08 May 2010

The Top 10 Reasons For Peninsula BART

The elephant in the room of Bay Area transit politics is BART, a system with nearly ten times the ridership of Caltrain. While it will be heresy to most Caltrain supporters, especially now that HSR has presented a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Caltrain to be modernized, let us play devil's advocate and consider the top ten reasons to build BART instead. (photo at right based on a shot by Storm Crypt)

10. Improve Return on Sunk Investment. BART extensions are famous for being extremely expensive. Improving ridership by providing a seamless, transfer-free transit experience would increase the return on $1.5 billion spent to extend BART to Millbrae, and $6 billion (and counting!) about to be spent to extend BART to Milpitas, and then to San Jose and Santa Clara. Peninsula BART would provide a bit more bang for all that buck.

9. Lower Crew Staffing Costs. BART has only a single operator per train. Each Caltrain has a minimum of crew of three, with many trains staffed with a crew of four. Staffing costs account for a large portion of Caltrain's operating costs, and help explain its current predicament. While BART labor is not known for its thrift, at least train crews would be right-sized.

8. Steve Heminger Would Like It. The MTC executive director commented on the commission's recent report that the Bay Area's 28 transit agencies have too much organizational redundancy and even corridor redundancy. Who knows, maybe that's why "BART to San Jose" will really go to Santa Clara, paralleling Caltrain for nearly 3 miles. Anyhow, without Caltrain we'd be down to 27 transit agencies, and schedules and fares would be integrated with BART all the way around the Bay.

7. Shut Down For Construction. The terms of the MOU between Caltrain and the CHSRA stipulate that the peninsula corridor must be upgraded without interruption to Caltrain service. That results in amazingly complex, long and expensive nine-stage construction sequences such as depicted in the Alternatives Analysis, Appendix C, pages 41-43. Has anyone compared the cost and benefits of keeping Caltrain operating during construction? If the corridor is shut down, it can be rebuilt more quickly and cheaply, and the conversion to BART becomes straightforward. As an added bonus, there would be no need for temporary "shoofly" track detours around construction sites, reducing the need for eminent domain to acquire temporary construction easements.

6. Eliminate Those Pesky Freight Trains. Paragraph 8.3.(c) of the trackage rights agreement with UPRR allows for abandonment of freight service "In the event that [JPB] demonstrates a reasonably certain need to commence construction on all or substantially all the length of the Joint Facilities (...) of a transportation system that is a significant change in the method of delivery of Commuter Service which would be incompatible with Freight Service on the Joint Facilities". That is c-o-d-e for B-A-R-T. With heavy freight out of the picture, several community impacts are potentially reduced:
(a) Grade separations can be built with steep 3% grades, instead of the so-called "requirement" of 1% now being used for design. This results in grade separation structures that are shorter, more compact and slender-looking than the massive concrete required to carry massive freight trains.

(b) Commuter tracks no longer require overhead electrification, with a contact wire 21 feet above the rails to clear very tall freight cars. HSR requires just 17 feet of clearance, and BART uses visually unobtrusive third-rail.

(c) No more horns in the middle of the night, and a 100% guarantee that every last grade crossing will be eliminated, since BART, like HSR, requires total grade separation.
The only downside would be about 400 additional five-axle trucks using highway 101 every day, representing a ~40% increase in five-axle truck traffic, an ~8% increase in all truck traffic, and less than a half of a percent increase in total vehicle traffic. (See Caltrans 2008 truck traffic count for highway 101.)

Those worried about greenhouse gas emissions should note that over 50 years, 400 daily peninsula truck round-trips will add about 10,000 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. Those emissions are the same as the emissions from pouring a cube of concrete just 50 feet on a side... which you can well envision would be less concrete than required to build those extra long and extra heavy freight-compatible grade separations in the first place. Bottom line: by accounting for the GHG emissions from additional concrete, it is likely that switching peninsula freight from rail to road would actually reduce overall GHG emissions.

5. Easier Tunnel Construction. With diesel trains and their toxic exhaust permanently banished from the peninsula rail corridor, an expanded selection of tunnel construction options would become available. BART itself requires a much smaller tunnel gauge, thanks to its lower speed (80 mph), low-slung third-rail electrification, and the compact loading gauge chosen to facilitate construction of the Transbay Tube. A two-track cut-and-cover tunnel (subway box) has a cross section of about 40 x 20 feet for BART, versus 60 x 35 feet, nearly triple, for Caltrain / freight.

4. Small Marginal Investment. BART is a nose-bleed expensive solution, often decried for its enormous opportunity cost. The uninformed often attribute the high cost of building BART to its non-conventional 5'6" track gauge, but gauge has very little to do with it. A significant portion of the cost of BART goes into building grade separation structures (overpasses, underpasses, viaducts, tunnels) to separate trains from auto, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. With HSR on the peninsula, 100% grade separation is already in the cards, making the marginal cost of BART much less than the usual quarter billion dollars per mile.

3. No New SF Tunnels, Plenty of Transbay Capacity. The HSR project as currently planned includes four tracks all the way into downtown San Francisco, which requires the construction of four new tunnels alongside the existing two-track Caltrain tunnels (known by the rather creative designation Tunnel 1 through Tunnel 4). Someone is bound to point out that such an enormous expense, likely several billion dollars, could be entirely avoided by tying the peninsula corridor into BART at Millbrae. The historic Bayshore Cutoff, which accounts for less than 5% of Caltrain's ridership, would become available for exclusive HSR use. San Bruno and South San Francisco already have BART stations, and Bayshore and 22nd Street are served by MUNI's 3rd street line. With Caltrain gone, HSR even gets 50% more platform space at the Transbay Transit Center.

