Thursday, November 13, 2008


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

That is the question posed by rafael in the post below which explores the impact of Measure B's narrow failure (based on the most recent results) on BART, Caltrain and our high speed rail project. Take it away, rafael!


The final tally is not in yet, but it is looking increasingly likely that measure B in Santa Clara very narrowly missed the 66.67% required to pass. It called for a 1/8th of a percent sales tax increase for 30 years that would have supplemented measure A(2000) funds for constructing a BART extension between Fremont and Santa Clara via downtown San Jose. A separate people mover to the SJC terminals is also planned. However, if measure B does fail, the county will not be eligible for $760 million in federal matching funds that it was counting on.

Check here for the latest update on the result.

Since the defeat was so narrow, city officials are now advocating limiting the scope of phase 1 to the section between Fremont and somewhere between Milpitas Capitol Ave and Alum Rock Ave. The whole purpose of the extension is to relieve chronic rush hour congestion on I-880 south of Fremont, so reaching the VTA light rail stop is a hard requirement. Ridership projections for this phase 1 are 50,000 a day, which may be wildly optimistic.

The idea is that the supplemental sales tax hike would be requested again at the next opportunity to enable phase 2, the tunnels underneath Santa Clara Street to San Jose Diridon. Ridership projections for the complete BART extension are 98,000 a day. Feel free chime in on this by leaving a comment in the San Jose Mercury News forum.

There is an alternative to extending BART all the way to Santa Clara that would be both cheaper and functionally superior -
see this map

Essentially, it involves extending BART to Fremont Irvington only (Paseo Padre Pkwy). There, passengers would transfer to Caltrain's new electric multiple unit (EMU) rolling stock, e.g. Siemens Desiro. Caltrain has already demonstrated their crash safety at grade crossings to FRA in an interim report on mixed traffic in the context of its Caltrain 2025 program.

Interim Report on Mixed Traffic (March 2008)

Caltrain 2025

Construction would begin by laying standard gauge tracks and 25kV AC overhead catenaries south from Fremont Irvington. With no third rail to worry about, secondary cross roads could remain grade crossings, saving hundreds of millions. FRA permits grade crossings for speeds up to 110mph, which is more than adequate in the narrow county-owned Western Pacific Milpitas Line (WPML) right of way.

The agency permits quiet zones in which warning bells and train horns need not be used, provided that specified measures (e.g. four quadrant gates) are implemented.

The tracks underneath Santa Clara Street would be constructed using the cut-and-cover method instead of the more expensive tunneling (except underneath VTA light rail tracks downtown). Road vehicles would be limited to a single lane each way near the construction site, so detours would be a fact of life for the construction period. Besides reducing cost, cut-and-cover also makes it much easier to support high capacity bi-level rolling stock that BART will never be able to use.

A pedestrian walkway would connect the north-south platforms at San Jose Diridon with the new underground east-west platform. The new line would connect to existing standard gauge tracks after emerging just north of the station, enabling service between Fremont Irvington and San Francisco without transfers.

Instead of spending $284 million on a people mover, a pedestrian overpass with elevators would permit passengers alighting at Santa Clara station to reach a shuttle bus stop at the dead end of Brokaw Road. Buses would use the private road between SJC long term parking and the terminals to avoid traffic.

So far, we have discussed two advantages of extending electrified Caltrain east rather than BART south: reduced cost thanks to grade crossings and cheaper rolling stock plus, higher capacity thanks to bi-level cars. There are, however, other advantages:

- Santa Clara county would not be required to fund any BART operations at all, ever.

- BART could focus on increasing pedestrian flow capacity in its downtown San Francisco stations.

- Partially offset the cost of the overhead catenary between Fremont Irvington and San Jose Diridon, Caltrain service south of San Jose Diridon could be canceled. Instead, diesel-powered Capitol Corridor trains would run down to Morgan Hill and Gilroy, perhaps even Hollister, at appropriate times of day. In the future, the corridor definition could theoretically be extended to Monterey, though that would require many miles of new or upgraded track. [Robert here: the Transportation Agency of Monterey County is working on implementing light rail on the Monterey Branch Line, and bringing the Caltrain to Salinas.]

