Friday, March 20, 2009

La Vitrine

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

Note: Clem Tillier, who owns the Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog, kindly contributed artwork to this post. Unfortunately, I'm artistically challenged but I hope the cross-section drawings help to get the idea across.

In a follow-up to Thursday's welcome news that Palo Alto officials are waking up to the potential downsides of letting tunnel boring machines into suburbia, this post presents a possible alternative implementation for HSR in the mid-peninsula that may also be of interest elsewhere (e.g. Fullerton-Anaheim-Irvine). It seeks to minimize local environmental impacts, i.e. visual clutter, noise, vibration, re-configuration of cross-roads and changes to established road traffic patterns. This does involve some trench construction, but digging can't be avoided if above-grade solutions are deemed unacceptable: wherever grade separation is required, either the roads or the tracks will have to descend.

More detailed studies will be required to decide which is preferable, but my hunch is that the 150-year railroad ROW might actually be the easier of the two options, as existing plumbing, gas, telephone and utility lines will at least be documented more accurately and may anyhow run deeper to avoid vibration damage.

Before I delve into the gory details, allow me me clarify a few things up front:
  1. The suggestion described below is my own, it does not come from CHSRA nor their consultants for this segment (HNTB). My objective is to discover what is and what is not acceptable to residents of the mid-peninsula towns of Redwood City, Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Mountain View. No sleight is intended to residents of other peninsula towns, that's simply the geographic scope I selected to illustrate the concept.

  2. I've assumed that CHSRA will win the pending court case regarding the EIR/EIS process and, that it will secure the ROW to Gilroy needed to implement its preferred route (as in: not mine).

  3. Implementing this would be a good deal more expensive than the original proposal of a retained fill embankment. The funding gap would need to be quantified and appropriate financing negotiated. CHSRA is having enough difficulty scraping together the ~$33 billion it has already estimated for the starter line. That means any solution that goes well above-and-beyond would require that cities tax themselves and/or rustle up other funds not already available to CHSRA.

    It's also worth looking HSR implementation (pls zoom in) in the peninsula as a whole. For example, it's not immediately obvious why CHSRA is proposing a tunnel between San Tomas Expy and San Jose Diridon station, so local officials should ask for an explanation and request an alternative if appropriate. This may involve co-operation and cor-ordination with other peninsula communities and multiple railroads, but that should not preclude an attempt at overall optimization. Even if that succeeds, there still has to be some element that will keep every town and hamlet along the route from seeking upgrades or else, cost escalations will sink the entire HSR project very quickly indeed. That's not an acceptable strategy for mid-peninsula cities to pursue.

  4. Unfortunately, HSR construction will be a noisy, messy affair pretty much regardless of which option is chosen. It may be possible to phase construction such that there are always two tracks available for Caltrain and heavy freight trains. However, the work might proceed faster and at lower cost if the old single-track Dumbarton rail bridge were restored first so UPRR's Mission Bay Hauler trains could be diverted, perhaps permanently. This would be at their option, since they have a limited easement on the Caltrain ROW - even a say in who else gets to use it! During critical periods in the construction schedule, Caltrain could maintain some limited SF-SJ service via temporary trackage rights on UPRR's Alviso line and also offer temporary bus services via Central Expressway/Alma/El Camino Real.

    Considering its western trestle and approach burnt to a crisp in a suspicious fire in 1998, restoring this 100-year-old bridge would be a marginal proposition at best (and one CHSRA has not budgeted for). After HSR construction, a restored bridge could support UPRR, a few Caltrains across to Union City, perhaps even a new ACE service up to SF - figure around half a dozen trains each way per day. Note that replacing the bridge with a new dual-track causeway with bascule sections would be preferable for seismic and fire safety alone, even if it is only ever used for a limited volume of freight and commuter rail/Amtrak. Basically, the decision hinges on how much construction near and rail traffic through the DENWR (founded in 1974) will be permitted at all.

    Sadly, the idea of running dozens of HSR trains through there at grade each and every day is almost certainly a non-starter. If the Altamont HST/commuter overlay ever gets built, CHSRA's plan is to run regional high speed trains down to SJ Diridon, not across Dumbarton and up to SF. This is why - for better or worse - I'm sticking with plan A here and trying to contribute to the process of finding an acceptable solution.
The Enclosure

In a nutshell, what I'm suggesting here for the mid-peninsula is to build an enclosure for all four tracks to minimize visual clutter from the overhead catenary system and especially, to keep bow wave and noise emissions isues to a minimum - even for trains moving at 125mph. At grade, the enclosure would be composed of two sides and a lid. The outside width of the enclosure would be 75 feet.

To conform to AAR specifications for tunnels, the sides would be 18' tall and then continue up along an arc. The definition of where the sides end and the lid begins is up to the architect. They would consist of a slender latticework of steel I-beams encased in concrete for protection against rust and fire, rather than conventional rebar.

The spaces in-between would be filled with large soundproof glass panes (possibly sandwich structures), probably triangular with rounded corners. These would be embedded in the latticework using a visco-elastic putty/dense foam interface to minimize stresses in the glass membrane in response to temperature, wind and earthquake loads. An example of how large glass panes can be supported securely yet flexibly is the mile-long terminal building at Kansai Airport near Kobe (Japan), which has withstood subsidence, typhoons and a major earthquake without damage to its glass skin.

However, the use of large glass panes would preclude the use of regular ballast, as small pebbles propelled by the aerodynamic forces of passing trains could damage them. The rails, too, can be damaged by ballast pitting. Instead, the concrete sleepers would be attached directly to a concrete foundation slab. A promising new Japanese approach based on ballast bags filled with a special non-toxic aggregate made from recycled materials could be applied to dampen rail-wheel noise beyond what the enclosure alone would achieve. Damping is most effective for medium and high frequencies, but those are the ones that the human ear is more sensitive to.

The idea is to create an airy, largely transparent structure with rounded edges along the top. This should massively reduce the claustrophic effect a tall solid embankment can have, something even an interesting surface texture cannot fully overcome. Thanks to the large glass panes, the result would be more like a giant version of what the French call a vitrine, showcasing products at a store or artifacts in a museum. Both metaphors seem apt, considering that passenger trains played such a vital part in the state's past and will do again soon. Peering through the glass, you would be able to see the trains passing but should hear no more than a quiet low rumble. That's because the lid eliminates virtually all direct transmission paths through the air, much like closing a door will greatly reduce noise coming from an adjacent room. The visco-elastic putty will permit the glass panes to move and even flex slightly in response to the bow waves of passing trains, lending the whole structure the grace of a subtle kinetic sculpture.

The lid would implement the circular arcs required by AAR for the walls of the outside tracks (used for HSR?) plus the relatively flat center section in-between. However, since the Caltrain/HSR tracks will need a couple of feet of additional vertical clearance anyhow, the wide span of the structure could perhaps be supported as a vaulted ceiling, completely eliminating the visual clutter of internal columns.

One stunning example of this concept is found at Santiago Calatrava's beautiful Satolas TGV station, located next to the regional airport in Lyon, France.

Ironically, the very success of the TGV service ended up depriving the airport of customers for domestic flights. Note that the Satolas station is much wider and taller than what I am suggesting for the mid-peninsula and, that its sides are open to the elements. Nevertheless, I hope the comparison gives you a sense of what a skilled civil engineer-cum-architect can accomplish. That said, pulling off a vaulted ceiling 75' wide would be a bit of a challenge in earthquake country.

The underside of the lid would be used to suspend the overhead catenary system or perhaps, space-saving overhead conductor rails from Switzerland that support speeds of up to 150mph, certainly good enough for Caltrain/UPRR use. There would be no need for the usual catenary poles.

In spite of the slender latticework, the rounded edges, the vaulted ceiling and the glass panes, the enclosure concept still implies a large above-ground structure, roughly 75 feet wide, ~28 feet tall in the center and literally thousands of feet long. Inevitably, it would dominate its surroundings, so it's not appropriate in all locations. As indicated above, it would also cost a pretty penny. Unfortunately, selling air rights above it to developers wouldn't be a viable option.

The Linear Park

That is why I'm suggesting that the upper side of the lid be leveraged for an elevated linear park serving the community, with the objective of boosting - rather than blighting - the values of nearby properties. Many options exist: if the edges of the enclosure are curved as suggested above, the park could be confined to the central portion of the ROW or feature cantilevered outriggers or both, to suit local requirements.

