Thursday, March 5, 2009

How Is the CHSRA Supposed To Work Without Money?

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

One of the more common complaints on the Peninsula has been "omg nobody told us about this!!" Such claims are not credible, as there was widespread discussion especially in the news about the HSR project and that it would involve the Caltrain ROW - enough discussion to lead the city of Palo Alto to unanimously endorse Prop 1A and begin discussing how to implement it within their town.

Of course, you can never have too much engagement with the public, and during the recent fight, some artist renderings of what possible structures might look like along the Peninsula route would have been incredibly useful in helping to dispel the "Berlin Wall" lie that has been dishonestly spread around the region.

Unfortunately it has been difficult for the CHSRA to provide that level of information because the state budget crisis has left the CHSRA unable to pay its bills. The agency has been struggling with a lack of financial support from the state of California since at least 2007, when Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed an almost total elimination of CHSRA funding. Last October Quentin Kopp reported that the CHSRA's executive director, Mehdi Morshed, had not been paid for months because of the Legislature's inability to pass a budget.

The situation has now grown quite serious, as reported by the AP:

California may have to halt work on its high-speed rail project if it does not get an infusion of cash from the state's infrastructure fund.

Aides told the state's high-speed rail board today that the project is out of money and unable to pay its bills. The problem is an outgrowth of the state's larger budget crisis.

Some of the rail project's engineering and environmental review contractors have said they will not continue working without being paid.

The rail board has asked the state's Pooled Money Investment Board for a $29.1 million loan to fund its operations through the end of June. But the state's budget problems forced the board to freeze funding for infrastructure projects.

That has not changed even though the Legislature passed a two-year budget plan last month.

It must be made quite clear - because HSR deniers on the Peninsula will spread misinformation about this - that this is not the result of any wrongdoing or mismanagement on the part of the CHSRA. They are at the mercy of the state government as a whole and cannot create money out of thin air. They have asked contractors and their own employees to work without pay for months. Clearly that is an untenable situation.

The PMIB will likely restore funding for infrastructure projects, including the CHSRA, but that will take some time. And the state budget mess is far from over - if the initiatives on the May 19 special election ballot fail, California will face a $6 billion gap, on top of whatever gap the state will face as a result of the worsening economic crisis.

Again, there will be some critics who will take this to mean that the state cannot build HSR at all. That would be an extremely reckless answer to this problem, abandoning economic recovery because "gee it's too hard to fix the current crisis." California must demonstrate a commitment to high speed rail and fund the operations of the CHSRA - funding that will help provide accurate information to the residents of the state and counter the lies being spread by HSR opponents.

All of this is further evidence that California politicians must make a clearer and stronger commitment to high speed rail. It is all to easy to let this necessary project fall prey to the same failed politics that have produced the dire crisis the state finds itself in today. To borrow an overused phrase, high speed rail is too important to let fail.

63 comments:

Alon Levy said...

Two things.

First, stop calling people deniers. It's as juvenile as the epithet "Democrat Party."

Second, why can't CAHSR start selling its Prop 1A bonds?

Martin Engel said...

Lies,lies. They, the non-believers, the deniers, the apostates, all lie. That would suggest that they know the truth as you know it, but insist on lying to achieve their own nefarious ends.

By the way, while they don't use the vivid expression "Berlin Wall," you will find that description, called "retained fill" in the program-level EIS/EIR. complete with diagrams. That's where that lie came from.

Warm regards from your favorite lying NIMBY landowning rich guy,

Martin

yeson1a said...

You forgot old buzzard..Grin

Robert Cruickshank said...

Alon, I've been using the term "HSR denier" for months, and I don't plan to quit now. I believe it quite accurately describes the reliance on incorrect information, and often on known falsehoods, to deny the benefits for and public support behind HSR.

The CHSRA cannot sell the bonds themselves. That must be done by the Pooled Money Investment Board in consultation with the Treasurer's office.

California bonds are not exactly a highly sought-after commodity on the bond markets. Those bonds can only be sold once the state budget is fixed and fiscal health again demonstrated to the market.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Martin, you're playing on the lack of knowledge of a bunch of ignorant homeowners to try and build a mass base for your acknowledged desire to kill the HSR project. The "Berlin Wall" lie is just part of that effort. Nobody has yet produced any evidence that any such structure would definitely result from this project.

Alon Levy said...

Alon, I've been using the term "HSR denier" for months

Yes, and it's been overbearing for months. Robert Moses could get away with denigrating people who didn't agree with him because he had absolute power. You don't.

Bay Area Resident said...

whats a better moniker for Berlin wall other than ........Berlin wall? 15' grey concrete wall? How about "the GREAT WALL" of the peninsula for a little more effect? Maybe "the WAILING wall" as a reminder of the mess this blightmobile has made of these cities?

Morris Brown said...

Robert:

In spite of this lack of funds, somehow the Authority was able to spend well over 2 million dollars in the effort to get Prop 1A approved.

True, these funds came from private lobbying groups (State law supposedly prevents a state agency from using state funds to promote a ballot measure). However, I cannot believe that the Alliance for Jobs would not be willing to at least loan funds to the agency to keep it running, if that was indeed keeping them from not operating.

They used the lack of funds for not bringing the business plan before the voters by Oct 1st. They clearly violated the law. Unfortunately the law hardly provides any real punishment.

I note you have put "moderation" on the Palo Alto thread. Are you going to approve futher posts there, on which I have submitted or should it just be considered cloaed?

Alon Levy said...

whats a better moniker?

Concept image that someone pulled out of thin air and that doesn't look anything like existing elevated HSR structures?

bossyman15 said...

so they need $29.1 million?

so why can't we just donate some money to help them along?

if we all (nearly 6 million people donate bit of money (at least $5). they could keep planning going.

i'm willing to part myself of $5 or more.

bossyman15 said...

after all i did donate i think $25 to Prop 1A.

Spokker said...

Obama!

Obama!

OBAMA!

Oh, sorry. I heard that if you say his name three times he magically appears and saves the day.

