Saturday, October 3, 2009

What To Do In Willow Glen?

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

UPDATE: Note that in fact the tracks from Diridon Station to a point called "Lick" 3 miles south, about where the tracks reach Monterey Highway, are owned by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB), as Rafael pointed out in the comments. I've updated the post to reflect that info.

This weekend Peninsula residents are gathering at the Palo Alto Sheraton to discuss possible designs for the Caltrain/HSR project through Menlo Park, Atherton, and Palo Alto. I'm going to have to miss this event, but it's worth noting their task is significantly easier than the much more complicated and difficult question of HSR implementation just a few miles down the tracks in San José.

The Willow Glen and Gardner neighborhoods, located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, are wrestling with the question of how to implement HSR through their communities. Like their neighbors on the Peninsula, they too have an existing railroad running through their community, which as on the Peninsula predated the homes.

But unlike the Peninsula, Willow Glen and Gardner in particular have other major transportation systems impacting and dividing their neighborhoods. I-280 and the CA-87 freeways have already cut through significant portions of both areas. These neighborhoods also lie in the flight path of Mineta San Jose Airport, whose runways are located about 2 miles or so to the north, meaning there is significant aircraft noise in this neighborhood.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the existing tracks south of Diridon Station a point 3 miles south of Diridon called "Lick" (thanks to Rafael for the clairification), currently used by a few Caltrains to/from Gilroy and the twice-daily Coast Starlight, are owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. The ROW through the Gardner neighborhood appears to be wide enough to accommodate four tracks, including the existing two that comprise the northern end of the UPRR Coast Line. Of course, as we know, UPRR is not in a mood to actually share that ROW. And that causes a significant problem for both HSR planners and the surrounding neighborhood. (Again, noting the correction above, the segment through the Gardner neighborhood is indeed owned by PCJPB.)


View Willow Glen/Gardner in a larger map

That's why the CHSRA is hosting a community meeting at the Gardner Community Center Tuesday, October 6 from 6 to 8pm to discuss the issue. As the Mercury News explains it, the popular proposal in Gardner and Willow Glen is to move the tracks to Highway 87:

Residents of Willow Glen and the Greater Gardner area including David Dearborn, Jean Dresden, Michelle Harris and Harvey Darnell submitted pages of questions for the "scoping" document that will set the parameters of the draft environmental impact report.

Dresden and Dearborn — who has worked in technical fields for 30 years — drafted a plan called "Thread The Needle," which describes in detail how the rail line could trace Highway 87 through the Interstate 280 interchange. It would run underground in the Delmas Park area to the Diridon train station.

Rail leaders say perhaps a compatible option would be to replace the Valley Transportation Authority's light-rail line along Highway 87 with a high-speed line, although it is unclear if the VTA would allow it.

I'd love to see this plan, which I could not find online, because I'm quite curious about how this would work in practice. Moreover, I'm also quite curious about how the hell VTA would continue light rail service on the Santa Teresa and Almaden lines if their median tracks in Highway 87 are taken, even if just for the few miles between Curtner Ave and the 280 interchange. VTA light rail is a "struggling" system, but as Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic noted, better land use policy in the Silicon Valley would help make the system much more effective. The "Thread the Needle" plan seems to suggest abandoning light rail along the Highway 87 corridor almost entirely (which is one reason I want to see the actual plan). You can't actually widen the Highway 87 to accommodate both HSR and light rail tracks, since to do so you'd have to encroach on the same UPRR ROW tracks that is causing issues for HSR planners even if they leave light rail where it is.

Neighborhood residents say they support the HSR project, even though they exhibit the same errant thinking about the place of rails in communities as some folks on the Peninsula:

Michelle Harris, a 48-year-old Cisco engineer who lives on Fuller Avenue, said many people in the Gardner area want the route moved to Highway 87.

"In older neighborhoods, the Caltrain tracks go through quaint parts of town. Putting a 200 mph train through it is kind of like putting a freeway through it," Harris said.

Harris, the secretary of the North Willow Glen Neighborhood Association, also said that many neighbors support the rail project and voted for Proposition 1A in 2008. They want to be close to a train station that would take them to other cities, she said.

As you can tell, the problem here is that Harris has it backwards - the neighborhood "goes through" the rail corridor, which was there before the houses. But what about the "200 mph train" - is that actually what would be implemented in the neighborhood (and even if it were, wouldn't the noise be FAR less than that of the two existing freeways and certainly less than the existing Caltrains)?

Rail leaders have said in public meetings that trains would travel about 60 mph if they negotiated the curves of the Caltrain line through the Gardner area, but they did not deny that noise and vibration would be issues unless soundwalls or tunnels were built.

