Monday, April 13, 2009

Transbay Terminal Compromise In The Works?

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

That's what Steven T. Jones of the San Francisco Bay Guardian reported Friday night:

TJPA spokesperson Adam Alberti tells the Guardian that involved agencies are hoping operational adjustments can be made to handle up to eight trains per hour at Transbay, and that the additional four trains per hour that the California High-Speed Rail Authority says it wants might have to stop at the existing 4th and Townsend station.

Several commenters have floated this idea in our various Transbay posts, of having some trains go all the way to SF Transbay and others terminate at 4th and King. I'm curious which trains would stop where - won't most riders want to go all the way to the Financial District? Do we believe the typical Southern Californian* will understand the difference between SF 4th and King and SF Transbay Terminal on an HSR map, timetable, or website? Perhaps they will, and a 4th and King solution is dependent on the Central Subway - but this is probably the best solution given the politics of the matter.

Operationally, I can live with it, but as you all know by now I tend to take the big picture view of all this - I'm curious what those of you who are skilled in the details of the Transbay Terminal issue think.

Jones's article continues, still paraphrasing Adam Alberti:

He said there is a growing consensus against building a second floor of train platforms, which could add $1 billion to the price of the project. The TJPA board needs to land on a plan by May so current contracts can be issued and so regional agencies can come together on a request for about $1 billion in federal stimulus money when the state makes its formal request for federal high-speed rail funding in June.

That says to me that SF city and Caltrain officials, who have many of the TJPA seats, and the MTC are part of this "growing consensus" against the second floor concept that CHSRA has been pushing. They want to move quickly to get the contracts out and to show the feds that we really are moving on the shovel-ready aspects of the HSR project in order to get some stimulus money. I think that is exactly the right approach to take.

Of course, Quentin Kopp still isn't happy:

CHSRA Chair Quentin Kopp continues to question the Transbay Terminal project, saying its schedule and location have been dictated by its bus component and noting that its costs have been creeping ever higher. “This has all the earmarks of San Francisco’s Big Dig.”

I don't really understand what is up with Kopp's opposition to the Transbay Terminal project, but this does not reflect very well on him. It will only cause more people to think that his whole "we need a second floor for unspecified operational reasons" was in fact an effort to kill the train box idea entirely and terminate the line at 4th and King. And that may well be exactly what is going on here. But Kopp isn't doing himself or the Authority or the project any favors by his stance on this. And his use of the "Big Dig" canard is really not a good idea at all. The HSR deniers have been using that frame against us for months, and although we've done well in beating it back, the last thing we need is for an official of the CHSRA to start using it themselves. There is in fact NO indication whatsoever, at this point, that the Transbay Terminal project will be plagued by the kind of massive cost overruns that hit the Big Dig - and as many have noted, one of the reasons for those overruns was constant meddling in the design process by various authorities.

At a time when Kopp has a much bigger problem on his hands - the unrealistic demand of mid-Peninsula cities for a tunnel - he should not be going around pissing off and alienating potential allies with attacks on the Transbay Terminal project. Let's hope that this compromise is workable, that it holds, and that we can move on with the overall HSR project.

* - I was born and raised in Southern California and while I love that place dearly, not everyone there is skilled at grasping these kinds of details.

38 comments:

Adirondacker said...

Why do the trains have to be in the basement? Billion dollars to put in a second level of trains would probably cover lots of the cost of using the parking lots between Main and Beale. Billion you could probably buy everything between Main and Beale from Market to the Embaracdero. Trains from 4th then come across Townsend or King to Embarcadero and have a nice gentle curve into a station. Designed so that one day when a tunnel across the bay is built you have space for commuter and regional services. There's going to be something across the Bay sometime, BART is at capacity and the Bay Bridge is very close to it.

Rafael said...

The fact that having some HSR trains terminate at 4th & King and others at the SFTT (cp Caltrain) is clear evidence of design by committee. If you're going to spend billions on a new multimodal hub, the design needs to provide enough capacity to last at least 50 years.

