Friday, April 3, 2009

Two Quick Peninsula Updates

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

1. Caltrain board approves MOU with CHSRA:

One last-minute change to the deal was the elimination of a controversial passage that indicated the bullet train would operate on a four-track alignment, assuming there typically would be two tracks for Caltrain and a pair for high-speed rail.

This was only "controversial" because Palo Alto insists on having veto power over the operations and basic needs of the system, which they have no right to claim. As others have pointed out in the comments, a four-track solution is still expected to be adopted. Personally I think Caltrain and the CHSRA should have kept that language, since NIMBYs cannot be appeased, as they immediately proved:

Palo Alto Council Member Pat Burt, echoing the concerns of other officials and residents, said the cities should have the right to partner with the state as well, not just Caltrain.

"The cities must be allowed to enter into this process in a substantive way," Burt said. "(The Caltrain board) is not designed as its first priority to preserve and protect the quality of life of the cities that the railway passes through."

Right. Their priority is to operate efficient passenger rail service. Burt's words are significant though for explaining what this is all about for him - preserving a 20th century model of urban life that is obsolete and not at all workable in the 21st century. He thinks Palo Alto can live in a kind of permanent 1995. Is this the kind of forward and progressive thinking Palo Alto wants to be known for?

Still, this is a welcome development that shows the high speed rail project is making important progress.

2. Court throws out Menlo Park's letter to CHSRA:

In August 2008, Menlo Park and Atherton joined a lawsuit against the rail authority. One of Menlo Park's arguments in joining the suit was that rail officials had not responded to their letter. Under law, the agency is required to respond to every letter it receives.

But in the March 27 ruling, Judge Michael Kenny said the city did not adequately prove that it had in fact sent the letter, and that it didn't do enough to make sure it had been received. Furthermore, after the release of the final environmental document but before it was certified, there was a 40-day window in which Menlo Park could have resent its letter, the judge said. The city apparently did not do so.

During the City Council's March 31 meeting, City Manager Glen Rojas said the plaintiffs' attorney did not think the exclusion of the city's letter would have much effect on the case, because similar arguments had been made by others, including the town of Atherton.

The article also has an interesting discussion of whether Menlo Park will reconsider its decision to sue. You'd think that in a time of financial crisis for virtually every city in the state, Menlo Park residents would prefer that their taxes pay for libraries and pothole repairs, not frivolous lawsuits against the CHSRA.


Clem said...

That's right, removing the 4-track language is pretty much meaningless, and obfuscates the 4-track requirement with technical mumbo-jumbo (8 tph per direction reserved for Caltrain) that is beyond the comprehension of those without a grasp of basic rail operations. Here's the relevant equation, using each agency's planned (optimistic) traffic levels:

8 tph Caltrain + 8 to 12 tph HSR = 4 tracks.

Maybe they can get away with 3 tracks in a select few locations, as allowed by an intelligent optimization of rail operations driven by service requirements (and not by the individual preferences of communities)

Andrew Bogan said...

Most of the 5 Palo Alto City Council Members who voted in favor of filing the amicus curiae brief literally did not understand that "4-track grade separated" did not necessarily mean tracks would be above ground (since a tunnel is grade separated, too).

I fear that their collective ignorance of "basic rail operations" is exactly the problem. They were no doubt elated that Caltrain "agreed" to their "change" and most likely also failed to see the obvious, which Clem posted above.

Aaron said...

I'm just shaking my head at this. This MOU change is somehow a big deal? Are they really this stupid, or is this just the biggest kabuki theatre east of Hokkaido? ;p

Anonymous said...

This project is dead.

jim said...

How is the project dead? I don't see any significant change to anything. I understand that there is a group of disgruntled folks down there who are all excited about fighting the project and all, but there is no way they are going to stop a statewide project. What they must do is work with the agency to create a design that is functional or they will end up being left out all together. the project is moving forward and will run up the calrain row, he only question is the design of the at grade or elevated structure and whether or not to put the station on PA RWC or MT View.

Andrew Bogan said...

This project is dead.

From an interview with United States Department of Transporation Secretary Ray LaHood in the National Journal:

LaHood said that for Obama building high-speed rail networks is, "if not his No. 1 priority, certainly at the top of his list. What the president is saying with the $8 billion is this is the start to help begin high-speed rail projects." He added that the administration "is committed to finding the dollars to not only get them started but to finishing them in at least five parts of the country," although he declined to elaborate on where these projects might ultimately be built.


Aaron said...

@Jim: Don't feed the trolls ;p.

jim said...

One would expect that a place as well educated as PA would have a basic sense of what it means to reach an intelligent compromise and be above emotional hysterics.

jim said...

I know I can't help it.

bossyman15 said...

mmmm that court ruling is good news for all of us.


Rafael said...

Perhaps someone thought there would be 4 HSR tracks in addition to the 2 for Caltrain local service. This would permit express HSR trains to overtake not just Caltrain locals but also slower HSR trains.

However, I don't believe it's CHSRA's or HNTB's intent to put bypass tracks where the ROW is only barely wide enough for four tracks - and definitely not where it's currently only wide enough for three.

