14 July 2012

HSR and Grade Crossings

The Palo Alto Daily Post, bastion of journalistic integrity, has on several occasions reported as fact that the blended HSR system on the peninsula would require 100% grade separation in order to share tracks with Caltrain, resulting in dozens of seized residential properties.

Not so.

When sharing tracks with other trains, high-speed trains can and do use grade crossings on a daily basis, with all their attendant risks.  Examples of this practice abound in Europe, where new HSR networks have been patched into existing rail networks.  High-speed trains are limited to the same speeds as other trains when using grade crossings, and are exposed to the same collision risk.  The trains are built to take it (the relevant standard is EN 15227) and have been involved in dozens if not hundreds of grade crossing accidents over the past three decades.  When a train collides with a car, damage to the train is usually only cosmetic.  But high-speed trains have also collided with trucks and farm tractors, with more dire results, but only one known passenger fatality in 1988.  A small sample of those horrors is provided at right.

On a mostly grade-separated corridor like the peninsula, new grade separations are desirable primarily because they reduce gate down-time and speed the flow of road traffic, and secondarily because they reduce the risk of collision with pedestrians, cars and trucks.  They are not inherently required to operate high-speed trains in a blended system, any more than they are required to operate Caltrain.  Suggesting otherwise amounts to baseless fear-mongering that is best confined to the editorial page.


  1. You're absolutely right that grade crossings aren't required for operation, but I think that a completely grade separated, fenced corridor would go a long way toward solving Caltrain's rather severe pedestrian death problem. Caltrain manages to rack up a death about every 3 weeks (16 total last year) while BART, which is much, much larger, but in the same business typically goes years between fatalities. Were Caltrain a road the value of eliminating those extra deaths would be on the order of $300m, which is less than the cost of total grade separation, but is a fair way toward that cost.

    1. Please don't take this as being an endorsement of the Daily Post's reporting, but the Authority has on numerous occasions talked about running speeds of 125 MPH along the Peninsula, a considerable jump from the present top speed of 89 MPH.

      So, in the context that they will insist on 125 MPH, I would think the end result would be mandating grade crossings everywhere. Those 47 crossings which are still not grade separated, represent a major expense, dwarfing the $1.5 billion that CalTrain talks about spending for electrification. I was told a couple of years ago, from a CalTrain official, that electrification and grade separating all the crossings was a $5 billion project.

    2. You don't need to eliminate grade crossings for 125 MPH operations. From the FRA Track Compliance Manual:

      "If train operation is projected at Class 7 speed for a track segment that will include rail-highway grade crossings, the track owner shall submit for FRA’s approval a complete description of the proposed warning/barrier system to address the protection of highwaytraffic and highspeed trains."

      The requirements for class 7 are basically the same as for class 6 track (110 MPH) except that for class 7 the FRA wants to look at what you're doing ahead of time and the grade crossings have to be working for you to run 125 MPH. Were a gate to fail you would have to slow the trains down to 110 MPH.

    3. @Winston: suicides from train platforms will always be a problem, even with grade separations. BART has several fatalities per year, but they're not publicized as much.

      @Morris: current speed limit is 79 mph. The speeds now being envisioned under the blended plan go up to 110 mph. And yes, grade separations are very pricey. Building a grade sep for 4 tracks is only marginally more expensive than for 2 tracks, and we know that the latest four-track system cost estimates (from the $98 billion draft 2012 business plan) included a billion for berms, 4 billion for viaducts, and 1/3 billion for other grade sep expenses. That's consistent with your $5 billion figure, and also consistent with a rough cost per grade sep of $80 to $100 million. That seems to be the going rate, and it's not affordable in the short term; that's why grade separations will have to be done on a priority basis just as they have for the past century.

      @Winston: the FRA is not the biggest sheriff in town. The California Public Utilities Commission is. If the CPUC tells you to grade separate, you have no choice but to grade separate. One of their (seemingly unwritten) rules is that any crossing with more than two tracks must automatically be grade separated (with a few existing cases grandfathered in on a case-by-case basis). That means any new overtake tracks under the blended system will necessarily be grade-separated-- and that in turn explains why the overtake tracks are being proposed in only certain strategic locations.

    4. According to the FRA data, which Paul has been writing about, the Peninsular Commuter "Caltrain" railroad had a total of 1 cross-related fatality and 5 trespassing-related fatalities in 2011.

      Where did you get 16?

    5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caltrain#Deaths_by_year

      Most of them are suicides. They happen often enough that a regular commuter is bound to experience one. I won't soon forget the sound it makes. Maybe the FRA doesn't count suicides in their statistics?

    6. I believe you. There must be something about Caltrain which causes people to lose all hope.

      Still, I tried to follow that Wikipedia cited reference, to the esteemed San Jose Mercury News website, but instead found myself at a page featuring a picture of two women choking each other, followed by another picture of a pair of snuggling cats. I believe that sums up both the essence of the Internet and the state of journalism today.

    7. "There must be something about Caltrain which causes people to lose all hope."

      Let's take a look at what the state bonds that were sold to the people of California as being for "High Speed Rail" are going to be used for in Norther California, shall we?


      * SF MUNI: Central Subway. $61 million. Unrelated to, incompatible with HSR.

