Sunday, February 15, 2009

California HSR Stimulus Project List

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

On January 28 Quentin Kopp sent a letter to Senator Dianne Feinstein's office listing potential HSR construction projects that "can currently be commenced". Included grade crossings in the La Mirada area of Southern California that Metrolink has planned and that HSR would use, although as Kopp notes, "a certain amount of additional engineering will be required to accommodate our project." Also listed is work at San Bruno, ROW acquisition and site prep in the Central Valley, and Caltrain electrification. You can read the letter here (PDF), and the list of proposed projects is below:

LA-Anaheim grade separations:

Passons Blvd/Serapis St: $43.4 million
Pioneer Blvd: $45 million
Norwalk Blvd: $150 million
Lakeland Rd: $40 million
Rosecrans Ave: $150 million
Valley View Ave: $72 million

San Bruno projects: $250-$300 million
Includes separations at San Bruno Ave, San Mateo Ave, and Angus Street; Pedestrian crossings at Euclid and Sylvan Avenues, and an elevated station

Also included:

By September 2011 the Authority will have underway the right-of-way purchase and construction grading of a heavy maintenance facility in the Central Valley and two storage "layover" facilities, one in the Bay Area and one in the Los Angeles Basin at an estimated cost of $200 million.

Additionally, the Caltrain Electrification Project is scheduled to commence by fall 2011. That includes design and procurement for the electrification of the system from San Jose to San Francisco, train controls, and commuter vehicles at an estimated cost of $1.5 billion.

Others in comments on recent posts have noted that San Jose Diridon Station is in line for some of the HSR stimulus funds, but that wasn't specifically included in this one letter.

It's worth noting that this letter was written before it was known that the final stimulus figure for HSR would be $8 billion, or that the deadline on spending that money would actually be September 2012. That may change things somewhat, but at least the letter gives us an idea of what we might see the stimulus pay for in terms of California high speed rail.


Peter said...

Anyone know more details on the SF and LA "storage layover facilities"? They're obviously needed since neither the Transbay Tower nor Union Station will be nearly large enough to store all the trains overnight. The question is just where will they be, and how close to the end of the lines? Also what happens once the LA/SD line is completed? Do you still need the storage facility in LA, in the middle of the track?

Anonymous said...

If Caltrain and HSR will be in transbay terminal, what will they do with the excess space at 4th and Townsend? Will they retain a station there? Can they use the excess tracks as storage? Will they sell air rights for development? Or will they tear out the whol place?

Tony D. said...

Any idea when we can expect some work to begin on the SJ-Gilroy segment? I'm sure that would follow sometime after SF-SJ.

Brandon in California said...

I am beginning to get curious about where an when will the first ground breaking be? Will there be a ceremony?

Those are initial questions I have, among others. That said, I don't anticipate a response... consider them rhetorical or to iniitate speculative comments.

It might be wise or interesting to have regional ground-breaking ceremonies.

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank - lists two San Jose transit projects, one related to both HSR and feeders, the other specifically to BART. This doesn't mean South City has been awarded $146 million, just that this is what its mayor has requested for transit-related capital projects.

The website also list a large number of small transit projects for California.

Note that only lists projects that are claimed as shovel-ready by city mayors. It does not include projects with longer lead times or any that were submitted via a different route.

The total for all mayoral requests across all categories from California alone is well over $23 billion. Clearly, not every request is going to be honored since the bill only contains so much money for various types of infrastructure and, states and counties have priorities of their own.

I expect projects will be selected mostly on population size, the state of the economy in the state/city making the request and jobs/$1m for each project, except planning/engineering expenses for projects that are in line with Obama's energy policy and will draw in state and/or private funding later on.

Clem said...

Ugh. Kopp is now promoting Caltrain's botched San Bruno redesign, which will forever enshrine the sharp San Bruno curve. I do hope the "certain amount of additional engineering" will fix the curve, but I'm not counting on it...