I don't think it would be smart to limit HSR to a single track anywhere as it would prove a major bottleneck sooner or later. Stacking two HSR tracks on top of one another, with Caltrain local tracks to either side might be a possibility. More likely, any stacking would be 2x2 tracks, e.g. with HSR in a covered trench and Caltrain on a nice viaduct so cross and frontage streets can remain at grade. The new at-grade space could be used for e.g. a bike path.

Expensive, but possibly cheaper than construction escalation due to reverse condemnation lawsuits or, four bored tunnels. Raising electrified Caltrain might be more acceptable to the mid-peninsula communities than raising HSR tracks.

Of course, UPRR trains would raised along with Caltrain unless the Dumbnarton rail bridge is repaired and UPRR agrees to use it instead of the RC-MV section of the Caltrain ROW.

Alternative: run HSR in the middle two of four tracks, but elevate them a little less than Caltrain/UPRR in certain parts of the alignment. This concept maintains vertical clearances at road underpasses. The sound barriers installed for Caltrain/UPRR will be more effective for HSR because of elevation difference for the tracks.

mike said...

Personally I think Caltrain and the CHSRA should have kept that language, since NIMBYs cannot be appeased, as they immediately proved.

I disagree. First of all, the change has no impact on the final design, but the wording clearly held great importance to the PA City Council. If they greatly prefer one wording over the other - even though both wordings have the same ultimate implications - why not give it to them?

Second of all, the important thing here is to do things by the book. The EIR process mandates that CHSRA consider input from local communities and that it scope all feasible alternatives. If CHSRA doesn't perform this duty, then the communities can and will sue CHSRA. The EIR process does not in any way mandate that CHSRA undertake alternatives that are not economically feasible (e.g., building a 7 mile tunnel without substantial funding from the local communities). They just have to analyze them and show that they are not economically feasible. The local communities can sue CHSRA for not adopting infeasible alternatives (this is America, after all), but they aren't likely to get very far.

The bottom line is that it is very important that CHSRA consider local concerns and respond to them in an appropriate manner. Actions like this don't undermine the project and do demonstrate that CHSRA and Caltrain are responding to local concerns. This in turn reduces the probability of a successful lawsuit against the EIR.

Matt said...

Rather than elevating the tracks, wouldn't it be easier to keep the tracks on the ground level, or slightly raised, and then have the roads go under them. Or slightly lower the tracks and have the roads go over them. Since roads can have much steeper grades than HSR?

Bianca said...

I agree with Mike. The more often that CHSRA can be seen to be attentive and accomodating to local concerns, the better. There has been a lot of noise from HSR opponents about how Diridon/Kopp/Morshed don't listen, this is a freebie to take some of the bite out of that allegation.

Aaron said...

@Rafael: It's interesting theorizing, but it's hard to see how the Caltrain/CAHSR alignment can be built with less than 4 tracks, and more than 4 tracks is overbuilding since Caltrain only has one line (though eventually it'll have two if the Dumbarton project ever comes back to life...). Still, we're not talking about the LIRR or NJ Transit here. As a good government kind of guy, I'm kind of underwhelmed by the changing of the MOU.

I'm personally anxious to get further along in the project and have some hard facts about the potential for property takings. My guess is that we're talking about an astronomically small number here (and a large subset of that number losing a slice off of their yards anyhow), but we don't know with certainty yet.

@mike: I disagree. First of all, the change has no impact on the final design, but the wording clearly held great importance to the PA City Council. If they greatly prefer one wording over the other - even though both wordings have the same ultimate implications - why not give it to them?

Well, I'm no CEQA expert, but I worry that if a city later tries to sue based on the fact that the documents involved were "misleading," they could waste more money on needless litigation. Having said that, this MOU isn't a CEQA document per se, so it may not matter in the end.

Rafael said...

@ Matt -

adding more deep road under-/overpasses is complicated by the presence of Alma St/Central Expressway and other frontage roads immediately adjacent to the Caltrain ROW.

It may prove easier to do what railroad engineers hate to do: keep the roads where they are and build rail underpasses for the ones currently at grade, expect were that is not possible because of other technical or environmental constraints (e.g. Palo Alto Ave in Palo Alto).

Churchill Ave next to Paly High is a borderline case, there is just barely enough run length between it and the existing road underpass at Embarcadero to execute a full level (28.25 ft) elevation change with a 3.5% gradient and 6800m vertical curves for HSR (top speed 103mph according to German, 125mph according to Swedish national railway norms. The difference is passenger comfort, not safety.) The numbers for Caltrain/UPRR would be 2.2% and 4000m vertical curve radius, with a 79mph local speed limit.

UPRR would surely prefer a smaller gradient, but (a) the full Mission Bay Hauler train would be taking it going downhill and (b) they might be amenable to switching to the Dumbarton rail bridge if and when that is finally restored.

Assuming that any above-grade alignment remains unacceptable, that means a very low overpass (hump bridge) in addition to the rail underpass might be considered. One alternative would be a deep road underpass should also be considered for this narrow road. Note that the mid-point between Embarcadero and California Ave is at Lowell/Miramonte Ave, but moving the at-grade road crossing from Churchill to that location would not be possible without eminent domain against two properties along Mariposa Ave plus re-routing traffic - I don't think that's an option, at least not this early in the process.

Everywhere else in the Atherton-Mountain View section I looked at in detail, there is enough run length for any full level elevation changes require to keep roads exactly as they are today. By that, I mean 10000m vertical curve radius and 2.93% max. gradient at the inflection point for HSR at up to 125mph and, 5200m vertical curve radius and 1.25% max. gradient for Caltrain/UPRR at up to 90mph.