- Having decided on Pacheco Pass, CHSRA is now "considering" an HST/commuter overlay through Altamont Pass. This is outside the scope of Prop 1A, which voters approved on Nov. 4. The basis for discussion is the $6 billion gold-plated HSR alignment developed early on in the project. It calls for full grade separation, extensive tunneling and an aerial structure along 7th Street to West Oakland BART. The latter feature would create the option of adding a second transbay tube to the new Transbay Terminal in San Francisco at some point in the distant future.

Between Fremont Irvington and Milpitas, this alignment relies on the aforementioned WPML. The resulting conflict with the BART extension project may well have have been a major factor in settling on Pacheco Pass for HSR. However, extending BART south of Fremont Irvington would effectively preclude any chance of ever getting anything resembling an HST/commuter overlay built.

By keeping the WPML ROW at standard gauge, Caltrain could host Capitol Corridor and ACE trains pulled by two-mode locomotives (diesel genset plus pantograph), provided that FRA permits this mixed traffic scenario. These guest operators could choose to loop back to Niles via Santa Clara/SJC, Great America and Fremont Centerville. Alternatively, they could run trains up to 4th & King in San Francisco.

To reduce the construction cost of the overlay, the old SP track on the north side of Niles Canyon could be refurbished and straightened out with one short tunnel. A second track would be laid through Pleasanton, Livermore and Tracy and shared with UPRR freight trains via mutual trackage agreements. Everything would be at grade, with quiet zones and grade crossings except where traffic volume justifies grade separation. Maximum speed would be 110 mph or less.

If desired, additional ACE trains could also serve Modesto as well as express service between Union City and Oakland/Richmond, with bus connections to the new SMART station in San Rafael. Instead of an aerial alignment to West Oakland, a covered trench down Nelson Mandela Pkwy should be considered.



Rafael said...

Thx for posting this Robert. Good to hear Monterey county is being proactive with the light rail solution.

Btw, the link to the latest results for measure B appears to be broken.

Here is the correct one.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for the post, rafael, and I corrected the link as noted. TAMC is still evaluating alternatives - there's still a chance that BRT will be the preferred alternative, but I am hopeful that won't be the case. I should probably get more active on that, actually...

And while we're at it, the 2/3 rule for approving a tax increase is moronic. In any other race 66.52% would be considered a landslide victory.

Anonymous said...

Rafael, I enjoy your approach to the SF Bay situation,
I agree with you about BART only going as far as Fremont/Irvington. Connection to Caltrains/ACE good there.
Never keen on level crossings, but can live with that for now.
Even less excited about the double deck cars, perhaps I have ridden too many trains in EU, then too many Capital Corridor and San Joauquin Caltrans trains here. The UP (SP) soggy tracks, the BNSF (SF) switch gaps, were not so impressive. Real tough to use laptops while you are being jostled around. I can get kinder than that on CalTrains I suppose if their tracks are to passenger standards.

About Monterey, and it's light rail. I would go along that IF the track and catenary are built to same standards as CalTrains. For future SF-Monterey service, no need to have to rebuild it later. Would be good to skip the Salinas need to transfer, so Salinas is a Stop not a transfer. (No offense meant to/about Salinas)

Wasn't keen on Altamonte Pass until I read your description, but why not using former SP ROW all the way, or did I miss something?

Definitely not for Altamonte for HSR Sac-SF. Liked you mentioning a SF Bay tube Transbay Terminal to Oakland.
Thanks for your article.

Rafael said...

Afaik the 2/3 rule only applies to tax hikes and the state budget. Measure R in LA and measure Q in Marin/Sonoma both passed by 2/3. It's a high hurdle, but not an insurmountable one.

If measure B did fail, that suggests a large enough minority of voters had a problem with VTA coming back to them cap in hand after they overwhelmingly approved measure A in 2000 (a 1/2 percent sales tax hike) for the exact same purpose. This vote was not about the lousy extra $13 a year, it was a referendum on the quality of VTA's project management. CHSRA, please take note.

Fwiw, I agree with you that Santa Clara county voters overwhelmingly support heavy rail service in the South East Bay and through downtown San Jose. However, antiquated BART technology isn't the only option nor necessarily the best one.

This is all the more true now that prop 1A has brought Caltrain electrification that much closer and, turned what was a strictly local issue into one with regional and statewide implications.