Anonymous said...

Noticeably absent from Kopp's list of projects in his letter to Feinstein for stimulus money is the train station box under the new Transbay Terminal. Given that Kopp has already stated publically that he is fine with omitting the Transbay Teminal from the HSR project, I am very concerned. There is a shortfall of approximately $350M for the box and will likely require money from both the stimulus and Prop 1A. Without the box now, many in SF believe that the rail to the Transbay Terminal is essentially dead because it will be too difficult politically to tear up the area immediately around the Transbay Terminal site for a 2nd time. Also, the Transbay Terminal project is set to begin final design work next month.

Given Kopp's stance, there is a real chance HSR will not make it to the heart of downtown SF unless this box is built now.

Fortunately, the Bay Area's Metropolitian Planning Organization, MTC has included the box in their list of stimulus project. However, they are being pressured to take it out. If it is removed, getting the box built is going to be extremely difficult.

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

I haven't read anything specific from CHSRA, but Clem has suggested reviving the old yard in Brisbane for the SF end. It could double as a high speed cargo transshipment facility and also as a maintenance yard (if Merced's ambitions for Castle Airport go nowhere).

In LA, there would be room just north of Union Station, in the odd-shaped patch of land bordered by E College, N Alameda, Roundout and the existing tracks. There would also be room in the Taylor Yard a little further north (between N San Fernando Rd and the river).

I don't expect HSR trains to reach SD before 2025. However, your point is well taken: CHSRA will also need some overnight storage in Anheim (and later, in Irvine).

@ Clem -

Kopp is a politician and doesn't want to sleight Caltrain right now. He has no clue about curve radii and what they do to line haul times. Feel free to drop Mehdi Morshed a line, perhaps he can educate Kopp and hammer out a deal with Caltrain.

Please see my comment re rapid rail on the post re rail traffic between SF and SJ in 2030 in your Caltrain HSR Compatibility blog. Now that there is every chance of FRA co-operation, CHSRA and Caltrain can save each other a lot of money.

Btw, I thought Caltrain would put its new station at Scott St/Bayshore Circle north of I-380, as close as possible to San Bruno BART and Tanforan Park. That would leave room for addressing the curve radius. Apparently, they want it at San Bruno Ave instead, which makes no sense now that HSR has been approved.

Martin Engel said...

Please tell me how electrifying Caltrain qualifies as a HSR shovel-ready project? There is no point in electrifying the rail corridor if the alignment ends up being different than the current at-grade, as it may in various places along the corridor. I would think electrification would be the last add-on after all the construction work is complete on the tracks. Furthermore, Caltrain and the rail authority are currently negotiating a MOU. There are many issues that need to be reconciled. Nothing will be "shovel ready" for at least a year when (and if) design work are complete and the project-level EIS/EIR has been certified. That $8 billion from DC will be the new California Gold Rush!

Anonymous said...

I really don't see where this san bruno curve is any worse than the curve at brisbane at least from what I can see on the google satelllite.

Rafael said...

@ Martin Engel -

glad to see you are contributing to this blog again.

IMHO, electrification would indeed make more sense after the issue of how many tracks are needed and where they will lie (horizontally and vertically) has been resolved and the tracks constructed. There's little value in installing the catenary masts only to move them again in a few years' time. There are many sections in the corridor that will not require grade or alignment changes in the context of HSR construction, but a partially electrified corridor isn't useful.

If there's a desire to make work in the SF peninsula and boost ridership into the bargain, Caltrain and HSR should push for accelerating the construction of the DTX tunnel to the new Transbay Terminal. Caltrain could also get cracking on the high-rise office building above 4th & King, including adequate forced or natural ventilation of the new concourse level to deal with diesel exhaust fumes.