Note that I did not take clothoid or Euler spiral transitions into account, so my calculations are just back-of-the-envelope.

Robert said...


Further to LaHood's comments, here is an exerpt from an answer Obama gave during his town hall meeting in Strasbourg this morning:

I do think that in crisis there's always opportunity if it's used properly. So, for example, in the United States we decided to pass a large stimulus package to help growth at a time when the private sector was having a very difficult time.

Now, we could have just spent the money on the same old ways of doing things, but part of what we've decided was, if we're going to be spending a lot of government money anyway, why not spend it to double the amount of renewable energy? Why not spend it on retrofitting existing government buildings so that we drastically reduce their energy consumption? Why not start building high-speed rail?

One thing that, as an American who is proud as anybody of my country, I am always jealous about European trains. And I said to myself, why can't we have -- (applause) -- why can't we have high-speech rail? And so we're investing in that as well.

So on the transportation front, on -- with respect to building construction, on a whole range of issues, we are investing in new technologies that will make us more energy efficient. And that is one of the building blocks that's needed in order for us to reduce our carbon footprint and to work with other countries to achieve the climate change goals that I think are going to be so important.

Now Barack certainly can't make the town fathers of Palo Alto see clearly, but he certainly can lean on the higher-ups to get this project underway, as he wants to see HSR all over the US, and California's is closest to starting digging.

Clem said...

@Rafael, note that the elevation at Cal. Ave is nearly 40 ft lower than University Ave, and that UPRR is unlikely to appreciate any gradient above 1%. That puts a real damper on the rail underpass option at Churchill, although I think that's where it will all end up. If Embarcadero needs to be reconfigured into an overpass, it will be.

Morris Brown said...

It is disappointing to see, Robert and others discuss this topic and yet not take on the real issue.

The change in the MOU doesn’t amount to anything. It was changed so opponents could not seize on the “4 tracks” language and object to the project. You have discussed that 4 tracks are needed. There will be at least 4 tracks along the corridor and in spots more.

What is of substance and Robert, Rafael, Clem and others who don’t want to talk about it is the fact that CalTrain does not own inter city passenger rights on the SF to San Jose corridor. Those inter city passenger rights are owned by the UPRR.

1. Now if the UPRR agrees to give them up (hardly likely) or agrees to sell them (maybe more likely, but not probably either), CalTrain has approved an MOU, implicit therein that the Authority will be able to use their corridor for HSR, which is most decidedly an inter city passenger service.

2. CalTrain excuses this problem right now by saying they have had successful agreements with the UPRR before and they are confident they will be able to obtain these rights. The CalTrain board approves the MOU on a 9-0 vote.

We should all be objecting to the process here. CalTrain has had years in which to obtain these needed rights, and thus far has not been successful. UPRR writes a letter dated Feb 23,2009, clearly indicating they are not just going to walk away and play dead.

Spokker said...

Morris, an anonymous poster in a previous comments thread said this about that subject.

"If Union Pacific is claiming this, they are wrong. First, the rights to run intercity passenger trains, historically, expire if not used -- unlike many sorts of rights -- and Union Pacific isn't using them and hasn't for many many years. Second, the obligation to run said trains was transferred to Amtrak by Union Pacific (and all of its predecessors) back when Amtrak was formed. The rights probably followed the obligations. In addition, San Jose to San Francisco is an intercity route, so in fact Caltrain excercises intercity passenger running rights.

The chances that Union Pacific has any sort of legally enforceable exclusive right to run intercity passenger trains? Zero percent. At the most they might have a "preemptive" right to run them, but if they decline to run them, they're *OUT*. If they're angling to run the CAHSR operation, I wish them the best of luck. If they're angling for a small payout, they'll probably get it. If they're angling for anything more, they will be swatted down hard."

I don't know if this person is correct or not, but he/she posted it on an old post that didn't have much activity anymore.

yeson1a said...

How do you know UPRR has passenger rights? We they not given up 45years ago with the creation of Amtrak? Then if so they can take back all the state backed passenger rail in California..that will change there tune real fast

Anonymous said...

From the agreement.

The freight rights are use it or lose it but intercity passenger ones are perpetual.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Morris Brown

UPRR wrote:

The construction and operation of HSR in the San Francisco to San Jose right of way
must not cause increased operating costs or operating inefficiencies for Union Pacific. The Authority must assume Union Pacific's liability exposure and risk arising from current and future freight operations in the same corridor as the HSR. The Authority should fully study means to indemnify and insure Union Pacific against all such liability or risk, including liability to HSR patrons.
[emphasis added]

That sure sounds like Union Pacific does, in fact, anticipate HSR to operate alongside their existing right of ways and areas of trackage rights in the future. Why else would they need to be indemnified?

As I have said before, your insistence on UPRR being so important to HSR's design or to the Caltrain MOU is a red herring.

Clem said...

@Morris, there's not much to talk about, is there? The State of California can and will acquire the right to operate intercity passenger trains on the peninsula, whether UPRR cooperates or not. On the list of challenges to HSR on the peninsula, this one is but a minor technicality.

The bigger concern to peninsula communities ought to be UPRR's rights to run freight trains on the peninsula, which is driving many of the design parameters for the rail corridor.