      * Caltrain Electrification: $706 million. A local and regional project, which was to be funded locally and regionally until BART extension and SF Central Subway stole the voter-approved funding. Unrelated to HSR, (this is Caltrain, which is buying a new fleet that takes zero account of HSR station platforms or any other operational needs) incompatible with HSR.

      * BART: Millbrae Station Track Improvement & Car Purchase: $145 million. A local and regional project, which should have been funded locally and regionally until BART extension stole the funding. As for Millbrae BART "Station track improvement": anything they do is guaranteed to be incompatible with HSR. ("Compatible" would be "ripping out BART track between SFO and Millbrae and between San Bruno and Millbrae." What are the odds?) Completely unrelated to HSR.

      * Capitol Corridor, Oakland to San Jose Track: $47 million. A basket case of expense, pouring nearly a billion so far into doing maintenance on the UPRR's private, unmaintained assets. Completely unrelated to HSR.

      * PCJPB CBOSS. $41 million. Totally 100% incompatible with and unrelated to HSR.

      * VTA(WTF?) CBOSS (two bites for the cherry, because San Jose demands direct tribute!): $26 million. Totally 100% incompatible with and unrelated to HSR.

      Let's compare that with the "Corridor To-Do List" on the front page of this blog.

      Anybody who voted for Prop 1A High Speed Rail ought to be flagellating themselves into a bleeding pulp at this time.

  2. Grade separation in Palo Alto has always been the local major contention with HSR. The current ROW through PA is wide enough for 4 tracks without use of any eminent domain. If additional space is needed, Alma can be shifted eastward into the landscaping to allow more space.

    I find it incredibly ironic that the wealthiest city on the peninsula is so eager to ensure one of its most dangerous, noisy and blighted corridors remains unchanged with the addition of HSR, when HSR is the very opportunity to improve this corridor. Even Palo Altos own city financed studies of the Alma corridor (http://www.paloaltorailcorridor.org) call for grade separation to improve interconnectivity between the city segments divided by the rail right of way, and most importantly this will save lives. But Palo Alto prefers having the great wall of Alma divide it city while people keep dying.

    PA's City councils fight against HSR/Grade Separation and for the status quo, borders on gross negligence. The crossings at West Meadow and Charleston have the highest fatality rates on the Caltrain Corridor, with the deaths disproportionately high amongst the Palo Alto children and teenagers who have to cross the track daily. Grade separation will allow more Alma crossings between east and west Palo Alto, while also improving land values and safety.

    Without a doubt, a East Meadow and Charleston must be grade separated. Palo Alto just needs to become a partner in improving this corridor rather than expecting HSR to pay for it all. The state should cover the costs of a elevated viaduct. If PA want something else, they have the wealth to invest additional money in improving the idea.

    Some options are for between Oregon and San Antonio include:
    1. depressing 4 track HSR into a shallow trench braising alma and new street crossings a few feet.
    2. Burying HSR in a capped trench from Oregon to San Antonio and repurpose the land above as mixed use commercial residential or parkland.
    3. Burying HSR and Alma expressway below West Meadow and Charleston and provide a single lane residential surface street above to provide access between West Meadow/Charleston and Alma. This would also allow for new mixed use land above Alma and HSR and help to tie together the East and West sides of Palo Alto.

    Options 2 and 3 even create new taxable land in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country.

    Palo Alto needs to look at HSR as an opportunity for new funds to correct the poor development patterns along this corridor from the 1950's and work to reintegrate the city across the ROW.

    1. The nimbys and car-huggers would scream bloody murder, but the fact is that Alma is way overbuilt for the traffic volumes it carries. Regardless of the issue of HSR, Alma does need a lane reduction ("road-diet"). That would benefit the nearby residents, and provide space for bike lanes.

    2. Adirondacker1280015 July, 2012 12:56

      new taxable land in one of the most expensive real estate markets in the country..

      Selling air rights may make sense in Tokyo might even make sense in Manhattan, maybe even in Chicago. Not in Palo Alto.

    3. @Adirondacker, you do realize that due to Palo Alto's extremely restrictive zoning that land zoned for single family houses is worth north of $3 million/acre, right?

    4. @Adirondacker, I agree leasing air rights, would not pay for construction, but it would help fund a solution. As Winston noted, property values are very high here, if Alma could be developed into a shopping district similar to University Ave, neighboring property values would rise even further, also increasing tax benefits for the city, and make it a more walkable community.

      Probably the cheapest way to grade separate Charleston and East Meadow is to provide a low clearance non-commercial truck underpass below alma and the tracks. Center lane entrance/exit ramps from Alma south of Charleston and north of East Meadow down to these underpasses could be built to allow northbound left turns below the tracks, and Southbound right and left turns. Unfortunately, this would eliminate though traffic lights on Alma causing cars to speed up even more.

      Since through trucks are not allowed on these roads anyways, there is no need to excavate that deep. Only Fire Trucks and Emergency services would need clearance. Due to shallow grades required for HSR, providing underpasses for cars allows steeper grading and less total construction to resolve grade separation clearance issues.

      Unfortunately, It seems the options currently on the table are those that limit impact to the current ROW. If the city stops fighting grade separation and collaborates it will find that there are many options better than the current situation.

    5. He's pointing out, correctly, that Palo Alto real estate is worth peanuts compared to those cities, and also compared to the cost of tunneling. Those who suggest burying the tracks and paying for it by selling air rights are making a fundamental order of magnitude error.