Elroy said...

The "Berlin Wall" lie is just part of that effort.

It is a metaphor. Used by RailRoad Realists to help people visualize the structure as described by the EIR.

Nobody has yet produced any evidence that any such structure would definitely result from this project.

Not a very convincing argument. No one has produced any definitive evidence that the structure would not look as described.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Elroy, that's a fundamentally dishonest line of argument - you can't say "2+2=5 until someone proves me wrong." Evidence matters.

Robert Cruickshank said...

What I'm seeing here is a loss of the big picture, which is what Morris Brown and Martin Engel want. A focus on small-bore issues, blown out of proportion and discussed with incorrect and dishonest facts, in an effort to distract from the overall need to ensure that this project is built.

The basic problem we face, on the Peninsula and with the CHSRA funding problem, is that high speed rail does not have a strong enough political backing at the state level to overcome these problems. We suffer from a lack of high-profile leadership, someone who can rally the public to see this project through.

I know the sentiment is well-placed, but it's kind of ridiculous to have to ask HSR supporters to fund the Authority. That's the job of the state legislature and the governor, and we should rightly demand that they do their jobs. The underfunding of the CHSRA plays a central role in allowing the kind of lies - yes, lies - to spread on the Peninsula about this project, including the "Berlin Wall" nonsense, which is apparently true merely because people claim it's true. Oh to live in a world where things exist merely because we claim them to exist.

California's crisis - our political, economic, environmental and energy crisis - has taken shape because of a lack of attention to the big picture. A desire to allow parochial self-interests to rule the day. A willingness to let those interests construct political routines that frustrate efforts to solve our problems, whether it's the 2/3rds budget rule or NIMBY abuse of the EIR/EIS process.

What people like Morris Brown and Martin Engel are telling us, and what they have been telling us for months, is that the status quo is just fine and that they will block any effort to change it. The fact that they're more bold in asserting their HSR denial (sorry Alon, I'm going to continue to call it as I see it, feel free to disagree if you like) is because of a lack of focus on the big picture.

The Northeast Corridor HSR project under Clinton began with big goals as well. But parochial self-interests and a lack of political will produced the Acela, a quasi-HSR system that functions well enough, that has no problem attracting riders, but that isn't really the kind of intercity solution we can and should produce.

California's HSR project is being Acela-ized before our eyes, and there's no real commitment to preventing it. It's quite frustrating.

Elroy said...

You have proved my point. Both arguments are equally bad. Neither is provable at this time.

Robert Cruickshank said...

A note about comment moderation - it's currently in place on posts that are 2 days or more in the past, which now includes the most recent Palo Alto post. I mainly do that to screen out spam comments, of which there's been an uptick in recent days. The only time I moderate for content is if:

-The comment contains demonstrably false information

-The comment contains a personal attack on someone (and there may be some such comments that have slipped through the cracks)

-The comment is off-topic on a post where I specifically asked such off-topic comments not be posted

I don't always have time to get to this blog, and sometimes comments may not get moderated for a few hours. But if they're legitimate comments, they'll get approved, even if they're from our HSR denier friends.

Elroy said...

A focus on small-bore issues, blown out of proportion and discussed with incorrect and dishonest facts

This should not be a surprise you're setting the tone here. By calling people dishonest or liars it kind of skews the discussion. This is no way to find the middle ground. It is also kind of Bush like. You remember GW's words "you are either with us or against us". Sound a tad familiar?

Robert Cruickshank said...

Elroy, that's absurd. We have to look at what is actually being proposed. If nothing specific is being proposed, then there is no basis for the "Berlin Wall" claim.

This blog has consistently argued for Peninsula cities to deliver constructive feedback to the CHSRA on what kind of structures they prefer. Those who run around screaming "Berlin Wall!" aren't doing so in that spirit. They're doing so to whip up opposition to the project. Now if they had clear evidence that the CHSRA was planning to build a massive concrete monstrosity, that'd be one thing. But they do not.

Making arguments that lack evidence is a stock in trade of mass transit opponents across the nation. There's no reason for us to tolerate it here.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Middle ground? Really? I'd like to see that from the "Berlin Wall" shriekers.

Their attitude is "tunnel or nothing." They spread unfounded horror stories about the impact of HSR on local schools and property values. They aren't sitting down in an attitude of "we support HSR but we want to find a way to make it work." All their comments have been of the "if it isn't done our way then no HSR on the Peninsula" variety. That's not a search for middle ground.

Spokker said...

How many hundreds of billions of dollars has AIG gotten so far? Man, you'd think the government could spare a few million to fund continued study of a goddamn rail line.

Elroy said...

If nothing specific is being proposed, then there is no basis for the "Berlin Wall" claim.

How does that follow?

If nothing specific is being proposed there there is as much evidence either way. No one is wrong no one is right.

Spokker said...

"Their attitude is "tunnel or nothing.""

Some attitudes expressed by the opposition also include the following:

-"We don't want unsavory types to use the train to commit crimes in our cities."

-"You support the train? So how much is the CHSRA paying you?"

-"This train will shake our houses off their foundations."

-"This train will result in 15, no wait, 20, I mean, 25, oh, 30 foot retaining walls!"

-"The train will kick up so much dust!"

-"There will be so many trains that cars, pedestrians and bicycles will not be able to pass!"

These things just aren't being said by one or two people online, but publicly announced at protests. That last comment was published by on your newspaper's web site. It's insane.

Elroy said...

Have you left Monterey to attend a meeting on this?

I went to a city meeting on this. Nobody was shrieking. "Berlin Wall"

In fact several people said,

"we support HSR but we want to find a way to make it work."

Don't believe it locate the archive on the Foothill or Stanford radio station.

Spokker said...

""we support HSR but we want to find a way to make it work.""

They can say that all they like, but if their counter-proposal is a tunnel for anything other than short stretches, they know full well that's an unreasonable demand unless they want to foot the bill.

HSR supporters have been nothing but well, supportive of mitigation, from sound reduction methods to beautification to at-grade solutions that achieve grade separation but avoid tall concrete structures.