Things like curve superelevation; bridge deck load capacity; extreme vertical clearances for high voltage electrification (and the impact of 40+ ft tall poles, taller overpasses, deeper and longer rail underpasses); ridiculous horizontal clearances dictating the height of Caltrain platforms; tunnel clearances and ventilation systems; grotesque and capacity-limiting signal block spacing; anemic vertical gradients (and the consequent impact on the size and community impact of grade separation structures); the possible need to segregate trains on different (possibly additional) tracks; etc.

The tail is wagging the dog, and in my opinion UPRR's right to operate any train over PCJPB tracks ought to be terminated entirely.

Spokker said...

What would be the impact of terminating freight service on the peninsula? As far as I know freight service is already pretty minimal between SJ and SF.

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

re: Embarcadero. It's possible that in the end Palo Alto will choose to have trains run in a trench both there and at Chirchill Ave. That would mean returning Embarcadero to grade. Alma would either remain at grade (re-introducing a road intersection) or else be converted into an road underpass of Embarcadero Road. There are two sets of grade separations that need to be considered here, but an overpass (i.e. raising any element above grade level) is not required for either.


re: UPRR. I seriously doubt that anyone would try to force UPRR to give up minor but profitable business anywhere in the state, because the preferred route implies their willingness to either sell ROW or permit HSR operations on adjacent tracks in 300 of the 800 miles of the fully built-out network.

Besides, HSR would get a terrible rap in Congress if members of its chambers jumped to the conclusion that enabling it could undermine rail freight operations nationwide. That would be a huge red flag right there, because port cities and nearby counties absolutely do not want a lot of extra heavy duty trucks and the associated pollution. Moving freight from rail to road would also be counterproductive in terms of Obama's energy policy. His personal enthusiasm for HSR notwithstanding, federal funding for the California project and others would become much harder to secure if it were perceived as a threat to rail freight. Pleas don't go there.

However, it is possible that UPRR would be willing to entertain a buy-out, at least for service to the small number of customers it still serves west of the main line in the SF peninsula. That could well be a lot cheaper than constructing rail-rail grade separations for all remaining freight spurs, which is what UPRR demanded in its letter to CHSRA. Letting freight trains cross HSR tracks (or vice versa) could be made to work with proper signaling but it is probably not a good idea in terms of HSR capacity and on-time performance. UPRR is notorious for doing its thing on its schedule and no-one else's.

As I've written elsewhere on this blog, there are sections of the Caltrain ROW where both HSR tracks should run west of the Caltrain/UPRR tracks (FFSS) to avoid conflicts with UPRR operations as well as future Caltrain service over the Dumbarton rail bridge. If and when that is repaired, UPRR may be prepared to give up freight haulage rights in the sensitive Redwood City - Mountain View segment.

UPRR could then no longer be possible to serve all remaining customers on the peninsula with a single Mission Bay Hauler train. Freight to and from customers south of Mountain view would have to be hauled to the Fremont yard separately. On the plus side, the Dumbarton rail bridge would represent a shortcut to the Fremont yard for freight out of SF.

One issue which would have to be sorted out is permission to run not just a handful of Caltrain commuter trains but also a couple of freight trains through the DENWR and Newark on weekdays/-nights.

Rafael said...

@ Morris Brown -

the contract between PCJPB and SP (since inherited by UPRR) clearly spells out PCJPB as the "owner" and UPRR as the "user", with certain usage rights retained in perpetuity.

It is therefore entirely proper for CHSRA to sign a MOU with PCJPB. The latter is responsible for safeguarding all of the rights UPRR has under the terms of the contract, including exclusivity on intercity passenger service on the corridor.

In practice, that means PCJPB must ask UPRR if they are willing to waive that right or sell it to CHSRA, either directly or via PCJPB. That's the legal/business side of it. In preparation and follow-up, it would make a lot of sense for Caltrain to host three-way meetings to address technical issues and potential solutions.

My reading of UPRR's letter is that they're not going to make a big fuss about letting CHSRA run intercity service as long as it doesn't interfere with its remaining freight business in the peninsula.

More importantly for negotiations regarding other parts of the preferred route, UPRR seeks a legal precedent: total absolution from any liability for any conceivable accident caused by or involving UPRR operations that leads to loss of revenue for (the) HSR operator(s) and/or injuries/deaths.

That's a very aggressive - IMHO, untenable - negotiating position, but then again it is just UPRR's opening bid. Parties will have to meet somewhere in the middle, e.g. including verbiage related to due diligence in UPRR's staff training, equipment maintenance and operations procedures.

Moreover, CHSRA may be in a position to offer "best effort" accident detection and notification for UPRR via its anyhow necessary CCTV network for right of way surveillance, which may be expanded to include microphones and/or other sensors. Counter-terrorism considerations alone mean that not just HSR tracks but also any adjacent ones need to be monitored.

On a mile-long freight train, the engineer may not be away that a single truck on a single car has derailed for quite some time after that happens. Early computer-to-computer warning for the HSR infrastructure operator to the freight operator would not just sharply reduce the risk of an escalation of the derailment, track fouling and a potentially catastrophic follow-on accident. It would also save UPRR quite a bit of money, because even minor derailments cause significant damage to the freight trackbed that then has to be repaired.

Pargly said...

