03 March 2010

Focus on: Burlingame

Burlingame, a city of trees, is increasingly aware of the impending arrival of high-speed rail. The city has taken a strong pro-tunnel stance in its EIR scoping comments, and is a founding member of the Peninsula Cities Consortium. The peninsula rail corridor in Burlingame could be described as mostly Kansas-flat and Mississippi-wide: an abundance of railroad right-of-way with relatively few constraints contrasts sharply with Burlingame's neighbor to the south, San Mateo.

Downtown Area

The Burlingame station recently underwent a $20M renovation by Caltrain that converted the narrow center platform to outside platforms, to allow two trains to safely occupy the station area at the same time. The new platforms were opened in early 2008, just in time for the city's centennial celebration. The depot was built in 1894 in the Mission Revival style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (photo above by Schaffner). Not surprisingly, it is considered one of the architectural jewels of the city, and visions of what might become of it in the age of HSR differ greatly.

In the discussion of visual impacts in the program EIR, the CHSRA happened to have picked North Lane for a before/after comparison of a grade separation. The authority's photo simulation features a vaguely European structure elevated by approximately 10 feet, with electrification poles placed between the tracks--evidently to keep high voltage away from trees.

In another photo simulation that clearly seeks to convey a different message, the pro-tunnel grassroots group Don't Railroad Us! shows the depot building overwhelmed by a fully elevated viaduct executed in the worst freeway-brutalist style, with unsightly high voltage headspans reaching high into the sky.

Existing condition
CHSRA photo simulation
Don't Railroad Us! photo simulation

If the tracks are elevated at North Lane, the result may not look quite as good as the CHSRA photo, but it's also a safe bet that it won't look quite as bad as the Don't Railroad Us! photo.

Broadway Area

Weekday Caltrain service to the Broadway Burlingame station, formerly ranked #23 in ridership, was discontinued in July 2005 to allow express service to be scheduled more effectively--despite objections from city officials who pointed out that a large portion of Burlingame residents lived near that station. Unfortunately, too few of them used the train. Nevertheless, Broadway is a station that could benefit greatly from electrification and HSR. Because of improved train performance, more Caltrain stops can be made in a given trip time, and stations that once fell on the wrong side of the Baby Bullet cut-0ff have an excellent chance of being revived.

The city of Burlingame requested in its scoping comments that the Broadway grade separation project be coordinated with the nearby Broadway interchange with highway 101, where a $73 million reconstruction is planned for traffic congestion relief on what is a primary access route for the city.

Eucalyptus Trees

Burlingame is known for the majestic Eucalyptus trees that line many of its thoroughfares; the tree even appears on the seal of the city. Rows of mature Blue Gums (eucalyptus globulus) line the railroad tracks through most of the city (photo by K. Hecteman). The tree has a long-standing relationship with the railroad: it was reportedly cultivated in California to quickly produce timber for railroad ties. Many of these trees could be affected by the high-speed rail project because E.globulus has a root system that can grow primarily out sideways. Furthermore, this species tends to shed long ribbons of bark, something that may be frowned upon when 25,000 volt overhead wires are strung up nearby. While detailed impacts are still to be evaluated, Caltrain did produce a Tree Survey and Assessment for its own two-track electrification project that considers Burlingame in some detail. The impact of four-track HSR construction will depend on the selected construction method.

Horizontal Alignment

Burlingame is lucky that the right-of-way throughout most of the city is over 100 feet wide, with some stretches over 150 feet wide. The only pinch point is at the southern end of the city, where the tracks are lined by the parking lots of auto dealerships--land that would not be difficult to acquire. For details, consult Caltrain's right-of-way maps for mileposts 13, 14, 15 and 16.

Vertical Profile

Burlingame has six grade crossings and one pedestrian grade crossing, shown in the profile diagram below (created from Caltrain track survey maps). The tracks already form an undivided barrier through half of the town, serving as a buffer between residential and industrial zones. The first thing to notice is just how low the land lies: barely 15 feet above sea level.

Since all tracks must be grade-separated for HSR, the tracks must either go over or under the roads--keeping in mind that roads are difficult to raise or lower without big impacts to properties along each side. The basic vertical alignment options for Burlingame were first revealed in the CHSRA's preliminary alternatives analysis; the tracks will run at grade until just before Broadway, and continue along one of three possible alignments: above, at, or below grade. That doesn't narrow things down very much.

Despite the city's stated wishes, it's probably safe to rule out a deep bored tunnel that goes far below sea level--that sort of structure is better suited to crossing bodies of water or mountain ranges, not suburban neighborhoods with 100-foot right-of-way and flat topography. That's why the next diagram shows only a 30-foot deep trench.

More than one mile of this trench would dip below the water table (which lies ~10 feet below the surface in this area), and it would likely require constant pumping. The Sanchez creek would need to be "grade-separated," as would the other minor aquifers that run through a half-dozen culverts alongside and under the tracks in this area. This trench might be expensive and challenging not only to build, but also operate and maintain.