That said, six platforms is actually plenty. The problem is capacity through the throat and in the tunnel. Plus, Caltrain refusing to switch to level boarding at SFTT.

I don't know why CHSRA asked for a second level instead of e.g. a single loop track that would have all trains enter the station from the east and exit to the west. Make sure all curves have a radius of at least 250m = ~825ft, preferably 280m = ~925ft. Use Natoma/3rd instead of Minna/2nd Street.

Add appropriate signaling and the whole thing will easily support 2.5 minute headways for HSR and Caltrain combined. It's the two-way traffic through a severely curved throat that's constraining capacity.

Btw, the current design calls for a three-track tunnel constructed just 20-25 feet under the surface using the so-called New Austrian Tunneling Method.

This relies on careful measurements to verify that the weight of the overburden can be supported by the rock itself, so expensive prefab rebar ring liners can be omitted. The technique was developed for tunneling through solid rocks in the Alps and is generally not used for more than two lanes at a time.

Mechanically, the method relies on deformation of the overburden to divert stresses around the invert. In SF, the tunnel would run through highly fractured Franciscan rock that would deform by a greater amount, increasing the risk of cracks forming in any structures left standing above ground.

Single-track circular tunnel bores with ring liners would reduce that risk, freeing up money to increase curve radii. Under city streets, excavation could switch to cut-and-cover.

Of course, most of these complications would disappear if the construction of the train station were decoupled from that of the nearby bus terminal. Mission Street is nice and straight, just the way trains like it.

Bay Area Resident said...

This transbay terminal mess is indicative of this badly managed project overall.

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

actually, the Transbay Terminal wasn't designed by CHSRA at all but by the TJPA, an SF organization pre-occupied with real estate rather than effective transportation.

It's the lack of planning integration that's at the root of this. Of course, CHSRA was just a paper tiger until last November so it had zero clout in SF.

Clem said...

It's really pretty simple: the TJPA doesn't have any funding lined up for the train station, and is looking enviously to the CHSRA's bond money.

Kopp is just saying "Mine!"

Everything else (including talk of 12 tph and two-level stations) is noise.

Anonymous said...

Off topic : excellent editorial in todays' SJ Mercury regarding HSR on the Peninsula. By the way, has anyone told SF pols that tiny MP, Atherton, and PA want HSR to terminate in SJ?

bossyman15 said...

Yeah stopping trains this station or that station makes sense and lowers overall cost.

Come on Kopp, don't make an ass to yourself. Just move on and better focus on mid Peninsula. If trains were forced to stop in San Jose then SF is useless so better focus on mid Peninsula.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Anon, it doesn't matter that some Menlo Park, Atherton, and Palo Alto politicians want the trains to terminate in San Jose. There is no chance of that happening.

jim said...

First, why doesn't Kopp retire or get a real job. He's a tired old dinosaur who shouldn' be involved in HSr at all in my opinion as shown be his lack of focus on the important issues. Anyone who has been hanging around california politics as long as he has is corrupt as hell anyway. He needs to keep his nose out of San Francisco development issues as well. The best solution is indeed for some trains to go to TBT and others to go to $th and here's why. Business hour, express trains should serve the downtown to downtown crowd better by using LAUS to TBT. While mid day, limiteds, and locals, can serve 4th. At 4th there is more room for parking, drop off and pick up areas. Families and friends and other leisure travelers who are traveling per the cheaper coach tickets and off peak tickets can use 4th. Fist and Business Express travelers who pay a premium for the higher classes and faster trips - will be delivered to the FIDI directly. people who are here as tourists don't need the TBT stop as they will have bags and most likely be using a cab to get to their hotel. NOt to mention there is more room at 4th to have a rental car area as well. In addition to that, the central subway from 4th is a direct connection to the union square hotel district and in fact while it will terminate short of the Wharf, is will get them pretty close to the wharf area hotels. I know what Im talking about because I've worked in travel/tourism and hospitality for 30 years and this would be a very reasonable compromise based on people's needs and preferences.

Bianca said...

There is no chance of that happening.

