Friday, December 12, 2008

FRA Says Pacheco Pass is OK

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

From the Federal Railroad Administration:

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has issued of a Record of Decision (ROD) on the California High-Speed Train (HST) system environmental impact statement (EIS) for the corridor between the Bay Area and Central Valley. The FRA's decision supports the State's selection of preferred alignment and station locations, and considers the environmental benefits and adverse
impacts associated with the preferred network alternative. It also describes mitigation measures to address adverse environmental impacts.

The FRA has served as the lead Federal agency for the environmental review of the HST program, while the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) is responsible for its planning, financing,
construction, and operation. The Authority and FRA completed the EIS in accordance with both the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), including a broad effort to solicit input from the public, affected agencies and interested parties. This step concludes the program level of NEPA review that will be followed by preparation of site-specific environmental documents for sections of the HST system.

The full ROD can be found here.

One hopes this would give pause to the lawsuit-happy activists who continue to argue that the Pacheco route is the seventh sign of the apocalypse. Sure, Pacheco is imperfect, as is Altamont, but hopefully the FRA's decision will help put to bed that particular routing dispute. There are MUCH bigger issues for us to worry about, particularly what happens in Congress in January.

27 comments:

Rafael said...

I doubt David Schonbrunn and the NIMBYs are going to give up quite so easily. They have different reasons for their opposition: Schonbrunn argues that Pacheco doesn't serve as many cities as HSR should in his opinion, while Menlo Park and Atherton would rather not have HSR run though their towns.

However, to win their case they now have to prove that not just CHSRA but also FRA failed to follow proper procedure in their selection process. With the economy in such a bad state, people are more worried about the rapidly vanishing tax base for the state and jobs than they are about some lesser spotted grasshopper in Pacheco Pass.

The lawsuit will only regain steam if there is some legal technicality that CHSRA tripped over or, if it the authority is perceived as mismanaging this next stage of the process.

yeson1a said...

Where do this people get their money from to file this stuff?.and if they loose do they have to reimburse CAHSRA for legal fees?

Loren said...

I've seen some transit advocates act very wounded about the CHSRA's choice of Pacheco Pass over Altamont Pass.

But I have not been able to pin down what they dislike about Pacheco Pass.

Encouragement of sprawl is one of the reasons I've seen. But I have a hard time seeing how that follows; the most I've seen is that a station at Los Banos would promote development there, and thus sprawl.

Rafael said...

@ Loren -

that's why AB3034 explicitly prohibited a station at Los Banos.

I think a of people were upset at the way SJ politicians made sure nothing would interfere with their plans for BART and SJ Diridon station. For anyone living in Modesto, Tracy, even Livermore, the preference for Pacheco pass means they'll have to wait a whole lot longer to get an HSR service that's a whole lot worse if you're going to SFO, for example.

If SJ had been prepared to accept Santa Clara instead of SJ Diridon as the northern Santa Clara county station, the express line haul penalty for SF-LA would have been a whopping eight minutes (based on CHSRA's own analysis). However, running trains around the South Bay, up to Fremont and across to Pleasanton would have require the use of a short stretch of ROW between hwy 262 and Fremont Irvington that SJ had earmarked for its cherished BART extension.

South city acted quite selfishly and needlessly so, but it can't be helped now. Time to let it be and move on.

nikko pigman said...

Well what they (and myself) were hoping was that the Altamont Pass route would carry the train up a more populated corridor and then go to Oakland/East Bay Area and cross the bay to get to SF. Unfortunately, the way the Altamont alignment was made, the line instead of going to Oakland and crossing, backtracks to the southern end of the bay and then back up the peninsula. My feeling is that someone pushed that alignment to make the argument for Altamont less fit.

The Pachecho Pass wouldn't really cause sprawl because it doesn't have any stops in that unpopulated area between where it breaks from central valley to where it meets the southern end of the peninsula.

I personally would have rather seen an Altamont Route like that but what's done is done. I'm just happy that HSR is coming.

Tony D. said...

"South city acted quite selfishly and needlessly so." Funny, I felt that Altamont advocate's were the one's acting selfishly in the whole debate; really, Modesto and Tracy having precedence over the nations 10th largest city? Huhh?!! Anyhow, you're right Rafael, let it be and move on.

