24 March 2010

San Bruno Out To Bid

Caltrain's San Bruno grade separation project is out to bid as of March 11th. The final engineering drawings reveal the HSR-hostile curve radius of 2387 feet, good for 75 mph (see details at right). While Caltrain has been exercising eminent domain in preparation for construction, they never seemed interested in acquiring the run-down houses on the inside of the curve to straighten out what is, has been, and will now forever be the #1 worst curve on the peninsula.

Caltrain officials continue to spread the falsehood that the curve is HSR-ready and that the design speed is 90 mph. Unfortunately, at an aggressive total cant of 12 inches (6 inches superelevation plus 6 inches unbalance) this curve will forever be restricted to a bit over 80 mph. Total cant would approach a drink-spilling 15 inches to run a train through the inside curve at 90 mph, something the FRA will never allow.

HSR trip time penalty: about 25 seconds, or 1/4 percent of the entire SF - LA run.

That may not sound like much, but when you consider that trip time is the foundation of high-speed rail, and that the next second saved always costs more than the last second saved, San Bruno is a terrible way to start off on the HSR path. Those 25 forsaken seconds will have to be recovered elsewhere, likely at far greater incremental cost than just doing San Bruno right with a 100 mph curve.

(we'll say nothing of the doomed-to-do-over 8 inch station platforms to be constructed right in the path of the future HSR alignment... that's just the cherry on this cake!)


  1. If ever there was a project that needs to be put on hold, this is it. It is understandable that Caltrain doesn't want to rebuild the I-380 viaduct as would be required to straighten the curve. However, it seems that everything they're building is likely to have to be replaced when HSR is built. This says to me that they should wait until a final, truly HSR ready design is done on this segment before moving forward.
    Doing so would lead to significant cost savings for both projects and result in both services being faster.

  2. I would say "unbelievable," except that sadly it's entirely believable. Sigh.

  3. Now that's a big surprise.

    Would this be the same Caltrain that lied repeatedly in public about the (in)compatibility of the Millbrae BART disaster (a project supported and promoted by the Caltrain board and the Caltrain staff) with express tracks?

    Would this be the same Caltrain that lied repeatedly in public about the (in)compatibility of the BART line through San Burno (a project actively supported by Caltrain board and the Caltrain staff) with future Caltrain grade separation projects? Would this be the same Caltrain that supported the City of San Bruno's (ie Bechtel's and PBQD's and Tutor-Saliba's) BART alignment through San Bruno that left Caltrain at grade, put the BART tracks where they cause most Caltrain problems, and refused a project alternative that would have separated both Caltrain and BART at San Bruno and San Mateo Avenues?

    Would this be the same Caltrain whose staff lied repeatedly in public about the (in)compatibility of the grade separations in Belmont, San Carlos and Redwood City (Fifth Avenue) with express tracks?

    Would this be the same Caltrain whose staff lied repeatedly in public about the (in)compatibility of VTA's BART yard in Santa Clara with Caltrain service and maintenance needs?

    Would this be the same Caltrain whose staff is now lying repeatedly in public about the (in)compatibility of the Parsons Brinkerhoff High Speed Scam with all express tracks for Caltrain anywhere at all between San Jose and San Francisco?

    Would this be the same Caltrain whose staff is lying repeatedly in public about what they claim is complete incompatibility of Caltrain and HSR train platforms and trains?

    Face it, if you want good train service on the San Francisco Peninsula the first thing you have to do is defenstrate everybody connected with Caltrain.

    Start with the consultants HNTB whose fingers are all over this four hundred million dollar San Bruno mess as well as ... big surprise here ... scoring unbounded consulting bucks to "plan" ("plan?" "PLAN????" hah ahah ahahahahaha!) the CHSRA SF to SJ segment?

    Then take out the entire Caltrain engineering division. Some guy named "S. Chao" signed off as directly responsible here. He should be stripped of his license to practice engineering in any state of any country.

    The what about this Robert Doty, Chief Rail Transformation Officer for Caltrain, whom we all read such glowing reports about? Does anybody know of any example of where this highly paid senior executive, the one in charge of the Peninsula Rail Program and the one with all the overseas exprience of something or other, has ever done anything that shows he understands or cares about Caltrain service (the service for the people who pay his wages and whose quality of life will go in the toilet thanks to CHSRA) rather than just saying "Context Sensitive Solutions" and "win-win" all the time in a reassuring voice?