Many linear parks already exist, e.g. the new Highline in New York and the Promenade Plantée in Paris:

Both of these leverage abandoned elevated railroad rights of way, rather than the space above active tracks. However, Seattle's Freeway Park, Sam Smith Park and the Lid Park on Mercer Island (WA) are all built on top of major active transportation arteries. More recently, President Sarkozy of France has invited suggestions for yet another expensive grand makeover for that country's capital. Richard Rogers' entry would create park spaces above active railroad tracks and yards, though the scope of that is far more ambitious than what I'm proposing here.

In addition to safety railings, there might be value in installing bowers and pergolas to support climbing plants that provide shade and provide some formal structure at a human scale, cp. the Promenade Plantée video above.

Load restrictions at existing road underpasses may force architects to narrow the linear park to just a foot/bike bridge across a lightweight lid section that could be an architectural flourish or a more delicate feature spanning a (very) shallow pond or trompe-l'œil mural.

Trench Sections

In some parts of the alignment, the most appropriate solution may be to force the tracks to descend into a deep trench so they can pass under existing cross streets, to avoid vehicle access impacts to buildings along the first block to either side and/or intersections with frontage roads. Such constraints are more common where residential properties directly abut the Caltrain ROW. Note that trench walls require a certain thickness but that the lid structure would serve as a buttress. Engineers will have to work hard to fit it all into just 75 feet of width, but it ought to be possible.

The enclosure and the linear park above it would follow the elevation change of the tracks. Obviously, the latticework side walls would be replaced with solid concrete below grade level. In these trench sections, the park would actually run 2-3' above grade to support lush vegetation, e.g. using recycled water. The sides would be retained with heavy wooden beams or else sloped as a 2:1 embankment. Either way a suitable fence and/or hedge would be indicate the property line, that's a detail to be resolved at a later stage. Because edges of the lid would still curve down to the sides, there would be plenty of soil to support large shrubs and small to medium-sized trees. Bike and pedestrian paths would slope down toward cross streets unless traffic planners, civil engineers and landscapers decide that very low hump bridges would be preferable, e.g. to reduce excavation depth. Playgrounds, fitness parcours or (lightweight) outdoor sculptures might be appropriate in one location, perhaps a serene Japanese pagoda with water features and a rock garden in another. Again, plenty of scope for customization at the city or neighborhood level.

Optionally, tall graceful arches could be installed in some of these sections of the park to provide a visual frame of reference, support wire trellises and/or enhance outdoor lighting.


Along the entire length of the structure, there will be a need for ventilation funnels at regular intervals. These should be shaped to direct sound upward and feature a grate/net to prevent objects from falling in (or being lobbed in). If any train operator insists on running diesel locomotives through the structure, the funnels should feature quiet fans. Note that extremely strict EPA Tier 4 emissions regulations will be in force by 2015, these should be used in this enclosed structure.

Track Elevation Transitions

Here is where things get a little technical, feel free to fast forward to the next section if you're not so inclined.

The following map shows which sections of the Caltrain ROW I would recommend be left at grade (blue) and which might best be put in a deep trench (red). The green sections represent elevation changes. In cross-section, these S-ramps consist of vertical arc segments, typically connected by a straight slope segment. Note that these transitions are not identical for the Caltrain/UPRR and the HSR tracks. Freight trains are limited to slopes of 2.2%, whereas HSR trains can negotiate 3.5%. On the other hand, Swedish and German design guidelines recommend vertical curve radii of 6400m and 10000m, respectively, at 125mph. Tighter curves can be used at lower speeds.

Note that some of the existing road underpasses may have been designed for just two tracks, just like those up in San Carlos. The bridges for the additional tracks on either side may therefore have to be elevated a little to maintain vertical clearances for tall road vehicles. I've allowed up to 2' difference in elevation at these points, which should be plenty. The upshot is that the inside and outside tracks would run at different elevations in a number of locations, limiting where the extra-long turnouts for baby bullet operation at 90mph could be placed.

The minimum vertical clearances are spelled out here: 24'3" for the Caltrain/UPRR tracks and 22'6" for the HSR tracks. Note that there is no need for an additional 1'3" electrical clearance in this case as the HSR tracks are not ever supposed to be used for AAR plate H freight cars. I assumed an additional 4' would be needed for the support structures of the short (75') road bridges at rail underpasses, with the additional option of support columns if fully-loaded 18-wheelers (80,000lbs GVWR) are to be permitted.

The Google Map

I've crunched the numbers in a spreadsheet, without any spiral easements in this first cut. The whole thing has ended up resembling a very gentle rollercoaster.

View Larger Map

Churchill Avenue: Rail Underpass

Only between Embarcadero (an existing road underpass) and Churchill Ave (which should ideally remain at grade) in Palo Alto is the transition a really tight fit. Caltrain would remain limited to 79mph at that one location, which is not a problem since all of its trains stop at University Ave anyway. HSR trains could run at 125mph (Swedish rules) or have to slow down to 103mph (German rules) - the difference stems from the passenger comfort thresholds maintained by these national railroads, rather than safety considerations.

Palo Alto Avenue: Road Underpass, Chicane

The Palo Alto Ave (Alma St) grade crossing is located between San Francisquito creek and the University Avenue Caltrain Station. Since both of those needs to be negotiated at grade, a deep road underpass is unavoidable in the context of this scenario. Given the proximity to the delicate root system of the venerable El Palo Alto coastal redwood tree, moving the road crossing south a little bit might be worth considering. That might also mitigate the impact on the connection for the eastern part of Palo Alto Ave. The 100-year-old railroad bridge across the creek should be replaced for safety reasons. Its replacement should support four tracks at grade and be located further from the tree, to protect its roots during construction. Worst case, the tracks could run on a low viaduct (1-2') to avoid exerting any pressure on the root system at all. The resulting crawl space could be filled up with loose earth if desired.

A fringe benefit of moving the tracks will be that the curve radii at the north end of the Palo Alto chicane will be eased somewhat. Doing so at the south end would also be appropriate, if the land can be obtained at reasonable cost. Easing the chicane would avoid a much more intrusive rectification of the Alma/University grade separation. Leaving the chicane in place would force express trains to slow to about 85mph, adding a full minute to their SF-SJ line haul time. If CHSRA selects Palo Alto University Avenue for the mid-peninsula HSR station, at least one straight 400m (1/4 mile) platform will be required, forcing a more significant redesign of the alignment. Both Redwood City and Mountain View are viable alternatives.

Honorable Mentions

In several locations, creeks and storm drains would have to be diverted underneath the tracks. In at least the latter case, regular cleaning would be required to prevent a build-up of debris and a risk of local flooding on the upstream side.

From north to south:
  • in Redwood City, the section between Woodside Rd and 5th Ave should remain at grade on account of the existing grade separations, the Dumbarton wye and the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct that provides the peninsula with drinking water.
  • in virtually all of Atherton and Menlo Park, the tracks would run in a deep trench, an implementation both cities requested of CHSRA.
  • in north Palo Alto, tracks would run at grade everywhere except for the rail underpass at Churchill. This may or may not avoid conflicts with a toxic plume and an emergency aquifer, I'm not sure where they are located exactly.
  • in south Palo Alto, both E Meadow and Churchill would remain at grade.
  • San Antonio Caltrain station would still be at grade as well, but HSR tracks there would have to run underneath the Caltrain platform(s), as both the ROW and the San Antonio overpass are too narrow to support four tracks plus two platforms. That means a pedestrian overpass will be needed to reach the platform(s) - not much of an eyesore considering it will be right next to the road overpass. Also, the enclosure could be narrower between Charleston and Rengstorff, since only two of the four track would rise back to grade level. That would leave scope for bike/pedestrian paths, trees or elongated shallow water features at grade level, with spectacular lighting effects.
  • in Mountain View, Castro Street and VTA light rail tracks mean that Caltrain/UPRR and HSR will need to run in a trench. Rengstorff Ave is a poor candidate for a road underpass, so the caltrain/UPRR tracks would remain underground for a total of ~2.2 miles. HSR tracks would run in a deep trench all the way from E Meadow to just north of 237.
HSR station in Mountain View?

The anyhow needed long trench in Mountain View would open up the possibility of an underground HSR/Caltrain station there. The city has recently requested that CHSRA study the possibility. IMHO, it might actually be a lot easier to put one there than at University Ave in Palo Alto. The Arroyo del Agua creeks would make an elevated alignment preferable in Redwood City, so an HSR station there would dominate the skyline.

In Mountain View, the Caltrain ROW could be widened underneath Central Expressway, with temporary lane closures during the construction period. Platforms would be reached via not one but three pedestrian underpasses, on account of the 1/4 mile HSR platforms. These would be two levels down, connecting West Evelyn to Willowgate. In the long run, the greatly enhanced property values on the far side of Central Expressway might merit rezoning for mid-to-high-rise mixed-use developments. Bike grooves next to stairs are always highly recommended in pedestrian underpass designs.

