05 May 2019

Thoughts on Grade Separations

The emerging Caltrain business plan is broaching the issue of grade separations, a decadal process that has been underway, well, for decades. We're already 63% of the way there today, with another dozen new grade separation projects in various stages of planning or construction. Achieving a reasonable level of grade separation for the peninsula corridor is estimated to cost $8.5 - 11.1 billion, a shockingly large sum that we'll just round to $10 billion. As we try to grasp the enormity of that figure, here are some contrarian thoughts:

1) Don't spend train money on car projects. The benefit of grade separations accrues primarily to automobile travel, with the elimination of gate down time. An intensive grade separation program can eventually unlock additional operating slots for more trains and eliminate the occasional incident, yielding benefits to train riders. Some grade separations are necessary, such as when expanding to four tracks. In the short term, however, the greatest benefit is the removal of an inconvenience to drivers, which in our car-centric society is held as a worthy goal seemingly regardless of cost. Rail dollars are a lot scarcer than road dollars, especially in this era of federal disengagement, so the last project we should spend them on is a project that facilitates car travel with little improvement for train riders. Rail funding should be used to make real and measurable improvements to train service, a standard by which most grade separations rate poorly. So you still want a grade separation? Build it with road funding.

Anticipated gate down times,
under various scenarios in the
Caltrain business plan
2) Quit whining about gate down time. Caltrain put together a nice summary of gate down time, the number of minutes per hour that grade crossing gates block traffic during rush hours. Today the average is 11 minutes, and under future growth scenarios it could increase to 17 - 25 minutes, with a few crossings faring worse than average. If that sounds intolerable, think about a typical roadway intersection with a traffic light. If both roads are equally important, the "gate down time" of a traffic light is 30 minutes. If one road is more important, the lesser road (for example, Ravenswood Ave where it meets El Camino Real in Menlo Park) sees "gate down time" well in excess of 30 minutes, let's say 40 minutes per hour. Nobody is clamoring to grade separate the Ravenswood / El Camino road intersection. There's an obvious double standard here, and the guidelines for what qualifies as unacceptable delay should be set the same way as they are for the grade separation of a road intersection. Gate down time should only rarely, if ever, be the reason to build a new grade separation.

3) There are few economies of scale in grade separation. Doing them all as a package does not save money. The process we have, where local jurisdictions often exert tight control over every aspect of design and construction, does not lend itself to a one-size-fits-all approach. Each grade separation is different. Grade separation designs do not depend on each other in the majority of cases where they are widely spaced. While a corridor-wide strategy is important to have, the execution of that strategy and the securing of funding is inherently a city and county issue. If we are going to have a corridor-wide funding approach, it must go hand-in-hand with taking away local control. Jurisdictions that insist on local control should be left to figure out the funding on their own. Palo Alto, where interminable and futile discussions of tunnels continue to this day, should not be allowed to control the design process if their project is paid for through a corridor-wide funding measure.

4) If $10 billion is an okay expense, then there are far better ways to spend it. Especially with rail money at stake, there are much better ways to spend $10 billion than by building a lot of grade separations for cars that produce zero improvement to train service. There are a lot of good investments that should be made to improve the amount and speed of train service:
  • Extend all platforms to 8-car length. If you put all the platforms that Caltrain ever built in the last 20 years end to end, they would stretch about 5 miles long. This is not an expensive project; it can be done for about $0.05 billion. It should already be underway, but inexplicably isn't.
  • Convert the entire train fleet to 8-car EMUs, starting by exercising the rest of the existing Stadler contract option of another 59 cars, increasing the fleet to 24 trains. The diesels are retired from the peninsula, which is a condition for starting any level boarding projects. This costs about $0.4 billion.
  • Convert the entire system to level boarding to speed trips and improve punctuality. Depending on how this is done (high platforms or low platforms, or some combination thereof) and over how long a period of construction, this would cost about $0.5 - 1 billion.
  • Build a new EMU maintenance and storage facility near Blossom Hill (San Jose) and extend frequent electrified service through all of San Jose. Including any extortion by UPRR, the owner of the tracks, this ought to be feasible for less than $1 billion.
  • Build a new transit center in Redwood City to enable cross-platform transfers between locals and expresses. Call it $0.5 billion, and throw in the downtown grade separations for another $0.5 billion to allow four tracks.
  • Expand the EMU fleet to enable 8 train per hour peak service. Expanding the fleet to 32 trains would require another 64 EMU cars, for about $0.5 billion.
  • Extend the platforms at highly patronized express stops to 12 cars in length, and extend expresses to 12 cars. This would require extending about half the fleet by 4 cars, or another 64 EMU cars. Including platforms this might cost about $0.8 billion.
This isn't an exhaustive list, but unlike grade separations, all of these projects have immediate and measurable positive effects on the quantity and quality of service provided to riders. This list achieves most of Caltrain's "moderate growth" scenario but without HSR. The tally for all of these projects is still less than $5 billion, so if $10 billion for grade separations sounds at all palatable, this list ought to be a no-brainer.

Grade separations are nice, but their cost and benefit should be weighed very carefully on a case-by-case basis. The cost should be borne by who benefits. The business plan process will hopefully create the framework to have the difficult conversations about what not to pay for with rail funding. Grade separations should be built with highway funding unless there is a clear and measurable benefit to rail service.