As an added bonus down south, there would be no need for an elevated HSR station at San Jose's Diridon Station, since the existing space at ground level could be converted from Caltrain to HSR use, leaving one or two tracks for UPRR, ACE and what little Amtrak service might still remain. Peninsula commuters would use the downtown San Jose BART stations instead.

2. The Strength Of An Idea. BART was always meant to expand south, and all recent extensions have been planned or built with tail tracks that are ready-made for further expansion into Caltrain's peninsula corridor. No matter what the cost, BART advocates regard the Millbrae to Santa Clara link as the final link in their manifest destiny to ring the bay. The general public falls easily for this idea--One Ring To Rule Them All. When people think of modern, fast rail service, they think of BART because that's what they've been exposed to. Never mind whether it makes any sense: it just sounds like such an obvious idea, and with Caltrain going out of business, what better time to do it than now?

1. I'm a PC and you're a Mac. While the Peninsula Rail Program professes the virtues of a corridor shared between Caltrain and HSR, the devil is in the details. A huge array of conflicting stakeholders, arcane regulations, and differing technical requirements are inexorably leading the project down a path of incompatibility:
Rather than a shared corridor, what is emerging here is a typical PC and Mac situation: two systems that do basically the same thing in fundamentally incompatible ways. With a PC train and a Mac train, any synergy or flexibility or efficiency that might be gained through shared operations (any train, any track, any platform) is forever lost. So, why even bother? BART's broad gauge could hardly make the situation any worse.

Supposing the Peninsula Rail Program wanted to do better than peninsula BART, it would pursue total operational integration of Caltrain and high-speed rail, the whole point of this blog. Any train, any track, any platform. Failing that, they are handing BART the perfect excuse to step in once shovels are in the ground for grade separations. Count on it.

To be clear, this post is NOT an endorsement of BART on the peninsula--far from it. Rebuilt properly, the peninsula rail corridor has the potential to become a model of efficient and flexible transportation, with capacity and speed that BART could never touch, that would make the Swiss, Japanese and Germans nod with approval. But that will require a little bit more vision than is currently being demonstrated.


  1. Is there any way of estimating how long it would theoretically take BART to travel from San José to Downtown SF?

  2. Define downtown? Also, are we allowed to assume BART will institute skip-stop service like Caltrain? If so, SJ to Millbrae would take the same 45 minutes as Caltrain's 2025 schedule from AA Appendix K, and Millbrae to Montgomery St. would take another 32 minutes, or 28 if two stops are skipped. A rough guess is about 75 minutes total. That's just 5 minutes slower than Caltrain's fastest SJ - Transbay schedule, largely because of the detour through Daly City.

    Walks like BART, quacks like BART, might as well be BART!

  3. Sacrilege! I'm a PC, you're a Mac, and BART's a Commodore.

  4. "The uninformed often attribute the high cost of building BART to its non-conventional 5'6" track gauge, but gauge has very little to do with it. A significant portion of the cost of BART goes into building grade separation structures."

    If only that were true. Just look at the Dublin-Pleasanton extension. Virtually no grade separation was required (ran in freeway median), but still the usual 100% cost blow-out -- even after one of the stations was eliminated.

    One big cost differential is the design of the stations. Typical BART suburban station is $75+ million monstrosity. Would you propose this for each and every Caltrain station?

  5. Reality Check09 May, 2010 01:41

    I agree with Drunk Engineer -- BART's grade-separated high-platform stations, staffed with useless employees paid to keep a chair warm and with full access-control owing to a completely unnecessary and costly and rider-hostile barrier/turnstile-based fare collection scheme (POP would work just fine) along with an ocean of parking and/or a garage make for insanely large and expensive stations.

  6. Reality Check09 May, 2010 01:58

    The overall point of the post is excellent, and Caltrain's Doty and the PFRUG need to pay attention and figure out how to get Caltrain and HSR to share track, signaling and platforms in a FSSF configuration or they may as well prepare for a sensible-sounding argument, as Clem describes, for a BART takeover from Millbrae to Santa Clara. Anything less is a huge missed opportunity and really, really lame, and Caltrain may as well just pack it in.

    Also, it's worth noting the caption on the "BART was always meant to go south figure" incorrectly states San Mateo County voted not to participate in BART. While it's true SMCo. Supes did decide to opt out, the county's voters had no say in it.

  7. I think BART and Caltrain are both potentially viable transit options: there's nothing stopping BART from operating in a more Caltrain-like fashion, with skip-stop or even express service on passing tracks, and BART's generally excellent schedule adherence makes this sort of operation easier. Also, Caltrain can operate with 2 crewmembers per train, as Metrolink already does in SoCal, while BART requires at least one station agent per station, which comes out to roughly the same number of staff. As for user-hostile ticketing systems, I'd say a system where the penalty for getting it wrong is a fine that can only be paid in person at the county jail is pretty hostile, although I hear they changed the procedures there recently.

    Anyway I think the problem here is that nobody is really doing any system-level planning. BART, Caltrain, and HSRA each have their own plans for expansion, and each one kind of ignores the other two (at least in terms of coordinated operation). For example, HSR wants to design everything for 125 mph, while Caltrain has always been assuming an 80 mph top speed, possibly 90 mph. That's how you get the San Bruno grade separation. BART seems like it's been doing its planning without much thought to Caltrain passengers transferring toward Daly City and the airport, and that's how you get the San Bruno-Millbrae-SFO triangle. And computer-wise, BART is a PDP-8.