Spokker said...

Build them both...?

Peter N said...

A station in Santa Clara would be useless. There's nothing around the SC Caltrain station, nor the Great America Amtrak station. The only logical location for a station in south bay is Diridon, which would directly serve California's 3rd largest city.

The obvious requirement for the bay area is you have to serve SF city, you have to serve SJ, it would be nice to serve SFO or OAK, and anything else would be nice. The current route is the only one that does the first two, plus one of the airports, sanely. Coming across Altamont and then having the line split to SF and SJ would be a scheduling nightmare (think Bart's Millbrae/SFO fiasco). Doing a funny loop across down east bay to SJ, across south bay, and back then back up the peninsula would add unacceptable delay for direct SF service.

Basically it comes down to which are more important to serve: Livermore/Pleasanton/small east bay cities, or San Jose. You only get to pick one, and San Jose is the obvious choice.

Rafael said...

@ Tony D, Peter N -

your assertion that it's ok to tell several populous counties they are SOL because your city is bigger than theirs are is exactly what I'm taking about. Alameda county alone has way more inhabitants that the city of SJ does. This was supposed to be a state project, not one for the greater glory of South City.

Suffice to say that I think an HSR station at San Jose Airport would have served Silicon Valley very well and just about everyone else in Northern California much better, provided SCC had been prepared to develop both the Santa Clara and the SJ Diridon areas. They are just one Caltrain/future BART stop apart.

Extending Caltrain to Hollister would a doozy and decent passenger rail service to Monterey and Santa Cruz should be provided in any case.

But, whatever. Pacheco pass it is.

Peter N said...

All population numbers are in millions

SF City + County: 0.75

Santa Clara County: 1.8
San Jose City: 1.0

Alameda County: 1.5
Oakland City: 0.5
Berkeley: 0.1
Livermore/Pleasanton/Dublin: about 0.2

You can make an argument that Alameda County around Oakland is undeserved for its population. However serving Oakland via Altamont pass means splitting the track when you get over, and doing a bridge/tunnel to SF. That's not a very practical design.

Doing a loop around South Bay and back north to the pass hurts ridership from SF and SJ, doesn't directly help ridership from OAK, but would be great for those 200k people that live in the pass. Doesn't make any sense.

luis d. said...

Can't we get some investors who would be willing to raise money for the Altamont route?

I mean like Chevron's HQ is located along the Altamont. They would repair their reputation as a dirty energy company (in my book) if they, along with others contributed to the route in the interest of the people that buy their products or work for them directly?

They could do something like this instead of wasting millions on advertising that they are a clean company and are looking for Alt. fuels. (I know you've seen the Commercials & Billboards)

The cost for Altamont is around $6B, wich is pretty high, but we should think about all the people that would be served by this route today and into the future. Not only Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton, Fremont. We're talking all the cities north of the route like San Ramon, Walnut Creek, Concord, Brentwood, would probably use it instead of SF.

The area isn't immune to growth and we should find a way around the cost and include it in the plans. We cannot wait til 2030+ for a phase three.

Also note that riders from Sacramento will want a shorter ride if traveling to SF and the Altamont would do the trick.

I hate it when people think their city is way more important just because it's bigger and they think they should have priority (SJ). I have no problem with the arguement that HSR will have to be split using the Altamont but get over yourselves, your getting HSR and BART.

Brandon in San Diego said...

I think the decision of Pacheco over Altamont is much more than population access.

It includes quality of service and minimizing operating cost and provides greater assurance that surpluses will be available for later extensions.

The Altamont alignment meant more time consuming indirect service. It also meant less frequent service, OR a much higher operating cost for HSR.

Assuming finite resources, such as a specific number of trains travelling north each day and funding to operate them... if you assume this and you introduce an additional wye/junction into the network, you introduce an opportunity to divert trains. That means re-directed trains would not be available to run on the original alignment and as a result provide less frequent service.

Pacheco Alignment: Right now, there is only one wye/junction in the northern part of the network; trains will be directed to either San Francisco via San Jose, or to Sacramento. This alignment also provides the shortest travel time to between LA and SF.

