Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Avoiding Palo Alto Altogether

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

While I greatly appreciate Andrew Bogan's excellent summary and comments regarding the most recent Palo Alto city council meeting, I think it's time to let the vocal minority in that town know that the state isn't going to play along with its famously drawn-out "process", in which everything gets studied until all the planners die of old age. California needs construction jobs and a new transportation artery. What it does not need is delay, so this needs to get resolved sooner rather than later.

There are alternatives. There are always alternatives, especially if you're willing to zoom out of your own back yard. I had hoped to keep the couple I've come up with under wraps to avoid distracting from plan A, but these fantasies about boring tunnels for four tracks through suburbia to preserve some supposed rustic charm are getting out of hand. In particular, Palo Alto city officials need to be disabused of the notion that they wield some kind of veto power over this state project, which is in the vanguard of a new national transportation policy.

Plan B: The Alviso Gambit

The whole tedious discussion regarding HSR through Palo Alto would of be moot if trains could stop in Redwood City, then head out to Dumbarton and use a causeway to reach Alviso (see blue line on the map below). It would be possible to thread that past two small portions of the DENWR. Perhaps US Fish & Wildlife would accept this idea if the sections nearest the boundary were enclosed to mitigate noise and other impacts on the birds. Whether environmentalists in the state and in the Bay Area would go along with that is open to question, there's the issue of methyl mercury levels in the bay mud to consider.

The next problem is that the UPRR ROW is too narrow to accommodate two HSR tracks down to SantaClara/SJC. Besides, that railroad wouldn't sell any of it even if it were. Still, it might make sense to at least consider tearing up Lafayette Street one lane at a time to obtain two individual subway tunnels for HSR tracks. This street runs right through the Golden Triangle, but mostly next to Guadaloupe creek. Trenching should not pose as serious a flood risk as it would in the mid-peninsula, but the high water table could be an issue. Vibration and other impacts during and after construction might still present major obstacles, especially if nearby chip factories are affected.

CHSRA would have to grade separate against UPRR in Alviso, probably by flying over both its tracks and CA-237. Down in Santa Clara, the alignment would have to switch to under De La Cruz Blvd, the employee/long-term parking lots at SJC, Aviation and Coleman. That's about 7 miles, though, so there would need to be an open trench section for emergency access between the Lafayette and De La Cruz sections.

Construction cost and impacts would be high, but implementing dozens of grade separations in the mid-peninsula was never going to be a picnic, either. CHSRA is currently planning a tunnel from San Tomas Expressway to SJ Diridon to avoid CEMOF and accommodate BART's desire to run at grade under I-880. The causeway alternative would get trains as far as the HP Pavilion, emerging east of the UPRR tracks just north of Diridon Station. If HSR can manage to stay on that side through south San Jose, there would be plenty of room for HSR to get out of UPRR's hair on the way down to Gilroy.

Plan C: Out Of The Fire, Into The Frying Pan

However, if UPRR or local NIMBYs block CHSRA's path through San Jose, there would be no point in pursuing Pacheco Pass any further. A much shorter causeway-cum-tunnel (cp. Øresund bridge, but on a much smaller scale) between Dumbarton and Newark would preserve the shipping lanes and avoid permanent impacts on the DENWR. Construction impacts would be significant, though, especially in light of the creosote-soaked timbers of the old rail bridge, which would almost certainly have to be removed. A tunnel-only concept from Dumbarton to Newark would also be possible, that decision should be made on the basis of cost alone.

Cargill Salt would have to be persuaded/forced to permit the construction of a low aerial structure above its still-active ponds, rising only to pass over the UPRR line. This viaduct would skirt the DENWR boundary, possibly with another enclosure section. Tracks would dive under I-880 to connect to another tunnel under CA-262, a short but busy city street in south Fremont that connects to I-680 on the other end. Residents there are no more likely to welcome construction with open arms than those in Palo Alto. However, in this case the tracks would stay in a tunnel to cross over to Calaveras Road. The active Calaveras fault would have to be crossed deep underground, which ought to give pause.

In Haynes Gulch, the tracks would run essentially at grade up to the I-680/CA-84 interchange and across via yet another tunnel to an intermodal station with the BART extension to Livermore at El Charro Road, bypassing Pleasanton to shave some time off the trip. There are some ponds at that location, not sure what they are used for - could be a problem. Burrowing under Livermore municipal airport, which is only used for general aviation, the alignment would then essentially follow the I-580 median to the Central Valley. The HSR tracks could cross UPRR/ACE, the ponds and the BART extension on an aerial, but only if the airport is turned into a parking lot.

An intermodal with BART in Fremont Warm Springs would be challenging to construct and require BART to move its station some 4000ft (~1km) south. A spur down to San Jose via the I-880 median would be possible, but that would make building ridership harder as any given train would only have a fraction of the catchment area to draw passengers from. There would be fierce opposition from San Jose, the entire Gilroy catchment area and CHSRA to any plan that would fork the starter line in the East Bay.