The UP is worth about $23B. 32,400 miles of track in 23 states from the Midwest to the West and Gulf coasts. A smart leveraged buyout could turn around and reconstitute the railway, selling rights and lined to interested public concerns for probably some sort of long-term leaseback arrangement. The real risk is knowing that the Interstate Commerce Commission (or whoever it is) wouldn't hold up the process.

California should have bought the SP in the 80's when it was worth about $1b and done the same. How much has been paid for "rights" and almost useless, almost abandoned right of way in just this state?

UPRR is not an untouchable god, but some anti-CHSRA folks are working hard to elevate it to that stature. UP is a business who needs to legitimately look out for their concerns, but also need to work for the public good. BNSF shows it's easily possible.

Ha, UP is ever going to want anything to do with interstate passenger service? Just a bargaining chip that some are helping increase its value at the cost of eventual public funds somewhere (not necessarily the peninsula).

Morris Brown said...

OK, Clem, Rafael.. others.

Thanks for your comments. Only time will tell.

I stick with what I posted.

Defelli said...

I would assume that the UPRR intercity rail clause was inserted to allow any future Amtrak train that would use the Caltrain ROW to access SF. My assumption is that it was thought to offer some sort of continuity as a potential passenger train moved from the UPRR south of San Jose to JPB without the need to change crews or whatever godforsaken early 20th century else that the CPUC or FRA might require. Ergo, the same procedures that the UP would place on the train would be carried forth for the last 46 miles to SF.

Whadda think?

yeson1a said...

Off topic..President Obama was quoted what he liked about France and stated he is "Jealous" of the high speed trains!! Ok Mr President
help us out and we will have have some!!!

jim said...

See, France is just better. Anyway, UP and passenger rail and such, don't they pretty much have to answer to the FRA on pretty much any issue and isn't the FRA a politically motivated agency? I'm under the impression the previously UP management was fairly cozy with the bush admin. and pretty much on board with the effort to get amtrak off its tracks for good. I don't know if that's true or just political smoke and mirrors. You never know exactly what's going on, what's real and what's a show. But I'd say it's most liekly that whatever happens in that caltrain row willhave everything to do with the FRA and the Obama administration and UP getting a good deal for itself in the process.

jim said...

you have to believe on of tow things. Either all these agencies and authorities are oblivious to each other and have know idea what they are doing and it's all a big clusterfk of incompetence, or, it just looks like the above, but actually they know exactly that they are doing, scratching others backs behind closed doors and making sure every body gets a piece of the taxpayer pie while they keep us in the dark until they are done feeding. I honestly don't know which it is as both scenarios are very easy to believe.

jim said...

-"no idea"

Spokker said...

This article includes a clearer version of that video where the guy constructed a 3D animation of HSR through the peninsula.

I actually think the video is pretty neat, though the crude nature of the animation makes HSR look worse than it really would be. I wouldn't want to see a design like that on the peninsula, and I don't even live there. I would support an above ground alignment but with more architectural details that make it blend in with the school more easily.

Of course, I never understood why they couldn't just depress the road, but maybe that's because I'm just an idiot on the Internet!

Spokker said...

Here's a Google street view of the location the animation is based on.

Hopefully the trees and other vegetation will be preserved, something the animation did not depict.

yeson1a said...

OF COURSE as he lives there he made it as ugly as it can ever possibly be.The design would never be that raw. What it will look like can be see at San Carlos..but of course he did not even show that as an example.And this guy work in design
so he knows better..

Clem said...

What it will look like can be see at San Carlos

No it can't: San Carlos has nice sloping berms with landscaping. Try
Belmont instead.

(Yikes! How many hours until the NIMBYs run away with this photo?)

jim said...

Okay so I took the photo/rendering of the very stark looking example of the so clled "wall" then with paintbrush - "mitigated" it. with trees, and other detail including lightening the colors of the poles etc, and while my skills are very very crude - nevertheless - you can see a the difference with a little landscaping.

jim said...
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jim said...
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Spokker said...

Haha, nice mitigation, jim. I think they should put you in charge of the project from now on!

jim said...

nothing a little paint can't fix

jim said...

by the way - and I do hate to bring it up - but - i have heard many times the PA had no idea the train was coming yet I keep coming across this great big ole article in the local Pa paer from last year - long before the vote - that went on and on and on about how excited the city of PA was to get the trains - along with hsr in town, lower it or tunnel it, then sell off milllions for development along the corridor. So the folks down there crying "we didn't know" might ought to read their local paper more often because it would appear their leaders have been ready to jump on the opportunity to get HSR and also to pony up the city's own money for mitigation in exchange for high density development.

jim said...
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yes1a said...

why cant it look like San Carlos? ROW too narrow? Guess they could buy a few extra feet to reproduce that look...but then they dont want that either.

jim said...

i thin san carlos looks exceptionally nice. but no, its not good enough for PA. Only a complete elimination of hsr from PA will be acceptable.

jim said...

here are some very cool walls

Andrew Bogan said...

However crude Jim's quick sketch with the trees might have been, it was a better effort with regard to plants than Jim McFall's original rendering. Hopefully we will see a design effort from Jim McFall that includes vegetation and some actual architectural elements in an updated rendering (along with Clem's points on the overheads) soon. I look forward to seeing it.

