08 August 2015

Peninsula HSR, Take Two

Environmental clearance of high-speed rail in the peninsula rail corridor was initiated right after the Proposition 1A bond passed in 2008.  The development of engineering and environmental documentation for a four-track alignment connecting San Francisco to San Jose was in full swing during the years 2009 and 2010.  The Peninsula Rail Program, as it became known, was an ambitious yet awkward collaboration between the CHSRA and Caltrain, with the engineering consulting firm HNTB doing most of the heavy lifting.  The decision to concentrate HSR resources in the Central Valley, combined with fierce community opposition on the peninsula, brought the process nearly to a halt in early 2011.  By that time, thousands of pages of documents had been drafted, hundreds of stakeholder meetings held, and $45 million spent for preliminary engineering and environmental clearance.

Then came a long pause during which two major developments took place.  First, as a result of a political compromise, the idea of a four-track high-speed railroad was dropped in favor of a "blended system" where Caltrain and HSR would share the peninsula corridor primarily on two tracks, with less impact to surrounding communities.  Second, the Caltrain electrification project came closer to being realized, passing key milestones of environmental clearance, funding, and procurement.  Throughout this pause, plans for peninsula HSR became somewhat nebulous, both in their scope and timing.  The media spotlight turned away.

Fast forward to the August 2015 meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (YouTube video).  As reported by the Fresno Bee (and without a peep from the Bay Area press) we have the first hints of what lies ahead, in the form of a Request For Qualifications issued by the CHSRA to re-start the environmental clearance process for the peninsula.  This RFQ lays out a new timeline and a $36 million budget allocated over a term of three years, shared between two sections: San Francisco to San Jose, and San Jose across Pacheco Pass to the Central Valley wye.  The following schedule milestones are envisioned:
  • Consultant contract award - November 2015
  • Project scoping - March 2016
  • Preliminary design for project definition - May 2016
  • Technical reports - June 2016
  • Administrative draft EIR/EIS - August 2016
  • Draft EIR/EIS release - November 2016
  • Preliminary design of preferred alternative - April 2017
  • Final EIR/EIS certification - November/December 2017
The timeline for actual construction is not specified, but it rarely begins immediately after EIR certification, since final design and the inevitable CEQA lawsuits take time.

Highlights from the RFQ

The RFQ deliberately does not reveal the scope or exact nature of the alternatives to be studied, but it does contain some interesting nuggets:
  1. Work for restarting the peninsula HSR process has already started, as noted on PDF page 24: "Work on some of the tasks listed in Exhibit A of Attachment C has commenced and is currently being performed by Authority and Rail Delivery Partner staff."  What the blended system will look like is already being hammered out.
  2. The RFQ emphasizes that the proposed EIR is separate from Caltrain's electrification EIR, on PDF page 28: "On January 8, 2015, the JPB certified the PCEP Final EIR and is currently in the process of procuring a design/build contract to implement the project. While the PCEP will not include all infrastructure necessary to implement HSR service in the SF-CVY Corridor (such as HSR maintenance facilities, station platform improvements, track straightening, or passing tracks), the electrification infrastructure (such as overhead wire systems), along with additional infrastructure improvements, will accommodate future coordinated service and will not preclude HSR."  This point is the subject of a CEQA lawsuit against Caltrain, claiming that electrification is an inseparable component of the HSR project.
  3. Phased implementation is described on PDF page 57: "The Consultant shall develop an incremental plan as directed by the Authority to construct the project over a phased implementation schedule, dependent on funding. The Consultant shall recommend appropriate construction elements for each increment of implementation. This plan shall identify operable project segments or elements of the HSR infrastructure (such as grade separations) that could be constructed early and bring near-term project benefits to existing freight rail and conventional passenger rail services, as well as other increments of construction to build out the full set of improvements over a phased implementation plan."  The peninsula corridor is uniquely suited to a number of construction packages to be built independently from each other.
  4. San Jose is no longer an artificial boundary between two project sections.  This has been a weakness in the past, with insufficient coordination to optimize the configuration of the station and its approaches because each end was being handled by a different consultant.  With the same consultant handling both ends of San Jose, sanity may finally prevail with a shared at-grade solution.
  5. Level boarding planned for Caltrain, on PDF page 60: "Platform design for level boarding at all Caltrain stations will be required."  Even if not at the same height as selected for HSR, level boarding is a prerequisite for the blended system, to improve the average speed and punctuality of Caltrain.
  6. A temporary San Francisco terminal is planned at 4th and King.  The mere idea of it illustrates the frosty relationship between the CHSRA and San Francisco's TJPA, but also helps to satisfy the requirement for a 30-minute trip from San Francisco to San Jose, a threshold of great legal significance that is embedded in the Proposition 1A bond act.  Starting from 4th and King, rather than from the Transbay Transit Center, running at no more than 110 mph, and counting only pure run time (with no timetable margin), the 30-minute run becomes feasible.
EIR Cost Magnitudes