  1. One reason for grade separation is when it allows to eliminate several grade crossings in the proximity. Just by looking at the total price tag, it looks to me as if every grade crossing should be replaced by a over or underpass. This does not make any sense at all…

    As grade separation projects are not strictly railroad, the town and/or regional government must pay its share, which should actually be beyond 50% of the total cost. In some places, a grade separation project may include considerable rearranging of utility lines, at least if there is an improvement, the utility owners should contribute too.

    I agree with the extension of platforms, but I would really not make a difference between express stops and local stops; extend all platforms to at least 300 m (aka 12 car lengths). This would considerably improve the flexibility of the system (such as run an express train as local when there are problems, etc.)

    By looking at world standards, level crossings with full gates and signal protection count as "best deal", much better than grade separation (except for main roads or similar, of course).

  2. I think that grade separations are about more than "cars". This makes the desire for "cost/benefit" analysis much harder.

    BART construction would be much cheaper if BART had crossing gates. But it doesn't. People know, without it needing to be said, that when they vote for BART funding, it is for an "isolated topology". When BART runs behind your house, kids and cars aren't "threatened".

    Does BART kill fewer people per year than Caltrain? I don't know, but I would guess 'yes'. How many auto/truck collisions does Caltrain average? For BART, the answer is 'zero'. How much is that worth?


    1. Agreed; given the number of delays from suicide and car-accident incidents in the 2 years I took Caltrain to San Antonio, I think grade crossings definitely improve the rail passenger experience too. And as someone who lived near the tracks in San Mateo, grade separations also improve the quality of life generally (by reducing / eliminating the need for trains to sound their horns).

    2. Good points, train riders are helped if only a bit. The costs have to be spread in proportion to the benefits.

  3. One of the reason why BART require grade crossing, is because of third electrical track on the ground.

    1. I guess you mean "grade separation"…

      Apparently, on Long Island, grade crossings are not considered to be an issue because of the third rail (more because they don't have full quadrant gates, and idiot drivers).

      Also, the Southern electrification in England does not have issues.

    2. In New York, third rail power still allows grade crossings.


  4. I could not find English version but you can find images from this PDF.


  5. The same situation plays out with Pedestrian Over Crossing grade separations. While the main beneficiary are motorists who do not have to wait for a stoplight pedestrian cycle, these POCs are almost always paid for out of funds earmarked to improve pedestrian facilities. Because "Pedestrian" is the first name of POC ya know.

    To add insult to injury, most pedestrians would rather cross at grade than climb up and over a 20' high bridge. Then include the lateral detours introduced by switchbacks or spiral ramps.

  6. I think it makes sense to make a distinction for grade separations near stations vs far from stations. Consider RWC station. Grade Separations there would be built with a new station which could also include commercial/residential development all as one package. Thinking something like Berlin Hauptbahnhof which includes office space above the tracks. In RWC case, the adjacent Safeway could be rebuilt as part of that effort and perhaps used to offset the costs of the station - like Transbay District. Furthermore, office lease could be paid to Caltrain to subsidize the operations - like Hong Kong MTR. Mountain View, Diridon, and San Mateo might be good candidates for that as well.

  7. I don't understand how they came up with that price tag. It says a grade separation cost ranges is $255-355 million, even though Caltrain is doing one right now for $180 million (including a new station).

    1. The San Mateo grade sep is being done without a shoofly, which reduces the cost a bit.

    2. Sure, but do all remaining grade seps require shooflies?

    3. I'm not sure why shooflies add that much cost as long as you have the RoW. In this case, the 25th street separations actually LACK the needed RoW, as you can observe on the northern end. At some point the SB track will be shifted on the new embankment which will free up the room to finish the embankment for the NB track - which might take a few months. That's another factor as to why Hillsdale is completely closed.

      One thing about the costs is that all future grade separations that require changes in the horizontal track alignment will also require moving of electrification infrastructure. It's unlikely they would allow trains to "coast through" no matter how short the break is.

  8. In the case of Mountain View, the tracks cut the City in half and are right by Central Expressway. Grade separation will also help crossing Central Expressway --> better access to Caltrain and better mobility for all residents (cars but also buses, shuttles, bikes and pedestrians). Worth also noting that Grade Separation was a selling point of the latest VTA funding measure.

    1. Often, grade-separating the tracks will leave another parallel traffic sewer in place. Mountain View is doing it right at Castro by allowing peds and bikes to cross both the tracks and the traffic sewer. In Palo Alto, some people want to spend three billion (presumably of other people's money) to beautify the Alma traffic sewer, which would be left pretty much as is.

  9. Also: we're going to need Caltrain to order a bunch more of these, which will be routinely damaged in grade crossing collisions.

  10. @ Clem:

    My My... your title "Don't spend train money on car projects." is so disingenuous. Like SB-1, advertised as "fixing the roads" but underneath 40% ends up elsewhere, like funding for Caltrain capital projects...

    Your comment "Nobody is clamoring to grade separate the Ravenswood / El Camino road intersection." is just plain nonsense. I live in MP and that intersection has been studied and studied to death because of the need to be grade separated. Clem: You head is in the sand on this!

    1. My My... you probably missed my point: everyone is studying grade separating the train tracks from Ravenswood (Ravenswood is blocked for 12 minutes per hour by the train) while nobody is studying grade separating El Camino itself from Ravenswood (Ravenswood is blocked for 40+ minutes per hour by El Camino). I object to this sort of auto-myopic double standard. Your traffic congestion emergency isn't caused by the train!