Altamont Alignment: If pursued, would have meant an additional wye/junction somewhere around Fremont. Trains would be directed south to San Jose, or across a bridge to the peninsula to run to San Francisco. This would theoretically halve the level of service to both San Jose and San Francisco; however, precious Tri-Valley would get their access for their M-F peak period commuters... and Sacramento would eventually get quicker travel times into the Bay.

Or, an Altamont alignment could have avoided a wye/junction by having trains loop counterclockwise once in the Bay Area to hit Fremont, then San Jose and then up to San Francisco; however, at a great time penalty to San Francisco.
---
In my opinion, for high speed rail to be strong and successful, it must successfully balance access using finite resource and strive for a high level of effeciency. Pacheco provides greater opportunity to achieve those compared to Altamont. If Altamont would have been selected, it would have been a political compromise at the expense of providing quality service to the state.

yeson1a said...

I think its fine,now that the Bart tax has passed it will be very easy for East Bay/ Livemore riders to connect to HST at SJ.HST is for intercity travel not commuting and the East Bay already has all of the current Intercity rail in the Bay area.I have taken the Amtrak bus so many times I cant remember and this fast Bart connection would be so much faster

flowmotion said...

Never understood why they were proposing a HSR line that ran parallel to BART in the first place.

Furthermore, a second transbay tube, while needed eventually, would bust the budget for this.

A lot of "transit activists" seem to have a huge chip on their shoulder about BART -- I wounder if that was also motivating their desire to see the Altamont route

Brandon in San Diego said...

^^^ Interesting. I never imagined the BART extension to San Jose was designed to be an answer to address access to the southeast bay without an Altamont HSR alignment.

I could have sworn the extension effort pre-dated HSR.

flowmotion said...

Brandon, I suspect you were replying to yeson1a, but BART to San Jose goes back to the earliest conceptions of the system.

Essentially they've reinvented the "ring around the bay" concept with HSR replacing Peninsula BART.

Peter N said...

As a side note, I happened to find a really nice, detailed population density map of the Bay Area produced by the USGS. Huge pdf map (2.5mb), and some background information about it.

Tony D. said...

Does anyone know why Bay Area "transit activists" hate BART? It's like a vegetarian hating lettuce. Oh well...

nikko pigman said...

@Peter N:

Look at it this way.

In the immediate Bay Area, San Jose seems to be the most obvious routing. But when you look at the density of a state map, where population growth is, and the CAHSR Altamont alignment, the Altamont route lines up perfectly. The growth is occurring in the area just east of Altamont Pass (ie, the Stockton-Merced area). If you look at the area from just 6-10 miles or so, there's only a little development in that area and it pales in comparison with what you see in the northern Central Valley.

Here's another issue -- the flow of Sacramento inbound and outbound passenger traffic (regardless of what mode) is focused on the Bay Area. The Sacramento-Bay Area (Capital) Corridor is prime real estate for HSR service. Its not practical to serve this heavily trafficked corridor by having the trains go all the way down to the Los Banos area, then to Gilroy, then back up to the Peninsula.

And amidst all this, you're completely cutting out the east Bay area (including Oakland) out of the picture.

Alex said...

I think that the Pacheco Pass choice was correct but it will be inconvenient for people traveling from Sacramento to the TTC in SF. Using the website trip planner, it sites a time of 113 minutes. Using existing trains wouldn't get you there any faster either. If a person was to depart from Sacramento, stop at Stockton, transfer to ACE, get off at Pleasanton, take the bus to Dublin/Pleasanton BART, then take that all the way into SF it would take at least 20+71+10+47=148 minutes. I think it will be important in the future to provide the Rapid Rail solution that has been proposed by the CHSRA. Replacing the current diesel trains ACE uses with fast EMUs similar to what Caltrain will implement will speed up this process but it still doesn't solve the problem of too many transfers and a higher cost to the rider transferring onto BART. If the ACE ROW added another track then during the times of day ACE wasn't using the tracks the new Rapid Rail system could be run. In addition if this system was integrated with HSR and BART (yes I know this would be very hard to implement) there wouldn't be multiple tickets to be purchased. Something that would have to done though would be to make a branch off track from the current ACE tracks to connect directly to Dublin/Pleasanton BART so no bus ride would be required. The plans on the CHSRA site shows more tunneling past the Pleasanton ACE route and hooking up with BART around Union City but I figure it would be easier to just hook up at the Pleasanton BART station. Then again, this may not shorten the trip time enough to make it viable anyways.