Environmental Impact Reports are extremely complex and voluminous documents designed to clear a project under the California Environmental Quality Act, ensuring that impacts are properly disclosed and mitigated.  It takes a large team of engineers, environmental specialists, writers and lawyers to concurrently design a project and pull together an EIR that can pass legal muster without incurring years of litigation.  To understand exactly where the process currently stands for peninsula HSR, it helps to remember that the published record for the San Francisco to San Jose project section forms only the tip of the iceberg.  The vast majority of the material assembled by HNTB in 2009 and 2010 remains unpublished, to be continued by this new contract.

How much EIR preparation did the $45 million spent so far buy?  We can establish an extremely crude metric for the cost of one EIR page by taking the ratio of the cumulative cost incurred for the preliminary design and environmental clearance of a project, as of the time of EIR certification, divided by the total number of pages in the resulting EIR.  Here are some examples:

Project Certification Cost Incurred Page Count Cost Per EIR Page
Merced - Fresno HSR May 2012 $45M 13,000 $3500
Fresno - Bakersfield HSR May 2014 $120M 20,000 $6000
Caltrain Electrification Jan 2015 $14M 5,400 $2600
Peninsula HSR SF - SJ Dec 2017 $65M* 13,000** $5000***

*cost basis $45M expended to date + $20M of the new $36M contract
**estimated based on cost per page
***estimated based on past history and biased high for scope change from full build to blended

Given that the new consultant won't be starting from scratch, it's conceivable that there will be sufficient budget in the new contract to produce a full EIR for the blended system on the compressed two-year timeline envisioned in the RFQ.

What the Blended System Might Look Like

The CHSRA and Caltrain take great pains to remind everyone that we won't know what the blended system for the 50+ mile peninsula corridor will look like, nor what the blended service plan will be, that is, until the Alternatives Analysis is released next year.  The specific discussions regarding the scope of the blended system are underway behind closed doors.  Taking into account the phased and incremental nature of the project, one can engage in some informed (wishful?) speculation, listed from north to south:
  • 4th and King shared station modifications.
  • Brisbane HSR maintenance facility.
  • Millbrae shared station modifications, hopefully with an affordable shared at-grade solution.
  • San Mateo County grade separation Phase II at Linden Ave in San Bruno, Center St in Millbrae, Broadway in Burlingame, and 25th / 28th / 31st in San Mateo.  The latter are likely to happen sooner than the other projects to enable the mid-line overtake.
  • Grade separation through highly constrained downtown San Mateo.
  • Four-track 110 mph mid-line overtake facility (from San Mateo 9th St, through Belmont and San Carlos, initially to Whipple in Redwood City).
  • Redwood City grade separation Phase IV, extending the four-track mid-line overtake through downtown, possibly with a new HSR station replacing the Sequoia Shopping Center, if the city and CHSRA agree to add this to the project scope.
  • PAMPA (Palo Alto Menlo Park Atherton) grade separations, likely to happen later than the other projects.
  • Santa Clara County grade separation Phase III at Charleston and Meadow in Palo Alto, Rengstorff and Castro in Mountain View, Mary and Sunnyvale Ave in Sunnyvale, creating a continuous 14-mile stretch of grade-separated track good for 110 mph from Palo Alto to San Jose.
  • San Jose approach realignment and a shared ground-level station.
  • A three-track at-grade alignment through San Jose's Gardiner neighborhood, along the existing right-of-way, avoiding a slow and expensive viaduct above the 87/280 interchange.
  • Curve flattening throughout the peninsula, except (unfortunately) in San Bruno
  • Level boarding across the entire Caltrain system, a key blending ingredient that ensures commuter trains can clear the shared tracks quickly and reliably in front of high-speed trains.
The next formal step in the process will be a new Notice of Preparation (NOP) to be published by the FRA in the Federal Register, an action that could come in the coming months.  Then we'll party like it's 2009.