VTA light rail would remain at grade but be upgraded to dual tracks, with the option to extend service out to Rengstorff. This would be at the expense of the linear park feature but serve the senior center and create some room for overnight parking. A new line from Mountain View to Alum Rock would be possible, as would stairs/elevators from either Caltrain or HSR directly to the VTA platform(s).

In addition, a new streetcar loop service based on ultra-low floor (ULF) rolling stock could connect the downtown area (popular lunch destination, candidate for a small pedestrian zone?) to Shoreline business park/amphitheater with a yard east of Crittenden Lane. If the VTA line is extended, tracks for the two services would cross at right angles on Castro Street.

Most buses could continue to stop at W Evelyn, though city traffic planners could leverage the pedestrian underpasses to make auxiliary stops on the far side of Central Expressway (Willowgate, Moffett) potentially viable. A southbound bus lane from Rengstorff to just past the VTA turnoff on top of the tracks could also help avoid congesting in the downtown area.

Vitrine Entrance/Exit

Given the no doubt hefty premium an enclosure/trenching and a linear park would command, it's very likely that some peninsula cities will choose an uglier but cheaper option for HSR implementation, e.g. a Japanese-style viaduct with sound walls. However, the transition from open to enclosed track sections will be much like a tunnel entrance and should therefore be sloped and beveled to minimize any impact on the lateral stability of the trains and tunnel boom. The following example illustrates the residual effect at 186mph. Please note that all of the sounds you will hear would be less pronounced at the lower top speeds (90-125mph) applicable to the peninsula.


Anonymous said...

Your main mistake in all this is the assumption that there will be separate Caltrain and HSR tracks. Even in places where there are four tracks, all four tracks will be Caltrain tracks, and they had very well better be interchangeable. Likewise, from the point of view of the track, I don't think there needs to be anything at all like an "HSR station". To have an HSR station at Mountain View, all you'd need to do is hang up a sign that says "HSR stop here" at the front of the platform. If you need special tracks or platforms here, you're doing it wrong.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 3:11pm -

I'm afraid you are mistaken: the tracks all have the same gauge, but not every type of equipment will be allowed to operate on all tracks:

Caltrain/UPRR tracks:
Caltrain non-compliant EMUs
Caltrain legacy diesel
UPRR freight trains

HSR tracks:
non-compliant bullet trains
Caltrain non-compliant EMUs (excursion to support baby bullet operation, cutover at specific locations)

It's not yet clear if the platform heights for the two sets of tracks will have the same platform height (760mm for level boarding). Hopefully yes, but Caltrain has to deal with legacy crap on its tracks.

Likewise, HSR requires much longer platforms - 1/4 mile - in anticipation of future full-length trains. It's not yet clear if CHSRA and Caltrain want to share platforms on the peninsula, for the moment everyone appears to be assuming that they won't. That's partly an FRA and partly an integrated timetable issue.

Besides, a station where HSR trains stop needs to have a larger catchment area than one only served by Caltrain. That means a nearby airport or local transit hub served by commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, buses - as much as appropriate. You don't want to stop an HSR train to pick up two people.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 3:11pm -

I forgot to mention that one of UPRR's customers, the port of SF, wants to start using autorack cars with AAR plate H physical and electrical clearance requirements. That means the Caltrain/UPRR tracks need to have 1'9" extra distance between the tracks and the OCS.

The idea is of course to run Caltrain/UPRR and HSR tracks at the same grade as much as possible, to make it as easy as possible for Caltrain to operate its baby bullets. However, in the context of a concept designed to minimize impacts on existing road under- and overpasses and also retain at-grade cross roads, it's not possible to keep all tracks at exactly the same elevation everywhere, especially not during transitions from at-grade to trench level and back again.

Fortunately, Caltrain wouldn't cut over to an adjacent track on an incline anyhow, so that does not represent a serious loss of functionality.

Anonymous said...

Rafael: first, 760 mm is not level boarding, not anywhere in the US, nor in Germany. Second, what you propose is a REALLY REALLY BAD idea. Allow me to explain: suppose a tree falls onto the line, blocking one track. Now, either Caltrain or HSR is reduced to a single track operation. But it gets worse: if both northbound tracks are closed, now you have two single track railroads, instead of one double track, because of restrictions on what can run where. You need full interchangeability to allow for diversions, among other things.

Bianca said...

@ anon 3:11,4:58, Rafael,

I went to the BayRail Alliance meeting meeting last night on the progress of the extension of the rail alignment to the new Transbay Terminal. The TJPA is designing the TBT on the assumption that Caltrain and HSR will have different platform boarding heights and thus will not be able to share platforms. Their thinking is that Caltrain will be constrained by legacy freight requirements that require lower platforms. (Don't blame Rafael, it's not his idea!) Certainly there are solutions to this, but they haven't been hit upon yet.

BruceMcF said...

Bianca said... "Certainly there are solutions to this, but they haven't been hit upon yet."

I have seen a German tram-train with a mechanism that allows level boarding at rail platforms while sliding open to reveal steps for access down to street level.

Something similar for Caltrain EMU's (which would be a substantially smaller height gap) might allow interoperability across the HSR and heavy rail tracks.

Anonymous said...

What would you do with Charleston crossing?

When tracks are at grade what are the suggested auto and pedestrian crossings?

When you say tracks at grade (through PA), are you suggesting in these enclosed structures? (and then what do the crossings do?) Are the structures 18foot tall above grade level? Vertical walls (with like windows to make them see through?) Or? I didn't quite understand.

Clem said...

Caltrain has to deal with legacy crap on its tracks.

Worse: Caltrain has to deal with California Public Utilities Commission clearance requirements and freight trains, which limit platform height to 8 inches above the rail.

That is the first regulatory hurdle that they should attempt to shatter.

Anonymous said...

Did you attend the PA planning commission meeting? watch it on tv? or did you read excerpts or transcripts. I came away with quite a diffent take on the 'don't fall inlove with tunnel' comments.

Her actual point was, the at grade impacts are going to be unacceptable and don't be fooled into believing tunneling is going to be acceptable either. In other words, the tunnel proponents are dangerous to this process for PA. She and a few others asked the 'especially tunneling to be taken out, because I believe they don't want to give CHSRA the false impression that PA has a predisposition to favoring HSR via tunneling as a viable mitigation strategy.

Anonymous said...

That calatrava thing is stunning. Too bad we'll never have anything nice like that here thanks to people like the atherton crowd.

Anonymous said...

interesting news this morning

France's SNCF hopes to run high speed rail in US

More detailed article in Frecn

ian said...

beautiful video on lyon satolas — used that station a few times when i studied in Lyon and was struck both by the design and by the empty feeling, actually. now i want to go back...

i feel sorry for the peninsula, not seizing upon this as an opportunity. oh well... there are so many things the peninsula cities could do with this — both with the park idea, and also with using a well-designed overhead structure as a complement to their downtown areas, etc. (as shown in the previous post, with retail, etc.)

i wish we could sit down with them and show them the possibilities. i also wish CAHSRA read this blog. i really hope they do...

Anonymous said...

There will be no tunneling..You moved next to a railroad ..dumm ass
tracks are comingggggggg!!!

Aaron said...

I do love the idea, but the cost associated with this has to be enormous, and this looks like something more suited to Mission Bay than to the Peninsula. The concern of the Peninsula communities is their "rustic" feel (for whatever that's worth), and that looks a whole lot more like Roppongi than it does Palo Alto.

Like anon@3:11 pointed out, I'm getting kind of anxious to hear about what they'll be doing about the platform height issue. It's easy enough to do different platform heights at LAUS, Diridon, and the SF TBT, and they'll be starting effectively fresh with the intermediate stations, but the Metrolink and Caltrain stations are low-floor stations and not easy to convert, I wouldn't think, since Metrolink and Caltrain are not going to buy new rolling stock to support CAHSR (and nor should they, Caltrain especially has high-quality rolling stock). It would seem too early to worry about that but for the TBT, since you don't want to have to build that twice, and using the wrong platform height the first time will cause escalator and elevator hell.

Aaron said...

@yeson1a: Wow. Really constructive. Way to advocate.

Spokker said...

Maybe he meant the dumb ass tracks were coming.

However, I agree with the other interpretation as well. I can be a dumb ass in many ways, but it'll never be for moving next to a railroad and then complaining about trains.

Rafael said...