Any future spur up to Oakland would be substantially harder, since Caltrans will almost certainly want to retain the median north of CA-92 (San Mateo Bridge). That means cutting across to the unused ROW just west of the BART tracks at Industrial Pkwy in Union City. Light commuter rail traffic could probably squeak by there with the existing single-track ROW, but HSR would require some eminent domain against businesses. Fortunately for them, a spur up to Oakland isn't likely to happen this side of 2030.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that of SF-LA express line haul time, which AB3034 limits to 2h42m. While Altamont-via-Dumbarton is shorter than Altamont-via-SantaClara/SJC, it would nevertheless add a few minutes that have to be clawed back somewhere else. Worst case, the whole Tehachapis vs. Grapevine question would have to re-opened just to achieve the time target. That in turn would make it harder to connect Las Vegas to the network. On the plus side, service between SF and Sacramento would be time-competitive with driving, even more so for SJ-Sacramento. If CHSRA is forced to partner with BNSF in Merced and Stanislaus counties and there is an HSR station at Castle Airport (instead of Merced town) on the starter line, its catchment area would extend well beyond the Central Valley into the Bay Area, serving as a relief/complementary airport for OAK and SJC.

View Larger Map

NOTE: black lines indicate the relevant DENWR boundaries.


Either approach would pretty much nix Dumbarton commuter rail because FRA has strict rules regarding FRA-compliant and non-compliant equipment to share track, but that's probably a survivable loss. Much more painful would be having to do a significant portion of the Bay Area to Central Valley Program EIR/EIS yet again just because Palo Alto couldn't be bothered to throw a spanner in the works at the appropriate time - basically, any time before the November election. Each year added to the schedule for planning reasons adds around 6% to estimated project cost, i.e. around $2.5 billion because of knock-on effects on phase II. That's on top of actual escalations due to more involved construction techniques. And make no mistake, dear Palo Alto NIMBYs: whatever the personal miscommunications of Messrs. Kopp and Diridon may have been, it will be you the rest of the state will blame for the resulting cost escalation if plan A falters on your account at this late juncture.

Consider for example Lodi, a small town out in the Central Valley that managed to secure a bypass for itself without a whole lot of fuss because it spoke up clearly and early. LA county persuaded CHSRA to run the route past Palmdale instead of across the Grapevine because it acted early. You had 12 years to get involved but instead - to be blunt - your elected officials chose to sit on their collective duff until just a few weeks ago. There's a time to raise a red flag and a time to accept the consequences of failing to do so. Now, it's perfectly reasonable to ask for a couple of alternatives to be priced out if the initial concept is flawed. However, it's not acceptable to expect the rest of the state and nation to pay through the nose to increase your property values while the tent cities in places like Fresno are growing larger by the day. If you want something over-and-above the norm, you're going to have to figure out a way to avoid breaking CHSRA's time and dollar budget in the process.

Note that if plan A falls through, all of the mid-peninsula cities between Redwood City and San Jose would have to fund any new grade separations of the Caltrain ROW themselves if and when commuter rail traffic reaches the high levels Caltrain is forecasting in its 2025 plan. They'd also need to pay for electrification and other improvements south of Redwood City themselves. As for the Transbay Terminal, there may not be any money left over for any HSR contributions to the DTX tunnel and the train box in phase I if CHSRA needs to switch to plan B, let alone plan C.


Let's hope cooler heads prevail and Palo Alto doesn't become the state's new poster child for NIMBYism, after a clear majority of its residents endorsed prop 1A. As soon as CHSRA gets its funding, HNTB needs to get cracking on affordable and acceptable solutions for sticking with the Caltrain ROW all the way to San Jose. Meanwhile, CHSRA needs to secure a ROW down to Gilroy, which means talking turkey with UPRR. Alternatives do exist, but each would create as many problems as it solves.


Anonymous said...

Are you aware that AECOM is scoping option c right now?

Anonymous said...

considering any changes at this point will set the project back for decades and anything that involves building anything on or around any bay wetlands will never be apporved in teh bay area. Its unfortunate but the pack of blood sucking lawyers that calls it self the sierra club and other groups would block it every step of the way until they were properly paid off.

Anonymous said...

Id rather see it terminate in Oakland than San Jose. Oakland- 580- livermore. and be done with it. Oakland is 15 minutes from SF SAn Jose os an hour away. by the time I travel to san jose to gat a train I could have flown down south.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I would just like to say that, from my perspective, this is a useful thinkpiece, a way to consider all options, which is what good planners do.

However, I do NOT believe, for a moment, that we ought to give in to the HSR denial that the Palo Alto council has now embraced. If they want to sue, that's their problem. The best solution from an operational perspective remains using the full Caltrain ROW from SF to San Jose, and then to Gilroy and over the Pacheco Pass.