  1. @Clem, hopefully CHSRA will include SF 16th grade separation as well to avoid the DC trolley wires level-crossing AC high voltage Caltrain/HSR overhead lines.

    1. I think that one is firmly in the hands of the TJPA and the City of San Francisco. The cost of figuring that one out will surely exceed the cost of a diesel bus solution, or just leaving the 22 Fillmore the way it is.

    2. The SFMTA are punting that problem over to Caltrain. See page 12: https://www.sfmta.com/sites/default/files/projects/2015/TIGER_Project%20Narrative_SFMTA%2022%20Fillmore%20Transit%20Priority%20Project.1.pdf

      "This year, Caltrain issued a design/build Request for
      Proposal to review its own electrification alternatives
      to upgrade its infrastructure and reduce travel time,
      increase service, and maintain a state of good repair.
      As part of the RFP, the winning firm is to include a
      technical solution to crossing the overhead contact
      system in its right-of-way with Muni’s trolley coach
      wires to allow the 22 Fillmore to cross the tracks and
      continue into Mission Bay. Caltrain would design and
      construct the crossing at 16th Street and will work
      with the SFMTA to develop operational procedures
      and maintenance agreements as needed."

    3. ...and indeed, if you look at the RFP, there is a section on designing the 16th St crossing. Page 5650 in the huge volume 9 PDF: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/az34k161d28ah78/AAC9SPP2hZ1_miNGH0aOwvcqa/PCEP%20EMU%20RFP%20-%20Vol%209%20-%20Ref%20Docs%20-%20issued%208-2015.pdf?dl=0

  2. "Four-track 110 mph mid-line overtake facility (from San Mateo 9th St, through Belmont and San Carlos, initially to Whipple in Redwood City)."

    Um ..... Errrrr ... Right ... Sure ...

    1. The state already had ED powers, they've done it already in the Central Valley.

      Of course, San Carlos will make a big show over how the state is "hurting" their "attempt" at being a transit-oriented town. Remember, the new units won't have underground parking garages and won't be more than three stories tall (due to complaints by locals) so getting rid of them won't be extremely difficult. The residents themselves too won't be the town's old stock, they'll be new to the town by 1-2 years max. This may seem like a trivial point but it means they won't be a part of the town's old stock (which tend to be the loudest anti-expansion voices). The complex itself isn't liked much either due to your standard NIMBY complaints (mostly that they don't want middle-class renters when everyone is upper middle-class). Of course publicly they'll never say that if the state wants to ED it.

      This may actually be a situation where SC residents made it significantly easier for Caltrain/CAHSR to build what they want.

      As for Belmont, they'll whine too but in the end the only things along their tracks are a hodgepodge of car dealers that want to be bought out. RWC and San Mateo seem to at least be lukewarm for HSR now, and both would really like it if they could get rid of their grade crossings.

    2. I think you misunderstand the irony of the Transit Village in San Carlos. It is promoted by none other than Samtrans, DBA Caltrain.

    3. That's the most hilarious part, which I didn't think I put very well: Samtrans originally wanted a much larger (and more expensive) 5-7 story structure, with an underground parking garage. Assuming I'm reading San Carlos's website right, they removed those and cut the development down to about 2-3 stories due to complaints from locals.

      Not an ideal situation, but it makes it somewhat easier for Caltrain to remove it.