It is hard to tell this shinkansen train is even elevated, except it is above the treetops on the left side of the photo.

Clem's comment on it looking like Belmont is because the side along Alma is smack against the road and the side along Mariposa is up against back yards. There is not any space for walls that are not verticle, but as Robert has shown before vertical walls need not be hideous.

Furthermore, the soil and climate of Palo Alto is ideal for growing both trees and climbing vines. Even on the Alma side, an 8 inch wide strip of dirt with irrigation would be enough to grow climbing vines up the side of the wall--even morning glories or trumpet vines if people wanted a wall of flowers.

On the Marisposa side, planting fast-growing trees would mitigate the appearance significantly. Eucalyptus grow really quickly in this climate, as do acacia--so fast that many gardeners consider them pests. Japanese loquat grow fabulously well here to about 25-30 feet in height, with attractive big dark green leaves and spring fruits that are delicious.

Bay Area Resident said...

guys, San Carlos is not a panacea and if that is what you are proposing for Palo Alto, I suggest pushing the reset button. San Carlos is zoned commercial, and not even high end commercial. Its a big ole concrete wall basically, and San Carlos is the picture they used on that HSR-Lets do it right, website. Stop bringing up San Carlos- try to find an in neighborhood grade separation somewhere in the world that has archways like a viaduct and trees/shrubs growing on there with an "ivy league" feel, thats what you need. And preferably not grey concrete, I would go brick or some other non grey rock. Yes it will cost more, but it will not cost as much as a tunnel and this is an absolute requirement. Again, FORGET san carlos.

jim said...

ABAR So is PA offering to pay for all these exceptionally fancy treatments? I think san carlos looks very nice. Why sould californians pay for those guys to have "ivy league" treatments whatever that means?

Bay Area Resident said...

Andrew Bogan, the side along Alma is up against Alma, but right across from Alma are front doors. This is the same problem we have all along the peninsula. If there is a road that buttresses the tracks, IF there is, then right across are front doors. Same situation in the Diridon area neighborhoods. With a wall these people are going to open their doors to a street and a wall which they do not today. Today they see a street and then trees, or a street and a park.,-121.893332&sspn=0.007133,0.021029&ie=UTF8&ll=37.319475,-121.894319&spn=0.007133,0.021029&z=16&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=37.317849,-121.894314&panoid=0LLlonpURQKZHhxIQvHfdA&cbp=12,2.6784275455190194,,0,5

By the way, I defy anyone to find even ONE street view on the peninsula or in San Jose that actually features a train going by. If these are so frequent wouldn't you think Google would have picked up some pictures of some, somewhere?

Bay Area Resident said...

Well Jim, maybe you think San Carlos looks nice, but the problem here is political and these peninsula groups threaten to shut down this project unless a compromise is reached. These people paid $1 million on their homes and pay $1200 in property taxes per month and they are not going to let up, too much money is at stake for them.

This is what you have up and down San Carlos and Belmont. The grassy hill berm is better than the wall, but there is not enough room for that in PA. The walls they have in Belmont and SC are the 15' flat concrete variety. No fly zone.,+belmont+ca&sll=37.515394,-122.268498&sspn=0.007114,0.021029&ie=UTF8&ll=37.522525,-122.274292&spn=0.007114,0.021029&z=16&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=37.521348,-122.275758&panoid=cu8KcV30SwhlvK20ZkInNQ&cbp=12,191.21523483440006,,0,5

jim said...

more wall treatments: The artist could have made any of these efforts in his rendering but didn't

jim said...

Just because they don't like something or want something doesn't automatically mean they get to have their way. It just doesn't. There's a whole hell of a lot of unmitigated damage from development here in the city that we have to put up with and no place has higher property values than san francisco.

jim said...

And they aren't the only ones paying property taxes in california. I really don't understand this weird sense of entitlement that a small particular group of people has. There a lot of nice places in california, much nicer than the peninsula thats for sure. I never found the peninsula to be particularly appealing. Granted people like where they live but change is not the end of the world and we all have to put up with it.

jim said...

@BAR I have to say I looked at the google you posted, and looked at the street view on both sides and all up and down the route and I don't see what the problem is. It looks very nice, clean, and unobtrusive. It would actually be an improvement over the current row.

BruceMcF said...

BAR: "Well Jim, maybe you think San Carlos looks nice, but the problem here is political and these peninsula groups threaten to shut down this project unless a compromise is reached. These people paid $1 million on their homes and pay $1200 in property taxes per month and they are not going to let up, too much money is at stake for them.

A future in which California is as car dependent as it is now is not a future where those homes will retain those values. Without a comprehensive alternative to the range of transport services currently provided by the car, those property values are not going to "recover" from the "current economic crisis". It was, after all, an oil price shock that tipped the unsustainable Finance Sector from smoldering problems into open crisis.

The HSR station ought to be in Palo Alto, because Stanford is in Palo Alto, and in the optimistic vision of the future, were the US uses effective design and skilled labor to allow us to tap our sustainable natural resources and reduce the natural resource footprint of our economic activity ... having an institution like Stanford in a town like Palo Alto is a guarantee of its long term economic vitality.

But if short-sighted suburban residents working hard to undermine their long term property values do in fact have the political clout that BAR argues that they have, and do in fact succeed in killing off the HSR project ... it is a permanent reduction in the economic opportunity of California and a permanent reduction in the potential property values in the Peninsula.

