Friday, March 6, 2009

The Acelafication of California High Speed Rail

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

Today marks the one-year anniversary of this blog. I'd actually been trying to build out a much bigger pro-HSR site using a dedicated URL, a Joomla! installation, and with neat bells and whistles. But it was taking months, and by March 2008, I gave up and decided to just whip something up on Blogger to fill what I felt was a big gap in the online world, a lack of a site dedicated to both the discussion and support of the California High Speed Rail project.

It's been an eventful year, to say the least. The dramatic gas price spike that showed Californians passenger rail was an essential part of our future infrastructure. The long fight over AB 3034. The constant efforts of HSR deniers such as the Reason Foundation to sow misinformation about HSR to the public. The passage of Prop 1A. And now the fight over whether there will be high speed trains on the Peninsula. We've covered all of it here, sometimes contentiously. I think we've all achieved something fantastic here, and I thank all of my readers and especially the commenters for helping keep this blog going.

Looking back on that year, two things have stood out to me that define this project:

1. The public as a whole supports high speed rail and wants it to happen.

2. However, the political conditions that produced 40 years of passenger rail stagnation, as well as California's broad 21st century crisis (an economic, environmental, and energy crisis), are still there, and the necessary political leadership to overcome those conditions and solve those crises does not yet exist.

President Barack Obama may be the game-changer here, as he is in so many other aspects of American life. His support for high speed rail is genuine, as he played the central role in putting $8 billion in HSR funds into the stimulus. His budget proposal includes $5 billion more for HSR. He could provide the leadership that has been lacking, and could help bring groups to the table to hammer out differences.

Such leadership is desperately needed right now in California and on the Peninsula in particular, where concern over above-ground structures - concerns I believe to be overblown and misplaced - have given rise to a de facto willingness to weaken the HSR project unless it is built underground. Way too much of the NIMBY commentary on the situation implies that HSR isn't necessary, and some of the old HSR denier arguments from the 2008 campaign - that HSR can't turn a profit, that the ridership numbers aren't credible, that the Peninsula doesn't really have any need for this anyway - have unsurprisingly been mobilized to attack the project.

This is but one example of some of the underlying political conditions that have produced passenger rail stagnation and economic crisis. Parochial self-interests have spent the last 30 years constructing any number of methods to veto policies they don't like, whether it's the 2/3rds rule or systematic abuse of the environmental review process to accomplish inappropriate NIMBY objections.

And some of it stems from an ongoing unwillingness to admit the need to change. The NIMBY attack on HSR is grounded in the assumption that the status quo is perfectly acceptable - a state dependent on carbon emitting, pollution spewing, fossil fuel burning methods of travel that are not physically sustainable or economically viable. That the physical landscape of Menlo Park can remain that way for all time.

Nobody here wants to destroy communities. But when some in those communities define the way things look in 2009 as a perfect status quo that must not be changed, then ANY change, no matter how sensible or beneficial, becomes viewed as a threat.

Such attitudes have led to the economic crisis we face, where an unwillingness to confront basic realities, stemming from a desire to cling as tightly as possible to a status quo that is quite clearly failing, has prevented necessary action.

Unfortunately we've been here before. In the early 1990s the Northeast Corridor High Speed Rail project was announced with much fanfare, and was promised to finally bring true high speed rail travel to the United States.

15 years later, we have the Acela. It's a workable system, a train that has over 40% of the market share on the NEC and a generally positive reputation among travelers. But it's also not what was intended. The Acela only achieves its true top speed of 150 mph in a few places; in many others it's held to 79mph.

What happened? To put it simply, stakeholders weren't willing to accept some changes in order to build the Acela properly. Some didn't want to give up land to straighten the tracks. Others were concerned about noise and speed. Some didn't want to spend money upgrading the infrastructure. The FRA wouldn't relax its inane weight rules. And in the 1990s, cheap oil lulled people into complacency, believing that passenger rail was a toy that had little practical use, that filled little practical need.

To me it is self-evident that if we're going to build a project, we should build it the right way. That if we ask voters to approve something - especially if we ask them to help pay for it - then it seems self-evident to me that we should deliver exactly what they approved. The City of Palo Alto and many others on the Peninsula appear happy to gut the HSR project by forcing it to run unacceptably slowly along the SF-SJ route, or to force an unworkable transfer to Caltrain at SJ Diridon that will significantly reduce ridership, or to bypass the state's third largest city (San Jose) just to make a small handful of residents happy.

That's just not right. We must build HSR the right way. We can build it in a way that meets the needs of everyone in California, but when NIMBYs refuse to compromise, they're implicitly saying that a flawed system or no system is preferable to one they don't like. They're happy to Acelafy our project.

We see these problems anytime efforts are made to address our multifaceted crisis. Obama wants to restore higher tax rates on the wealthy to pay for his economic recovery plan? Oh god no, can't have that! Solar energy companies want to build a solar plant in a sunny desert spot, but need to build power transmission lines through open desert to get there? Oh god no, can't have that! We need to build a high speed train along an existing rail corridor? Oh god no, can't have that!

If the underlying political problems did not exist - a state government hamstrung by the 2/3rds rule, a small but vocal group of NIMBYs who are expert at hijacking planning processes, a lack of political leadership on passenger rail - then we wouldn't have these crises at all. HSR would have been built long ago, California's budget would be in the black, and the US would not be staring economic Depression and the massive effects of global warming in the face.

The reason I am such a strong advocate of California high speed rail is because I understand that things must change if our state is to survive this crisis. HSR is just one aspect of the changes that need to be made. And that requires fixing the underlying problems that have produced the crisis and threaten to strangle the HSR project.

The big picture has been lost. If people truly believe that an above-grade trackway is more of a problem than mass unemployment and global warming, then maybe we're in a bigger crisis than even I imagined. If a small group of NIMBYs can block HSR, what's going to happen when we try and build wind turbines or tidal energy projects?

One year later, I am encouraged that Californians as a whole understand the need for passenger rail. But I am concerned that even HSR supporters have lost sight of the big picture, and aren't sufficiently willing to challenge the failed assumptions, rules, procedures, and practices that have brought us to this crisis point. Palo Alto is a warning shot across our bow. Unless we find away to remind Californians of the stakes, of why HSR is such a vital part of the solution to our multifaceted crisis, it will be turned into another Acela, rendered less effective and less viable because we did not have the courage to face down those who created this crisis, and those who believe there's no urgent need to do anything at all to solve it.


Anonymous said...

I really don't understand the problem in PA, MP and Atherton. Having gone over the google earth view many times and having traveled the Caltrain Route many times. It seems so simple that one, the vast majority of the ROW is wide enough for four tracks, two, the best and cheapest option is to run everything ad grade and use, steep, but acceptable inderpasses for the cross streets and three, the elimination of grade crossings will make for a quiet and safer community across the board. Grade level wil also avoid the visual impact of a raised berm or so called "berlin wall" ( histrionics aside). This is a imple thing, a railroad, and the people on these neighborhoods are not being reasonable at all. The plan was made publicm the voters voted and approved the plan, and the legal shenanigans they are tying to pull need to be held up to the public light and made an example of as the majority of californians who voted for this project whill not take kindly to a group of wealthy nimbys triyng to wreck this project, and the jobs it will create when these jobs are most needed. The people deserve not consideration, but public ridicule for their actions. And not doubt californians in this economy and time of change are in no mood for this kind of game playing.

crzwdjk said...

Acela has one big advantage over CAHSR, though. It actually got built, and is in service today. Don't ever forget that.

Anonymous said...

Jim..HEREHERE...leave it at grade use steeper underpasses .no walls no berms and NO whinning!!But this wont work there minds

Spokker said...

Jim, I wonder if depressing the road is somehow unacceptable.

Here's a Google Street view of the grade separation of Harbor Blvd. and the three-track BNSF right of way at Fullerton Station in Fullerton, CA.

I see these all the time in Orange County. In fact there's another one just East of the station on Lemon St. This was taken while the area was in the middle of a landscaping project.

Are these solutions too ugly for the peninsula? Can they physically be done?

Spokker said...

"Acela has one big advantage over CAHSR, though. It actually got built, and is in service today. Don't ever forget that."

And it's going to cost even more now to upgrade it to real HSR, as opposed to if they had done it in the first place.

Bay Area Resident said...

LOL Robert. Here is the problem. The SF peninsula is one of the major money centers of the state, NOT Visalia, Merced or Bakersfield. It is the bay area paying for this train.

San Francisco is the financial center of the Bay Area (and is the second most densely populated city in the nation after New York City), while San Jose is the largest city in terms of total population and area. In addition to having the highest median household income in the nation, the Bay Area is renowned for its natural beauty, liberal politics, affluence and its new age reputation.

Gross Regional Product: Exceeds $200 billion—
ranks fifth in the U.S.

Like I said, it is really really tough to piss off peninsula voters so completely on a green initiative, so I have to hand it to CHRSA in achieving that dubious distinction.

Anonymous said...

AFAIK, there were no serious plans to realign lots of curves on the NEC for Acela. The "Acela" project basically consisted of tilting trainsets plus electrification of New Haven to Boston. Both of those things happened, but the trainsets are a bad design because of FRA rules for mixed operation that focus on adding kinetic energy to collisions rather than avoiding collisions altogether. Thus the trainsets can't tilt the full amount, they can't tilt on Metro North (New Rochelle to New Haven), they are expensive to maintain, etc. The tragedies of Acela have less to do with NIMBYs and more to do with the stupidity of the FRA.

Spokker said...

If the Bay Area is so rich they should have no problem paying for the tunnel they so dearly desire..

Bay Area Resident said...

Wow Spokker that thing in Fullerton stinks. Its an elevated freeway basically. If that is what you are planning on proposing to San Mateo or Palo Alto I suggest you revisit Plan B. Let me remind you of the neighborhood at stake here. See the train? Right across the street.,-121.89404&spn=0.007133,0.021029&z=16&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=37.317841,-121.894068&panoid=3XCp-ZWQ8aluL6SNR6-iFQ&cbp=12,130.53174881588654,,0,5

crzwdjk said...

Spokker: what is this original Northeast HSR plan of which you speak? I'm pretty sure that the plan all along was an incremental improvement, but using something like the X2000 rather than the Acela. 200 miles of eminent domain through the most densely populated part of the country would not be cheap, whereas replacing the catenary between New York and Washington and straightening a couple of curves would be, if only someone would fund it.

Spokker said...

"Wow Spokker that thing in Fullerton stinks. Its an elevated freeway basically."

Uh, the railroad is at grade and the road was depressed.

Here's a fascinating PDF from Caltrans talking about various types of grade separations, most of which involve lowering the road.

Page 36 includes grade seps that will have to be done as part of the CAHSR project and BNSF's third mainline track project.

Spokker said...

"Spokker: what is this original Northeast HSR plan of which you speak?"

I said nothing about an original plan. I'm simply saying that it will cost more now to upgrade it to true HSR than if they had done it years ago.

Anonymous said...

Spokker, either your link doesn't work, or it perfectly illustrates the issue. The Harbor link is a freeway-ish looking situation. That's NOT the surroundings on the ground here where Caltrain row sits. Not even close!

The issue is scale.

Look at a two lane residential neighorhood street (Churchill) and try (please try) to consider how that is not a reasonable compare.

Heck, Embarcadero (one crossing over) isn't even applicable to Churchill.

CHSRA has completely missed the issue of SCALE on this ROW.

I think that's the key problem.

And why everyone is saying only underground truly works for this row.

Caltrain ROW is literally threaded through neighborhoods. there's no width available around the row (before you literally bump in to people), and there is no height in the surrounding communities that woul allow the HSR to blend in.

It would be like parking a battleship in mission harbor or in monterey bay harbor.

its completely out of proportion and unfortunately the only people who can see that (wihtout a multi-year impact study) are the people who live there - you certainly can't get that from google maps!

Its insanely frustrating to try to convey this. And the less supporters HEAR this, the more freaked out the opponents are.

I highly recommend the supporters drop the "nimby denier wealthy selfish" rhetoric and start trying to understand it from the ground.

Much sooner to viable solutions for HSR's future.

Anonymous said...

The 'acelafication' issues for this route are not being created by nimbys, they are created solely by CHSRA.

There are curves that will constrain the speeds in the Peninsula, that if not repaired, well below the 30 minutes promised by measure 1A.

Yet they CHSRA also does not have plans or know the true costs of those repairs.