    And then what about Caltrain&SamTrans&San Mateo County Transportation Authority Michael J. Scanlon, the man with the >$300,000 salary? Does the buck stop anywhere? Evidently this individual is also happy to see four hundred million tax dollars wasted on a project he must know serves neither his bus agency, his train agency, nor the taxpayers of his county, but is going ahead anyway. He's no idiot or he wouldn't have a CEO job, so he obviously must understand and approve that his staff is lying in public about the project. How can he still have a public agency job?

    The only way to save Caltrain is to halt all spending on all Caltrain staff sponsored projects and to halt all wages for all Caltrain staff and consultants.

    Caltrain's people shouldn't be allowed near an HO scale toy train ... and nowhere near anybody's piggy bank!

  4. The curve could be straighten out if HSR wants to. This grade separation makes room for two more tracks to the east, which can have a softer curve. The construction of the other tracks cannot start until 2012 at the earliest, so there's time for public consultation if that's needed.

  5. Andy Chow, you've got to be kidding.

    Doing everything wrong is just fine ... because maybe we can fix it up later?

    Waste $400 million on a abysmal crap job that is really bad for Caltrain and not only that doesn't work for HSR and that's OK ... because somebody from the agency came to your train boosters group and lied to you -- just as they lied to PR2000 back in the day about Ralston-Holly-Harbor, CEMOF, Fifth Avenue, HSR, 22nd St, etc, etc ... and you want to believe.

    Approve a complete worthless Transbay design ... because we can always just stop at Fourth and King, or somebody lied and said they can always come in later and build even more tunnels and apply more billion dollar bandaids?

    Actively promote a worse than worthless HSR-only parallel line all the way from SJ to SF because ... somebody lies and says that Caltrain doesn't need express trains anyway?

    As Mr Anonymous flamed above, taking the words right out of my mouth, defenestrate the lot of them. Only I advocate much more severe penalties, more in line with the harm these people are causing.

    It's clear that nobody at Caltrain manages to be any one of honest, ethical, professional or qualified. Moreover, if anybody involved isn't scoring kickbacks from this scam then they're incredibly stupid, in addition.

    But forget all that! Don't worry your pretty little heads anyway. "There's time for public consultation if that's needed." Perhaps public comment at a Citizens Advisory Committee will do the trick. You heard it here!

  6. 3You guys seem pretty eager to crucify Caltrain's engineers but come on now. The engineers are not the ones who make these decisions.

    I suspect there was an order from top Caltrain management to absolutely avoid any property acquisitions or takings at any cost, for fear of becoming a political lightning rod.

    Can't say I necessarily blame them. Going through ED now when the project's objective of grade separation can be acheived without it, would give the opposition something to galvanize around in advance of the HSR project. They could trot out the "poor folks who lost their Homes" and ignite a media firestorm.

    However, I must agree that it's incredibly stupid to push ahead with this grade separation at all, in the face of HSR coming in roughly a decade's time.

  7. I must agree that it's incredibly stupid to push ahead with this grade separation at all

    Exactly. If you're going to do something that costs hundreds of millions and will need to be bulldozed again anyway, why do it at all?

    If nothing else, I'll be curious to see what the bids come in at.

  8. We live in a democracy, not a technocracy. We also have laws to calm fear than to improve efficiency. You can go ahead trash everyone left and right, which by itself aren't going to change anything.

    Staff don't have the luxury of just complaining. They have to do with whatever laws they have and whatever community attitudes they face. You think they're bad for not buying enough land; there are many others who think they're bad for buying any land.

  9. "You guys seem pretty eager to crucify Caltrain's engineers but come on now. The engineers are not the ones who make these decisions."

    Oh, so I guess it was the San Bruno Public Works Department that produced the horizontal and vertical alignments. And it was the Posy Park Beautification Committee that somehow neglected to do anything about level boarding platforms any time in the last 20 years.

    Not the people paid to do this. Oh no. Engineers. Never at fault. Just following orders!

    Anyway, this was a worse than crap design 5 years ago.

    And Caltrain executive staff openly admitted it when asked.

    It's crap station for train riders to and from San Bruno.

    It's crap for today's Caltrain operations. (Saint Bob Doty was all about island platforms ... up until screwing local service at the expense of the PBQD Airlines became his full time job.)

    It's crap for Caltrain in the future.

    It's a massive waste of funding which could have gone to something that might have improved service.

    And it's completely crap for HSR.

    Caltrain's engineers and Caltrain's management know all of this, but they evidently decided that wasting public money and enriching contractors ASAP (stimulus!) is more important than doing any redesign at any time.