@ Resident -

the whole point of this is that all existing road crossings (except Palo Alto Ave) would be preserved exactly as they are now. If there's an underpass, it is retained and the rails remain at grade, just enclosed - primarily to deal with the noise issue. If the road crosses at grade today, the rails would dive under it in a trench. The objective is to avoid having to reconfigure existing roads and vehicle/bicycle traffic patterns, i.e. to tread as lightly as possible.

So, Charleston would continue to cross the Caltrain ROW at grade, with the rails underground. In engineering terms, that means constructing a level bridge across the void excavate for the rails. Same deal at E Meadow. The linear park between these streets would be at grade or perhaps 2-3' above (details TBD between traffic planners, civil engineers and architect/landscaper collaborating on behalf of the residents).

At Churchill, the tracks would dive under the road and rise up again to either side. Conveniently, that also provides access to the elevated portions of the linear park.

At University, Embarcadero, California St. bike underpass/station and Oregon Expressway, the tracks would continue to cross at grade. So yes, that is where you would have a see-through structure 75' wide and 28' tall (of which 18' straight side walls), specifically to mitigate/eliminate visual clutter, noise and bow wave impacts. The linear park would be elevated there.

At San Antonio, the Caltrain/UPRR tracks would cross at grade while the HSR tracks would remain under ground. That location is an exception because there's not enough room for four tracks plus two platforms so near that particular road overpass and its ramps on the Alma side.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:18pm -

I did not attend the meeting in Palo Alto. It's just that from my perspective, the breakthrough was that tunneling is no longer considered a panacea.

1. Residents have made it quite clear that an above-grade implementation based on solid retained fill embankments is not acceptable, because it creates visual and noise impacts yet does nothing to improve at least pedestrian/bike permeability of the Caltrain ROW, which already bisects the peninsula.

2. When we suggested an attractively architected tall viaduct instead, to create space for shops, cafes, pedestrian plazas and bike routes underneath the tracks, that was still considered unacceptable because of the visual impact of the catenaries and especially, the rail-wheel and aerodynamic noise emanating from the elevated tracks.

3. Split-grade viaducts combining moderately elevated tracks with moderately sunk cross-roads were rejected because they would require every single cross-road to be reconfigured, with impacts on the intersections/grade separations of the frontage road(s) and access issues for the first block of buildings to either side of the tracks.

4. Simply keeping the tracks at grade everywhere would force existing level cross roads to become deep underpasses or tall overpasses, unless they are closed or all parties (city and all railroads) accept hardened grade crossings. Those would be complicated by the presence of frontage roads and merely defer the decision on closure vs. full grade separation for perhaps a decade.

At-grade tracks would also mean highly visible catenaries, noise and bow waves potentially affecting vehicular traffic on frontage roads (think train passing a truck at 125mph with perhaps 10' between them).

5. Reverse split-grade would imply tracks running in a shallow trench, with all cross and frontage roads requiring modifications. Too little bang for buck in this variation IMHO.

6. Running trains in open deep trenches allows level cross roads to remain at grade and also eliminates the visual clutter and a lot of the noise issues. The downside is that other infrastructure already under the ground has to be re-routed. That's particularly problematic for sewer pipes and creeks/storm drains, but engineering solutions exist.

A lid on top of a deep trench further reduces noise issues, eliminates the sight of solid concrete trench walls and cross-braces, safety fences. It also creates space for buildings, at-grade transport infrastructure (e.g. light rail or bus lanes) or public spaces. This concept is known as "air rights" above the railroad ROW.

The downside of a lid, arguably minor in the peninsula's case, are consequences for the operation of diesel locomotives, especially if there are underground stations for passenger trains. Forced ventilation, a switch to ultra-low sulfur diesel and new emissions control equipment for particulates (smoke) and NOx can all be applied, but the preferred option is to use grid electricity to power the traction motors when underground.

7. Tunneling completely segregates rail operations from life at grade, but at extremely high cost and in some cases, risk, during the construction phase. Stations have to be relocated to deep underground, because tunnel construction requires some overburden (rock/soil above). Diesel operations face the same hurdles as in covered trenches.


My enclosure concept would address all of the remaining issues of (4) without introducing those of (1).

I've combined it with (6) where appropriate and verified that the elevation transitions should be feasible. Normally, railroad engineers avoid frequent elevation transitions like the plague, but this is hardly a greenfield situation. The new train system (HSR) has to adapt itself to the pre-existing built-up area chock-full of hihg-value properties and the severe constraints that imposes.

Treading lightly costs a lot of money, so the air rights above the solution should be monetized one way or another to help pay for it all. I'm advocating indirect monetization via the increased property values that would result from eliminating/sharply reducing the blight already caused by Caltrain and, from the creation of a narrow (typically 75') but very long new park from 5th Ave in Redwood City to Rengstorff Ave in Mountain View.

Rafael said...

@ Aaron -

the picture you point to is of a 50-story office tower. The structure I'm proposing would be 2 stories tall at the side and three in the middle - but you wouldn't see the middle from street level.

Your comparison is therefore completely inappropriate in terms of height. The windows are also tinted, giving the appearance of a solid wall. We can't have a meaningful discussion if people keep resorting to abstruse exaggerations like "Berlin Wall" or "Roppongi". You need to find more appropriate comparisons.

I do agree that the length of the structure does create visual mass. That's why I suggested constructing the sides as a slender latticework based on encased steel beams rather than conventional rebar plus large transparent glass panes. In addition, the concrete latticework could be dyed/painted and/or partially covered by climbing plants in due course to restore at least a semblance of the supposed "rustic" feel. Silicon Valley isn't exactly full of orchards any longer, perhaps it's time to put the rose-tinted glasses away.

For reference, consider how ivy has taken the hard industrial edge off the eastern approach to Oregon Expressway underpass, compared to the naked concrete a little further down that road.

In addition, the footbridges and some of the vegetation of the elevated sections of the linear park would also be visible from ground level, further reducing the impression of an overbearing structure.

Just about the only the only thing we agree on is that the solution I've described would not come cheap. But then, cheap is exactly what the townsfolk rebelled against. You can't have it both ways.

Rafael said...

@ Aaron -

regarding the platform height issue. The Caltrain 2025 plan does call for raising platforms at all stations.

However, CHSRA, Caltrain, Metrolink and NCTD have not yet stuck their heads together on how to deal with the problem of limited ROW width at stations. The base assumption thus far has been that CHSRA would have dedicated full-length (1/4 mile) platforms at all stations where its trains stop.

Pretty much everywhere else, the commuter rail/Amtrak stations would be reconfigured to accommodate four tracks. Depending on whether HSR gets the inside or the outside tracks, that will mean two narrow side or one wide island platform. In both cases, there would have to be a pedestrian/bike under- or overpass to access the platform(s) from either side of the ROW. The Dutch construct the stairs for such underpasses with grooves for bicycles on both sides - cheap to do and very handy.

Full grade separation means zero pedestrians walking across any tracks anywhere.

The short Fullerton-Anaheim section is the only one in phase I that does not permit four tracks side-by-side, but there are no station in it anyhow. There are no plans for stacking tracks there, because anticipated HSR traffic volume is low enough (2-3 trains per hour each way) to make do with guaranteed time separation via upgraded signaling and appropriate speed limits.

Clem said...

Caltrain are not going to buy new rolling stock to support CAHSR (and nor should they, Caltrain especially has high-quality rolling stock).

Caltrain has 1985 vintage rolling stock, with a few commodity Bombardier cars (for which there is a healthy second-hand market) sprinkled in.

One of their opportunities, which we dearly hope they won't waste, is that the timing of electrification happens to coincide with the timing of their 30-year fleet replacement.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to run certain sections (elevated for instance) at the slower 125 speed using a third rail in place of catenary. I know that trainsets can be configered to switch between both. This could eliminate visual clutter in some of the slower speed residential sections in both norther and souther ca.

Anonymous said...

The hsr stations (there will only be two station between san jose and tbt where caltrain and hse need to share - tbt diridon and milbrae arent a problem just the Pa/RC or whatever and the new caltrain eqipment can use the same thing muni uses for low level street and hi level subway operations. the moveable interior steps.

Anonymous said...

I would love for SNCF to be the one!! The french do everything well.

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

if Caltrain gets electrification plus permission to operate non-compliant EMU equipment on its tracks, then the plan is to cut over to that in the space of a number of year.

Caltrain 2025 called for electrification to proceed in phases, SF-SJ first and SJ-Gilroy second so some legacy diesel gear would be retained.