It could also take another stab at providing WiMax-based broadband wireless internet in its corridor. Whatever they implement should work reliably at speeds of up to at least 125mph. The operations cost would be borne by passengers. SNCF makes its satellite-based version on Thalys available for free in business class only. Economy class passengers must pay a premium of EUR 10/hour via vouchers available in the cafe car. On Caltrain, you'd simply by a premium ticket featuring a unique password for one concurrent login, valid for one hour after it is first used. Unused passwords would expire after a year.


Other than that, perhaps the most useful thing Caltrain could do right now is to drive joint planning for the corridor with CHSRA, UPRR and especially, the FRA. It has applied for a waiver to operate mixed traffic on its own tracks, consisting of legacy FRA-compliant diesel passenger and freight trains and future non-compliant EMU rolling stock.

CHSRA will be asking for its own "rule of special applicability" since FRA currently has no rules at all for operating trains at 220mph in the US, plus HSR will need to share track with Caltrain baby bullets as well as Metrolink and some freight trains in the Fullerton-Anaheim-Irvine section.

Federal funding should be used to fund a small team of consultants assigned to California to write that waiver and those rules. Since mixed traffic (i.e. track sharing between FRA-compliant and non-compliant equipment) has been a big no-no for a long time, FRA will need to define a regulatory path to make it possible without compromising safety.

It certainly helps that Caltrain has furnished computer simulations that show UIC-compliant passenger trains actually outperform FRA-compliant ones in grade crossing accidents. However, since the Caltrain waiver will set a nationwide legal precedent, FRA may well want to confirm these findings with some actual crash tests on abandoned railroad spurs. Those are seriously expensive but an appropriate way to spend stimulus dollars right now, since they will pave the way toward cost-effective upgrades to the nation's passenger railroads.

It also helps that Congress included mandatory installation by 2015 of positive train control signaling on busy corridors and those used to transport hazardous materials. What remains to be worked out are the PTC specifications plus reliable emergency communications between operators. If a train derails and fouls an adjacent track owned and/or used by other operators, it is critical that the signaling system does everything it can to prevent a potentially horrific follow-on collision. This is especially important for corridors supporting relatively high train speeds and short headways.


Separately, projections for ridership levels and patterns for the SF-Gilroy section of the HSR network need to be merged to start planning future joint operations. Upgraded Caltrain service will mean reduced demand for HSR service within this section but also increased demand for service to destinations beyond it. Conversely, few will board Caltrain in SF and alight in SJ once HSR is operational, but more will use it to reach a station where they can conveniently transfer to an HSR train instead of flying down south.

These interactions will impact the optimum service levels (train frequency, seats/train and # of intermediate stops), scheduling as well as fare structure and the utilitarian aspects of station architecture (e.g. peak pedestrian flows inside and traffic impact on nearby streets - especially if fewer, larger trains are preferred over more, smaller ones). Independent planning is inefficient and may well lead to unnecessary spending prior to initial operation.

There are some things, such as nailing down the location of the mid-peninsula station (if any), securing sufficient ROW to construct stations with at least two full-length (1/4 mile) platforms wherever HSR trains are due to stop, defusing sharp curves in the alignment etc. that need to be done early on.

It would also make sense to widen the ROW such that it can be upgraded to a full four tracks all the way in the future - even if new FRA rules and integrated planning should indicate that two plus adequate bypass tracks will be good enough for the first few years of operation. Likewise, it's wise to build grade separations such expansion to four tracks will not require additional modifications to the cross roads (though it may require additional bridges for the new tracks at underpasses).


Indeed, it's worth taking a long hard look at whether full grade separation up front is really needed in the peninsula corridor. Certainly, rail traffic will increase to 8-10 trains per hour during peak times very quickly, so any major cross roads that aren't grade separated yet should be. Additional traffic must be anticipated once the phase II spurs to Sacramento and San Diego become operational in the mid-to-late 2020s.