  8. Caltrain First09 May, 2010 11:49

    While it is true that it was San Mateo County Board of Supervisors that voted to withdraw the county from the BART District shortly before the bond vote in 1962, it was fortunate for BART's existence that San Mateo County voters didn't vote in 1962, because most political observers recognize that the San Mateo County vote outcome would have defeated the entire BART bond measure. The BART bond measure was a tight result, and San Mateo County voters weren't enthusiastic about the BART taxes. With a 2/3 majority required for approval, the suburban counties were not as enthusiastic about BART as SF and Alameda counties. Contra Costa actually didn't meet the 2/3 majority requirement, but it was concocted to consider the three counties as a whole with surpluses from SF and Alameda. It is highly unlikely that San Mateo County voters would have approved the bond with a 2/3 majority.

    BART and its boosters have long wanted to get into San Mateo County, and even after the withdrawal of the county from the District, the West Bay Rapid Transit Authority was promptly set up to promote rapid transit (ie, BART) through the county. This time the voters of San Mateo County did get to vote on the master plan, and it was defeated by a 4-to-1 margin in June 1969.

  9. Elephant in the room, I love it. This may be one of the most thought provoking articles you have ever written on this blog. I can only hope the media runs with it.

  10. A rough guess is about 75 minutes total.

    Without some sort of skip stop, BART's systemwide average speed is about 33mph, which would be somewhere around 80 or 90 minutes.

    Even going going by the speeds that the dublin-pleasanton line gets with it's long stretches of no stations, 75 minutes still looks reasonable.

    Either way that seems slow. If Caltrain figures they can do an all-stop-local that does the trip in 65 minutes, bart should be able to approach that, shouldn't it? They have short dwell times and good acceleration.

  11. Given the political realities, this honestly seems like the best feasible option. BART has the political clout to remove freight from the peninsula, overcome NIMBYs, and get the operational subsidies needed to maintain off-peak service; Caltrain certainly does not. Yes, it will be slower than Caltrain could be, but many door-to-door journeys will be quicker because of the elimination of transfers for passengers going to BART stations other than Embarcadero and Montgomery. There will still be convenient transfers to HSR at several stations on the Peninsula for people who need to get to Transbay Terminal as fast as possible.

    Regarding monstrous stations, obviously BART could get by with less, but the need for grade separation and ADA-compliance means rebuilt Caltrain stations will be fairly monstrous anyway.

    Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. BART is the best way to ensure the political future of rail on the Peninsula.

  12. If Caltrain figures they can do an all-stop-local that does the trip in 65 minutes

    Stop right there, Caltrain figures no such thing. According to them, a skip-stop express making only 13 intermediate stops (out of 24 total) would do San Jose to Transbay in 70 minutes.

    Dwell times and acceleration performance are similar for BART vs. Caltrain EMUs.

    Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

    My point is this: don't let the mediocre be the enemy of the good. We're not asking for the moon.

  13. Stop right there, Caltrain figures no such thing.

    Ah, I guess I've misunderstood the statements about their locals being as fast as the baby bullet is today.

    The elephant in the room with a BART alignment, or, perhaps the screaming chimpanzee in the room, is that BART, for whatever reason (poor maintenance, wide bogies), is bloody loud.

    If anything, the threat of BART on the peninsula would be a very compelling cudgel for NIMBY arguments.

    Of course, they'll just insist that BART go underground...

  14. "We're not asking for the moon."

    Hoping for even a reptilian hind brain level of professionalism or competence from any US transportation planner seems like asking for the entire local galaxy cluster.

    Seriously: if the PCJPB and the Peninsula Rail Program had wanted any outcome other than peninsula BART (CHSRA=PBQD of course has always been nakedly working for this, killing Altamont being its utmost priority) can anybody name *ANY* technical or advocacy or political decision they would have made differently?

    I know we're supposed to attribute apparently malicious actions to the alternate explanation of mountainous levels of stupidity, but, my goodness, the stupidity (FRA! CBOSS! FFSS! LTK! DTX!) is of super-Himalayan dimensions, and is unrelieved by even a single chink of managerial or technical sanity.

    At this point I'd really like to believe that Doty and pals are that stupid, but entering and sustaining that delusion is hard, hard work ... and Occam's Razor won't have a bit of it.

  15. BTW, the photoshopped image should show "Livermore", not "Menlo Park".

    Because, that's what San Mateo County taxpayers will be paying for, if they do a BART buy-in.

  16. Daniel Krause09 May, 2010 15:04

    The problem with BART is their penchant for over-scaled stations which necessitate long-spacing between stations. If I recall a few years back, there was a proposal for a 4-stop BART extension to I think Palo Alto or something. The point is, it called for eliminated many of the existing Caltrain stations and consolidating stations with of course behemoth parking stuctures.

    That said, I beleive a common, integrated system metro system would lead to an explosion in transit use on the Peninsula. There is no doubt that the the transfer at Millbrae is poor and depresses ridership to/from the Peninulsa. The fare penalty of transfering is also just plain stupid.

    I see two things that need to happen to improve the situation. First, Caltrain should be merged into the BART system and managed by BART. BART would slap its logo on new Caltrain's electrified cars designed for the Caltrain corridor. No change to the technology. BART would stop at all existing Caltrain stations (and still run expresses of various type). One can envision BART creating a MacArthur-like timed-transfer. Though not as ideal as no transfer, if it is pulled off as good as MacArthur, I don't feel ridership would be depressed much. The Taj Mahal Millbrae station would likely need to be redesigned; maybe such a redesign project could include an extension of the people mover from the airport on BART tracks. This way BART would still utilize all the local stops.

    Second, BART and HSR would need to operate in shared use corridor. For those iterested, now is the time to really push for this as LA is showing the way with HSR Authority open to the idea.

  17. "Second, BART and HSR would need to operate in shared use corridor. For those iterested, now is the time to really push for this as LA is showing the way with HSR Authority open to the idea."

