Monday, August 17, 2009

Innovation Place

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

Clem has a excellent overview of the tunnel and urban development concepts offered by a group calling itself Innovation Place. You can see some of their award-winning presentation or read more about the plan at Palo Alto Online. Clem's explanation of their ideas:

The crown jewel of Innovation Place is a complete transformation of the University Avenue station area, as envisioned in the team's graphic above. High speed rail or not, this area of Palo Alto is in dire need of a redesign; today, access between three important zones of activity (the University Avenue shopping district, Stanford University, and the Stanford Shopping Center) is a circuitous and dysfunctional jumble that is both unpleasant and time consuming to navigate, whether by foot, bike, car or bus. Neighboring areas just a few hundred feet apart feel miles away from each other.

The remainder of the Innovation Place proposal consists of a 31-acre linear park adjoining Alma Street, featuring a bike and pedestrian path and reuniting the two halves of Palo Alto formerly separated by the train tracks. The additional cost of putting the tracks underground would be financed by selling $700 million worth of air rights for development.

Go over to Clem's blog to read the full details and see some very intriguing designs, along with Clem's thoughts on the concept's strengths and weaknesses.

Personally I think this is exactly the kind of work that Palo Alto residents ought to be producing. Rather than trying to say "no" to the HSR/Caltrain project, the thinkers behind Innovation Place have said "yes" to integrating it into their community. It would be wonderful if Menlo Park and Atherton chose to follow this model instead of wasting taxpayer money on a lawsuit that is doomed to fail.

As to the concept (which should not be described as a "proposal" at this point since it isn't at that level of specificity), I like it. There's the question of the possible roller-coaster effect of a high speed train entering a tunnel for Palo Alto only, and whether $700 million is enough to underground the route. It's also unclear whether Union Pacific will go along with this, as it would pretty much eliminate their ability to continue freight operations over that section of track (although they could theoretically revive the Dumbarton corridor and use the shared tracks along the rest of the HSR/Caltrain corridor north to SF). But this is absolutely something worth exploring.


JimS said...

Argh. It's that whole "reuniting" argument again.

The train tracks were there FIRST. The town was never "divided" by the tracks, the town is there *because* of the tracks! They were never united to begin with!

The only thing added that separated them is the freeway-like structure made FOR CARS. Strangely, they still claim it's because of the train. Go figure.

Rafael said...

I've always argued that peninsula cities that want a tunnel need to figure out how to make it work, especially financially.

In this particular case, it seems urban planners and architects have made a good start on the above-ground section. What's missing is a tunnel solution that works for the railroads.

Issues like heavy vs. light freight rail, electric vs. diesel, track count, tube count, geology, maximum gradients, creeks, storm drains, El Palo Alto, existing underpasses, emergency exits, construction nuisance, shoofly tracks, tunnel boom plus station platform count, length and surface access need to be addressed first. That means bringing on board neighboring cities, railroad operators/planners, railroad regulators etc.

In particular, a railroad tunnel cannot be limited to Palo Alto city limits. CHSRA is also required to fully grade separate Atherton, Menlo Park Atherton, Mountain View. Tracks need a lot of run length to rise from a tunnel to an embankment/aerial. Such transitions are only possible where there are sufficiently long stretches without and cross streets and surface obstacles like VTA light rail.

In practice, as long as heavy freight rail is in the picture, a tunnel under Palo Alto might well mean a tunnel from the Redwood City wye to south of 237. The air rights above the tracks are not equally valuable everywhere along this much longer stretch.

Only once there is a viable technical solution for the tunnel can CHSRA put a price tag for the difference to its own proposal. That in turns drives how much development needs to happen in order to fund that difference. Call it the Peninsula Two Step. They started with step 2, because that's all they know.

Clem said...

@JimS, that's a good point... poor choice of words on my part. I have fixed my own post on this subject to say "uniting" rather than "reuniting".

Rafael said...

(part 1)

For now, I remain sceptical that a tunnel in the mid-peninsula is financially feasible. $700 million sounds is huge amount of money for a single, relatively small town to raise on the back of air rights. Unfortunately, tunneling costs hundreds of millions per mile, so even that sum actually doesn't go very far.

Nevertheless, the air rights portion of the concept is intriguing. What's perhaps not immediately obvious is that it's not limited to a true tunnel alignment.

Readers of this blog may remember an earlier idea of mine I dubbed La Vitrine. In essence, it was about completely enclosing at-grade tracks in a glass, steel and concrete structure with a green roof serving as a linear park. This would leverage already existing road underpasses, notably in north Palo Alto.

At the time, I also tried to include neighboring towns and use covered trenches/rail underpasses rather than under- over overpasses for cross roads. That would be expensive and hard to do if heavy rail limited engineers to infrequent gradient changes and gradients to just 1%.

However, a simpler and cheaper variation might be more viable - especially if combined with the concept of selling some air rights to developers to defray the cost.

See MAP for details.

a) limit the concept to Palo Alto to keep the planning process local. Vitrine between San Francisquito creek and California Street station, only side walls south of there (i.e. tall sound walls with large double/triple glazing panes on top of low concrete pedestals)

b) keep the rail tracks at grade throughout the city. Assume four tracks side-by side, ergo absolute minimum ROW width 3x14' + 2x10' = 62'+ room for the sides of the enclosure = 70'.

c) covered sidewalk in the middle of the green roof, lawn to either side, bike lanes + railings on cantilevers

d) sell air rights for 1-2 floors of commercial real estate above tracks in selected locations

e) University Ave station hall above tracks, accessible via sloping moving walkways. Doubles as easy ped/bike overpass.

f) replace bridge across San Francisquito creek, it's over 100 years old and only supports two tracks. Add new tracks west of old ones, away from El Palo Alto.

g) close Palo Alto Ave crossing, add land west of tracks to El Camino Park. Move the entire crossing south protects the El Palo Alto tree from damage.