Notice, of course, that saying noise and vibration would be "issues" isn't the same as saying they'd impact the neighborhood the same way as a freeway would.

In the end, the real issue here is UPRR. Running HSR trains through Gardner at 60 mph on the existing tracks (it's just beyond Diridon Station, so you have to assume trains were never going to be running a whole lot faster than that) would be a perfectly sensible solution that would cause the minimum impact on the community. But since UPRR refuses to allow that their ROW (south of Lick) to be used, something else is going to have to be done explored - hence CHSRA's willingness to explore the "Thread the Needle" idea, as problematic as that is.

Here again I renew my call for California's federal representatives to get involved. As the only body with the ability to actually push UPRR to be more willing to share its ROW. As a creation of the US government, with much of its land and ROW given to it freely by the government, UPRR should be more willing to find a reasonable accommodation with the HSR project.

29 comments:

Peter said...

Apart from issues with UPRR and widening the ROW in Willow Glen, how fast would HSR be travelling through Willow Glen? The area looks to be quite curvy. Would the trains be travelling fast enough that noise would be a problem? Would the main noise problem be wheel squeal from the turn?

Joey said...

@Peter:

Given the curves, AND the fact that that area is very close to Diridon station (where all trains will likely stop), I wouldn't expect trains to be traveling much over 60MPH. And let's pray the turns don't have to be tight enough to incur wheel squeaking.

Also a question: I'm not saying this is an ideal solution, but could eminent domain potentially be used against (part of) UPRR's ROW?

Robert Cruickshank said...

According to the quote I included in the post, HSR would travel at about 60 mph through Willow Glen if it used the existing ROW. Which isn't that bad, given the fact that it's almost immediately after Diridon Station and I wouldn't expect trains to have already accelerated beyond 100 mph by that point anyway.

As to eminent domain against UPRR, states do not have the power to do that (you can thank a corrupt Gilded Age Congress for that particular gift to the railroads, designed to prevent reformist state governments from bringing the Robber Barons to hell). Only the federal government can use eminent domain against a railroad.

Which is again why I keep calling for federal representatives to get involved and mediate this dispute. Pelosi, Boxer, Feinstein are all well positioned to do this.

Travis ND said...

Tearing out the VTA for HSR seems a bit unwise in terms of long term thinking. There has to be an engineering solution that would allow the 87, VTA, UPRR and HSR to co-exist. If they do construct the deep underground option at Diridon would this perhaps be one location where it may be more practical to just run an extended bored tunnel?

Rafael said...

@ Robert -

technically, the 1991 contract between PCJPB and SP means freight service could be terminated unilaterally all the way down to Lick, about 3 miles south of SJ Diridon.

However, the pertinent clause 8.3(c) refers specifically to changes in commuter service that would be incompatible with continued freight service. If the project-level EIS/EIR results in locally preferred alternatives that call for elevation transitions with gradients of up to 3.5% rahter than 1%, that may apply in the SF-SJ segment.

However, Caltrain only operates six trains a day total down to Gilroy. PCJPB is extremely unlikely to exercise the "nuclear option" there, because it would render the coast corridor north of San Luis Obispo useless to UPRR.

That's the backup corridor for all freight for the LA/LB habors up the west coast in case an earthquake takes out the primary route via Cajon Pass and the Tehachapis.

At the very least, the abandonment proceedings would be expensive, even though UPRR also runs just six trains total on that corridor.

It's also extremely unlikely the federal government would exercise eminent domain against UPRR in California, for two reasons: one, fully 40% of national sea freight goes through the LA/LB harbors, so SoCal counties don't want to stay on friendly terms with freight rail operators. And two, the mere perception that passenger HSR would come at the expense of freight rail would generate massive resistance to federal funding for HSR from US Senators representing states in the nation's interior.

CHSRA's best bet is to use the available I-280 and US-101 medians to reach the 101/85 interchange and then run in a sufficiently straight alignment just east of 101 down to Gilroy to make up for lost time.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Rafael,

Thanks for the reminder about the rights down to "Lick." I'm not suggesting that UPRR be thrown off the rails entirely, but using federal pressure to enable the ROW between Diridon and southeastern San Jose to be shared by freight and passenger rail.

Some version of a tunnel to carry trains from Diridon to Monterey Highway might be necessary. And a 101 alignment as you propose ought to be explored. The San José to Gilroy section may actually turn out to be the most difficult portion of the route, above and beyond the Peninsula, which as I noted is quite straightforward compared to this.

Rafael said...