    6. Adirondacker1280015 July, 2012 18:23

      single family houses is worth north of $3 million/acre, right?

      Let be generous and assume that the ROW is 100 feet wide in all of Palo Alto.And assume that none of it is going to be used for something as rash as a station, it's all going to be sold to the highest bidder. There are 5280 feet in a mile so each mile has 528,000 square feet in it. Just over 12 acres a mile. At ten million an acre you will get 120 million a mile. How many miles of ROW are there in Palo Alto?

    7. 4-5 miles long, so maybe $500m, not bad.

      I strongly agree with Michael's comment, I live here too and that sums it up well. The Rail Corridor Study absolutely captured the desire of the community to have grade seps and to be able to link the east and west sites, separated by the tracks, Alma and also El Camino Real. And as he says, it is a crime to leave Meadow and Charleston as grade crossings.

      Something else to consider is that North and South Palo Alto are fairly different, with property values significantly lower south of of Oregon Expressway/Page Mill Drive (although still not low in absolute terms). So a berm might not be out of the question for the southern portion of the city, addressing the Meadow and Charleston crossings (which could be somewhat depressed to reduce the height of the berm). At least one pedestrian/bike crossing could also added.

      At the southern border San Antonio already runs over the tracks. Mid-city, Oregon already runs below the tracks. North of Oregon there are only two other crossings which could be solved by any of the options Michael suggests.

      Meanwhile, despite the high cost of grade seps, they have been steadily added along the Caltrain life for decades. In short Palo Alto can and will move forward in partnership with Caltrain, regional planners and HSR when we wake up and come to our senses.

    8. The cost of urban and suburban tunneling is well over 120 million per mile, and this persists in a large majority of the world's countries; it's not even just an American thing. Moreover, the cost of Peninsula HSR tunneling should be higher than the average, not only because US construction costs are unusually high (and Bay Area costs are high by US standards), but also because four tracks are much more expensive than two with TBMs and also the tunnel size that allows non-aerodynamic commuter trains to achieve high speeds is quite large.

    9. This discussion was largely covered already in the shape of Palo Alto.

      The latest unit cost spreadsheet I have (via CARRD) shows $240M/route mile for a 40' deep four track cut & cover box. That's an unburdened base cost, which does not include 3% environmental mitigation, 25% contingency, 6% engineering design, 3% program management, 4% construction management, 0.5% agency fee, and 4% mobilization costs. So right there you're up to $350M/route mile. That still doesn't include utility relocation, track, electrification, or signaling, security, and fire control systems, good for about another $20M/route mile. These figures are all in 2010 dollars.

      Not. Going. To. Happen. Ever.

    10. Chem, thanks for pointing me to the prior post on the shape of Palo Alto, these are exactly the scenarios that Palo Alto needs to consider. If you read the misinformation in Palo Alto Daily, they portray HSR as proposing a 20' berm the length of Palo Alto. This scenario has never been proposed anywhere but in the fear-mongering, boondoggle press.

      The 7' berm with depressed road crossings at Charleston and Meadow is by far the cheapest way to provide grade separation. Palo Alto needs to consider this the base build option., While it unfortunately keeps palo alto divided by Alma and the rail right of way, it does eliminate the grade crossings and has virtually no change on the surrounding neighborhoods. But I still think Palo Alto needs to consider the opportunity to invest in south Palo Alto and consider ways that this project can be shaped to improve prior urban development issues.

      As someone who biked over the Churchill crossing everyday, I think the crossing should be closed and replaced with a bike/pedestrian bridge. Churchill does not have the car traffic to warrant the investment in a grade separation and the Embarcadero underpass is very close.

      As to grade separation never happening in Palo Alto, Berkeley took the initiative to fund the cost delta of tunneling BART through the full length of the city. While it wasn't cheap and they are still paying for that decision, it has made Berkeley a better city. Palo Alto can afford to help fund relatively short grade separation projects at Charleston and East Meadow to provide alternates that can improve the neighborhoods.

    11. @Winston
      A bit of googling suggests that current land prices in Tokyo (in "central desirable" areas) are hovering around ¥700,000/m^2 (with a large variance, of course).

      That's about $35,000,000/acre...

    12. @Clem, you were suggesting a 7' berm for Charleston. However, as you drive along Alma, you'll notice that tracks are already 3-4ft above street level. Does that mean that tracks would only have to go up another 3-4feet or is that 7 feet above the current top of rail?

  3. Grade separation questions???

    How come San Carlos/Belmont and 31st/Laurie Meadows in San Mateo are not destroyed?

    Why are there still operating businesses and homes still standing on Old County Road and on El Camino at/near Holly, Brittan, Howard, Ralston, Harbor?

    Why isn’t the grade separation berm 60 to 80 feet high?

    If we are to follow the FUD bylaws of PAMPA, Boondoggle, and CC-HSR, the above communities would have been destroyed; hundreds of homes and business would have been taken through eminent domain.

    Why are properties with driveways that will have a change in elevation; assumed to be taken?

    Why are the road impacts twice as long as they need to be (900-1000 feet vs. 431 feet at Hillcrest in Millbrae) for proposed grade separations?

    Even if the separation includes passing under Alma Street, that should add about 100 feet more, ONLY on the east side of the tracks.