Allow 2 lanes of Alma to descend just past Lytton, have them curve west under the tracks and re-emerge at El Camino Real/Quarry. Alma would end up with a vertical discontinuity just south of Everett.

Rafael said...

(part 2)

h) Create a new two-lane bike underpass from Kingsley/Emerson north of Embarcadero to Palo Alto High south of it. Keep the route as shallow as possible. Use a deep trench through the triangular section between Embarcadero, Alma and Kingsley. Use LED lighting in the tunnel sections.

Eliminate the bike lanes on Churchill to create three traffic lanes, build deep underpass for center lane. Alternate between one-way westbound and one-way eastbound while maintaining connectivity between Alma and Churchill east of the tracks. That's not possible on the west side, so add a U-turn connector at the dead end at grade.

Southgate residents would need to use El Camino Real and either Embarcadero or Oregon Expressway to reach Alma. Restoring a closed crossing at Castilleja Ave and Park Blvd would also permit access to Oregon Expressway, but that's not essential.

i) similarly, add underpasses for two center lanes at both Charleston and Meadow. Retain connectivity between Alma and these streets east of the tracks.

Add U-turn connectors at the dead end at grade west of the tracks. Park Blvd will be interrupted twice. By default, residents west of the tracks would have to use El Camino Real and Oregon Expressway or San Antonio to reach Alma.

Also add individual, shallow ped/bike underpasses with LED lighting in each direction at both streets.

j) Check if the San Antonio overpass can somehow accommodate four rail tracks. It's an old structure and reportedly not up to the latest seismic code.


The new road and bike underpasses would be expensive, but so is constructing a full-height retained fill embankment.

The vitrine section and sound walls south of it would have to be funded by the sale of air rights to developers.

Rafael said...

Quick side note off topic: pending soft loans from two development banks, Vietnam to invest $56 billion in 1000-mile HSR lane using Japanese technology.

flowmotion said...

Robert is correct and it's great that Palo Alto is starting to examine the tunnel plan with some specificity. And maybe that will accelerate the detailed engineenering proposals, so there's actually some real plans & numbers to discuss.

However, the NIMBY "HSR is a development conspiracy" theory is already out there. A high-density development proposal is only going to reinforce that, and never to garner any real support from the nimboids.

So, from CAHSR's perspective, this doesn't change much. Their imperative is to still get it built, ramming it through if they have to.

WarrenT said...

I think the diesel argument is flawed. There are many examples of tunnels having diesel trains running through them. Options like running only at night and including adequate ventilation would certainly be a major component of this.

If a tunnel were financially viable, I think getting agreement to running diesel freight traffic is somewhat secondary.

Of course, this is all predicated on the fact that the tunnel is large enough for double height cars.

Speaking of financials, yes 700 million is a lot for a small community. However, recent approaches to tunneling in Spain have reduced the cost by almost half (as noted earlier here). While pending your hopes on the applicability of this technology is risky at best, it is certainly hopeful that a medium between 50m and 100m per mile of tunnel is in scope.

Rafael's post about the La Vitrine is certainly interesting. However, personally, I don't see this working with the current NIMBY culture. The aerial structures, no matter that they could have the gardens of Babylon hanging from them, seem to appease these people.

Finally, there is limited area that could be used for development should the tracks be burried. The Palo Alto stretch has either mature industrial/retail parks, homes, or downtown Palo Alto. I am intrigued by where Clem may advise nearly 700m in land/building rights can be obtained in Palo alone.

Rafael said...

@ Warren T -

California has very strict air quality standards, so running diesel locos in tunnels may have to wait until EPA Tier 4 engines become available. Even then, fire is always a concern in tunnels. In California. So are earthquakes.

As for tunneling cost per mile, it depends completely on what kind of rock you're tunneling through. The Caltrain corridor through SF peninsula sits on alluvial deposits aka compacted mud. That's relatively soft rock and the water table is fairly high.

If there are pockets of soft mud within a harder matrix, there's a risk of subsidence during construction. Sinkholes are expensive and potentially deadly for people on the surface. However, I'm not sure if any of that applies in that particular location.

Also note that current plans for the corridor call for four tracks, so we'd be talking about a central two-track bore, possibly with an AAR plate H compliant gauntlet track plus two single-track bores for HSR o either side, all cross-connected to each other and to escape shafts.

The railroad ROW is not wide enough to accommodate all of those bores side-by-side with the requisite space between them. However, there is a frontage road (Alma/Central Expressway) running immediately next to it.

Travis D said...

$700 million will buy you two miles of twin tube tunnel with one track per tunnel assuming moderately hard rock with no water infiltration issues. While this proposal is a step in the right direction it still fails to address the total expected costs.

BruceMcF said...

@ WarrenT ... there's a difference between a diesel through a tunnel and a diesel through an underground station in a tunnel. Also a difference depending on how long the tunnel is ... but the underground station with passing diesel traffic is the one where you will strain to find examples of it being done, especially in higher income nations with air quality standards.

Not having a Caltrain station at Palo Alto is not an option, and the Innovation Place concept seems likely to require the Peninsula Station at PA as well to make it fly ... so that would either impose a middle of the night curfew on all passenger traffic, to have a freight window, or no freight traffic at all.

Rafael said...

... or UPRR could use an electric locomotive.

Anonymous said...

There is one huge element that is missing from all of these discussions (as great as they are) and that is how to finance this stuff.

If HSR will be a nationwide plan - there must be a better way to figure out how to pay for things like tunnels through dense communities.

I know, it isn't required, but if we look at the entire nation - I can't imagine that only the Bay Area will have NIMBYs asking for a tunnel. This is likely to be repeated in at least a few communities across the U.S..

If the financial geniuses of this country could figure out a way to do public/private investment to get some money for these types of issues - then I think we would be more successful. There must be someone in Silicon Valley that can get creative from a financial perspective?!

