You may have noticed a new addition to the blogroll at right - the Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog. It's a fantastic site run by Clem, who lives on the Peninsula and is an expert on the Caltrain (and now HSR corridor). His blog provides some very detailed discussions of the HSR route between SF and San José and focuses on what needs to be done to build HSR the right way.
His posts offer some of the most informative commentary on the Peninsula segment that I've seen. For example, his San Bruno post pointed out a significant issue that will have to be addressed to make HSR trains run effectively:
One important consequence of this history is that San Bruno is left with one of the sharpest curves on the peninsula, where the cutoff formerly diverged from the old main line. The radius of the curve is 1800 feet (550 meters), giving it a maximum safe speed of about 70 mph (115 km/h). Caltrain has a speed limit of 60 mph at this location. Slowing down a high speed train from a peninsula cruise speed of 125 mph (200 km/h) to take the existing San Bruno curve would cost more than a minute, or over half a percent of the entire SF to LA running time. Considering how much investment is being made to shave seconds off run times for the entire system, a 1-minute penalty in San Bruno for a single curve should raise some red flags at the CHSRA.
Consider the "San Bruno Curve" a significant obstacle to HSR on the peninsula.
His Millbrae post from yesterday offers some excellent thoughts on how the flaws of the BART project mean that the Millbrae station is going to have to be significantly reengineered for HSR and Caltrain to be effective:
Plans for the Millbrae HSR station, described in the CHSRA's environmental impact documents, call for four tracks to pass through, with two outside platforms.
Unfortunately, the incompetent design of the existing Millbrae station (opened in 2003 and billed as the largest multi-model station west of the Mississippi) has squandered much of the space available within the Caltrain right of way. Massive support columns for the expansive station mezzanine have been placed right where you'd want to run extra tracks, and a third platform track at the south end of the station (presumptuously built to terminate some Caltrain services, assuming everyone would want to ride BART into San Francisco) sits unused, with no possibility of continuing north through the station. The photo at right, taken in 2000 during construction, illustrates how a forest of concrete pillars now constrains the right of way.
The total lack of foresight in this design is breathtaking.
To make room for four tracks, the existing southbound platform and part of the mezzanine that it supports (including the ill-placed pillars) will have to be demolished and rebuilt a few dozen feet further to the west.
Clem is determined to make sure that HSR is built the right way along the Peninsula:
Let's finish on a positive note: to avoid becoming the boondoggle that proposition 1A opponents fear, the HSR project needs to be designed under the watchful eye of an independent panel of experts with local knowledge, and especially some TEETH to bite back at the agencies and contractors as required to keep them attuned to the public interest. Whether the provisions attached to Proposition 1A will provide for this remains to be seen.
I fully agree, and that's where these HSR blogs become so valuable. We have a lot of people here who are supportive of the concept and who understand the technical issues involved. WE can provide the oversight and public pressure to ensure that HSR becomes the success we all know it can and must be for our state.
When I started this blog back in March it was primarily to fill a void - there were a few sites that had HSR content but they weren't being updated often, and weren't providing the ongoing information and insight that was needed to ensure that Prop 1A would pass. I like to think this blog filled that need and will continue to do so over the next months and years. But if we're going to build this the right way, we need local writers and activists to get involved. Kudos to Clem for stepping up on the Peninsula.