HSR may delay electrification for a few years, hopefully Caltrain can stretch the life expectancy of its old FRA-compliant rolling stock accordingly. Replacement engines for the loco's have to comply withe EPA Tier 3 by 2012 and with Tier 4 by 2015. That's an expenditure Caltrain would probably like to avoid.

I'm not sure about the extent of the FRA waiver Caltrain is applying for, I expect mixed traffic would be a much bigger issue on the SJ-Gilroy section, which will anyhow be served by HSR before long.

A useful compromise might be to extend Amtrak CC down to Gilroy, perhaps to Hollister or Salinas, with Caltrain giving Amtrak California a deal on the old locomotives and rolling stock. Another option would be to extend the ACE route instead, in which case San Beneto and/or Sant Cruz/Monterey counties would have to join the club.

Either way, there would be less need for parking in San Jose.

@ jim -

the visual clutter issue is actually exaggerated, there are ways to implement OCS unobtrusively, e.g. use slender poles and paint them dark green.

Bimodal OCS (25kV AC) and third rail (1500V DC) is possible - cp 1st gen Eurostar - but it's an ugly cloodge for the railroad operator. The objective is to purchase proven HSR train designs as off-the-shelf as possible. We'll see how big a spanner FRA throws in the works.

Bay Area Resident said...

Anybody that has been to a Palo Alto city council meeting, where there are attendees from all over the peninsula, knows that this train will never be built through Palo Alto or those other peninsula cities. This is going to stop at San Jose. The peninsula towns will block it, all the way, in every way possible. To read this blog it seems like you all are deluding yourselves that the peninsula is caving. Anonymous above is exactly right- Palo Alto is now thinking that NO solution is acceptable, not that at grade HSR is now A-ok because tunneling is so damaging also.

The "you all bought houses on the tracks" is wearing a little thin, please give it up. At least Robert is acknowledging that Palo Alto and other towns will never, ever allow above ground trains running overhead of the schools in their towns that are nationally ranked.

Bay Area Resident said...

The city of San Jose has written a position paper to CHSRA to suggest trenching at Diridon, which is interesting because the train will be descending from at least a 60' height near 280 for a less than half mile stretch into Diridon. Matterhorn anyone?

Aaron said...

@Rafael: Yeah, I couldn't find the picture I wanted, but nonetheless in terms of architecture, it just looks completely wrong - wasn't trying to depict height at all, I recognize that it could be low profile in that regard.

My question was - are there ways to build such a thing that would blend into the community? I'm not an architect so I'll take your word that what you're describing would work.

By the way, you may be confusing me with someone else, I've been a supporter of this thing on this blog and MetroRiderLA for years, and I've never used the term "Berlin Wall" ;p. I was just having trouble conceptualizing how this idea made things better rather than worse. If you ask me, we shouldn't be trying to cater to NIMBYs so much to start with, we're just going to run the costs up before we've started building anything at all.

@Jim - I kind of figured movable steps would be the best way, if that's possible to install, but it'll make de-boarding in a wheelchair difficult at the low-platform stations - they'll have to make sure that anybody with a ticket for one of those stations boards in the correct car and all that. Having said that, there should only be a handful of low-platform stations anyhow, I'd imagine, since most of the stations will be effectively from scratch except for the shared Caltrain/Metrolink stations. If they stop at Burbank Airport instead of Downtown Burbank, that station has a fairly large imprint and could easily allow HSR a high-level platform as well as give Metrolink its lower platforms.

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

you seem to be under the delusion that peninsula cities have a veto here. Certainly, they have influence with the counties that own the ROW, but this is a state project that is not subject to the normal planning procedures at the city level. We're looking for compromises, you're just being selfish.

As for Palo Alto High, it would be possible to modify my proposal such that trains dive below grade a little further north, between University and Embarcadero. That, however, would mean returning that cross-road to grade. The intersection with Alma could be at grade or else that frontage road could dive under Embarcadero to preserve grade separation of the roads against one another.

I figured the incremental cost and construction nuisance of completely turning that location completely upside down would not be worth it compared to the excellent soundproofing afforded by the enclosure concept. At Churchill, the trains would anyhow pass under the road, which would remain at grade.

Don't forget that the classrooms at Palo Alto High are already located near Embarcadero, El Camino and Caltrain. All three are sources of air pollution and noise. Electrification plus aggressive noise mitigation (e.g. enclosure or trenching) would actually make the trains less of a problem than the roads.

You seem to have this idee fixe that trains are blightmobiles and that HSR would somehow turn Palo Alto into an industrial wasteland. That is neither the intent nor a likely outcome, because there are lots of technical options. The primary issue is money.

Frankly, you might want to reflect on the blight already caused by Caltrain and an excessive reliance of land-hungry cars and trucks. It is they, not trains, that are depriving Palo Altans of high-value walkable neighborhoods. Don't believe me? Look no further than the width of El Camino Real and the blacktop desert that is the parking lots around Stanford shopping center.

You need to take a critical look at whether what you have today is really the cat's meow. Like short-hop planes, cars are incredibly useful, but they are also incredibly wasteful.

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

for HSR trains running at 125mph and capable of a 3.5% gradient, half a mile (2650ft) of run length is enough for an elevation change of 50-65 feet. The lower number refers to the German, the higher one to the Swedish standards for passenger comfort.

So, if the HSR track have to fly over 280 some 60 feet above grade, they could at best return to at or near grade by the time they reach the southern end of Diridon station. Any trench could therefore only be used by Caltrain coming from SF and terminating in SJ.

Fwiw, the Google Maps view of the HSR route still shows an aerial structure directly above the UPRR ROW. HSR tracks at Diridon were supposed to be on a second deck above the existing ones, which would cut the vertical elevation change required to around 30'.

And even that still assumes that HSR tracks would have to run above UPRR's, rather than next to them.

Nevertheless, if in the end CHSRA cannot secure a ROW between SJ Diridon and Gilroy, the south bay station should be moved to Santa Clara/SJC to secure run-through tracks for route through Altamont Pass. Those tracks would have to cross UPRR's Alviso line below ground, essentially skirt the gigantic Newhall yard - all of it currently reserved for BART - to the east and burrow up to the I-880 median.

However, moving the HSR station and switching to Altamont is very much Plan B at this point - mostly because San Jose city planners have grandiose visions for Diridon station and its environs.

Anonymous said...

Third rail is possible. Until the English built a proper high speed line, Eurostar ran on suburban tracks between the tunnel and London. It was 3rd rail, 700 volts DC. Of course, it is unthinkable to feed 25,000 volts AC into a rail at ground level.
Concerning the SNCF: what they have in mind is probably the same sort of contract they had with the Taiwan HSR. They participated (with Systra) in the design of the line, then ran the network while training local staff who gradually took over. The staff is now mostly Taiwanese with just 30 French drivers left. It means the SNCF has now plenty of English-speaking staff available for any project in America.
For Taiwan, SNCF-International had to pay big bonuses to attract volunteers. They will have not this problem with California.

Rafael said...

@ Aaron -

I apologize for my lack of artistic talent, an elevation drawing might have been helpful.

IMHO, the concept is a major improvement over the retained wall embankment for several reasons:

a) trains do not rise above grade

b) visual clutter due to poles for overhead catenaries is eliminated

c) the structure is essentially transparent, you can see through it except when a train is passing

d) noise and vibration are substantially reduced compared to the status quo, even though trains would run both faster and more frequently

e) bow wave issues for road vehicles on adjacent traffic lanes are eliminated

f) in many sections, the whole thing boils down to a covered trench

g) except for one cross road (Palo Alto Ave), none of them would have to be modified at all

h) the linear park on top would provide a walkable/bikable north-south artery unlike any currently available (in the world, btw).

In the covered trench sections, it would facilitate pedestrian cross-traffic at essentially all points, constraints would be imposed by frontage roads rather than the railroad.

In the transition and at-grade sections, stairs or ADA/bike ramps could provide access to the park if there is enough available width. Access to the roof of the enclosure would also be possible at the cross roads that remain at grade, i.e. Fair Oaks in Atherton, Ravenswood in Menlo Park, Churchill + Meadow + Charleston in Palo Alto and Rengstorff in Mountain View.

Given the nearby traffic arteries and distances to the nearest buildings, an enclosure for the re-emerging tracks between Ferry Morse Way and Bernardo could be omitted in favor of regular sound walls (e.g. 4' concrete + 4' glass) that would double as fences.

Also, never underestimate NIMBYs. Even if their efforts fail in the end, construction cost escalations due to delays can cost untold millions. It's not unreasonable to seek middle ground early, provided they chip in. It's not as if years of ultimately unsuccessful litigation would come cheap, in terms of both legal fees and the property blight associated with planning uncertainty.