Does anyone know how these kinds of things are handled internationally? I've heard suggestions of taxing those on the ROW, or taxing those in the community. Does anyone have any specific examples of how this is done in other countries?

I'm all, eyes. ;-)

Jay C. said...

BTW - didn't mean to post anonymous - I hit the button to fast
I'm Anon @8:08

Anonymous said...

Joe C - in other areas of the planet, there is no possible way that a tunnel would be considered for an area with the low density levels of the peninsula. That's one thing that's unique about the US - we have miles and miles of low density suburbia to deal with surrounding the urban areas of the country. That doesn't really exist in other places.

In other places, tunnels are used in the high density areas and above ground methods of some type are used in low density areas.

Andre Peretti said...

Studies showing that HSR creates more pollution than other transit solutions seem to be specific to the English-speaking world:
This 2007 study very timely resurfaces as British new transport minister Lord Adonis is planning to reverse the anti-electrification and anti-HSR policy of his predecessor who had decided that diesel was the future.

Anonymous said...

The hsr has become a development conspiracy.

TomW said...

1) I find it significant that the highway remains a dividing line in their plans.

2) Does anyone have any idea how much air rights go for in somewhere like Palo Alto? (in $/acre or similar)

3) Bruce McF said the underground station with passing diesel traffic is the one where you will strain to find examples of it being done Birmingham New Street, UK. Cheating slightly I know, but the fire regualtions treat it as underground station. Also, I'd say at least two-thrids of the services there are electric.

*Running* diesels in tunnels is simply a matetr of sufficient ventilation... concider the Severan Tunnel (Great Western Main Line, UK), whcih is 4.3miles / 7.0km long, and has lots of diesels running through without problems.

Bianca said...

It would be wonderful if Menlo Park and Atherton chose to follow this model instead of wasting taxpayer money on a lawsuit that is doomed to fail.

This. A thousand times over.

The folks who oppose HSR on the Peninsula also tend to overlap with the folks who oppose high-density development. The common thread seems to be that they like things the way they are so why change?

They don't acknowledge the reality that things do change. Density (which is a good thing from an environmental viewpoint) is inevitable when you consider what the population of California is going to be in 2030.

I'm heartened to see some people working for a positive outcome. I don't see how Palo Alto gets a tunnel without Menlo Park and Atherton getting one as well, and then that price tag gets quite a lot bigger. I'm not convinced a tunnel is necessary. With participation from the communities involved, creative solutions may be found that answer people's concerns about HSR without resorting to putting it underground.

mike said...

@Rafael & Others

According to the NIMBYs, the $700 million is just the tip of the iceberg. Their core contention in most discussions is that anything that has an impact on properties adjacent to the ROW will have a cascading effect on properties further from the ROW. In their worldview, adding two tracks and several elevated grade separations would thus reduce property values throughout the City of Palo Alto. And removing two tracks, eliminating the noise and pollution of horn-blowing, smoke-belching diesels, and replacing it all with a green linear park would of course increase property values throughout the City of Palo Alto.

There are 25,000 households throughout Palo Alto. Suppose the median housing unit is worth $700,000. Suppose you increase property values by 10% on average (this seems fairly conservative given the kind of doomsday scenarios that the NIMBYs often trot out) - obviously they would increase by more near the ROW and less away from the ROW. With a 10% increase, you have an additional $1.75 billion of capital created. Add in the $700 million in land sales, and you are talking almost $2.5 billion total. That should be more than enough to tunnel through Palo Alto.

In practice the city would tap this money by implementing annual parcel taxes equivalent to something like 0.5% of property value on average (real value, not Prop-13 value). The great thing for homeowners is that this would be tax deductible, so even though their property might appreciate by 10%, their net carrying costs would only appreciate by 6-7%. And of course they could always choose to cash out and take the money if the neighborhood became "too nice" for their tastes. So it's a win-win for everyone. The difficult part for the tunnel proponents is to actually convince their fellow city residents that live further from the ROW that property impacts next to the ROW, positive or negative, will have ripple effects further from the ROW.

Morris or another NIMBY - is there something in this scenario that you feel you be refined? I'm confident that I'm capturing the essence of the NIMBY argument, but perhaps I have missed a few details.

mike said...

Oops, slight mistake in the last post. When talking about carrying costs, it should read "even though their property values might increase by $70k, the net present value of their carrying costs would increase by only $45-50k."

jim said...

Looks a like a good plan if they can cover the cost of tunneling. Of course the nimby's won't be happy with this either.

Bianca said...

Their core contention in most discussions is that anything that has an impact on properties adjacent to the ROW will have a cascading effect on properties further from the ROW.

Mike, I get that you're playing devil's advocate here. While I agree this seems to be the basis for much of the opposition, I think that the notion that HSR ought to be challenged head-on.

The percentage of Palo Alto residents who own property abutting the Caltrain ROW is not large. So the entire city would be asked to fund a very,very large project from which only a small number would directly benefit.

Furthermore, as Clem goes into much better detail on his blog, tunneling is not without problems, one of which can be subsidence. There's a greater than zero chance that tunneling along the ROW could lead to foundations shifting underneath the houses that abut the ROW. That's not a great outcome for property values.

Most importantly, though, there is a pretty strong argument that proximity to a HSR station, even without undergrounding, is going to bring an overall lift to property values. Even in the nosebleed-inducing heights of Palo Alto. If the noise concerns are properly addressed (and there are lots of good ideas already) then HSR will benefit the entire town, even without a tunnel.

So why spend the billion-ish dollars for undergrounding to benefit a few at the expense of the many, if you don't have to?

jim said...

What if the built stacked tubes like this trainintube

it would take up less row, only one track withdth, be silent, and its see through to its not obtrusive. then UP and Caltrain could use the rest of the row as needed.

jim said...

does that train say "crystal meth" on the side?

AndyDuncan said...

@Jim does that train say "crystal meth" on the side?