Nor have the figured out the mitigations that would be required for operating at true 'high speed rail' speeds in the bay area (or even at 125mph for that matter).

CHSRA has forsaken HSR. Don't blame it on the NIMBY's now for only pointing out what you yourselves never paid enough attention to.

How dare you expect the locals to sacrafice their communities for CHSRA can come through on the cheap. If you want to do it, you have to do it right, or do it elsewhere. That's what they're asking you to do, nothing more, and nothing less.

Anonymous said...

LETS MAKE THIS CLEAR..YOU MOVED NEXT TO A RAILROAD.Stop acting like you live on peenybrook lane along a wild live by dirty railroad tracks.SO how dare
you act like your being raped and beat.ITS coming thru on 120 year old grade or in a cut but its coming..really many other people around the country would just shake their head and this drama

Spokker said...

"The Harbor link is a freeway-ish looking situation."

It absolutely is not. Click around the area. Make the approach toward and under the bridge yourself.

You are driving along on Harbor Blvd, you dip below the tracks, and quickly come back up. There's is nothing "freeway-ish" about it. The grade sep does not tower over the area in any way.

Due to the incredible volume of Metrolink, Amtrak and freight trains that speed through the area on one of Orange County's busiest streets Fullerton is so much better off with these grade separations, especially at a station where mile-long BNSF freights frequently wait for a signal at the station in the middle bypass track.

Communities just north of Fullerton in Norwalk and Santa Fe Springs just wish they had those grade separations.

Bianca said...

Caltrain ROW is literally threaded through neighborhoods.

@Resident, you say that as if Caltrain carefully picked a route that threaded through people's back yards. The ROW was there first. The railroad tracks were there first. That is a fact. These towns sprang up around the railroad, not the other way around. Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton failed to zone the land abutting the tracks appropriately. These were mistakes that were made many decades ago, and what is done is done, but if you are trying to express reasonable concern about the project, at least acknowledge historical fact.

Spokker said...

In regards to the Harbor Blvd. street view link, look at the landscaping on either side of the street. Check out the palm trees. Look up, there's an American flag on the streetlight pole.

I think the sidewalk could have been taken care of better like the Lemon St. link (i.e. barricaded from the street).

Here we are back at grade on Harbor Blvd. looking south toward the bridge we just went under. If this is too intrusive for peninsula residents then I really don't know how a compromise can be reached.

Spokker said...

Took me a minute of searching to find a grade sep just like the Harbor Blvd. one I posted on the peninsula. Here's one in Redwood City which is just after Atherton station.

More of these would really blight the peninsula! Here we are under it. What a graffiti magnet! How could you allow this in your communities?

Andrew Bogan said...

There is no question that most of the obstructionist rhetoric in Palo Alto is from NIMBYs. It was after all a Southgate neighborhood organization that started all the protest. The entire Southgate neighborhood is tiny and is hemmed in between the Caltrain right of way and El Camino Real (two of the Peninsula's oldest transit corridors):

I live nearby in Evergreen Park, 3 blocks from the tracks, and my family goes on daily walks that include the lovely Southgate neighborhood in our route. The residents of Southgate will be more significantly impacted than almost anyone on the HSR route because many of their backyards directly abut the Caltrain right of way at one of its narrowest points:

While it is not yet certain, some eminent domain along this strip is a real possibility in order to widen the right of way to 75 feet. The interests of the NIMBYs may be narrow and selfish, but they are not irrational.

I am an outspoken supporter of HSR in Palo Alto and of a Palo Alto HSR Station because I have studied the facts and read the blogs, newspaper articles, and academic research on the subject. The benefits will significantly outweigh the costs. I have also lived near HSR stations in Korea and Japan, so I personally appreciate that HSR is a fantastic way to travel.

That does not, however, mean that a thorough analysis of the costs and benefits of tunneling under part of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton should be ruled out by supporters of HSR. There are very few places on the Caltrain tracks where suburban homes line *both* sides of the right of way for many miles, the mid-Peninsula is one such area.

Let's combat NIMBYism with facts and proper analysis of the costs and benefits of all the options, not overly strident accusations.

Tunneling may prove too expensive, or it may not. Berkeley, the Bay Area's other university town, put BART underground in the 1960s and nobody seems unhappy about that in retrospect.

If the area's annual gross regional product exceeds $200 billion, surely paying for a tunnel is not impossible.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Great point, Bianca. They make it sound as if this is akin to blasting the Century Freeway through South Central LA, when in fact this is merely adding tracks within an existing ROW.

Further, I'm not sure where it is written that just because it's a "residential community" means above-grade tracks are neither possible nor viable. We've demonstrated before that around the world, above-grade tracks can be and often have been effectively integrated into existing urban landscapes.

What a small handful of residents are saying is that California must weaken a project that will grow the economy, reduce pollution and carbon emissions (which these same residents will benefit from - no more diesel fumes, no more loud horns) and reduce oil dependence because they think it doesn't look good.

That's just not a legitimate complaint.

It's like people complaining that a wind farm will ruin their view.

At some point we have to ask just how serious we are as a state about doing something about our dependence on oil and carbon emissions.

Spokker said...


Robert Cruickshank said...

Andrew Bogan, I've never argued against a tunnel. If Palo Alto is willing to pay for it, so be it.

But we must be absolutely clear - they cannot expect the region or the state to pay for it. The Bay Area as a whole has too many transit needs, including restoring the operating funds that were lost when the state legislature eliminated STA funding, to divert that to an unnecessary tunnel.

Further, Berkeley's situation was somewhat unique. They did not tax themselves to pay for undergrounding BART. What they did was redirect federal redevelopment money to pay for the undergrounding. It was money Berkeley was already going to receive as part of the 1960s urban renewal programs.

Such funding no longer exists on any significant level, so it strikes me as a poor comparison to Palo Alto.

I appreciate your desire to be constructive. I would, however, point out that as far as I can tell we're not talking about taking any houses. Some people may lose part of their yard. Oh well. That's a small price to pay for doing something about global warming and energy independence.

I can imagine what it's like to live next to a railroad for decades and then suddenly learn that the railroad needs part of your yard. And I get the desire to find a sensible way to do it.

But we draw the line when these homeowners try to claim veto power over the project itself. It is not right for them to question whether the HSR system will use that route. That's what the city of Palo Alto has now done, and that is what I am pushing back against.

In my view it is the city that has made this situation immensely worse, by refusing to adopt a constructive approach to the problem and instead fueling the fantasy that somehow HSR might not be built along the Caltrain corridor if it's not done exactly as the homeowners demand.

Besides, these same people will whine when the earthmovers and jackhammers come to dig the trench or the cut-and-cover tunnel. It is very difficult to take their concerns seriously when they are not being particularly reasonable about it.

Mike Fogel said...

@ Andrew Bogan:

Well said. It's my feeling that nobody here should really be surprised at the reaction of the southgate neighborhood considering, well, their reaction to other development around them (re: And I can't blame them. They've carved out a nice little island for themselves... close to many services, yet with much space safety and greenery,

I don't feel the Palo Alto City council erred to ask CAHSR to study the tunnel idea. That's reasonable. It should be studied. However, their request to (re)study the 101 and 280 corridors isn't reasonable. Freeway alignments are on of the best ways to build mass transit that isn't used.

I've met some of the members of the Council - notably former mayor Yoriko Kishimoto via a Transportation Policy class at Stanford. She definitely 'gets' transit. She's well versed. But yet, she, and others on the concil, didn't hold their ground against the alarmist arguments of some of the most wealthy, privileged members of an already very wealthy and privileged community.

I'm surprised and disappointed the council took the step to try to bring the freeway corridors back into the discussion. I can't imagine many of them felt good about signing their names to that the next morning. Remember, this is a council that unanimously endorsed high speed rail as planned on the Caltrain corridor a few months earlier.

I'm hopeful that moving forward, the fight between Palo Alto and company and CAHSR will be over whether to have a tunnel, and who would pay for it.

Andrew Bogan said...

I may be one of the few supporters of underground alignments who thinks our cities should be expected to help pay for it. Though probably not alone, since federal, state, and regional funds should at the very least cover the costs up to what an above ground option and all the grade separations would have cost.

But we should also recognize that if the (ridiculous) NIMBY lawsuit from Atherton & Menlo Park extends project completion for the ~$40B project just by a couple of years, you could probably pay for a tunnel with the losses to construction cost inflation over that time (as well as a smaller effect of delayed revenues).

Federal money for tunneling may be more available than one thinks:

Federal Election Commission Campaign Donation Map

Politicians tend to remember who got them elected.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Actually, I need to correct my comment above. It does appear that Berkeley *did* vote to tax itself to help pay for the undergrounding, alongside using the federal redevelopment funds I mentioned.

I'm doing some in-depth research on this topic right now for a post and hope to bring more information to you guys about the Berkeley BART saga in a few days.

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank -

thank you for creating this blog and, for inviting me to post on it as well. I now know first hand how much copious spare time and effort goes into doing the research, drafting write-ups and engaging - hopefully constructively - in the interactive discussion threads that stem from them. For a full year now, this blog has provided a fresh post on some aspect of this huge and complex project virtually every single day, the vast majority of them penned by you.

Of course, is hardly the only resource on this topic on the web, but it was you who decided to provide a much-needed public forum for substantive discussion - in principle, open to all, including those fiercely opposed - because some things are altogether too important to entrust entirely to elected officials and appointed bureaucrats.

In the process, you have attracted not only a thriving community of active commenters from California, but even from other states and countries. I have no statistics on this, but I suspect the number of lurkers simply looking for information and considered opinions without the usual filter of the mainstream media is far greater still.

Robert, you've made no bones about your heartfelt advocacy of HSR nor about your general political philosophy. You've even persisted in calling those who fundamentally disagree with you on the wisdom of constructing a true bullet train system for California by the moniker "HSR denier", yet have still given them reason enough to keep coming back for more. has been shut down so its authors can spend more time on keeping up their efforts on your virtual turf. Martin Engel and Morris Brown are among this blog's most stalwart frenemies and, I thank them for their recent return to the fray. Honestly!

Clem Tillier's Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog has proven a very valuable resource for railroad engineering information, presented for the layman, to complement the more political bent here. So thank you to Clem as well.

Unfortunately, tempers have really flared on both sides recently on the topic of HSR in Palo Alto, with some threads here running to well over 100 comments - some laced with salty language and ugly insinuations that I had hoped I would not ever see on this blog. That Preview button really is a wonderful thing.

Yet even in this highly charged atmosphere, many commenters decided to ignore the occasional out-and-out flame war to try and steer threads back to the substance of the disagreements and constructive approaches to address them. Even 100 comments down, there are still references to points raised 10, 20, even 30 comments earlier - a clear indication of the level of interest and commenters willingness to actually read what others have written in response. Imagine that, in an age saturated with more advanced media, some people actually do still read good old-fashioned prose. Reams of it ;^)

So thank you as well to all the dedicated readers, commenters and lurkers alike.

Robert hasn't bothered to publish hit counts, let alone tried to monetize his effort in any way. He hasn't fiddled with the Blogger formatting tools or even switched off the anonymous post option, focusing instead on providing fresh content to promote the cause. If Richard Dawkins is Darwin's rottweiler, then I suppose Robert is California HSR's doberman.

Yet even in its bare-bones, plain vanilla guise, Blogger and complementary tools like Google Maps and Streetview plus Youtube have proven invaluable tools over this past year. So my final Thank You goes out to the folks at Google for developing these tools and making them available to the general public free of charge.

Happy 1st Birthday,!

Alon Levy said...

It is the bay area paying for this train.

Strictly speaking it's LA and SF... but at any rate, taunting everyone about how rich you are makes you look like an asshole rather than a concerned citizen. Republicans have learned it the hard way, so now they're careful to justify tax cuts for the rich by talking about the benefits to the middle class instead. What you're doing is the equivalent of putting Donald Trump in front of the camera.

Bay Area Resident said...

taunting everyone about how rich you are makes you look like an asshole rather than a concerned citizen.

As opposed to the people here who act like Palo Alto is not relevant or that the opposition to this train is somehow *evenly weighted* among all the towns CHSRA is serving including Visalia? Grow up! I don't even live in Palo Alto. You need to acknowledge the simple fact that the SF bay area is an area like Manhattan. Completely dense, extremely expensive and an area that you simply must serve. Therefore come up with a route where above ground is acceptable (like the freeways) or tunnel. Those are the options period. Comparing Palo Alto to Visalia -as Diridon did in the meeting- made him look like an ass. He can take this train from Oxnard to Visalia and back, or to Merced to Oxnard and back and be done with it, OR he can start playing ball with Palo Alto. thats it.