Those challenges will inexorably lead back to the much-reviled elevated track solution. The diagram below shows split grade separations, with the tracks elevated by ~16 feet and the roads depressed by a low-impact ~5 feet.

While the elevated solution will not impede physical access from one side of the tracks to the other, it is perceived as a community divider, especially for the one-quarter of Burlingame's population that resides east of the tracks on the other side of Burlingame High School and Washington Park. Elevated tracks promise to be highly controversial, and will have to be weighed against the far greater property impacts of sinking the roads underneath the tracks, in a sort of pick-your-poison situation.

Ultimately, Burlingame will not entirely control its own fate. From a technical point of view, what happens immediately south of Peninsula Ave as the tracks enter downtown San Mateo will have (literally) far-reaching implications for Burlingame, because the tracks cannot rise or fall quickly--thereby forcing the solutions to match up on each side of the border. Because San Mateo is a far more difficult problem to solve, Burlingame will have to build a close collaboration with its larger neighbor to obtain a solution that suits both cities.

NOTE: This post will be updated continuously, as warranted by additional information or new events relating to Burlingame.


  1. How does the picture look if Caltrain kicks UP off the line and builds 3% grades?

  2. Since all tracks must be grade-separated for HSR

    Not necessarily. They can always just grade separate two express tracks while leaving the local/freight tracks at grade. Community/activist/rail authority/HSR supporter preference isn't the same as legally required. And the state safety standards requiring grade separation for the crossing of more than 3 tracks could also be revised. Not likely, but an option. It is a politically imposed limit, not a technical one. 4 track grade crossings can be found elsewhere in the US and the world, which somehow keeps turning.

    Grade crossings would require a reduction in the maximum speed on the peninsula from the planned 125mph to 110 mph. Which means a non-stop express train would take at most 3 extra minutes SF-SJ.

    But hey, we imposed another artificial limit of 2 hours 40 minutes LA-SF, and a 2:43 minimum would be an utter failure that no one would use! And of course 3 minutes here, 3 minute there, and pretty soon it will take 24 hours to get to San Fran. Oh, the humanity! So CA will now spend $10+ billion extra for total grade separation in the urban areas to save 10-15 minutes and prevent perhaps 1 vehicular death every few years. 14 miles of 60' high elevated rail through Fresno because we couldn't possibly slow to 110mph to use freight railroad ROW in that stretch (would add at most 4 minutes to express trains.) Nor can we instead build a greenfield bypass a few miles west of Fresno, connected to the downtown with a light-rail system that would promote density all along it, because it must pass through the center to promote density. Even if the combined bypass and light-rail package is cheaper than 14 miles of 60' elevated. Because it must be near perfection or nothing! Which is why the state is bankrupt.

    And why Miami-Tampa, Dallas-San Antonio-Houston-Dallas, and other HSR corridors (some of which don't even have an EIS right now) will be completed before CA's SF-Anaheim. CAHSR needs to be audited and a new team do a complete revamp of the plan and all the unnecessary and unrealistic assumptions/hurdles imposed on it. There is no way this will built any time soon in its present design, it is too expensive and gold-plated.

  3. Now, if you really want to divide the community, keep the tracks at grade! I'm sure no one will mind 2x the bells, horns, and road closures.

  4. Now, if you really want to divide the community, keep the tracks at grade! I'm sure no one will mind 2x the bells, horns, and road closures.

    4 quadrant gates and the resulting quiet zones cost roughly $200,000-400,000 each, grade separations run $5-50 million each. Quiet zones eliminate bells and horns, except for emergencies. Road closures aren't necessarily required, and are negotiated with the municipalities. Total number of trains per hour are comparable to those for light-rail lines, the vast majority of which are not grade separated lines.

    Obviously grade separation is better, but many could be postponed until a 2nd phase, if the political will was there to spread out costs and get the whole thing running years sooner.

  5. Another reason to consider for requiring grade separation is for protection of the actual trainsets. While the gallery cars are built like tanks, your $50 million AGV train is not and would likely suffer severe damage if it struck a stalled bus (See: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/03/04/BAJK1CA7CV.DTL). If you recall that caltrain hits on the order of 5 vehicles a year and new non-FRA vehicles running more frequently, the expensive repairs will start to add up.

  6. This bizarre thing about the way this is playing out -- playing our unnecessarily, because of voluntary stupidity, freely entered into by our friends at Caltrain -- is that we have people in local communities actively advocating for really big, years-long local impacts (grade separated HSR construction, below or above grade) and for zero local benefit (no improved Caltrain service, todays grade crossing hazards, no improved east-west pedestrian/road access, etc).

    Engels' concept of false consciousness -- or perhaps the Stockholm Syndrome -- applies here where under-informed people are co-opted to work directly against their own interests, in fact to work in that of their economic oppressors.

    In a less corrupt, less solely-contractor-profit-driven world we'd have had the Caltrain actively seeking lowest impacts and maximum community benefits from what is an unavoidably disruptive process.

    "Sure, there will be pain. And the city won't look exactly like it did 20 years ago. But we're done our homework and at least this much has to be done if we're going to improve service to your community and to everybody else up and down the line.