At the very least, the electorate's verdict on measure B ought to give VTA officials pause. They should invite public discussion on how to interpret the result in the new context before acting in haste.

Rafael said...

@ alan sac,ca -

you're welcome.

The Caltrain extension I'm proposing would be based on new track - possibly continually welded - and only ever used for passenger trains. The new European EMU rolling stock would be substantially lighter than the FRA-compliant alternative, which would improve acceleration, energy consumption and wear and tear on the trackbed. The ride should be very smooth, even in bi-level cars.


I suspect that the city of Monterey is looking at light rail because they think it would be a better fit between Sand City and the Aquarium at Cannery Row. Perhaps Robert can point planning officials there to NCTD Sprinter and SMART as examples of modern clean diesel multiple unit (DMU) rolling stock.

They might still opt for light rail with ugly overhead catenaries, but at least they'll make an informed decision. Beyond the Aquarium, I'd recommend a miniature steam train for the tourists, if anything at all. The shoreline in Pacific Grove is way too nice for a big train.

Btw, the old ROW into Monterey joins up with UPRR's central coast main line just south of Castroville. It doesn't look as if TAMC is considering a brand-new ROW from Monterey to Salinas along highway 68.

Rafael said...

@ alan sac,ca -

the SP right of way no longer exists east of I-680. What's left is now only used by the private Niles Canyon Railway based in Sunol. The reason is simple, the gradients there are a little steeper than those on the UPRR tracks on the south side of the canyon. Freight operators care about that sort of thing.

UPRR bought the old Standard Pacific company - still the largest landowner in California - some time ago.

Marine Layer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marine Layer said...

I see the points of having the kind of alternative to BART laid out here, but I couldn't see it happening. It would be one thing if the whole project wasn't segmented (Warm Springs/Silicon Valley) as it is, but it is. Didn't Michael Kiesling propose something similar to this with the Caltrain Metro East concept?

SVLG was a large player behind both the BART extension and the final Pacheco alignment. For whatever reason, they saw the two projects coexisting in only one way, with Diridon as the transfer point. If there was a group to convince to get it better coordinated, I think it would be SVLG, not MTC. If SVLG supported a Caltrain-style BART alternative, it would've given more credence to the Altamont alignment, and they weren't going to do that.

FWIW, I attended two of the Warm Springs scoping sessions. There's no way residents would've gone for at grade service. It would've had to have been fully grade separated. The Dumbarton rail concept has experienced a lot of resistance due to this problem.

And living in downtown SJ, I can say that the limited amount of cut-and-cover planned for the downtown station caused a lot of complaints. Extensive cut-and-cover would cause riots.

Just a few words from an HSR supporter and lurker here.

njh said...

What about a high speed light rail line (i.e. same as the VTA system) but with fewer stations (say every 3 miles). This would avoid yet another standard, and yard, and vehicles, etc. This would run along the existing WP reserve.

The VTA light rails are capable of 55mph, and can rejoin the existing lines at various points.

Tony D. said...

Nice post Rafael, and good to see you back here R.M. I'm not his greatest fan, but over at, Greg Perry of Mt. View suggested using the Measure A BART funds to build a true HSR link between Oakland and SJ/Diridon. SCCo.'s 2000 Measure A will raise roughly $8 billion dollars over it's 30 year life; with $6.1 billion earmarked for BART/SJ. What could $5-6 billion, along with Prop. 1A bonding, build us in the I-880 corridor? One thing I wouldn't want to see is a diesel-operated system with grade crossings; that's so archaic and, quite frankly, dangerous.

I'll be honest, I'm a huge BART to SJ fan who badly wants to see a metro subway running through downtown San Jose. On the other hand, I hate the idea of ending the line in Milpitas or East San Jose. If BART can't be built as originally planned, then HSR is my choice for the I-880 corridor.

Anonymous said...

Being from San Jose, I couldn't support anything but BART. Frankly, the idea of a continuous service, without changing trains, plays well with me. Also, I can't see anyone supporting grade crossings here in SJ.

If I was given Caltrain to Fremont, I'd rather drive.

Anonymous said...

A little bit of bad humor:

It's quite easy to realize that if Fresno (and surrounding towns) would ever have a rapid (or regional) transit system, it wouldn't be called "Fresno Area Regional (or Rapid) Transit".

Marine Layer said...

