08 September 2020

High-Speed Rail DEIR

The first thing to notice about the new high-speed rail San Francisco - San Jose Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) is that it sets up a straw-man alternative B, which is set to be dropped in favor of alternative A because it is less effective and more expensive. So we'll focus on the preferred alternative A, and ignore alternative B entirely.
Caltrain In The Hole
Caltrain's Moderate Growth Scenario, in direct
conflict with the HSR DEIR assumptions

The DEIR assumes, in direct contradiction with Caltrain's official board-adopted service vision with eight trains per peak hour per direction (tphpd), that Caltrain will only be able to operate an inadequate six tphpd during the morning and evening peaks. By sub-optimizing the Caltrain timetable to be sparse and irregular, the high-speed rail authority is able to cheap out on new infrastructure by building almost no new overtaking tracks for alternative A. Where HSR needs to overtake, Caltrain is switched into a station siding ("in the hole") to wait five minutes, at Bayshore or Lawrence.
Meanwhile, the dense, regular and fast timetable envisioned under Caltrain's service vision also requires no new passing tracks, except at a new and expanded Redwood City station. Only when HSR is added to the traffic mix does the need for numerous new passing tracks arise; every single Caltrain overtake will still take place at the Redwood City station and nowhere else.
The Caltrain timetable scores highlight the enormous service quality difference:
What scenario do we subscribe to? Do we allow HSR to displace and cripple Caltrain? Does the arrival of HSR force Caltrain to build new passing tracks to continue operating its own service efficiently? Who pays for that, and to whom does the benefit accrue? Whatever happens, it is clear that the operational plans advanced by Caltrain and HSR are in direct conflict, with each agency laying separate claim to the valuable latent capacity of the rail corridor. Whatever the DEIR might say, both operators won't fit without significant new passing track infrastructure.
Section 3.2 of the HSR DEIR incorrectly states that Impact TR#14 (Continuous Permanent Impacts on Passenger Rail Capacity) would be less than significant, with the following dubious arguments:
  • A regular interval schedule could be maintained (You call Appendix 2-C regular!?)
  • The project would not decrease the performance of passenger rail services (Wrong!)
  • Operation of the project would not conflict with adopted policies, plans or programs regarding public transit (Also wrong!)
  • Operation of the project would not decrease the performance of transit systems (On the contrary!)
The HSR DEIR does not adequately discuss the transportation impacts of permanently crippling future Caltrain service, and alternative A stands in direct conflict with Caltrain's officially adopted service vision. Appendix 2-J fails to address the policy consistency of the DEIR with Caltrain's business plan and service vision board resolution-- indeed it fails to even acknowledge the very existence of the Caltrain business plan, one of the most important policy documents relating to the peninsula rail corridor.

Safety
Section 3.11 examines numerous safety and security implications of the HSR project, but inexplicably fails to mention the safety issues of operating trains at 110 mph past platforms crowded with waiting passengers. Many Caltrain stations have narrow (15-foot wide) side platforms that are cluttered with obstacles such as shelters, wheelchair lifts, and mini-high platform blocks, leaving little clearance from the yellow safety stripe behind which passengers are expected to wait, 9 feet from the track center line. Existing conditions are already borderline unsafe, such as when a 79-mph express blasts by the packed northbound platform at Mountain View. Increasing train speeds to 110 mph will likely require the yellow safety stripe to move further than 9 feet from track center, potentially resulting in incompatible and unsafe station platform configurations. The DEIR should include mitigation measures to maintain an adequate level of safety for Caltrain passengers waiting on station platforms.
 