Indeed, Robert. For the Peninsula politicians who want HSR to terminate at San Jose, I have two words for you:

Nancy Pelosi.

I know this is a state project and not a Federal one, but anyone who thinks she would allow HSR to bypass San Francisco has another think coming.

jim said...

Sticking to "all trains must serve TBT no matter what - just because high rise loving big city fast train lovers want it that way and cost and compromise be damned is only going to hold up progress and increase cost.

jim said...

True, Nancy Pelosi, Dianne Feinstein ( who lives in SF) and Barbara boxer, all from the bay area, are not likely to let SF be left out.

arcady said...

Plus, Caltrain refusing to switch to level boarding at SFTT.

Rafael: Caltrain has level boarding as its long term goal, and indeed would probably have it as a short term goal, but for stupid CPUC regulations. The question is, what will the level be? And the same applies to HSR as well.

Bruce.McFarling said...

Clem said... "It's really pretty simple: the TJPA doesn't have any funding lined up for the train station, and is looking enviously to the CHSRA's bond money."

Actually, the train-box itself, the TJPA is looking enviously at the $8b in HSR Stimulus funding.

The CHSRA's bond money, its looking enviously at that for the DTX when it comes time to actually connect the train box to the existing rail line.

"Kopp is just saying "Mine!""

That's true ... generically, in the sense of not wanting money allocated to the TJPA to be penciled in as "Federal money we gave to the CA HSR system", specifically in terms of negotiations regarding CHSRA contributing toward the DTX.

"Everything else (including talk of 12 tph and two-level stations) is noise."

12tph is, on the one hand, the CHSRA trying to stretch the weight of the 5 minute headway requirement as far as it will go, and then the TJPA pushed back in the political arena by mocking the idea that 12tph is necessary.

But the 5 minute headways are something that could have some weight, since there is a local statutory requirement to host the HSR at the TBT, and Prop1A is specific on the requirement for 5 minute headways.

If they only offer 5 minute HSR headways as far as 4th and King / 4th and Townsend, by dividing the traffic, the CHSRA could argue that lets them off the hook on contributing anything to the DTX past 4th and Townsend, at least out of the $9b bond funding plus any Federal matching funds that can be shaken loose by that bond funding.

neroden@gmail said...

Why not put the trains on the roof where the streetcars originally were, and continue them across the Bay Bridge?

Does nobody ever think BIG?

Rafael said...

@ neroden -

we did think of that but unfortunately, the asphalt empire isn't about to give back a couple of lanes on the lower deck of the Bay Bridge or on 101/I-80.

Realistically, there is no way to bring HSR trains above grade level in downtown SF. Not that it matters that much. Barcelona Sants is also underground and has no problems attracting passengers.

Andy Chow said...

From a credibility perspective I don't trust Quentin Kopp to cooperate in a good-faith.

20 years ago, he was against the purchase of the SP right of way between San Francisco and San Jose. He still complain that now. Without that right of way, Caltrain wouldn't be able to run as much trains as it is now and HSR would have much more difficulty in obtaining the right of way.

10 years ago, he pushed for a BART extension alignment that ultimately cut off direct Caltrain and future HSR access to SFO's AirTrain. That alignment also increased SamTrans and BART operating cost so that Millbrae and SFO can have equal service.

The TJPA's plan is reasonable given the physical constraints. Rather than cooperating he threw a tantrum in public. 4th & King is not viable because there won't be enough transit access to the trains, and Central Subway just won't cut it with only two-car light rail trains.

The TJPA "compromise" is reasonable by adjusting train operation. The extra trains that may or may not ever be operated could still be reasonably accommodated. Riders on those trains could just transfer to Caltrain or other HSR trains that serve TBT, since a lot of these trains won't be full anyway.

Rafael said...

Slightly off topic: Ray LaHood talks up High Speed Rail as Obama's legacy.

yesonhsr said...

Transit at first will be no better for rail users at TBT than 4th and King unless this passage way is built from Embarcadero station to TBT. At least 4th and King as N-Judha street cars at the station now and will have Central Subway.
I do agree with Kopp on one thing
this station does seem to be Bus first rail afterthought..We are going from 6platforms to 3 with the same kind of stub end layout and double the traffic..And the TBT people say its more than workable?