    They had five years while the project was on hold to rectify this. They had the perfect excuse: "Wow! HSR came along and now everything needs to be reconsidered. I guess we'll have to rethink those elevators after all." Note that they just pulled that stunt, with just that excuse, where a station rebuilding project ready to go was spiked in San Mateo a couple months ago.

    Instead they choose to lie about the project.

    Caltrain's engineering department and consultants are all of (a) unqualified, (b) unprofessional, (c) unethical, (d) incompetent, and (d) stupid.

    Caltrain's management is are all of (a) unqualified, (b) unprofessional, (c) unethical, and (d) incompetent. (I'm only leaving off stupid because there's a chance somebody might be in on the $400 million down the toilet bonanza. If not, add in "stupid" as well.)

    Caltrain's management is guilty of the most egregious breach of basic fiduciary responsibility. They are taking public money and burning it.

    There is no possible excuse.

    Criminals. Completely unethical criminals with no redeeming attributes.

  10. @Owen: the problem with your comment is that Caltrain has and is doing eminent domain for this project:

    Eminent domain OK'd for rushed San Bruno Caltrain grade sep

    ... only not enough. They should have partially or wholly taken enough of the handful of crummy ramshackle homes (rentals?) along Montgomery Ave. to fix the curve for maximum speed allowable by the I-380 overpass.

    With HSR on the horizon, doing the project half-assed like this is insane. If it means missing the grant deadline, so be it. What's the point of doing stuff half-assed that you're going to be stuck with until it gets re-done at great expense later?

    Caltrain seems to have done the right thing and waited for HSR at SSF:

    Fully-funded $50m SSF Caltrain station revamp delayed indefinitely

    Letter: Delay costly Caltrain projects that HSR may destroy

    ... so why not in San Bruno?

  11. Is it not professionally embarrassing? Not even a little? Is the industry such that no one cares or pays attention to things like cost/benefit and excellent design vs. mediocre/unimaginative/stupid design? Have they no shame or sense of fiduciary responsibility to the taxpaying and riding public? Do they think no one will notice, or what is the likely psychology here? It's an interesting line of questioning, because it has to be readily apparent to Caltrain officials that they're screwing up in a very public and obvious way. The weird thing is that is cannot be harder (or much harder) to do things that are obviously and manifestly better, so what's really at work here? What can reasonably explain what we see going on here with San Bruno? Like many Peninsula political and transit professionals, I have heard Doty actually keeps an eye on this blog and thinks highly of it. So, Bob, a penny for your thoughts? Don't be shy! Bueller, Bueller ... anyone?

  12. @Winston: a 100 mph curve could (operative word: could) have been built without touching a single I-380 pillar.

    @Owen E: re-read the post. Caltrain is doing a bunch of eminent domain for the project, just not in the right places. As once again demonstrated, ED is not particularly difficult and not particularly expensive, something that is sure to come as a shock to peninsula residents once HSR construction gets underway.

    @Everyone, please keep it decent. I understand that there is a certain amount of justifiable resentment directed against Caltrain management... and I do share it. I wouldn't so much blame staff and consultants, who are taking their direction from management. Like anon said, the buck needs to stop somewhere, and the guys at the top wouldn't be there if they couldn't take what little heat gets generated on this blog.

  13. Well just in case somebody cares about the little heat generated in this blog, I'll add my voice to the chorus.

    Put the bid down and walk away slowly.

  14. "a 100 mph curve could (operative word: could) have been built without touching a single I-380 pillar."

    A 2-track or 4-track curve? What radius? (I didn't think anyone here knew the location of the pillars that well.)

    I suspect it's much easier to do a 2-track 100-mph curve, since you can swing that much wider to the outside of the right-of-way approaching the curve itself.

    Do we know who has claimed the curve will allow 90 mph, and do we know his exact words?

  15. Do we know who has claimed the curve will allow 90 mph, and do we know his exact words?

    My suspicion regarding the 90 mph claim by Caltrain spokespeople is that it may be made out of ignorance rather than malfeasance. 90 mph is the design standard for the Peninsula Rail Program (or Caltrain 2025, or whatever they call it these days), so when asked they may simply be assuming that the curve meets the design standard because that's what it's supposed to do. The only problem is that this particular curve is exceptional (i.e. does not meet the standard).

  16. It's always more tempting to accuse people of wrongdoing than incompetence or ignorance.

    Of course, some people conflate the three concepts.

  17. @Richard: you've forgotten one important word in your survey: "corrupt"

    @Tim: read Clem's earlier blog, it's linked in right column

  18. It's almost as if Caltrain doesn't believe HSR will happen. Hmmm.

  19. Ted, I would be far more worried about the opposite happening.