Moreover, there are no plans to operate any trains at speeds in excess of 125mph in the SF peninsula in particular. That means selected minor grade crossings could in theory be retained, at least until rail traffic projections for HSR are based on some actual operations data. FRA rules require "imprenetable barriers" rather than regular four-quadrant gates at such crossing in sections with top speeds of 110-125mph. Taking such aggressive measures for a series of consecutive grade crossings permits the creation of a quiet zone (i.e. no warning bells or horns).

Applying these rules in e.g. Menlo Park and Atherton would permit keeping the tracks at grade without braking the bank. After all, the up-front cost of a couple of deep underpasses deeper, some upgraded grade crossings plus nice sound walls or fences should be cheaper than constructing a high berm with new tracks on top, temporary shoofly tracks for Caltrain and multiple shallow underpasses. The visual and aural environmental impact both would also be far more benign, both during and after construction.

There are downsides as well, notably a residual risk of grade crossing accidents and, the risk that additional full grade separations may have to be constructed in the future. If these communities want to avoid construction of a high berm, they will have to assume ownership of these risks. In practical terms, the cost of any additional grade separations that become necessary in the future would have to be funded by someone other than Caltrain and other operators it hosts.

That decision may be triggered by increased traffic volume but also by an unacceptably high rate of grade crossing accidents (incl. animals or people wandering onto the tracks). Worst case, any problem crossings might have to be closed altogether, at least temporarily.

So it's a trade-off: minimizing unappealing construction vs. the risk of having to pay for expensive grade operations out of pocket later on. Even in the context of the current stimulus spending spree, there is no justification for constructing a shallow trench + low overpasses (let alone a deep trench) through Menlo Park and Atherton at the expense of state or federal taxpayers. Same thing with Palo Alto's musings about tunneling. Such extravagant solutions would require the communities served to pay the difference.


There is one other option: figuring out a way to avoid excessive construction cost elsewhere in the peninsula so more is available to mitigate HSR impacts in the peninsula.

For example, CHSRA's plans currently call for an expensive tunnel between San Tomas Expressway and SJ Diridon. Adjusting Caltrain + HSR operational plans, rerouting some (not all) Amtrak CC and ACE trains via Milpitas (non-trivial) and, swapping 2 through tracks against 2 of Caltrain's yard tracks just north of that station via additional turnouts might permit keeping HSR trains at grade.

It's also fair to challenge the bi-level design of SJ Diridon station. With HSR trains running at least every 15 minutes, there is no need for large numbers of platform tracks for trains to dwell at early on in HSR operations. In Japan, dwell times are just 50 seconds even at major stations in the middle of the shinkansen lines. It's not the number of platforms, it's the number and size of trains stopping that determines how important a station is.

San Jose city leaders ought to focus on BART, a network of access routes for (electric) bicycles and, the infrastructure and urban planning needed to attract transit-oriented high-rise development near the station, complete with earthquake-safe plumbing incl. cold recycled water, radiators for climate control, double glazing facing primarily north and east (A/C load + noise) etc.

Their ambitions of a showcase "Grand Central of the West" are misplaced. San Jose has more available space than SF, where HSR trains need to be cleaned and reprovisioned. Ergo, SJ should focus on a single-level train station with just a few platforms and an integrated shopping mall at the concourse level, extending well beyond the station itself (cp. e.g. Utrecht, the Netherlands)

Give people reasons to use the HSR service before you build a white elephant!

If additional platform tracks do become necessary in the future to better serve Silicon Valley, they could be added in Santa Clara/SJC by widening the ROW there. It's a transit-oriented development zone in its own right and, will be served by BART plus Caltrain and shuttle buses to the SJC terminals (via a new bridge connecting Benton and Brokaw streets). Some HSR trains would then stop at SJ Diridon, others at Santa Clara/SJC (but none at both). Those ACE and Amtrak CC trains that aren't re-routed via Milpitas could stop at Santa Clara/SJC as well as Great America Parkway.


If HSR opponents in Menlo Park and Atherton adopted these kinds of more creative local and regional approaches to implementing the system, I expect they would find a more receptive audience. Getting South City to modify its grand plans would be a huge challenge, though, especially if there's an impact on train operators other than Caltrain and CHSRA.