  11. The gate downtime isn't about how many minutes in an hour the gate/light is closed, it's how long the wait is. A traffic light that is red 60% of the time for through traffic isn't as convenient as a grade-separated intersection, but except in the heaviest conditions, the cycle is fast enough to clear people through. When a gate is closed for ten minutes, traffic backs up a long ways, and then it takes a while to clear out. This leaves lots of people idling for a long time, and creates a knot of congestion that spreads out.

    I live in Alameda, where the main routes to the freeway are three closely spaced drawbridges that are required to open for boat traffic for 22 hours a day. A boat coming through at 7:50 or 9:05 am will cause a backup about a mile long which then takes 15 more minutes to clear out. Between 8 and 9 am, the backup is almost never a full block long, and people waiting at the back of the line at the last light never have to wait more than two cycles to get through.

    1. Other than for the occasional freight train, I've never experienced a 10 minute or greater wait at a grade crossing. The longest I can remember was in Menlo Park when a northbound train triggered the gates while it slowed to a stop, the gates then remained down for a southbound train to approach and stop, and then the northbound train kept the gates down while it pulled out of the station. And even in that total worst case scenario, the gates were still only down for a couple minutes.

    2. Fair point, train traffic is not synchronized with traffic light cycles, but if abnormal traffic queue lengths are the primary concern then highway funding should be used to grade separate. We spend too much rail funding to relieve automobile congestion with little or no benefit to train riders. Case in point: blowing $84 million of high-speed rail funding (!!) to extend 28th and 31st avenue across the tracks in San Mateo.

    3. Most of the rail funds come from taxes on auto gas, funds which should really be spent on road repair and expansion.

    4. So, what you're saying is, using gas tax funds that were allocated by statute to use as rail funds is wrong?

    5. I thought the city of San Mateo was paying for the 28th and 31st ave grade separations? According to this they are.

    6. @Gene, as you can see here on the 25th Ave. Grade Separation project web page, the city of San Mateo is only paying $12m — less than 7% of the $180m project cost (which includes connecting 28th and 31st across the tracks, as well as a new center-platform Hillsdale station).

    7. The $12M is developer fees so it could be argued that the City of San Mateo is not paying ANY of the project costs.

  12. @Reedman ... similar to BART deaths, well over 90% of Caltrain deaths are suicides. So nothing to do with safety. Short of platform screen doors, no amount of costly grade-seps will prevent ongoing free and easy access to station tracks. Despite having many grade crossings, a small proportion of Caltrain suicides already occur at stations (such as the one at Hillsdale which screwed up PM peak service a few weeks ago) ... as Caltrain is more fully fenced and grade separated, an unknowably small number of suicides might be deterred, but I'm afraid most will (sadly) just shift to stations.

    It seems most Caltrain vs. vehicle incidents in the past couple years stem from confused motorists mistakenly turning onto the tracks from grade crossings (and getting stuck) after attempting to obey their in-car navigation system instructions to turn onto a parallel adjacent street. The other older classic category of incident stems from those who in violation of CVC §22526(d) queue up across crossings while waiting for a traffic signal at a nearby intersection.

    Since Caltrain does not appear to have a "drive-around" problem (can't recall a single incident!), the only practical advantage of more quad gates is that they'll more easily allow for more cities to apply for train horn quiet zones ... such as at the Fair Oaks Lane crossing in Atherton (the first and only Caltrain quiet zone).

    1. The tracks in South San Jose had a particularly nasty non-suicide. A babysitter was caring for two kids, one a toddler, the other in a stroller. The toddler was hit by an Amtrak train.
      P.S. there was another Caltrain death in South San Jose this morning, sixth of the year.


    2. @Reedman, yes, I recall that tragic incident. Nothing to do with Caltrain, or eliminating grade crossings, or drive-arounds. It was an Amtrak train running on the UP line hitting a toddler, too young to know better and nowhere near a grade crossing who was in the care of a negligently clueless young lady who was not his mother.

      Of course, accidental ped deaths can and do occur, but my point was is that, thankfully, they're extremely rare on the Caltrain line, where nearly all the 12 or so ped deaths per year turn out to be intentional — so nothing whatsoever to so with "safety."

  13. Keep your eyes on High Speed Rail. There is almost certain to be a push led by Senator Jim Beall, to divert funding now allotted to the Central Valley to electrify the tracks from Gilroy to San Jose. UPRR has not agreed, but negotiations are ongoing.

    1. SJ to Gilroy makes more sense then a combo ACE-SJ-HSR system exactly how?

    2. The only way I see Gilroy getting electrified at the expense of Merced-Bakersfield is if the feds are successful at mucking things up with the EIR/EIS delays. Even if they are successful, 2020 republicans will still need to hold onto the presidency to kill the CV project (CV construction is proposed to resume in 2020). Also, won't Gilroy-SJ need fed EIR/EIS approvals as well?

    3. Regardless of whether Sen. Beall can reprioritize CV funds to SJ-Gilroy electrification, UP must first agree to allow it on their ROW ... or an entirely separate parallel ROW will first need to be acquired.

    4. From what I am reading, the latter might be the better choice at the end of the day.

    5. Also, good luck getting Southern Cal acquiescing to Beall's plan.

      According to the business plan:

      "The Authority will use the remaining bookend funds for Southern California—$423 million—to fund construction of the first phase of improvements at LAUS"

  14. Morris Brown10 May, 2019 16:52

    The LA Times has posted a devastating article pointing out the FRA is not longer communicating with the Authority (since last August).