It is not legitimate for Palo Alto to impose an inferior and more costly solution on the rest of the state. They need to understand that it is their job to accommodate the high speed rail project that the state needs for its future - not the project's or the state's job to accommodate Palo Alto's whims.

Anonymous said...

As for san jose to gilroy and UP, Ill say it again - you have to look at the amount of room available on the 101. they is way more room there than they will ever need and it doesn't go by anyones house.

Fred Martin said...

Robert, don't ever forget Tip O'Neill's famous dictum:
"All politics is local."

Then again, Tip O'Neill was one of the masterminds of the Big Dig construction blowout, but he did know that you have to respect and heed local politics. Otherwise, you're not going to get anything built.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:50 -

what AECOM has been contracted to do is conduct project-level EIR/EIS planning for the "HST/commuter rail" overlay. This concept was introduced in the aftermath of the decision to confirm Pacheco Pass as the preferred route out of the Bay Area.

Trains on this overlay would run from Stockton and Modesto (perhaps Merced) to San Jose and Oakland. CHSRA has no plans to run these strictly regional trains any further than that, though operations plans are of course still subject to change. A company bidding to operate the network isn't going to let CHSRA dictate those terms, it will insist on optimizing schedules and routes itself.

The overlay is not part of phase I or even phase II of the HSR network. Rather, it is a related but separate project.

The only reason it is being studied at all at this point is that AB3034, the bill that became law with the passage of prop 1A, explicitly identified a number of component corridors that are potentially eligible for funding. "Stockton to Merced to Oakland to San Francisco" was listed as corridor G. That's not exactly what CHSRA had proposed with its overlay, but that's how they've chosen to interpret it for now.

At the same time, the bill specified that SF-LA-Anaheim had priority and that none of this is prejudicial to CHSRA's decision on the preferred route of the starter line. In other words, the lawmakers finagled the issue.

My option C here is different in that it would represent an alternate route for the starter line - a can of worms I very much hope Palo Alto doesn't force CHSRA to open again. At this point, plan A is - like it or not - SF-SJ-LA-Anaheim via Pacheco Pass and the Authority's primary efforts will rightly be focused on that.

Of course, it's smart planning practice to have some contingency plans, but their existence should not distract from the effort to implement the preferred route. That was the whole point of my post.

Rafael said...

@ Robert -

exactly, though I'd caution that Palo Alto, like every other city the HSR alignment will run through, does and should have a say in how it is implemented. I just don't agree that they are supposed to have sole decision making power here, especially on everyone's dime.

@ Fred Martin -

respect goes both ways. The Palo Alto city council did not respect the timeline of the planning process. It failed to spend enough time on the published documentation/with CHSRA personnel to understand just what the cost estimate figures were based on.

I have no fundamental problem with any community raising a red flag because what is being considered is unacceptable to it. Atherton complained before the election and so did Menlo Park. I don't agree with them, but I do respect their rights.

Saying "all politics is local" does not mean that a statewide project should be subject to the whims of every town and hamlet along the way. Negotiation has to be a two-way street. CHSRA, especially in the guise of Rod Diridon, has rubbed Palo Altans the wrong way and I can understand why. But the reverse is also true.

Anonymous said...

The AECOM work is for a system that High Speed Rail could run on. Read page 4 of it. It also says that the job is to implement Altamont as specified in the MTC report - which recommended making Altamont an equal peer to Pacheco.

Either they are doing both or they have told people they are doing both - either way someone is going to be pissed.

Bay Area Resident said...

here is the salt marsh harvest mouse that precludes any development in Freemont or Alviso, really just forget it

miska muska mickeeee said...

Salt marsh harvest mouse! I'm pretty sure I've seen some of those running around the ROW near San Francisquito creek! In fact I'm sure I have... yipeee.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 2:03pm -

well, if it's standard gauge and electrified at 25kV single-phase AC, high speed trains can technically run on it. That in and of itself doesn't mean very much yet.

Wrt the MTC's role, the document says this on p4:

"The CHSRA is also pursuing a partnership with local and regional agencies and transit providers to propose and develop a joint-use (“Regional Rail” and HST) infrastructure project in the Altamont Pass corridor—as advocated in MTC’s recently approved “Regional Rail Plan for the San Francisco Bay Area.”
Regionally provided commuter services would require regional investment for additional infrastructure needs and potentially need operational subsidies. The CHSRA cannot unilaterally plan for regionally operated commuter services."

The Altamont Pass provides quick travel times between Sacramento/northern San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area and is strongly supported by the Central Valley largely because of its great potential for serving long-distance commuters between these markets. Many of the adverse impacts associated with construction and operation of a joint-use rail infrastructure through the Tri-Valley might be considerably less than was anticipated from the development of a full Altamont Pass HST system with the additional tracks needed for HST express services operating at speeds up to 220 mph.