    "Here's how we figure it, here's why we're doing what we propose, here's why other things don't seem to work, and here's what you get in return.

    "If you think there are other alternatives, let's talk about them out in the open now, rather than having us present There Is No Alternative in March and daring you to sue us.

    "There are some basic trade-offs that need to be made out in the open, with full costs accounted for, right in the beginning. So here they are. For example, we can run freight trains at any time of the day, but the cost is that we have to build a completely separate line from the shiny high speed tracks for the old fashioned Caltrain and freight trains and we have to have completely separate stations for Caltrain and HSR, we can't realistically run much more Caltrain express than we do today, and all the HSR trains are going to blow past you without stopping until they get to San Jose. If that's fine with you and that's the price the members of your community are willing to pay to have freight trains, let us know, or otherwise we'll go with an alternative that costs less than half as much and provides more than twice as much service."

    And so on.

    Costs and benefits.

    But without any benefits to anybody between SF and SJ (other than the grade crossings and electrifications they were promised already as part of the sales taxes and toll plans they already voted for and are already paying for), it's easy to see why crazy local schemes, which you can label "NIMBY" or not, and which don't serve anybody but the construction mafia, find a place to take hold.

    It's completely irrational for people in Burlingame (or Palo Alto, or Sunnyvale, or whereever) to say they'll take a crappy ground-level Caltrain line along with a nose bleed expensive and disruptive out-of-sight HSR line that does nothing for them, but it's more than understandable how they end up with such positions given that there's never going to be anything (ie better regional transit service) in it for them.

    World class planning and superb local political engagement from our friends at Caltrain and PBQD-Soprano! And all completely avoidable...

  7. Adirondacker1280004 March, 2010 16:53

    Burlingame is known for the majestic Eucalyptus trees that line many of its thoroughfares

    Or invasive weed species depending on how you look at it.

  8. Touché. They're certainly no El Palo Alto, and they are typically planted three rows deep so losing a few would probably not alter the fundamental character of the trackside environment.

  9. Not to mention the fact that they are literally firebombs. The trees and the soils around them are permeated with flammable oils. They're a fire hazard no matter where they are.

  10. "If you think there are other alternatives, let's talk about them out in the open now, rather than having us present There Is No Alternative in March and daring you to sue us. "There are some basic trade-offs that need to be made out in the open, with full costs accounted for, right in the beginning. So here they are.

    Wouldn't it be awesome if there were a formal process, to bring stakeholders early in the process to evaluate these trade-offs so as to better serve the impacted community? We could give this process some awesome-sounding name, like Context-Sensitive Solutions.

    It's mission statement could state:
    "The evaluation of project alternatives and alternative designs (including non-traditional solutions, such as using alternative routes or modes) is important because it allows stakeholders the ability to assess the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of approaches to addressing a project's "purpose and need."

    Of course, the world-class engineering professionals at CHSRA would most likely decry this pie-in-the-sky approach. Surely we cannot allow actual members of the public (i.e. their customers) to have any involvement beyond "what color concrete would you prefer".

  11. While the gallery cars are built like tanks, your $50 million AGV train is not and would likely suffer severe damage if it struck a stalled bus

    This is either uninformed statement or outright FUD. AGVs are developed to the same TSI-crashworthiness standards as EMUs that Caltrain evaluated, so one can expect that AGVs would be actually much safer during grade-crossing accidents.

  12. Martin: TGVs have grade-crossings on legacy lines already. Somehow trains striking cars have not sucked France into a black hole.

  13. The biggest question is: why do we need to got to the huge expense of running up the Peninsula to serve the population of the Bay Area. The majority of the BA population lives outside the City. In addition, there is nowhere else for San Francisco or San Mateo Counties to grow while our South Bay and East Bay neighbors have plenty of land. If we want to serve the people of the Bay Area, the HSR line shoud end in the East Bay. If we take a step back and project ridership in 20 years, my guess is the nubmers will be overwhelmingly from the East Bay but we are causing them to travel to SF to take the train at a great expense and disruption to Peninsula cities. Is it to late to reconsider the final stop?

  14. Is it to late to reconsider the final stop?


  15. It's not so much a question of population so much as the fact that downtown SF is a major center of business as well as a transit hub. SF has major connections to nearly every region of the Bay Area (Marin, East Bay, etc. etc.), and most of the business travelers (which make up a very large portion of the overall ridership) will want to go to destinations in Silicon Valley or SF itself (as well as a lot of high-tech jobs along the Peninsula). Population is important, but you have to consider where people are going on the other end of their journey.

  16. How wide do you think the structure in the HSRA picture looks? It looks a lot narrower than 100 feet to me.

  17. How wide do you think the structure in the HSRA picture looks? It looks a lot narrower than 100 feet to me.

    The elevated structures will not be 100 feet wide. They will be 65-70 feet wide. 100 feet is the preferred amount of the total ROW width. Less will be used in constrained areas. And ROW width != structure width.