People negotiating to get a free ride by getting all the benefits while shouldering none of the costs need to be aware whether the alternative of "no project at all" is, indeed, better for their selfish individual interests than receiving the benefits and also shouldering a fair share of the costs.

jim said...

It so happens that property with hsr increases in value.

Andrew Bogan said...


I'll look at Street View another time, but finding a Caltrain starting in Belmont on Google Maps took less than a minute.

Andrew Bogan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric said...


Here you go for your Caltrain picture:

It took all of 1 minute to find! The more you try to make points, the more out in left field you sound!

Andrew Bogan said...


By the way, I defy anyone to find even ONE street view on the peninsula or in San Jose that actually features a train going by. If these are so frequent wouldn't you think Google would have picked up some pictures of some, somewhere?

That took 2 minutes. Here is Caltrain from Alma Street opposite Bowden Park. Just beautiful isn't it?

Eric said...

My bad, pasted the wrong link. Here you go:,-122.280874&spn=0,359.99176&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=37.525418,-122.281764&panoid=y-8Ybpyc0DygyyR0Y4ew1g&cbp=12,3.4366347998296485,,0,3.242187499999999

jim said...

@Andrew - and that is what the majority of the row looks like. Any construction, wall, landsacaping, etc would be an improvement. Here's a pic of alma - with a wall already - of shrubs, but still if you use the same treatment it would look the same

BruceMcF said...

Google map links work better in html code:

<a href=" Paste URL at this point... "> type text for link and then ... </a>

jim said...

I don't know what that is. but in any case - most of the row effects down there can be easily mitigated so long as people are reasonable about their expectations.

Eric said...

BruceMcF, sorry, my bad. And the second link is not showing the street view either, but the train is there passing by. Too bad I cant go back and change it or delete my first post.

BruceMcF said...

BAR: "try to find an in neighborhood grade separation somewhere in the world that has archways like a viaduct and trees/shrubs growing on there with an "ivy league" feel, thats what you need."

And yet, when that was done (jpg), BAR was not in the commentary to the post saying, "well, of course that would be acceptable, its ugly concrete walls I am advocating against".

Indeed, transpose that viaduct from a ritzy European haborfront village to an upscale California Peninsula suburb, modify the Mediterranean Villa feel to an Ivy League feel, plant plant shade loving ferns and moss along the fringe, put in a walking path (closer to the suburban houses) and a cycleway (on the side of the busy thoroughfare that the Caltrain corridor currently shelters them against), and you have a substantial upgrade on the bullshit "suburban subway" that anti-HSR campaigners are pretending to demand ... and for a fraction of the cost of tunneling.

Indeed, set aside
HSR advocacy ... anyone along the Caltrain corridor who rests their faith in the anti-HSR campaign to put their property values first and foremost is living in a fantasy world.

There is a reason that suburbs are built with cul-de-sacs, and if a tunnel is built, that airspace along a busy road like Camino Real is going to get exploited. Without the Caltrain Corridor as a barrier, and with the exorbitant cost of a tunnel to defray, that development will be the kind of development you would expect on a 75 foot wide or wider ribbon along a busy road newly opened for development. Parks just do not defray tunnel expenses like Burger Kings and Taco Bells and yet another drive through pharmacy to chow down on that government Medicare funding for pharmaceuticals.

Someone who was serious about increasing the property values of Palo Alto suburban residential properties along and near the Caltrain corridor would be working non-stop building on that kind of example from Europe of an HSR corridor going through a ritzier location ... and, indeed, would be relentless in their attack on the "tunnel or nothing" bullshit being set forward by those hoping to derail the HSR project.

Seriously, you can can have a viaduct with a covered walkway and covered cycleway behind your back fence ... and at this stage in the segment design project, if sufficient local community support could be mustered behind it, that is certainly a realistic opportunity ... but instead you are fighting for the right to have a Taco Bell behind your back fence. Its just not a credible position to be taking.

Aaron said...

@Bruce: You're absolutely right, and I hate getting involved in these peninsula pissing matches, but that was in fact beautiful construction, it would open up the area east and west of Alma, making the neighborhoods east of Stanford walkable again, and if PA were to get something like that built (a whole lot more likely than a subway) it would honestly become an emblem of the city. Given PA's history as part of the Spanish Missions, I'm not even sure you'd need to change the architecture of it - just pick it up and move it :). (I'm sure Italy would be happy to oblige as a personal favor to Obama ;p).

Anonymous said...

San Mateo is having second thoughts:

Andrew Bogan said...

One click version of Eric's Google Street View of Caltrain in Belmont. Again, isn't it just beautiful the way it is . . .

Eric said...

Whats funny is that you can follow the train down the street with street view going north. LOL

Clem said...

San Mateo is having second thoughts:

San Mateo city staff is just doing a thorough job of evaluating their options. They are taking the lead. Their grade separation problems are far more complicated than those four trivial little grade crossings in Palo Alto that seem to have captivated the blogosphere for two weeks straight.

Where do you see second thoughts in the staff report?