Curve Straightening
Remember the Top Ten Worst Curves post from a decade ago? The DEIR describes how many of them will be flattened to enable higher speeds. Here's how they fare, in order of impact to trip times:

 Rank Curve ID
 Location 
Current Speed
 Future Speed
 #1     C123 San Bruno
 65 mph  (was 60)
 100 mph
 #2 C111 Bayshore 65 mph
 65 mph (unchanged)
 #3 C159 Palo Alto (SB)
 79 mph
 110 mph
 #4 C130 Millbrae 75 mph
 105 mph
 #5 C135 Hayward Park
 79 mph
 110 mph
 #6 C183 Lawrence 79 mph
 110 mph

The most expensive one to fix will be San Bruno, due to Caltrain's lazy and inexcusable lack of foresight when their new grade separation design baked in a 65 mph speed limit. San Bruno was the subject of much yammering on this blog, but is now cast in concrete that will have to be demolished at great additional taxpayer expense. In the DEIR, the rebuilt northbound platform is inexplicably shortened to an operationally inadequate length of 627 feet; this should be increased to a minimum of 750 feet per Caltrain standards. The wholesale reconstruction of the station probably also rates a discussion of impacts elsewhere than under curve straightening; as described it's sort of a stealth project.
The curves previously ranked #7 through #10 were already good for 110 mph, so they will not be modified. However, there are some other extraneous curves that were not in the Top Ten list that will result in speed restrictions lower than 110 mph. These are:

 Curve ID
 Location Current Speed
 Future Speed
 C117 Sierra Point
 79 mph
 85 mph
 C118-C121 South SF
 79 mph
 100 mph
 C127 Near SFO
 79 mph
 100 mph
 C132 N. San Mateo
 79 mph
 100 mph
 C133-C134 San Mateo
 79 mph
 79 mph
 C171 San Antonio
 79 mph
 90 mph

Curves C133/C134, at the north end of San Mateo station, are particularly odd and ill-placed.

Separate Platforms Forever
Sadly, the DEIR enshrines the plan for separate station platforms for Caltrain and HSR, with not the slightest attempt to make the two systems operationally compatible. Neither agency seems inclined to solve the thorny technical and regulatory problems: Caltrain has gone so far as to procure dual boarding height trains, but then shrank back from the plan after metal had been cut, abandoning in-vehicle lifts that would allow boarding and alighting at different platform heights. This is not an easy problem to solve, but it is well worth the effort to create the operational flexibility that is taken for granted in other busy rail corridors around the world.

Ultimately, the whole high-speed rail EIR process feels like theater: by the time the funding materializes to make it worth expanding the system to the peninsula rail corridor, the proposed project will have been overcome by events. The environment of the project is a moving target, and right out of the gate, the draft EIR is already oblivious to its changed context.

36 comments:

  1. About speeds along platforms, one should have a look at the situation in Germany and France, where 200 km/h operation along unguarded platforms is standard (in France, the Alsace main line (Strasbourg - Mulhouse) comes to my mind; in Germany the Hamburg - Hannover main line).

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  2. But but.... in the real world, CHSRA has ackmowledged that they operate as a "guest" on Caltrain track, and at Caltrain's pleasure. That alone rules out the DEIR's high-speed TPH, and having Caltrain's trains wait for a HSR overtake (instead of the other way around).


    In a rational world, whoever wrote the DEIR would be fired for cause.
    (If written by the local transit-industrial-complex mafia, the contractor(s) should be fired and blacklisted.)

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  3. How many of these speed increases are based simply by allowing higher cant deficiency?

    Would running new EMUs permit higher cant deficiency vs or gallery set?

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    1. Would be worthwhile to look at the cant deficiency number of DB or SBB.

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    2. Here's a paper from 2001 discussing, among many other things, cant deficiency in various countries, including Germany.

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    3. You forgot the link, but I know the one you mean: Track Geometry for High Speed Railways, a master's thesis by Martin Lindahl.

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  4. Johhn Ramsbottom10 September, 2020 06:16

    With 24 trains an hour going over an at grade crossing will there be any time for vehicles? I don't see any timings but if the crossing is close to the end of a platform won't the barriers have to come down before the train arrives at the station for safety and stay down until it leaves the station.

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    1. I don't see why the gates have to remain down when the train has passed.

      For a train leaving over the grade crossing, the gates can be up until the time for the train is come, and then the signal can open when the gates are down.

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    2. It is when the train passes over the crossing on exiting the station that there would be a lengthy downtime. Trains going the other way are much less of a problem but if they are scheduled to stop at the station the time from when the signal to lower the barriers is made to when the train clears the crossing is increased. A train that is not scheduled clears the crossing much faster.