“Regional Rail” in the Altamont Pass corridor will be pursued as an independent project* to
satisfy a different purpose and need 1 from the proposed HST system, but that would also
accommodate HST service.

* As defined in CEQA and NEPA implementing regulations, procedures, and guidelines.


Note that they're not talking about a four track corridor as in the SF peninsula, because the expected incremental ridership would not justify that level of investment. Rather, this would be something like ACE on steroids, serving more destinations.

Top speeds would be lower than those envisaged in the original full-fat Altamont variations, which would have had bullet trains running through the Pass at 150-200mph and above 200mph east of Tracy (see here). Figure no more than 125mph, probably less through the Pass, Livermore, Pleasanton and Fremont.

One major caveat here is that the FRA currently does not permit FRA-compliant trains and non-compliant equipment such as off-the-shelf high speed trains to share track, except if there is guaranteed time separation.

The route originally studied relied heavily on the notion that UPRR would be willing to sell part or all of the Altamont ROW between Niles and Ortega/French Camp. Even assuming that might one day be the case, there's still the issue of how to get down to San Jose, across to Redwood City or up to Oakland.

That's why what I called plan C for the full-fat starter line would need a route that does not rely on legacy tracks at all, to ensure it met FRA rules and could operate at the speeds originally envisaged. It would be a very different animal from the scaled-back overlay that AECOM has been asked to study.

r. motorist said...

Ok, I have a couple of questions here. The first one is for Robert.

As I recall, around a year ago your general take on the alignment controversy was something like "Well, the important thing is to support getting 1A passed, whether or not you agree with the preferred alignment. And either alignment was acceptable, neither was clearly inferior."

Is that a fair paraphrasing of your previous remarks on the subject?

I only ask because now you wrote The best solution from an operational perspective remains using the full Caltrain ROW from SF to San Jose, and then to Gilroy and over the Pacheco Pass.

Did you view on this change at some point?

Also, both the CHSRA and MTC plans have both alignments built out, although in slightly different ways. If the alignment were to change, I'm assuming there would be no "Pacheco Overlay". So, wouldn't the cost of delays be mitigated by the long term savings of only having to build one route though the mountains?

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

well, if you're right, nothing will protect these critters better than high speed trains. Because nobody wants to develop real estate anywhere near those "blightmobiles", right?

This must be the ultimate get-off-my-lawn ploy. You go to great lengths to restore habitat for birds that feed on these mice and then complain they're an endangered species. It's like the boy who kills his parents and then claims he needs special protection because he's an orphan.

If this critter's habitat were really worth protecting, the Alviso sloughs would already be part of the DENWR. But they're not, only a couple of old salt pans near Alviso are.

Perhaps that's because San Jose is only now getting around to finally cleaning up the tailings from cinnabar mining in the Gold Rush days.

Bay Area Resident said...

I'm not really defending the marsh mouse here, although I am an environmentalist, I just think that Alviso is a hard build because there is a whole contingent of people nationwide who feel very strongly about endangered species and that mouse will sound a siren for them to come out of their trees and descend upon this project. It is actually easier to deal with Palo Alto, than that mouse. Those critters are in Alviso and Fremont.

Bay Area Resident said...

mista muska, here's the plan. Go get yourself some white field mice that they sell at Petco. Get a can of brown spraypaint or that spray on hair. Spray the mouse and relocate him to desired "habitat". Take a picture with a $5 throwaway cameraa from a distance so its hard to see. Call the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, Earth First and every nutty environmental group you can find and claim the marsh mouse is in your yard. VOILA!
I witnessed this first hand in Eugene Ore about 15 years ago. Quite a sight.

Rafael said...

@ r.motorist -

of course there wouldn't be a Pacheco overlay if the starter line ran through Altamont.

However, the latter option would also put San Jose Diridon on a spur, cutting into service frequency and hence, ridership, in the all-important early years of operation.

That is, unless the south bay station were moved to SantaClara/SJC for run-through tracks. That variation would mean San Jose residents would have to ride BART for one additional stop but reduce the SF-LA line haul time penalty relative to Pacheco from 20-30 minutes to around 8.

Even that would be too much to meet the 2h42m limit AB3034 specifies for the non-stop SF-LA line haul time. To compensate, the route into the LA basin might have to be switched from Tehachapi-Palmdale-Soledad Canyon to the technically more challenging Grapevine alignment. That's why LAWA's plans for a solar thermal plant on airport land are very relevant to Northern California.

Of course, Parsons Brinkerhoff an other consultants recommended that both routes out of the Bay Area be studied in more detail. They are for-profit enterprises, after all.

BruceMcF said...