  18. The "burlingame_after" photo looks great. Mmmm.... donuts.

    What could there be to complain about?

    Can we please have a nice elevated train line all the way so that I can get from the east to the west side of my town without lots of detours, and so I don't need to listen to the stupid horns and bells all night? Give me a fast Caltrain to SF every quarter hour running on top of that and I'm set.

  19. All the talks we have had with the engineers indicate 100 foot wide structures, maybe more at stations (including platforms on side and middle).

    I was also told split grade doesn't work for some long list of reasons.

    the don't railroad us structure seems outlandish at first but probably not far off.

    the only saving grace is that it is not fresno http://archop.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/elevated-track2.jpg

  20. I believe the DRRU mockup is drawn at 35', which includes a 14' sound wall on top of the 21' deck height, and at the station it will have to be wide for platforms, so it is not out of the realm of possibility.

    Also, a split design is most undesireable. The TA study for Caltrain grade separation with a ten foot dip (I think it was) meant the cross streets were depressed about 1-1/2 blocks on either side, and that was with a two track bed width. No more donuts. No more businesses a block away either.

    It is my understanding that in order to clear the streams and utilities, Burlingame will likely need a trench about 50' in depth. Of course that dirt could be used elsewhere for berms.

    San Mateo has taken a public stance on their preference for underground through the downtown north and raised berm south. Where the transition would take place is unclear, but that bodes well for Burlingame.

    The HSRA recently took core samples down to 100' at the Burlingame station. I'm guessing that is too shallow to be considering tunneling. It looked like it was going to be alluvium all the way. Might that be a good excuse for trenching versus an elevated structure in the case of an earthquake?

    Clem does bring up a good point about the tree debris. I hadn't thought of that. Assuming we can keep the trees, and I sure hope we can, even a raised viaduct would have an issue. Short a tunnel, a covered trench in that area would be warranted. We would want to have enough open trench elsewhere so as not to require noisy vent stacks.

  21. As a Burlingame resident,I am all for the CHSRA/Caltrain plan as demonstrated by the photo simulations. After reading Burlingame's concerns, notably the creeks that have gravity drainage basins, this rule out trenches, while tunnels below sea level do not make sense. I think the roads that cross the rails should be dropped by at least 5 feet while the rail can be raised to a point that it does not create as much of a "wall effect" than say San Carlos. Also, if this will mean the restoration of service to Broadway, even better. Further, it seems as though there is enough right of way to build this without many trees being taken out.

    On another topic, please forgive me as as I have only recently read the comments on this blog, but wouldn't it be easier to run to express or fast tracks in the middle of four tracks and slower trains on side in order to keep services like the Baby Bullet including High Speed Rail Service? I am only curious as there seems to be this continuous debate over "FFSS" or "SSFF" track alignments. Isn't this arrangement already planned for sections of the SF-SJ segment, similar to areas like the Bayshore area on the caltrain mainline?

    Lastly, I favor the introduction of high speed rail/electric Caltrain as it would decrease vehicle interaction, not to mention decrease the loud horns that are heard throughout the day and night. I also think that if the City thinks HSR/Electric Caltrain will destroy the city, they should only look at the allowing of "BevMo" to be on Burlingame Ave. Also, as a bonus, would it also be possible to add a connection of Morrell Ave from Carolan Ave to California Drive? Thanks for the work on the blog and to all that make interesting comments.

  22. I also share anonymous' puzzlement over this preference of SSFF/FFSS arrangement over the SFFS. Here in Japan the arrangement on the shinkansen and most commuter lines is SFFS. I read somewhere the SSFF/FFSS arrangement allows for the cheaper single platform type station, but shouldn't the emphasis be on building the most operations efficient track arrangement which provides the best service, which in the long run would more than make up for the additional cost of side platforms on both sides??

  23. The CHSRA after phts show the road lowered around the entire station. Per federal highway guidelines, the roadway con not be lowered in the fashion it is depicted. It would have to be lowered with a grade much farther out towards downtown Burlingame--and the only way that can be done is the destruction of the first block--or two--of downtown Burlingame, and the donut shop. ALL of the trees would be lost as well according to the CHSRA latest report.

    The DRRU image is a lot closer to reality than the CHSRA image.

  24. Regarding track order (FFSS, SFFS, etc.) please read this and this. While I am receptive to all points of view and lines of argument, I remain to be convinced that the track order should be anything other than FSSF.

    ALL of the trees would be lost as well according to the CHSRA latest report.

    Reference please? The CHSRA must have this report on its website somewhere. Thank you for pointing us to it.

    Regarding split grade seps, "federal guidelines" don't apply to residential streets in Burlingame. There are multiple split grade seps already in San Carlos and Belmont... see Holly, Ralston, etc. The street grade is not depressed for several blocks at those areas. I'll try to research how much "reach" the sloping approaches would have, versus "depth" of the road depression.

  25. Caltrain First06 March, 2010 09:57

    While FSSF is the most preferable track alignment at stations (four-tracks-all-the-way is wasteful) if you are rebuilding the entire system from scratch, which isn't exactly the case here.