    California’s high-speed rail project and the feds are no longer on speaking terms

    Also quoted in the article are comments from DOT Secretary Elaine Chao speaking about the Feds cancelling HSR approved funding (a total of about $3.5 billions). Video of her comments can be seen on YouTube at:


    1. Hell, if I'm the authority I would keep pushing through things like the maintenance facility, electrification of CV track, property acquisition and what not. There's enough to keep them busy until 1) Amtrak Joe comes into power or 2) lawsuits are settled and won.

    2. Update: FRA has cancelled the contract, Newsom threatens a lawsuit. Fienstien chimed in and gave support to him.



      Since it's obvious this lawsuit is spurious and serves no purpose other than to troll liberals, I'm really hoping Sec. Chao will just reverse the decision instead of ruining her reputation for Trump. And here in CA, hopefully it causes the legislature to create a dedicated funding measure for CHSRA in addition to cap-and-trade.

    3. "Newsom and his team are predicting a $21.5 billion surplus.."

      It wouldn't take much. An additional commitment of 1/2 billion annually would go a long way in stabilizing and completing the project. It would keep smaller sections under construction and make eligible for loans on the larger sections.

      Definitely nothing to panic about. The "lost" fed billion wasn't to be used until 2021.

    4. This is huge news, ie, Wasco Viaduct construction has started. The viaduct will be the most time intensive CP4 project. This bodes well for completing the valley segment on time and thwarting the FRA's claim to recouping the fed monies.


    5. For what it's worth, if Caltrain's 1/4¢ gets on the ballot next year I'm more than happy to vote for it. Finishing electrification *and* paying for SJ-Gilroy work will keep everything moving until tunnel (or bridge, whatever the case is) work can begin. Everyone has to and should contribute to the overall program.

    6. @les https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAfoww0y5c-PXpVQqn1Twsw

    7. Thanks, good pics.

      Now what concerns me is the 2025 start date for testing rolling stock. I'm guessing they will have to put out bids by 2020? Does this mean rolling stock has to have been in use for 5 years by 2020? Seems to exclude some quality newer systems. Can newer derivatives of older system be considered?

      According the authority website:

      "1. Is a single level EMU capable of operating in revenue service at speeds up to 354 km/h (220 mph), and based on a service-proven trainset in use in commercial high speed
      passenger service at least 300 km/h (186 mph) for a minimum of five years.
      All trains I could find that come close to measuring up are:

      CR400AF and CR400BF run at 248 mph but weren't operational until 2017
      CRH380A, CRH380B and CRH380D 236 mph
      AGV 575 224 mph
      ETR 1000 224 mph
      E5 & H5 Series Shinkansen 224 mph
      AVE Class 102, 103 & 112 217 mph
      CRH2C, CRH3C 217 mph
      Velaro RUS 217 mph

      All others are coming in after 2017
      When one considers track compatibility this could be even further constrained.


    8. The idea that the Central Valley corridor should be operated by very high speed trains is cute, but it's just not going to happen. The capital and O&M costs of a small "Buy America" fleet of bespoke very high speed trains will be immediately prohibitive, no matter what it may say in Prop 1A legislation.

      In the interim, it's far better to have 125 mph rolling stock with a diesel power pack to provide uninterrupted one-seat rides beyond the end of the overhead wire, e.g. Sac - Bako or SJ - Bako via Valley Rail ROW (probably electrified over Altamont Pass). You could almost do it with diesel trainsets like those of Brightline / Virgin Trains in Florida, but that terrain is flat and you really need the mountain bits over Altamont to be electrified.

      Stop dreaming about anything pointy-nosed until after one of the mountain crossings is completed and a fast connection to either SF or LA is established.

    9. "Considering the relatively short distance between the stations on the CVC, the scheduled maximum operational speed during CVC operations will be 180 mph."

      " CVC Specific Assumptions
      The alignment is 175 miles of double track with 25kV catenary systems along the entire length;"


    10. "More recently, the ETO study of early interim service concluded that electric high-speed rail service is superior to running diesel San Joaquins trains in the corridor (see Chapter 1, Early Interim Service Analysis, for more detail about the ETO study)"

      "The SJJPA would not operate any competitive service south of Merced. "

      "Improve air quality in the Central Valley by shifting from diesel to clean, electrically
      powered trains"

      "Allow for early testing of high-speed operations and passenger use and reduce ramp-up time for future extensions."


    11. The Brightline trains: Each train set cost $50 million or .3 billion for 6

      "The service concept for the CVC operations plans for one high-speed train per hour, per direction. To meet the hourly train schedule, six high-speed trainsets will be required"

      CAHSR is budgeting .7 billion for train sets which tells me $100 plus per trainset.

      Eurorail: $933.24m 10 Velaro e320 train sets

    12. A fleet of six, that's hilarious.

      According to the 2018 ETO capital cost review, section 7.8 (starts PDF page 258)

      What "Buy America" does to high-speed rolling stock prices:
      >60% US content causes a 100% premium over straight up import (twice the price)
      >80% US content causes a 160% premium
      >95% US content causes a 220% premium, or over three times the price of import

      There is just NO WAY anybody is going to buy a tiny fleet of six 180-mph trains under Buy America regulations. Mark my words, it will not happen!