Rafael said...

MSNBC reports that jsut about every state and city in then nation has begun to vigorously lobby the Obama administration for a slice of the stimulus pie.

The President's economic team - which will hopefully include a commerce secretary before long - will need to define fair and fully transparent processes for prioritizing how the money is spent. Those plans should be vetted by Congress, e.g. the appropriations committees, as well as subject to some public discussion. This applies primarily to how the administration will decided on applications for large and potentially controversial projects.

Meanwhile, projects to repair existing critical infrastructure (especially bridges) and stem job losses for existing state and local employees should be fast-tracked, again with the consent of the appropriations committees.

It was the Obama administration that demanded that this bill be both huge and that it be passed at breakneck speed, so it should permit Congress to exercise proactive oversight, rather than hold retroactive hearings on cases of perceived favoritism or egregious waste.

The Republican opposition will cry foul not matter what the Dems do, but the general public will be reassured by a professional business process for implementing the stimulus.

It will be much harder to be equally transparent about TARP Tranche 2, because full public disclosure could trigger more runs on banks. Trust and confidence are key elements in the finance sector.

crzwdjk said...

Rafael, just FYI, rerouting ACE via Milpitas is a complete non-starter. About half their ridership is going to all the office parks around Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara, which are linked to the Great America station by shuttle buses, and moving to a station five miles further out would hurt the ridership and the operation significantly. The Alviso line is definitely staying around in some form, though it might make sense to move UP freights to the Milpitas line, and would have made even more sense to route it via the WP line and a new connection to the Coast Line, bypassing the San Jose station entirely, but unfortunately it's too late for that as there are already houses on part of the ROW. And we have the BART project to thank for that one.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

ah, but you weren't reading between my lines. Any ACE trains routed via the Milpitas line wouldn't be going to SJ Diridon - they'd stop at Milpitas Great Mall, Santa Clara/SJC and then head up the peninsula to SFO and SF 4th & King!

Any Amtrak CC trains routed via Milpitas would eventually continue south to Salinas, leaving Caltrain to handle the relatively trivial extension to Hollister (at San Beneto county's expense) to complete the HSR feeder picture for Gilroy/SJ.

Amtrak has more leverage in negotiating trackage with freight operators because it's a national organization and, the tracks(s) between Gilroy and Salinas are in need of some TLC. The central coast freight line is the only one other than Tehachapi Pass that links the LA/LB ports to the entire West Coast, so keeping it open is arguably a matter of interstate commerce.

Monterey is planning to run light rail up to Castroville. I'd much prefer they stick to heavy rail and let Amtrak CC run all the way to Cannery Row/Monterey Bay Aquarium (or at least as far as Fisherman's Wharf) along the old ROW. Some space for an overnight parking yard could be found near Del Monte Lake.

crzwdjk said...

Rafael: interesting ideas. Don't forget about Dumbarton Rail too, which would serve as a connection from ACE to the Peninsula and as far south as Palo Alto, although the route there ends up being rather circuitous. Another question is how Caltrain's Gilroy/Salinas, Dumbarton, and Amtrak's Coast Dayligh and potential Monterey-SF services would operate on the Peninsula, and where they'd terminate on the north end. One possibility is engine changes at San Jose, which isn't implausible for Amtrak services, and since the California cars are good for 110 mph, the speed on the corridor would be close to that of Caltrain expresses. On the other hand, engine changes (according to Amtrak) take at least 8 minutes, and add a lot of complexity to the operation, so maybe diesel trains will end up running up the corridor. In any case, I think it would be useful to keep some kind of terminal around at 4th/King, just in case the capacity at Transbay isn't enough, or to have an alternative in case anything happens.

Anonymous said...

capitol corridor trains aren't going to run to monterey.

Anonymous said...