All of these things and more will be studied. This is not a 12 lane highway but a four track rail line that has the potential to blend in seamlessly with the environment.

Peter said...

Well speaking of money, it seems 2 other cities are seeing Palo Alto's whining and looking to cash in on it. PA was probably the assumed mid-peninsula HSR stop, but with all their whining that's looking less and less likely. Now both Mountain View and Redwood City (another article) are looking to attract the mid-peninsula station. I wonder if / when the PA city council will realize the amount of money they're passing up if they don't get the station (probably on the order of $100k-$mill / year in taxes from travelers and commuters).

Elroy said...

All of these things and more will be studied. This is not a 12 lane highway but a four track rail line that has the potential to blend in seamlessly with the environment.

Seamlessly, that has to be a joke. I have read the docs on the cahsr website. It called for a structure including train height of 50ft. How would that be seamlessly blended. Remember seamlessly implies that no one would notice it.

Spokker said...

All alternatives must be studied, including 50 foot walls. Even the "no build" option is studied. Doesn't mean they're not going to build it.

Elroy said...

All alternatives must be studied, including 50 foot walls. Even the "no build" option is studied.

Well that would be seamless.

The quote came from a group of Stanford students that offered to study the issue. They evaluated all possible options. No build is one logical option so it was included.

bossyman15 said...

what about the donation? is it possible?

Spokker said...

Donate to my Calgrant fund. The state budget fucked all that up too. :)

Rafael said...

@ Robert, Martin -

---

Wrt to that "Berlin Wall" thing:

Given the very limited width of the ROW in e.g. parts on Menlo Park, embankments would indeed by retained by walls, most likely plain concrete. How high those are depends on whether the cross streets remain level (elevated alignment) or are given shallow underpasses (split grade). The former would avoid collateral impacts of intersections between cross and frontage roads. The latter requires less earth be trucked in.

CHSRA has been quite firm in saying no to requests for something nice in the interest of containing costs. In particular, HNTB is very reluctant to allow gradients in the alignment, which is why the solution they preferred for Menlo Park was applied to north Palo Alto as well, where three major streets are already grade separated (among other notable differences).

From this, Martin has concluded that CHSRA isn't interested in what the locals want. He may be right, Quentin Kopp has other priorities, specifically avoiding cost escalation. As long as Menlo Park and Atherton were the only cities complaining, he figured he could ignore them. Palo Alto is a different kettle of fish and so is Willow Glen in San Jose.

Perhaps it's good that CHSRA is going to be out of action until the state gets a slice of stimulus funds to tide them over until there's a state budget. They do need to figure out a different approach if they want to use the Caltrain ROW.

The big sticking point will be cost escalation, unless cities agree to keep the tracks mostly at grade in sections that already feature numerous under- or overpasses. That will require special measures, such as nice sound walls with some glass. These double as fences and wind breaks for the bow waves of passing trains.

---

Alternatives:

An aerial is a viaduct, typically supported by thick concrete pillars in earthquake country. It's possible to build nice ones and use the space underneath for something useful, e.g. parking or a bike path. Noise emissions are often a problem and the structures are visible from far away in an otherwise low-rise neighborhood. Low aerials require slopes or stairs to access the space created, i.e. they're split grade separations but with more utility for pedestrians than cut/fill.

That refers to digging a shallow trench and dumping the spoil on either side to create mounds that are usually sloped at 45 degrees. This technique avoids trucking earth in or out, but it can only be applied if the ROW is wide enough. The mounds typically support a low overpass, cut/fill is a split grade separation with the tracks below ground. There are collateral impacts on intersections of cross and frontage roads.

A deep trench keeps all the cross roads at grade and runs the trains underneath them. The trains and catenaries are not visible for someone looking across the ROW. Narrow trenches direct most of the noise generated upward.

Treches do, however, pose some problems. First, any existing underpasses have to converted back to at-grade cross roads, which may introduce an intersection with a frontage road that had already been grade separated along with the railroad tracks (e.g. Alma/University, Alma/Embarcadero, Alma/Oregon Expressway in Palo Alto).

Second, any existing underground infrastructure has to be severed and re-routed underneath the trench. Cables and small pipes can also be attached a level bridge supporting a cross road).

Trenching especially problematic for gas and sewer mains, for obvious reasons, but the biggest problem in this context may be the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct pipe that supplies most of the drinking water for the whole peninsula. It crosses the Caltrain ROW just south of the Dumbarton wye in Atherton. Creeks and storm drains other feature that should not be trenched through lightly - if they clog, there's local flooding and the trench may fill up with water. Trenches can damage the root systems of old-growth trees and also causes changes in the water table in some cases.

All of these considerations make long trenches more expensive than embankments. Cut/fill is cheap if you've got the ROW width, there's no major underground infrastructure to contend with and no cross road that needs a low overpass, wit collateral impact on a frontage road.

In general, you don't go below grade if you don't have to. Often, you don't even want to know what lurks beneath because you don't want to be on the hook for fixing it.

Note that it should be technically possible to run a trench through most of Atherton and Menlo Park, transition to grade in north Palo Alto (except Churchill, where the tracks may have to dip deep before returning to grade north of the California St. station and bike underpass. South of Oregon Expressway, at-grade may be fine, but Meadow and/or Charleston may require the same treatment as Churchill to avoid collateral impacts on the intersection with the frontage road, Alma.

Railroad engineers don't like alignments that go up and down like roller coaster, even if the gradients and gradient transitions are within acceptable limits (2% max). In the peninsula, they may have to change the elevation of the rails, rather than the roads, quite often. That's more expensive, but should at least be considered if the alignment can otherwise be kept at grade.

Did I mention frontage roads? They're at least 50% of the problem.

---

The scoping presentation PDF for the January meetings on the peninsula segment is very general, it doesn't contain any details of what was proposed. I wasn't at the meeting. Nothing more recent has been published on the CHSRA web site.

