of the HSRs in SJ. Just like they will partition out freight hours overnight. Done. No need for all this drama and extra BILLIIONS of dollars to 4-track Peninsula. If this isn't enough, then really, they're barking up the wrong tree-they need to go find an appropriate location.

  35. I'm still confused about what's so bad about four grade-separated tracks compared to two grade-separated tracks. The cost does not double, and in most cases the additional width required would amount to a few feet of backyard.

  36. Joey, don't you get it?

    What is wrong with more tracks is that it allows more trains. Period.

    The NIMBYs don't want more trains. They want the trains to disappear. Either visually, into a tunnel, or altogether (bye bye Caltrain!).

    They don't "believe" in trains and want everyone to do the only possible pro-American thing to do (in their view). Drive on 100% subsided roads and send billions in oil money oversea. While killing 10,000s of Americans on the roads each year.

    GM et al. spend a lot of money on propaganda films back in the day that the car was the ONLY future for transport and sprawl the only way to live. The Reason Foundations of the world keep up the drum beat to this day. There exists a minority that believes this line and they will always oppose ALL train and transit upgrades. Facts need to apply.

  37. So are you saying we should design the whole statewide schedule around what a few spoiled NIMBYs in one small area of the route want?

  38. "four grade-separated tracks compared to two grade-separated tracks. The cost does not double, and in most cases the additional width required would amount to a few feet of backyard."

    My perspective is that I do not wish to see (a) immense amounts of public money completely wasted and (b) a white elephant disaster that (quite justifiably!!) creates and hardens opposition to other, worthwhile rail projects for decades to come.

    Building four tracks Transbay-Brisbane or Redwood Junction-Santa Clara simply amounts to burning money for absolutely no return while simultaneously subjecting neighbours ("NIMBYs", "denialists", concerned citizens, rational economic actors, environmentalists, perfect members of society or otherwise) to massive cost and considerable disruption which in the end will provide no benefit to anybody except those with the construction contracts.

    So I always harp on and on about developing a realistic service plan that delivers specific benefits to the community rather than the CHSRA/Caltrain approach of "Write us a blank check! We'll build something. And maybe some trains or some type will run sometime in the future. Our demand models are unquestionable!"

    If you can say "build this section of quadruple track and we will provide you with four Caltrain services per hour at your station" or "build this section of quadruple track and we can add in two high speed train an hour" and then "build this section of quadruple track and we can add an extra two Caltrain services for you every hour" then you're talking.

    That's how people who have proven they know what they're doing do things, and keep going back to their voters for approval to build upon success undertaken in clear and well-documented steps at comparatively modest cost and with clear and demonstrated benefits.

    Addressing a couple of your points: yes, four tracks can cost considerably more to construct when you consider the phasing and staging issued associated with keeping service running during construction. (Look for that to be one of the firstbroken CHSRA/Caltrain promises.) If there's barely room for four tracks in the finished design, it makes it challenging -- not impossible, but challenging and more expensive -- to keep tracks open and make room for construction. It's also challenging to do this for two new tracks replacing two old tracks, but less so.

    As to the "couple extra feet of backyard", I have two answers. The first is that if there is a major service gain (and service to the community, not just more Flight Level Zero airlines blowing past without stopping while Caltrain stays screwed) from adding to the right of way, then it is cheap (trivially cheap compared to nonsense -- highly profitable nonsense -- like stacking tracks and tunneling) to just buy the entire properties for 10x market value from guaranteed willing sellers. There are only a few of these locations (San Bruno, San Mateo, San Jose) and the costs will be nothing compared to the construction mafia's take.

    The second response is that if there isn't a justifiable service need for the extra track and extra ROW, for example if it is just some profit-profit-driven sloganeering about "needing" four tracks all the way from Transbay to San Jose because, um, like, maybe we'll run some sort of trains, someday, at least once an hour, but trust us, sign here, then all you're doing is enraging local cities, burning any support you might have had, and stoking a political conflagration of anti eminent domain know-nothingness combined with legitimate grievance.

