We can't stop here. This is
bat BART country.
The recent Initial Ruling On Atherton vs. CHSRA highlighted the issue of ROW acquisition, especially if that might involve exercising eminent domain. There's been a lot of speculation about the possible implications for the route out of the Bay Area and even the project as a whole. However, the plain truth is that it's now up to the judge to spell out the remedial actions CHSRA must take to bring the program level of its EIR process for the Bay Area to Central Valley section back into compliance.
One aspect that will surely have to be addressed is the issue of exactly where and how to run dedicated HSR tracks between San Jose Diridon and Gilroy, a topic I'll explore below. First though, let's recap why CHSRA preferred a route that goes through San Jose at all.
San Jose likes to bill itself as the "Capital of Silicon Valley", which actually stretches from San Jose all the way up to San Mateo and across to Cupertino. Much of the so-called "Golden Triangle" portion, bordered by US-101, I-880 and CA-237, actually lies in Santa Clara and to a lesser extent, in Milpitas. However, most of Silicon Valley is chock-full of high-tech computer hardware and software companies, ranging from highly innovative startups to global leaders in the computing and internet industries. Along with agriculture and the movie/TV industry, Silicon Valley is a primary economic engine for the state.
Both directly and indirectly, tax revenue from these companies and their workforce will contribute a large fraction of the funding for the California HSR project. Paradoxically, wealth is both why HSR has to serve Silicon Valley and why CHSRA is facing opposition to an alignment with elevated sections in the SF peninsula.
San Jose has about a million residents, making it the country's tenth-largest city. However, a significant fraction of Silicon Valley's highly skilled workforce neither lives nor works within city limits, a situation San Jose's civic leaders would like to change. The General Plan shows the location of these limits and also the city's development pattern. Most of the built-up area is "medium low density residential", though there are some higher-density developments here and there. A sizeable area just south-east of the SJC airport is blighted by aircraft noise and FAA-imposed maximum building heights. It is used by the US Army and for Guadeloupe Park.
The Diridon station lies just west of the flight path and, high-density residential housing has been/is being built just west of it. However, except for Caltrain's CEMOF maintenance facility and the HP Pavilion, long-standing efforts to attract commercial development between the station and CA-87 haven't been as successful. Back lots and at-grade parking lots are plentiful. Caltrain ridership into and out of Diridon station has historically been low for that very reason. In conjunction with the BART extension, HSR is supposed to deliver what Caltrain never could: attract commercial and residential development to the mid-town and downtown areas within approx. 1/2 mile of the station.
Note that neither HSR nor the long-sought BART extension are fully funded at this point and that there's no reason to believe airport blight will abate.
Transit Oriented Development
Nevertheless, San Jose is giving this another try and hosting a visioning workshop for the Diridon station area:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009
Location: Parkside Hall, Room B (west of Tech Museum of Innovation), 180 Park Ave
(Note that as reported earlier, the Innovation Place HSR Workshop in Palo Alto will be held on the same day from 9:00am-3:30pm. See also Clem's post Palo Alto Innovates)
Separate plans for transit-oriented development already exist or are in development for Santa Clara, Beryessa, Fremont Warm Springs, Union City and Fremont Centerville (context: Dumbarton Rail + Amtrak CC/ACE). All of these are supposed to boost ridership into the downtown-midtown area of San Jose and, to connect to HSR at Diridon station.
HSR Phase 1: San Francisco, San Jose and Points In-Between
Whether all of these plans for rail transit and transit-oriented development will come to fruition or fail to attract sufficient funding remains to be seen. However, while the wording of AB3034 would technically permit CHSRA to exclude San Jose from phase 1 or even from later phases, any attempt to do so would face massive political opposition on account of the above. Note that the bill, which was the basis of prop 1A(2008), specifically requires the starter line of the HSR network to terminate at the San Francisco Transbay Terminal. Therefore, terminating it San Jose for now as some have proposed would require the state legislators to amend the bill with a 2/3 majority in both houses and probably, a new ballot proposition to approve that amendment. San Francisco would never allow that to happen.
Ergo, for all intents and purposes, both SF and SJ need to be served by HSR in phase 1. The most straightforward way to do that is to leverage the PCJPA's Caltrain ROW and cross over into the Central Valley via Pacheco Pass. Since Caltrain "baby bullet" service takes 57 minutes between these two cities and AB3034 explicitly mandates that express HSR trains do it in just 30, the plan of record is to quad-track the entire ROW, even though narrow ROW sections such as downtown San Mateo present major engineering challenges if eminent domain is to be avoided at all costs. A second complication is that even if FRA gives Caltrain a waiver to operate mixed traffic (new non-compliant electric EMUs + a few legacy diesels for SJ-Gilroy + UPRR freight trains) at up to 79mph, it almost certainly won't give CHSRA the same luxury in the related but separate "rule of special applicability".