Robert Cruickshank said...

bossyman15, I don't know if a donation is possible, but I would not advise it even if it were. There's no way we could raise anywhere near the $26 million CHSRA needs to pay its contractors and staff between now and June.

Even if we could somehow raise that money, I would *much* rather spend it on something else. For example, $26 million would easily pay for a campaign on a ballot measure to repeal the 2/3rds rule. That alone would help solve the state's budget woes.

Eric said...

There is a specific proposal. Why does everyone say there isn't? It's this:

http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20080529174757_CalTrain%20Corridor.pdf

Note the retained embankments used throughout the route. A retained embankment is earth retained between concrete walls, by definition, and everyone knows what that looks like - you think anyone's going to be swayed if CHSRA puts out a rendering showing pretty murals or ivy covering it?

Eric said...

@Rafael, pipes and creeks can be routed over or under trenches, this adds construction expense but if built with sufficient excess capacity, the risk of clogging and flooding is minimal. The ancient Romans managed to pull off fairly complex watercourse re-routing, I don't think it's a huge challenge for modern civil engineers. Europe has dozens of active canal bridges, some dating back to the middle ages.

After all, the London Underground was built, most of it a century ago, under and around numerous subterranean rivers, some of them quite large and nearly all of them, unlike most peninsula creeks, active year round.

Eric said...

Railroad engineers don't like alignments that go up and down like roller coaster, even if the gradients and gradient transitions are within acceptable limits (2% max).

Actually in the last few decades a fair number of rapid transit lines have been deliberately built with the stations on "hills" i.e. the line ascends as it enters the station and descends as it leaves it. This saves energy, at least for stopping services, since the hill helps slow the train as it enters the station and the downhill slope as it leaves helps it accelerate. So a line which ran it a trench and rose to grade level at stations might actually be a benefit to Caltrain stopping trains.

For high speed trains, short sections of steep grades are not that big of a deal. The TGV has 3% or even steeper grades in several places, since it has so much momentum due to its great speed it can "rush" the grade and be slowed only minimally.

Elroy said...

Spokker I looked for these quotes.

"We don't want unsavory types to use the train to commit crimes in our cities."

This is not a real quote that can be attributed anyone.

A Search for "train commit crimes HSR" Turned up only one entry that was similar:

" Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community, on Mar 3, 2009 at 8:32 am
It spoke of hypotheticals involving illegal immigrants and gang menbers from East LA


No idea who James is or the community that calls him a resident. It does appear that wherever he lives his village has it's idiot quota filled.


-"You support the train? So how much is the CHSRA paying you?"

What is wrong with a question?


-"This train will shake our houses off their foundations."

A search for "Train HSR shake foundations"
Matched on a posting on this blog by spokker
cahsr.blogspot.com/2009/02/why-does-media-feed-trolls.html


"This train will result in 15, no wait, 20, I mean, 25, oh, 30 foot retaining walls!"

Kind of true - Actual height is unknown at this time.



-"The train will kick up so much dust!"

possible source an article from LA times about Orange County
articles.latimes.com/1999/jul/22/local/me-58540



"There will be so many trains that cars, pedestrians and bicycles will not be able to pass!"

No similar quote found
Searched for trains cars, pedestrians and bicycles HSR


These things just aren't being said by one or two people online, but publicly announced at protests. That last comment was published by on your newspaper's web site. It's insane.

So out of four quotes we have
only 1 real quote that originated in LA

1 very fuzzy match
1 self quote
1 unattributable quote

"That last comment was published by on your newspaper's web site."

What paper is that ?

Spokker said...

Here.

"The number of trains that would come through the area during peak hours -- as many as one train every three minutes -- would make it impossible for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians to cross the tracks during those times, protestors said."

Protesters said. In real life. To real people.

"What is wrong with a question?"

It isn't always a question. If the opposition doesn't like being called deniers, then they should stop calling supporters paid shills. It seems that neither side wants to let up, so life goes on.

"This is not a real quote that can be attributed anyone."

It wouldn't be. These are paraphrased comments, mistruths and outright lies that have become tiresome.

"Kind of true - Actual height is unknown at this time."

No wait, 50 feet!

Eric said...

It isn't always a question. If the opposition doesn't like being called deniers, then they should stop calling supporters paid shills. It seems that neither side wants to let up, so life goes on.

No, I think we're smarter than that. Dumb people need names to call their opponents, otherwise they'd forget who they're supposed to hate. For example, your average right-wing douchebag makes his hour-long commute bearable by listening to Rush rant about "feminazis" and so forth, he never gets tired of it - Air America pretty much failed because liberals in general found a left-wing equivalent of that to be wearying and tiresome.

HSR "deniers" is just inflammatory nonsense that makes us sounds stupid.

arcady said...

I highly recommend everyone look at the proposed HSR alignment that Eric linked to. This is exactly the sort of thing we don't want: a roller coaster alignment with lots of retained fills all over the place and unnecessary tunnels. At the same time, I can't imagine that they thought very hard about this plan at all, and this looks like just a first pass at a plausible alignment, rather than anything that would actually get built. For one thing, this plan doesn't include a track layout, which is pretty crucial to actually be able to know what kind of capacity and reliability you can expect.

Also, I agree with Alon and Eric about the word "deniers". It's an inflammatory word, and has entirely the wrong connotations, not for them, but for the HSR proponents. If the opponents are the deniers, then then other side must be the believers, the ones who have faith in the Coming of the HSR and in its prophet Rod Diridon.

BruceMcF said...

BAR, the Berlin Wall had armed guards and barbed wire. Applying "Berlin Wall" to something that is easier to pass across than the current rail corridor is simply untrue, the people who originally said it know that its untrue when they say it, therefore, lie.

The second stage, "oh, I was not referring to the effort to kill people who tried to pass the Berlin Wall, I was referring to its physical appearance" (of course, trees and bushes were not allowed near the Berlin Wall for security reasons), I believe a precise word for that is "dissembling".

BruceMcF said...

Deniers is a term that needs to be used with some care. The deniers if isolated on their own are a minority that will only make noise while the project advances. So the aim is to wedge the sincere skeptics from the deniers.