    Caltrain is supposed to maintain ongoing operations; both funding and actual construction will be in increments, not a single full-funding grant; the project runs a significant risk of never being fully built-out; and preserving existing infrastructure as much as possible is only prudent and responsible. The expensive ideal should never replace an affordable good system.

    SFFS is still vastly more preferable than SSFF or FFSS, which segregate the system, kill operational flexibility, and obliterate efficient transfers.

    While FSSF may be ideal, SFFS is easily second best.

  26. "I'll try to research how much "reach" the sloping approaches would have, versus "depth" of the road depression."

    Appendix E of the LA-Anaheim AA has some drawings starting on slide 177 (pdf page 179) of how they would need to reconfigure roads to go under an at-grade line.

    For the at-grade line they show a dip in the roadway with a 5% max grade (radiused at the ends and middle) dropping down to 16.5 feet below the bottom of the rail structure (which is slightly below original ground level), that gives a roadway dip which extends about 400-450 feet from the centerline of four-tracks.

    If you figure the same radius at the ends and middle, and the same 5% slope, then you can figure out pretty easily how wide your dip needs to be if you raise the base of the track structure 10 feet (10/0.05): 200 feet shorter. So the dip in the road would start about 200-250 feet away from track centerline.

    That doesn't mean that all driveways have to be closed, they have driveways completely closed only about halfway along the dip, which makes it look like with a split-elevation layout, you might not need to close any driveways, just reconfigure some and put in some retaining walls around them, but of course it will depend on exactly where the driveway is, and how much space there is to put a grade in on the driveway.

    Looking at their diagrams, the vertical curve radius makes it look like you wouldn't save much by only having two tracks – you certainly wouldn't even save the width of the extra tracks.

  27. I think that the best way to build the system would be to start with the outer tracks, which would be the slow/local tracks. Then, the faster tracks can be built in the middle, in some places using mechanically stabilized earth which would essentially be like adding the filling in the middle if the outer tracks have their own walls to buttress against. This would allow HSR to raise/lower in elevation if a tunnel is needed, like in San Mateo. The benefit is you can essentially stack the tracks with the local trains on top to travel through narrow corridors then widen outward when HSR tracks meet up again when they emerge from a tunnel to form the four track alignment. Hence, SFFS would probably be best if there is going to be tunneling. Yet more importantly, be having the outer tracks built first, you preserve service as the project is being built. Also, by having SFFS alignment, you also preserve UP's access to the eastern track, which is part of their usage agreement, assuming UP isn't booted from the Peninsula.

  28. I really need to do a post on the relative costs of seizing property vs. doing tunnels and stacked structures and other such nonsense.

    People generally don't grasp the difference between 'M' and 'B'... eminent domain is small potatoes, a few Million. Tunnels and stacked concrete jungles are expensive, easily approaching the Billions.

    @AndyDuncan: thanks for those numbers. So the sideways reach of road ramps is roughly 70 + X / 0.05 feet away from the ROW center line, where X is how many feet deep the road goes. Of that, the first 30 (transition) + 2 / 0.05 = 70 feet stretch has about two feet or less of dip, something that can't be considered disruptive to driveways.

    road 5 ft deep, rails 16 feet up: 170 feet, of which 100 feet would affect driveways

    road 10 ft deep, rails 11 feet up: 270 feet, of which 200 feet would affect driveways

    road 21 ft deep, rails at grade (0 feet): 490 feet, of which 420 feet would affect driveways

    This seems about consistent with Menlo Park's grade separation study, which shows the extent of property impacts for full underpass vs. split grade separations.

  29. All the talks we have had with the engineers indicate 100 foot wide structures, maybe more at stations (including platforms on side and middle).

    It sounds like they may not have been clear in their descriptions to you. That may also explain why the DRRU mockups are blown out of proportion (i.e., they are likely using the same faulty inputs).

    The Authority's own documents that they have released for the Anaheim section show cross sections of 3 track elevated structures as being 53 feet wide (10 ft from edge to Track 1 centerline + 16.5 ft to Track 2 centerline + 16.5 ft to Track 3 centerline + 10 ft to edge). A 4 track structure will be 69.5 ft wide, even with the CHSRA's generous track spacing.

    A 100 ft wide elevated structure for 4 tracks would, incidentally, look comical. There would be 60' of width consumed by the tracks, and then just 40' of totally unused space. You could literally lay a two lane road on the west side of the structure and another two lane road on the east side of the structure, in addition to the tracks, with that kind of spacing.

  30. @mike, the CHSRA has already decided to use a baseline track spacing of 15 feet on the peninsula (the minimum allowed for 125 mph.)

  31. @Clem. Excellent, then a 4 track structure should be ~65 ft.

  32. Hi, I'm new here and I just had a quick question. Is four tracks really necessary for the entire peninsula? It seems like they could cut the number of tracks down to three, especially in ROW constrained areas.

  33. "Is four tracks really necessary for the entire peninsula?"

    Wrong question!