  3. Clem writes above:

    The decision to concentrate HSR resources in the Central Valley, combined with fierce community opposition on the peninsula, brought the process nearly to a halt in early 2011. By that time, thousands of pages of documents had been drafted, hundreds of stakeholder meetings held, and $45 million spent for preliminary engineering and environmental clearance.

    There are omitted here a few important happenings.

    1. The original EIR was challenged and the Authority had to redo the EIR with one of the chief points made by the plaintiffs was the Authority picked a route San Jose to Gilroy chose a route, that had not been studied. More money down the tubes.

    2. "hundreds of stakeholder meetings held " come on... there were indeed meetings, but they certainly were not in the "hundreds"

    3. There has always been a severe lack of funding. The choice of starting in the Central Valley was politically motivated, just has was the preference to start in Northern California before the switch to the Central Valley. After all, early on, the whole project was driven by Judge Kopp and Rod Diridon, both from No. California. When some Federal funds specifically restricted to the Central Valley appeared, then the focus changed as did the Board leadership, which went south with the appointments of Pringle, and others from So. California, and then finally to Richard, who carries out the will of the Governor.

    3. My view is this is really a ploy to spend a lot of money to keep people employed, before funds and complete outrage by the public finally closes down the project. Gov. Brown will exit in 2018, and there is nobody on the horizon currently willing to continue the project. Newsom is already said he will kill it off, and he is most likely going to be the next governor.

    morris brown

    1. >Gov. Brown will exit in 2018, and there is nobody on the horizon currently willing to continue the project. Newsom is already said he will kill it off, and he is most likely going to be the next governor.

      Newsom also made his comments over a year ago before Prop 1 passed (which allocated money towards desalination).

      He's a former mayor of San Francisco, which is the city that benefits the most from HSR. That's where all his political backers are, same for San Jose and Oakland who want the project too as Phase II would mean more efficient A/C and ACE service.

      Which is to say, Newsom's talking out of his ass. If he was serious, he'd bring up his concerns now as he can as Lt. Gov. Same for any other Democrat in Sacramento, if they have reservations about the HSR there is nothing to loose by going after it now and not in two years when more money has been sunk on it and rolling stock purchased.

      Even *IF* the goal of the CAHSR was just to "keep people employed", there's no reason to kill it when it would only make people angry (or rather, make people angrier than those fighting HSR). The AFL (the biggest political donors in CA, and to Newsom) will throw up a huge fit if their jobs are hurt. They've already gotten screwed in Wisconsin, Florida, and New Jersey by the Republicans and they're loving every moment they can roast Christie over the Hudson Tunnel outages last week. If Newsom were to throw up a similar battle in their own backyard, he'll find himself feeling the heat by the people who bankroll his campaigns. Moreover, if Newsom kills the project after rolling stock is purchased, then Siemens (who are the most likely vendor) will sue (like Talgo did to Wisconsin) and their workers in their Sacramento area factory are going to be laid off. Newsom gains nothing from killing the project, but everything (namely, having the first 200+ mph HSR in the US and a happy AFL) if he doesn't mess with it.

      Thus, your third point is wrong.

  4. "PAMPA (Palo Alto Menlo Park Atherton) grade separations, likely to happen later than the other projects."

    Which century are you predicting, Clem?

    1. 21st... It takes a long time for things to be planned in those cities, but one thing that HSR round one did, back in 2009-2010, is make everyone smarter. A lot more people understand the need for grade separations today, and I'm confident they'll happen before 2050.

    2. Indeed the previous history has made even the most foolish politicians gain some insight into the reality of the situation. A prime example, of course, is the PA council, which before the 2008 Prop1A ballot voted unanimously to endorse the project and urged everybody to vote yes on Prop 1A.

      After the election, it was a very short period of a few months, when reality set in as to how the City would be affected, a new vote was taken, which unanimously set the current City policy as opposing High Speed Rail.