    In short: build as little as necessary, build easier stuff rather than heroicly hard stuff when possible, and show people what's in it for them.

    In short: do the exact opposite of what CHSRA/Caltrain are up to.

  39. Adirondacker1280016 February, 2010 15:46

    build as little as necessary

    What is a little as necessary? An electrified Caltrain will attract riders because for many destinations it's going to be faster than driving. Throw in some HSR trains and what's the plan for incremental upgrades versus doing it more or less all at once?

  40. So let me get this clear Richard:

    1. Plan for initial capacity (2-3 tph HSR plus 7-8 tph Caltrain)

    TJPA has got 10 tph on day one. Check!

    2. Plan more incremental improvements as traffic increases

    TJPA adds single track loop to Caltrain platforms, tph goes up to at least 16 tph with 8-10 for Caltrain. Check!

    Looks like the TJPA is your model agency Richard!

    They even fixed the curves so the Japanese trains can now fit. Just because YOU requested. :) Aren't you so so happy?

  41. @ Adirondacker12800

    Stop that Adirondacker. What are you doing pointing out logical flaws in Richard's statements?

    There are two rules:
    Richard is unhappy.
    The US engineers all idiots.

    All logic must flow from those rules.

    Facts like the New York M7 orders that inconsistent with the rules are out of order. Haven't you learned?

    The BA advocacy orthodoxy declares that TBT is BAD because:
    A HSR will use all ten Tph and
    B Only one HSR tph will use the quad track SJ-SF (ka-ching)

    Pointing out that A and B above are self-contradictory is unhelpful.

    Get with the program. < /snark>

  42. "What is a little as necessary?"

    Well, actually living in the Bay Area and having some rough clue about current and likely urban developments, and knowing what sorts of riderships exist on well-developed existing suburban lines, and doing the basic due diligence of comparing PBQD-promoted California rail project ridership claims against proven PBQD-profiting California rail project ridership:

    For the next 3 or 4 decades or so:

    * 6tph Caltrain Transbay (note: Transbay, not Outer Siberia) to San Jose. (4tph terminate at Cahill, 2tph to Tamien.) Of these, 4tph local, 2tph limited stop express, with perhaps 2tph supplemental limited at the peak of peak hours. (8tph base is technically possible with the infrastructure, but wasteful.)

    Background data for those who have only a vague idea of where on the map to find the Caltrain line: 6tph is as much service as BART provides today on its busiest line, Concord to SF, along a route which does not feature 20 lanes (101+280) of paralleling freeway. BART is limited to 213m single deck trains. Caltrain can theoretically expand, as demand warrants, to double deck trains and from 150m to 300m to even (highly unlikely) 400m trains. BART has taken 30 years to reach this level of demand.

    * 4tph inter-regional high speed service SF-Redwood City-Fremont-Livenomore-Southern California.

    Realistically, demand for more than 2tph is unlikely to be exceeded for 10 to 15 years. (Compare to existing corridor air travel. Compare to inception of existing HSR lines. Compare to the real world.) 400m long (double length) double decked intercity trains departing four times an hour are equivalent to scores of aircraft departures.
    Practically, the same infrastructure is needed for 2tph as 4tph.

    * 2tph inter-regional high speed San Jose-Fremont-Livermore-Stockton-Sacramento. (More are technically feasible with the same infrastructure, given demand.)

    * 2+tph inter-regional high speed San Jose-Fremont-Livermore-Central Valley-Southern California. (Again, more could run if there were greater demand. But even CHSRA's inflated figures don't show that.)

    * 4tph regional San Jose-Fremont, with some continuing to Livermore, or Tracy at peaks. (Oh noes! What happened to our TEN BILLION DOLLAR BART swindle? STOP THIS PROJECT *NOW*, Steve!)