    The question whose answer is "yes" is "are four tracks the most expensive thing to build?" The facts (eg 9 nigh speed trains per direction per hour!) are fabricated as necessary to justify the desired outcome, just like the facts (68,000 riders per day!) were fabricated by the same cast of criminals to justify the outcome of the BART line to Millbrae.

    To answer your question: no ... but nobody who determines what happens cares about that question.

  34. PS Four tracks are almost certainly necessary through Burlingame under pretty much any useful -- and by "useful" I mean useful both to airline passengers flying at ground level to or from SoCal and to local communities who would get better regional train service -- scenario.

    It's not as if not improving the line anywhere is a useful option: the issue is whether the benefits to towns like Burlingame (far better Caltrain service, no dangerous grade crossings, easier east-west travel, no blaring horns) outweigh the construction period hassles and the fired-up fears that if anything ever changes it will be for the worse. (Note: not an unreasonable fear given the patheticly awful route out "friends" at Caltrain are bulldozing away at.)

    Overall, "four tracks everywhere, just because" is a totally unnecessary and unreasonable expense, one whose primary purpose is contractor profit, anywhere north of Bayshore into SF or from Redwood City to Santa Clara. And three tracks are almost certainly sufficient, if slightly sub-optimal, between Burlingame and Hillsdale.

  35. @AndyDuncan

    No need to resort to Photoshop or combining two 2-track elevated structures. Check out the 3-track elevated structure on p. 16 of the Anaheim AA.

    Total width is 53'. If you add 15' for a fourth track and then subtract 2*1.5' for 15' spacing instead of 16.5' spacing, you get 65'.

  36. @Mike

    I said: "If you're using headspans, maybe".

    If you're not using headspans, then you need at least one more pole, and if you're mixing FRA traffic then you need some sort of barrier in between.

    We're not talking about what they could squeeze it down into, we're talking about what they would, in a non-space constrained area like burlingame, be likely to propose. I think 85-ish feet is much more likely, especially if they do indeed go with a FFSS/SSFF scenario and need to put a wall between the tracks to make the FRA happy.

  37. "If you're not using headspans, then you need at least one more pole"

    Or you need to put the poles between two of the tracks, which is where I got my 80-foot number from.

  38. @Andy Even if you are using poles, there is no reason to put in 3 of them. You'd be more likely to set them like S-Pole-F-F-Pole-S, as Clem demonstrates (or, sadly, as F-Pole-F-S-Pole-S). Again, the 53' CHSRA Anaheim AA cross-section does include catenary.

    I'll grant you that you might approach 70' if you do poles instead of headspans, but there is certainly no need for anything close to 85'.

    As for the crash barrier, AFAIK that is not an explicit FRA requirement. Rather, it is something that is being insisted upon by the freight railroads as a condition for sharing ROW (liability protection). It would be up to JPB/CHSRA to decide whether the extremely low level of daytime freight traffic on the Peninsula warrants installing 50 miles of crash barriers.

  39. This is either uninformed statement or outright FUD. AGVs are developed to the same TSI-crashworthiness standards as EMUs that Caltrain evaluated, so one can expect that AGVs would be actually much safer during grade-crossing accidents.

    You're right. I think i was unclear in my original post that I was referring to the repair costs to the trainset from such a collision. If a crumple-zone in a Crash Energy Management EMU collapses after hitting a truck, isn't such damage pretty much un-repairable. Since EMU's are likely to be married-pairs (or more), then two crashes will take out two trainsets for a few months and cost millions in repairs.

    Anyway, back to burlingame.

  40. "and if you're mixing FRA traffic then you need some sort of barrier in between."

    Only if incompatible traffic is running on the corridor at the same time on adjacent track.

    Curfew HSR for six hours, restrict Heavy Rail freight to those six hours. Part of Caltrain's passenger stock is FRA-compliant, within a specification envelope that has gained exemption for running alongside the HSR at 125mph.

    Result: no traffic is passing on adjacent track that is not allowed to pass on adjacent track.

    It would be simpler if the FRA established three compliance classes - existing heavy, rapid rail allows to mix with heavy rail at appropriate speed, high speed rail allowed to mix with rapid rail at appropriate speed ... but even in the "management by exception" exemption system, its certainly not impossible.

  41. It would be even simpler if the FRA realized that compliant trains are no safer than modern trains and aligned its regulations with UIC standards.

  42. Drifting way off topic, as ever...

    Re: "Curfew HSR for six hours, restrict Heavy Rail freight to those six hours ..."

    Assuming -- completely counter-factually, against all economic reality -- that there were any case for running any freight on the Caltrain corridor...

    Assuming FSSF track arrangement on the corridor -- the only possible configuration that would be considered by anybody with any rudimentary engineering skill...

    Assuming imaginary freight "industry" all on the eastern side, i.e. connected to the northbound fast track...


    Restrict freight to that easternmost track. Prohibit non-freight traffic from running on any part of this track while freight is present. In effect, there are 3 pure UIC tracks, and one track which is sometimes pure UIC and sometimes pure FRA, but never mixed, depending on the time of day and phase of the moon.