@ Robert -

actually, PCJPB owns the ROW down to where it meets up with the Monterey Hwy and it's 100 feet wide. The issue is getting to Gilroy from there.

I reckon 280/101 could be possible without tunnels and without nuking the only part of the VTA light rail network that's actually grade separated. With so few rail transportation dollars available, it doesn't make sense to destroy one service to make room for another.

South San Jose is easier than the peninsula precisely because there still are available freeway medians.

Anonymous said...

"That's the backup corridor for all freight for the LA/LB habors up the west coast in case an earthquake takes out the primary route via Cajon Pass and the Tehachapis."

OMG - I thought that the CHSRA had decreed that earthquakes only occur on the the Grapevine not the holiest of holies Tehachapis.

Maybe the UP should insist on a CHSRA liability whereby the government would have to pay for rebuilding their line thru the Tehachapis in case of an earthquake.

Why repair it at your expense if the CHSRA has used emiment domain to muck up the alignment? Let the sucker sit closed for a few weeks and let the Pelosi machine take care of it.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for the clarification, Rafael. I'm not so sure the 101 corridor is that simple - the Story, Tully and Capitol overpasses would all have to be raised and possibly some others reconstructed. I still think the best solution is to push UPRR to be willing to make a deal on its ROW.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:43pm -

what an asinine comment.

CHSRA picked the Tehachapi route not because the risk of an earthquake occuring is lower than for the alternatives, but because it's much easier to evacuate stranded passengers and repair the damage if the Garlock and San Andreas are crossed at grade.

As for UP, the point is that having two corridors far from one another is that the chances of at both getting knocked out at the same time is very low.

Rafael said...

@ Robert -

it may well be easier to dig a shallow trench (e.g. 5') for the trains near the overpasses than to reconfigure them. It depends on the water table and the available width for the train tracks.

Also, it's possible to switch from overhead catenaries to overhead conductor rails to reduce the required vertical clearance at that location.

Story Rd. is a pretty close to the 280/101 interchange, but there might be just enough run length to allow trains to achieve the requisite elevation change at a 3.5% gradient. It depends on the natural at-grade slope in that particular stretch of freeway.

Adirondacker12800 said...

Also, it's possible to switch from overhead catenaries to overhead conductor rails to reduce the required vertical clearance at that location.

Or just throw the main circuit breaker, lower the pantograph, coast through the 150 feet of overpass, raise the pantograph and throw the main circuit breaker. Happens all over the world all the time where there are breaks in the cantenary.

Rafael said...

@ Adirondacker12800 -

throwing circuit breakers on 25kV AC lines hundreds of times a day will wear them out pretty quickly. Overhead conductor rails work fine up to 155mph, just use those.

Adirondacker12800 said...

throwing circuit breakers on 25kV AC lines hundreds of times a day will wear them out pretty quickly. Overhead conductor rails work fine up to 155mph, just use those.

Railroads all over the world do it all the time, everyday. They do it so frequently that they have automated the process in places.

BruceMcF said...

I am not sure I see the point of the conductor rails in an overpass setting - fixed support infrastructure can stand in for the catenary support when there is enough clearance for pantograph and line but not enough for the support catenary, and if its tighter than that by a few inches, surely the trackhead can be lowered those few inches.

The contact rails would be more for tunnel settings where it allows for a smaller tunnel radius while remaining fully compatible with overhead catenary, as well as for settings where its useful to be able to entirely pull the power supply out of the way, such as when container handling with electric freight trains.

And if its necessary to squeeze for a short distance, lowering the pantographs buys more clearance, and is a more mature, well-established technology.

As to the suggestion that a HSR train will pass such overpasses "hundreds of times a day", even if there were four of them on a route, that would be 50 or more round trips a day to make "hundreds of times". The statement is quite absurd.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

"more mature, well-established technology"

Overhead conductor rails have been around for many decades. Yes, they're usually used for tunnels but you're not going to build a brand-new HSR line with long breaks in the OCS that trains have to coast through.

"The statement is quite absurd."

Any given trainset will pass by a given point on the line 3-4 times per day.

Any given point on the line will see hundreds of trains running by (e.g. 86 each way in south San Jose) if the system is running at full capacity.

So you can either wear out lots of switches in the trains slowly or a few switches in the infrastructure in a shorter period of time. Conductor rails: no wear and tear on breaker switches at all.

Tony D. said...

Question: San Jose/Lick to Gilroy? Answer: It's WIDE Monterey Hwy/SR 82 and rural nature of southern SCCo. This shouldn't be as hard as people are making it out to be. Enough said on that one.