    Thanks, Dan! Neat-o idea! Totally awesome, in fact. Paradigm smashing. Thinking WAY out of the box, there. Let's get our top people right on it!!!

  18. Let's be a little nicer to Daniel. Those who are new to the debate can study the Peninsula Rail Program web page, especially the MOUs from 2004 and 2009. Those specifically mandate the shared corridor approach, which recently inspired the LA - Anaheim segment to revisit this issue. The archives of this blog also have a large accumulation of useful context.

    The crux of the matter is in how the shared corridor is implemented.

    HSR supporters should note that a fully shared corridor (any train, any track, any platform) has significant operational benefits for HSR as well. Schedule recovery and Transbay throughput are two that immediately come to mind.

  19. My two cents:

    There is no operational nor long-term technical reason to do BART in place of Caltrain

    We shouldn't be making very long term decisions based on off of the fact that Caltrain likes putting excessive staff in its trains, or because we wasted a bunch of money in Milpitas or Colma.

    Seriously, throw out the neanderthals and change the rules that are inhibiting Caltrain rather than trying to mix Russian/Indian gauge with standard gauge. It'd be much cheaper to hire ten German engineers, buy them nice mansions, and have them go to work than to finish the BART 'ring' (the eBART & Pleasonton price tags are still disgustingly high for how easy the construction should have been)

    Bring the Peninsula corridor under the aegis of BART if that helps, whatever. Just don't go about creating a helplessly separated corridor and permanently capping commuter trains to 80mph (limiting factor of third rail)

  20. BART could be good if its management staff was horrible and if its regular staff get paid so much for doing so little. In fact, if Samtrans didn't have to pay so much to service BART's debt, I would bet Caltrain wouldn't be in the position it's in. Read: http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-11025-Bay-Area-Public-Transportation-Examiner~y2009m11d4-What-did-BART-cost-San-Mateo-County



  21. Anon: you can use handy HTML tags.

    What did BART cost San Mateo County?

    Money laundering at SamTrans from the BART airport extension

    BART pried another $158 million from SamTrans to fund Warm Springs

    I would agree that the BART well seems rather poisoned in San Mateo County. The same will no doubt happen to Santa Clara County once their ridership projections don't pan out.

  22. Caltrain First09 May, 2010 22:27

    It must be emphasized that Caltrain's current "crisis" is due to the half billion dollars San Mateo County lost on the BART-SFO extension deal due to Samtrans' own gross mismanagement. The current line of rhetoric from Samtrans is laughable. Electrification of Caltrain is desirable, but it's by no means a magic bullet to sustain Caltrain. Sound management and planning would be far more desirable and effective, but alas, it is lacking...

  23. Daniel Krause09 May, 2010 22:55

    @ Anon
    Sorry for pointing out that things have been recently moving in LA towards shared-use and with that momentum it may be a good time to revisit and get involved rather than bitching in the comments section of blogs forever.

    Oh and sorry for brainstorming ways to make travel from San Mateo County more functional to the rest of the Bay Area. Yes, these ideas have been expressed in one form or another before, but given the topic of the post, it made sense to discuss such ideas.

    Ahh, but the standard rude behavior enccountered so frequently in the rail advocacy world of the Bay Area. And of course the typical hiding behind the anon label so you don't have to feel responsible for you disgusting personal behavior. That's great. How about trying being civil?

  24. The level of engineering incompetence at Caltrain et al is shocking, but what can we do about it? I don't think writing blog posts is likely to get those responsible sacked. Even if anybody at political and management levels is listening, concerns about details are drowned out by those who want to kill the HSR project and those who are simply cheerleading. Is there anything at all we can do? (Move to Germany or Japan, I guess.)

  25. "The level of engineering incompetence at Caltrain et al is shocking, but what can we do about it?"

    Defund the agencies -- PCJPB, TJPA, and CHSRA -- entirely.

    It's far easier to do something undone than it is to try to undo the massive clusterfucks these idiots have and are continuing to spawn.

    We'd be far better off 5, 10, 20 and 50 years from now if the TJPA were to be detonated and the simply appallingly incompetent Transbay Terminal were not to happen, interim inconvenience to bus riders notwithstanding.

    We'd be far better off 5 years ago, now and 50 years from now if the the Caltrain board endorsed, Caltrain engineering department endorsed, MTC endorsed BART extension to Millbrae hadn't happened.

    We'd be far better off 5, 10, 20 and 50 years from now if NONE of Caltrain's capital projects -- CEMOF, San Bruno, etc -- had been or will be built.

    We'd be far better off 5, 10, 20 and 50 years from now if the quite literally insane (and Caltrain-approved) separate-and-UNequal parallel HSR and FRACaltrainFreightSteam lines weren't built.

    Stuff's just incredibly crappy today, but the genius of our local "planners" is that they only ever make things worse. They've proven themselves, again and again and again, to be beyond redemption, beyond education, and without any sense of shame.

    Starve the beast. It's our only hope.

  26. Another possible scenario: a re-play of what almost happened in the 1990s:

    San Francisco decides it does not require three rail services running between Millbrae and downtown. It notifies JPB that they are welcome to run trains all they want, but SF won't help subsidize the service.

    Thus, with exception of perhaps a few rush-hour runs, passengers get forced transfer at Millbrae "intermodal" station with their "choice" of either BART or HSR train.

  27. Richard: First, defunding the incompetent agencies is not your or my decision, and what they lack in competence they more than make up for in political clout, so I don't think writing our state legislators is likely to help much. Second, what's to say those in charge won't be just as incompetent when the time does finally come to improve all this underdeveloped transit infrastructure? Leaving it underdeveloped forever is a political and economic nonstarter, and encourages even more incompetent and harmful highway-based clusterfucks.