They will run to reno before they will run further south.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Rafael, the original 1990s plan was to run Capitol Corridor trains to Monterey along the branch line, terminating at Fisherman's Wharf (there's no ROW to extend the tracks to Cannery Row). That's been scrapped for light rail.

Light rail is a better regional solution as it serves commuters and seeds TOD in places like Marina, Seaside/Sand City, and Monterey.

Intercity rail is a good solution for bringing tourists to Monterey (and bringing folks like me to the Bay Area and Sacramento) but doesn't accomplish the regional goals.

That's why TAMC is pursuing light rail on the branch line and hoping to use Caltrain to provide the intercity connection.

Anonymous said...

Placer county is part of ccjpa and monterey county is not. The push is for service to colfax.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

Dumbarton rail may happen one day, but western trestle of the existing single-track bridge burned down under suspicious circumstances in 1998. Back then, Altamont Pass was actually the preferred HSR route out of the Bay Area. The fire and the creation of CHSRA put paid to that, much to the liking of San Jose officials.

Also, Atherton and Menlo Park is home to some of the most vocal opponents of HSR anywhere in the state. They would likely oppose any plans to actually implement Dumbarton rail as well.

Finally, there are technical issues. The Dumbarton rail bridge is very close to the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and, sediments in the south bay still contain highly toxic methyl mercury leaching from tailings of the old cinnabar mine in Almaden (south-west San Jose). Pulling up the remnants of the old wooden trestle, which was treated with toxic creosote, would have to be done very carefully. Same goes for the construction of the foundation of a replacement section.

Note that the old bridge is of course not up to current earthquake code, though it survived the Loma Prieta quake just fine. It's highly unlikely that a permit would be issued to reconstruct the western trestle according to original plans. A new design would have to interface with the old one with sufficient precision to support at least passenger, if not freight trains plying the SF peninsula. The interface might be a weak point in any future earthquakes, just like the two bridges needed to preserve the shipping lane for Cargill, the folks who operate the salt ponds that are gradually being restored into wetlands. The larger of the old swing bridges would be replaced by a new bascule bridge.

Last not least, SMCTA decided to reprogram $91 million from the Dumbarton rail project to the BART extension to Warm Springs, part of the larger project to extend it all the way to Santa Clara that SC voters approved another tax hike for in November. The reprogramming happened because BART had earlier reprogrammed $146 million from the Warm Springs extension project to the extension out to SFO.

That project went famously over budget because SM county officials - not Quentin Kopp! - insisted on a subway all the way from Daly City and San Bruno after the hue and cry over the original plan to run at at grade past the cemetaries at Colma. There is now a bicycle path above this BART subway through suburbia.

Ergo, SM county has honored part of its debt, with $54 million outstanding. Three guesses where SM county is going to find those. Hint: not from "SFO Extension Surplus Revenue", because just like every other transit system worldwide (except HSR), BART operations don't generate fare box returns in excess of 100%.

Rafael said...

@ Jim -

any extension of CC south to Monterey county would obviously require that county to join ccjpa and pay for receiving service. I wasn't suggesting a free lunch or that Placer county not get service to Colfax.

Of course, direct sleeper service between San Francisco 4th & King to Truckee and Reno via SJ Diridon would be the bees' knees' if there were adequate local transit - preferably based on Russian troop carriers that just laugh at road closures (jk :^)

However, I just don't see sleeper service happening anytime soon. Which is a shame, considering that lots of people in the Bay Area drive around in gas-guzzling SUVs all year round just so they don't have to deal with chains when they go skiing in winter.

The national Amtrak organizations' California Zephyr doesn't serve the south bay and anyhow doesn't run on a schedule that would allow weekend tourism from the Bay Area to the northern Lake Tahoe area.

Fwiw, as Robert points out, TAMC has instead chosen to ask Caltrain to provide commuter rail service to Salinas, but that railroad is kind of preoccupied with integrating HSR into its own plans for corridor electrification.