      By 2050 considering the growth urbanization curve which we now see on the Peninsula,the only satisfactory solution will be 4 tracks, fully tunneled along the whole route, at least TBT to San Jose. May well be a $100 billion project (just for this 50 miles) by then, but will be the only solution.

      morris brown

    3. Morris, I think you'll find the PA council a lot more nuanced in its understanding of the pros and cons of grade separations in 2015. Just for example, mayor Holman and Councilman Burt are extremely well-versed in matters concerning rail. They get it, and this time around I don't think it will turn into quite the same NIMBY fiasco as in 2009. That's what has changed. What hasn't changed is the cost of four-track tunnels: they are still off-the-charts unaffordable.

    4. Either they are so rich they think poor people wipe with hundred dollar bills and can find the funding under the couch cushions or they'll get over themselves and realize an electrified railroad will have even less impact on their towns than the existing does.

    5. It is amusing to see the diesel-hugging brought about by opposition to HSR, precisely in those zip codes with the highest rate of Tesla Model S ownership...

    6. "one thing that HSR round one did, back in 2009-2010, is make everyone smarter"

      I must have lost at least 10 IQ points every time I read a document written by any of America's Finest Transportation Planning Professionals.

      The stupid. It hurts. It hurts.

    7. >the only satisfactory solution will be 4 tracks, fully tunneled along the whole route, at least TBT to San Jose.

      No, it won't. Tunnels are godawful expensive and $100 billion probably wouldn't cover it. You'd sooner get half of I-280 ripped up and replaced with four tracks (with a tunnel under SF and Cupertino). But that won't happen until the existing line is at max capacity, and the cost of doing it will be astronomical. You'll sooner get a second BART tube and a Caltrain tube to Oakland before you get any tunnels under the Peninsula.

      Moneywise, it's irresponsible to abuse taxpayer money and doing a four bore tunnel is not an efficient use of money when the existing line can be upgraded. By the time people seriously looking at putting tubes under the Peninsula, they'll be for BART (but that assumes that in 2150 they don't do it down 101's center median).

      And this assumes a plausible route can even be found. Aren't you aware that on one half of the Peninsula there's a water reservoir and on the other a bay? If the situation was so dire at that point, you'd sooner see an SMC-wide light rail system (the horror!) which would tie into a ferry at RWC. The only thing stopping a RWC ferry is that their waterfront isn't very built up, because there's a twelve lane freeway separating it from the rest of the city.

    8. "ut that assumes that in 2150 they don't do it down 101's center median)"

      You don't know what you're talking about. There *IS* no center median on 101. down the Peninsula. It's a Jersey barrier, often with the inner, carpool lane adjacent to it. In other places, there's not quite enough room between the carpool lane and the Jersey barrier, for a vehicle to pull off. (When a car does pull off during commute hours, it causes backups for miles).

      You're equally ignorant about the Redwood City waterfront. To get tehre, you drive by a lovely, appealng mountain of heavy-metal-laden recycled concrete and asphalt. And anoother lovely mountain of crushed cars, about to be reloaded for recycling. And don't forget the salt works.
      You've probably never been there, and barely bothered to look it up on a map.

      And just where would this putative ferry go? To the same place as the Dumbarton bridge, or the San Mateo bridge? What's the other end of this hypothetical ferry going to connect to?

      Oh, maybe I get it. You're Adirondacker in disguise :)

    9. I saw the ridership projections for commuter rail across the Bay using Dumbarton. The kinda numbers that would get a bus line canceled for lack of interest in Chicago or Philadelphia. And until the east side of the bay looks like the Loop and the west side of the bay looks like the Bronx there's not going to be demand.
      ...we aren't breeding like we did back in the 50s. It's never gonna look like the Loop. Or the Bronx.

    10. If there's no demand in the Dumbarton corridor, then how come every Peninsula approach to the bridge is notoriously jammed with traffic moving at walking speed for miles for many hours every workday afternoon, well into evening? The traffic on Menlo Park's Willow & Palo Alto's University Ave. back up all the way to and beyond Middlefield Road. The Hwy 101 Willow exit often backs up most of the way to University Ave. Now, with Facebook's expansion along Bayfront, Marsh & Bayfront are jammed all the way back to (and often onto) Hwy 101 as well.