Anonymous said...

Bianca/Robert - no its a nonsense point.

The Ohlone Indians were here first, so we should hand the whole thing over to the Indians to restore back to tribal lands?

The neighborhoods that have grown up around the tracks have done so over the last hundred years. For all intents and purposes they are one and the same.

And are you implying that newer developed areas have less rights than older areas?

Spokker, you continue to fail or refuse to understand that there is no room along the ROW for these sloping landscaped embankments. Walls think walls. You need to find nice beutiful pictures of 10 foot walls through backyards and frontyards. Heck in some cases cutting off peoples driveways. Then we'll have some apples to apples comparisons.

Bay Area Resident said...

The truth resident....

LETS MAKE THIS CLEAR..YOU MOVED NEXT TO A RAILROAD.Stop acting like you live on peenybrook lane along a wild live by dirty railroad tracks

Looks like a peenybrook stream to me. Trees a park, a little bridge. Wheres the smelly train? I see his tracks 10 feet away, but not much else.,-121.89404&spn=0.007133,0.021029&z=16&iwloc=addr&layer=c&cbll=37.317841,-121.894068&panoid=3XCp-ZWQ8aluL6SNR6-iFQ&cbp=12,130.53174881588654,,0,5

Andrew Bogan said...

With regard to other alignments, such as 101, 280, or Altamont, the Palo Alto City Council did not exactly endorse reopening them. They requested a tunnel be fully studied within the EIR scope alongside at grade and above grade options. The request in the City's draft report to reopen the 101, 280, and Altamont routes was discussed by the Council directly with Rod Diridon, who made it very clear that other alignments would not be considered at this time since the Program EIR was already certified and signed off with the Caltrain corridor as the preferred Peninsula routing for HSR.

That point was so clear, that Council Member Sid Espinosa specifically asked City staff if they should consider removing any mention of 101, 280, and Altamont alignments from their final report prior to the April 6 deadline for scoping comments from the Peninsula cities:

Palo Alto City Hall Meeting Video March 2, 2008

Go to video for Item E, it's at 3:41:21. (Which was about 12:30AM after 6 1/2 hours of discussion.)

PS Anyone interested in my comments to Council can watch them at 2:09:30 in the same video clip.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I don't have the slightest clue how to check hit counts on Blogger. Maybe it's better that way. I'd keep at this blog even if nobody else read it - although I am endlessly gratified to know that a lot of people do indeed read it and find it valuable.

You're a core part of the site, Rafael, especially with your technical knowledge, which is light-years beyond my own.

Spokker said...

"Spokker, you continue to fail or refuse to understand that there is no room along the ROW for these sloping landscaped embankments."

The Redwood City example I linked you to is surrounded by homes. Click the satellite map view. Life isn't over for those residents is it?

Bay Area Resident said...

How much room is required for the sloping embankments? Most of the ROW, although not all is 100' wide, what can you do with that? Obviously the 50 footers are going to have serious issues but the middle ground is 100'.

crzwdjk said...

"You need to acknowledge the simple fact that the SF bay area is an area like Manhattan."

No, it really isn't. It's more like New Jersey: a vast suburban sprawl upon the landscape. Manhattan is about 10 times more dense than San Jose, and even Staten Island, the suburbia of NYC is about 4 times more dense than Palo Alto. The population of the Bay Area as a whole is less than just the City of New York alone. That should give you an idea of the relative densities.

Anonymous said...


I think SF itself has similarities to Manhattan (on a much smaller scale) but youre right that the rest of the bay area is like New Jersey..

crzwdjk said...

Bay Area Resident: the standard is two feet of distance for one foot of elevation. You can find more detailed information in the Caltrain technical standards. Also, note that while the standards call for 15 feet between track centers, even freight trains are only 10'8" wide at most, and it ought to be possible to have 14 or even 13 foot track centers with no impact on the trains.

Anonymous: Manhattan on a smaller scale isn't really Manhattan at all. And SF doesn't have supermarkets without parking lots, whereas in Manhattan the overwhelming majority of supermarkets (and other large stores for that matter) don't have any parking at all. New York is a big city, SF, in the grand scheme of things, is a midsized one.

Bay Area Resident said...

well arcady if 14' track centers are required there is not enough room for embankments anywhere then. The ROW in the important areas is 100' at the MOST.

Alon Levy said...

SF is only the fifth densest county in the nation, behind Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens. The Peninsula doesn't even come close; its NY area equivalent isn't Manhattan, but Scarsdale.

Adam said...

The only place the Acela has the 80mph speed limit is on the portion Amtrak doesn't own, namely the ConnDOT portion between New Rochelle and New Haven (and possibly the area around the grade crossings in eastern Connecticut). South of NYC I think most of the areas have a 125 or 135 mph zone (in fact, I know some commuter lines travel at those speeds in those areas, namely MARC trains and NJ Transit). The problem with the Acela between NYC and Washington is all the stops it makes (of course the other problem being Amtrak's mismanagement).

I'm probably assuming the Caltrain corridor will be similar to this setup. The only real major kinks I see from an overhead perspective of Caltrain are between Bayshore and San Bruno and between Lawrence and Santa Clara (and even that's a stretch), so there won't be too much straightening out to do.

Let's compare that to southwest Connecticut. There are major kinks between Stanford and Noroton Heghts, Rowayton and South Norwalk, Southport, Fairfield, and Bridgeport, Bridgeport and Stratford, and of course all over New Haven. Since those lines go through downtown areas it's nearly impossible to mitigate these curves (THIS is the 80MPH zone mind you).

Caltrain on the other hand is more suburban so mitigation is easier. It's more like the NEC between Newark and just north of Philadelphia, where there are no kinks (the next kinky looking section after Newark is Bristol, PA), then there are some kinks in Delaware and northeastern Maryland, then it's a straight shot to outside Baltimore, and then there are no kinks once you get past Baltimore.

I define a "kink" as a sharp curve that not negligible and is difficult to mitigate.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew Bogan -

thank you for being a voice of sanity on the financial aspects of the tunnel option. If that is where this ends up, I completely agree that CHSRA is on the hook for the amount it had budgeted for implementation in the cost estimates presented to state voters in November.

I also have no problem with any effort by Palo Alto or other cities to seek federal support funds. It is one of the wealthiest cities in one of the most affluent states (I mean private wealth, not the state budget). California is a net contributor to the federal government and Palo Alto even more so. It's completely appropriate to try and claw some of that back. Putting both Caltrain and HSR into a tunnel or covered trench alignment will definitely be a better investment than the $295 billion the GAO says were wasted on delays and cost overruns for weapons systems projects over the last few years.

However, I would request that Palo Alto seek these funds from block grants or other pots of gold, rather than compete with CHSRA for the still-scarce federal dollars allocated specifically for HSR. Some may argue that $9.5 billion so far is nothing to sneeze at and that is true, especially in the context of historical funding levels for passenger rail service in the US. It is equally true that this amount is for projects nationwide, so only a fraction of that will (hopefully) go to California. Much more will be needed because high-quality infrastructure is very expensive, but it could easily be paid for if the annual regular Pentagon budget (excl. war appropriations) were not $500 billion and still climbing.

There aren't many scalable transportation alternatives that don't need to run on refined petroleum or expensive substitutes for it - electric passenger rail is the most prominent among them. Each war avoided funds a whole lot of civilian investments that both improve quality of life and defend it.

TJPA decided to apply for a slice of the $8 billion allocated to HSR in the stimulus bill, setting them up for competition with CHSRA. Granted, theirs is a request to help build an anchor station and an access tunnel for which there is no other option, but still. An HSR station without tracks to LA is no more useful than the inverse.

I'd also like to sound a note of caution on what construction of a bona fide bored tunnel entails in terms of disruption and risks. If you're willing to spend an hour watching it, I highly recommend this video of the Kuala Lumpur Mega Tunnel project. There are a number of noteworthy differences, but putting four railroad tracks into miles of tunnels in a built-up area is a huge project. It would involve huge tunnel boring machines, a slurry plant, a steady stream of trucks supplying of ring segments.

Depending on the local geology, there may be controlled blasting to create the access points at the end, plus subsidence risks. Tunnels would make the trains both quiet and invisible while preserving all the functional benefits, but the construction process could have massive environmental impacts in suburbia. It can be done, cp. e.g. the Canada Line light rail project in Vancouver BC - good website design, too, IMHO.

Note that $250 million in Malaysia is probably not indicative of the amount that such a project would cost in the Bay Area, any more than the one in Canada. IIRC, the cost estimate for bored BART tunnels in downtown San Jose is now up to around $600 million per mile. Covered trenches (cp. BART extension to SFO) are much cheaper but perhaps inappropriate in north Palo Alto due to the San Francisquito creek, El Palo Alto and the existing busy underpasses. South Palo Alto and Menlo Park may be different.

Note also that the tunnels may need to accommodate AAR plate H freight cars, which increases the bore diameter. Also note that tunnels will also force UPRR to use electric locomotives in the peninsula and to switch to diesel in San Jose. The high voltage (25kV single-phase AC) of the overhead catenary systems requires the use of a large transformer to bring the voltage down so the power electronics that output three-phase AC at the frequency required to support the desired vehicle speed. It is not possible to fit both a bulky large diesel-electric generator set and that transformer into a single locomotive design.

Electrification through San Jose and up to the UPRR marshaling yard in Fremont would be expensive and anyhow not something UPRR would pay for. Even having to buy an electric locomotive and switching it for a diesel unit may prove unprofitable. In that case, freight from the port of SF will be moved by road or, economic activity (incl. jobs) at the port will be cut back.

A transshipment terminal for High Speed Cargo in Brisbane could provide alternate employment if there is a business case for it. The trains used for this type of light, high-value freight (think documents, microprocessors and spare parts for jets not lumps of ore or coal) are adapted from passenger bullet train designs, i.e. they're fully enclosed, self-propelled, electric and don't need plate H clearances. They can be operated stand-alone or attached unmanned to single-trainset passenger trains to avoid increasing train per hour count.

Finally, do also consider the upside. If tunnels and/or covered trenches are built, the air rights above can be sold to developers to help with funding or, used to create a linear park: Promenade Plantee in Paris, Highline Park in New York.

Final thought: If you decide to keep the tracks mostly at grade in Palo Alto but fully enclose them in a box structure consisting of steel columns and plenty of large soundproof windows, you could use its roof for a linear park while retaining a visually light touch. Palo Alto high might even use a linear park for its PE classes.

Train service would be visible but whisper-quiet. To keep the height down, you could specify overhead conductor rails instead of catenary wires.

I'm not aware of any implementation of this concept, but Palo Alto is no stranger to innovation. It might be a good deal cheaper than tunnels and a unique feature of the town. Just saying.

Rafael said...

@ Adam -

Clem Tillier has published an excellent analysis of the Top 10 Worst Curves in the Caltrain ROW.

Anonymous said...

Well, they are going to have to accept either the raised tracks or the depressed street and in my opinion the depressed streets are not a big deal. Also trains running on ballast at grade, are the quietest.

Anonymous said...

Caltrain, even without HSR, is going to get rid of these grade crossing and install electric catenaries so even if you stopped hsr, you wouldn't stop the changes that are coming. The menlo park etc folks are very much like the south orange county/laguna/clemente folks and are looked at with the same disdain by the rest of the state's population.

Anonymous said...

and I'm not saying this as an HSR supporter, but as someone who has lived and worked all around the state, I have to tell you that there is general consensus among ordinary blue collar working folks that we are tired of shelling out tax money to appease those of you who always seem to need special treatment when it comes to getting stuff done that works for the rest of us poor slobs who have to get to work for a living, be it a freeway, train, or whatever. You guys with your special needs cause the cost of everything to go up and we have to foot the extra bill. I'm sure the majority of californians are not going to be in the mood for your selfish antics this time. We need the train, we need the jobs is will create, and we need to long term boost it will give our economy. Unlike you, the rest of us aren't lounging around our pools sipping merlot in la la land. i certainly know that my clientele, the working class, transit riding public, are begging for this train to get done.

Owen Evans said...

In his last few posts (over several threads) I think Rafael has been on the mark by taking on a more conciliatory tone, and by indicating that a better solution may in fact exist. CHSRA could do to push the PR reset button, if that's possible at all at this point. Think of this as bargaining: offer/counteroffer, and the sides eventually meet somewhere in the middle.