Rafael said...

@ yesonhsr -

the SFTT design calls for 3 island platforms and 6 platform tracks. They're not the issue, since trains can be turned around very quickly if SF is seen as a mere stop along the LA-SF-LA route.

The problem is that trains can't get in and out of the SFTT fast enough because the curves in the DTX tunnel are too severe and one of them too close to the station. Move from 2nd to 3rd Street and increase curve radius from 150m (~500ft) to 280m (~925ft) and it can be made to work, even with just two tunnel tracks.

Still won't be ideal, but this late in the game TJPA isn't going to admit it blundered by forcing high speed trains to come to a bus terminal in the the first place.

MissionPk said...

Is there anyone who actually wants to get out of their train from LA three blocks from the water and two blocks from Market surrounded by concrete (Bay Bridge approach ramps)? When you could get off a train right by AT&T Park and either walk along the waterfront or pick up a streetcar into downtown?

San Francisco is a beautiful city, meaning you have to search pretty hard to find a place as ugly as the blocks surrounding the Transbay Terminal.

(I actually would like the Transbay Terminal as a destination if they were planning on an Umeda/Shinjuku style underground mall that stretched all the way to Market Street and the Ferry Building. That would be worth it. As it is, 4th and King is just a much nicer place.)

Robert Cruickshank said...

MissionPK, the Transbay Terminal is almost in the heart of the city, located just a block from BART and MUNI. I like the area around AT&T Park but it doesn't compare to the Ferry Building environs in either beauty or, more importantly, in connectivity to the major destinations and transit systems in the city.

As to Quentin Kopp, I think he's acting in good faith - he's just not being very clear in his points about the Transbay Terminal, and should be doing more to build bridges and alliances on this.

MissionPk said...

Love the Ferry Building, but at least as it is now, it's still quite a walk from the Transbay Terminal.

I guess as someone who works in the South Bay and used to live in Potrero Hill and commute on Caltrain (I now live in San Jose), I've never really understood the downtown area. Even a good percentage of the tech/design companies in SF are south of 80 and closer to 4th and King than to the Transbay Terminal.

Are there any good studies on the traffic patterns we expect to change from air to rail or from car to rail? My admittedly skewed opinion would have put many more people coming up LA to Silicon Valley for business than LA to SF. For many Bay Area visits, I'd expect Diridon or Millbrae to make much more sense due to greater potential for rental car parking and short term parking for pickup. Once you get to SF, I'd expect it to be as much tourism/cultural as business.

In the end, though, I think I mainly just like the idea of stepping out of a train at 4th and King into the wonderful fresh air of SF, looking out at the bay, rather than deep in some tunnel.

Aaron said...

@Rafael: Can we get the TBT renamed to President Barack Obama Station then? Because TBT is a pretty utilitarian name for such a useful station. :) Not quite the glamour in that as there is in, say, "Grand Central Station" or something ;p.

I'm glad for this "compromise." No point in going over it again, but the 12tph number is not terribly likely - they could deal with massive demand before hitting that number, so we probably won't be dealing with this "issue" until I'm retired and population in California has shifted a bit inland anyhow. I'm more concerned about the curve radii, but I'm getting the feeling that CAHSRA isn't concerned about that at all.

Aaron said...

@MissionPk: I can't speak for other industries, but the non-entertainment law segments of the legal community in CA is centered on San Francisco due to the location of the California Supreme Court on McAllister. Most folks I know that go up to City of SF never rent a car because of the fact that the business and legal community in SF is so tightly packed into the Embarcadero/Market/FInancial District areas.

Personally, I don't think that knowing that your train will stop at 4th+King will dissuade people from traveling. But once they start operating it would probably make good business sense to have transit maps available for all of their stops, especially for SF, SJ, LA, and eventually SD.

Ian said...

@Bianca

you make nancy pelosi sound like chuck norris.

nice.