  28. Oh and sorry for brainstorming ways to make travel from San Mateo County more functional to the rest of the Bay Area.

    While slow noisy all stops all the time electric service with BART might, with a heavy emphasis on might, be an improvement over Caltrain diesel service, is it more functional than electric service from Caltrain? Caltrain might do something stunning like have express service. Caltrain will be able to get to the financial district faster.

    Clem: I can't find anything other than vague references to "mixing third rail and catenary is difficult" and even vaguer references to "it makes it hard to bring up the system after a power failure" .... no one, that I'm aware of, runs 50 miles of track with catenary and third rail. And there would be all those substations to place.....

  29. I'm in agreement with the BART "gap closure" concept. We've posted a map with such a concept here (scroll down). A few points:

    1. Peninsula BART is not necessarily incompatible with continued freight operations, along with enhanced Caltrain and/or HSR to provide "express" service.

    2. We show a skip-stop arrangement for BART stations along the peninsula which would generally require no additional tracks. In fact this could be expanded to the rest of the BART system.

  30. CTI: Interesting proposal, unfortunately it removes one of the major pluses of the current Caltrain service, which is its relatively frequent stop spacing, with stops generally in traditional downtowns, which greatly increases accessibility, and to some extent improves the attractiveness of non-commute service by providing more destinations within walking distance of the stations.

    Adirondacker: I'm not sure what you're getting at with third rail compatibility. Having both AC and DC on a single track is generally not such a good idea, because AC transformers don't like DC currents, so you need all sorts of extra protection, and it's done only rarely and generally over limited distances (NY Penn, London Euston). But having a DC line and an AC line running next to each other is no problem at all, and happens all the time.

  31. Third rail trains run at 100mph e.g. on the South Western Main Line between London and Southampton/Weymouth. Would this be feasible on BART (if necessary with new rolling stock)?

  32. Arcady,

    Our solution to the current frequent stop spacing (not shown) would be a high-capacity transit system along the entire length of the peninsula, generally along El Camino. Between HSR/Caltrain/BART and this system (either LRT, BRT or modern streetcar), this system would comprise an integrated hierarchy of express/local service.

    In many places (San Carlos, Belmont, southern San Mateo) El Camino is adjacent to Caltrain. In most other places it is a few blocks away. Let the revitalized El Camino with a median running LRT/BRT/streetcar be the "local" collector for transit trips, feeding into the trunk at strategic locations. Stops can be spaced roughly every 1/2 mile.

    Where the separation is more than a few blocks, the El Camino feeder concept doesn't work as well, so have the "feeder" follow the Caltrain right-of-way and make the "local" stops at current Caltrain station locations.

  33. What's with all this "skip stop" nonsense? Stop it!

    Nobody with a shred of competence and/or success has done that sort of nuttiness since the 1960s, let alone "planned" a system around it.
    Look at me! I cut off my leg and both of my arms, but look how stupendously well I can still hop!

    Caltrain: putting yesterday in the future, today.

  34. Richard,

    Skip-stop is a recognized albeit underutilized means of increasing throughput as well as passenger quality of service without adding tracks. Chicago had it for 50 years and in fact is considering bringing it back. Although it is not a necessary feature of our plan it is a component that could be looked at.

    BTW, sorry about your disability. Glad to see you're getting around OK though!

  35. Having both AC and DC on a single track is generally not such a good idea, because AC transformers don't like DC currents

    They aren't powering the third rail with a bunch of used car batteries and thick jumper cables. The DC inverters aren't pleased with having AC on the grounded rail either.

    Having the third rail a few feet farther away isn't going to make all that much of a difference. The tracks, all of them, are going to be connected to the local grounding/earthing system. As will the catenary poles, the station platforms etc.

    It's easy to avoid those problems on the Peninsula, have all the trains run on 25kV/60Hz.

    But having a DC line and an AC line running next to each other is no problem at all, and happens all the time.


    Our solution to the current frequent stop spacing (not shown) would be a high-capacity transit system along the entire length of the peninsula

    There already is one. Been there since 1863 with last major route change in 1906.

    Skip-stop is a recognized albeit underutilized means of increasing throughput as well as passenger quality of service without adding tracks.

    There's a reason it's underutilized. It sucks. It does increase throughput viewed as the number of trains moving through. Passengers think it sucks,. . . pesky passengers....the reason the trains are running in the first place.

    Chicago had it for 50 years and in fact is considering bringing it back.

    They were until the mob with pitchforks and torches showed up at the public hearing. Rumor has it they didn't bring the vat of boiling tar because the vat was bit too big. It's a solution people resort to when they have no other option. There's other options for the Peninsula.

  36. Okay, I know the J/Z in New York, and the Broad Street Subway in Philadelphia. Are there any other existing examples of skip-stop?

  37. Caltrain First10 May, 2010 18:51

    Skip-stop service is just dumb. It is indeed a last-resort measure to maintain service to several stations while maintaining a minimum runtime, but it is not desirable at all.

    First and foremost, passengers hate the confusing skip-stop schedule. Remember the passengers? -- the real clients, the customers, the taxpayers that pay the staff salaries.

    Skip-stop service also severely disrupts connections between local destinations. Getting from Mountain View to Menlo Park could require a transfer on even the most 'local' skip-stop service, and that's just stupid. If Caltrain wants to become a genuine rapid transit or metro service, skip-stop service shouldn't even be a consideration.

    Skip-stop service can hardly be considered "premium" like a genuine express, because the service is still constrained by the trains directly in front of it. Any disruption on the track, and the service collapses.