    11. Check the date on those Dumbarton ridership projections. Not only are they way, way out of sync with today's reality ... they're also are based on some ultra piss-poor service scenarios which, of course, make for piss-poor ridership projections.

    12. If the bridge backs up that means your tolls are too low.

      Driving from someplace nowhere near a train station to someplace nowhere near a train doesn't generate much demand for train service. Traffic has to be really atrocious to get them to get on a shuttle bus to the train so they can use the train to get to another shuttle bus.
      The Census keeps track of this kind of thing. There aren't enough people to generate much demand. Any way they don't live near a station and work near a station. Not enough to build a bridge for it. .
      Though if you raised the tolls you could raise the money for it.

    13. The best way to make Dumbarton work is this. Of course, it's a lot of buck. But it could do a lot for 101, 880, 680 and 580, and even 80, so the bang potentially outweighs the buck.

    14. A lot of buck by itself sure. If it's the HSR route and you're not building Pacheco too the cost is zero to a good approximation (based on the CHSRA's own numbers, including both a tunnel under the bay and a branch to San Jose). Include the cost of phase 2 and the cost of Dumbarton is negative.

    15. The people in San Jose decided that they didn't want to wait for Phase Never-gonna-happen.

    16. Sacramento and San Diego are very important cities to connect to California's high-speed rail system. Certainly far more important than remote places like Las Vegas. If you think they are in Phase Never-gonna-happen you are highly mistaken!

    17. What part of "San Jose" was unclear? San Diego will be in some phase. So will Sacramento. It's would be really hard to convince people in other parts of the state to spend money giving San Jose a third way to get out of town. Though I'm sure they could understand the urge to leave town.

    18. Construction is phased based on funding. This means that the San Jose branch could be guaranteed by having it built before the SF branch. It makes sense to do this anyway - the SJ branch is cheaper and connecting it to the Central Valley would make a useful IOS.

    19. Once Tinkerbell sprinkles her extra special high speed rail pixie dust across Altamont and makes one appear.

    20. Typical. You loose the augment about whether it's feasible then you resort to "well, it's never going to happen anyway." Maybe you could try putting some actual content in your posts.

    21. Is there a way to ban or at least retro-moderate commenters? There are a handful of "contributors" who poison and kill every blog they touch, and do so over and over and over and over and over again.

      Or how about a maximum of one comment a day limit?

    22. I didn't say it wasn't feasible. I said the people in San Jose decided they didn't want to wait for a phase that would never come.

    23. I didn't say it wasn't feasible. I said the people in San Jose decided they didn't want to wait for a phase that would never come.

      After which I described a phasing scheme under which that would no longer be relevant, then you started babbling about pixie dust.

    24. They aren't building parts you described. No matter how hard you clap.

    25. Okay, children. Please keep it civil or the delete button will be activated...

    26. They aren't building anything yet.

    27. @kiwi.jonathan

      I'm aware that 101 has no center median, and that RWC's port is a mess. However, *if* BART were to be extended down the peninsula, a 101 path is the option of least resistance (see how much resistance the current Caltrain/HSR project is getting). And as for RWC's port, a ferry was considered there a few years ago, but it wouldn't work because to nobody's surprise the area isn't built up enough and it's cutoff from the rapidly expanding downtown by 101 and Veterans Bvld thus it's impossible for commuters to get into there. But given how tepid RWC has been of their new urban expansion, the ferry will probably happen at some point assuming RWC makes an effort to redevelop the area upwards like they've done with everything south of Vetreans.



    28. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    29. anon2 writes:

      "I'm aware that 101 has no center median"

      then you''re also aware that it's not possible to build BART down 101's center median, as 101 has no center median.

    30. @anon2: you wrote:
      "By the time people seriously looking at putting tubes under the Peninsula, they'll be for BART (but that assumes that in 2150 they don't do it down 101's center median)."

      and when challenged on the non-existence of 101's center median on the Peninsula, you reply:
      "I'm aware that 101 has no center median"

      Is it not reasonable to conclude that you're either a troll, or a liar?

    31. @Anonymous:
      "Is there a way to ban or at least retro-moderate commenters?
      "Or how about a maximum of one comment a day limit?"