@ transbay vs. 4th & King
i could live with it, as well. i could see SoCalers getting a little confused / pissed off that their train arbitrarily didn't go all the way downtown, and with two stations the nicer solution is to go to both (like the TGV from paris arriving in Lyon, stopping at Part-Dieu before terminating at Perrache).

however, if downtown will be shifting South (as it is beginning to), 4th & King won't be all that further away, so by the time trains need to terminate there, it'll be all right, i bet.

(or you could just have some of the non-express or shorter-route trains end there, assuming they have more time / wouldn't mind making the transfer.)

(or have a specific service terminate there, so it's a predictable / doesn't take riders by surprise.)

(or scrap transbay, and since i saw ferry building being discussed, let's take over the embarcadero and just build an entirely different station there, annexed to the ferry building. that'd be beautiful, to see on the waterfront, coming into sf...)

(thoughts rambling.)

Alon Levy said...

Aaron: Grand Central is all about the glamor. It's a stub-end terminal that serves exactly one commuter rail system, out of three in its region. You should compare it to Penn Station, which is utilitarian and far more used, if less spacious.

Aaron said...

Yeah, but GCT used to have intercity service before they did all of that re-routing over Hell Gate (my understanding being that trains from Upstate and Boston used to run to GCT). :) Anyhow, I just mean name, not purpose.

Aren't they going to do a project to make GCT a run-through terminal? I know the current project is to run a couple LIRR services into GCT, which will relieve Penn Station - don't get me wrong, I love Penn Station, but trying to find your train amidst the maze of LIRR and NJT services is just dizzying.

BruceMcF said...

Aaron said...
"I'm glad for this "compromise." No point in going over it again, but the 12tph number is not terribly likely - they could deal with massive demand before hitting that number, so we probably won't be dealing with this "issue" until I'm retired and population in California has shifted a bit inland anyhow."

12tph was always a garbled translation of the 5 minute headways requirement. That is in 2008-Prop1A precisely to protect the people of California from being sold a pig in a poke ... a HSR system which pretends to be capable of providing a commercially effective service, but with capabilities grossly hobbled by this or that political "fix" and "reasonable compromise solution".

They can run around and around, but if they cannot offer 5 minute headways, it aint a cost that the CHSRA is supposed to be putting any of that $9b towards.

It seems likely that they could offer 5 minute HSR headways in the general envelope of the EIR/EIS by following Richard's layout ... and save substantial money to boot because they'd only need a 2 track tunnel ... but instead of solving the problem, they appear set on trying to "fix" it politically.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Politicians getting involved int eh design adn looking for a compromise will only create a boondoggle and really screw things up! My fear is that this state and country is going to spend over $40 billion on an HSR system and a primary destination city station may be under-designed.

Do it right the first time, findign the funding for the additional level!

----

I lived in the Bay Area a little from 2000 to the end of 2004. I followed transportation and HSR issues whenever tehy surfaced.

Way back when... when the Transbay Terminal was being discussed... the City of SF inadvertently approved a tower that was right in the way of the HSR alignment being planned. And, I believe the developer was quickly approaching filing for building permits.

The problem occurred because the City/County of San Francisco had two agencies that did not know what the other was doing... and HSR was still considered a possibility... and not a done deal.

Anyway, it ended up being in the press and Newsome got involved to seek a solution; which ended up being teh City claiming emminent domain over teh property so that the alignment could be retained.
It costa pretty penny because the value of the proerty was based on the permissible development.

Bottomline... San Francisco and the Transbay Terminal are wedded to teh alignment and having HSR serve the Terminal.

The grey area is level of service.

Brandon in San Diego said...

^^^^ I am so sorry for the typos.

arcady said...

My fear is that this state and country is going to spend over $40 billion on an HSR system and a primary destination city station may be under-designed.My fear is that they're going to blow their $10 billion worth of bond money on building lines from San Francisco to San Jose and LA to Anaheim, and then the feds and private investors refuse to put up any more cash. Or else that they can't even start to spend their money for lack of federal and private matching funds. Or the state runs out of money and the project dies.