    The 9tph San Francisco-Central Valley in CHSRA "planning" documents is purely a bat shit insane number concocted purely to maximize contractor bottom lines and defraud the public, while completely screwing up regional, potential, highly valuable Caltrain service for decades to come. We've seen it all before after all.

    None of this is rocket science.
    None of this is original.
    It's a matter of looking at what really exists and matching known-adequate and known-successful levels of service to known and knowable geography.

    Start with a plan of service, serving the public, and determine from that what needs to be built; rather than our special local practice of starting with what can be built to maximize cost, and ending up with something that simply can't provide service.

  43. Richard, I've made some calculations some time ago to compare permitted european and american track loads. The difference between axle loads are tremendous (22.5 vs 32 metric tons per axle), the difference between mass per length (ruling for design of long spans) ain't that big - 8 vs. 8.74 t/m.

    Also plate H doesn't mean that canopies can't extend over train edge because width upper part of Plate H loading gauge is closer to pantograph room width than to Plate F width. That said, V- or W-shaped canopies should work all right.

  44. "the difference between mass per length (ruling for design of long spans) ain't that big"

    Here's the back of my envelope:

    Boring old US hopper car (aggregate, etc): 263000 pounds net, 53 feet = 6240 kg/m.

    SD90AC locomotive: 415000 pounds, 82 feet = 7700 kg/m.

    Talgo 350 power car (I don't know what it weighs exactly, but assuming it's one of the shortest dense things out there, at 17.2m, and assuming it maxes out the 17.5t/axle limit): 4080kg/m.

    The real structural world isn't that simple, of course, and structure deadweight and 150+kmh dynamic loading have effects.

    Still, everywhere I look I see lighter structures than I do on local freight rail projects. (And yes, we have earthquakes -- just like Japan does.) The difference does seems non-trivial, but I might be wrong, and I don't pretend to be a structural engineer.

  45. Couple of things:

    1) I wouldn't call CalTrain well-developed. The baby bullet has made a huge improvement but it's still pretty slow and suffers from all the shortcomings of a 20th century diesel commuter line. Ridership is likely to increase substantially once we get electrification, not to mention standard population growth. 8-10 tph by 2035 or so is not impossible.

    2) Concord-SF runs at least 8 tph during peak periods, alternating between 5 and 10 minute headways. And this is on a one-way commuter line a where all of the employment is at one end.

    3) CHSRA is unlikely to choose double-decker trains. Also not all trains will be 400m. A lot will, especially the express trains, but I would be willing to bet a good number of the locals will be half-length 200m trainsets.

  46. Adirondacker1280016 February, 2010 18:32

    what sorts of riderships exist on well-developed existing suburban lines

    Like the ones that are frighteningly similar to the suburbs on the Peninsula that support 8, 10 or 12 trains per hour in the peak direction? Some of them aren't even electrified.

  47. "I wouldn't call CalTrain well-developed."

    I'd call it massively retarded, myself. As if somebody dropped it on its head, over and over and over again.

    "TJPA has got 10 tph on day one. Check!"

    Well I have a secret plan to win the Vietnam War. And a list of 205 names of Communist Party members shaping policy in the State Department.

    Nevertheless, very simple real world engineering experience -- and the design of every competently design and operated rail passenger facility on the planet suggests somebody's telling a teensy little fib somewhere.

    "TJPA adds single track loop to Caltrain platforms, tph goes up to at least 16 tph with 8-10 for Caltrain."

    I see. So rather than do the really really trivial design to maximize station throat throughput, we build FOUR approach tracks and maximize both the amount of tunnelling and the operating cost (longer route = more trains and crews.)

    Nice if you're on the gravy train, to be sure! Not so great if you're paying for this kindergartner level of worst-value engineering.

    PS To anonymous going by the moniker "BS": since you have the sekrit non-public inside poop on just how great the DTX will be, ask Maria when I get repaid the $30k I fronted to keep the project alive, OK? It's been a while.