Bianca said...

if a tunnel is built, that airspace along a busy road like Camino Real is going to get exploited. Without the Caltrain Corridor as a barrier, and with the exorbitant cost of a tunnel to defray, that development will be the kind of development you would expect on a 75 foot wide or wider ribbon along a busy road newly opened for development. Parks just do not defray tunnel expenses like Burger Kings and Taco Bells

BruceMcF makes an excellent point. Tunnels are so much more expensive than a well-designed viaduct. Those costs will have to be recovered, and I would propose that in addition to strip malls and Taco Bells, there will also be a lot of high-density housing. High density housing is a logical fit in close proximity to Caltrain stations, and it's something that I don't have a problem with (after all, the alternative to density is sprawl, and density is the more environmentally sound alternative.) But there are a lot of people in this area (Palo Alto/Menlo Park) who oppose the construction of high density housing. I wonder what the correlation is between the folks demanding a tunnel and the folks opposed to high density housing.

BruceMcF said...

Quite, Bianca ... A row of townhouse condos facing the thoroughfare, an apartment block, a Taco Bell and Micky D's, a Wallgreen's or whatever y'all have as your local cookie cutter Medicare funding traps, and then another apartment block.

Work for the property developers, I guess, but compared to a split grade separation with a 10ft. high viaduct over a cool, shaded filtered gravel walking path next to a (shaded) paved cycleway ... indeed, the cycleway can for very little money be brought up alongside the viaduct to go over the road underpasses, since it can be a lightweight cable-stayed cycle bridge suspended from the basic viaduct structure ...

... I don't see how a ribbon of value-maximizing property development on top of a tunneled right of way would have a better "suburban amenity" feel to it.

Bay Area Resident said...

its easy to find a caltrain if you use an OVERHEAD MAP. What I said is to use street view, in the neighborhoods, and find a caltrain which you cannot do. All these neighborhood photos which we post here of Alma and San Jose have never been shown even once to feature a train coming down the tracks. Thats because they don't travel often.

I heard another alternate route yesterday- something about coming down 85 into the peninsula and using 101. Anybody hear about that?

I know you all love trains, but this blog is the epitome of groupthink. They either find an alternative for HSR on the peninsula or its a no go.

Bianca said...

BAR, the link from Andrew Bogan at 10:25 am resolves into street view if you wait just a moment.

Bianca said...

they don't travel often

BAR, I understand that is your perception, but the Caltrain Schedule begs to differ. On weekdays, Caltrain runs 49 trains northbound and 49 trains southbound. That's not including the freight trains UPRR runs in the wee hours. In other words, over 100 trains pass through every weekday in a given 24 hour period.

I think it's safe to say that something that happens 100+ times a day is something that happens "often".

Clem said...

I would call it timetable denial.

Clearly the Google Street View evidence shows the timetable cannot possibly be correct. And don't know that the time table really is correct unless you ride 50 trains a day. And nobody rides 50 trains a day, Q.E.D.

mike said...

Anon at April 4, 1:18 PM -

LOL, the "second thoughts" that you refer to in San Mateo are second thoughts about requesting a depressed (i.e., trenched or tunneled) alignment. Given the property takings necessary for a depressed alignment, the San Mateo staff are asking if the city would instead like to switch to a elevated alignment (which actually requires fewer property takings). Note that the city staff are not recommending engaging in frivolous lawsuits as one of the mitigation strategies....shocking, huh?

Clem is absolutely right here: San Mateo is by far the most difficult case along the Peninsula, and the San Mateo staff are doing a much more competent job on this whole thing than, say, the Palo Alto staff (e.g., they are actually scoping and analyzing all feasible alignments rather than focusing solely on economically infeasible alignments or suggesting absurd proposals that the state will never go for, like terminating the whole system in San Jose).

Arthur Dent said...

@Andrew Bogan
Here is Caltrain from Alma Street opposite Bowden Park. Just beautiful isn't it?

Not really. The area’s under construction and looks rather ugly. The construction will dwarf in comparison to the disruptive HSR project. Replace the height of the train with a wall and bring it to the edge of the street. Add a sound wall above that, and some catenaries above all that. It’ll be even uglier than the street view Google happened to capture.

Try this view instead. This is the same area without the train, which is what residents and commuters see for 90% of the day when a train isn’t part of the picture. Take a step forward and back within this street view. Look up and down the street, and imagine a wall butting right up against the street. If you're able to grasp the before-and-after affect -- try, I know it’s hard when you’re fixated on a particular outcome -- you can grasp what Palo Alto residents are upset about.

Bianca said...

uh, @Arthur Dent, I think you need to get your sarcasm meter checked. We can all agree that section of tracks Andrew Bogan posted is an eyesore.

imagine a wall butting right up against the street

At this stage in the process, a wall is only one of a number of options. And if it is indeed a wall, it isn't necessarily going to be the Soviet monolith that Jim Fall produced in that video. Something with nice arches reminiscent of the quad at Stanford would not be unsightly. A trench is another possibility. A tunnel is another possibility, but that may turn out to be a Faustian bargain; tunneling is so much more expensive that above-ground options, it would almost certainly result in the development of the land above the tunnel to defray the added expense. If you don't want an arched viaduct, would you be happy with high density housing or a strip mall instead? Going back the way things used to be to isn't an option.

Anonymous said...

This project *is* dead. Where, after all, will the tens of billions of dollars in private investment come from? Andrew, Clem, or Spokker, any of you guys want a part of this? How much of your own money would you invest? It's just a shame that $10B of taxpayer money will go down with it.