Maybe, and it certainly should, because whoever drew that was certainly on something. By the time you made that thing large enough for power transmission, seismic retrofits and air flow, you really would have a "Berlin Wall" down the middle of palo alto.

jim said...

yea, they do make it look all light and airy in the drawing but the non drug induced reality would be massive.
I lk eth downtown plan though, and wonder if PA can't do the same type of development keeping the trains at grade or elevated as the trains would be surround by new development anyway and it would be a fresh start on design and nois countrol. Raise the whole project by one level.

Alon Levy said...

I don't understand. If the tubes have rarefied air, then why do the trains need to be aerodynamic?

Devil's Advocate said...

You're all for the aerial structure, but how do you cross the freeway overpasses like 92 in San Mateo, 380 in San Bruno or 85 and 237 in MV? The HSR needs to come down to ground level or even go underground around there too?
I still see the bay marshes as the best alternatives: no nimbys, no property to confiscate. All you need is a little dirt to create a nice strip along the water from Alviso to South City.

mike said...


I agree with you on virtually all counts. But I'm not the one out there advocating that Palo Alto build (or more precisely fund the building of) a tunnel. I suspect that most Palo Alto residents do not actually agree with the NIMBYs' contentions, but perhaps they do, in which case the logical conclusion would be the plan I described.

Bianca said...

You're all for the aerial structure

Huh? Being not keen on tunnels doesn't automatically mean I want an aerial structure. If you've been reading Clem's blog you'll know that in many places HSR could run at grade, with overpasses or trenches where needed for grade separation.

I still see the bay marshes as the best alternatives

You may, but I don't. First, the enormous advantage of the Caltrain ROW is that is where the people are already- access to the train is easy and convenient from town centers. Take it off the ROW and you lose the easy transfers from Caltrain, the easy access for passengers from local downtowns. Caltrain loses out on funding to accomplish long overdue electrification and grade separation. Lots of people can walk to the Palo Alto train station, but nobody's walking to train line on the other side of the freeway.

Finally, there are environmental and seismic drawbacks to that idea. You really want to build a high speed rail line on fill, in an active earthquake zone? Were you not around to see what happened in the Marina during Loma Prieta? Ever heard of a little thing called liquefaction?

AndyDuncan said...

OT, but I can't remember who on here was asking about "California City", a city which appears on maps out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, but nobody seems to know anything about. Well, here you go.

Bianca said...

@mike: understood. High Speed Rail is understood to be a really contentious topic around here, but every time it's come up among people that I know in Menlo Park/Palo Alto the same thing happens. People do this brief double-clutch before very gingerly edging toward stating their position, and then everyone is hugely relieved when we discover we all support it. It's strange; the really vocal opposition seems to have cowed the pro-HSR folks around here. Perhaps its just my demographic, but once you take out the people who live adjacent to the tracks, everyone else I've talked to about it supports it.

AndyDuncan said...

I still see the bay marshes as the best alternatives

Yeah, and you think the Peninsula NIMBYs are passionate, they don't have anything on the environmentalists, and the environmentalists have those pesky laws that protect those marshlands from just such types of projects. You'd be lucky to get an expensive elevated viaduct over the marshland, you're certainly not going to get a tide-restricting berm.

Nicolas said...

Trains on the bay marshes will never happen. Securing building rights and environmental clearance would be impossible.

Rafael said...

@ Devil's Advocate -

running tracks on a causeway in the middle of the bay sounds like a good idea, but there are some caveats to consider:

a) there is no available ROW between Santa Clara and Alviso. Perhaps tracks could be buried in subway tunnels underneath traffic lanes on Lafayette Street. At least that runs parallel to the Guadeloupe river.

b) many of the old salt ponds in the south bay lie inside the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, a bird sanctuary. While its' possible to thread the needle between Alviso and Dumbarton, narrowly avoiding the refuge's formal boundaries, there would surely be opposition to bullet trains and 25kV AC overhead catenaries through that area. Perhaps that could be dealt with by keeping the tracks fully enclosed (though above the water) until well clear of the refuge.

c) the wildlife refuge is also home to the Saltmarsh Harvest Mouse, an endangered species. See (b), only more so.

d) the mud at the bottom of the south bay is still contaminated with methyl mercury, a result of mercury leaching from tailings of cinnabar mining in Almaden (south San Jose) back the Gold Rush days. For decades, Hansen Cement in Cupertino fired its kilns with coal, whose combustion also released small amounts of mercury (they've since switched to natural gas).

Methyl mercury is quite toxic even in tiny concentrations, so any construction in the bay would have to take special precautions to avoid stirring up the sediment, especially - you guessed it - anywhere near the wildlife refuge.

e) access to the ports of Redwood City and San Francisco would have to be retained. Since bascule sections would interfere with the objective of reliably punctual service, the alignment would have to feature either a tall viaduct section or else an expensive and seismically dubious artificial island where tracks can descend into an immersion tunnel (cp. Oresund bridge/tunnel between Sweden and Denmark). The alternative would be to cut over to the Caltrain corridor, e.g. in Burlingame or else at Sierra Point (Brisbane).

f) one of the project's objectives is to provide regional connections for long-haul passengers at California's airports. Cutting over to the Caltrain corridor in Burlingame would achieve a connection to SFO, albeit a lousy one. Unfortunately, serious digging under active runways at a major airport is a major no-no, so a station smack underneath the terminals seems out of the question.

g) there would be no mid-peninsula station.

h) large sections of the Caltrain corridor would not be fully grade separated.

i) building out over the water avoids environmental conflicts with residents, but it implies up to 50 miles of tunnels and causeway. The latter is similar to an aerial but the per-mile cost is much higher because the foundations are under water.

In practice, a causeway-based solution might be worth considering between Alviso and Dumbarton, but not further north and even then only as a last resort for either Pacheco or Altamont.

Rail>Auto said...

Would it be affordable to build another separate freight track for UP in the tunnel as well?

Rafael said...