  48. I was wrong about BART Concord 8tph. It is indeed 10tph at the peak of peak. Sorry. My argument (Caltrain vs C-line) still stands.

    "Not all trains will be double deck and/or double deck".

    I see. So instead of following a really simple, proven, feasible, low-cost route used by everybody else in the world, we should instead POUR MORE CONCRETE in order to operate as stupidly as possible. Sounds like a simply awesome plan! Make it so!

  49. Nothing about this is simple. If it were simple, we'd all be on the same page, and everyone would know exactly what to do. If it were simple, then transit systems around the world would look almost the same. But the fact is that attempting to model future trasit demand is inherently complex.

  50. Also, in regard to running longer, double-deck trains, but fewer of them, this is another thing that seems simple but isn't. Because demand is largely dependent on the level of service available. If more trains are available in a given period of time, more people will ride them, simply because they are more convenient and require less rigid planning. This is especially true for intermediate stops where only a portion of the trains will stop.

  51. Richard, the permitted axle loads decrease with speed. D4 is usually permitted for speeds up to 120 km/h at track side and often even lower for wagons (non-intermodal cars are unlikely to be permitted 120 km/h when non-empty). There are exceptions for locomotives of course because otherwise locomotive-hauled trainsets would be limited to low speeds too.

    I computed the US values from figures at this map.

  52. I'm with Richard on this. Sure Caltrain might want to run shorter trains more frequently, but it doesn't make sense to spend billions of extra dollars so they can do that. It seems that 2 track would be sufficient for the forseeable future.

    Running every 12-15 minutes is perfectly good enough from a convenience factor, anything more frequent should only be done if they cannot meet demand with the largest trains running at that interval. From what I've read it seems Caltrain ridership would have to grow about fourfold for that to be the case.

    Running taller/longer trains also has the benefit of requiring less operators, therefor saving more money.

  53. One effective way to control the costs and enhancE the usefulness of a system is to lean more heavily on that system's most cost-effective attributes in order to reduce the size of its most expensive elements. A rail transit system adhering to BART separation safety standards can provide high frequency service: For example a single track station service frequency range of 24 t0 45 tph with 700 to 1320 foot long trains while applying 44 to 58 second dwell times is achievable by employing a moving block position detection system plus a platform gate departure control system at busy stations. Way capacity with BART separation standrds extended to 110 mph would range from 77 to 84 tph. These potential per tack capacities obviate the need for a continuous four track line through short narrow stretches in San Mateo or along the 4.1 mile non-stop stretch between So. San Francisco and Bayshore. Also single deck local trains with 1,500 volt third rail power would be eight percent lighter than a 25,000 volt transformer on each MU electrification design. Detour freight over the Dumbarton Bridge and the 101 center to a point north of LAX. Only a 13 foot passenger train clearance would then be needed between the rails and over-crossing bridges. Retaining walls and over-crossing bridge peirs especialy on a four-track grade seperation would be well off to the side of the present two-track configuration. The time consumming construction and curring of major concrete structures could proceed without seriously disrupting present railway services. Note: the SF Bay area has remarkably dry summers thus allowing below-grade construction to continue with low risk to adjacent structures such as active Caltrain tracks.

  54. I agree with using larger/longer trainsets. 4-6 tph is still a lot of trains. That's 1 every 10-15 minutes. Enough frequency to cross that perceived imaginary line of service for riders, where they no longer have to look at schedules/timetables. They can just show up a train station during the day, and be confidant that a train will be there shortly.

    Also diverting freight across a rebuilt Dumbarton Rail Bridge would be a good thing. It removes some freight from the likely rail mess in Santa Clara-San Jose. And UP would probably prefer it too, given their rail yards are in Fremont and Milpitas.

    Back to the topic of this entry, stacking. It really sounds like one of the dumbest things I've heard. High cost for little benefit, little operating flexibility, and leaves CalTrain at-grade, eviscerating it in the process. If this is the best the Peninsula has to offer, well stacked nonsense indeed.