      Maybe a FLIRT 200 or a tack-on order to whatever multiple unit Amtrak buys to replace the Amfleets.

    13. Yes, quite the quandary.

      Authority "will also incorporate flexibility to allow delivery in a phased manner to ensure seamless integration as the system is expanded."

      I'm guessing the authority thinks they can order more soon after the first 6. I wonder what the smallest order possible for 220mph train sets would be for an outfit to open up a US facility. If memory serves me the prototype(s) will be built overseas.
      It took Stadler 16 trainsets to move manufacturing to US. It's been said Siemens could build them in existing facility. Siemens being the only bidder might not be so bad. :) DB Consulting is German, imagine that.

      2026 is the delivery date for the 6 trainsets. There should be another rail section or two under construction at this point so will need additional trainsets.

    14. Adirondacker12800025 May, 2019 19:39

      Or ask Alstom if they have anything.


    15. Siemens have been making so many Velaros we can just collect the scraps for our system. That might be all we deserve.

    16. That gets me back to my original quandary: if trains need to have been in service for 5 years and the CAHSR order is placed next year than many nicer models will be excluded. Is the Avelia Liberty a derivative of another train that it could be eligible for CAHSR's order?

    17. Everyone here seems to forget that the Alstom Avelia Liberty can hit 220 mph with tilting disabled stock. Yes, it is not an EMU, but Alstom already having a HSR production base in the US means that an AGV (220 mph EMU) modification and production would be relatively cheap.

  15. Palo drops City Wide Train Tunnel


    1. Not a decade too late. And people there are now also starting to discover the business plan and the prospect of new passing tracks south of Peers Park, if HSR via Pacheco Pass manages to survive.

  16. morris brown25 May, 2019 23:39

    Apparently nobody here has paid attention to what took place at the last Authority Board meeting. For really the first time in over 10 years, the Board is raising serious about how the project is going forward. Director Camacho (LA Based), got passed an amendment requiring within 60 days an independent study which would on a side by side basis, compare what is proposed in the CV to the Bookends. To be reported are congestion relief, GHC savings, ridership. (I don't think it takes much imagination to see what such a study will reveal.

    It certainly appears that finally the Board may be unwilling to spend all funding in the CV, while only still waiting for help in their regions, which seems to be decades away.

    Note the Update report would spend all available funds for a Merced to Bakersfield segment. Of particular interest is the Feds cancelling $929 millions and an effort by them to get a refund on the $2.5 ARRA fund grant, which has already spend.

    Then we have the need for the Legislature to allocate over $4 billion from Prop 1A revenues. No way is the CV going to get all of these funds.

    1. Prop 1 says a line from LA to SF not a segment that reduces the most CO2.
      San Diego and Anaheim would both be a helluva a detour to get to SF.
      Gilroy to San Jose wouldn't do much for CO2 reduction or ridership.
      That leaves Valley Link. But they're already planning on melding it into CV with a "building block" approach so I'm not sure what Camacho is getting at.

      I think it be a bit reckless to leave a Madera to Wasco segment dangling.

      Once prop1 funds are spent then Cammacho can go fantasize. I think his efforts would be better spent coming up with cash for tunneling.

    2. Also, I think you can totally kiss the 3.5 billion fed money good-bye with this talk.

  17. morris brown26 May, 2019 13:16

    Here is the video of Camacho and his amending of the staff proposal.


    Also at the meeting Tom Richards made a big deal in announcing that the
    board has not approved to date any operation of trains on the CV segment

    video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLqwcbk7B2E

    1. A lot of fluidity at the moment. The authority wants to cover their bases given the fed lawsuit, the feds killing EIRs, Valley Link putting out incompatible studies to the authority's plans, Southern and Northern California politicians jockeying to monetarily capitalize on the situation and etc. If matters couldn't be worse, you have a governor, Muddy Waters Newsom, who only fans the insanity. Are we having fun yet?

    2. flux ie, not fluidity. :)

  18. Slightly modified Valley Link route and stations integrated with Altamont SETEC

    1) Mountain House station is moved to become ACE-ValleyLink-HSR transfer station
    2) Added Valley Link line (green) to show where HSR, ACE and Valley Link share a tunnel.

    Valley Link route and station plan

  19. I'll make one pitch in favor of grade separations as future proofing. Much as Clem has noted that platform rebuilding over the past few decades could have but did not anticipate 8-car trains and possibly level boarding (necessitating re-building in the future). Decisions about grade infrastructure now will have repercussions in 20-40 years. The Caltrain business plan website linked to above suggests that the Caltrain corridor could be hosting 16 tph in 2040. It is not unreasonable that 20-24 tph could be feasible or needed. BART currently does 24 and is looking to go to 30 and after SF-Oakland the Peninsula is the busiest corridor in the Bay. 16 tph service is 32 grade crossings per hour, which at 75 sec each would be 40 min gates down time per hour, or 67% (this could be reduced by overlapping crossings, but there is the conflicting problem of say a NB-SB-NB crossing sequence lining up to have the gates down for far longer than a traffic light). 20+ tph could be looking at almost perpetually closed gates.
    Regardless of what is accepted today at Ravenswood Rd vs El Camino for a stoplight, at some point the inability of people and goods to move across the Caltrain tracks will be unacceptable to the community at large and will lead to a constraint on Caltrain service growth. I note here that at a 16 tph service level I do not see how the 17-25 min gate down times under the high demand scenario of the graphic are derived; an average of 40-45 sec per gate cycle doesn't seem accurate when you consider that gate dropping and raising time doesn't allow traffic across (cars won't cross while the lights are flashing and arms dropping, and traffic doesn't resume the moment the gates start coming up).