CHSRA clearly has to take the input from these meetings, study a bunch of alternatives, and come up with cost estimates and renderings, etc. I can guarantee that some in Palo Alto etc. will continue the fight no matter what, but hopefully some of the alternatives will be attractive enough to bring more local residents to the table and thereby break the roadblockers' coalition and get the lawsuits either dropped or dismissed. Costs will go up, but hopefully not enough to kill the project.

I predict that the recommended solution they come back with will involve a mix of at-grade, split grade, above grade, and a few miles of trenching where the impacts are greatest and the right-of-way is the narrowest. Maybe they will request that the towns pay part of the cost of trenching; they will probably also offer to cover the trench if the towns pay for it.

The challenge is, though, if you offer to build a trench in one place, how do you keep from having to build one everywhere? If the 10-mile trench in LA cost $2.4 billion in 2000, a 40 mile trench on the peninsula would cost at least $15 billion in 2015, and with that you've blown the budget out of the water. The answer might be an objective standard. For example: build a trench only in residential areas where at-grade is impossible and the ROW is less than X feet wide and therefore too narrow for a landscaped/terraced embankment."

Another thing is that hopefully folks will be willing to accept the inevitable impacts of construction. I can see this being a sticky issue. No matter what gets built, some mature trees and hedges will have to be cut and replanted, and construction will last for years. Particularly if a trench is being built somewhere, I would hope people would be willing to put up with some temporary hardships such as construction noise, removal and replanting of vegetation, temporary street/lane closures, etc. If town residents are willing to make a few concessions on that front, construction phasing might be simplified and cost savings might be achieved and applied to further mitigation on the corridor.

CHSRA needs to make a good faith effort to come up with a solution that is workable for MOST peninsula residents. Nobody, not Obama, not Schwarzenegger, not anybody, will go to bat for CHSRA until that has happened.

But when it DOES happen, hopefully they can reduce the roadblockers' numbers so we're only left with a shrill, unreasonable few. That's when I hope they bust out the political steamrollers and squash 'em.

Anonymous said...

Rafael, I love your suggestion for a steel box around the tracks. It might not be the right choice, but it's thinking outside, or maybe inside, the box, and I think that's what's required here.

I'm very familiar with the various grade separations in Orange County. The largest deficiency is that they make the streets really pedestrian-unfriendly. (Of course, those streets are already extremely unfriendly, so there was no loss in this case.) There's a long approach with lots of concrete on either side, and they just feel scary and unwelcoming.

But, there's no design reason they can't be set up with trees and landscaping, and the rail bridge could be set up with a very open design: arches and graceful curves, light paths through the road bed, etc. Indeed, the worst thing about underpasses is that they are dark - but we have the technology to solve this, with solar light tubes if not with elegant bridge design.

Even if it is too expensive to use structural arches, some elegant arch-dressing below the actual structure would do a lot for those bridges.

There's a link in the thread to the google map with Fullerton's Amtrak station marked. I'm not sure what feature I was supposed to see there, but I have some photographs of the actual station. Fullerton has a striking pedestrian bridge that goes over the tracks. I think it's pretty attractive, with the old spanish style station, but your mileage may vary.

Nice pedestrian bridges can make a valuable addition as well. Paint them with pretty colors, give them attractive curves, and they will be attractions in their own right, fun to walk across and see the other side. Witness the Golden Gate.


Anonymous said...

here's a nice looking partial raised partial depressed..

Bay Area Resident said...

San Jose, between 87 and 280 are where the problem curves are- CHSRA said as such in our meetings. Eminent domain in this area will be out of the question.

As far as the electrification of Caltrain, yes we know, we know. The peninsula is excited about the electrification of Caltrain because it will remove the issues with the diesel. But there is no provision for the electrification of Caltrain such that it will start to run every 8 minutes, or that it will go over 40mph in the urban areas where people live which is the case now (please, no more about Caltrain going 87 mph, it does not, it goes 40 around all these curves and neighborhoods which is why it takes an hour to get to SF from SJ).

Anonymous said...

Heres a nice pedestrian underpass for at grade rail.

and a nicely forested pedestrian underpass for raised rail.

Owen Evans said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Owen Evans said...

Sorry for the above delete - had to correct an error.

Regarding the speed of Caltrain through Palo Alto, I think Bay Area Resident is going by his visual estimation of the speed of the trains, rather than facts.

Take train #211, which departs Mountain View at 6:37am, runs express through Palo Alto, and is next scheduled to depart Menlo Park at 6:45am. Mountain View to Menlo Park is a distance of roughly 7.5 miles. Figure that about 1 minute of that 8 minutes period is spent stopped at Menlo Park, so that would mean that the train covers 7.5 miles in 7 minutes. That's an AVERAGE speed of 65 mph. That would be the speed given instantaneous acceleration, and I don't know too many trains that accelerate instantaneously. Therefore, in order to make up for the time that it is accelerating and decelerating and acheive an AVERAGE speed of 65mph, the train must travel in excess of 70mph for the majority of the distance between these two stations. 65mph average speeds are certainly not possible if the train slows down to 40mph within the borders of Palo Alto.

This is a fact.
I see no way that anybody could dispute this successfully, but you're welcome to try.

I can see how Bay Area Resident might think the trains are going slower based on observation. The fact is that trains, even passenger trains, are so big that it throws our perception off. As an aside, this is one of the big reasons that grade crossings are so dangerous. A train that APPEARS to be plodding along at 40 mph is in fact going closer to 80.

Anonymous said...

Thinking some more:

I think underpasses in a residential area will be a lot more challenging than elevating the tracks on the equivalent of an aqueduct. Arches under the roadbed again can be very pretty, especially if ways can be found to allow some light through.

But even if the best answer is a big concrete berm / wall (easy to build, good for noise), there's no reason it has to be ugly. Our civilization can do wonderful things with paint, and each of those residents could get a fantastic custom mural (perhaps that maintenance-free landscaping they've always wanted) for maybe $500k a mile. It could be very special and perhaps an improvement over the existing view/noise of the tracks.


Bay Area Resident said...

Owen, I am indeed going by my own experience of Caltrain going around all the curves in the south bay, which is reiterated by the curves diagram from the Caltrain/HSR compatibility blog. Those curves have a max speed of 50mph and the trains barely go that. take one sometime. This is another reason for the residential in the area.

Anonymous said...

just some reading about grade crossings. I guess the feds and the state are interested in gradually eliminating all grade crossings in california and have been allocating money every years to accomplish this. Cali is one of the worst states for grade crossing accidents.

Anonymous said...

Bay Area Resident,

Given the thick trees at your link, it seems to me that there is not much problem. The tracks are largely hidden by trees. Trains on an elevated archway there, behind trees, would be glorious. Even trains on a concrete block would not seem to obstruct the view (though perhaps breezes). Paint/tint the concrete a dark green, and it will disappear.


Anonymous said...

The Palo Alto NIMBY crowd will fold -
1) once the business community realizes they will lose, big time, without a nearby station (preferably in PA).
2) homeborrowers along the ROW find they can come out ahead selling out to CAHSR. Wouldn't be suprised if this is what some are planning for.


PS. Yeah, I used to live in PA, and I lived in Belmont when the tracks were raised on berms. No big deal.

Owen Evans said...

There is only one curve on the Caltrain line between Mountain View and Menlo Park. That is at San Antonio. Not sure what the speed limit is on that curve, but if it's 50mph, that actually means that the trains have to go FASTER through Palo Alto in order to make up for the slow curve and maintain the 65mph average speed mandated by the schedule.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I quite like that image of the half under, half over solution.


Anonymous said...

Jim's observation that Caltrans et al have been slowly working to separate all rail/road crossings is exactly right. It is a priority to get this done with or without HSR.


Bay Area Resident said...

Therefore, in order to make up for the time that it is accelerating and decelerating and acheive an AVERAGE speed of 65mph, the train must travel in excess of 70mph for the majority of the distance between these two stations. 65mph average speeds are certainly not possible if the train slows down to 40mph within the borders of Palo Alto.

This is a fact.
I see no way that anybody could dispute this successfully, but you're welcome to try.

Owen, please you are wasting a lot of time with gobbledygook here.

I am not disputing that there are some, yes SOME portions where Caltrain goes 87 mph on the SJ->SF route. But it does not maintain this speed through the most densely populated residential areas which is all we are concerned with here, and hence, it takes 57 minutes to go from SJ to SF on Caltrain. The distance of the entire route is only 49 miles stopping at Tamien (the southern most point of SJ) so it really can't be going 80mph now can it?

Anonymous said...

yes anon, it looks pretty nice to me. And the distances involved where the so called berlin wall would be are so short anyway. and with a combination of fully raised ROW in some stretches with arches underneath for walk through/drive/ partial raised-partial depressed in parts, and at grade where possible, all breaking up any monotony of structure, through this releatively short distance. I reallythink these people are WAY overreacting. They sound just a tiny bit hysterical.

Anonymous said...

So this article says that the type of trainset will make a difference in an area with curves - the push pull tgv locomotives verus the individually powered cars...
"The Shinkansen trains consists of electrically powered cars--that means
basically all individual cars are equipped with electric motor driving
systems. This is in contrast to locomotive trains in which the
locomotive pulls the passenger coaches. The realization of the
high-speed Shinkansen with the electric train system had a great
significance. The French "Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV)" runs on a
centralized power system, in which the heavyweight, high-output
locomotives at both ends pull the passenger coaches via the friction
between the vehicle's wheels and rails. It is a system suitable to
European railways which run basically on straight tracks in wide plains
with solid foundations, but unsuitable in Japan where the ground is
flimsy and the tracks full of curves and undulations and inter-city
distances are short, making it necessary for the trains to accelerate
and decelerate frequently."

Anonymous said...

"Although the Shinkansen has been surpassed by the TGV in its maximum
speed, it is still highly praise-worthy in that it has realized
high-speed operation while constrained by Japan's geographical
conditions, which require operating on tracks with many curves built on
unsolid ground, while also coping with environmental problems such as
noise suppression due to densely populated regions. The overall
technologies which make the operation of the Shinkansen lines in Japan
possible despite these constraints"

Anonymous said...

okay how bout a real comparison between the current caltrain noise and visual versus real hsr noise and visual..... comapre the two side by side.... hsr"

and caltrain in palo alt0:

open two windows and play both videos one after the other and clearly hsr is safer more quiet and more preferable to the racket of caltrain.

Spokker said...

Jim, that's a good method for hearing the difference between the types of sounds diesel Caltrain and HSR make, but it isn't a good example of volume.

I still think it's worth looking at though. Good find.

Anonymous said...

and one more side by side noise comparison
japanese bullet at grade and caltrain baby bullet at grade


Anonymous said...

oh well, maybe its just me but I think the real bullet is much more pleasing and inspirational the clunkety old claptrap we're using right now.

Anonymous said...

What amazes me how fast they run the express trains through stations, not on center tracks, but against the platform with barely any gap. looks like at least 120-150mph
watching these is really making me impatient with these ..... folks in pa.

Spokker said...

"The distance of the entire route is only 49 miles stopping at Tamien (the southern most point of SJ) so it really can't be going 80mph now can it?"

Here are Caltrain's stats for runs between San Jose and San Francisco.

Caltrain local: 96 minutes - max speed 79 mph - average speed 29 mph

Caltrain Baby Bullet: 57 minutes - max speed 79 mph - average speed 49 mph

BruceMcF said...

Jim said... "here's a nice looking partial raised partial depressed.."

... or, if someone was looking for a term, "split grade".

For noise reduction, you only need a baffle wall a bit over the height of the track itself, and then fencing with vines and the replacement trees themselves would absorb quite a bit of the kind of high frequency sound emitted by trains.

14' track center to track center, 9' track center to fencing is 60' for four tracks. on a 100' ROW, that is 20' for embankment, or 10' of rise from grade to track, where you'd rarely need more than 5' or 6' height with a split grade partly depressed underpass, partly elevated rail alignment.

A viaduct, of course, can have a smaller footprint than the width of four tracks, but that seems like it could easily be restricted to those areas with narrow ROW or a tricky curve to straighten out.

Some viaducts and railbridges are like works of art in their own right ... f'rinstance ... but from the description of Palo Alto by opponents of putting tracks in a railroad right of way, it seems like its a bit of a stick-in-the-mud hayseed kind of place, and with that in mind, a viaduct probably ought to be kept a bit quaint.