So, for both regulatory and capacity reasons, the intent is to upgrade the Caltrain corridor for mostly two tracks to a full four everywhere. Building just HSR tracks in another peninsula corridor, US-101, was considered but rejected due to constructability issues (lack of available medians) and because the corridor doesn't run near the desired stations. Also, this option would have done nothing to fully grade separate and electrify Caltrain, nor could peninsula residents have transferred to long-distance HSR trains at selected stations between SF and SJ.
Approaches into San Jose Diridon
South of San Tomas Expressway in Santa Clara, CHSRA's Google map of the route (please zoom in) shows an expensive trench/tunnel section to just north of SJ Diridon. Presumably, that's just two tracks reserved for HSR, so Caltrain would remain at grade (it's already grade separated in the area). Also note that the HSR tracks need to cross over or under the UPRR tracks somewhere between Santa Clara and Gilroy. Doing so in Santa Clara isn't possible because the BART tracks will run east of UPRR's line as far south as West Santa Clara Street, immediately north of Diridon station. Present plans therefore call for HSR to stay west of the Caltrain tracks. Note that tracks will need to emerge to the surface north of W. Julian St. since that's an existing underpass and tracks need run length to fan out to the platform tracks on the new deck above the Caltrain/UPRR tracks.
CHSRA's plan of record calls for a mix of aerials, embankments and cut/fill sections to cross I-280 and reach Gilroy via the UPRR/Monterey Hwy corridor. In some sections, the UPRR ROW might have to be widened via acquisition of land or air rights from private property owners - via eminent domain if need be. Failure to qualify the risk of such takings was one of the complaints the judge upheld in Atherton vs. CHSRA.
The track fan south of Diridon station can merge west, east or directly above the UPRR tracks, as desired. However, note that W San Carlos St. is currently an overpass. It would have to be converted to an underpass to keep HSR tracks from having to change elevation yet again. However, there's probably a good reason is was built as an overpass to begin with. Also, it's not clear if all of the HSR-related grade separation works shown on CHSRA's Google map are strictly for the new HSR tracks or would also include the legacy tracks used for UPRR freight, Caltrain and Amtrak Coast Starlight. By default, the latter might be preferable, but also much more difficult to construct (shoofly tracks). Given the low total volume of FRA-compliant traffic between San Jose and Gilroy - just 6 freight, 6 Caltrains and 2 Amtrak trains - it may well be acceptable to retain grade crossings for the legacy tracks only.
Since UPRR declined to entertain an offer because of supposed safety concerns, it cannot credibly pretend they've magically gone away even CHSRA were to offer it the moon. At the very least, there would have to be some engineering studies to determine if a given implementation proposed by CHSRA meets UPRR's criteria, which it hasn't even spelled out yet. This could drag on for years even if price were no longer an issue.
Ergo, UPRR's decision not to offer up any of its ROW nor air rights above it south of Lick (Caltrain's Tamien Yard, just north of Almaden Expwy/87) means CHSRA will have to secure land/air rights nearby, if only to avoid delaying the project. This will be tricky to achieve without eminent domain, especially near the gated communities just south of Curtner Ave, which is an overpass. Note that a VTA light rail line runs in the CA-87 and CA-85 medians.
Alternative to the UPRR ROW
However, the medians of both I-280 and US-101 are still available. Freeway medians are usually narrow, possibly limiting the maximum safe speed to below what CHSRA was counting on for a given section of the route. BART trains aren't constrained, but then their top speed is 79mph to begin with. As always the devil is in the details, i.e. exactly how many feet of width are available. Google Map's satellite view doesn't provide that level of precision.
The hardest part would be the section between W Santa Clara St and just east of the gnarly I-280/CA-87 interchange. Overpasses there may not be tall enough to permit HSR trains to run underneath, so it's better to avoid it altogether. In addition, HSR trains are limited to gradients of 3.5% and need generous curve radii at elevated speeds, so an entry point west of the interchange would be ambitious.
A deceptively simple solution would be to keep the HSR tracks underground south of CEMOF all the way to east of the interchange. Once you've bitten the bullet and gone underground, there are advantages to staying there. However, it would also put the SJ station underground, with full-length (1/4mi) platforms placed at an angle relative to those of both Caltrain and BART. There would be no need for architectural Viagra on the surface, not that need ever had anything to do with it to begin with. However, in raw transportation terms, an underground station with as little as two run-through tracks and one large island or two generous side platforms would get the job done. Fortunately, the area is partly parking lots and the aforementioned visioning workshop - a very early stage of the urban planning process - hasn't even happened yet.