  4. Clem: Focusing on the following section of your latest post: “The trains are built to take it (the relevant standard is EN 15227) “That standard refers to train construction guidelines in order to prevent injuries to people on board a train as a primary result from a train colliding with motor vehicle. But there have been head-on collisions between trains initially on non-interfering separate track pathways in the United States and England after one train has been derailed by colliding with a motor vehicle. In 2005 in Glendale near Los Angeles a Metrolink train ran over a motor vehicle derailed and collided with a parked locomotive and another Metrolink train moving in the opposite direction killing 11 people. February, 2001 the Selby, England crash killed 10 railway passengers and crew when a passenger train struck a Land Rover, derailed and struck freight train locomotive head-on at a combined speed of 142 mph. There were 99 passengers and crew aboard the passenger train which had a seated capacity of 544.
    Several decades before abandonment in 1963 a Chicago and North Shore Railroad interurban train slammed head-on into a freight train after colliding with a motor vehicle; 10 people died. The electric MU’s involved in this accident were heavy, 2000 pounds per seat, well maintained, they had a 99% on time record, but not particularly fast, 72 mph. This was a 1926 version of a HSR electrified railroad. The 1941 96 mph Electro-liner rolling stock was not involved in this incident but the tracks at the accident site were maintained well enough to accommodate these higher speed trains.

  5. Caltrain’s current grade separation bridge across University Avenue has enough heavy framing to accommodate 4 close-together tracks. A low cost HSR passing point could be constructed with new switches at both ends of the Palo Alto Station platform plus a track on what appears to be a solid earth foundation that is even with the rest of the Palo Alto Station railroad track-way. If memory serves, it has been years since I last checked, the farthest east potential bridge track-way across University Avenue is aligned with the northbound platform. A second passing track would entail far more trouble and expense than settling for just one.
    One version of the so called reduced cost Blended Peninsula CHSR scheme calls for 4 tracks along the entire 4.1 mile distance between the South San Francisco and Bayshore Stations. Not only are there no stations and little potential for infill stations along this 4.1 mile stretch but the long 80 mph Sierra Point curve prevents any significant speed differences between CHSR and any future electrified Caltrain rolling stock being considered. The service planner who proposed that scheme appears to not have the slightest idea how a railway’s potential capacity dramatically increases along non-stop sections when all traffic must move at the same speed.
    I challenge anyone reading this to come-up with other ways to reduce costs without significantly degrading service quality and/or consider service improvements that are likely to be paid for with increased ridership. Are 8 main line tracks still being considered between the San Jose Diridon Station and Santa Clara? Remember what Peter Drucker said about one of the important ways American Industry has achieved greater efficiency. They have stopped working on projects or enhancing features that are not useful.

  6. Reality Check18 July, 2012 17:27

    Today's not-online Palo Alto Daily Post has a front-page HSR story:

    3 tracks possible: Caltrain considering additional track from Palo Alto to San Mateo

    A 15.6-mile stretch from California Avenue in Palo Alto north to San Mateo could be expanded to three train tracks once high-speed rail trains come zipping through the Peninsula.

    That's according to a study Caltrain is conducting which is also looking at which rail crossings will need bridges to separate cars from the tracks.


    Caltrain spokesman Seamus Murphy said his agency has begun studying the traffic and safety implications of these projects.

    Caltrain, which frequently stops at stations along the Peninsula, will move significantly slower than the future high-speed trains, hence the need for a third track so that the bullet trains can overtake Caltrain's commuter cars on their way to San Francisco.


    "Caltrain determined that two high-speed trains could fit alongside Caltrain's six trains per hour," Murphy said. "But another two high-speed rail trains could fit if passing tracks are added."

    To allow faster trains to pass, one option would be to install a third track between San Mateo's Hayward Park station and the California Avenue station in Palo Alto. Other cities that could get a third track include San Francisco, Millbrae, Redwood City, Mountain View and Sunnyvale.

    In addition to studying passing tracks, the report will also identify locations where Caltrain's tracks might need to be raised or lowered to separate them from the street level, called grade separations.


    The tracks could be raised or put in a trench, but both options come with their own consequences, [Palo Alto Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie] said.

    Putting the train below ground-level has a hefty price tag.

    "It's much less disruptive, but a lot more expensive," Emslie said.

    But elevating the tracks could pose problems for nearby property owners. In 2010, back when four tracks were being considered, the local group CARRD estimated that up to 83 homes would have to be cleared away to make room for the new trains.

    "That 100 houses is not that far fetched," Emslie said.

    Caltrain's study is slated to be released this fall, Murphy said, and it will give Peninsula residents a much clearer picture of what to expect in 2033, when high-speed rail is estimated to be finished.

    1. I love how it goes from 83 to 100 homes within a few words. But it's "not far fetched!" Yeah, right.

    2. Again the Post (or Emslie?) is all over the place on the grade separation issue.

      With proper construction staging, elevating the tracks would typically not pose problems with taking homes. The CARRD analysis (link to PowerPoint presentation) assumed an at-grade rail alignment with road underpasses, which need a certain length for approach ramps. Those depressed road ramps are what would cause 83 parcels to be acquired, with the assumption that a change in driveway elevation of more than 2 feet would result in full parcel acquisition.

      Menlo Park did a similar impact study in 2004 before the whole HSR-PAMPA kerfuffle got underway. The Menlo Park study is noteworthy in that it highlights the huge difference in property impacts between fully-depressed underpasses, as studied by CARRD, and the far more benign "split" grade separations where the tracks go up a bit and the roads go down a bit. With the ongoing litigation I can only assume that Menlo Park has stopped studying grade separations, since that would amount to sleeping with the enemy. Their 2004 study is nevertheless still relevant.