There is a genuine risk in the careless use of the term denier that it will help prematurely polarize issues that are not settled.

There is also the risk of intellectual laziness ... the deniers are often the easiest opponents to address, in particular the ones who will set forward whatever bullshit they think will advance "their cause".

Rafael said...

@ Eric -

thank you for that link to the document detailing the proposed alignment. I had not been aware of its existence before now.

Four points worth noting:

1 - the document only only addresses grade separation preferences, not lateral alignment modifications needed to support train operations at 125mph. The Caltrain ROW is old, it wasn't designed with those speeds in mind. Some curves, e.g. the one in Bruno, force trains to slow down sharply and accelerate back out, a process that wastes seconds that are precious in the context of high speed rail service. Similarly, the chicane in Palo Alto (University/Alma) ought to be rectified, but whether or not that is worth it needs to be discussed. I get the impression that HNTB may need to beef up its expertise on high speed railroad operations.

If every historical kink is left in place all through the route, the express line haul times promised and required to lure passengers away from short-haul aviation will be missed by tens of minutes - for HSR, that's the difference between operations profit and loss. If at all feasible, the massive investments made now should give the future operators the best possible conditions for commercial success.

2 - the document does indeed propose retained fill at heights of 3.5-4.6m, which is 10-15 feet, depending on location. To support AAR plate H freight cars (20'2" high), the catenary wires need to be a couple of feet above that, so the tops of the masts will be about 26' above the tracks or 36-41' above grade level.

That's not the same thing as a 20', let alone a 50' wall. Still, in an area that is generally free-standing single-story residential homes, constructing an embankment as high as most nearby buildings has an impact on the perception of space. This is especially true of homes whose exterior wall is just 20-25' from the existing tracks, but where the next house across the street is currently 150-200' away. Adding a track laterally and raising all of them means the distance to the next structure - the embankment wall blocking the view across the ROW and frontage road - will be down to 10' or less.

Some Palo Alto neighborhoods, e.g. Professorville, already feature very dense housing, so having other structures of similar height that nearby isn't unusual. It's just that your neighbors there don't have trains running through the attic.

I think the term "Berlin Wall" is inappropriate, but this particular type of elevated alignment is functional but ugly, even if the walls are patterned or have ivy growing on them. It's the sheer volume of concrete and earth that's the problem. Visually, that perception would be exacerbated by sound walls, unless they were all-glass.

3 - this initial proposal does not yet take specific local information into account. For example, placing retained fill on top of an existing underpass is completely unnecessary, unless the city want that road to go back up to grade in the context of the modification. Example: Embarcadero Rd. However, Alma is a busy frontage road, so perhaps the cummunity has got used to the underpass grade separating not just the railroad at that location, but the roads as well.

At Churchill, the adjacent high school is a huge deal because its excellent academic record substantially raises property values throughout the city. Therefore, that particular intersections must be grade separated with particular care. Meadow is similarly important for students cycling to a good middle school. HNTB didn't know that beforehand.

On the other hand, common sense suggests that civil engineers ought to approach the problem in terms of minimizing the amount of change they introduce. That means the first question should be: can the tracks be left at grade at this particular intersection?

If not, then the next ones should be, can the cross street be changed in elevation? Does the intersection or existing grade separation with the frontage road need to be maintained? If so, it is feasible and all told less disruptive to change the elevation of the rail at that point, rather than that of the road(s)? Churchill's a good example: there are existing underpasses at Embarcadero and Oregon Expressway. THe default assumption should be: it ain't broke, don't fix it. There's also a need for level platforms at California Street, but not necessarily at grade level. Churchill itself is poorly suited to a deep underpass for several reasons and, the intersection with Alma is valuable to the community and should not be sacrificed. Elevating the tracks at all is not advisable because of the school and the visual impacts on adjacents residences, a single one of which may be subject to 5' of eminent domain - always a delicate subject even if the financial compensation offered were generous (that's a matter of opinion).

Therefore, whatever else happens in Palo Alto, at that one intersection the rails should be below grade, preferably such that both roads can remain at or very close to grade. It turns out that the relevant run lengths to either side permit such a solution with gradients acceptable even for freight trains. South of the intersections, the ROW narrows from 85' to 75', so extra effort will be needed to fit four tracks plus retaining walls without additional eminent domain takings.

The homeowners abutting the ROW to the west may prefer a 4' concrete patterned wall with a 4' pane of thick glass on top of it on the property line to a flimsy mesh wire fence that would also do nothing to hide the far retaining wall nor block any sound.

Some trees will have to be cut down, which is always a shame but vegetation does grow back over time and will eventually hide the catenary system components from view. All investments are painful at first and yield their full benefits over time.

This process needs to be repeated mile-by-mile, intersection-by-intersection in Palo Alto. In e.g. Menlo Park, where there are no existing grade separations, it's much more reasonable to seek a single strategy and apply it to the whole town. The town's original request that the trains be put in a deep trench rather than fully elevated is not unreasonable, but there's a funding gap.

Perhaps it can bridged by minimizing the amount of earth moved and concrete poured elsewhere, e.g. in Palo Alto because that city decides it would rather live with the tracks mostly at grade with mitigation measures to a more intrusive option such as a full-height embankment. After all, CHSRA's budget of $4.2 billion is for the whole peninsula.

4 - the document is dated 05-04-07. I don't know when it was first published on the web site, but at the very least city officials should have been made aware of it almost two years ago. If CHSRA did just that in that timeframe, the ball is clearly in city officials' court.

If they demanded changes, they did not do so publicly (enough) for their voters to sit up and take notice. If CHSRA simply perceived feedback in that sense as "Dear Santa Claus" letters, then it seriously misjudged the situation: peninsula voters own the Caltrain ROW. It's not a resource at Quentin Kopp's disposal, at least not until the JPB - which is indirectly answerable to peninsula voters - has agreed to cede part of its ROW. If it has done so in a legal sense, that was a mistake, because it was done without securing the prior consent of voters through a planning process based on local (political) environmental standards, rather than the generally lower ones demanded by the state and federal government.