    A genuine all-local Caltrain service coordinated with a passing Caltrain express that serves 6-8 stations between SF-SJ is quite simple and desirable. Really, it's not so hard to figure out...

  38. OT but may be of interest to the group:

    You are invited to attend a public hearing to provide input on the 2000 Measure A Program:
    Wednesday, May 12, 2010, 6:00 p.m.
    County of Santa Clara Government Center, Board of Supervisors' Chambers
    70 West Hedding Street, San Jose, CA 95110
    (This location is served by VTA Light Rail and Bus Lines 61, 62, 66 and 181.
    Sign language services will be provided and as will additional interpreter services as requested.)

    Measure A, approved in November 2000, is a 30-year half cent sales tax devoted to improvement projects for the area's public transit network, including extending BART to Silicon Valley. The measure created an oversight committee, comprised of citizens from throughout the county, to review Measure A expenditures, ensuring funds are being spent in accordance with the intent of the ballot. This Citizens Watchdog Committee (CWC) is responsible for conducting an annual audit and for informing the community on its findings. Macias Gini & O'Connell, LLP, independent certified public accountants, conducted this year's compliance audit and issued an unqualified or "clean" opinion, meaning that in their professional opinion VTA complied, in all material respects, with the requirements applicable to the 2000 Measure A Program.

    Additional information on the Measure A Program, the CWC, as well as the results of the independent compliance audit, is available at www.vta.org. If you are unable to attend the upcoming hearing, written comments will be accepted until 5:00 p.m. on May 12 by email to: board.secretary@vta.org or by mail to: Office of the Board Secretary, 3331 North First Street, Building B-1, San José, CA 95134-1927.

  39. Skip-stop is a recognized albeit underutilized means of increasing throughput as well as passenger quality of service without adding tracks.

    Time out.

    The entire point is that we are adding tracks. The idea of this blog (if you read the other stuff besides the peninsula BART catnip) is that a fully-integrated four-track corridor functions much better than 2 + 2 tracks. Caltrain is on a slippery slope to a 2 + 2 system, and I merely pointed out that if you went 2 + 2, in effect settling for less, then BART would be no worse an outcome. We are thus discussing a family of inferior solutions.

    My rhetorical device seems to have failed: instead of focusing on the superior four-track corridor that could be, people extol the virtues of the wrong solution, BART.

    That, in a nutshell, is why skip-stop is a whole bunch of baloney.

  40. Hmmm...Generally Caltrain is in a 100'-wide corridor, down to about 50' in some tight spots (San Mateo for one). I advocate keeping at least 3 tracks for commuter/ intercity/occasional freight. This requires 60-70' of width, leaving just about enough left for 2-track BART. At the pinch points and stations, BART would have to duck under (subway) or go aerial, or additional right-of way is needed.

    Regarding skip-stop, I understand if you don't like it but hope all opionions can garner respect without the flame, that's the reason we're having a dialog not a fistfight. Richard, Caltrain First -- I rode CTA for many years and skip-stop was perfect. By comparison Red Line service today is PAINFULLY slow, if you haven't been. With NextBus/PDA technology becoming prevalent, this could shave travel time for a majority of passengers while inconveniencing a relative few. Besides, the feeder service I'm proposing along El Camino will take care of most of the "A-to-B" station-type trips.

    Clem, the original post is on BART and that's what I'm addressing. LIRR-type service is also worth looking at, though keeping BART separate keeps you away from FRA, "general railroad system" and other onerous requirements such as mainline gradient restrictions of 1%.

    Plus BART circling the bay has a certain symmetry to it, eh?

  41. Having a third rail system a few feet away from an AC system does make a huge difference for a bunch of reasons. And you can see DC and AC systems running in parallel in a bunch of places. In the US, that would be, for example, the Orange Line and Amtrak in Boston, or to a lesser extent, the Orange Line and Amtrak in DC. In Europe, there's the S-Bahn in Berlin and Hamburg, the DC Lines and Main Line between Euston and Watford, the District and DLR running alongside the LTS line in London, the S-Tog in Copenhagen alongside the mainline, and probably countless other examples that I haven't yet thought of.

  42. Doesn't the RER do skip-stop on some sections?

    Not that this seems like a good idea, surely the dilution of frequency would slow journeys far more than the small increase in travel time from stopping.

  43. CTI: You're proposing seven tracks running the length of the peninsula, doing a job that with the right technology could be done with four? And how exactly are commuter trains going to share three tracks with HSR without delaying it? And you're still going to build huge, gently sloping structures for your five-track grade separations to accommodate a trickle of freight trains?

    Thank you, CTI, for reminding us that things actually could be worse.

  44. I don't think the RER does skip-stop. I've only seen schedules for the RER A and B; how it works is that there are a couple of cases where half the trains, going to one destination stop at some shared-trunk station, and half the trains, going to another destination, stop at the other. But those station pairs are sporadic; it's nothing like the regular alternation of the J/Z or the Broad Street Subway.

  45. The RER doesn't have the straight A/B skip-stop pattern that is used in Chicago or Philadelphia (or on the J/Z) but it does have some trains that skip some stops. There are multiple stopping patterns on any trunk lines, and it's all quite complicated, but they have handy displays that show you which stations the next train will and will not stop at, which makes it at least slightly comprehensible. And really, the RER is what BART should have been. Then we wouldn't be having this discussion.

  46. Off topic, but UP is coming out stronger than ever against HSR.

    "the high-speed rail project would severely hamper its shipping in the Bay Area and further south. Freight locomotives cannot operate when high-speed trains are running and the freight spurs off the main track could be jeopardized by the project."

    Are they making their freight business on the Peninsula sound like more than it really is or do they have a point?