Anonymous said...

altrain/UPRR tracks:
Caltrain non-compliant EMUs.......
HSR tracks:
non-compliant bullet trains
Caltrain non-compliant EMUs

How come if Caltrain non compliant equipment can run on all four tracks HSR non compliant equipment can't?

It's not yet clear if the platform heights for the two sets of tracks will have the same platform height ...
Caltrain has to deal with legacy crap on its tracks.

There's not going to be any legacy anything on it's tracks. The accountants are going to look at the costs of accommodating the legacy equipment which is near the end of it's life anyway and decide it's cheaper to scrap it than it is to accommodate it. Especially when you are going to live with the decisions about that for the next 100 years or so.
They are going to have the same platform height. For the reasons Anon, pointed out in addition to be able to run Caltrain to HSR platforms and HSR to Caltrain platforms... for instance when one of the Caltrain platforms at Transbay is closed for 20 minutes because a passenger has a medical emergency during rush hour. It also allows cross platform transfers between the two with nice level platforms, ones that don't slope or have stairs or make everybody go up to the concourse. Or when there's a big game at the Stadium and you want to unload three very full trains at more or less the same time at Transbay.

HSR requires much longer platforms - 1/4 mile

Yes which is why there will only be two stations at SFO and someplace MidPeninsula. Shorter Caltrain trains can use the long platforms. .. but doesn't Caltrain's 2025 plan have them running long trains anyway?

I have seen a German tram-train

Or every train in the world where some of the platforms on the line are level boarding and some aren't. Like every train along the Northeast Corridor except the Acelas which only stop at high platforms. I haven't checked but I suspect even then some of the doors can so that when there is an emergency and the train has to be evacuated between stations passengers aren't leaping down to the track.

low-floor stations and not easy to convert

They are easy to convert in most cases. Expensive but not terribly difficult in most cases. They are going to be ripping out many if not all the Caltrain platforms anyway.

That location is an exception because there's not enough room for four tracks plus two platforms

Sure there is. Put the platforms under the road. Expensive but not impossible. You end up with a pleasant station house over the ROW and very nice pedestrian plaza covering the ROW, maybe even a kiss-n-ride. If they want to pay for it, parking over the ROW. Or you decide to close the station and run buses on a frequent schedule between the station north and south of the one that's been closed. Or you decide that everyone within walking distance of the current station gets free door to door jitney service. The platforms don't have to stay at street level or stay at all.

defer the decision on closure vs. full grade separation for perhaps a decade

Agreed. At 22 trains an hour in each direction those grade crossing are going to be closed for long periods... during rush hour. And you trade one construction period for two - do it half way now and then come back in 10 and do all over again the right way.

A lid on top of a deep trench

Or the same thing as cut and cover subway construction. Instead of a street you end up with a ... I'm not sure what you are proposing they end up with but it's a subway tunnel. Like the one under Market Street in San Francisco.

Any trench could therefore only be used by Caltrain coming from SF and terminating in SJ.

Why would you do that? It's 22 trains an hour in each direction, if there are no stations 22 trains an hour can move over two tracks. Put all of it in the trench.

noise and vibration are substantially reduced compared to the status quo

They are substantially reduced if you use electric trains compared to diesels. Without building elaborate glass and steel structures.

...bow waves...

They are going to be a problem for cars but aren't a problem for people standing on the platforms where HSR passes through at speed? Which is done now all over the world?

the linear park on top would provide a walkable/bikable north-south artery unlike any currently available (in the world, btw)

probably because planners look at building a park three stories up in the air and decide that most people aren't going to climb three flights of stairs to get there. Or walk five blocks up the very very long ramp. And that it's not worth it if you are installing elevator banks and escalators every ten blocks. The light airy structure you are proposing becomes much heavier if you are planning on supporting many tons of soil every linear yard too. . and the the drainage ... and the concrete in the walkways and bikeways.

Everybody has to remember there is a no-build option. Have passengers transfer to a conventional diesel train at San Jose. Run those 12 times an hour in each direction on the existing track. Essentially close down every grade crossing up and down the peninsula.. ... during rush hour.

... DMUs will trigger grade crossings. I wonder if Caltrain and CAHSR could borrow a few for a month or so and run Caltrain service at greater frequencies, one car at time, for a month. Give everybody a taste of the no build option.

Rafael said...

@ Aaron, Jim -

wheelchair access is preferably implemented via level boarding platforms, especially for HSR trains.

Where that is not possible, cars can be equipped with a wheelchair lift operated by staff. The OeBB railjet uses unpowered trainsets with dedicated Taurus locomotives, of which the Austrian railroads bought more than they ended up needing.

The trainset architecture means that passengers can easily navigate the entire length of the train, including the cafe car and access to wheelchair lifts at either end.

Anonymous said...

@BAR"ever allow above ground trains running overhead of the schools in their towns that are nationally ranked." Again with the self centered attitude. Get a map. There's a fully functioning, highly productive world outside your pretentious overly entitled bubble.

Anonymous said...

The solution for platform height goes like this. Caltrain uses the current low platforms at its regualr stations and it current wheelchair access. At the the new stations where it shares a high level platform with hsr, it has the same interior steps that muni uses on its bredas.

Aaron said...

Has anyone pointed out that the Acela runs right behind Yale's academic buildings?

Map here - Acela trains don't stop there, but they run through that station, and MNR as well as CCR trains do stop there.

I guess what BAR wants us to understand is that Palo Alto students are so fragile that they can't "cope with" the same things that students at Yale and other Eastern schools have to "cope with."

Personally, I'm starting to enjoy this guy, he's practically an SNL NIMBY parody.

Anonymous said...

speaking of classism.. this is funny

So are we sure we can't just run the train up 101 and leave these people out of the loop al together? (provided they are banned from ever riding)

Rafael said...

@ adirondacker -

How come if Caltrain non compliant equipment can run on all four tracks HSR non compliant equipment can't?

Perhaps FRA would allow it, at least in off-design conditions. Caltrain had to perform simulations of crashes at grade crossings (see Appendix C) to persuade FRA that its own rules - aka add more shteel - are horribly outdated and in fact counterproductive in some cases.

Train-vs-train crashes at any but bicycle speeds require active safety anyhow, e.g. PTC as required by HR 2095. Getting that implemented interoperably will be painful. FRA may well insist that HSR's system integrate with what the freight operators will be installing, if only to facilitate automated computer-to-computer warning messages related to derailments on adjacent tracks (which would have to be detected first, of course).

When I made the comment, I was thinking of regular operations. The HSR tracks will be the ones with the rail-wheel interface that permit trains to ride rock-steady (no lateral seeking), but they're limited to axle loads of 17 metric tons or the wear and tear will send maintenance costs into the stratosphere. That's why all FRA-compliant equipment needs to stay off them, except perhaps in emergencies.

Caltrain has to deal with legacy crap on its tracks.

I was referring to crufty FRA/CPUC rules related to platform heights on tracks also used by freight trains, with workers hanging off the side.

[...] doesn't Caltrain's 2025 plan have them running long trains anyway?

Considering they're expecting to double trains per hour but triple ridership. However, I didn't run a specific reference to train length in the Caltrain 2025 documentation. I suppose they could constrain bicycle spaces (and promote folding types) or, their seat utilization is still low, even in rush hour. I kind of doubt that, though.

Having just two platforms at the Transbay Terminal limits tph count into that station for Caltrain, so extra-long trains (e.g. 300m, like the Long Island Railroad) might be useful. If HSR is given the outside tracks, Caltrain will need new island platforms at all of its stations on the peninsula - a perfect opportunity to increase their length.

However, running HSR on the inside would keep its tracks straight. Elongating the side platforms would require less eminent domain. Either way, it's possible some stations might end up with slightly curved platforms unless they're moved.

Put the platforms under the road [at San Antonio Caltrain]

That would be possible and is in fact what I would suggest for Mountain View if it is chosen for the mid-peninsula station.

At San Antonio, I was looking for a way to avoid messing with the overpass (and forcing CHSRA to pay for that). On the other hand, Clem Tillier told me in an email that the structure might be considered for replacement anyhow, on account of seismic safety. If so and Caltrans funds it, keeping all four tracks underground and implementing a concourse level at grade (i.e. integrated into the linear park) would be preferable.

lid on top of a deep trench [= cut-and-cover = subway tunnel]

Agreed, just a terminology difference. Expensive to do in suburbia (cp. cost overruns in BART extension to SFO), but an option worth considering in Atherton and Menlo Park - both cities asked for that well before Nov 4 - but also in Mountain View (VTA light rail, possible southbound bus lane if HSR station there). In Palo Alto, it may make sense at Churchill and for E Meadow to San Antonio (see above).