The folly of putting CHSRA on a starvation budget of $1 million in 2007 to force it to focus more on attracting private investors is now becoming ever clearer. That year was when the cost estimates should have been scrubbed for plausibility and that didn't happen to a sufficient degree. Now there's bad blood on both sides, which will take time and effort to put right - assuming it can be. I suspect prospective investors will hold off on making commitments at least until they see evidence of a smoother project-level planning process in all segments of the route.

Clem said...

I'm puzzled that you guys are only now discovering the peninsula vertical profile from the regional EIR/EIS. It's been discussed extensively on my blog and is the very source of the uproar in Palo Alto. Are opponents better informed than even Rafael?

I get the impression that HNTB may need to beef up its expertise

According to J. Litzinger, HNTB did not produce that preliminary profile. They plan to start from scratch and their proposed vertical alignment may bear very little resemblance to the preliminary profile.

The profile also shows 3% ramps all over the place; it is physically impossible to achieve those without violating vertical radius constraints. And yes, retained fill over existing overpasses is not only ridiculous but would exceed their load bearing capacity. Locomotives may be heavy, but dirt is much heavier still.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I get the concern about overusing the term "HSR denier". I try to not use it as a synonym for "project opponent."

But how else are we to read what has happened on the Peninsula? Palo Alto didn't have to launch a broad-based attack on HSR. They didn't have to endorse studies of terminating HSR at San Jose, or routing it along a freeway, or implicitly endorsing the "tunnel or nothing" attitude that is now consolidating on the Peninsula.

Perhaps the problem is that the NIMBY opposition stems from a somewhat different base than the true HSR denial of people like Martin Engel or the Reason Foundation, people who refused to acknowledge any benefit to HSR at all.

The NIMBYs do sometimes traffic in that kind of language. But their opposition is instead rooted in their belief that HSR isn't as important as their conception of community. That if they don't want "an eyesore" then that should be enough to veto the project.

It's a denial of the need to build HSR. A denial of the fact that it won't actually wreck their communities as many claim - Clem has done a good job of trying to point that out.

I can understand why people living right next to the tracks might be skittish. But there's no good reason for anyone else on the Peninsula to join in - unless they really don't think HSR is all that important.

It's that attitude which I'm trying to criticize. If anyone has a good term for it, I'm happy to use it.

Spokker said...

"No, I think we're smarter than that. Dumb people need names to call their opponents, otherwise they'd forget who they're supposed to hate."

Emotions are intense on both sides and I will suggest one thing, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Spokker said...

Robert, I read this on another transit board and felt it was very insightful. It's about light rail but it may be applicable here.

"As an environmentalist I've thought about the subject of what is NIMBY and what is reasoned opposition to bad projects.

Feasible and beneficial alternatives, precedents, and facts come to mind as distinctions.

If one opposes a coal-fired power plant, but offers an alternative strategy of matching its electricity supply with renewable energy and efficiency that also reduces emissions of greenhouse gasses, that is a very reasoned response.

If one opposes a power line through parkland that is to carry geothermal electricity, but works to find a feasible alternative route, that is a reasoned response.

If one proposes an alternative light rail route that reduces environmental impacts and costs, yet still has similar effectiveness in attracting riders, that is a reasoned response.

But if one insists on an alternative route with greater environmental impacts - only someplace else - that costs much more and attracts fewer riders, that is clearly NIMBYism.

Or if one demands a project already under construction be stopped and redesigned to a standard with no precedent in any modern U.S. light rail line, that would really have the effect of killing the project, the effect is NIMBYism.

And if one repeatedly misstates facts used in opposition to a project, and will not respond to corrections, that is a NIMBY tactic."

Anonymous said...

This is pretty funny. Just a couple of days ago Rafael assured us that there is "no reason to assume that the HSR project will have to be put on hold for lack of funds."

Also, count me with those who think the term "HSR denier" (as in holocaust deniers, or climate change deniers) is inflammatory and juvenile. The people in question are not "HSR deniers," they are HSR OPPONENTS.

Bianca said...


It's that attitude which I'm trying to criticize. If anyone has a good term for it, I'm happy to use it.


Can we borrow "factose intolerant" from Stephen Colbert?

BruceMcF said...

Nobody in particular said: "Also, count me with those who think the term "HSR denier" (as in holocaust deniers, or climate change deniers) is inflammatory and juvenile. The people in question are not "HSR deniers," they are HSR OPPONENTS"

Set aside the question of how to count someone among those who think something is juvenile when they do not provide a moniker by which they can be counted.

I do want to stress that I am not saying the above ... there certainly are HSR deniers, who certainly do use the rhetorical tactics of holocaust deniers and climate change deniers. Indeed, being a climate change denier and being an HSR denier is a natural fit.

The issue is that it is far too easy to react to a few HSR deniers mixed among a crowd of opponents of this or that specific aspect of some HSR project as if they represent the crowd of people in opposition.

Indeed, some of the opponents will be repeating denier positions simply because a denier got that position out where they encountered it, and they have never worked through the debunking of the argument. So its not even possible to confidently identify an individual as a denier based on their espousing a long debunked position.

So what I said, again, is simply that it is a term that should be used with a substantial amount of caution ... and one thing that a habitual use of a term does is lull our sense of caution.

Robert Cruickshank said: "But how else are we to read what has happened on the Peninsula? Palo Alto didn't have to launch a broad-based attack on HSR. They didn't have to endorse studies of terminating HSR at San Jose, or routing it along a freeway, or implicitly endorsing the "tunnel or nothing" attitude that is now consolidating on the Peninsula."

It seems that HSR opponents ... including but almost certainly not limited to those only concerned with whether or not a statement is effective as a tactic, and not with whether or not the statement is true ... found themselves an opportunity to play on people's fears, in an area where advocates of HSR have not been as effective as they might have been in generating a local base of organized support.