  47. They're not talking about their Peninsula line here, but about the Coast Line section between San Jose and Gilroy. It's not a huge important mainline for UP, but it still gets decent use and is an important diversionary route connecting Northern and Southern California. And I think this is UP's way of politely saying "we're a multi-billion dollar corporation, and we don't appreciate your authority of 9 politicians and a pile of consultants making plans for railroads that don't belong to you".

  48. If steep grades overcome only small elevation difference, they can be steep even for those slow freights because effective grade isn't that steep, it's just (front elevation - rear elevation) / train length. If trains are short, they're light and can be pulled without trouble, if they're long, only portion on the grade itself needs to be pulled uphill.

    Given the length of BART suburban sections, there's a question, why don't they use catenary there, probably with slightly higher voltage.

    As a reply to tram-train applicability in San Diego, Yonah Freemark has replied that FRA is willing to make it possible, so Caltrain and CHSRA should start searching another excuse for 2 + 2 arrangement.

  49. They also make a huge amount of money from California intermodale ports ..enough of the games they are playing with what is south of SJ a branch line local..Maby we need some of the do gooders about being "green" make UP electify the high volume ports to reduce the dirty UP engines if they dont want to work with CAHSR

  50. Altamont Rising11 May, 2010 13:44

    With UP continuing to give CHSRA the stiff arm, Sacramento/Stockton interests finally asserting themselves, and a viable Altmont route using utility ROWs clarified, the prospects for Altamont haven't looked so bright since the Commission days. Rod Diridon is fading away as well.

    With the program EIR decertified and thus forcing the issue, finding a route south of Diridon station looks hopelessly complicated and extremely extensive. It only exposes the fact that Diridon Station is not a good HSR station site for San Jose. Cahill Street is not close to "downtown" anyway, and the station site fits very awkwardly on any HSR alignment. San Jose would be wise to consider a brand new main station further north of Cahill Street. Somewhere in the vicinity of the San Jose Market Center and all that space from the old railyards would fit the Altamont alignment wonderfully. The Diridon station site would make a great railyard spur for HSR!

  51. And how do you propose getting thru the EastBay with the UP?? That nonsense about BART giving up its SJ Row to HSr has a snowballs chance in hell of coming thru..And did anyone at TRAC or that group that proposed this alternative contact the SFWater Distric to even find out if any of there Row is open?? NO the line is still going thru as planned

  52. Angry Denier11 May, 2010 17:29

    Altamont vs. Pacheco is irrelevant. Tehachapi vs. Grapevine is irrelevant. The point of the project is to build a grand monumental line between San Francisco and San Jose, and another one between LA and Anaheim, with possibly something in the Central Valley to keep those folks happy that they're getting their share of the pork. Of course that's assuming anything is going to get built at all, and that the state will actually sell the bonds that have been authorized.

  53. A significant portion of the cost of BART goes into building grade separation structures (overpasses, underpasses, viaducts, tunnels) to separate trains from auto, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. With HSR on the peninsula, 100% grade separation is already in the cards, making the marginal cost of BART much less than the usual quarter billion dollars per mile.

    Continuing on Drunk Engineer's comments, that just doesn't hold water. Dublin/Pleasanton in a freeway median being a good example of it, as well as eBART in eastern Contra Costa County.

    Also the proposed Livermore extension (A Dose of Reality for BART's Livermore Extension and Gearing Up for Livermore and Altamont (Part 1)) is ~$3-$4B for 7-13 miles of rail (~$300M/mile), before mandatory cost blowout that every BART project is afflicted with.

    BART to SJ is being phased now, with Phase 1 to Berryessa costing more than ~$2B for ~10 miles of rail (~$200M/mile), pre-blowout. Keep in mind this is at-grade, in an existing rail ROW (the later subway sections could be upwards of $500M/mile). Grade separating those crossings is expensive to be sure, but not that expensive. The only logical or rational way to explain that high cost, is that BART's consultant/vendor capture and custom everything approach is what causes this.

    Now the CHSRA hasn't built anything yet, and I haven't heard the latest numbers, but with the exception of the DTX/TBT mess, the Peninsula Rail Program (for all its warts) was expected to be ~$5B for ~50 miles of rail (~$100M/mile). For a grade-separated, electrified, 4 track line, in a developed area, while keeping an existing railroad active, that's within the real world.

    Re BART on the Peninsula:

    I have no problem with CalTrain becoming an organization within BART (e.g. LIRR and MNR within NY MTA), if that's what fixes its shortfalls in funding and political clout (competence on the other hand...). It could be called BART Peninsula, pBART, etc., and it could provide badly-needed transit consolidation and fare harmonization.

    Needless to say, it should still be standard gauge. And it should pursue the ideas expressed on this blog; 25 kV OCS, ERTMS/ETCS, harmonized platform height and length with HSR, etc. ("any train, any track, any platform"). We need a real integrated regional and intercity rail system.

    Of course, there's nothing preventing CalTrain from pursuing those things itself with CHSRA except incompetence and defeatism. CHSRA may be bringing the cash, but CalTrain has the goods. I don't think BART would have ever accepted being co-opted by another agency the way CalTrain has.

  54. @ CTI Associates, Inc.

    I think others explained pretty well why skip-stop is bad for riders. If your idea of BART on the Peninsula is like I described above, a re-branded CalTrain with upgrades like we've talked about on this blog, then sign me up.

    But if your idea of BART on the Peninsula is simply extending the current mess at Millbrae south to San Jose, which is what it sounds like your saying, then no thanks. That could cost $20 billion for worse service and slower speeds than we have now, if BART to SJ/Millbrae/etc. is any guide. You would do well to learn about the realities of BART and rail transit. This blog's archive is a good place to start.