I'm fine with dumping the BART extension altogether and pursuing a South/East Bay rail plan, but it has to be comprehensive. The biggest flaw I see in any plan I've seen (BART, CME, etc.) is that there is no service to most of the Golden Triangle. CME had a North SJ station - fine, but not great.

A comprehensive system would split in Milpitas at the Great Mall, with half the trains headed to downtown SJ plus Valley Fair and the other half going west to Mountain View. What I'd like to see is CME plus a line that runs along 237 to Central Expwy, where it would meet Caltrain and HSR. If it seems like I'm ignoring VTA LRT, that's because LRT would take 40 minutes to run from the Great Mall to Moffett/Lockheed. That's not practical for a commuter from Livermore or Tracy.

Anonymous said...

better than SCAT ..Sonoma County Area Transit...BTW I wonder what marketing name will be applied to our HST system? ..Golden Flyer?
No then again maby not..
And BTW looking at the LATimes web site prop1A is almost over the 500,000 plus yes votes

crzwdjk said...

Diridon is indeed the transfer point: he's on the HSR board, and a big backer of BART as well. Also, I suspect that BART ridership from SJ to SF will be negligible: with a travel time of somewhere around 1h20, it's not very competitive with all the other options (Caltrain at peaks, driving off-peak). What I'd suggest is a commuter service along the ex-SP line from San Jose Diridon, via a light rail transfer station at Great Mall, to Fremont or all the way to Oakland. The transfer to BART can be done either by building a new station where it crosses the Centerville branch, or else by extending it to a transfer at an intersection with the ex-SP line. And I would have kept the ex-WP line all the way through San Jose to a junction with the Caltrain heading south, which would allow UP freights to get out of the way of ACE and Capitol Corridor trains, and away from the San Jose station.

Brandon in California said...

SLO Transit is not that great a name either, but locals in San Luis Obispo appreciate it.

njh said...

Following existing right of way from SJ to Fremont-Centerville station is about 17 miles. A train which could average 50mph would do this in 20 minutes. Let's say we have 4 stations: fremont-centerville (0); fremont blv meets reserve (running on stilts down the blv) (3.3); Dixon landing road (9); great mall (with interchange there with existing line) (12miles); somewhere around the oakland road crossing (13.7) and SJ downtown (17 miles).

So using the existing rolling stock, which accelerate at about 3mph/s they get to cruising speed (55mph) in about 18 seconds (covering just 225m). Then they cruise for 250 seconds (4 min)before slowing down again. So such a route and station set would operate at 45mph average, which is pretty respectable for a regional train.

(Compare with caltrain bullets, which get about 50mph)

njh said...

I meant to add: by using VTA light rail it would be easy to add feeder tram service to these main stations, which I think is a better approach than trying to stop every mile; as long as the transfers as good as the existing VTA ones are.

It also would make the existing route along tasman / great mall time competitive. This would cut the existing 55 minutes from great mall to SJ to just 6 minutes (compare with about 14 minutes from campbell to san fernando - my morning commute and a comparable distance!).

(Of course with the whacky bay public transport balkanisation, I expect this would require far too much coordination between counties)

Rafael said...

Thanks everyone for your replies.

a) The Caltrain Metro East concept is indeed similar to mine, north of Milpitas. However, its alignment runs along Trimble Rd. and past the SJC terminals to SJ Diridon. CHSRA also considered an aerial structure along Trimble Rd. as an alternative to the I-880 median in its Altamont Pass alternatives.

However, Caltrain Metro East does not provide heavy rail service through downtown San Jose. In principle, the two Caltrain-based concepts are complementary, the question is if there is enough demand and enough funding to implement both.

b) in my proposal, the major cross roads between Fremont Irvington and Alum Rock would still be grade separated. The point is that overhead catenaries would allow planners to choose which over- or underpasses to build and when.

Additional grade separations could be constructed later on if desired. Meanwhile, grade crossings with four-quadrant gates and without bells and horns are much better what motorists and residents have to put up with right now in the peninsula. Passenger trains are also much shorter than freight trains, so while gates would close often, they would never be closed for long.