There's plenty of room to run west of the BART tracks curving around the HP Pavilion, but the HSR tracks actually need to run sufficiently deep to pass under the VTA light rail line that already crosses under the Caltrain/UPRR tracks. HSR would also need to cross under the Guadeloupe River, a residential district, CA-87 and a second creek before emerging in the I-280 median. Note that the HSR tracks would also need to run either west of or else under the future BART tracks.
In other words, the HSR line and platforms would have to be very deep underground anyhow. Since San Jose is a through station anyhow, perhaps a single extra-wide island or two generous side platforms would actually be sufficient. Trains run past platforms in Europe and Japan at fairly high speed all the time. Waiting passengers are simply warned to retreat to a safe distance via the PA system and markings on the floor. The VTA tracks would prevent a full concourse level, but none is needed anyhow. Multiple pedestrian connections to the surface, to BART, Caltrain and the VTA station would be sufficient. Some of these passages could feature moving walkways to reduce transfer times. ADA compatibility would be achieved via elevators, but ramps or inclined moving walkways are more reliable in case a wheelchair user needs to be evacuated.
At the anyhow pre-blighted I-280/US-101 interchange, the cheapest solution would be a tall aerial to transition between the medians. However, it would have to fly over a descending overpass lane, so it would be a tall structure. Still, the incremental visual and noise impacts should be minor. The alternative would be to execute the transition underground, but that's more expensive.
Optional Extension through Altamont Pass
Tunneling under the I-280/US-101 interchange only makes sense if there is a desire to leverage all the work that was put into reaching the I-280 median for something else: a turnoff to continue east to I-680, whose median is also still available - all the way to the foot of the Sunol grade in Fremont, actually.
If Caltrans is prepared to reserve that median for HSR trains, it could be the basis for a future shortcut to Sacramento via Altamont Pass. Between Scott Creek Rd and E Warren Ave in Fremont Warm Springs, the tracks would veer east and across to Haynes Gulch via a long tunnel under Monument Peak. There, they would veer north, running essentially at grade next to Calaveras Rd. as far as the CA-84/Calaveras Rd exit off I-680. An aerial across the CA-84 and another tunnel would lead the tracks to an intermodal with BART at El Charro Rd in east Pleasanton/west Livermore. It would be heard to avoid impacts on both the nearby ponds and Livermore Municipal Airport, since crossing at grade is not feasible because of UPRR. Altmont Pass would be traversed - except for one short section - via the I-580 median. Passing north of Tracy, tracks would connect to the phase 2 spur to Sacramento near either Manteca or Escalon.
Optional Extension to Walnut Creek
Note that the I-680 median is still available between just north of the CA-84 exits to just south of the CA-24 interchange in Walnut Creek. A tunnel section under California Blvd. would be needed to create an intermodal with the BART station. However, that road features a tight chicane and there is a medical center next to the freeway. Tunnel tracks would have to thread a needle between its buildings. This would require a technical feasibility study as well as the consent of Kaiser Permanente regarding any number of issues, including construction nuisance and vibrations from passing trains. Eminent domain against a hospital is basically unheard of, so I'd consider the whole thing a long shot. However, even without an intermodal with BART, there would at least be HSR service to eastern Alameda and central Contra Costa county.
Maps for Alternative #1
The alternative ROW and extension options are shown on the map below. Switch to satellite mode to see why the HSR station would have to be deep underground. Zoom out in map mode to see the regional implications. Switch to terrain mode to see where there are mountains to contend with.
The picture below the map shows location of major known faults - basically, Calaveras Rd. and I-680 north of Sunol are right on top of the Calaveras fault. The Hayward fault generated the 1868 earthquake, estimated at 6.8 on the Richter scale. Paleoseismologists have estimated the mean time between such events on that particular fault to be 140 years, so statistically, it's due right around now. Perhaps it's not the most auspicious time to build a railroad, but the people of California have never allowed themselves to be paralyzed by a fear of Mother Nature. See our earlier post Shake, Rattle And Roll for more background on earthquake engineering in the railway industry.
View San Jose Diridon: HSR Underground in a larger map
Since we're talking hypotheticals anyhow, here is a second alternative based on using 101 between SJ and Gilroy.