    In this light, although there is a very good argument to make affected communities pay a part of the cost of grade separation, the percent of the cost undertaken by Caltrain could justifiably be larger than is suggested here. All of the major trunk lines around the world (RER in Paris, Stadtbahn in Berlin, Crossrail in London) are fully grade separated. Caltrain is no RER right now, but if it is ever going to be, grade separation is necessary and should be planned for.

    1. We should definitely grade separate the entire corridor, continuing the decadal process already well underway. We should also be mindful of the opportunity costs of using rail funding to do it. Hopefully the Caltrain business plan effort will provide the framework to quantify the cost-benefit trade-offs of various investments-- the goal being to turn Caltrain into an RER as soon as possible.

  20. The two AEM-7s purchased by Caltrain are now headed over (see video). These are test locomotives (supposedly one operable, one parts donor) and will not see revenue service.

  21. So now the Authority has an ethics scandal on it hands: see:


    California's top bullet train consultant is suspended amid a state ethics probe

  22. June's meeting agenda:

    "2. Consider Providing Approval to Release a Request for Qualifications for Track and Systems Procurement"

    Is this the moment of truth? This would imply a 2020 order which is what the authority has listed in docs.

  23. If memory serves, CP-5 was never formally announced; but was discussed in the press and forums as track, and possibly signaling; but no OCS or substations. I wonder where even more funding for OCS would come from.

    Why spend 10^8 $ on electric high-speed trainsets, when you don't yet have electric? :)

    1. Actually I think the "Systems Procurement" refers to OCS and substations. But train sets will soon follow.

    2. If I'm understanding the sequence of events correctly, there will be a Systems Procurement for the 119 mi segment (required to maintain good standing with feds and hope not to lose grants), then additional construction contracts for Bakersfield and Merced, and then yet an additional Systems Procurement for Bakersfield and Merced? This all seems kind of whackey if you ask me.

    3. if it were up to me, i'd have set up the construction contracts to install ballastless rail on all viaducts during construction. Oh well, water under the bridge :)

    4. Track and System work:
      Notices to Proceed (NTP)
      1. Authority may issue NTP 1 to authorize work on Segment 1 (Madera to Poplar Avenue).
      2. Authority may issue NTP 2 to authorize work on Segment 2 (extension to Bakersfield).
      3. Authority may issue NTP 3 to authorize work on Segment 3 (extension to Merced).
      4. Authority may issue additional NTPs to authorize work on additional Segments defined by Authority.

      The estimated value for the Delivery Period of NTP 1 is $1.6 billion.

    5. http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/brdmeetings/2019/brdmtg_061819_Amended_Board_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

  24. Front page of LA Times 6-10-2019


    High-speed rail route took land from farmers. The money they’re owed hasn’t arrived

    By Ralph Vartabedian June 10 2019

  25. Progress

    "Marianne Payne also highlighted the short-term, mid-term, and longer-term visions for the Altamont Corridor. One key feature in the longer term vision is the one seat ride between San Joaquin Valley, Tri-Valley, San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco, and the Peninsula. Marianne Payne also stated that on May 1, 2019 a report was released by the California High Speed Rail Authority to the State Legislature. The next step that was identified was to perform integrated service planning to optimize connections and seamless travel. Marianne Payne gave an overview of the longer range vision for the corridor focusing on investing in capacity and travel time, universal corridors, shared facilities and a Megaregional Network Integration. The possible next step may be to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ACE to participate in the further development of the vision ensuring compatibility with the short term goals of Valley Link."

    San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority Board

  26. "Each grade separation is different."

    This couldn't be more wrong!

    With the exception of San Francisco (where the DTX, done remotely sanely, not the SFCTA/SF "Planning" multi-billion dumpster fire), and maybe Redwood City (where I still think there's argument to be made to go below-grade all the way), all our grade separations can and should and must involve eaving streets and people exactly at ground level while elevating the trains above them.

    The "special local" constructions -- involving roads dipping down, to "save" just a couple feet of rail berm and bridge elevation -- are wrong at every location, without exception.

    Just compare and contrast godawful disasters like Holly Street in San Carlos and Harbor Street and Ralston in Belmont -- where the roadway reconstruction resulted in pedestrian-hostile dead zones, bonkers over-engineered intersections, and the bonus need for permanent diesel-icious water pumping stations at each -- with the vastly superior (though imperfect) outcomes at Brittan and Howard, where the roads (pretty much, though they can't help themselves with the dipping) stay and grade where they belong, and the trains pass over with minimum disruption to the suburban fabric, as they needs must.

    This bullshit of depressing roads is a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose synergy:
    * Crap pedestrian environment, with sidewalks cut off from both road and land
    * Crap stations (the undersides of Belmont and San Carlos are dank disasters, with zero scope for good bus/rail transfer interfaces
    * Huge costs -- and "unexpected" bonus costs and delays -- from excess utility relocations due to entirely unneeded road excatation
    * Unnecessary land and easement takings as road grade changes cut off adjacent parcels
    * Unncessasry "dead zones" where the road grade change leaves adjacent land isolated above a retaining wall
    * Flooding and pumping, forever
    * Huge scope for massive and awful intersection rebuilt scams to be bundled into the "rail" project (again, see San Carlos grade seps. Even worse and far out of control is what's floated for Broadway in Burlingame.)