With BART, which would run at grade along the WPML, every single cross road would would have to be grade separated before the first train could even run because of that third rail. Full grade separation up front makes sense for HSR, but it's arguably a gold-plated solution for a service that is limited to 79mph. If that means VTA runs out of money before it can get to San Jose Diridon, would the money be well spent?

c) cut-and-cover construction would not be popular, but apparently not enough Santa Clara county voters are prepared to pay the additional amount required for tunneling.

d) light rail trains have a capacity of around 100 passengers each (seated + standees). BART and Caltrain would each support on the order of 700 passengers per train.

e) HSR along I-880 is what CHSRA is considering as the basis for an HST/commuter overlay. It would provide very rapid transit at the regional level. However, it would not deliver the functionality of a subway through downtown San Jose.

f) after electrification and with European EMU rolling stock, Caltrain will offer a better travel experience than it does today. Keep in mind that VTA has starved Caltrain of funds because of its BART ambitions.

Note that I suggested Fremont Irvington as the terminus for the Caltrain extension purely to avoid competition with existing BART and Capitol Corridor service. If desired, Caltrain could provide a kind of "baby bullet" service in the East Bay to complement the strictly local BART trains.

Indeed, Caltrain's plans for the Dumbarton Rail bridge called for an intermodal with BART in Union City. Soon after they were published, the western trestle of the bridge was consumed in a fire the local fire marshall called "suspicious".

g) I think it's fair to say that VTA light rail through the golden triangle has not been a resounding success. Few commuters have the time to ride a relatively slow light rail train, followed by a long walk.

Sensible options could include folding electric bicycles and a fleet of sharecabs with ad-hoc routes between (roughly) Mountain View, Milpitas and SJC. Both could be sped up by reserving road space for them during rush hour.

Brandon in California said...

This was probably a typo:

d) light rail trains have a capacity of around 100 passengers each (seated + standees). BART and Caltrain would each support on the order of 700 passengers per train.

But, each light-rail vehicle has a capacity of approximately 100 riders, rather than a whole train. A 2-car trian could carry 200 and a 3-car train 300. Approximately.

I also thought each BART car could comfortably carry over 100 riders (66-70 seated with 30-40 standees). When I was up there I counted on several occiasions about that many riding in from Walnut Creek to SF. Maybe more? Thus, a 10-car trian could theoritically be carrying 1,000 riders.

Ehh... the difference is not substantive. ...jsut my 2 cents added.

Rafael said...

@ brandon -

I'm not going to argue about the exact numbers with you. My point was simply that light rail is no substitute for heavy rail in terms of capacity per train. Same goes for bus rapid transit (BRT) concepts, but at least planners can design those to serve a larger area via multiple routes, at similar cost.

Anonymous said...

For those of you keeping score.

The Fremont/South Bay Connector Project was exactly this.

The Fremont/South Bay Connector was part of the original 1996 Measure A/B to connect Caltrain with Fremont station. It was killed when San Jose got all BART-asmic.

Anonymous said...

I don't get it, tonight I counted the number of seats per car in the VTA - 56. And you can comfortably stand at least another 20. Then, as brandon points out, you can join them up to at least 3 car sets. At this point, and headways of 3 minutes, you're running 7000 per hour, which is probably about all you're going to get for the time being. At some point in the future, when amazing ridership happens, you just get some larger models such as the citardis(bigger on the inside :).

Surely this, for say $50M is a good interim measure, and allows a bigger network to be built incrementally.

BruceMcF said...

Even less excited about the double deck cars ... Real tough to use laptops while you are being jostled around.

I rode plenty of double deck sparkies (EMU's) in NSW, Australia, and single deck smokies as well, and its not the power source or the number of levels, its the quality of the track.

About Monterey, and it's light rail. I would go along that IF the track and catenary are built to same standards as CalTrains. For future SF-Monterey service, no need to have to rebuild it later.

This would suggest considering tram/trains, which could use the less obtrusive light rail cantenary and curb boarding when on a light rail only section, but would also run with the ugly heavy rail cantenary and heavy rail high platforms.

Unknown said...

BART to SJ could still happen. As per the Merc, the latest vote count is at 66.61%.

"With 17,000 more provisional ballots left to count, BART supporters say the math may be starting to look in their favor. More results could be released Monday and if the remaining yes votes swing in favor of BART by a 70-30 majority, the tax would win."

Anonymous said...

As of right now, Prop B is passing by 8 votes!

Brandi Eng-Rohrbach said...

66.67 Baby.