By the way, glad to see that PCJPB owns Diridon to Lick, and not UPRR.

Rafael, why would the UPRR line in SCCo. be needed as a backup for the LA ports when we have the Port of Oakland nearby? It would seem that freight out of the LA ports would be primarily transported to points east, not north up our coast. LA/LB aren't the only ports on the West Coast.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael, just to clarify: when you say, "fully 40% of national sea freight goes through the LA/LB harbors, so SoCal counties don't want to stay on friendly terms with freight rail operators," you actually mean SoCal does want to stay on friendly terms with freight rail operators, right?

Tony D. said...

As for what to do in northern Willow Glenn/Gardner neighborhood: 4-track at grade or two-track aerial.

Adirondacker12800 said...

you're not going to build a brand-new HSR line with long breaks in the OCS that trains have to coast through

150 feet or so to get under a highway overpass isn't very long, especially if the train is moving much faster than 10MPH or so.

They will be designing them in. They do it all over the world. So often that they have automated it. Look up "phase break" some time. One or two more aren't going to affect the service intervals for the trains greatly. If they can, put the phase break at one of the bridges and not affect service intervals at all.

They don't connect the DC wires to the AC wires, or the 50 Hz wires to the 16 1/3 Hz wires or the 25Hz wires to the 60Hz wires or the 11 kV wires to the 25kV or the trains that swap back and forth from catenary to third rail or run wires at all on some moveable bridges or ....And they don't let those differing electrical systems connect through the pantograph or through the train. Breaks in the electrical supply are normal and necessary.

Letting the train coast for 150 feet - is much cheaper and in this case much more reliable than elaborate transitions from wires to rails and then back again.

fully 40% of national sea freight goes through the LA/LB harbors

In twenty foot equivalents or by tonnage? I was able to find numbers for 2007 easily. 45% of the containers, expressed as twenty foot equivalents, is shipped by sea through through West Coast ports in US. West Coast ports include ports in Hawaii and Alaska. By tonnage? More tons move through Houston than through Los Angeles and Long Beach combined. More tons move through South Louisana, whatever that covers, than through Houston. Long Beach and Los Angeles are important ports. They don't handle 40% of the Nation's sea freight.

Rafael said...

@ Tony D -

Oakland can't match the capacity of LA/LB. A lot of the freight destined for northern California etc. already lands in Oakland, but there is still plenty that comes across the Tehachapis.

@ Alon Levy -

yes, thank you for the correction.

@ Tony D. -

"what to do [...]"

Great, now all that's left is to convince both UPRR and local residents to actually let you do it. You shall be welcomed as a liberator.

Tony D. said...

Rafael,
Hypothetically, let's say the "Big One" happens right now in the Tehachapis. Well, unless the UPRR ROW in SCCo. could be expanded to two-four tracks in ONE SECOND, all that SoCal Port freight will still be limited to the single, double-track of that stretch. I'll put my money on UPRR through SCCo. staying at one to two tracks for the long haul. It will never have to be 3-4 track.

Didn't you say PCJPB owns the ROW from Diridon to Lick? Why would UPRR have to be convinced? And as been stated regarding the Caltrain ROW on the Peninsula, the railroad was there first in northern Willow Glenn. Dems da breaks brah!

BruceMcF said...

Adirondacker12800 said...
" "fully 40% of national sea freight goes through the LA/LB harbors"

In twenty foot equivalents or by tonnage? I was able to find numbers for 2007 easily. 45% of the containers, expressed as twenty foot equivalents, is shipped by sea through through West Coast ports in US. West Coast ports include ports in Hawaii and Alaska. By tonnage? More tons move through Houston than through Los Angeles and Long Beach combined. More tons move through South Louisana, whatever that covers, than through Houston. Long Beach and Los Angeles are important ports. They don't handle 40% of the Nation's sea freight.
"

That's fairly clearly Container port traffic (pdf) ... if you start adding crude oil tonnages from oil tankers in the Louisiana terminal, it'll make a massive swing in those figures.

BruceMcF said...

Rafael said...
"Overhead conductor rails have been around for many decades. Yes, they're usually used for tunnels but you're not going to build a brand-new HSR line with long breaks in the OCS that trains have to coast through."

No, certainly, there will be no mile-long breaks in the catenary that trains have to coast through.

Short breaks, though, that depends on how constrained the vertical profile is. Unless there is something preventing the rail from being depressed and something else preventing the overpass from being raised, its a moot point.

And if it is a tight squeeze, the rails do not buy as much reduction in the vertical profile as dropping the pantographs entirely would do.

Adirondacker12800 said...