      Regarding the three-track alternative: any new three-track grade crossing is a mandated grade separation per CPUC. It's unlikely the three-track alternative will fly, since it would require grade separating all 15 road crossings in that stretch including all of PAMPA at a likely tab of 1.2 to 1.5 billion, not including property acquisition (probably another 0.25 billion or so). I think it's being "studied" to be thorough in the comparison to the far more feasible mid-line four-track overtake. EIR oblige.

    3. @Clem: With proper construction staging, elevating the tracks would typically not pose problems with taking homes. The CARRD analysis (link to PowerPoint presentation) assumed an at-grade rail alignment with road underpasses, which need a certain length for approach ramps. Those depressed road ramps are what would cause 83 parcels to be acquired, with the assumption that a change in driveway elevation of more than 2 feet would result in full parcel acquisition.

      Once again I have to ask the questions…

      Why is it assumed that a 2 foot change in driveway elevation requires full property acquisition?

      Is it fear-mongering FUD?
      Is there a rational or logical explanation?

      “approach ramps need a certain length” (for underpass)

      Why is this length twice as long (951 feet) as it needs to be?
      Is it to increase construction costs/pour more concrete?

      At the Hillcrest grade separation in Millbrae, the depressed road ramps/impact is only 431 feet, I did the measurements myself. Why can’t this situation apply in Palo Alto?

      @Clem: Menlo Park did a similar impact study in 2004 before the whole HSR-PAMPA kerfuffle got underway.

      Interesting how Menlo Park still allows this study to be accessed???

      One would think that the center of anti-HSR activity and propaganda would bury this study to never be found…

      The Menlo Park study cites the San Carlos/Belmont grade separation as an example. How many homes/businesses were destroyed here?

      Why doesn’t the driveway elevation change issue apply here or at 41st/Laurie Meadows grade separation in San Mateo?

    4. "At the Hillcrest grade separation in Millbrae, the depressed road ramps/impact is only 431 feet, I did the measurements myself. Why can't this situation apply in Palo Alto?"

      0 feet of impact — trains go OVER pedestrians and roads, roads and footpaths stay LEVEL — is a much better answer, that's why.

      There's no location between South San Francisco and Santa Clara where the answer is different. Trains go up and over. People stay where they were.

      Making the human environment worse by making human beings go down and up (or, worse, and up down) and detour significant distances just because you think trains have acrophobia makes no sense. None at all.

    5. @Anonymous: Making the human environment worse by making human beings go down and up (or, worse, and up down) and detour significant distances just because you think trains have acrophobia makes no sense. None at all.

      Very funny Richard… I don’t think trains have acrophobia. Placing the trains on a berm or “stilt-a-rail” as you have called it, adds to the cost of the system, which you often criticize.

      How does going up and down make the human environment worse? We do it all the time as part of our daily lives.

      Much of the opposition to HSR and Caltrain, to a certain extent, is possibility of the system being elevated from the current at grade level. Most of which is the result of grossly exaggerated Fear mongering/FUD from the likes of Morris, CC-HSR, Boondoggle, etc. People don’t like the so called “Berlin Wall” effect. However, in reality, the current ROW is off limits to the public and fenced in many places, so why doesn’t this situation suggest a “Berlin Wall?” Additionally, since there are trees/vegetation lining much of the ROW, most people will not see an (modestly) elevated structure anyway. It may make sense to elevate the ROW to separate several closely spaced streets as in San Carlos/Belmont but much more rationally (San Carlos-outside boarding/Belmont-center boarding = Stupid). There is no need for the gargantuan structures of 60-80 feet high and 80-100 feet wide.

      BTW Richard, Trains should stop at “little used” stations that are within “spitting distance” of the next station… If they did stop more often, maybe people could WALK to the station instead of having to drive or not take the train at all. Providing additional parking spaces or running shuttle buses add additional operating costs to the system.