    It's really simple. People (and buses, and even cars) live on the ground. Trains pass over them, with minimal fuss, minimal impact, minimal cost, minimal construction impact, and maximum community benefit.

  27. Been paging through Valley Link documents, the June board presentation includes an interesting proposal for subcontracting service through another agency... if I am reading it correctly it implies either BART or ACE would actually be responsible for crews, staffing, and day-to-day field operations. This would make sense considering VL's purpose, origin as an ACE project, and BART's experience with eBART. They'd make decisions regarding it next month.


    The SJRRC merging ACE into VL would probably work; although they'd still have to add a second track (or two) to the Niles Subdivision and they'd have to dump all bilevel stock. P40s are only 14-6" and Chargers 12-6", so if the SJJPA gave them their Amfleets it could fit alongside the planned VL GTWs/Desiros; platform height-related problms notwithstanding. This would allow for express trains to San Jose (and plausibly Redwood City, via Dumbarton) while also providing local service between Fremont and Stockton.

    This, at least in my mind, would work well with the proposed upgrades to San Joaquin service Newsom has proposed. New Brightline-spec Siemens cars gives him an easy win, and could probably be built before his first term's up. Ditto for ACE expansions to Sacramento and Merced.

    It would also strongly justify expanding eBART to Stockton and giving it to VL, or rebuilding the rail trail adjacent 680.

    Also, from May's documents includes a nice roundup of local farebox recovery: Caltrain wins at 73% with eBART at 35%.


    1. Newsom isn't proposing Siemen cars, not according to May 2019 business plan. Has this changed again?

      I don't think they are planning to expand BART tracks past Dublin are they? My impression is VL terminates at Dublin where the schedules are synchronized for maximum transferability.

    2. I'm being a bit facetious. VL will use DMUs, ACE wants DMUs, and based upon the document below the SJQ will too if any new rolling stock is procured. Given the stated preference for DMU's by Amtrak's current Director (and the inexplicable support for it within the President's party), I think things are lining up for it. I mention full-size Chargers as a point of reference, since in theory Amtrak could use them to throw Zephyrs through Altamont as they used to which would be funny.


      The above yields Desiros in various lengths (2-car local service, 4-car limited stop, 8-car regional), as mentioned in VL's supporting documentation/studies. This also solves any level boarding problem because everything would either be 22" (for existing stations in the CV, including new ones for ACE bilevels) or 50", as they can do both simultaneously as Caltrain plans to. All of them can go under wire when ready, as well.

      Additionally, to the south Tulare's project also states a preference for DMUs (pp193 & pp18), so there is that to consider as well if SJQs are going to be riding on CHSRA rails as Newsom is attempting to do.


      This all adds up too.... a lot of DMUs. With all the new construction, why leave eBART isolated? I don't see how this situation can persist.

    3. Using DMUs instead of EMUs on Valley Link for aesthetic reasons is peak California. Is there anything NOT broken about planning there?

    4. Wires would require 25' over the rails, which isn't doable in freeway medians without digging out space. Both eBART and Valley Link were smart enough to avoid BART's DC power system, especially when the latter will have at least a few grade crossings where it becomes an issue.

      Everything will probably go under wire at one point anyway. In ten years when the northern half of CAHSR is operative, wires between Sacramento and Merced will be the practical and obvious thing to do, while new Dumbarton service boxes in Altamont with wires from the west prompting it's electrification. SMART puts up wires into Fairfield and the Capitol Corridor, using convenient power tie-ins every 60 miles, electrifies starting in Santa Clara through Fremont and Sacramento through Martinez. The remaining gap in Alameda County is filled in when they finally separate all CapCor/Amtrak trains from freight, perhaps by using the WP ROW in downtown as the CCJPA examined as an option. A rebuilt Oakland - 3rd St uses the exact same 4-track station layout Redwood City is currently proposing.

      At least in Norcal, everything is going tie together into one system. This will necessitate EMUs. Outside of Norcal, LA will have to electrify some part of Metrolink for CAHSR anyway. Outside of CA, Cascades and UTA go under wire (see links) causing Shasta and Donner route wires.



      Everything is moving in this direction, even if glacially. If rail initiatives in Colorado, Missouri and Illinois progress, an all-electric Zephyr becomes a non-ridiculous concept.

    5. Today, ACE has ridership of about 6000 per day across 8 trains. That's 750 passengers per train. Each train has 6 Bombardier cars, so 125 passengers each car that holds about 140 people seated (if configured like Caltrain non-bike cars). Using rough napkin math, they seem to be running at around 90% capacity. We know that bombardier cars are some of the most efficient seating layouts around the world, so going with EMU/DMU, you're going to get a severe capacity reduction. Caltrain is partially addressing that by adding 20% service and taking advantage that many riders take short trips and will tolerate standing.

      In order convert fleet and maintain today's capacity, you'll need to expand to 8-9 car length AND possibly increase service. Lengthening stations isn't as hard at ACE stations like it is at some Caltrain stations, but good luck getting more service out of UPRR.

    6. @aarond, I believe you meant to write "the exact same 4-track station layout Caltrain's Business Plan (or the Cross-Bay Transit Partnership) envisions for Redwood City. I'm unaware of any city-driven/originated proposals for a 4-track station there. If you are, please provide a cite. Thanks!