Andrew said...

@MissionPK:

The underground mall at Umeda is just one of Osaka's many, that awesome city must hold a world record for underground shopping areas. It would be really cool to have such a concourse connecting future TBT with Embarcadero Station and the Ferry Building, I don't know if San Franciscans in general would be too enthusiastic for it though. Though it's a very progressive city in many ways, it's also rather staid when it comes to planning and architecture.

Adirondacker said...

Yeah, but GCT used to have intercity service before they did all of that re-routing over Hell Gate (my understanding being that trains from Upstate and Boston used to run to GCT). :) Anyhow, I just mean name, not purpose.Before they built Penn. Station the only railroad serving Manhattan was the New York Central or it's subsidiaries. All the other railroads had big terminals in New Jersey and they used ferries to get passengers to Manhattan. Through service involved putting the train on a ferry in New Jersey and taking it to the Bronx ( or vice versa ) They didn't "reroute" trains over Hell's Gate and into Penn Station, it was competition to the New York Central and to provide through service to points west and south.... in 1910. Grand Central saw it's last regular intercity train in 1991. They could run intercity trains into Grand Central tomorrow, they just choose not to.

Aren't they going to do a project to make GCT a run-through terminal?Nope. And if things run through it's not a terminal anymore.

a couple LIRR services into GCT, which will relieve Penn StationMore than a couple. From Wikipedia: Current plans call for 24-trains-per-hour service to Grand Central Terminal during peak morning hours, with an estimated 162,000 passenger trips to and from Grand Central on an average weekday.

... through a measly two tunnels and with only 8 platforms....

trying to find your train amidst the maze of LIRR and NJT services is just dizzying.It's not that hard. You look at the departure screens and find what track your train is on. You go to that track and get on the train. They make announcements on the public address system too. If you aren't sure there are conductors loitering about who will answer your questions, like "Does this train go to Speonk?

jim said...

Aaron said...
@Rafael: Can we get the TBT renamed to President Barack Obama Station then? Because TBT is a pretty utilitarian name for such a useful station. :)

No. Can't do that. It's the Transbay Terminal. Always has been. San Franciscans still aren't over the name change from Army Street to Whatever it is now. Candlestick is still candlestick etc. NO name changing.

Brian Tyler said...

I have posted a commentary regarding solutions to the capacity restraints of the new terminal on my blog Switching Modes.

BruceMcF said...

Adirondacker: "From Wikipedia: Current plans call for 24-trains-per-hour service to Grand Central Terminal during peak morning hours, with an estimated 162,000 passenger trips to and from Grand Central on an average weekday.

... through a measly two tunnels and with only 8 platforms....
"

But Grand Central Terminal is not a stub terminal ... it has turning loops within the terminal ... and the Park Avenue Tunnel is not designed like its for street cars, making a hard right turn to enter the station.

At the TBT, even the tail tracks appear to have been dropped or postponed indefinitely.

Adirondacker said...

But Grand Central Terminal is not a stub terminal ... it has turning loops within the terminal ... and the Park Avenue Tunnel is not designed like its for street cars, making a hard right turn to enter the station.


I wasn't referencing the New York Central parts of Grand Central that have been there for a century. Neither was Aaron. The MTA is building a whole new terminal under Grand Central for the LIRR.

It's going to have 24 trains per hour in addition to existing traffic for Metro North. Roughly doubling the amount of commuters to the Grand Central area of Midtown.

Won't go anywhere near the Park Ave. Tunnels. Comes in from Long Island in the "Tunnels to Nowhere" that were built in the 70s under 63rd Street. All part of the project for the Second Avenue Subway and a second set of tunnels for the Queens Blvd. lines.

East Side Access on the MTA's web site. East Side Access more or less all on one page on Wikipedia


Commodore Vanderbilt had the foresight to buy the land in 1869. Some of the platforms in the existing Grand Central do connect to loop tracks. Some don't.

I've never been able to find a current track layout but it's close to the original. Upper Level and Lower Level from Wikepedia's article on Grand Central