Brandon in San Diego said...

flow...
You're right. And Santa Clara County opted out of BART when origionally proposed.

Peter N said...

No matter what you consider, the population numbers just don't add up for Altamont Pass. All of San Joaquin County is 600k people, with Stockton at 300k. Merced's just 80k.

The problem really comes down to the fact that for all sorts of practical reasons, there will only be 1 track built now and the network expanded later.

I don't think there's ever been a question that the 1st phase has to be SF-LA. What that decided Oakland loses right from the start. The only way to serve OAK would be a bridge or tunnel, which is way too expensive for an initial build (I mean Kopp's balking at the transbay center, imagine asking him for a 2nd transbay tube)

Another choice I don't think has been contested is that end-to-end SF to LA express travel time is the most important system statistic. That eliminates the south bay loop up to Altamont route for being too much of a detour (25-30 miles of ~100mph(?)
= 15~20 minutes).

That means the only practical Altamont route is the Dumbarton bridge. This give you another choice: Wye to SJ or no.

If there's a wye then you have something like 30-50% fewer SF-LA placarded trains, killing a lot of scheduling convenience. It's a complete nightmare from a logistical point with trains ending up at the wrong station from where you need them.

Not having a wye is basically a non-starter. You give up serving 1mill that are fairly dense in SJ + 500k or so in the rest of the county. You gain 200k in the Altamont Pass, 300k in Stockton, and 200k in Modesto.

Can a Altamont Pass advocate please describe what their preferred end-to-end system would be, or how my rejecting problems above should be?

Anonymous said...

This is the best option ..all of us know this.

Clem said...

> Does anyone know why Bay Area "transit activists" hate BART? It's like a vegetarian hating lettuce.

BART is a slow-growing invasive species that spreads an oppressive toxic root system, robbing all other plants in the garden (especially autobus transitis and caltrain peninsulae) of vital nutrients and water.

This ecological imbalance causes BART to be reviled by informed vegetarians, despite its highly attractive and fragrant blossoms.

Spokker said...

BART rules. I would extend it to San Jose and never build another extension again.

BART has nothing to do with your widdle transit agencies (VTA comes up a lot in anti-BART discussions) not getting their money. Their problems lie with a lack of state and federal funding for mass transit projects that will hopefully be solved when Barack Christ and his railfan VP enter office.

BART wouldn't need to compete with the littlest agencies if transit was properly funding in the first place. BART may be overbuilt but it does what it's supposed to pretty damn well.

Rafael said...

@ Peter N -

I've made my peace with Pacheco Pass, so please consider the following merely as background information.

---

CHSRA analyzed the option of Altamont-via-the-South-Bay in chapter 7 of its Bay Area to Central Valley Final Program EIR/EIS, published under the Library tab of the official website.

Table 7.2-9 on page 7-36 (52 in the PDF version) lists the following line haul times for Altamont-via-the-South-Bay:

SF-LA 3:17 (197 min)
SJ Diridon-LA 2:19 (139 min)
delta = 58 min

SF-Sac 1:39 (99 min)
SJ Diridon-Sac 0:49 (49 min)
delta = 50 min

Table 7.2-12 on page 7-48 (page 70 in the PDF version) lists the following line haul times for the preferred Pacheco Pass alignment:

SF-LA 2:38 (158 min)
SJ Diridon-LA 2:09 (129 min)
delta = 29 min

SF-Sac 1:47 (107 min)
SJ Diridon-Sac 1:18 (78 min)
delta = 29 min

---

Analysis:

First, the difference in the SJ Diridon-LA line haul times is 139-129=10min. It is not 15-20min as you claim.

Second, SJ Diridon is located about a mile south of the intersection of the Caltrain corridor and I-880, which would have been the preferred HSR alignment south of Fremont Warm Springs.