@ Rail>Auto -

build a tunnel specifically so UPRR can run a single train per day in each direction through it? You're kidding, right?

Thinking hard said...

What about a tunnel for Caltrain and HSR under 101 or 280?

Rafael said...

@ Thinking hard -

a) UPRR still around
b) Caltrain ridership down 101 = 0
c) speed mismatch: Caltrain locals <-> HSR express, ergo 4 tracks
d) tunnels would have to be bored
e) 50 miles of tunnels vs. 20 under English Channel @ $20 billion

Please think harder.

Rafael said...

@ Thinking hard -

perhaps that was a little too snide of me, sorry. But really, running rail tracks in a freeway corridor gets extremely ugly and expensive unless there is an available median for two track. There is none on 101 and the one on 280 is just one lane wide.

Unless the political climate changes dramatically, the asphalt lobby will not give up existing carpool or general traffic lanes on any freeway for the purpose of constructing an HSR line.

That's why the I-15 managed lanes project already in construction between Escondido and Miramar is a major headache for CHSRA planners trying to secure a ROW for the phase 2 HSR spur down to San Diego. Last I heard, they were asking Sandag to build extra-tall overpasses for the new center road lanes so the trains can run on an aerial underneath them. Talk about maximizing the amount of concrete poured.

The best solution would be to scrap the managed lanes project and just add a single traffic lane to the existing freeway in each direction, preserving the median for HSR. Unfortunately, the delays in getting HSR onto the ballot mean this is no longer an option.

A more expensive solution would be to construct empty tunnel bores underneath the center lanes as part of the managed lanes project and seal them until phase 2 gets built. Unfortunately, prop 1A(2008) funds cannot be spent that way.

Anonymous said...

I think the best option is just to bore directly through from SF to LA. In a straight line, the distance will be shorter, as we won't have to deal with the curvature of the earth and all that extra length.

jim said...

AndyDuncan said...
OT, but I can't remember who on here was asking about "California City", a city which appears on maps out in the middle of the Mojave Desert, but nobody seems to know anything about. Well, here you go.

i was the one who was intrigued by california city, I had seen it for years from the air, then drove past the turn off on my way to vegas. So thanks!!!! for that article. I figured it was something like that. Funny, because as a kid I used to think we should build a brand new city from scratch and call it california city and lo and behold, this guy was doing it just then. Of course in my version I got to name all the streets. Well at least we know where to put the next 20 million who are coming. hand the maps out at the borders and airports.

this is why the train is going out there. between lancaster palmdale and cali city, there are huge possibilities on the order of what that guy had in mind and a chance to build a city the right way from scratch.

get in now while the gettin's good. Im going to check out the prices...

jim said...

It really is real! I'm so intrigued.

Max said...

I'm sure this has been discussed before, but I'm wondering, why would a trench thru the Peninsula not be a good solution? Honest question, to a newbie it just seems like a fairly obvious compromise between tunnel and overhead.

With a trench, you could build large "overpass parks" which could "unite" specific areas. It could probably fit right in with this "Innovation Place" idea.

With a quick blog search I only see it mentioned in passing, with one guy saying that 5 creeks in Palo Alto are the showstopper. That doesn't make sense to me - in a country where we built the Hoover Dam and Hetch-Hetchy, getting 5 or even 20 creeks across a trench, like with pipes or something, would be too daunting and expensive a feat? Sorry if I'm missing something obvious.

If the creek problem could be solved, there could be a slew of interesting/ crazy trench ideas. For example, imagine a T-shaped trench (like the tetris piece), where you would only need a 3-track wide R.O.W., with one extra deep track in a central "faux" tunnel... except it wouldn't be a true tunnel it would just be a deeper part of the trench which you build a 1-track-wide "roof" over. I'm thinking it couldn't be that expensive compared to a fully-bored tunnel or a 4-track overhead structure.

Again, sorry if I'm beating a deceased equine, it's interesting brainstorming.

WarrenT said...

@ Rafael

Cut and Cover

Has this blog covered cut and cover as an option for the narrow stretch between Atherton and Menlo Park? It is a halfway house between trenching and tunneling. I am unfamiliar with the differences in costs, but certainly this would meet the needs.

This methodology is more common on subway/metropolitan rail services, but there is no reason HSR could not use this. You would achieve the same output allowing the Innovation Place or other concepts to come to fruition.

A slightly added benefit is slightly easier ventilation associated with the diesel traffic and your concerns of seismic activity and subsidence can be controlled slightly better.

The only problem I see is the fact that you will need to annex properties along the ROW whilst the tracks/coverings are constructed. Returning the ROW yards/land would be part of the finished scenario once the cap is in place.

Maybe something worth exploring?

Mid-Peninsula Underground Station

Whilst a lot of effort on this blog has been making the point that tunneling is not the only answer, which I agree with. Perhaps another item of discussion as we see more innovative concepts to dealing with buried rail is a station in a bored/covered/underground section of rail could look/be built.

Given the numerous examples of station around the world for HSR stations, there are are a number of good examples to base something like a downtown Palo Alto station on. I have spent all of my HSR time on rail in Europe, so I have a slightly skewed view.

The Innvation Place project buries the station as though it were an extension of BART. Not a bad way of integrating transport into the literal heart of the community. Whilst not specifically HSR, the Thameslink platforms at St. Pancras execute this well

Stratford International's approach in London is a cut-and-cover station. It is presented as a cubic 'box' out of the ground for 4 tracks (2 through, 2 stopping with platforms).

Gare Lille Europe is not a buried station, but the architecture of it gives an indication to how you can make even a cavernous underground station somewhat interesting. It is a bit of a concrete jungle, but, this brutalist architecture for the station lends itself well where it is expected that a strong structure is necessary (ie seismic preparations or simply an homage to much of the BART architecture).

James said...