      One thing I can tel you: there is absolutely no point in arguing with people who don't accept normal definitions of "one" and "two".

  5. My view of Caltrain's incompetence in dealing with HSR:

    As printed in the Menlo Park Almanac



    Page 14

    morris brown

    1. Here's a direct link to the HTML version:
      Guest opinion: On Caltrain's 'downward path' with high-speed rail
      by Morris Brown

      Summary: Caltrain, and everyone, should oppose HSR on the Peninsula because the "blended plan", is not the true (4-track) HSR promised by Prop 1A, which fundamentally anti-HSR NIMBYs like me successfully fought so hard against that the pragmatic politicians -- instead of killing HSR as I we hoped -- adopted this damn non-true-HSR "blended plan" that will still result in HSR passing within ear- (and eye-) shot of our trackside homes. Waaaaaahhhhh!

    2. I like your rebuttal to the web article even better. Question to Morris: we know what you don't want, but just what is it that you do want? What's your solution for mass mobility on the SF to SJ corridor?

    3. Amazing!!! Morris and his Stone Pine Lane buddies created the opposition to peninsula HSR, along with CCHSR, Boondoggle, etc. spreading lies and misinformation that puts fear of HSR into the minds of otherwise ordinary citizens. Their mantra: HSR/grade separations/electrification will destroy the peninsula, create a Berlin wall, clear cutting of thousands upon thousands of trees, take hundreds of homes/businesses, and so on. So because of these efforts Eshoo, Simitian, and Gordon came up with the “blended plan.” Now Morris is chastising the blended plan? Caltrain went along with the blended plan so as to appease the misguided concerns of many peninsula residents. Bottom line is Morris wants to kill HSR and Caltrain electrification/grade separations. He wants Caltrain to be completely undergrounded. Who cares how much it costs, just don’t disturb Morris’s idyllic Stone Pine Lane/Menlo Park existence.

    4. @Jeff Carter

      Let's get real here: people like Morris don't want the train period because they're aging suburbians that are mad their suburb is urbanifying. I've lived around these people my entire life, and nothing can be done to change their minds. What's hilarious is that fifty years ago, farmers said the same thing about developers plopping subdivisions everywhere. What came of them? They were pushed out as the county wanted the increased tax revenue. The same will happen to the suburbanites that replaced them, as they age their homes will be sold and turned into duplexes or redeveloped into larger complexes as housing costs continue to soar. This isn't something that anyone can stop, it's the free market at work.

      And the result, is that while the urbanifying happens roads will hit max capacity and the younger people will ask for better mass transit. Even down in LA they're slowly rebuilding their light rail, see Measure R. At some point, the people who want rail will reach parity with those that want to keep their urban planning stuck in the 80s. There's just no more space for single family homes anymore, period.

      As for people who want to live in car-exclusive suburbs? There's always the Tri-Valley or Elk Grove. It's perfectly reasonable to want to be a suburbanite, but long term it's not feasible on the peninsula anymore.

  6. Clem:

    The article was focused on the incompetence of Caltrain's management. In my estimation Caltrain is getting a pittance in exchange for allowing HSR on their corridor, which as I wrote won't succeed in the long run and really solves nothing, except maybe allowing electrification, which probably is not needed, and which certainly doesn't solve Caltrain's major problems.

    I can't believe that you think Calltrain's accepting this arrangement is a solution to "mass mobility" on the peninsula.

    morris brown

    1. Electrification is very much needed for Caltrain alone. The fixation on hybrid diesel battery super capacitor claptrap cannot detract from the basic fact that in order to move enormous numbers of passengers swiftly, there is no substitute for electrification (the physics of it comes down to power/weight or kW/ton). No other architecture will scale better to meet the future need for ever more capacity. An EMU is an even better idea than a Tesla: it doesn't have to lug around its power source.

      I think one of the little details that may be escaping the blended system opponents is that a 110 mph speed limit on the peninsula will not in any way prevent SF to LA in 2:40. The usual reason offered to buttress the argument that "blended is not high-speed rail" is that it's too slow to meet the requirements of Prop 1A. News flash: it's not...