Rafeal: "I had hoped to keep the couple I've come up with under wraps to avoid distracting from plan A, but these fantasies about boring tunnels for four tracks through suburbia to preserve some supposed rustic charm are getting out of hand. In particular, Palo Alto city officials need to be disabused of the notion that they wield some kind of veto power over this state project, which is in the vanguard of a new national transportation policy."

So instead, give them the idea that they can deny an existing rail right of way to a rail use and instead dictate an alternate route?

I think there is a disconnect here between Internet Time and Real World Time. Not only has nothing actually happened to "force" any issue, but there has been far from enough time for anything to actually happen.

Train layouts are fun ... I had a blast with hammering out different details for the Newcastle Tram-Train proposal (pdf) ... but my good mates in Newcastle finalized the proposal, submitted for consideration, and now University Students and other supporters of the idea have put together a website, have started a petition drive, are trying to promote the idea ... are doing all the actual grass roots work that is required to support a project.

CA-HSR supporters on the Peninsula, supported by CA-HSR supporters across the state and across the country, need to develop materials on alternative options, get the word out on various design options ... and probable price tags ... and campaign.

And no whinging about "CHSRA needs to do a better job of ...", I am talking about CA-HSR.

Authorities come and go, but the infrastructure for a project like this will still be used a century from now (of course, supposing that an industry economy survives Peak Oil, climate chaos, bio-weapons, and all the rest of the stuff that makes the beginning of the 21st century so much fun).

Rafael said...

@ BAR -

It is actually easier to deal with Palo Alto, than that mouse.

... and that is one of many reasons why I'm advocating that we focus on making plan A work. It's just that four bored tunnels through suburbia is a lot crazier than the retained fill embankment Palo Altans got so worked up about.

Bay Area Resident said...

Palo Alto city officials need to be disabused of the notion that they wield some kind of veto power over this state project, which is in the vanguard of a new national transportation policy."

Videos like this are the problem with statements like the above. They made promises to get this thing passed that they never should have. And by the way if you go to youtube and search Rod Diridon Palo Alto there are dozens of videos of Diridon making all kinds of BS claims for the city to see.

Andrew Bogan said...

Salt marsh harvest mouse? Please.

The California Clapper Rail is far cooler. I've stood on the Bayshore in the wind and fog for hours just to see one.

NOnimbys said...

Bury HSR thru nimby alto and leave Caltrain and UP at grade and all the noise and smoke so they can enjoy it.

Andrew Bogan said...


In speaking with CHSRA, it sounds like that option will indeed be studied in the EIR scope. It's a classic "careful what you wish for" situation. Caltrain will fight it hard, since they want CHSRA to help pay for their electrification.

David M. said...

For only the distance where it is needed, is there a reason why a tunnel for HSR beneath Caltrain/UP is not viable? This would be similar to BART/Muni on Market St.

Devil's Advocate said...

Any alternate route to bypass PA will increase time and expense, to the detriment of the entire project. The best solution is HSR at grade or aerial structure, and a pack of free earplugs for PA residents. Besides it's usually a very small minority of vocal NIMBYs who cause a lot of trouble, but I bet most residents won't give a damn about how it's built, unless they live within 50 ft from the line. I'm not however in favor of any stations between SF and LA with the exceptions of cities over 400K pop. That would include San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, and nothing else. All others in between must find their way to the closest station (via bus, car, Caltrain, Metrolink or horse) At most I would consider a station at SFO (with non stop trains SFO-Fresno). But why do we need a station in Palo Alto? or Gilroy, or Tulare, or Sylmar, or even Palmdale? There are very few HSTs abroad that stop at towns that size, unless they're major tourist destinations like Aix-en-Provence. Most others stop (when they stop) only in bigger towns. Why would one waste money and time to build a station in Palo Alto, when all people need to do is catch a caltrain from PA to San Jose and continue on an HST from there to LA? Eliminating insignifican stops like that for the HST would improve use, because I doubt that somebody from PA would want to take an All-stops HST to LA and spend 4 hours on the train. It would probably be faster to take a caltrain to SJ and from there take a limited stops HST that stops only in Fresno and Bakersfield before reaching LA. These trains are meant to be the replacement for short haul flights between decent size cities, they are not meant to accomodate every neighborhood and district with a station in every god forsaken town. The more stations along the way, the higher the chance of slow downs in the entire system.

Alon Levy said...

DA: don't think of the stop between SFO and SJ as Palo Alto; think of it as Silicon Valley, which consists of Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Stanford, and Redwood City.

I agree that Sylmar is marginal, but due to curves and low speed limits in the LA basin, the stop probably won't incur too much of a time penalty.

Bay Area Resident said...

ah come on Andrew Bogan. Take a look at this picture, about halfway down with the clapper right alongside the field mouse. Who looks more interesting there? The MOUSE! I can almost hear the mouse saying "don't let that train run over me in Alviso"!!! So thats it for the alviso bypass I'd say.