Spokker said...

Jim, check out these videos.

It's an eight part series that documents the Nozomi service from Hakata to Tokyo. It has English subtitles and includes in cab views and a lot of engineer chatter.

I actually watched the whole thing because I am such a nerd.

The in-cab view starts at 2:28.

Andrew Bogan said...

Caltrain operates at a maximum speed of 79 mph, which it reaches, briefly, between most stations. The Baby Bullets pass through some stations at or near this speed during commute hours:

Caltrain Website

It is so slow because it makes far too many station stops on the route from SF to SJ (even the Baby Bullet stops too much) and it accelerates poorly since it is a heavy double-decker diesel train.

Caltrain service would be greatly improved with 4 tracks for passing and the major stations (SF, Millbrae/SFO, Palo Alto, and San Jose Diridon) served by a true HSR train.

Anonymous said...

@bruce -- oh yeah I meant "split grade" .... meanwhile now im watching al these acela vids on you tube, not the fastest i know, but still makes me poud to work for amtrak since currently, we are the only choice to even get close to high speed. it'll get better - the right of way is going to be tough though in the NEC.

Anonymous said...

Holy cow bruce - now THAT was a viaduct. They don't deserve it.

Anonymous said...

@spokker well that was total train porn. I like the white gloves, nice touch. Why does america suck so bad.

Gary said...


To say that Palo Alto is 4 times less dense than NYC suburbs is misleading. Techincally, 2/3 of Palo Alto's area is virtually inhabited and part of the foothills. In terms of the area that is inhabited, the density is similar. Ive lived in both White Plains, NY and Redwood City, CA and the density is similar (albeit completely different in character).

Also, I think San Fran has the densest "city feel" of anywhere in the country besides NYC, including Chicago. The outskirts have slightly more suburban type areas but most of downtown, SOMA, Mission, etc. feels very urban compared to most cities in this country. Ive also lived in Philly and it did not have the same city feel as SF (in terms of density and infrastructure, that is. In terms of grittiness it had way more).

Andrew Bogan said...


Your class warfare does not help our pro-HSR argument. HSR, ironically, is often called a "train for suits with briefcases" even by NIMBYs here in Palo Alto.

You wrote:

". . . we are tired of shelling out tax money to appease those of you who always seem to need special treatment when it comes to getting stuff done that works for the rest of us poor slobs who have to get to work for a living . . ."

The wealthiest 1% of tax payers pay 40% of all federal income taxes. The top 10% pays 70% of all federal income tax (and it will get more imbalanced under Obama's tax plan):

National Taxpayers Union Data

I don't mean to start a conversation on the merits of a progressive tax system, but let's keep in mind who is actually shelling out the tax money in America. We all expect the Palo Alto NIMBYs to have their facts straight. We should expect no less of ourselves.

HSR is not about socio-economic class, it's about infrastructure that makes our State a better place to live and work for everyone.

Anonymous said...

while the wealthy do pay more taxes, there are a lot more of the rest of us paying AND, most of us would be perfectly happy with a basic plain ordinary hsr system without all the wildly expensive station "signature" architecture and all the delicate environmental tiptoeing that adds billions to the cost.

Anonymous said...

( and not to get off topic but I'm tired of it being called "class warfare when the working class tries to stand up for themselves yet it wasn't class warfare when the wealthy spend the last decade emptying our treasury...) just to be clear.

Anonymous said...

and quite frankly I hope obama sticks to to em good and hard so they remember it.

Spokker said...

Jim, customer service, JR style.

Spokker said...

"and not to get off topic but I'm tired of it being called "class warfare when the working class tries to stand up for themselves yet it wasn't class warfare when the wealthy spend the last decade emptying our treasury"

I agree with your sentiment but your ideas about who pays taxes is still a bit off.

Just enjoy the Japan Rail videos and be happy we even have a shot of getting something like this built in the US :)

Anonymous said...

I think Jims comments might be more directed at some of the very things we have heard "This is the best property in the Bay Area..yuck..home of CEOs..5 star resturants " and on. NO average Joe here in the BayArea will shed any tears for these towns,in fact make the rest of the Bay dislike them even more..And it should not be that way as what..35 people took the time to write a complaint statment..I guess everyone else in PA has just been brainwashed by CAHSR.

Anonymous said...

well I won't go into what I think about all that but when it comes to the elite, let's just say I'm a socialist with a touch of nazi. They can't do it without us so they will kick down or we'll shut it down. good to market? not without us. employees to workplace? not without infrastructure, how to manage their wealth? with the full cooperation of the tax code -straight income tax aside- I mean it's a two way street. I'd give anything for a one day general strike nation wide ) ports/transit/railroads/truckers/every employee in every union from coast to coast) just to remind them who makes the world turn in their favor. just my point of view no big whoop. The vids are cool though.

Anonymous said...

that JR thing is pretty funny, but the day amtrak start making me pop out of box is the day I retire.

crzwdjk said...

Bay Area Resident: Caltrain line speed is 79 mph with only a few exceptions. Outside the terminal areas, I believe there's a speed limit of 75 at Millbrae, 65 at the San Bruno Curve, 70 going around the base of Mount San Bruno (just north of South San Francisco), and I forget what the limit is exactly at Bayshore. Aside from that, between Millbrae and Santa Clara, it's all 79 mph. I think at some point there was a speed limit in Redwood City, but that went away a while ago. A good part of the San Francisco-San Jose time is lost to dwell time even on Baby Bullets (they stop less, but each stop takes longer because there are many more people getting on and off), and to the time it takes to accelerate. Diesel locomotives aren't terribly powerful, and an equivalent capacity MU train would have at least 2-2.5 times the short term power without all the extra weight of the locomotive.

And to everyone who thinks they know how to run the Acela better than Amtrak does: yes, they did try running non-stop trains. In fact, the very first Acela schedule was an NYC-DC super-express. It didn't attract enough ridership. And by the way, the current service is by far the most successful train service in the US, bringing in something like 1/3 of Amtrak's total revenue, and having the highest revenue per rider ($136) of any train in the Amtrak system.

Anonymous said...

Im not sure who 'them' are, but there are rich neighborhoods here, but the majority of people are just families with kids, who have 40+++ hour a week jobs, both parent working - to squeek by. I drive a 15 year old car, and haven't had a vacation in 10 years I have a 10 year old that has never seen disneyland (and no, I wont be taking the train there either). Palo Alto in fact, has some of the smaller cheaper houses (when compared to say Los Altos Hills where you can only buy homes by the 1/2 acre or more.) And my childs class - she has about 2 white friends and the rest are immigrants about 1-2 years in the country.

And I, by the way, not only voted for every democrat on the ticket, but most other people around here did too. Plus alot of them sent $$$ to the campaign.

So, you might want to examine your assumptions about who exactly is living here and who exactly is opposing it based on the shoddy work, poor decision making, and astoundingly arrogant leadership of the of the CHSRA.

And by the way, this is a community that goes to school board meeting and city cuoncil meetings, volunteers on campaigns, and all manner of civic involvement.

Anonymous said...

well okay then. perhaps I was thinking of atherton. but the train is coming and you will have to decide on some sort of decorated up solution. but billions for tunneling. forget it. Just pick something and be done with it. No delays, cali needs the the jobs. and like "yeson1a" pointed out - its about the comments we've all heard coming out the stop the train crowd themselves,..."d "This is the best property in the Bay Area..yuck..home of CEOs..5 star resturants " so perhaps you regular folks need to let those folks they might want to tone down their rhetoric and be a little more cooperative.

Anonymous said...

and why wouldn't you use the train to take them to disneyland? just out of spite?

Robert Cruickshank said...

So we're getting a bit off-topic here, although anyone who knows my work at Calitics won't be surprised that I think that class issues can't be separated from this at all. It very much matters that the people fighting HSR in Palo Alto have wealth and economic security, and are using it to attack a project that will bring jobs to thousands, save money, and ameliorate the effects of global warming. Jim is correct on this - the majority of Californians do not care about the aesthetic impact of HSR on a wealthy suburb. They just don't. Palo Alto residents cannot wrap their minds around this fact, but they must if they are to have any hope of getting their tunnel.

Still, I am not convinced a class-based argument, appropriate though it may be, is the best path forward here. Instead I think we should question the rather nonsensical arguments that were floated here about whether the Peninsula is like Manhattan or New Jersey. The fact is it's neither. It's the Peninsula. It ought to serve as a national model for how a livable community can coexist with and embrace high speed rail.

Instead we're seeing people assert obsolete and undesirable 20th century values - that home values matter more than mass transit, that individual aesthetic principles matter more than stopping global warming, that a blind faith in the status quo matters more than reasonable and voter-approved action to solve our present crisis and move forward into a better future.

I don't remember who made this point in an earlier comment thread, but someone brought up the phenomenon of "you can't live here" - an attitude among homeowners that nobody else matters except themselves, that any effort to produce economic growth or prosperity or environmental improvements that they personally dislike is something they feel they ought to have the right to veto.

At Calitics I have termed this the homeowner aristocracy. It's one reason I am so adamant about refusing to allow these people to destroy the HSR project. Democracy matters. The public good matters. No individual homeowner should be able to thwart that just because of their own personal pique.

Obviously a sense of class privilege is at work here. But it seems the best way to push back is to ask Palo Alto if they really, truly believe that it's OK to help global warming happen if that allows them to maintain their obsolete model of an "ideal community".

Bay Area Resident said...

Anonymous (elfing), the problem with that picture where the traintracks are and the trees, is that the entire ROW is only 100 ft. That white fence is the ROW. It is a very narrow corridor with somebody's backyard on the other side. Basically the same situation with the entire bay area. There is no room for those trees.

Anonymous said...

@ robert thanks for seeing what I'm trying to say. I don't think that a class based argument is the best way either, ( only as a last political resort) its just hard to hold back with some of these folks and won't say anymore than that. Meanwhile this vid shows a ROW that looks like caltrain ROW with only two tracks - with commuter and freight and TGV all mixed together. Its very dramatic - very TGVs galore. but cool watch. trains every 10 seconds.

Robert Cruickshank said...

BAR, it's time we asked Palo Alto residents whether they want to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to helping the environment. HSR on the Peninsula will reduce an enormous amount of carbon emissions. Even if the trees have to go, that seems a price worth paying.

Unless, of course, you don't really believe in this whole "global warming" concept...

Anonymous said...

The calitics site looks pretty interesting Ill have to start reading more of it. And I do think that if those folks are willing to be reasonable then a solution can be found. Reasonable.

Andrew Bogan said...

There seems to be a widespread belief that Palo Alto is trying to block HSR. There were about 35 residents in a city of >50,000 who spoke at City Council. Not all of those were opposed to HSR, since one of them was I. Remember that Palo Alto City Council voted unanimously in favor of supporting Prop 1A and again all nine members of the Council voted in favor of a reasonably sensible position on HSR on Monday that did not call for much besides a request to include an analysis of tunneling within the scope of the EIR. We have some outspoken NIMBYs in Palo Alto, but the City government has been very responsible so far, despite the nonsense in the press and on the blogs. Atherton and Menlo Park, however, deserve the fury they have received over their NIMBY lawsuit, to which Palo Alto is not a party and has shown no inclination to support up to this point.

Andrew Bogan said...

Most of us who happen to live in Palo Alto or the neighboring towns are well aware that there are about 100,000 residents of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton combined. Obviously, that is not a very significant number as compared to the ~35 million in California or the projected HSR annual ridership in 2030 of 74-93 million per year.

However, it is still the responsibility of each town's city council to represent its own residents' interests. Our goal should be to make sure that the residents of these towns, including my own, understand the benefits of HSR--not to antagonize them.

Tarun Kumar said...

nice article. I have also a blog on climate change.

Anonymous said...

here's an old article from the pa newspaper that proposes tunneling, back before this uproar started. The city seems to be willing to pay for it and the comments in the article are interesting to read too.

Anonymous said...

@BAR and those that love bringing up the Fuller Ave argument. I did a very rough Photoshop of the Google maps top down view of the area with a set of 4 tracks from up the tracks superimposed over top.

As you can see very little if any problem even exists at this location. The image also assumes that the current track location won't move at all and new tracks will be added around it. That won't happen in reality which makes fitting 4 tracks in that space even easier.

Spokker said...

I was watching Do the Right Thing earlier and I thought, damn, this project is going to end just like that movie.

BruceMcF said...