    I actually agree with you that El Camino Real could use light rail, but it's no replacement for CalTrain. CalTrain should have stations every 1-2 miles, and receive service from all-stop locals. Most stations would get skipped by limited/express service, and ~8 is a good number of stations to serve, which is essentially what we have now.

    LRT stops would need to be closer, and it could replace most bus service on the corridor. ECR would also need to be rezoned for dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented development for this to make sense. I doubt any of that would happen though, as about 20 different suburban cities and the state control ECR/CA-82. ECR will likely remain auto-oriented, bike/ped hostile, and surrounded by low density strip malls.

    arcady said, "And really, the RER is what BART should have been. Then we wouldn't be having this discussion."


    The sad thing is they were designed and built at almost the same time (late 1950s/1960s. The Paris RER was to relieve Paris Metro and serve the rest of the Paris metropolitan, because the Paris Metro became too difficult, expensive, and unwieldy to expand.

    BART didn't bother to look at what real rail transit should be like, and basically went ahead and built a dinosaur designed by the World's Finest Railway Engineers (TM) at Parsons Brinckerhoff, Bechtel, and friends. It's far from the modern and sleek image it tries to project.

    We need a Bay Area RER.

  55. "The only logical or rational way to explain that high cost, is that BART's consultant/vendor capture and custom everything approach is what causes this."

    Ummm ... remind me again who is driving both BART-SJX and CHSRA?

    Which "custom everything" approach is it that the industry leaders of the Peninsula Rail Program are avoiding? (Aside from little details like signalling system, track standards, rolling stock, platform interface, operating rules, and scheduling?)

    Same human garbage in, same technical garbage out.

  56. Service-wise, BART is very much like the RER. The problem with it is that it's built as a greenfield subway, driving costs up. At the scale of an RER or S-Bahn system, the costs of new rapid transit are so high that the only way to keep within budget is to leverage existing commuter lines. BART systematically avoided doing that, starting from its choice of gauge.

  57. Nope, service-wise BART is entirely unlike the RER. BART runs a very small number of service patterns, while the RER runs a lot of them. BART has all trains stopping at all stations, the RER does not. And of course the RER has very significant portions running on existing mainlines, while BART does not. I must say, though, BART does look very futuristic... in a 1960s sort of way. I mean, it's controlled by a computer after all.

  58. The RER doesn't run a lot of express patterns. It's complicated, but that's a function of its size. Look at smaller cities' systems and you'll get much simpler service patterns, often without express service.

  59. From its routing, BART is entirely like the Paris RER. It has long stretches of track in suburbia, stopping fairly infrequently, and then runs through urban cores with more frequent service and stops

    But they built this fundamentally RER system with metro technology. Which is meant for short distances and high stopping frequency, not the opposite. Then they introduce a terribly and irritatingly complex ticketing system
    And people wonder why BART sucks

  60. "RER" doesn't mean "Parisian regional rail network" any more than "S-Bahn" means "Munich's".

    PS Running a single slow hour-headway non-branching train line in three counties is so very hard that ... oh never mind.

  61. Sorry, I guess I did forget that RER can be a generic term, I just couldn't think of any examples other than the one, even though I've been on the Lausanne REV, and I believe that Geneva might have something called "RER" as well. The Lausanne version, by the way, has express trains, rather than skip-stop, and the timetable is an excellent example of how much can be done with only two tracks.

    By the way, Richard, I'm curious to see what you have to say on the topic of US vs. European approaches to grade crossing protection. I imagine there are bound to be differences, but I don't know pretty much anything about this topic aside from the different kinds of crossings the UK has.

  62. Reality Check17 May, 2010 10:05

    The $30m grant for the San Bruno Caltrain grade sep project is coming from the state's Prop 1B program; When they got word they could have the $30m provided they were out to bid by June 10, the rush was on.

  63. I'm an outsider from Minneapolis, but I've been on Caltrain/BART many times as well as other systems (Asia, Europe). My thoughts...

    1. Get some unification from the customer perspective. Single brand, single map, single ticket/smart card.

    In Minneapolis we have many smaller agencies operating buses (especially express/commuter buses) in addition to the main one which does buses, light rail, and commuter. They share a map, fare structure, and RFID payment card. It makes a huge difference.

    2. Why not 4-track the Caltrain corridor for HSR and Caltrain? Slow trains and platforms on the outside, and enough switching to allow Caltrain to pass using the fast tracks and HSR to stop using the slow tracks. At bigger stations, have a center platform and two additional tracks in addition to the outside platforms.

    Platform | SB caltrain/slow | SB passing | SB HSR/slow | Island Platform | NB HSR/slow | NB passing | NB caltrain/slow | Platform.

    3. Use standard gauge and standard caternary for all new rail in the Bay Area, possibly like this...

  64. Would eliminating Caltrain mean that HSR could stay at grade between San Tomas Expressway and SJ Diridon?

    Would HSR get to use the CEMOF facility and the yard at Tamien, since BART will have its own facility at the Newhall Yard in Santa Clara?

    Considering the Caltrain tracks will anyhow have to be moved laterally and/or vertically (i.e. rebuilt) throughout the ROW, eliminating tunnels in the South Bay as well as in SF would actually cut the cost of the HSR project by quite a bit.

  65. There needs to be a second corridor (Bart And Caltrain) down the peninsula that is under 101 or between 101 and the bay. This will rejuvenate real estate in those areas as well as cut 101 traffic tremendously. There are hundreds of thousands of people that work east of the 101 on the peninsula and caltrain is not viable option for those employees.

    1. Or just pull down the 101, and let the infill residential development work for those people...