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    3. Actually, when leaving from a stop, setting the exit signal to open first triggers the gates to go down, and when they are confirmed to be down, the signal opens.

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    4. The signal blocks aren't set up like that, and the grade crossing predictors operate essentially independently. As I understand it, the way it works today is that the gates on the far side of the station close as the train approaches, then re-open when the sensed speed reaches zero. An audio circuit activated by the train horn re-closes the gates upon departure, or the train slowly enters the "island circuit" which always triggers the gates regardless of speed. All this will change completely with electrification, since return currents are not compatible with old-school crossing predictors. This is deemed a top technical risk to the success of the electrification project. The recent experience from Denver is not encouraging.

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    5. Does that mean that the philosophy is "a block is open unless it is occupied" (as opposed to "a block is closed unless it is needed")?

      Does it also mean that one could close the gates, just by making a noise similar to the locomotive horn???

      Does it also mean that the grade crossings are not signal protected? (meaning that the signals only open when the gates are down)??

      Now, the interaction between signalling and electrification is an issue, but it can be considered as to be solved. There are many places operating at 25 kV (and even 60 Hz), so look what they are doing. …it may mean that the priority of car traffic at a grade crossing has to be rethought…

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    6. Max,
      i think you need to re-read the entire CBOSS history again. Seriously.

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    7. Grade crossings in the US are not, in general, signal protected. The US grade crossing philosophy is "the train is coming, you better get out of the way", and the train's passage is seen as an inevitability.

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    8. Actually, the other piece of the US grade crossing safety philosophy is getting the warning time down as close to the legally required minimum of 20 seconds as possible. That is the purpose of the crossing predictors, and that was the problem in Denver. It wasn't that the grade crossings had too little warning time, it was that sometimes they had too much. I guess they were worried about drivers driving around the quad gates somehow.

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    9. Yes, arcady is correct. The FRA and Colorado PUC cited papers/experts claiming that excessive warning times lead to driver impatience and dangerous "drive-arounds." The threatened shutdown was due to Denver RTD grade crossings suffering intermittent and unpredictably excessive warning times.

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    10. Max, the term "exit signal" is a dead give-away that you're assuming European-style signalling practice. The US doesn't do that.

      if I recall correctly, grade-crossing enhancements was one of the differences between ITCS, and CBOSS.

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    11. @Reality Check: And for what are there four quadrant gates??

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    12. @Max: 4-quadrant gates just close the other two “exit” quadrants that more common 2-quadrant gates leave open. These (and/or raised center medians on crossing approaches) are meant to stop “drive-arounds” (when impatient motorists drive into the opposing lane of traffic to drive around a set of lowered 2-quadrant gates).

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  5. I think cant deficiency (banking) is max 3" for Caltrain and 4" for Amtrak in NEC. I think new EMUs could hit 4" or more - if freight allows it. One could also allow for higher speed without banking which will simply push people against the side a little more - which might not be a big deal at gradual curves and certainly be lower than what's experienced at 4th king entry.

    So one question would be whether Caltrain is even using maximum superelevation at some of these turns.

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    1. It's important not to confuse actual superelevation (a.k.a. cant) with unbalanced superelevation (a.k.a. cant deficiency). The former is physical elevation of the outside rail, which can reach up to 5 inches on Caltrain. The latter is your "higher speed without banking which will simply push people against the side a little more", and is also expressed in terms of how much extra height of the outside rail (over what it actually is) would compensate for it. The allowed cant deficiency on Caltrain is 3 inches.

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    2. Thanks. That's a much crisper explanation than mine. So going back your original tables, do we have data on actual cant (as rail sits today) for the turns you have in the table at the top post - I tried looking at old posts, but didn't see any cant numbers. Is cant actually 5 inches for Sierra Point curve or San Mateo curve?

      Second thought is whether going petitioning FRA to go from cant deficiency of 3 inches to 4 inches is a worthwhile effort given the speed increase.