    Curfew freight to 11pm-4am or whatever (Generous, given effectively zero traffic!)

    Caltrain is not going to be running more than 4tph after 11pm, and almost certainly only local trains (no express overtakes). HSR is certainly not going to be running more than 2tph.

    Observation: This can be done on 3 tracks without breaking a sweat.

    It can be done with both direction HS trains operating mostly on the westernmost (southbound fast) track, with brief excursions of SB HS trains onto the SB slow track where meets occur (we can arrange for at most two NB-SB HS meets in the shared corridor).

    Or it can be done with the NB HS train operating on the NB slow track and the NB Caltrain local ducking over to the SB local track between SB locals when it is scheduled to be overtaken by a NB HS.

    Just a little simple timetable-fu is needed to make either way work.

    Outcome: freight, with no possible justification, gets an entire track to itself, while trains with non-zero economic value can still run a useful and hour-appropriate level of service.

    If any track is out of service, shared corridor (never shared track) FRA-UIC operation doesn't happen that night. Big deal. If the northbound fast track is out of service, FRA doesn't operate that night.

    Simpler yet (and the only even remotely rational plan): no FRA budget-busting junk on the public's high value passenger corridor, period.

  43. I love it Richard, so what objections could HSRA or the Peninsula Rail Program's (chief visionary) Doty have against that? What could they possibly not like about it?

  44. Note there would be no HSR meets at all on the peninsula during freight curfew hours... between midnight and 5 AM there would be no southbound HSR service on the peninsula; only a few northbound HSR services might terminate at SF after midnight.

    That means only one track is required for HSR service during freight service hours.

    Another minor consideration: the no FRA / HSR on adjacent tracks rule should only apply to HSR trains that carry passengers. Non-revenue HSR moves (e.g. SF - Brisbane yard) should not be restricted at all.

    Regardless, the prognosis for FSSF is not good. Timetable-fu is so much less fun than pouring train-size Jersey barriers all along the corridor, and Caltrain shows no ambition of providing both speedy and frequent service.

  45. @Martin: that depends on severity of impact and AGV construction. When the damage is confined to crush elements,
    train should be able to come back to service within few weeks. If the frame gets damaged, its much different story though.

    One thing strikes me: Caltrain struggles to get permission to run its UIC-compliant EMUs with FRA-compliant "steam trains", but they don't pursue mixed traffic of its UIC-compliant trains with UIC-compliant HS trains. The same goes for running passenger and freights on adjacent tracks - why is running Caltrain UIC-compatible EMUs next to freights all right but running HS UIC-compatible traint next to freights is non starter?

    It seems to me that most efficient way to mixed traffic is to make freight trains compatible with both Caltrains and HS trains in kind of "let the mountain come to Mohammed" approach:
    - limit train weight so they're no heavier than FRA-compatible Caltrains
    - do a transfer inspection prior to admitting wagons to Caltrain tracks
    - allow transport of goods prone to toppling (e.g. double stack containers if the clearances are raised) only after previous agreement
    - require the freight locos and cars to be euqipped with those L-beam derailment guards developed after 2004 Shinkansen derailment to keep trains on their track and upright even if they run over earthquake epicenter
    - require locos to be equipped with ETCS OBU so the trains can be stopped by earthquake detection system

  46. but they don't pursue mixed traffic of its UIC-compliant trains with UIC-compliant HS trains.

    Because they don't need to?

    why is running Caltrain UIC-compatible EMUs next to freights all right

    It isn't. That's why they have a curfew with freight operating only between midnight and 5 AM.

    The thorniest issue is mixing FRA-compliant passenger trains with UIC-compliant passenger trains, which is an unavoidable consequence of the fleet renewal.

    Requiring anything of UPRR (such as removing their muddy work boots before treading on the pristine new hardwood floors of the peninsula corridor) is apparently a non-starter... hence all the craziness with freight-compatible CBOSS, viaducts over little used freight sidings, and 100% segregated operation of Caltrain and HSR. The tail will continue to wag the dog, egged on by misguided neighbors who will bring down upon themselves a far worse outcome.

  47. Adirondacker1280013 March, 2010 12:26

    The thorniest issue is mixing FRA-compliant passenger trains with UIC-compliant passenger trains, which is an unavoidable consequence of the fleet renewal.

    It's not unavoidable, it's a matter of when you spend money replacing the fleet.
    Decide on a switchover date. While the switchover is occurring only run new equipment on the express tracks. Run old equipment on the local tracks. Spatial separation works as well as temporal separation. Do this before HSR starts to run revenue service. When HSR opens for revenue service have the whole fleet replaced. Sell or give the old stuff to Metrolink and let them get a few tons of baling wire and bubble gum to keep it on the tracks in LA.

  48. "The thorniest issue is mixing FRA-compliant passenger trains with UIC-compliant passenger trains, which is an unavoidable consequence of the fleet renewal."