This should not surprise anyone ... after all, there will have been far more dedicated opponents will have reacted to the passage of Prop 1A by asking, "where is the most strategic place for us to organize to try to disrupt progress" than dedicate supporters who reacted to the passage of Prop 1A by asking, "where is the most strategic place for other to organize to try to disrupt progress, where we have to organize to provide support."

arcady said...

Rafael: excellent analysis. We need more of this kind of thing around here. One thing that I think really should have been the very first piece of planning for the Peninsula Corridor is a projection of demand for HSR, Caltrain, freight, and whatever other services might run on the corridor. This information would then be the basis for a conceptual service plan, a sort of abstract timetable, which would then be used to determine what improvements are necessary in order to be able to make an actual timetable with the necessary amount of service. It's meaningless to talk about new track layouts and alignments until you know what kind of service you're going to be running. As one example, what if Caltrain terminated some trains at Palo Alto or Redwood City? That would reduce the number of trains through the Churchill crossing, perhaps reducing the need for grade separation. Or maybe it would be possible to make a workable timetable without having a full four track line all the way between SF and SJ.

Also, completely unrelated, but I think Caltrain/HSRA should consider painting their catenary poles green. It really does help them blend in better with their surroundings, especially when there are a lot of trees, like in Palo Alto.

Spokker said...

"Railroad engineers don't like alignments that go up and down like roller coaster, even if the gradients and gradient transitions are within acceptable limits (2% max)."

I thought this was true, but for heavy FRA compliant trains.

Here's a video of the Tokaido Shinkansen between Nagoya and Hamanatsu.

Skip ahead to 1:40. The subtitles, translated by the guy who posted the video, reads, "Here, between Toyohashi and the Hamana Lake, there is the largest up-down section in the Tokaido and Sanyo shinksansen Line. Now, it's the view from the cab, like the coaster."

These look like grades that would make a freight train operator freak out. Look at 2:19. I'm getting dizzy!

It looks slow in this section, but that may be because of the field of view of the camera changes a lot in this series.

Resident said...

Politicians are smart enough to know that HSR is simply not deserving of getting moved to the head of the bread line in these economic conditions, when (for example) schools are cutting billions of dollars.

Sheer political suicide if HSR is getting millions in loans, while school funding is getting cut by BILLIONS.

The state of the state, state of the union is in dire straights, and all you can do is whine about funding for HSR? Really?

Wow, that's a bold and saavy move.

Seriously, You've clearly lost all sense of perspective.

By the way, I believe the "middle ground" you're looking for lies between about 2-25 miles east of the Caltrain Row. Think about it.

Resident said...

Rafael, your analysis is astounding, not because of what it contains but because it comes after THIS LONG. How may SCREAMING NIMBY's did it take to convince you to go take a realistic look at these issues?

Now perhpas go take a realistic grounds-eye view of the issues all up and down the Peninsula! Start with Mt View's important Castro street, and just so many more, its impossible to list them. There are HUNDREDS of real issues on the ground with this ROW!

You FINALLY FINALLY, attempt to even look at one or two spots (the scale issues related to a vertical wall for example), that residents have been LITERALLY SCREAMING about.

(However, you still minimize such things as 'cutting down a few trees' There are HUNDREDS of trees. This is a big analysis mistake- from a financial impact perspective. Consider the COST of replacing trees and the cost of obtaining the land where you would plant those trees. One for one replacement is NOT ADEQUATE in terms of CO2 replacement for these old trees. This type of random dismissal of actual issues is what got us to this point in the first place!

I posit again for the millionth time, that the CHSRA has done HSR Proponents NO FAVORS by failing to do their due dilegence properly on the Caltrain ROW. They have under costed the impacts SEVERELY.

When they finally get around to these issues in realistic terms, they will be forced by astromical cost and impacts to go back to comparisons of other potential routes. Two, three or four years down the road when they finally get around to publishing their Project level EIR, we'll STILL be having this conversation! And what a monumental waste of money and time for HSR!

I have a strong suspicion that rebuilding every overpass on 101 would be far cheaper and way more constructive than the massive levels of mitigation (including straighening out curves in almost every city, mitigating not only along the rows, but at the grade crossing, moving historical landmarks, mitigating waters and creeks, etc etc etc).

The sooner CHSRA is convinced that the route between SJ and SF is indeed NOT a 'done deal' but needs to be reevaluated, the sooner they'll get to the 'common ground' solutions that HSR Supporters so desparately are looking for.

Californian's including Penisula residents are NOT HSR DENIERs. They are fighting the impacts of using the Caltrain ROW. There's a big difference there. And a LOT of HSR support at stake.

Spokker said...

"The state of the state, state of the union is in dire straights, and all you can do is whine about funding for HSR? Really?"

This blog has been talking about ideas for fixing the budget crisis for a long time. Where have you been?

Transportation is as a pressing need as education. Transportation makes the economy, well, go. It's very easy to say, "Oh, won't someone pleeeease think of the children!" but it's a shameless red herring.

As an HSR supporter, I don't support cuts in education (except maybe administratively top heavy school districts). I believe teachers should be able to take ownership of their lesson plans. I believe we should do away with honors and AP classes. Every class should be an honors class! Students will rise to the level that is expected of them. We should not pass students to protect their self-confidence. We shouldn't think of black and latino students in high level math classes and say, "Oh, it can't be done."

Yet that's what happens every single day. I think our K-12 problems are less about money and more about the tired old ways we think about educating young people. Throwing more money at our already failed systems isn't going to do squat.

Now I'm whining about education. Imagine that.

Spokker said...

rafael, more about gradients. From this Japanese bullet train fan site.

"The line from Fukushima to Yamagata covers a distance of approximately 90 km, of which 28 km are single track (Sekine to Uzen-Nakayama section). Between Niwasaka and Sekine, the gradient frequently exceeds 2.5%, with a maximum of 3.8%"

Frequently exceeds 2.5%. What is Japan doing differently?

Resident said...

would those kind of grade ups and downs be compliant for military emergency use?