That means Altamont-around-the-South-Bay would have required trains to reverse direction at SJ Diridon. CHSRA estimated this procedure would take 58-29=29min for train traveling between SF and LA but only 50-29=21min for those traveling between SF and Sacramento.

These differences are dwell times at SJ Diridon. Considering that every true HSR trainset ever built has a fully equipped driver cab at either end and is at most 1320 feet long, this implies that the driver would take either 21 or 29 minutes to leave his cab, walk a quarter mile and enter the cab at the other end. This is patent nonsense, as is the assumption that the train's origin or destination should have any bearing on how long this takes.

Third, CHSRA completely failed to even consider the option of siting the Silicon Valley station at Santa Clara (SJC airport). That location would have permitted run-through tracks, eliminating whatever the actual penalty for reversing direction would have been. It would also have cut the route by two miles on which trains would have averaged 60mph at best.

Ergo, this variation would have reduced the SF-LA line haul time penalty to around eight (8) minutes or 5%, relative to Pacheco Pass. It is not credible that such a small difference would have significantly reduced ridership levels between these cities.

By mapping the section between Manteca and Merced into the starter line, it would have improved statewide connectivity for residents southern and eastern Alameda county, southern Contra Costa county, plus San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties much earlier and to a much greater extent than Pacheco Pass ever will. Relieving congestion on I-580, I-680 and I-880 would have eliminated pressure to widen these freeways in chronic bottleneck sections.

In addition, Altamont-via-the-Santa-Clara would have greatly reduced the cost of phase 2 extension to Sacramento. At 49+29-2=76 min (1:16), this option would have made HSR competitive against car trips between SF and Sacramento along congested I-80, further increasing the chances that the extension will actually be built. Its funding, like that of the extension to San Diego, depends entirely on profitable operations of the starter line.

Arguably, there is nothing much near the Santa Clara station right now except for the small Santa Clara University. However, much the same can be said of SJ Diridon. In both cases, there is a substantial acreage of underutilized land in the immediate vicinity of the stations.

Frankly, transit-oriented development should be pursued near both stations, regardless of where the HSR station is. Caltrain and later, BART, will provide excellent local connections either way. The area between Santa Clara station and SJC airport would arguably be more suitable for commercial than residential property.

Pacheco Pass does serve southern Santa Clara county and, Caltrain could easily be extended to Hollister. Rapid passenger rail connections to Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are technically feasible but would be expensive.

Ergo, the argument that the preferred option serves these counties just as well as the Altamont alignment would serve the cities it actually passes through - never mind Sacramento - is a gross misrepresentation.

---

So why was Pacheco Pass chosen?

a) CHSRA's analysis of SF-LA and SF-Sac line haul times for alignment option #9 was questionable to say the least.

b) CHSRA completely failed to consider a variation 9-alt with the Silicon Valley station in Santa Clara rather than SJ Diridon.

Note that Rod Diridon is a member of the CHSRA board. He also heads up the Mineta Transportation Institute, which regularly receives research grants from, among others, Parsons Brinkerhoff. The company is the lead consultant on both HSR and the BART extension to San Jose. Both Altamont Pass via the South Bay and BART would have required the use of a short section of ROW owned by Santa Clara County, between Fremont Irvington and hwy 262. VTA has long pursued the BART extension project, irrespective of the fact that costs have escalated to over $300 million/mile.

Separately, note that CHSRA chairman Quentin Kopp "borrowed" $150 million from the project to extend BART to Fremont Warm Springs in order to cover cost overruns for the BART extension to SFO. He was project planning lead for that effort also.

Rafael said...

@ Peter N -

I've made my peace with Pacheco Pass, so please consider the following merely as background information.

---

CHSRA analyzed the option of Altamont-via-the-South-Bay in chapter 7 of its Bay Area to Central Valley Final Program EIR/EIS, published under the Library tab of the official website.

Table 7.2-9 on page 7-36 (52 in the PDF version) lists the following line haul times for Altamont-via-the-South-Bay:

SF-LA 3:17 (197 min)
SJ Diridon-LA 2:19 (139 min)
delta = 58 min

SF-Sac 1:39 (99 min)
SJ Diridon-Sac 0:49 (49 min)
delta = 50 min

Table 7.2-12 on page 7-48 (page 70 in the PDF version) lists the following line haul times for the preferred Pacheco Pass alignment:

SF-LA 2:38 (158 min)
SJ Diridon-LA 2:09 (129 min)
delta = 29 min

SF-Sac 1:47 (107 min)
SJ Diridon-Sac 1:18 (78 min)
delta = 29 min

---

Analysis:

First, the difference in the SJ Diridon-LA line haul times is 139-129=10min. It is not 15-20min as you claim.