BAR@9:36pm, if its a 100' ROW on a split grade with 5' high embankment, its unpossible for there to be a high fence or noise wall at the property line, because the property line is at the bottom of the embankment and the top of the embankment is facing the middle of the ROW.

In other words, saying 'only 100 foot' might make a 100 foot ROW sound like a tighter squeeze, but its still a railroad and it still benefits from efficiency per square foot that no road can come close to matching.

Arguing against an effective HSR alignment through the Peninsula is the same as arguing for more road construction somewhere in the Bay area. And because of the gross space inefficiency of roads versus rail, arguing for for more space to be allocated to roads somewhere in the Bay area so that nobody in the Peninsula is confronted with a 5' high rail alignment behind trees, instead of the current rail alignment at grade behind trees.

Rafael said...

@ spokker, Jim -

check out the high speed rollercoaster at 1:41!

How to: Link to Specific Times in YouTube videos. Doesn't appear to work with the Firefox 3 browser on my Mac OS 10.4, but perhaps it does for you.

The compilation video of the TGVs is also quite nice. Funny how they had to put it to music because the trains weren't loud enough ;^) All that quiet has made some TGVs go postal. Note the 1100 people going the other way.

Btw, the Siemens Velaro and Alstom AGV are also multiple unit designs.

JR East's new E5 (shots of the interior) features active suspension and tilt. The signature retractable emergency air brakes of the Fastech 360S development platform didn't make it into the production spec. The E5 will replace the aging E2, which has a top speed of 275km/h. The extremely ambitious objective of raising top speed to 360km/h while maintaining the noise emissions and emergency braking distance of the E2 was not achieved, so the E5 will eventually travel at 320km/h instead.

Andrew Bogan said...


Thanks for sharing train specs on the E5 for JR East.

My understanding is that Taiwan's choice of Japanese train sets for Taiwan High Speed Rail (opened 2007) was largely driven by their superior seismic monitoring system and automatic braking in the event of an earthquake (an even more serious issue in Japan and Taiwan than here in California). The Taiwanese went with a European designed signaling system, but all Japanese train sets.

Korea's KTX, where earthquakes are not really an issue, is a Korean and European design, based on France's TGV and now made in Korea by Hyundai Rotem, I believe.

Do you (or anyone else) know anything about this system and what the European train manufacturers propose to do about earthquake safety when they bid on supplying California HSR with train sets?

Unless this turns out to be an easy design add-on, it occurs to me that the Japanese shinkansen manufacturers will have a significant advantage in bidding on California HSR train designs simply because of proven earthquake safety (the shinkansen has had no accidental fatalities [i.e. only intentional suicides] since 1964, including running through a lot of earthquakes).

Owen Evans said...

Not sure about this but something to keep in mind about the trains is their width, especially when considering their compatibility with whatever EMUs Caltrain chooses to go with after electrification.

For comparison, most standard US equipment is 10'6" to 10'8" wide.

Japanese shinkansen: 11'1"
German ICE: 10'1
French TGV: 9'2"

The shinkansen feels very wide and spacious. Many cars have 2+3 seating for greater capacity. Plenty of room for luggage, plenty of room to get around.

I have never rode the TGV in France, but I have rode the KTX - which I think has the same specifications. It feels cramped. Much less space for your stuff (which is particularly important since there is no checked baggage.)

The fit and finish of the interior in the Shinkansen was superior as well.

Bay Area Resident said...

Most of us who happen to live in Palo Alto or the neighboring towns are well aware that there are about 100,000 residents of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton combined. Obviously, that is not a very significant number as compared to the ~35 million in California or the projected HSR annual ridership in 2030 of 74-93 million per year.

Thats really silly Bogan. The train is paid for by the affluent areas of the state (that is IF they can get somebody to buy those bonds which I doubt), the ridership estimates are overstated by a factor of 10, and Modesto and Merced have nothing to lose by supporting this system and everything to gain. The peninsula has everything to lose. You could even make an argument that a blight train roaring through the peninsula and destroying large amts of the already tiny livable land could destroy the "Silicon Valley ecosystem" or some such argument. I know that would be a stretch, but no more a stretch than adhering to a 1-person 1-vote discussion of this train with 10x overstated ridership estimates, stating that what Merced and Visalia want overshadow Palo Alto. Diridon may act like he doesn't understand this, and as I say he is pulling a Walmart with his constant "this will be built" chant, but these residents are obviously a lot smarter than community groups Diridon has overwhelmed in the past, so he has his work cut out for him.

As to Fuller, the CHSRA has already said that that small patch of ROW will cause the HSRs to go 60mph tops through the area. That is going to slow down the entire system, just another sidebar of the bad design of choosing the caltrain, in town residential route for long range commuting, all in an attempt to bolster the "Diridon station". Game on

Andrew Bogan said...

@Bay Area Resident

How stating facts about relative population sizes could be "silly" is beyond me.

To state that ridership estimates are off by "a factor of 10" is odd, without doing a proper ridership study. To my knowledge only one such ridership study has been done, by Cambridge Systematics in Massachusetts--a well respected leader in transportation analysis and ridership forecasting.

I agree that estimates are often wrong, but please commission a similarly comprehensive study by another reputable transportation analysis firm prior to making things up.

Taiwan had 30 million riders per year on their HSR in its second year of operation (2008) with less than 2/3 of California's population. Korea also had over 30 million riders in the KTX's second year of operation (2005), despite it only being truly high speed on a portion of the route. KTX had nearly 38 million in 2008, its fifth year in operation. Full build out of additional high speed track is expected to significantly increase ridership after 2010. [see Wikipedia for references]

I respectfully request that HSR deniers stop making up facts to support their "arguments". The California HSR ridership estimates for 2030 of 74-93 million riders per year may prove high, but they could also be correct, or too low. The original Sanyo shinkansen ridership study in Japan proved to be well below actual ridership (which I believe was ~20% over the original estimates).

It is easy to make things up, but not very useful.

Bay Area Resident said...

Bogan, are those the same ridership studies they did for the LIGHT RAIL in San Jose? Well yes they are! The fact is that California is not Taiwan. If you want to get Japanese ridership on HSR in CA, that means HSR WITHIN the SF bay area region (or the LA region), not long range between the two cities. For example a HSR between Danville, San Jose and SF would likely be heavily trafficked. That is because that route is basically commute traffic like the Acela.

Andrew Bogan said...

To get back to the actual topic of this thread, the Acela is in many ways a disappointment, since Amtrak did not have the political will or the money to build a proper high speed rail on the Northeast Corridor. It is not an accident that "shinkansen" in Japanese literally means "new trunk line". That's what needs to be built for a HSR system to truly work. Acela, running on shared freight and commuter tracks, was required by federal regulators to be so heavy that it wears out its own brakes with regularity and it is unacceptably slow for a variety of reasons already discussed. Yet, it is still the crown jewel in American rail and one of few financially successful lines anywhere in the Amtrak network, with one of the highest riderships--even though that number is just over 3 million per year.

Ridership is driven by population and speed as has been demonstrated over decades in Europe and Asia. Acela has population along its route, but only marginal speed. California HSR is designed to have both and it is completely correct that "Acelafication of California High Speed Rail" must be stopped.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Bay Area Resident

Have you ridden the KTX from Seoul to Busan? Or the shinkansen around Japan?

"If you want to get Japanese ridership on HSR in CA, that means HSR WITHIN the SF bay area region (or the LA region), not long range between the two cities. "

One of the principal memories of a shinkansen ride from Tokyo to Kyoto is passing rice paddies at extremely high speed for most of the trip. The same is true from Osaka to Hakata and from Tokyo to Nagano, except those fields are mostly soba, not rice. The same is true for much of the KTX ride from Seoul to Busan. The same is the case from Taipei to Kaohsiung. Have you ever traveled by HSR in Asia? Asian countries have agriculture, too. How do you think they feed the large urban populations?

Please get your facts straight. One does not have to support HSR, but please base your opposition on facts, not nonsense.

crzwdjk said...

BAR: The Acela is not a commuter line, and it doesn't carry much commuter traffic. It's primarily used by business travellers, and is basically a substitute for shuttle flights. On the NYC-Phila-DC section, there is also Northeast Regional service (hourly, like the Acela), and the Keystone trains between Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and NYC. These are in fact used by a relatively small number of commuters between NYC and Philadelphia, but the monthly pass costs over $1000. And still, even if you add up all the ridership at NY Penn, for the Northeast Corridor both north to Boston and south to DC, and the Empire Corridor to Albany and Buffalo, plus several long distance trains, you still only get about 4 million a year, about half of what HSRA is forecasting for SF Transbay (which serves a much smaller city and metropolitan area, and only a single corridor). Maybe they're counting on SF-Sacramento traffic (on HSR, going via Gilroy). It kind of made sense, in 1998, before the Capitol Corridor service became decent.

crzwdjk said...

By the way, the Siemens Velaro has also had significant brake problems, to the point where all trains had to be withdrawn from service for several weeks. And then there was that time when a wheel fell off an ICE train and it derailed, killing 100 people. And if you want to talk about FRA regulations, keep in mind that HSRA has not taken any action yet to get a waiver from those rules, so as of right now, the only rolling stock HSRA can run is, in fact, the Acela. Their plan critically depends on both shared trackage (SF-SJ and Fullerton-Irvine, and possibly more), as well as non-FRA compliant trains, something which is currently prohibited by regulations. If they don't start lobbying the FRA for a waiver or new rules now, there will be bitter disappointment later when they have no trains they can run.

Anonymous said...

BAR, it would be sad to lose those trees, I understand... but on the other hand, eucalyptus are not without their issues. With paint and an espalier technique, there still could be trees and vines no matter how little space there was, and it could be quite attractive.

I think it's useful to talk about what the requirements are, and what would make it nice, rather than asserting that it cannot be.


Anonymous said...

Yes, why don't you go ask Palo Altans if they want to be penny wise and pound foolish with regard to the environment.

Over 20% of Palo Altans voluntarily pay more for their Utilities to receive 100% wind or solar energy (the program is called Palo Alto Green, its the NATIONS topped ranked renewable energy program.

Its voluntary, it costs more than normal utilities and over 20% of Palo alto is signed up so far.

I think maybe you folks don't know what or who the heckyou're talking about. These are the original tree huggers over here.

But they are also well educated, and they can see that this CHSRA plan is a total sham and that the CHSR Authority is dangerous. Do HSR, do it right.

You don't go mess up the environment to get tourists to Disneyland faster. What the environement needs is reduction of auto polution across the board, immediately. That means people need to get out of cars, or into alternatively fueled cars (and smaller cars). And HSR isn't the means for that. HSR does NOTHING toward that end.

Its pretty sickening that the proponets have latched on to the environement (of all things) as the club for beating californian's into submission on this. (And yet they haven't even bothered to talk acurately and specifically about trees and water in the EIR.)

That 'save the environemtn by building massive high speed rail lines) faulty line of reasoning is pure marketing ploy. It will be exposed once the REAL environmental studies begin.

Anonymous said...

Let me submit a couple of items and then offer a challenge.

1) You cannot have 4 lane above ground HSR/Caltrain/ freight trains running through the mid-peninsula single family housing with the major bike path currently on one side and the major throughway adjacent on the other side and get the impact of both construction and to something less than significant. The conclusion of the program EIR more or less said so. Incompatiblity of use through residential areas and impacts on traffic during construction were listed as the only impacts they did not feel could be mitigated. In other words, too bad Palo Alto.

3) The argument that Palo Alto will eventually have to do non-grade crossings is only valid if you are talking about a 2 track alternative. Otherwise, Palo Alto waits another 10 years until the traffic gets really bad, costs of tunneling have come down relatively and the cost of downtown space is really high. They then can sell the air rights and tunneling is economical vis a vis non grade crossings. By putting in 4 tracks, you are asking them to double the costs even though they can only sell the air rights once. Not really fair.

2) 4 track above ground will cause multiple year delay in construction. Because of the need to build the non-grade crossings and rebuild all the existing non-grade crossings that are incompatible with HSR (see San Antonio Road) you will have to stage construction over a decade (exhibit A: San Jose Airport).

3) Serious opposition is forming in Palo Alto and other communities. The NIMBY crowd is giving way to the politically savvy crowd. Whether they end up winning or losing, HSR loses. This will make all the other challenges around the state twice as hard. It also threatens the entire project.

4) Given all of this, you should be thinking of ways to make tunnel/ trench feasible.

5) The only way a tunnel is feasible is if it only has to be 2 tracks, none of them freight.

