Last night the CHSRA held a public meeting in San José to discuss the plans for what may well be the most challenging segment of the entire SF-Anaheim route: the San José to Merced segment. The battles north of here, on the Peninsula, have gotten a lot of attention, but that segment is much more straightforward - the route has already been chosen (Caltrain ROW) and it's now just a matter of how you implement it.
Further south, the situation is much more complex, additionally so because it is this segment for which the judge ruled the EIR was inadequate in Atherton v. CHSRA, specifically the matter of using UPRR ROW between San José Diridon and Gilroy.
As a result, some of the key route decisions are still very much up in the air. And here too you have NIMBYs fighting what seem to be the most commonsense solutions, including the Gardner neighborhood (which, I should correct, did actually exist before the railroad - the neighborhood was subdivided in the 1880s and again in the 1900s, whereas the SP line was built during the Depression in the mid-1930s). Down in south Santa Clara County Gilroy residents have voiced concerns about using the existing rail alignment, especially based on the factually incorrect statement that trains would run at 220mph through central Gilroy. And there is the matter of a protected grassland near Los Banos that the HSR trains are currently planned to use.
The CHSRA produced a useful document showing the alignment options along this segment, focusing on the three toughest parts: how you get from Diridon Station to either the UPRR ROW or Highway 101; how you run trains through Morgan Hill/Gilroy, and the Los Banos section.
One of our commenters, Peter, attended the San José meeting last night and had these comments, shared in the comments to yesterday's post and reproduced here:
The presenters were brutally honest regarding expected noise levels, eminent domain, frequency of trains, etc.
People definitely preferred the relatively straight tunnel at an angle to Diridon as the alignment they thought the Authority should adopt. They weren't very concerned that it meant the station would be over 100 feet underground.
They were very surprised to hear the maximum permissible noise levels for freight trains (the locomotive) at 55 mph and HSR at 150 mph are the same at 90 dba. The freight cars can apparently be even louder.
They were very upset at the planned peak level of operations of 11 tph in each direction. They were upset despite the fact that the presenter made clear that this was for 2035.
In other words, HSR through the Gardner and Willow Glen areas wouldn't be louder than the existing trains, and like their counterparts on the Peninsula, believe they have some right to dictate the operations of the train corridor (which they don't). Peter continued:
And when I say above that the presenters were "brutally honest," I mean that when they didn't have the answer yet and had not yet studied the issue in-depth enough to have an answer, they said so.
I know people are going to claim they were hiding things, but I just didn't get that impression.
The presenters stated that they were shooting to go as fast as they could between Diridon and Gilroy. It sounded like they liked the idea of the curve around Morgan Hill in order to enable them to possibly 220 mph.
There was one crazy still trying to get Altamont, and he even had a handout ("This is a better choice")with an alignment splitting in Pleasanton and one spur going south to San Jose International and another going via a Transbay Tube and ending beneath SFO.
Two San Jose Board of Supervisors members were there and they made their pitch for the "straighter" tunnel alignment that allowed the trains to go faster, and oh, by the way, would mean they would be out of sight, out of mind.
Oh, and supposedly they are now considering a Morgan Hill station instead of Gilroy....they are considering the Morgan Hill station because the City of Morgan Hill asked them to. All of the alignment alternatives raised are being considered because they have to be. I highly doubt they'll put a station in Morgan Hill, same as I think a 100 foot deep underground station at Diridon is ludicrous.
Here again I'll say the same thing I said about the Palo Alto HSR design workshop: if San José and/or Santa Clara County want a tunnel from Diridon Station southward, they need to come up with a way to pay for it. That strikes me as even less likely given that the county is already on the hook for a multibillion dollar tunnel, to bring BART to downtown San José.
As Clem noted, the CHSRA does listen to and incorporate public feedback - in this case, the "Thread the Needle" plan floated by Gardner/Willow Glen residents, which as you can see on the image below, has been incorporated by the CHSRA as an alignment option:
The simplest solution to me looks like the existing Caltrain corridor through the Gardner neighborhood. If residents want another solution, whether a costly tunnel or a costly and tightly-curved aerial structure shown in green, they'll have to find a way to pay for it. It's not government's nor the public's job to subsidize their home values.
For getting the trains out of central San José, there's the issue of what to do if the UPRR ROW along Monterey Highway is unavailable. The solution as proposed below involves using the Highway 87 and Highway 85 corridors.
I wish I had more specifics on this, because those corridors are already being used by VTA light rail. I do not believe it is either wise or desirable to sacrifice VTA light rail for HSR, and the cost of widening the ROW along both routes would be quite high. Still, if there's no federal pressure put on UPRR to come to an agreement about the ROW, this may have to be explored.
Next up is Morgan Hill, where a station is being considered at the request of the city of Morgan Hill:
As Rafael noted, a Morgan Hill station would not be optimal for those of us living in the Monterey Bay Area (and there are almost a million of us, not an inconsequential number). A Gilroy station is both ideal and still the most likely option.
Of course, the other interesting thing about this map is the possibility of following the Highway 101 corridor. I drive that corridor pretty frequently, including last Saturday, when I took a close look at the options for placing HSR tracks alongside the road. This is very doable. The east side of 101 has more space in the Morgan Hill area, and the west side has more space through San Martin. Because the 101 corridor here is straight and not built up, unlike the Peninsula, it strikes me as an appropriate place to put HSR tracks.
I'm skipping over the slide on the Pacheco Pass and moving directly to the Los Banos region, where a wide range of options are on the table:
As you can see, there are three main issues here: Can the CHSRA build through the grassland? What do you do with the wye at Chowchilla? And can you use the UPRR/Highway 99 alignment? I have no strong preferences here, although the Firebaugh alignment would seem to rule out a maintenance hub at Merced.
Obviously there's quite a lot going on here. To me the best solution is to use the existing Caltrain ROW through Gardner, use federal mediation to reach an accommodation with UPRR in the Monterey Highway area and along the Highway 99 corridor, and use the straightest and most direct route through a narrow portion of the grassland.
I would prefer the HSR trains go through central Morgan Hill and particularly central Gilroy. Those cities are under intense pressure to build urban sprawl, and an HSR station in downtown Gilroy, where the existing Caltrain station is located, would instead help channel that growth back into the existing urban center. That being said, I'm open to a 101 alignment, especially east of Morgan Hill, if that can enable trains to go at a faster speed.