      PS: EMUs can share track with DMUs and locomotive-hauled trains ... and OCS contact bars/wires need not be 25 feet high everywhere — which is about 10 feet higher than the tallest passenger rail equipment in use around here.

    7. I was looking at the 4-platform render posted on RWC's website; wherein Caltrain would take their current RWC station parking lot and the frontage road on the bayside. This would be done as part of some sort of streetcar project, whose terminus is also rendered on a 5th track. It's hard to find renders of it on their site, since they are only viewable by clicking through the "storymap". IIRC, they paid a consultant to conjure it up originally 2-3 years ago. See below:



      This setup looks remarkably similar to Mountain View, which is probably intentional because RWC wants the ridership MV currently has.

      Also: There's a minor graphics error on page 51 of Caltrain's business plan where they use the three jammed gears graphic, the one that became a meme a few years ago when some PTA used it. I find this greatly amusing as it is used in a similar manner.

  28. The "Universal corridors, shared facilities" slide hints that ACE would use something compatible with VL, and supposes doing something like that between Oakland and San Jose in addition to Dumbarton. The "Altamont Corridor Vision" was posted to ACE's site on 6/17/2019:


    It also lays out specifics: 15 min headways, 4 trains per hour, comparable to existing peak Caltrain service. Using the new VL track would reduce conflicts to just Fremont Junction, which itself could be eliminated entirely through a viaduct (roped into a new Shinn Park BART project? Milbrae Part 2). Caltrain could service a new F.S.P station too, although it'd conflict with UP at Newark Junction. This too is "fixable" with a huge, concrete-intensive viaduct and dual-level Newark station, ala Secaucus Junction. NJT runs dual-modes and triple-modes too.

    1. Breaking News: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POvW6PYHRbs

    2. Save the date: October 14th, 2028 at 11:43 am @ 4th&king #4.

      This at least solves one question, that CHSRA isn't going to bother figuring out the DTX or a new TBT until everything else is done. Given that Newsom is Governor, this wasn't guaranteed. On the flip side there's also no answers on Dumbarton, though the choice of SM/RWC passing tracks means the above suggestion for CapCor Dumbarton runs to SJ isn't formulated yet. This opens up RWC as a transfer stop unless transbay trains want to go all the way to SF. On that point, I can imagine Amtrak will at least consider what it'd take to run Zephyrs into SF.... such a thing is easier to justify if they run them over Altamont like WP did. It's also easier to do if most locals/HSR trains are terminating at the TTC while Zephyrs terminate at 4th&King (or Bayshore, with an improved Muni station).

      I off on Zephyr tangents because as CAHSR moves from construction to initial operation there will have to be service considerations for nat'l service, something which SF hasn't seriously thought about since 1970. For better or worse Amtrak has been thinking about it, although their current director's plan to cut up long-distance lines has rightfully failed his other suggestion of higher frequency, plausibly DMU'd <600mi routes is planted. From SF, this can get us over Shasta and Donner which will force discussions about longer-distance service modernization.

    3. Save the date: July 23rd, 2019 at 10:30 am @ City Hall #250

  29. California High Speed Rail using Trump like tactics to seek approvals.


    1. I too sent in a letter to both Hill & friends requesting that they make all the records public again in some form. There is nothing worse than having an entire bookmark library 404. Caltrans also removed their rail network schematic (at least I can't find it, after 2+ hours of searching) which is just awful. Removing public resources is just bad, terrible governing no matter how it's sliced. People should be able to readily view all documents pertaining to the project including documents that are either outdated or show that schedules have slipped. There's no excuse for this.

    2. I've got you covered. I knew there would be link rot, so I saved a copy. California rail network schematic

  30. Fresno Bee: Bullet train clears hurdle as Trump administration OKs state environmental oversight



    1. And here I thought the Authority and FRA weren't on speaking terms?

    2. I find it interesting this news broke the same day the ARRA court case was to occur. I guess bids for the Y and Alternative can go out next year after all? Are the feds relinquishing their fight to recover the ARRA funds? Seems like there is still a lot to report on here.

    3. The state went ahead and released the Wye EIR/EIS as a CEQA-only document after (it seems) being tired of the Federal delay. After public meetings for the Wye, it seems that the Feds have got their (current) thick head around the fact that California is going ahead without them, like on the just-announced MPG standards. Now, like with the symbolic delay the imposed on Caltrain, the Feds again added unnecessary costs to a big infrastructure project to play to the fools with their heads stuck in the ground, or at least in the Fox News screen. Look for the CEQA-NEPA EIR/EIS soon.

    4. "But the environmental delegation does not affect the FRA’s termination earlier this year of a $929 million federal grant for the state’s rail project, or the potential for the agency to seek repayment of more than $2 billion in federal stimulus grants awarded to California under the Obama administration."

      Makes me wonder how the ARRA case went Thursday.


  31. Millbrae City council lamblaste High Speed Rail and the "blended plans"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21tu3q1UMEw 27 minutes

    nice summary from Councilwoman Gina Papan

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOM0F-8vpF0 3 min

    "HSR --- you are not listening"

    1. Same ol' same ol' crying city councils (and Morris Brown). "HSR --- you are not listening" --> Translation: We want it done our way and will pout like two year olds if we don't get it. This is the California High Speed Rail project, not Milbrae High Speed Rail