Here then is my challenge:

Figure out some way for freight to get where it needs to go without having to be on the Caltrain ROW through the mid-Peninsula.

Bianca said...

What the environement needs is reduction of auto polution across the board, immediately. That means people need to get out of cars, or into alternatively fueled cars (and smaller cars). And HSR isn't the means for that. HSR does NOTHING toward that end.

What about airplanes? Airplanes have an enormous carbon footprint, and the shorter the flight, the bigger the relative carbon footprint, as so much fuel is used up on takeoff. The air corridor between the SF Bay Area and the greater LA area is one of the busiest air corridors- and we need to get those people out of planes. HSR is the slap-your-forehead obvious answer to both the pollution aspect of the problem and the airport capacity aspect of the problem. The population of the state continues to grow, but airports are a very difficult thing to expand (and even more expensive to create from scratch.) You can only put so many airplanes in the air in a given corridor at any one time.

So explain to us how not building HSR is better for the environment? Can you propose a reasonable alternative for the airplanes? I'm interested to hear it.

BruceMcF said...

BAR said: "The fact is that California is not Taiwan."

Precisely. San Francisco / San Jose is much more substantial both as a destination and as an origin than Kaohsiung City.

But at the same time, Kaohsiung City is closer to Taipei than SF/SJ is to LA.

California, then, is more like Spain in terms of urban populations, population densities, difficulty of the terrain, and route length.

BruceMcF said...

Anonoymous said (and I can see why they were unwilling to even put a pseudonym to it): "What the environment needs is reduction of auto polution across the board, immediately. That means people need to get out of cars, or into alternatively fueled cars (and smaller cars). And HSR isn't the means for that. HSR does NOTHING toward that end."

When someone insists that there has to be a single, magic, silver bullet solution to getting people out of cars, they have already framed the question so that the answers are ruled out from the start.

One of the reasons that car transport is so grossly inefficient is that it is supposed to be a one-size-fits-all solution for interurban travel, commuting, local transport, vacation travel, all rolled into one.

The "claim" that HSR on its own is not sufficient to get people to abandon cars is quite obvious and quite obviously a red herring. It will get some people out of cars for some interurban trips, just as mass transit will get some commuters out of cars for some commutes and streetcars will get some people out of cars for some local trips and etc.

Passing from "the HSR is not a one size fits all transport solution which on its own will allow people to abandon cars" to "HSR contributes nothing to the problem" is just jumping from one point to another without any intervening argument or evidence, or, in other words, bluffing a claim and hoping nobody will notice.

Indeed, by offering a more effective means of interurban transport than flying, for many origin/destination pairs, HSR will indeed address one of the big "flaws" that people find in current generation battery technology for Electric Vehicles: "How do I recharge on a long drive?" Indeed, as I saw in a comment thread on Ford's plans for Electric Vehicles: "How do I drive from San Francisco to LA if it takes six hours to recharge?"

With the HSR Stage 1, the simple answer would be, don't drive from SF to LA ... take the faster HSR trip instead.

BruceMcF said...

The critique of the Acela in the main post is a bit silly. And it seems to be based on a logical leap like:

"And it's going to cost even more now to upgrade it to real HSR, as opposed to if they had done it in the first place."

Putting a "real HSR" system along the entire Northeast Corridor chain of rights of way is not very credible target. And yet, the NEC is a string of substantial origin and destination markets. Therefore, no matter where the eventual bullet train alignment is located, a Rapid Rail system will be needed through the Northeast Corridor.

That is, unlike California, there are a wide variety of 1m+ metro area pairs that can be brought within 2 hours and 3 hours by train in a process of incremental upgrade of the corridor.

Going this way around, it will take the Northeast Coast longer to get true bullet trains than California, but on the other hand, with each upgrade to constant tension overhead wiring and each curve removed in Connecticut, the Acela service will achieve a reduction in trip times and increase in market share.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Bruce McF

"Putting a "real HSR" system along the entire Northeast Corridor chain of rights of way is not very credible target."

True, but only because of America's fragmented political system with municipal, state, and federal governments all having overlapping domains and NIMBYism having successfully hi-jacked our courts.

In the early 1960s Japan built the original Tokaido shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka laying a new, much straighter track the length of the oldest major transit route in Japan (the Tokaido Road between the ancient capital of Kyoto and Edo). This, too, was already one of the densest train routes in the world, with narrow gage rail and complicated right of way issues when the HSR was built. California has a much better chance of doing HSR right than did the Northeast Corridor, since Connecticut is not on the route and it is all on land within a single state.

Even the freeways in Connecticut are not straight, let alone the rail tracks.

1987 NY Times article on Connecticut NIMBYs

Andrew Bogan said...


Your point about removing freight trains from the Caltrain right of way is an excellent one.

My impression is that very little freight (measured by volume, weight, or value) moves on these tracks, since it is pretty well restricted to late night occasional use already (anyone have numbers here?).

Why not eliminate it altogether and have more feasibility for tunneling on the right of way and no chance of freight to passenger collisions, which would solve federal rules that made the Acela so heavy, at least with respect to the Bay Area.

Does anyone know of examples where shared right of ways with little freight traffic have reverted to passenger only?

crzwdjk said...

Andrew Bogan: Staten Island is one, where a shared-use line eventually became a pure rapid transit operation. I'm not sure this is such a good idea though. Do you really want to permanently limit San Francisco to a less efficient form of freight transportation, and one that relies exclusively on liquid fuels? And there's still the issue of mixing compliant and non-compliant passenger trains (through service to Gilroy, Salinas, and LA via the Coast Line), as well as the fact that the Coast Line itself shares the ROW between Santa Clara and San Jose. In any case, I don't really see freight as being a limiting factor here. Caltrain certainly seems to be okay with keeping freight service around even as they transition to non-compliant rolling stock.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Bruce McF

Agreed that Spain is in many ways a better comparison to California in terms of distances and densities. Taiwan and Japan, do however, share a much more similar seismic environment to California's with regard to earthquake risk. Having previously lived and worked near both the Seoul KTX station and the shinkansen stations in Tokyo, I tend to focus on what I know best. Europe, too, offers many good comparisons.

The HSR deniers all conveniently include that California is not [fill in modern country with HSR network here] in their arguments.

In reality, this is because they really cannot point to a credible example of where HSR service is not widely used and generally preferred to other transit options anywhere else in the world where they have a HSR network.

Does anyone prefer to drive from Seoul to Busan? How about Tokyo to Osaka? Barcelona to Madrid? London to Paris?

I encourage all the HSR deniers out there to go ride the world's HSR trains, then come back and tell us all why they provide no benefit and have no ridership.

Andrew Bogan said...


Thanks for some good reasons to not eliminate freight altogether on the corridor. I don't have a strong opinion here, just want to make sure folks have thought about all the options and commend Susan for suggesting one.

Anyone have knowledge of how much freight is presently moving on the route, though?

With respect to port connections, Oakland and Alameda have vastly more cargo than SF and extensive freight rail connections in the East Bay, so the whole area would still be well served. Or is most of the freight on Caltrain's tracks coming out of LA/Longbeach into SF on the UP freight route?

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that DOD wants to be able to move freight up the Peninsula corridor. My thought is whether there is someway to put a single track someplace other than down the middle of the peninsula.

Andrew Bogan said...

Thanks, Susan, for the DOD comment. If that is correct and assuming you meant the Department of Defense, just their legal budget is about $30 million per year. Probably not worth fighting with them over a few nighttime freight trains.

I can't imagine that finding even a single track right of way available on the Peninsula would be easy. It would likely face more opposition than expanding the Caltrain right of way to four tracks.

Alon Levy said...

California, then, is more like Spain in terms of urban populations

Except that the Bay Area is almost as large as Madrid and Barcelona together, and LA metro is more than twice the size of the Bay Area...

Anonymous said...

@ susan..are you the one on TV and the leader of the march??

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

the Eschede incident was indeed caused by a faulty wheel design, but is was the genii at Deutsche Bahn who replaced the original, safe, monoblock design for the sake of passenger comfort. After the accident, which actually involved a previous generation of ICE trains, monoblock wheels became mandatory for HSR trains in Germany. No other train operator has ever had the hubris to mess with wheel designs on HSR equipment.

The recent problems with ICE-T and ICE3 trains were related not to brakes but to hairline cracks in axles. Again, it was the genii at Deutsche Bahn who insisted on a train design that would allow them to skimp on scheduled maintenance costs. Siemens said they didn't know how to meet DB's target, so Alstom and Fiat were brought in to form a consortium. Design by committee rarely works and it is now evident that the consortium should not have taken the order because DB's requirements were unrealistic.

The Siemens Velaro looks just like the ICE3, but is in fact an all-Siemens design that comes with realistic requirements for scheduled maintenance. It is currently in service in Spain and China but not in Germany.

It's important to get these details right because we don't want to limit CHSRA's choices in vendor selection as a result of incorrect rumors. Also, Siemens already has a light rail manufacturing plant in Sacramento that could be expanded to also assemble HSR trains in California.

For the record, I'm not affiliated with Siemens in any way nor do I own stock in that company. My point is about forcing as many vendors as possible to compete for business in California.

Wrt the "rule of special applicability": FRA had started work on that for Florida HSR but shelved it when Jeb Bush killed that effort. Every business plan CHSRA has ever produced has stressed that it will seek such a rule precisely because FRA made a hash of the Acela Express.

In the California context, the rule will have to spell out not just operations on dedicated tracks HSR shares with no-one else. It will also have to address the issue of Caltrain baby bullets making excursions onto HSR tracks as well as track sharing arrangements between Fullerton and Anaheim, where the ROW is too narrow to accommodate four tracks. That means using guaranteed time separation to enable mixed traffic.

Between LA and Fullerton, the "91" railroad ROW is wide enough for dedicated HSR tracks, but it remains to be seen if BNSF is willing to cede any of it (or air rights) in that particular stretch. It's BNSF's only remaining route in and out of the LA/LB harbors.

@ Owen E -

the greater width of the Shinkansen designs is very attractive, but CHSRA will have to make sure it would not preclude operations at 125mph in the narrow Caltrain corridor. It's only a few inches and ought not to matter, but someone has to verify that.

Track centerline distances in curves and chicanes would matter even more if CHSRA decided it wanted to run the tracks such that active tilt designs could be deployed, to avoid straightening out the Caltrain ROW and deal with similar problems in SoCal. Personally, I hope they can figure out a way to avoid active tilt, since it costs more to buy and maintain.

Note that the Japanese designs could more easily accommodate US specs for ADA restrooms than e.g. the French ones.

For completeness' sake, the Talgo 350 from Spain is 9'8.5" wide. Italy (ETR 500 Frecciarossa) and Korea (Rotem G7) also have homegrown HSR designs, as does Canada (Bombardier Zafiro) but I do not have width specs any for them.

Rafael said...

@ susan -

I understand the desire to eliminate freight traffic from the Caltrain ROW, but basically that means convincing the Port of SF to either shut down operations or move goods on the peninsula's clogged freeways instead. Afaik, SP/UPRR retained an easement in perpetuity when it sold the ROW to the JPB in 1991. You'd have to ask Caltrain for a copy of the deed to clarify what right, if any, the JPB has to curtail freight traffic at all.

On a technical note, it is possible to accommodate AAR plate H traffic in a two-bore tunnel by adding a third "gauntlet" track in-between. In circular bore tunnel, the gauntlet track would run lower than the regular ones to either side, but the bore diameter would still need to be larger than without the gauntlet track.

In a long tunnel with underground stations, operating any diesel locomotives at all is probably a really bad idea in terms of air quality. EPA Tier 4 rules for new locomotive diesel engines will kick in by 2014, which means massive reductions in the emissions of particulates, sulfuric compounds an NOx. Note that locomotive bodies may be in service for 40 years or more, while the engines may only last 10-15 years. Therefore, a heavily used diesel locomotive will typically undergo one or more engine retrofits during its years of active service.

The alternative would be to persuade UPRR to switch to electric locomotives in the Caltrain corridor, something they will not pay for voluntarily. Amont other things, it would mean electrifying all of the freight spurs, with implications for port operations. UPRR would also have to change locomotives in San Jose.

The JPB may not have any legal standing to force UPRR to make those changes and even if it did, Caltrain depends on trackage rights from UPRR for service down to Gilroy (perhaps Salinas before long). CHSRA would like to buy land from UPRR as well, in multiple part of its route. So far, UPRR has declined to entertain any offers.