@Anon @11:52

I turns out, your straight line tunnel is a variation on a classic Physics textbook exercise. If you had a straight tunnel from SF to LA and it was made with a very low friction coefficient, like maybe magnetic levitation in a vacuum sealed tunnel, you would roll downhill and accelerate halfway to LA and uphill/decelerate the other half. The maximum velocity would be the same as for an object falling down a well to the same depth.

The classic version may be if you dug a well straight through the center of gravity of a round asteroid, a rock dropped in the well would 'fall' through to the other side.

The neat part is for the frictionless case, the ride would be free.

In a practical sense if a station is at the top of a grade you can use gravity to assist slowing down to and accelerating away from the station.

@Rafeal @11:46
Thanks for the correction. Some posters may be new to HSR.

looking on said...

Having just watched the Authority workshop, one item that popped up was construction time of 6 - 8 years; that is each segment from start to finish will take 6 - 8 years. Knowing that almost always they take even longer, how does living in a city that might endure 10 years of traffic jams, unbearable nighttime noise at times, loss of many businesses sounds to those residents of the cities that will have the project pass through it.

Pringle made an issue of this, talking about a freeway grade separation project, a 100 million project that is taking 5 years to complete. He is also pushing to make sure his segment of the system, LA to Anaheim, 30 miles, would operate HSR trains before connecting to other segments, inspite of being told it would be very expensive,(actually Daniels first said it couldn't be done) since a separate communication and control room would have to be established for his segment, since the main facilities were to be placed in the central valley.

Pringle is showing as chairman, he can use his now dominated So. California board, to push the project his way first. Diridon and Kopp now having to play second fiddles.

Anonymous said...

Diridon and Kopp now having to play second fiddles.

Ain't that the truth... The personal interactions apparent in the workshop video are quite revealing.

At one point in the workshop, Pringle cuts off Diridon in quite abrupt fashion. That says a lot.

What also says a lot is that board members seem extremely naive about the technology. Pringle asked if foreign HSR systems had positive train control, something only a novice would ask... it's clearly people like Daniels & co who are in charge here.

Daniels at one point gushes over a picture of an HSR bridge, marveling at the "fineness ratio", and showing that complex infrastructure can and will be built for its own sake.

Anonymous said...

that is each segment from start to finish will take 6 - 8 years.

That strikes me as impossible, unless "segment" means LA to SF. There aren't going to be many sections where a single spot is under construction for more than a couple years - maybe some tunnels and bridges, but that's it. To suggest otherwise is absurd.

AndyDuncan said...

That strikes me as impossible, unless "segment" means LA to SF.

Well, sort of. The entire project is broken down into multiple smaller projects, and each of those projects will take 6-8 years to complete, and will start and finish on a 1-3 year concurrent but staggered timeline.

You're right, however, that within each of those individual projects, some pieces will be completed sooner than the 6-8 years and/or not started on day 1. We'll have to wait for more detailed project schedules to find out more.

AndyDuncan said...

@AndyDuncan and will start and finish within 1-3 years of each other on a concurrent but staggered timeline.


AndyDuncan said...

Pringle made an issue of this, talking about a freeway grade separation project, a 100 million project that is taking 5 years to complete. He is also pushing to make sure his segment of the system, LA to Anaheim, 30 miles, would operate HSR trains before connecting to other segments, inspite of being told it would be very expensive,(actually Daniels first said it couldn't be done) since a separate communication and control room would have to be established for his segment, since the main facilities were to be placed in the central valley.

The proposed schedules and plans have always shown revenue service starting on the various segments before the whole line is complete. Even as recent as powerpoint slides used in that board meeting, so I'm just as surprised as Pringle. Perhaps he's pushing for an even earlier rollout? Or did some engineer let them know that their plan wasn't going to work?

looking on said...

This was not just some engineer telling the board that HSR as a revenue service couldn't start until the segments were completed and connected.

This was Tony Daniels, the top of the engineering pile at PB. He said the tracks could be used for other purposes, but not for HSR service, which requires PTC etc., as previously discussed and which cannot be implemented until the central valley segment is up and running.

Pringle is pushing to have a temporary central control in the LA area, so he can get service earlier.

The notion that HSR service can start on say the SF to SJ and/or LosAng to Anaheim is not reality.

Overhanging all of this is "what happens if we run out of money?"

AndyDuncan said...

The notion that HSR service can start on say the SF to SJ and/or LosAng to Anaheim is not reality.

Forgive me, as I'm not all the way through the video yet (even at 2x speed), but since they plan on putting the test line in between Merced and Bakersfield first, they're going to have to have some PTC systems in place then, no? If so, there doesn't seem to be a reason why they couldn't start revenue service on that section before the entire line is completed.

The only thing I can think of is that they're going to be running the connections for the PTC system along the ROW, which makes sense, and that they won't have a physical fiber-optic connection to the LA-Anaheim section until they build the rail.

That seems like a perfectly surmountable problem: there's plenty of dark fiber lying around, it should be much easier to rent some of that and connect the systems that way than to build a separate control center.

AndyDuncan said...

which cannot be implemented until the central valley segment is up and running.

Misread this, so yeah, we would have to wait until the Merced-Bako line is operational, which is supposed to be in revenue service 1 year after the LA-Anaheim line (according to Tony Daniels' powerpoint deck).

Do you have a minute-mark in the video when he talks about this? It seems his own deck is out of agreement with what he apparently said.

looking on said...


The time mark I noted was 2 hr. 14 minutes which was about where Pringle starts a long speech about the 30 mile LA to Anaheim segment, and putting forth an argument that it should not have to wait for other segments. So a little before this was where Daniels made the disclosure -- actually as I recall he made it at another time earlier also.

AndyDuncan said...

@looking on: Ok thanks for that, so he's not saying that the Anaheim section won't operate until it's connected to anything else, he's saying it won't be operational until the Merced-Bako line is operational "12-14 months later", and that pushing that up by 12-14 months would be expensive and probably not worth it.