The really sad thing on this page are the salmon. The Chinook salmon and Coho, and then the steelhead. Another 4 years of Bush policies and these would have been gone.

Spokker said...

Now we are arguing about mice and birds. I already post on a blog for that!

Clem said...

Why such contorted solutions? Unless HSR runs over Altamont, a rail underpass at Churchill Ave might be the solution to placate Southgate. No Berlin Wall, and much reduced noise. Of course, with all those wonderful plans to run 21 foot tall freight cars, it'll be one DEEP underpass.

Morris Brown said...

@Anonymous 12:50PM

The link as written will not work. Blogger cuts off long URL's

The link really is:


I thank you for finding this document. Even though this RFQ is pretty old, the contract awarded to Aecom was apparently just approved, and well after the Authority decided not to go Altamont.

I fail to understand why the Authority would be spending funds on this now, when Altamont usage is way way off in the future.

It only makes sense if they need Altamont as a backup, if Pacheco is proven to be impossibe.

Morris Brown said...

Well here is some new input.

News Story

from Dominic Spaethling:

In some sections, he added, engineers may have to get creative to fit four tracks within Caltrain's right-of-way. While most of the corridor is wide enough for Caltrain and high-speed trains to run side by side, some areas may require tracks to be stacked vertically, two below and two above. Using eminent domain to acquire private property would be a last resort, but officials have not ruled it out.

So downtown Menlo Park, where there is only a 50 foot corridor, gets a nice narrow wall 45 feet or so wide, but stacked rails to a height of around 90 feet.

Presumably that would continue for some distance, so the residential areas north would be confronted with that view also.

Andrew Bogan said...


The consideration for a station location is not only the population of the city, it is the likely rail ridership. Palo Alto is both a major destination in Silicon Valley and the stop for Stanford University. That is why despite having just 60,000 residents, we have more Caltrain ridership than nearby San Jose with its population of about 1 million. In fact Palo Alto's Caltrain ridership is the second highest of the entire line, right behind SF.

Clem said...


It is sort of a neat little piece game theory, isn't it?

Atherton, MP & Palo Alto can try to make eminent domain far more costly than warranted, by threatening reverse condemnation suits with punitive damages far in excess of the value of the property in question.

The natural response to this threat is to make do with the existing ROW but build fantastically complex and expensive solutions like this silly double-stack notion that ultimately causes far worse community impacts. And the Parsons of this world will be only too happy to splurge on these solutions with our taxpayer money!

Spokker said...

Clem, those are exactly the kind of tactics, on both sides, that will deliver us a result, and a not a solution. We're all to blame in some regard.

Eh, almost anything would be better than our current intercity passenger rail service.

Bring on the double decker high speed rail!

Spokker said...

Has anyone noticed this? As of April 1st, the first result for "high speed rail" on Google is the official web site for California High Speed Rail. On MSN it's second. And on Yahoo it's also first.

It's only one metric of popularity but I found it interesting.

Anonymous said...

if you can stand another article about PA

Anonymous said...

"In fact Palo Alto's Caltrain ridership is the second highest of the entire line, right behind SF."

PA requires Stanford reduce congestion. SU offers employee's a free VTA & caltrain commuter pass good for all zones.

Ironic if Caltrain were to disappear, PA would miserably becongested with cars.

Maybe the nuclear solution is to move the Caltrain service along with HSR to reduce rail impact on PA.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 8:16am -

Where would you move Caltrain to? Remember that UPRR has an easement on the corridor.

No-one is asking for Caltrain service to be eliminated or moved somewhere else, except perhaps up or down for full grade separation.

As for CHSRA, check out Clem's post on Why They Chose The Caltrain Corridor.

Andrew Bogan said...


Maybe I misunderstood but I think the 8:16 Anon was pointing out that the existing Caltrain already significantly reduces vehicle traffic in Palo Alto, so all the NIMBY arguments about not wanting HSR in Palo Alto because of congestion are ridiculous.

The logical extension of the NIMBY argument would be to move the Caltrain, too. That would benefit the NIMBYs' property values relative to their neighbors (no more railroad, no more next to the tracks discount), but it would be a disaster for the town and for Stanford.

Basically how does anyone support moving HSR, but keeping Caltrain? Palo Alto should be trying to keep both.

Resident said...

Clem limits his 'why they chose caltrain' lecture to a discussion of eminent domain along the ROW, but as has been discussed extensively, this only begins to scratch the surface of the true property value impacts, loss of use, damage to tax base, damage to schools, cross streets and homes for miles+ or more away from tracks, on cross streets, etc. Particularly in the case where stations would also be built.

And hence the true cost to CHSRA for choosing to play in that Bay Area sandbox is masked, hidden and grossly miscalculated by using a simple 75 foot wide measuring stick. When total costs of property impact are finally put on the table, we'll see that the other options that CHSRA prematurely disgarded will look like a relative bargain. Even demolishing every 101 overpass between SF and SJ (to fly the train in over the median on elevated structure) will look like a cheap solution.