      The blend is a good compromise. It's not perfect but it's far, far better than nothing at all, which is what Caltrain had been stuck with since the 1990s.

  7. Clem:

    Considering the number of accidents along the Caltrain corridor when running at a max of 79 MPH, just how many more will occur if indeed they increase the speed to 110 MPH; after all they still are not getting grade separations.

    Not being able to make 2 hr 40 minutes is based on much more than the slow speed on the Caltrain corridor. The reasons for "blended" not being HSR in this case is more based on the very restricted number of time slots being afforded to HSR without dedicated tracks. News flash to you: They can't meet 2 hr 40 min..

    morris brown

    1. Think about it for a moment, why would more crossing accidents occur? A train going 79 mph can't stop in time to avoid a collision, so its speed becomes irrelevant and higher speed will not incur more collisions. Grade crossing warning time is constant, regardless of train speed. Higher speed may increase the severity of a collision when it does occur, but it's not like high-speed trains can't smash trucks to pieces on the rare occasions when this happens.

      What may increase the number of collisions is the amount of train traffic, but that has nothing to do with speeds.

      As for the 2:40 issue, I think you may have been spending too much time in the Flashman et al. echo chamber. Have you run those numbers? I have, in very great detail, and they do check out.

    2. And lightweight EMU also tend to do somewhat less damage, than heavy loco-pulled trains.

    3. You want the train to do as much damage as possible!!! It's one train full of passengers vs. one stupid driver- in most cases.

    4. Thanks to development of impact mitigation measures it's no longer "them or us" situation. Instead of just making train HEAVY, modern EMUs and HST are built with special zones and devices (outside passenger and stuff areas) that break and so absorb energy from impact.

    5. XAN, I think your ironyometer is broken. ( Where is Loren Petrich when we need help from talk.origins?)

  8. A bit off this topic, but this letter appeared in Sunday's LA Times. Anyone know what the engineering solution will be to the subsidence problem?

    morris brown



    To the editor: Subsidence in the San Joaquin Valley has been impacting infrastructure for years, and acceleration of subsidence due to increased groundwater withdrawal during a drought is not surprising.

    See: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-groundwater-20150819-story.html

    Now let's put two issues impacting California together: the subsiding ground in the San Joaquin Valley and the route of the bullet train. Can a train travel at 200 miles per hour on a track built on land subsiding at a monthly rate of 1.6 inches?

    In all of the planning and bravado about the bullet train, I have not heard or read of the short-term (construction) or long-term (maintenance) impact of subsidence. What's the plan and what are the costs, Gov. Jerry Brown?

    Jeffrey R. Knott, Fullerton

    The writer is a professor of geological sciences at Cal State Fullerton.

    1. Ballasted track and frequent tamping will do the trick. This is not the Big Deal it's made out to be!

    2. Clem:

      In Japan, an army of 3000 workers goes out every evening to do track maintenance on the Shinkansen. Subsidence is a major issue there. So while "tamping" might solve the problem, it certainly will not be a trivial operational expense.

      See: This video


      (Around 8:15 into the video is mentioned track maintenance. )

    3. Morris,

      I heard that Taiwan HSR sealed the groundwater wells near their rail corridor on viaduct to minimize or mitigate the land subsidence impacts.

      Off topic, 3,000 workers from that video clip is only for Tokaido Line (Tokyo-Shin Osaka, mostly ballast track). Also, rails on ballast track requires frequent adjustment of horizontal and vertical profiles as the ballasts itself move and deteriorate over time. Tokaido line is one of the most heavily used HSR line, so the damage builds up pretty quickly on ballast. Subsidence is not the major reason why they are out every evening for about 6 hours (between last and 1st train) to maintain the tracks.

    4. It's always good to set the record straight -- but never make the mistake that Morris or any of his fellow trackside HSR NIMBYs actually gives a shit about anything that doesn't cast HSR in a bad light.

  9. Such engineering challenges bring back to memory perhaps the best posting to ever take place on Cruickshank's blog. ( March 2009) , regarding tunneling etc.