[trench at SJ Diridon]

It's not a good idea IMHO, not sure why SJ is even asking for one. I was just trying to illustrate that HSR could not use it unless its ROW was next to rather than stacked on top of UPRR's tracks. Not that UPRR is interested in either of those options...

Caltrain's EMUs could climb out of a trench and still cross 280, because they can manage the same gradient as bullet trains (3.5%) - not sure if any lateral train movements would be needed. Legacy diesel gear could not negotiate that gradient.

noise and vibration

Electrification, aerodynamic nose shapes and HSR-grade tracks will reduce noise, but there's no escaping that the required motive power rises with the cube of speed. Caltrain currently passes e.g. Palo Alto High school at well under 79mph (probably more like 50) because all of them stop at University Ave.

HSR express trains would run at 125mph, dissipating a lot more power - most of it in the form of turbulence. I doubt the ratio would be a full factor 15.625, given the technological superiority of bullet trains over 1980s-vintage FRA-compliant diesel gear. My wild a$$ guesstimate is that a factor of 3-7 might well remain, though. If so, aggressive mitigation measures (e.g. enclosure or subway tunnel) deserve consideration - especially at the high tph counts CHSRA is planning for 2030.

Caltrain's horns are even louder (120dB) and the warning bells at grade crossings also have mostly nuisance value, but peninsula cities could get rid of all that by implementing FRA quiet zone regulations. Full grade separation will also do the trick, but it's not essential for this particular improvement.

bow waves

Think of a 14' tall truck driving southbound on Alma in Palo Alto at 35mph in the right lane. Now add a northbound HSR express train approaching at 125mph, i.e. relative speed 160mph.

Given that the whole ROW is only 75 feet wide near Embarcadero, a bow wave interaction at grade could easily nudge the truck toward the next lane and create a potentially dangerous traffic situation - especially if the truck driver isn't familiar with the local situation and HSR trains run on the outside tracks as Clem has suggested. Quad tracking means the lateral distance between trains and vehicles shrinks to just a few feet in that and some other locations.

Hence the need for a really tall sound wall or vertical grade separation. Add the Palo Alto High School on the other side of the tracks and you pretty much end up with an enclosure if you decide to keep the tracks at grade.

Btw, rolling objects such as moving trucks have far less resistance to lateral forces than stationary ones. And pedestrians aren't nearly as tall as a delivery truck - which may be empty at the time.

linear park [access and weight]

A 1:20 ADA-compliant access ramp would need to be ~450' long to reach the park, i.e. ~1.5 blocks. Admittedly, that's long but it's not 5 blocks.

I imagined the elevated portions of the park with wooden planks and low flower beds, perhaps some metal pergolas. Adding tons of soil would make it much harder to implement a vaulted ceiling without supporting columns. Adding those would introduce visual clutter, though that's a trade-off worth looking into.

In the trench sections, rows of supporting columns between the trains are not an issue and the park can feature lush vegetation.

no-build option

Mid-peninsula cities may consider that an option but the HSR project is not subject to city-level construction permits. It is subject to environmental review and to acquiring ROW from the PCJPB.

CHSRA is prioritizing SF-SJ over SJ-Fresno because that's want Caltrain is asking for. In fact, SJ-Fresno is currently planned as one of the last segments of phase I, because SoCal is insisting on Anahime-LA(-Palmdale) and CHSRA engineers need a test track in the Central Valley so FRA can draw up the rules for HSR service at up to 220mph.

Besides, tunnel construction in both the Tehachapis and at Pacheco Pass is expected to take quite long.


I don't get the impression that the opposition is against full grade separation as such, though there are of course trade-offs in how that is implemented. A significant number of road under- and overpasses already exist.

The main beef appears to be with having any trains at all running past at 125mph several times every hour of every day. That is about twice the speed limit on freeways in the area and, trains are a lot taller and longer than cars or trucks.

However, while peninsula folks might quite like the idea of forcing HSR trains to duplicate Caltrain baby bullet service, it eviscerates a major selling point of the starter line: SF-LA express service that is time-competitive with short-haul flights.

Hence the need for a consensus solution - especially for Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto. I included Mountain View mainly because of the VTA light rail issue and HSR station opportunity.

Anonymous said...

As for the tracks, the four tracks should be clearly equal and compatible for both hsr and caltrain. express and local, in order to give the greatest flexibility. The corridor from sj to sf need to be managed with an independent operations tower/center that takes over all trains between the two points including freight and manages all traffic as one system.

Anonymous said...

I've been to a couple of meetings on related topics. I'm not sure if all of the information is consistent, but it is an accurate regurgitation.

**Caltrain is planning on on 10 car long trains (as opposed to today's 4-5).

**They are planning for 10 tph/ each direction.

** 6 trains would go to TBT, 4 would go the 4th /King. Those going to TBT would bypass 4th/King (i.e. Y before 4th/King)

**Caltrain is NOT planning on level boarding. The HSR platforms are not planned to be compatible with Caltrain.

**Caltrain's latest thinking is that with speedup from EMU/electrification etc, they would ONLY run locals.

**They are NOT thinking of going faster than 70 MPH.

Anonymous said...

Would a narrow trench be cheaper than wide trench and less disruptive/ What if they did a two track trench. open. with cross supports like this: and then stacked two caltrain tracks resting on the cross beams and remaing at grade. No changes to caltrain grade so as not to disrupt any grade crossing. Basically caltrain would endi up staying the way it is only it woul drest on top of the open trench. this would make for a more narrow row - as little as 25 or 50 feet and no need to use any eminent domain.

Anonymous said...

in fact maybe a narrow two track trench can be constructed next to existing caltrain tracks without disruption to service, and once complete, new caltrain tracks laid on top and put into service and original tracks removed resulting in a more narrow right of way, and returning more row to public use for a bike trail.

Anonymous said...

Anon, right above....

Cite your source, please. What meetings? Who was telling you this? None of it makes sense, except for the eventual TPH and train length.

Caltrain has had a lot of success with the express trains, has no reason to run slower than it does today, and there is no operational plan for the DTX. I'm really interested in who is passing along this information.

Anonymous said...


Sources are the Bayrail Alliance meeting on the Transbay Terminal - the project guys relayed information about all locals as coming from Bob Doty as well as the platform height info. Everyone's jaws dropped. Other info from presentation by the Caltrain Electrification engineer in Palo Alto Friday morning to Peninsula cities consortium.

One typo - meant 79, not 70 pmh

Anonymous said...

here's a bad drawing of what could work

Jay said...

SI have stood at many Shinkansen Stations when a Nozomi runs though, bow waves at least on a decently designed (aero wise) train is a non issue.. <~~ Atami station <~~Maibara station <~~ Shin-Iwakuni runthough at 300km/h

Bay Area Resident said...

@ BAR -you seem to be under the delusion that peninsula cities have a veto here. Certainly, they have influence with the counties that own the ROW, but this is a state project that is not subject to the normal planning procedures at the city level.

Yes I do think that. Did you listen to the recent state planning session? Simitian was offering dire warnings to Morshed regarding the peninsula. In the guise of politics, these were pretty strong statements from Simitian to high speed rail. I have a piece of advice though- at the transbay term portion of the meeting, it was made abundantly clear that there is NO WAY that HSR will be running one train every 8 minutes. There are no forecasts for that. It is probably more like one train every half hour. Morshed should just shut up about that particular claim, it is upsetting people and it is false anyway (and probably exists to hide the actual expenses of the project). the transbay terminal is fine and had Morshed not raised a stink regarding capacity there, this never would have come up. BTW that particular planning meeting was full of Lowenthal looking at high speed rail saying things like "we're not saying anybody did anything wrong" which is political-speak for you DID do something wrong.

Aaron, thats a nice picture of yale, an area that would be designated as commercial- vs the Paly high school field, where the tracks would run directly overhead where kids are playing. It is not just Paly either, Burlingame same problem, and others.

Anonymous said...

@BARAaron, thats a nice picture of yale, an area that would be designated as commercial- vs the Paly high school field, where the tracks would run directly overhead where kids are playi"

PLEASE expaling to me how a train has anything to do with where kids are playing. When I was kid we played ON the tracks, near the tracks, the train was the center of our lives. but in PA an unaccessible train going buy will what, frighten the "children"? and since when are high schoolers, "children" what are they 5 or something? get real. here in the city you have 10 year olds riding around on subways and they don't even die or get traumatized or anything. I know, amazing huh.