    6. The latest cost estimates for extending the Caltrain−CHSR tracks in a tunnel 1.2 miles beyond 4th & King are $1.3 billion, additional grade separations may cost $80 to $100 million each and Bob Doty’s 3.5 times level track construction for open-cut-grade-separations vs. 1.75 times for above grade separation rail construction. These construction expense estimates look plausible given the present CHSR’s 23.5 foot overhead clearance requirement along Caltrain’s SF to SJ flood-prone right-of-way. (A trip on Caltrain from University Avenue over the Page Mill Road underpass containing water 15 foot deep to Sunnyvale and a walk over the Central Expressway serving as a 10 foot deep canal one morning during late winter 1998 supports the ‘flood-prone’ thesis.) In light of the proportional to the square of the diameter volume of material removed and other expenses when using a TBM, the current favored tunnel excavation method especially through built-up urban neighborhoods, and the likelihood that the open-cut-costs would exhibit a similar trajectory with overhead-clearance variations a detailed examination of the legal constraints, costs, and benefits for reducing the present 23’ 6” clearance requirement should start.
      Here is a summary of construction cost savings resulting from substituting 1,500 VDC third rail electrification for the currently planned 25,000 VAC overhead electrification after diverting freight service now running between San Francisco and San Jose to a Dumbarton Bridge to a Center of SR 101 Freeway routing to South San Francisco.
      (1) Cuts the cost of current carrying material by 67%.
      (2) Cuts power-distribution line installation cost by an order of magnitude.(Overhead catenary vs. third rail suspension)
      (3) Cuts total system voltage-reduction-transformer weight and cost by over 50%.
      (4) Cuts open-cut grade separation costs and retaining wall construction costs by 57%.
      (5) Avoids significant railway service weekday speed reductions during construction.
      (6) Enables an affordable below grade right-of-way design that attenuates train noise, encourages near station transit oriented development, and allows station layouts entirely visible throughout nearby at-grade positions. (Side barriers and roofs can be made transparent from above; elevated station structures’ opaque platform and ramp surfaces tend to hide undesirable situations.) Security concerns are particular important to women who have a growing tendency to work in high-level professional jobs requiring occasional late working hours.
      Whether recent electrification efforts around the world have used predominantly HVAC catenary is of no relevance to the optimal approach to California railways in general or the SF Peninsula track-way in particular. During the nearly 100 years before the 1930’s of rapid railway expansion and improvement steam engines emitting prodigious amounts of smoke were dominant. A frequent approach to mitigating local air pollution before 1930 was to build a tall smoke stack or for railways when constructing grade separations they usually built their tracks over cross-roads except along the banks of the Rivers and lakes. This rail-above cross-road grade separation pattern is particularly dominant in or near Chicago with one exception; the south end of the Chicago and North Shore Line’s Skokie Valley Route open-cut grade separation built in 1925. The open-cut section of that route was designed for and has only seen 600 VDC third-rail-distributed-electric-power to trains ever since service began.

    7. Continuing: Present established maximum practical third rail energized railway speed is 100 mph. Closely examining a CHSR San Jose to San Francisco non-stop running time simulation, stored within Clem’s ‘Straighten Some Curves’ posting, cutting maximum speeds from 200 km per hour to 100 mph for 54.93 km (This 54.93 distance is the sum of the distance where the simulation speed is a constant 200 km plus one-half the distance where simulation speeds are transitioning between 100 mph and 200 km/hr.) will result in extending the S.J. to S.F. non-stop running time by exactly 4 minutes.
      54.93 km/(100 mph) – 54.93 km/(200 km/hr) = 4.00 minutes
      Here are a couple of ways to make up for a 4 minute longer running time:
      (1) The now planned 447 rail mileage from San Francisco through San Jose to Los Angeles could be to something closer to the 389 road miles connecting the same three cities. Given the fact that a train rolling at 220 mph has a kinetic energy equivalent to a 1,617 foot climb (S = 9V^2)/(2*G) and the benign character intervening passes would allow trains designed to climb 3.5% grades to overcome a 1,000 foot 6% grade climb without expensive modifications. Pacheco Pass being only 1,000 feet above the surrounding planes a train approaching the slope leading that pass at 220 mph could complete its climb through the pass on a 6% grade moving at 136 mph with the traction motors set to only cancel out the effect of wind plus rolling friction. A constant motor current setting as speed declines while climbing hills would still prevent adding to the main heat generating source to traction motors designed to run on an essentially constant elevation track-way. Solving the following performance equation will give the top-of-the-pass running speed while approaching a 1,000 foot 6% climb at 220 mph: ∫(M*V^2)/{P*(V/Vm)−[(R*V+W*V^3)*M*G]} from 220 to 160 mph. In the foot-pound-second system mass (M) = 62,162, power (P = 21,756,689 ft lbs/sec) maximum speed (Vm = 220 mph) rolling plus hill-climbing resistance ratio (R = 0.061) and wind resistance constant [W = 236E−9/(ft/sec)^2]. The CHSR has planned 48 miles of tunnels in order to shorten the rail route needed to complete this 348 mile great circle distance connection. Short-cutting two of the three 35 mph curves along the last two miles to the Trans-bay Terminal would save two minutes for non-stop trains and open up the possibility of adding two strong traffic generating stations; one accessible to the Mission Bay State College and a second station next to the baseball park entrance at Third & King.

      (2) Another approach is to lift the third rail pick-up shoes at high speed when no third-rail below that shoe is present. Slamming current pick-up shoes where third rail presence resumes would then not be a problem as speeds approach 200 kph.

      A more detailed discussion supporting open-cut-grade-separation claims will follow.

    8. The legal basis permitting cutting the present CHSR 23’ 6” overhead clearance requirement to a level approaching a 12’ 6” limit is stated by the California Public Utility Commission’s amendment to General Order No. 26-D known as Resolution No. S−1040 dated November 12, 1963 concerning minimum railway vertical clearance requirements.
      The construction savings likely by adhering to a lower overhead-clearance standard can be understood from the following considerations:
      Bob Doty’s open-cut grade separation cost estimate is 3.5 times at grade rail construction. This high estimate appears plausible given the current 23’ 6” overhead clearance requirement and the need conduct flood-waters over the railway open-cut on over-crossing bridge surfaces and/or around low railway sections on extensive parallel to the right-of-way channels along the flood-prone Caltrain Peninsula route. For example Barron Creek which crosses the Caltrain right-of-way 900 feet north Meadow Drive grade-crossing is currently directed along a short parallel channel before crossing the railway.
      The volume of material removed for a TBM excavated circular tunnel would be proportional to the square of the length of the required vertical clearance plus lining material and track structure thickness. Assuming open-cut dimensions and costs exhibit similar to circular tunnel and lining material movement and installation costs plus track structure and overhead thickness adding a constant 7 feet to either a high or low total overhead clearance requirement reducing overhead clearance minimums from 23.5 feet to 13 feet would reduce open-cut construction costs by 43% of Bob Doty’s 3.5 times surface construction expense estimate. {[(13 + 7)/(23.5 + 7)]^2}*100% = 43% or 0.43*3.5 = 1.5
      The Association of American Railroads’ 25,000 VAC rail electrification for Plate H vertical clearance margin recommendation minus the CPUC’s 1’ 3” minimum vertical clearance margin {(25’ 10¼” – 20’ 2”) – (12’ 6” – 11’ 3”) = 4’ 5¼”} implies that HVAC electrification raises the minimum Caltrain−CHSR vertical clearance requirement by 4’ 5¼”.