Its been said over and over again here that CHSRA needs to find a cheap and acceptable solutino. Its high time that Rafael, Robert, and all their little buddies come to terms with the cost of real estate in the Bay Area. There aint no such thing as CHEAP North of SJ. Sorry, its not a class issue, its an economic reality and there's no reason on earth to assume the CHSRA is going to get away with highway robbery. It would be a litigation blood bath.

But unfortunately CHSRA, egged on by Rafael, Robert, Andrew, etc, will only put the total cost on the table 2-3 years from now - when they're absolutely FORCED to by the project level eir process. What a shame to know something now for a fact, but put heads firmly sand for that long, only to come around to it after wasting that much time and $$. (EXACTLY like the UPRR letters.)

And 2-3 years from now when we're STILL having the EXACT same conversation, Robert's going to be blaming the NIMBYS for not forcing the issue earlier.

Anonymous said...

"And make no mistake, dear Palo Alto NIMBYs: whatever the personal miscommunications of Messrs. Kopp and Diridon may have been, it will be you the rest of the state will blame for the resulting cost escalation if plan A falters on your account at this late juncture."

I'm not sure why they should care? If they block the project, what are the consequences for them?

resident said...

Andrew - wow what poor powers of logic from a phd. Caltrain is a commuter line. It takes locals to other local places, replacing need for daily drives to work. Those are people that would otherwise be on our surface streets between nearby cities (ie: PA to SJ, or SC to MV, etc.) good for traffic in the Bay Area.

HSR is no such thing. HSR by its own free admittance, is a long distance train. It replaces airport trips. If you haven't noticed, there are no major commuter airports in Palo Alto, Redwood city or Mt. View. Whichever city is unfortunate (stupid) enough to attract the station, will find itself inundated with CARS that otherwise would have been headed to SFO or SJC, to now catch the train instead of the plane. And the nearby cities will take the traffic impact hits for this as well as major arteries (Central, 101, Middlefield) that cross city boundaries will become a nightmare.

However, The BIG LIE is CHSRA's underlying assumption that the airline ridership at SFO/SJC comes from the Peninsula in any great part. That's just false - SFO and SJC are the only major airports in all of Northern California. Airline customers come from EVERYWHERE in Northern California - east bay, north bay, 680 corridor, Northern California, Sacramento, Tracy, etc. It would be an utter DISASTER for any of these Peninsula cities - who's Caltrian tracks are buried within miles of residential surface streets, to "successfully" draw that airport ridership into their heart. And that's exactly the case if HSR WORKS AS PROMISED! If it doesn't work, they get all the destruction from building and running high speed trains through through the heart of their residential neighborhoods, and not a bit of economic improvement - because afterall are all these people REALLy going to drive miles and hours past the airports to get on a slower, just as costly, HSR? Not happening.

So to recap - if your arguing the HSR will work as promised, then you're promising to ruin a whole bunch of cmomunities with miserable incremental traffic influx. If you're arguing that HSR will not work as promised - well, then, I'd agree with you, then why are you defending it?

Clem said...

@resident, you seem to be blurring the distinction between two separate issues: HSR on the peninsula vs. an HSR station in Palo Alto.

If Palo Alto doesn't want the HSR station and attendant traffic and development, that's one thing-- the city is free to choose for itself. On the other hand, the city is not free to choose the HSR route; that decision is up to the state of California.

lyqwyd said...

@resident, as Clem mentioned, the station in PA is entirely up to PA, I don't think anybody outside of PA and Redwood City really care which city gets the station.

If the station actually were to go in PA, the majority of riders would probably people going to meeting to and from PA, not long distance flyers since it's unlikely PA will have a non-stop train. Since they are either starting or ending in PA, they would be driving through PA either way.

Andrew Bogan said...


"this only begins to scratch the surface of the true property value impacts, loss of use, damage to tax base, damage to schools, cross streets and homes for miles+ or more away from tracks, on cross streets, etc. Particularly in the case where stations would also be built." [emphasis added]

Please read the comprehensive study from UC Berkeley on property values near HSR stations over several decades in Japan and France. Your statement above has already been shown to be completely false in the two countries with the longest history of HSR. Property values rose >20% in cities with HSR stations. Similar sized cities with new road infrastructure saw no comparable benefit. The same psotive effects on property values have been seen in North America around rail infrastructure developments (including BART), as are surveyed by Booz Allen Hamilton in a paper by Diaz.

Recent academic work in Taiwan by Professor David Emanuel Andersson, which is not yet published, has shown the same trend of property value increases in Hsinchu (Taiwan's Silicon Valley) in just 2 years after the opening of HSR service to the city.

Resident said...