That's better than having to wait 24-36 months, based on his slides, until the full system is done.

And man, Pringle really doesn't seem to be listening at all to what Daniels is saying. Neither does Kopp.

AndyDuncan said...

Listening to it again, he's really saying that you could beat the times he's showing here for revenue service on some of the lines, but that you'd only be able to move that up by 12-14 months or so, I think the confusion comes when he uses the same time-amount to also describe the gap between the operational date of each section and the full system buildout if we do it the way he wants:

"You could take some of these sections and beat the time. But if you stagger them, and you pitch your contracts, and you bring them together in a way in which I'd like to explain on the test side, the test and commissioning side and the core systems side, then you could work an arrangement by which there's only 12-14 months between one end and the next."

And then he talks about how you could push that up further by the expensive methods mentioned earlier. So yeah, it sounds like the commission was trying to push to have the LOSSAN corridor moved up even further, even though it's still scheduled to open first

Rafael said...

@ Max, WarrenT -

here are links to earlier posts on tunnel/covered trench construction in the SF peninsula.

CAHSR blog:
Pandora's Box
La Vitrine

Caltrain-HSR Compatibility blog:
The Joy of Tunnels
Threading the San Mateo Narrows
The Berekeley BART Tunnel Saga

The biggest problems with covered trench construction are related to:

(a) gravity-drained conduits such as creeks, storm drains and quite possibly, sewer mains. There are a lot of them both at the surface and underground throughout the peninsula, all crossing the Caltrain corridor. Rerouting them under the tracks should be possible but such bypasses can clog up in certain conditions.

(b) the need to maintain railroad service during excavation from the surface. It might be possible to construct two underground tracks at a time, leaving one operational on the surface. The constrained space makes excavation more difficult, but it also avoids the construction of temporary shoofly tracks.

(c) construction nuisance is high all along the trench section, with earth having to be moved out and rebar + concrete moved in. This is also true for retained embankments above ground. However, covered trenches have to be dug almost twice as deep (~30') and need concrete foundations, center walls and lids in addition to the side walls. The greater depth means the descent and ascent sections have to be longer (max gradient 1% for heavy freight, 3.5% for non-compliant EMU passenger trains).

(d) the additional work described under (c) means covered trenches are much more expensive than aerials. Bored tunnels are usually - though not always - even more expensive per mile.


For reference: the primary reason the BART extension to SFO went so badly over budget was that San Mateo county decided late in the game it wanted the entire section underground, an issue triggered by the war cemetaries in Colma.

The delta was paid for in part by deferring the BART extension to Fremont Warm Springs at the southern edge of Alameda county. In a quid pro quo, San Mateo county now has to defer the rehabilitation of the old Dumbarton rail bridge, which was partially destroyed in a suspicious fire in 1998.

SMCTA has also had to severely cut bus service, incl. the Millbrae/SFO shuttle, to pay for putting the SFO extension underground.


Note also that CHSRA's first cut for cost estimation purposes (map, details) calls for the HSR tracks to run in a long trench/tunnel between San Tomas Expressway and San Jose Diridon.

If I were Atherton/Menlo Park/Palo Alto, I'd question CHSRA on its reasons for this decision. The Santa Clara - San Jose Diridon section does need to accommodate Caltrain, UPRR/Amtrak/ACE, HSR and BART. There are also the I-880 overpass and Caltrain's CEMOF facility to contend with. BART is supposed to run at grade between SJ Diridon and the huge Newhall yard in Santa Clara.

Max said...


Thanks for the info! Plenty for me to read. However my off-the-cuff reaction is: if your choices are

1. Figure out how to make 15 miles of 4-track wide aerial pleasing to NIMBYs
2. Figure out how to make 15 miles of 4-track tunnel affordable
3. Figure out how to prevent some clogging drains, and deal with some "inconvenience" in open trench construction (I'm suggesting that would be the cheapest option)

it is not obvious to me that #3 is the totally impossible option that should be discarded first. But I will go read the material.

jim said...

or keep it at grade with landscaped soundwalls and use underpasses and close some streets

jim said...

i don't like the name "innovation place" thought. stupid. How bout "tomorrowland"

Rafael said...

@ Max -

open trenches are fugly and loud, cp. Alameda Corridor in LA. The only reasons not to cover them would be diesel exhaust and the cost of the lid. Given the high value of property in the SF peninsula, the extra cost of a lid would definitely be worth it - doubly so if it's the ground floor of a building above the tracks.

An at-grade/elevated solution would be cheap to construct as such. However, the time required to fend off reverse condemnation lawsuits - which will be filed in any event - could lead to delays in construction and start of operations.

Of course, reverse condemnation cuts both ways. PCJPB could sue homeowners if they prevent the board from exploiting its primary asset, the ROW.

Anonymous said...

Open trenches are vastly preferable to elevateds - that's why they were depicted in the pre-election propaganda.

If you would want to get a good grasp on what ungly and noisy means in the real world just go hand out under a BART elevated for a while.

Board Watcher said...

Note also that CHSRA's first cut for cost estimation purposes (map, details) calls for the HSR tracks to run in a long trench/tunnel between San Tomas Expressway and San Jose Diridon.

If I were Atherton/Menlo Park/Palo Alto, I'd question CHSRA on its reasons for this decision. The Santa Clara - San Jose Diridon section does need to accommodate Caltrain, UPRR/Amtrak/ACE, HSR and BART.

Doesn't Rod Diridon live near that neighborhood where the trench is proposed? Mr. Double-standard.

Bianca said...

Anon @9:56 said:

Open trenches are vastly preferable to elevateds - that's why they were depicted in the pre-election propaganda.

I call BS on this.

An anonymous poster drops by making that kind of allegation, without proof. Not buying it.

Show us an example, anonymous, or it didn't happen.

Bianca said...

I should add that a lot of us were here and heard people bleating about "Berlin Walls!" and "Dividing our community!!" (when the railroad was there first, hello).