That's fairly clearly Container port traffic (pdf)

What's fairly clear? That Los Angeles and Long Beach are important container ports or that they don't handle 40% of the container traffic?

if you start adding crude oil tonnages from oil tankers in the Louisiana terminal, it'll make a massive swing in those figures.

Oil and refined products don't get shipped by container. Gulf Coast and Great Lakes ports export enormous quantities of agricutural and mined products. They don't get shipped by container either.

Rafael said...

@ adirondacker12800 -

The LA/LB harbors handle 40% of all container traffic nationwide. I wasn't referring to other types of sea freight, sorry about my lack of precision.

Adirondacker12800 said...

The LA/LB harbors handle 40% of all container traffic nationwide..

No they don't.

The chart you linked to lists the top 50 container ports in North America. Long Beach and Los Angeles are the two busiest. Without getting out a calculator I can see that they don't carry 40% of the traffic. I then got out a calculator. New York and Savannah handle as many TEUs as Los Angeles, the busiest. By the time I got down to Baltimore, the 20th busiest container port, Los Angeles and Long Beach only had 38% of the containers handled in the 48 contiguous states. The percentage would have been lower had I included Honolulu and San Juan, which are in the US and therefore part of the Nation. Less than that if you want to consider everything moving in the US, because places like Honolulu and Anchorage (21st busiest) are in the US. It be even lower if I bothered to go all the way to the 50th.

John Plocher said...

The Draft San Jose to Merced Scoping Report with comment summary PDF Dated Aug 31 at http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20090901150201_Draft%20San%20Jose%20to%20Merced%20Scoping%20Report%20with%20Comment%20Summary.pdf says:

Voices of San Jose, Jean Dresden, David Dearborn

Consider the "Thread the Needle" (TNN) alternative as a faster (reducing travel time through San Jose by 12 to 16 seconds per train), more secure option than the double-S curve on the current proposed alignment between Tamien and Diridon (see appendix XX for full description, maps, and associated attachments). TNN proposes crossing Highway 87 near West Virginia Street north of Tamien, going through the 87-280 interchange and on to Diridon Station underground via a 4,300-foot tunnel. TNN would provide faster travel time; respect San Jose's history, livability and sense of community; facilitate wider degrees of freedom in land use planning and design; and include the option of undergrounding UPRR and other heavy rail.

As an underground alternative, TNN would minimize or eliminate potential environmental impacts to/from socio economic, neighborhood and environmental justice; eminent domain; land taking; traffic and mobility; biological resources and riparian corridors; noise and vibration; construction; need for sound mitigation; cumulative and secondary impacts; parks, recreation and open space; transportation and circulation; local growth; station planning; land use and planning; EMI/EMF; security and public safety; blight, land remnants and misuse; aesthetics and visual quality; hydrology and water resources; and geology and seismicity.

Consider the "5100m" tunnel alignment option to the double-S curve on the current proposed alignment between Tamien and Diridon (see appendix XX for full description, maps, and associated attachments). The 5100m alternative would descend underground near Curtner Avenue, travel 1500 meters through a tunnel, passing under Guadalupe River, Highway 87, I-280, Los Gatos Creek to Diridon Station. The 5100m alternative would provide faster travel time (removing 30 seconds from every HSR train stopping in San Jose); respect San Jose's history, livability and sense of community; facilitate wider degrees of freedom in land use planning and design; and include the option of undergrounding UPRR and other heavy rail.

As an underground alternative, 1500m would minimize or eliminate potential environmental impacts to/from socio economic, neighborhood and environmental justice; eminent domain; land taking; traffic and mobility; biological resources and riparian corridors; noise and vibration; construction; need for sound mitigation; cumulative and secondary impacts; parks, recreation and open space; transportation and circulation; local growth; station planning; land use and planning; EMI/EMF; security and public safety; blight, land remnants and misuse; aesthetics and visual quality; hydrology and water resources; and geology and seismicity.

neroden@gmail said...

Again, is there a reason why the Monterey Highway ROW can't be used instead of UPRR's adjacent ROW?

It seems an over-wide and under-used road.

From what I've read, the question of whether states can use eminent domain against a railroad is actually not settled. States cannot use eminent domain to reduce the ability of the railroad to conduct operations, but it's not clear what the situation would be if that *wasn't* at issue.

This is why freight service on the peninsula is sacrosant and *must* be preserved, but eminent domain might be usable to get the *unused* ROW from Lick to Gilroy.

It appears that the Surface Transportation Board would have the ultimate authority to decide what power the state has. A case like this has never actually come up; Washington State started such a case over the Cascades Corridor, but ended up settling amicably with BNSF.