    Here's an idea, one circulated oh, about a decade ago:

    It was blindingly obvious to anybody with a brain and eyes in his head that a catastrophic (politically, if not necessarily in terms of life lost) olde tyme commuter railroading accident would happen sometime. "Not if, but when", as they say. It was also blindingly obvious that a multi-vendor, more-than-good-enough positive train control system was becoming available. (It was also blindingly obvious that spending over a hundred million dollars on guaranteed never to be level boarding platforms at 8 inches above top of rail was a disaster for taxpayer finances and the future and image of the system.)

    So the clever idea was to get ahead of the obvious and coming crackdown, have an implementation -- or at the very least an advanced and detailed ("shovel ready!") implementation plan in place, and be in position to control the process and have it head in a positive, realistic, cost-effective and beneficial direction. Same deal with the platform-vehicle interface. Pretty simple, right? And a straightforward political sale also, what with the Not Killing People lobby and the Disabled lobby both on your side, yes?

    Or one could chose instead to follow the course that Caltrain's world class engineering team has followed, of their own free will.

  49. To spell it out, the point being that the technical means to keep FRA stream train trains on the Caltrain line from hitting each other (and lining up their doors nicely with the station platforms) could have been in place in advance of the transition period in which the stream trains need to avoid whacking the UIC trains, and, incredibly enough, be exactly the same mechanism (but ... Unique Local Conditions!) by which the UIC trains would be discouraged from destroying each other after this big surprising shocking who ever could have possibly seen it coming "fleet transition" thingy.

  50. As a Burlingame resident I hope that the hysterics stemming from some super entitled baby boomers do not prevent our city from getting improvements sooner as opposed to never. The tunnel position of the so-called City does not represent the will of the people. It's more mischief from Jerry Deal, GOP factions west of El Camino and some of the auto dealers that are becoming less economically relevant each year due to factors beyond anyone's control.

    We need to improve Caltrain so it is more accessible to the community (station restoration) and safer to cross. Tunnels are a classic "Waiting for Godot" swindle. We need to separate the tracks we have from the roads, get rid of the horns and bells and create better east-west access between Broadway and Oak Grove.

    Specifically, the Broadway crossing is dangerous, even with the improvements. There have been several accidents over the years. Would you send your loved ones through there on weekdays during commute hours? How many more accidents have to occur so we can posture ourselves for zero improvements or tunnel construction hell? That's the real danger, not fast trains which will likely never show up given how much money is actually available in the bank.

    Hysterics are not going to make it safer, only practical solutions such as a mini-high elevated structure that is architecturally thoughtful, particularly near Burlingame Avenue.

  51. Because they don't need to?

    Then they're bound to single track to TBT and not exploiting synergies elsewhere.

    Requiring anything of UPRR (such as removing their muddy work boots before treading on the pristine new hardwood floors of the peninsula corridor) is apparently a non-starter...

    Because PCJB is afraid that it would be unreasonable, unjust or unfair to UPRR?

  52. You don't need a waiver to run two different types of non-FRA-compliant trains on the same tracks. The single-track TBT bottleneck is a product of other factors.

  53. If anybody ever retained the merest molecule of doubt that the Caltrain-sponsored Saint Doty-lead "Peninsula Rail Program" could ever be about anything other than making construction contractors very, very, very rich and completely screwing up regional peninsula transit service forever, behold:

    "Draft alternatives from the rail authority indicate the tracks will have to buried at the Millbrae Caltrain station due to constraints of the surrounding properties, Papan said. The rail authority, however, has not officially released its Draft Alternatives Analysis for the San Francisco-to-San Jose stretch of track. That document is due to be released April 8.

    "The Millbrae Avenue overpass and BART station will prevent an elevated track and plans are drawn up for a huge underground high-speed rail station that Millbrae will one day host. The land around the current Caltrain station has been set aside by the city for major redevelopment.

    America's finest transportation professionals at work, for you. Their first go around at Millbrae only wasted $2 billion dollars and set back the cause of public transportation in the Bay Area 25 years. This time they're going for gold!

  54. Richard, what do you expect? Pringle is going for tunnels, so Kopp and Diridon have to match him. Otherwise there would be more spending on HSR in SoCal than in NorCal, and we can't let that happen.

  55. Gina is an idiot. Sure, spend another tidy sum of money gold plating an already gold plated station. And for what, so highly speculative overseas-financed condos and hotel space can have more breathing room. There is no market for your vision. Get real. All the other recent projects on El Camino Real are still largely vacant (and over scaled). Criminal. Keep it at-grade.

    The Millbrae high speed rail subway platform is sure going to be a lonely and creepy place. But don't worry, those trains will never arrive. About $1.5 billion in rail funding doesn't go that far these days in Northern California. It is all part of the show. Gina is just part of their plan.

    Any tunnel area has been marked for death as it relates to Caltrain improvements. They'll run out of money and things will remain the same in those sections. There may even be a few incomplete tunnel sections. Don't believe me, go to 2nd Avenue in NYC.

  56. Hey, here's an idea: In return for berms with added bridges (w/o roads through them, just pedestrian), Burlingame could ask for landscaped parkway for the ROW that is not part of the berm. Maybe even some riparian restoration for the creeks.