The documentation that people based those claims came from the CHSRA, and the CHSRA based those on the kind of berms that were used to achieve the grade separation in San Carlos.

Nobody promised any trenches in the runup to the election.

Just because you want to believe that doesn't make it so.

AndyDuncan said...

open trenches are fugly and loud, cp. Alameda Corridor in LA.

Seriously. I always giggle a little bit when I hear NIMBY's cry for trenches. They've obviously never seen one, or seen one being built.

Nobody promised any trenches in the runup to the election.

Actually, that's not quite true, the CAHSR did show trenches, and they did have maps showing that they would put trenches in, but they never said they were going in everywhere. In fact, you can go see all the same simulations and propoganda on the site today, it's the same as it was. The main "here's a high speed rail in a trench" graphic is (and was) clearly labelled as being through burbank.

If they don't put that one in a trench, then you can complain.

Anonymous said...

@ Bianca

The UP trench in downtown Reno. Too bad they didn't erect a Bechtel elevated - we would have had a new definition of godawful. But Reno was not so stupid or feckless as to let that happen.

Palo Alto's only strategy that has any chance of success is to flush out CHSRA intransigeance. The latter has no intention of building a tunnel or trench under any circumstance. No matter if PA comes up with the money to pay for it. The sooner the townsfolk recognize this they sooner they can prepare for total war with the CHSRA, which sold out the Peninsula to pander to San Jose and San Francisco.

The CHSRA is in irrevocable Big Dig fiasco mode and will not negotiate. The Tehachapis boondoggle underscores the level of chicanery. Unfortunately that also makes the "stop it dead in its tracks" approach the only effective course.

Bianca said...

The UP trench in Reno? As an example of what? How it was built in Reno? That's your "pre-election propaganda"?

You go to the CHSRA website, and they have pictures, videos and drawings of HSR at grade, on berms, on bridges, on viaducts, in stations, and yes, in trenches.

Go look at Appendix 2-D of the Final Program EIR/EIS. It's dated May 2008 i.e., well before the election. It's marked as "preliminary" but throughout the length of the Caltrain ROW, the plans were either "at grade" or "retained fill." This document had folks on the Peninsula seriously up in arms complaining that their communities were "going to be divided" by this "wall."

Anonymous said...

I never saw Prop 1A tv ads showing any type of grade separation other than trenches.

That was not by accident. The public hates elevateds because they are noisy and uninviting to put it mildly. Ever see "Blues Brothers"?

Bianca said...

I never saw Prop 1A tv ads showing any type of grade separation other than trenches.

You saw TV ads for Prop 1A?

Who paid for them?

CHSRA did not run any ads, they didn't have the budget for it and in any case I believe they are legally precluded from doing so.

If there were any prop 1A ads on TV, I missed them. But I'd sure be interested in seeing it now. Can you share a link?

Did anyone else here see TV ads for Prop 1A back in 2008? Anyone who isn't posting anonymously? I'd be genuinely interested to know.

AndyDuncan said...

I never saw Prop 1A tv ads showing any type of grade separation other than trenches.

What TV ads?

And anyway, your whole argument is that nobody told you the peninsula was going to be on a berm?

If you're so sure that you've been criminally misled, go ahead and file a lawsuit like the other NIMBYs.

Alon Levy said...

Ever see "Blues Brothers"?

Yes. They spliced footage from multiple takes in order to make the trains look omnipresent, whereas in fact their headways are long, on the order of 15-20 minutes, and don't run at all late at night.

Sam said...

Yeah, I never saw any CHSRA TV ads either, and thought that CHSRA was prevented from running them. I did see one TV ad that showed a HST that was financed by some concern (can't remember who), but it was talking about the BART proposition and just showed how BART and HSR would interact with each other in the South Bay.

jim said...

i never saw a tv ad for HSR. but all the info was avail to the public.

Anonymous said...

mea culpa. I guess it was the video simulation that was released to the media, which ran it all the time. It depicted a trench.

The "berm" will be seen and heard for miles. Palo Alto et al are right to oppose it. The harder the CHSRA pushes for aerial the greater the opposition.

Overall public apprehension about the hsr will grow as its flaws in its plan become obvious to the ordinary voter. All you have to do is ask wht route would your typical motorist from Fresno or Bakersfield take to LA. Nuff said.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 10:22am -

trains are limited to 3.5% gradient, so it's much harder to build a rail line across the grapevine that crosses both the Garlock and San Andreas faults at grade. In fact, an extensive computer-aided workshop held by CHSRA yielded precisely one such alignment and it ran close to the Lake Castaic wildlife refuge.

There were literally hundreds of viable variations across the Tehachapis and through Soledad Canyon. Considering the currently available information on the meter-scale geology in the entire area is imperfect, the preferred route represents lower tunneling risk.

No doubt LA county did also push for a route via Palmdale, but geology was the primary factor.

AndyDuncan said...

All you have to do is ask wht route would your typical motorist from Fresno or Bakersfield take to LA.

Which is why I wouldn't ask a typical motorist to design my HSR system. I mean really, that's your big example of how HSR is poorly designed? That the track isn't straight in places?

Anonymous said...

When the verdict finally comes in on this project - disappointing and underperforming - the experts will wish they had had the cojones to mine the Grapevine instead. A private entrepreneur would never touch the Tehachapis route, suitable only for freight.

jim said...

anon - based on what?

AndyDuncan said...

When the verdict finally comes in on this project

"History will prove me right"

Just another way of saying "I have no rational or factual basis to further my point, so I'm going to punt this down the road several decades and pretend I was right in the meantime."

How about you at least put your name on your prediction? That way the wayback machine will at least capture your brilliant foresight.

Anonymous said...

No brilliance involved - just the obvious. The Grapevine is manifestly superior; that's why I-5 is there and not in the Tehachapis.

A little analogy: the Tehachapis detour is to the hsr what broad gauge is to BART. Sabotage.