    9. Significant construction and maintenance savings appear likely for the current carrying hardware for a third rail power distribution scheme compared to similar conductors needed for a 25,000 VAC power distribution design. Contemporary rail electrification schemes use copper for the HVAC overhead power distribution material; aluminum for a 1,500 VDC third rail current conduction material.
      Bernard de Fontgalland’s book The World Railway System; Cambridge University Press 1984 on page 42: “copper equivalent contact conductor cross-section area has ranged from 400 square mm for 1,500 VDC to 150 square mm for AC power.” The wholesale cost of sufficient aluminum for third rail electrification for one mile of a single of railway track can be determined from the following considerations and calculations. From the 8/6/12 LONDON Metal Exchange price for aluminum of $0.8258/pound a 400 square millimeter copper equivalent cost per mile is:
      {400*(282/170)/(25.4^2)}*{(5280*12)/(12^3)}*{2.70*62.4}*$0.8258 = $5,246.71 per track mile.
      The cost per mile of a 150 square millimeter cross-section copper wire taking into account London Metal Exchange 8/6/12 $3.3512/lb. price is: {150/(25.4^2)}*{(5280*12)/(12^3)}*{8.98*62.4}*$3.3512 = $16,008.72 per track mile
      Overhead catenary suspension, a mandatory placement for a power distribution line along HVAC electrified railways, are surely more expensive to build and maintain than a third rail suspended less than a foot above track-way sleepers.. HVAC’s 4’ 5¼” added overhead clearance requirement forces above grade over-roadway track placement raising noise and visual blight concerns.

    10. Substation costs are largely due to transformer cost which is closely proportional to weight. Any power conversion engineering text will show that a transformer’s maximum power capacity is proportional to that device’s maximum current magnitude able to enclose the transformer’s magnetic field. The magnitude of a transformer’s magnetic flux cross-section and the magnitude of a transformer’s flux enclosing current is proportional to the winding’s cross-section area. Therefore a transformer’s power capacity is proportional to the product of two cross-section areas; often referred to as its area product. This area-product is proportional to the fourth power of a transformer’s linear dimension, such as a transformer’s diameter. On the other hand a transformer’s mass, as is the case for any three dimensional object, varies in proportion to the cube of any linear dimension.
      Representing these power and mass relationships with following equations:
      P = Kp*(L^4), and M = Km*(L^3)
      (P^¾)/M = {Kp*(L^3)}/{Km*(L^3)} = Kp/Km = a constant
      The power/weight relationship will yield a constant, assuming current and magnetic densities are constant, a practical and probable condition across a broad range of transformer sizes if they are liquid-cooled; as is likely to be true within the range of transformer sizes being considered here.
      Using a TVG locomotive’s 6,000 kilowatt 10 metric tonne transformer as a base-line let’s derive a power/weight relationship constant:
      (6,000^0.75)KW/10 tonnes = 68.17 KW/tonne
      If sixteen 375 KW transformers were substituted for one 6,000 KW transformer, as could be the case for 16 EMUs individually powered by a 25,000 VAC rail electrification system, their total weight would be 16*(375^.75)/68.17 = 20 tonnes or 1.25 tonnes of transformer weight per car
      Therefore the total system weight for transformers needed to drop supply current voltages to the 1,500 VDC range on board a train that a semi-conductor controlled traction system can use is likely to weigh and cost one-half or less for a few line-side substations feeding a LVDC distribution system than many more lower individual capacity transformers on board every EMU car required for a HVAC distribution system.