To come up with this one, I started in Gilroy and worked my way north. It quickly became apparent that the problem in San Jose could be addressed by simply moving the HSR station to the huge transit-oriented development at Beryessa and continuing north up the East Bay instead of the SF peninsula. CHSRA did study the scenario of SF + Oakland + SJ via Pacheco but not along this particular right of way, which does not depend on UPRR but precludes extending BART south. Moreover, whatever is gained in San Jose is lost (and then some) because the only available unused railroad right of way runs from Union City to just north of Oakland Coliseum. Reaching it from Fremont Irvington with full grade separation requires tunnels in Niles, tiptoeing around the water supply for 100,000 people.
The aforementioned available ROW runs right next to BART, but unfortunately its tracks cross over in three locations. That would greatly complicate the vertical alignment, though at least heavy freight does not impose any gradient constraints.
North of Oakland Coliseum, a few miles of greenfield ROW immediately next to BART would be required, complicated by the Fruitvale station and transit village. A tunnel under the Lake Merritt outflow and 4th Street in Oakland would need to pass under the east portals of the Webster/Posey road tunnels across to Alameda. The upside is an elevated intermodal station with West Oakland BART. Sanity would dictate that HSR terminate here in phase 1, after all downtown SF is just one BART stop away. However, as discussed above, AB3034 mandates a terminus in San Francisco Transbay Terminal. Since the station there is in the basement and the new east span of the Bay Bridge was redesigned specifically not to support the weight of BART/light rail/HSR trains, a second transbay tube would have to be part of the phase 1 specifications. Note that it could not cross the existing tube underwater.
As a result of all this, switching to the East Bay would be no easier than sticking with the peninsula. Multiple hard-fought political decisions would have to be reversed, multiple EIS/EIR processes re-done. Whatever ARRA is available for California HSR would be spent elsewhere in the state.
- HSR up 101 from Gilroy ($)
- modest elevated San Jose HSR station at Beryessa TOD ($)
- VTA's WPML ROW used for HSR (priceless ;^)
- tunnel in Niles to reach UC BART (stacked single tracks, $$)
- dedicated HSR alignment next to BART ($$$, ROW incomplete, BART crosses three times)
- tunnel under Oakland's Chinatown ($$$)
- second transbay tube to San Francisco Transbay Terminal Center ($$$$)
- BART extended to Livermore via I-580 ($$)
- Caltrain electrification SF-SJ Diridon ($$)
- VTA light rail subway under E Santa Clara St and up to Beryessa via track stacking on short section of WPML ($$$)
Canceled: BART to Santa Clara (-$$$$)
Canceled: BART maintenance facility in Santa Clara (-$$)
Canceled: widening Caltrain corridor (-$, -litigation-related delays)
Canceled: Dumbarton rail (ROW in Union City usurped by HSR) (-$$)
Shelved indefinitely: DTX tunnel in San Francisco (-$$$)
Pushed back to PCJPA: full grade separation of Caltrain corridor (-$$$)
View HSR up WPML instead of BART in a larger map
Basically, this Alternative #2 was an interesting exercise, but it would really put a pride of lions among the pigeons. The takeaway is that switching to the East Bay would solve some political issues in the mid-peninsula at the expense of a whole new set of headaches.
Alternative #1 is more limited in scope, it "just" completely reconfigures the SJ station and moves the one in Gilroy to the 101 median.
UPDATE: Alternative #3: Commenter BruceMcF (h/t) has suggested that stacking HSR and VTA light rail tracks in the 87/85 medians between Lick and the Santa Teresa district would be both feasible and cheaper than the alternatives discussed above.
There are multiple existing road overpasses, including Almaden Expressway and Blossom Hill Rd. next to the station there. The stacked tracks would have to fly over those, raising tracks very high. VTA light rail leaves the 87 median and forks tracks at Ohlone Chynoweth station next to the 85/87 interchange. It leaves the 85 median in the Santa Teresa district. Combined with station access issues, this favors stacking the HSR tracks on top of light rail.
However, that puts the (slightly) heavier HSR trains on top and increases noise emissions. HSR's maximum gradient is smaller than the one light rail vehicles can negotiate and, greater vertical transition radii are needed on account of the higher speed. Note that VTA light rail is triple-tracked in some sections and would be down to just two after the project. Separately, note that the 101 median is not available right at the 85/101 interchange but that land for tracks to hug the northbound on-ramp is. At an appropriate point further south, the alignment would cut back over into the median.
Note that VTA's daytime light rail operations would need to continue during the construction period.
View SJ Diridon to Gilroy via UPRR/87/85/101 in a larger map