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

CHSRA and Caltrain have each offered up some ridership projections. Are those accurate? We'll see, a large number of assumptions flow into the forecast models. Of these, perhaps the hardest to gauge right are the future price of oil, future innovations in energy efficiency for other modes of transportation (including that of information rather than people) and, the willingness of the next generation to adopt a different lifestyle than their parents.

UPRR's traffic volume in the peninsula is quite low, on the order of 1-2 trains each way per day. So far, that's still a profitable milk run route, but it seems unlikely that peninsula towns would accept a significant uptick in freight traffic volume, especially at night. Historical precedent in e.g. the north coast suggests that even if freight service is suspended, the right to resume it at some future date is retained for a long time.

FRA's rules are set up accordingly, which is why it's so hard to get permission to deploy modern, lightweight passenger rail equipment on any legacy tracks that still have any connection at all to the national grid - even if the last freight train ran on them long ago and the passenger service only ever uses the remaining link for towing new, old or damaged equipment off its tracks. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some arcane, obscure FRA rule somewhere required some modification or other to the design of the SFTT trainbox and DTX tunnel related to the mere possibility that a heavy freight train from half-way across the continent could theoretically reach it. Of course no-one is crazy enough to actually propose such utter lunacy, but bureaucracies thrive on the CYA principle. Behold the infinite improbability drive!

In the peninsula, the port of SF now wants to make sure that the corridor is upgraded to support AAR plate H rail cars, because that would give it a chance to bring in an additional $2.5 million (with an m) per year. Specifically, plate H transporters for import automobiles can stack them three high vs. two for plate F models.

Granting this wish would require a gauntlet track at tunnel 4 in Brisbane, with consequences for track super elevation and feasible top speeds to either side and possibly, require trains with plate H cars to run when the overhead catenary system (OCS) can be switched off to minimize the risk of arcing. It would also mean raising the OCS by about 3 feet all along the peninsula, relative to the requirement for plate F cars. Any grade separations involving trains to run or dive under existing streets have to be 3 feet deeper etc.

So irony of ironies, the desire to increase the volume of car imports via freight rail out of the port of SF now exacerbates the planning process and would increase the cost of finally building a true bullet train system that will provide an alternative to actually driving those cars over long distances. Paging Mr. Kafka.

Alon Levy said...

There are HUNDREDS of trees. This is a big analysis mistake- from a financial impact perspective. Consider the COST of replacing trees and the cost of obtaining the land where you would plant those trees. One for one replacement is NOT ADEQUATE in terms of CO2 replacement for these old trees.

In middle latitudes, trees are temperature-neutral: they increase albedo and with it heat absorption, which heats the planet to approximately the same amount as the CO2 they displace. The only place where tree cover can reduce global warming is tropical latitudes, where trees are lighter in color.

And even in tropical latitudes, cutting a few hundred trees doesn't add much to global warming. The Amazon basin is losing about 20,000 km^2 of forest every year. The "hundreds of trees" you talk about don't together cover even 1 km^2.

arcady said...

"FRA's rules are set up accordingly, which is why it's so hard to get permission to deploy modern, lightweight passenger rail equipment on any legacy tracks that still have any connection at all to the national grid - even if the last freight train ran on them long ago and the passenger service only ever uses the remaining link for towing new, old or damaged equipment off its tracks."
False. PATH and the Staten Island Railway are (or at least were a few years ago) both considered railroads under FRA jurisdiction, even though the last links to the national rail network were severed long ago. Both systems use plain old subway cars, although I think with slight modifications to the windows, and I think the under-car equipment on the SIR cars is more enclosed. That's not to say the FRA doesn't have stupid rules, but they're not as backwards as you'd think, and if pushed hard enough, they're open to change (as Caltrain is trying to do). I'd be more worried about CPUC rules actually, especially the ones related to clearances and platform heights. The platform-train interface is an absolutely crucial issue for the operation of HSR, and I haven't heard anyone, either from the HSR or the bloggers, discuss it. Oh, and as far as I know, the plan for Caltrain electrification has always been to provide Plate H clearances, including in tunnels 3 and 4. It's already included in the cost estimates, and I doubt the gauntlet track will have a huge impact. And in the current timetable, there's a four hour window when there are no Caltrains running north of San Bruno, so even having to shut off the catenary in the tunnels won't be a huge problem. Like it or not, the US is not Europe, and we have big heavy freight trains here. Our railroads are different, and HSR will have to adapt to local conditions. In fact, if you look, you'll see that Europe is actually adapting their rail network to be more "American", in terms of bigger, heavier freight trains running longer distances.

BruceMcF said...

Spokker said...
"rafael, more about gradients. From this Japanese bullet train fan site.

QUOTE: "The line from Fukushima to Yamagata covers a distance of approximately 90 km, of which 28 km are single track (Sekine to Uzen-Nakayama section). Between Niwasaka and Sekine, the gradient frequently exceeds 2.5%, with a maximum of 3.8%" UNQUOTE

Frequently exceeds 2.5%. What is Japan doing differently?
"

For HSR only right of way, there is commonly an opportunity to include relatively short gradients that are steeper than would be usable at slower speeds because the inertia of the train combined with the short time it takes to clear the gradient means that there is very little actual loss in speed.

And of course, EMU can handle steeper gradients than loco-hauled trainsets because of the distribution of power wheels along the train.

AFAIR, the French use the first trick quite a lot in part of the TGV system (not sure where, perhaps when going through the rolling terrain of the edges of the Massif Central).

2.5% ... 1:40 ... is the ruling gradient for the Australian national standard gauge railway grid, but in the electric-only section of the Sydney urban rail system, they can run 1:30, (3.34%) when necessary to fit a dive or crossover in. They rely on power/trailer pairs of EMU for just about all of their trainsets, so every fourth pair of wheels will have power.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

next, you're going to tell us that the mighty Port of San Francisco is Rotterdam-on-the-Pacific. Please, keep things in perspective.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael, are you sure you're addressing your comment to me? All I've said in this thread is that a) the term "HSR denier" is annoying, and b) cutting down trees on the Peninsula won't make global warming problems worse.