Also note that gauntlet tracks are meant to be used only when there is no other traffic in the tunnel, because the distances between the track centerlines are very tight. That would mean running all remaining freight trains at night. I'm not sure if that's acceptable.

Caltrain local trains only run at ~50mph average speed, whereas HSR needs to run its express trains at 125mph to be time-competitive against the airlines on the SF-LA route. A major reason for undertaking the HSR project is to shift short-hop traffic within California from the air to rails, to increase capacity for long-distance flights without adding more runways.

In other words, forcing Caltrain and HSR to share a single two-track tunnel is acceptable only for very short distances, if at all. Even the plans for the DTX tunnel in SF call for three tracks, and that's just 1.3 miles long and train speeds there will be low.

Conclusion: a single dual track or else two single-track bores would be fine for HSR, but do nothing to increase capacity or grade separate Caltrain and UPRR service. If Palo Alto wants to put not just HSR but all trains underground, the solution will need to offer four tracks that can all be used simultaneously. That doubles the price tag. Also note that boring tunnels and/or constructing covered trenches entails massively more disruption during construction than virtually any other option, though retained fill is also intrusive.

That's why I think an effort to keep tracks wherever possible in Palo Alto should be considered. Existing underpasses were constructed for two tracks, the way to add one more to either side while maintaining vertical clearances for motor vehicles is to elevate them a few inches or else, to use modern construction techniques such as pre-tensioned bridge-grade concrete to reduce the height of the support structures for the new tracks.

Oregon Expressway is a special case in this context, because of the ramps in-between Alma and the existing tracks. Perhaps Caltrain and CHSRA could live with just two or perhaps three tracks at that one point by giving HSR express trains priority over Caltrain locals. Reconfiguring that interchange would be a nightmare.

At Churchill, a deep underpass with two bike and a single vehicle traffic lane might be possible, flanked by single traffic lanes at grade between Emery and Alma. Mariposa would also remain accessible via a similar single lane. The underpass lane would be available in alternate directions via traffic signals. This solution is only viable if vehicle traffic volume along Churchill is low enough.

Otherwise, the best option would be to have the tracks dive into a trench under Churchill and return to grade at Embarcadero and California St. The run length required to achieve that at 2% grade appears to be there, though Churchill (and by extension, Alma) might have to be elevate a couple of feet at the crossing point if AAR plate H freight cars are to be accommodated. Note that the bottom of this localized trench would lie a little south of Churchill and that overhead conductor rails rather than wires might need to be used at the underpass location to avoid changes to road elevation if only AAR plate F freight cars are supported as is the case today.

Wrt visual clutter, noise emissions and air rights: one option would be to encase the entire four-track corridor in a structure. The sides would consist of slender steel columns and braces, with large glass panes filling the spaces in-between. These panes would be embedded using neoprene seals to provide the necessary flexibility in response to storms, bow waves from passing trains and earthquakes. The terminal building at Kansai airport in Kobe (Japan) features thousands of large glass panes - the suspension mechanism has proven effective through typhoons and a major earthquake, not a single pane has ever shattered as a result of a natural disaster.

The roof would support overhead conductor rails below as well as an elevated linear park above (with railings, obviously). This would feature flower beds and small trees plus a bike and a pedestrian path, plus perhaps some sculptures or water features. At the existing overpasses, the solution would have to be adapted to the load capacity - the roof park sections to either side would be connected via ped/bike bridges made of wood or giant bamboo, rather than heavy concrete. For safety, the tracks and catenaries would still be covered at these locations, but these areas would only be accessible for authorized personnel. They could support works of art, e.g. horizontal murals visible from the ped/bike bridge. At Churchill, the roof park would reach grade level after tracking the 2% rail grade to either side. Palo Alto High could use the park for physical education, some of its decorative features might double as teaching aids for science classes.

The owner of the property at the corner of Churchill and the Caltrain alignment who would have to sell 5' of his yard would have a new park to show for it, as would a number of his/her neighbors.

This idea could be extended north through Menlo Park and Atherton (covered deep trenches, with impacts for Hetch Hetchy aqueduct and Dumbarton rail access) and south to San Antonio, with a covered trench under Meadow and Charleston. Wherever the park is at grade, tall (4') flower beds or pots retained with recycled railroad ties could be used to support tall plants/some trees, ponds etc. to either side of the ped/bike paths, which need not be perfectly straight. Even a fitness parcours (see e.g. Palo Alto High above) or a series of small playgrounds might be possible. Menlo Park or Atherton might want an elongated gazebo with an isolated floor that would and windows that are removed in summer. The structure would be used as a cafe/tea house and chamber music venue. Yes, chamber music on top of the rails!

The upshot is that these cities wouldn't sell the air rights but rather, use the HSR project to raise quality of life and property values via a publicly accessible park.

The total cost would be well in excess of what CHSRA has budgeted, but quite possibly still less than four tunneled tracks. Besides, I imagine residents might be willing to accept a county sales tax hike to support such a solution. There could also be federal assistance - Lord knows the peninsula shovels enough money over to DC - but please seek funds that are not earmarked specifically for HSR. The $9.5 billion on the table so far are available for 11 designated corridors nationwide and, CHSRA alone is looking for $12-$16 billion in federal assistance, in addition to the $9 billion of prop 1A bonds and hoped-for private investment.

Bay Area Resident said...

Caltrain local trains only run at ~50mph average speed,

Yes of course that is true, and anyone who has ever ridden Caltrain is aware of this, so why does this thread continually state that Caltrain operates at 87mph? For all the contentious areas, which are the same areas that are being protested for HSR, Caltrain runs about 50mph or less.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Bay Area Resident

Caltrain operates at a maximum speed of 79 mph, which it reaches, briefly, between most stations. The Baby Bullets pass through some stations at or near this speed during commute hours:

Caltrain Website

Yes, we know the average speed is lower due to frequent stops, but the top speed does matter for noise pollution along the corridor. Caltrain is amazingly loud in light of how slow it is.

crzwdjk said...

Bay Area Resident: Caltrain has a top speed of 79, and even the local trains reach this speed in many places. The average speed is reduced by the fact that stops take a long time, and the fact that diesel locomotives are fairly sluggish in accelerating. A good analogy would be the typical city bus, which runs on streets with a speed limit of 35, and does in fact reach this speed between every stop, but has an average speed that is much lower.

Rafael said...

@ susan -

note that iff the old single-track Dumbraton rail bridge is restored, it could be used by freight trains traveling between the Port of SF and the yard in Fremont as well as Caltrain (plus potentially, limited new ACE, Amtrak California Zephyr and/or Amtrak CC services to SF).

If UPRR is amenable to using only the northern portion of the Caltrain ROW, there would be no need to consider its requirements between Atherton and Santa Clara.

Moreover, if that old bridge were restored before construction on HSR begins in that southern stretch, there won't be any UPRR trains interfering with construction work.

Caltrain service to Santa Clara and points south could also be diverted for limited periods during construction, greatly reducing the cost and complexity/duration of construction. Temporary bus service could help shuttle passengers between Redwood City and Santa Clara/SJ Diridon during those times.

However, the old single-track bridge and the UPRR freight tracks it connects to in the East Bay are totally unsuitable for HSR service. Building a brand-new one in that location would open a huge can of worms. There's a big difference between running a dozen slow trains per day and a dozen fast trains per hour through the Don Edwards National Wildlife Preserve between Newark and the east end of the bridge.

The western trestle of the old bridge burnt down completely in a suspicious fire in 1998. The fire chief suspected arson but could not prove it. Keep that in mind whenever someone you talk to argues for changing the HSR route.

Note that repairing the old Dumbarton rail bridge is also something CHSRA has not budgeted for, as it's not at all essential for a retained fill solution, which can be implemented in two stages. Also, in August of 2008 SMCTA re-allocated $91 million from Dumbarton rail project to BART extension to Fremont Warm Springs. The county had earlier "borrowed" $145 million from that to help pay for putting BART in a covered trench between Daly City and San Bruno. Some $54 million of the debt remains to be repaid. Going underground is always expensive!

Final note: if UPRR can re-route its trains via a restored Dumbarton bridge, it might be open to selling its single track ROW through San Jose to Fremont Warm Springs. VTA could use that for (temporary) streetcar service to SJ Diridon, to alleviate traffic on I-880 until BART is extended all the way to Santa Clara. That would make it easier to keep the I-880 median available for a future HSR spur to Oakland and/or Pleasanton and points east. CHSRA doesn't have a ROW to Gilroy yet and Santa Clara is just one Caltrain/BART stop from SJ Diridon yet provide through tracks so trains would not have to reverse direction. Just sayin'.

Rafael said...

@ Bay Area Resident -

the average speed I quoted related to total line haul time of baby bullet trains divided by the distance from SF to SJ. In-between, Caltrain does reach speeds of 79mph (not 87, nobody claimed that). It's possible that it happens to run at less than that right where you live because it pulling into or out of a stop on the baby bullet's route.

However, between the bells, horns and rattling old FRA-compliant equipment, Caltrain today causes a lot of noise and vibration disturbance already. Bullet trains are much lighter and more aerodynamic, their rail-wheel interface constructed to a different profile with much tighter tolerances.

The only way to settle the noise issue is to obtain calibrated sound recordings in the peninsula and in Europe/Japan. So go ahead, ask HNTB to produce those with and without road traffic, with and without (simulated) sound walls etc. Demand hard facts before you judge, don't make unsubstantiated assertions.

There's up to 900 million in the prop 1A kitty for project-level planning and preliminary engineering, a slice that was exempted from the requirement to secure matching funds first. There's also a total of $9.5 billion in the federal kitty for HSR projects nationwide. It might take some weeks/months for either to become available to CHSRA.

If you're in a hurry to give those few property owners in Palo Alto who might be directly affected by eminent domain, the city could extend a small bridging loan to the Authority that would be repaid as soon as the California legislature appropriates the sale of some prop 1A bonds or federal stimulus funds become available. HNTB isn't a charity, someone needs to pay them to move the project-level EIR/EIS process in the peninsula along.

Bay Area Resident said...

HNTB isn't a charity, someone needs to pay them to move the project-level EIR/EIS process in the peninsula along.

I believe the plan is just to stall the project legally. The neighborhoods are all meeting with their congresspeople now (Simitian and others). There is no need for Palo Alto to pay for anything, they just need to file a lawsuit or watch how Athertons suit goes.

Andrew Bogan said...


"The only way to settle the noise issue is to obtain calibrated sound recordings in the peninsula and in Europe/Japan. So go ahead, ask HNTB to produce those with and without road traffic, with and without (simulated) sound walls etc. Demand hard facts before you judge, don't make unsubstantiated assertions."

Agreed. I have already formally requested to HNTB and CAHSRA that such sound measurements be taken for Caltrain and foreign HSR rolling stock in both Asia and Europe operating at 125 mph and that the results be included in the EIR/EIS. I believe that most NIMBYs will be surprised by how quiet HSR trains can be as compared to the existing out-dated, heavy Caltrain on non-welded rails at 79 mph and blowing its whistle at each at-grade crossing. HSR trains will be running at only about 1/2 their design speed along the Peninsula corridor (125 mph vs. 220 mph).

I also requested that final train set selection for California HSR specifically include noise criteria in the context of other performance measures, since different HSR train designs have pretty different noise characteristics (Alstom, Bombardier, Hitachi, Hyundai Rotem, Siemens, etc.).

crzwdjk said...

Andrew Bogan: Caltrain has had almost exclusively welded rail tracks since the 2004 CTX upgrade, aside from a few very low speed sections in the terminal areas. They also have other noise-reducing measures like movable-point frogs on their switches and diagonal-cut insulated joints. If there's any part of Caltrain that you can fault for being noisy, it certainly isn't the track.

Andrew Bogan said...


Thanks for the correction regarding Caltrain's welded tracks, I was unaware that was part of the 2004 upgrade, which was mostly completed while I was living in Seoul, Korea. My apologies for the error.

It is mainly the whistle blowing for the myriad at-grade crossings when Caltrain is at speed and the deisel engine noise while the train is accelerating out of stations that are most noteworthy and annoying. Electrification and grade separation will eventually be needed with or without HSR.

Whatever the noise mitigation measures have been to date, the trains are still both loud and slow. Presumably their weight contributes to the engine noise and the whistle remains a nuisance.

I live 3 blocks from the Caltrain tracks, and I would not describe Caltrain as quiet.