    11. Most of the heavy concrete structures required for a completed open-cut grade separation, such as bridge piers and retaining walls, are located at the outer edges of the completed track-way. Using the CHSTP Minimum Distance between track centers recommended range,15,0 to 16.5 feet at below 155 mph as a basis for settle on 16.0 feet between track centers for a constant 80 foot minimum horizontal right-of-way clearance standard that includes a fifth track-way width for a center platform for most stations in order to enable FSSF operation.
      Here is Clem’s summary of Caltrain’s right-of-way width:
      Average width: 112 ft
      Percentage 75 ft or wider: 94%
      Percentage 80 ft or wider: 88%
      Percentage 85 ft or wider: 80%
      Percentage 90 ft or wider: 77%
      Percentage 95 ft or wider: 70%
      Percentage 100 ft or wider: 68%
      Since there will be at least a 24 foot clearance between the nearest pier and retaining wall surfaces to be built a railway can continue to operate, at reduced speed during most heavy construction activity. Since the present tracks are mostly near the center of Caltrain right-of-way property most of the old track could retain its current alignment until the new tracks at the final alignment are ready to be installed. Since concrete structures gain strength for years after pouring waiting at least a year or two for bridge piers to set before loading them at completion would allow bridge engineers to design lighter lower cost foundations rather than heavier concrete structures that should be specified for a bridge that would be completed and used within a few months after the start of construction.
      Groups of over-crossing grade-separations, through Downtown Menlo Park for example, could be completed after the new concrete structures have set for at least a year or two. During a long summer weekend, a bus bridge between Palo Alto and Atherton could connect continuing railroad passenger service beyond those two stations. If overhead-bridge piers and retaining walls are already installed the old tracks and fill between those piers and walls could be removed, temporary over-crossing bridges placed on the long-before completed bridge piers, and new tracks built on the firm bottom of the newly excavated open-cut. Two or three days after the start of the track replacement effort should be enough time to complete two one mile long new tracks sufficiently well aligned to initially accommodate moderate speed rail traffic.

    12. Developing smooth third rails, lighter current-pick-up structures, electronic motion damping, and lifting current-pick-up shoes during high speed running when no third rail is below a particular shoe’s track section are possible approaches for raising third rail energized trains to maximum speeds approaching 200 km/hr or more. These light strong materials and electronic damping circuits have been and continue to be refined for high-priced automobile suspensions where there are strong market incentives for some manufacturers to spend a lot of money on motion-control research in order to meet a strong market demand for stable vehicle control. A more thorough understanding of suspension systems is likely to be applicable to both pantograph and third-rail-contact performance. Higher speeds for both power collection methods are likely to become practical in the future.
      There are safety concerns in California where third rail electrified railways cross roads at the same level. Only sections of third rails isolated from the predominant third rail network would be allowed within 100 feet of a grade crossing. Only when a train’s arrival is immanent would the third rail section near a road crossing be activated. This isolation until needed approach is similar to Alstom’s APS light rail non-OCS 750 volt third rail embedded in the street electrification scheme. Modern semiconductor power switches and proximity sensors make once impractical non-OCS electrification approaches feasible today.

      Low voltage DC distribution systems make over-all good sense through major urban areas where 10 miles or less between high power capacity grid connections to line-side substations such as along the SF to SJ peninsula rail path is not an issue, and when aluminum third rail low voltage power distribution line-side conductors are much lower in cost than standard HVAC copper conductors, and when keeping top speeds at or below 100 mph where resultant time lost is not a serious concern (4 minutes lost between SF to SJ).

    13. You should start your own blog...

    14. If Caltrain was electrified and completely grade separated from San Jose through San Francisco driverless trains would become practical; especially if most stops had center platforms where one attendant could resolve train door closing and TVM issues close to one central work station at exceptionally busy or troublesome stations (when a nearby high school lets out).
      Platform edge screens, necessary for driverless train operation, would enable nearly the entire platform width to become available for passenger occupancy. At one 16 feet wide center platform stations a constant 80 foot horizontal clearance would accommodate 4-straight-main-line-tracks. A train storage track in the center space between stations could hold gap trains immediately available the instant their use is perceived to be helpful for sustaining service continuity by compensating for delayed trains or unusual passenger demand surges.
      Caltrain’s growing reverse commuting passenger demand curve reflects that an increasingly higher proportion of peninsula commuters having workplace destinations that are widely spread along the peninsula. When a commuter arrives by train near his workplace he is not likely to have his car nearby to complete his trip. Therefore frequent infill stations will become increasingly important to the extent the increase in reverse commuting trend continues. A continuous center space in a FSSF rail topology scheme would accommodate platform extensions and additional stations while only needing to adjust train storage tracks.
      With driverless single-deck single-car EMUs minimum frequencies of one local and 2 expresses every 20 minutes can be sustained throughout the day and evenings 7 days a week with the same minimum total rolling stock weight moved per hour as the current hourly diesel hauled 4 and 5 car trains today. The power cost savings due to electrification, dynamic brake power recovery, and at least two-thirds of the rolling stock skipping half the stops would be substantially offset by higher acceleration rates, 21 mph higher top speeds, and a 9 fold increase in train-end air resistances.
      The relevant power/ weight and San Jose to 22nd Street performance comparisons (assuming a 3.3% schedule pad) are:
      (1) A diesel 5-car Caltrain: 4.7 kw/tonne−82 minutes
      (2) Samtrans’ proposed two-deck 4-married-car Caltrain EMU: 8.0 kw/tonne
      (3) BART at start-up in 1972 when it took 34 minutes to travel the 28 miles between MacArthur and Fremont: 17.5 kw/tonne (125% of maximum cont. pwr. rating)
      (4) Author suggested peak power level with 100mph top speed simulation: 20.0 kw/tonne−53 minutes; skipping 11 stops−42 minutes.

  7. Reality Check23 July, 2012 12:36

    Of course, trains don't have phobias ... but people, particularly NIMBYs, have "train acrophobia."

  8. @Jeff Carter:

    CARRD's assumptions came straight out of the specifications/assumptions in the HSR EIR. We simply took their assumptions and applied them to Palo Alto. Our work was verified by an HNTB engineer working on the project at the time (John Litzinger).

    The "split" where the road is only partially depressed, was not considered because there was backlash against an elevated earthen berm from the community.