Second, SJ Diridon is located about a mile south of the intersection of the Caltrain corridor and I-880, which would have been the preferred HSR alignment south of Fremont Warm Springs.

That means Altamont-around-the-South-Bay would have required trains to reverse direction at SJ Diridon. CHSRA estimated this procedure would take 58-29=29min for train traveling between SF and LA but only 50-29=21min for those traveling between SF and Sacramento.

These differences are dwell times at SJ Diridon. Considering that every true HSR trainset ever built has a fully equipped driver cab at either end and is at most 1320 feet long, this implies that the driver would take either 21 or 29 minutes to leave his cab, walk a quarter mile and enter the cab at the other end. This is patent nonsense, as is the assumption that the train's origin or destination should have any bearing on how long this takes.

Third, CHSRA completely failed to even consider the option of siting the Silicon Valley station at Santa Clara (SJC airport). That location would have permitted run-through tracks, eliminating whatever the actual penalty for reversing direction would have been. It would also have cut the route by two miles on which trains would have averaged 60mph at best.

Ergo, this variation would have reduced the SF-LA line haul time penalty to around eight (8) minutes or 5%, relative to Pacheco Pass. It is not credible that such a small difference would have significantly reduced ridership levels between these cities.

By mapping the section between Manteca and Merced into the starter line, it would have improved statewide connectivity for residents southern and eastern Alameda county, southern Contra Costa county, plus San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties much earlier and to a much greater extent than Pacheco Pass ever will. Relieving congestion on I-580, I-680 and I-880 would have eliminated pressure to widen these freeways in chronic bottleneck sections.

In addition, Altamont-via-the-Santa-Clara would have greatly reduced the cost of phase 2 extension to Sacramento. At 49+29-2=76 min (1:16), this option would have made HSR competitive against car trips between SF and Sacramento along congested I-80, further increasing the chances that the extension will actually be built. Its funding, like that of the extension to San Diego, depends entirely on profitable operations of the starter line.

Arguably, there is nothing much near the Santa Clara station right now except for the small Santa Clara University. However, much the same can be said of SJ Diridon. In both cases, there is a substantial acreage of underutilized land in the immediate vicinity of the stations.

Frankly, transit-oriented development should be pursued near both stations, regardless of where the HSR station is. Caltrain and later, BART, will provide excellent local connections either way. The area between Santa Clara station and SJC airport would arguably be more suitable for commercial than residential property.

Pacheco Pass does serve southern Santa Clara county and, Caltrain could easily be extended to Hollister. Rapid passenger rail connections to Monterey and Santa Cruz counties are technically feasible but would be expensive.

Ergo, the argument that the preferred option serves these counties just as well as the Altamont alignment would serve the cities it actually passes through - never mind Sacramento - is a gross misrepresentation.

---

So why was Pacheco Pass chosen?

a) CHSRA's analysis of SF-LA and SF-Sac line haul times for alignment option #9 was questionable to say the least.

b) CHSRA completely failed to consider a variation 9-alt with the Silicon Valley station in Santa Clara rather than SJ Diridon.

Note that Rod Diridon is a member of the CHSRA board. He also heads up the Mineta Transportation Institute, which regularly receives research grants from, among others, Parsons Brinkerhoff. The company is the lead consultant on both HSR and the BART extension to San Jose. Both Altamont Pass via the South Bay and BART would have required the use of a short section of ROW owned by Santa Clara County, between Fremont Irvington and hwy 262. VTA has long pursued the BART extension project, irrespective of the fact that costs have escalated to over $300 million/mile.

Separately, note that CHSRA chairman Quentin Kopp "borrowed" $150 million from the project to extend BART to Fremont Warm Springs in order to cover cost overruns for the BART extension to SFO. He was project planning lead for that effort also.