Clem, if the suggestion is no stations in the Silicon Valley towns whatsoever, then of course, no new outside traffic would be drawn in to the surface streets in any of the neighboring towns.

Traffic impacts would then come from whatever the scenarios are with changes in crossings. some positive? maybe. some negative? probably... For example, closing a 'small' crossing like E.Meadow, (for cost cutting purposes say), would in fact put alot more autos on the street in the region, because the ability to bike/walk across town (ie: to school, to economic centers) would be gone in that end of town, so those people will have to get in cars to travel the extra miles. That's just a simple example for illustrative purposes of how HSR could increase traffic, not decrease it, even with no stations. Here's another example, if bike paths adjacent to row are eliminated, while big concrete underpasses below grade crossings disect what would have otherwise been ped crossing points -the distances/times across town for otherwise bikers could be blown out, and that puts more cars on the road. Those types of traffic implications WILL be real, will have to be studied and accounted for in detail in the program EIR. Its not unrealistic to see how a vast remodeling of surface streets around HSR would put more cars on roads.(BTW in the progrma EIR has no crossing shown at EMeadow).

As for who chooses - yes State of California chooses, and under law chooses based on some basic laws and protections - such as laws that say people have to be made whole for their property values, that things can not be harmed like schools, watersheds, historic landmarks, protected species, traffic impacts, that econimic destruction of towns, will be taken in to proper account. While its easy to say that a single town doesn't have a say - they have plenty of INFLUENCE by a) forcing 'state of california' to do their environmental impact studies, and corresponding ACCOUNTING for impact properly, and b) petitioning the courts for fair treatment, c) political noise - and lots of it.

Rafael said...

@ resident -

CHSRA actually only expects 1 in 5 passengers to have chosen HSR over a short-hop flight. The other 80% are shorter trips that passengers would otherwise use their own car for.

Whether that's accurate or not, we'll see, but HSR is not primarily about long distance. rather, it is all about speed over both short and medium distances. As a mode of transportation, HSR fits in-between cars and planes, with significant overlap on both sides. SF-San Diego will be only just be competitive against flying, but nothing would beat HSR for SF-Fresno or Bakersfield-LA.

Wrt Caltrain specifically, it offers two levels of service today: locals that stop at every station and "baby bullets" that don't. Top speed is 79mph for both.

Provided FRA permits the use of off-the-shelf, lightweight electric multiple unit (EMU) non-compliant equipment with a top speed of 90mph, electrified Caltrain locals will achieve the same line haul times from SF to SJ as "baby bullets" do now. There are no plans to run these EMUs down to Gilroy.

If there is sufficient demand for two different levels of service, Caltrain can negotiate the right to operate a number of purely regional HSR trains between SF and Gilroy. It owns the ROW, after all.

The Dutch national railways and KLM have a joint venture called NS HiSpeed that will run trains with a top speed of 250km/h on tracks that will also support Thalys trains at up to 320km/h (with appropriate bypass sections).

Any new Caltrain HiSpeed service along these lines would use trains that meet the top speed (<150mph) and acceleration requirements for SF-Gilroy, which means they would be much cheaper than the cutting-edge designs capable of 220mph. These trainsets would be separate from those used for local service, feature level boarding and stop only at the planned 4-5 HSR stations, including platform tracks reserved for HSR at the Transbay Terminal.

It's time for people on the peninsula to stop thinking of CHSRA as some sort of malevolent invader from outer space. Dedicated high speed tracks could be a massive upgrade for Caltrain iff the PCJPB decides to reserve a fraction of the available slots on the timetable for that purpose. We're talking 10 minutes from Palo Alto to Millbrae/SFO, 10, to downtown SJ, 20 to downtown SF.

Andrew Bogan said...


The BIG LIE is CHSRA's underlying assumption that the airline ridership at SFO/SJC comes from the Peninsula in any great part.

Since the San Francisco Peninsula includes every city from San Francisco to Sunnyvale (and some would argue Santa Clara and San Jose, too)--the largest population center in Northern California--it seems almost certain that your above statement is incorrect. I have not seen a break down of SFO or SJC air traffic passengers by home zip code, but I challenge you to provide such a reference prior to making things up and posting them here.

That's just false - SFO and SJC are the only major airports in all of Northern California.

Thinking of things that are false, Oakland (OAK) has more air passenger traffic than SJC.

The willingness of the NIMBY opponents of HSR to make up the "facts" to support their obstructionist arguments does not make them more credible.

BruceMcF said...

Rafeal: "SF-San Diego will be only just be competitive against flying"

Also note that a train is not an airplane ... an SF-San Diego route will be very competitive against flying Fresno to San Diego and flying San Francisco to Riverside. At four hours, and at present crude oil prices (which won't persist), it may only attract 10% or 20% of air patronage between SF and San Diego, but that patronage is on top of the patronage from SF to closer points and to SD from closer points along the SF/SD route.