Bay Area Resident said...

are you kidding jim? Would you go to a sporting event where these trains were roaring by direcly over the field? The noise would be untenable for one thing. What about vibration? Remember these trains are directly ON the field. Today this is a non event because Caltrain runs every 1/2 hour during the day and every hour or even less at night. I don't want to make this about Paly really, this situation at Paly is all the way up and down the peninsula with the chosen route. The environmental damage is unthinkable. That is the peninsula route. On the southern part of the route, which is through the Section of San Jose bordering the freeway, that area is a city designated underpriviledged area undergoing a neighborhood action plan. The embankment/berm etc will effectively cut off a BILINGUAL SCHOOL - train embankment to the south and 280 to the north. Ready for environmental justice?

Clem said...

Today this is a non event because Caltrain runs every 1/2 hour during the day and every hour or even less at night.

You must not have been to PALY in a while. At rush hour, ten trains per hour pass the school, horn blaring, bell clanking, diesel spewing and all.

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

I have a piece of advice though- at the transbay term portion of the meeting, it was made abundantly clear that there is NO WAY that HSR will be running one train every 8 minutes. There are no forecasts for that. It is probably more like one train every half hour.

You know, it would be nice if once in a while you actually did some fact checking. You can believe or reject CHSRA's ridership projections for 2030, but you can't pretend they don't exist.

Source document 5 of the 2008 Business Plan states at the bottom of page 8 in the PDF format:

"In the
peak hours (6 am to 9 am, and 4 pm to 7 pm) trains operate, on average, every 9 minutes in each
direction between San Francisco and the Los Angeles Basin"

(emphasis mine. Note that this is based on a complex mix of 8 service classes detailed on page 5. My guess is actual operations will be streamlined to just 3 or 4 service classes).

We are in violent agreement that Morshi Morshed's contrived storm in a teacup about running 12 trains per hour was an exceedingly clumsy attempt to get out from under an implicit agreement to help fund the DTX tunnel and train box at the Transbay Terminal Center. Even the forecasts they commissioned suggest more like 5-6 trains per hour each way during peak periods, easily enough to turn HSR trains around there, light housekeeping and all.

But that still means the peninsula will have to deal with 10 Caltrain + 5-6 HSR trains each way during peak hours in the morning and later afternoon/early evening on weekdays. Of the total, approx. 3 trains per hour each way would be express trains running through Palo Alto at or near 125mph. The rest will stop at either Redwood City, Palo Alto or perhaps, Mountain View.

This is approximately what that sounds like about ~100ft and at ~20ft from the HSR tracks - at grade, without any noise mitigation measures. Granted, these are just amateur YouTube videos with unknown gain settings on the microphone.

An informed decisions should be based on scientifically rigorous measurements of both Caltrain/UPRR and HSR at various speeds and distances, with and without (simulated) mitigation measures. That's called preliminary engineering and there's up to $900 million set aside for that in the prop 1A bonds. That's something that CHSRA ought to have on its urgent to-do list once the budget logjam in Sacramento is broken. That might take a few weeks or even months, until then I'd request that you keep an open mind.

Noise is a valid concern but it is one that can be addressed via appropriate engineering measures at source, at the edge of the railroad ROW and additionally, at nearby buildings exposed to the noise (only if necessary, extent of noise propagation depends on how high up the tracks run).

There is presently no real basis for claiming that HSR service would definitely represent a net negative for Palo Alto, since CHSRA is still at the very early stages of the project-level EIR/EIS process. There are obvious advantages to HSR and the downsides can be mitigated. The implementation CHSRA used for their cost estimations - apparently, after consultation with city officials - can and will be improved upon if there is financial scope for that.

I'm trying to be factual and constructive on this blog. How about you?

Bay Area Resident said...

Rafael, you know the problem with this topic/blog, is that you have "facts" up the ying yang. these are facts you make up, of course. In fact, in the recent peninsula EIR comment documentation meetings, CHSRAs profound ability to make up "facts" was topic #1, and the questions that should arise from this are things like, "please provide documentation/studies on said projects where embankments and HSR *improved* the local community", with documentation of metrics used, etc (this in reference to CHSRAs blind claims that embanked HSR improves communities it inhabits).

Anyway, wrt trans per hour, the discussion occurred at the Senate informational hearing on High Speed Rail, directly after Maria Ayerdi, transbay terminal, approx 40 minutes into the session. Her assistant, I missed his name but it looks like the transbay chief engineer, discusses that 12 trains per hour would represent 144K seats into the transbay terminal, way too high. He mentions countless other details about how 12 trains per hour has no basis in fact, Including the number of trains per hour in various french stations (and that Japan is the ONLY station to run 12 trains per hour) but then stresses that if the Dwell time at transbay is allowed to decline to the same dwelltime used by Diridon, then the 6 track design at transbay with 2 caltrains and 4 HSRs is plenty big- or the alternative, if HSR must have more tracks it can be built on another level below at some date in the future. The tone of this meeting featured Lowenthal chastising Morshed earlier regarding transbay "confusion" and a letter signed by numerous legislators from SF insisting that transbay terminal must be used. It looked like transbay folks made a lot of headway in this meeting, I suggest you listen to it.

But the key point here is this- if 12 trains per hour is something CHSRA pulled out of thin air, they should stop with that charade right now, because the train volume alone is very upsetting to the peninsula, and if the actual schedule is more like 3 trains an hour it might be a different story in Palo Alto.

Alon Levy said...

I just took the Metro-North from New York to New Haven and back. The line is completely grade-separated, and runs either at grade or on an embankment. I have no idea how the embankment looks from the street, but I did notice two things:

1. There are raised embankments, perhaps 15 feet tall, even in the richest cities of Connecticut, even 100 feet from schools and playgrounds. I have no idea how highly the schools are ranked, but recent research suggests having good teachers is more important than going to a good schools.

2. The areas near the tracks, away from the stations, are nonetheless more depressed than the average: there are a few more old factories with rail sidings than you'd otherwise expect, and one or two abandoned warehouses. I also think the residential houses are uglier, but I'm not sure - nearly all buildings in the Northeast look ugly to me. This is only true on average, and many of the residential areas by the tracks seem normal.

Aaron said...

Alon: As to 1, that's a good way to summarize the make-up of the line. I have some photos of the NEC, I should try to track those down. I am not aware of significant aerial portions of the track, save for parts of RI where the track crossed a lot of the coves along Long Island Sound, but the geography meant that was a fairly remote area. Also a huge and really amazing aerial section over Queens (my favorite part of the trip, you can see huge parts of Long Island and NYC).

As to 2, it really depends on your area. Often it's a chicken/egg problem, since the tracks were built to serve the mill towns in Connecticut (thus, largely industrial areas - you made that point for me when you mentioned all of the sidings, some of those things probably date back to pre-Civil War).

The trains go through some very beautiful areas in eastern CT and RI, though Providence is a much poorer city than people know (heavily immigrant and industrial city that has problems similar to Detroit now that industry is not as prominent in the US), but then between Prov and Boston, it's through nice suburbs until University Park, when you cross Rte 128. I would actually venture to say that if you take the entire Acela/Regional route between Boston and NYC, it's probably a pretty accurate cross section of New England.

Anonymous said...

@BAR The embankment/berm etc will effectively cut off a BILINGUAL SCHOOL - train embankment to the south and 280 to the north. Ready for environmental justice?" So now what, thats going to be the argument that PA andMPand atherton are suddenly concerned about poor folks. pleas.

Andrew Bogan said...


Thanks for your work on this, it is excellent as usual.

@Bay Area Resident-

My recollection is that you do not live in Palo Alto. Please do not speak for our town. If I am mistaken, and you do live in Palo Alto, please do not pretend that you represent the views of other Palo Altans, a large majority of whom voted for Prop 1A and many (like me) were informed prior to voting and would certainly vote for it again.

With regard to trains and schools:

I went to an elementary school, starting from age 5, in a suburban town on the East Coast that is very similar to Palo Alto in many ways. We had commuter trains into NYC running on a raised berm along the school property. Trains running next to school playing fields is a non-issue. My education was not impaired in any way.

The NIMBYs will go to great lengths to obstruct HSR, but some of their arguments are just amusing.

Bay Area Resident said...

Andrew Bogan, I own a lot of property in Palo Alto and I was born there, were you? Lived on Waverly and Loma Verde. People like you who came way, way later to this area aren't welcome either hows that?

Anonymous said...

Bogan, don't speak for me. I live in PA myself, and I voted against this porkfest.