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  6. In case anyone would like to see a Caltrain video (not mine) on the progress of electrification (from the southern most point to SF). Someone took a cab-view video.

    https://youtu.be/Yz7COChSSQQ?t=2137

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    1. Worth noting, this was on July 18th 2020.

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    2. Should have mentioned the date, sorry.

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  7. Excessive dwells is the reason I don't like the "Moderate Growth" service plan as it has locals waiting around for 5 minutes at RWC. This is even worse than the 3 minutes at Bayshore/Lawrence in the HSR 6+4 plan. Any timed transfer station should include a 4-track segment with at least one local-only station before and after to minimize excessive dwells.

    In the meantime, Caltrain is seeking MTC funding for their "Enhanced Growth" 8tph scenario with level boarding and no HSR service or RWC overtake. If they manage to implement this, more realistic, proposal before HSR funding arrives, then a SEIR would be needed for HSR service as conditions would have changed.

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    1. Agreed, especially since the perception of time is distorted (time at rest seems to go slower than time in motion). The solution is as you mention at least one four-track local-only station on either side of Redwood City. That means San Carlos (plenty of room between Cherry and Arroyo Streets) and a totally new station at North Fair Oaks, described here.

      A new Fair Oaks station makes a whole lot more sense now that Atherton will close, from the perspective of stop spacing, overtakes, and let's not forget equity. The Fair Oaks location at 5th Ave has more people living within a mile radius than any other location along the rail corridor from San Mateo to San Jose, and right now they can't easily use Caltrain!

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    2. Agree with you about 5th Ave being a great location for a new station, but unfortunately it’s hemmed in by houses either side so it doesn’t seem feasible to construct a 4 track station there without a lot of residential property acquisitions which would be politically difficult.

      A potential compromise would be to run 3 tracks all the way through Menlo Park. Not as nice operationally as 4 tracks but could net most of the benefits. I feel like Caltrain should be planning for 3 tracks wherever there is no likelihood of near-term grade separation e.g. Atherton and Downtown San Mateo. It would allow more operational flexibility once HSR arrives and could be sold as reducing gate downtime, at least in theory.

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    3. @jpk122s: as I understand it, CPUC generally will not allow adding tracks across at-grade crossings. So adding a 3rd track requires grade separation.

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    4. @RealityCheck: As far as I know, grade separation is only required for 4 tracks or more. Indeed HSRs entire plan for San Jose to Gilroy is all 3 tracks with grade crossings, so it’s at least theoretically possible to add a 3rd track without grade separation. Whether CPUC would approve it on the Peninsula, I don’t know. It’s probably a case by case thing and might need to be accompanied by safety improvements like quad gates.

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    5. @jpk122s In my personal experience, the issue of time spent stopped feeling longer than time spent in motion isn't quite the same at a station where there is a timed overtake with cross-platform transfers. Isn't that what is planned at RWC?

      When you can clearly see people changing trains then the stop feels purposeful and it's not as bothersome, even when you are on a local train that stops before and departs after the overtaking express. Maybe it's the feeling that your train's stopping has given *you* another option: "I could get on that express train if I wanted to."

      However, the scenario where you sit "in the hole" at a platform waiting for a train to pass you without stopping is definitely annoying.

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    6. Caltrans needs to take control of all these Authorities because they all seem to have their own, conflicting, agendas. They propose things which are detrimental to others and sometimes appear to be deliberately trying to rubbish others plans.

      One authority should be set up to manage all transit in the area. Individuals who are recognised as excellent in their current board roles should be selected for the new board to get a really good oversight as to what is happening.

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    7. "recognized as excellent in their current board roles"?
      You mean like Rod Diridon?

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    8. For anyone who remembers, Berry St crossing in Mission Bay was newly opened with 3 tracks. Judging by amount of restrictions, medians, light cycles, they had to put extra effort into making that PUC compiant.

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    9. I think Berry / Mission Bay Dr (formerly Common) may have been grandfathered in by virtue of already having three tracks. These grandfather rights are important to preserve, as you can see elsewhere such as Sunnyvale Ave where the tracks extend through the crossing and not one foot beyond.

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    10. I believe they "closed" the King Street crossing to allow the Mission Bay/Common crossing to open.

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