Wednesday, July 29, 2009

At Least the Above-Grade Tracks Are Quiet

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

So the Peninsula is having a hard time making up its mind - do they dislike above-grade tracks more than they dislike the loud horns that are an inherent part of at-grade passenger rail?

It’s not just you — Caltrain’s horns are indeed louder and the transit agency is working hard to tweak its “toots” and “tweets” to bring the noise level down and keep in line with federal law at the same time.

Federal regulations require the horns to produce distinct, separate and sequential blasts and a recent safety inspection revealed the horns were not making the unique “toot” and “tweet.”...

Caltrain moved the horns to the underside of locomotives and cab cars in response to previous complaints from the community.

But since the powerful air horns weren’t making the distinctive “toots” and “tweets” the horns have returned to their original location on top of the trains.

I can see why this would rile up the neighbors. The train horns are already pretty loud, as we demonstrated back in May:

And here's one of many videos of above-grade HSR, in this case an AVE trainset in Catalonia:

Which one would you rather live next to? I found it instructive that in this video, the barking dog was louder and more persistent than the passing train. Sure, sure, the dog was probably closer to the videocamera than the train, but that would be the experience of most residents along the corridor, who will live closer to passing cars, barking dogs, teenagers blasting loud music, etc, than they'd live to a far quieter train structure that is grade separated using electric trainsets.

The horns are clearly getting noticed:

Burlingame resident Lynn Hawthorne said her entire neighborhood has noticed the louder horns.

“It’s just terrible. The horns got much louder. I live two blocks from the track but it feels like I’m living on the tracks when the train passes,” Hawthorne said. “I’ve got double-pane windows but I might as well not have windows at all.”

You just don't hear this from people living next to above-grade high speed tracks. HSR trains aren't silent, and we're not claiming they are. But neither are they anything close to this loud. It's instead an occasional "woosh" that won't sound appreciably louder than the truck that just rumbled down my street here in Monterey.

Which brings me to the real issue here. Living in a city means dealing with noise. It is right to want to minimize the most offending and loud noises. But you can't eliminate it entirely, especially when your community is built around a major passenger rail corridor.

Despite the fact that the Caltrain corridor has been handling passenger trains for much longer than any resident along the route has been alive, there are still people living there who seem to think they can make the train corridor silent and invisible. That's just not possible, unless these cities have billions of dollars lying around to spend on a tunnel. So instead you should find ways to ensure that the trains are well-integrated into the community, including finding ways to minimize the noise.

Above-grade tracks are the most cost-effective way to do this - and they come with the added benefit of making what is already an extremely dangerous corridor much safer by separating the trains and the cars and people passing by the tracks.

In short, if folks in Burlingame are upset at the horns, they should be asking their city councilmembers and city staff why they've joined with Menlo Park and Atherton to fight the above-grade solution that can affordably solve this rather loud problem.


Morris Brown said...

Steel on rail wheels on a 15 foot high platform at 125 MPH are plenty noisy.

What is needed are quiet zones, which for a tiny fraction of the cost of fully grade separated tracks, which is what HSR demands, could, and should be installed to quiet the horns.

In point of fact, quad gates, a requirement in most cases to establish a quiet zone, are about to be installed at the Atherton, Fair Oaks crossing, as a safety measure.

The news release put out by CalTrain was particularly objectionable. The last paragraph reads:

Grade-separated crossings, as proposed by high-speed rail, would eliminate the need for engineers to sound the horn.
Caltrain has entered into an agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to bring the service along the Caltrain corridor

Where is the mention of the possibility of quiet zones?

If CalTrain thinks they are going to convert anyone to support HSR on the basis that that will silence the horns they are sadly mistaken.

For an agency, whose corridor was purchased by the voters along the peninsula and to whom they should be serving, they are missing the boat.

The local papers are filled with complaints; CalTrain has admitted to 120 complaints as of a few days ago.

dave said...

Remember that the video of the Above Grade AVE train is traveling at 300kph (186mph). High Speed Rail and Caltrain will only do how much, 110-125mph through the Peninsula. The noise would be much lower.

dave said...

@ Morris

Quiet zones are only used for Night time when their is little to no traffic. Even then you still get the occasional moron that doesn't know or care and still sounds the horn at 1:00 A.M. I know, I live by the U.P tracks.

Also quiet zones don't keep cars and people off the tracks at any time, day or night.

Anonymous said...

Aslo keep in mind if PA were to get a station, the trains would be slowing down to far less than 125 on the approach and would be out of town before they reached 125 again reducing noise even further.

Reality Check said...

"Steel on rail wheels on a 15 foot high platform at 125 MPH are plenty noisy."

Actually, I think you'd be pleasantly surprised at how quiet an electric HSR train is when cruising at only 125 mph on a high-quality state-of-art trackbed along with low sound walls that block noise coming from the undercarriage and rail/wheel junction.

According to today's KTVU-TV's video report, Caltrain will be working in the next weeks to install "chokes in the line so that we can reduce the volume to the minimum acceptable level."

Rafael said...

There's no need for simulations of Caltrain horn and bell noises. Here's the real thing, prior to the most recent increase in level:

Mary Ave, Sunnyvale

From the cab

Baby bullet passing local at Lawrence Expwy - bonus wheel squeal for true masochists.

Bottom line: FRA-compliant rolling stock + clapped-out rails + grade crossings = lots of noise blight.

The status quo is not bucholic. I used to live about a mile from the Caltrain tracks and could still hear those infernal bells and horns, especially from UPRR trains at night.

For comparison, here are some HSR trains at 125mph:

IC125 at Didcot, UK

ICE2 at Düsseldorf-Benrath, Germany

X40 at Linköping, Sweden

Of course, all of the above recordings were made by amateurs with different equipment in different wind conditions. A valid comparison would require professional audio recordings under controlled conditions, so that's something SF peninsula residents should ask HNTB to produce.

Sam said...

For an agency, whose corridor was purchased by the voters along the peninsula and to whom they should be serving, they are missing the boat.

The agency is owned jointly by three counties and should be following the will of the majority, not the will of a handful of selfish towns in ONE of the three counties. In reality, the agency should be serving the will of the majority by giving FAR LESS time and understanding to such a TINY minority of its owners. It would be like expecting Bill Gates to pick up the phone and listen to an "outraged" shareholder who owns a 1000 shares of Microsoft.

Jarrett Mullen said...

@ Morris

Keep in mind all of the Peninsula alignment will be on retained fill or cuts. Therefore, the track will be on ballast and earth which is much better at noise dampening than long aerial structures.

I echo what others have said about the quiet zones. They do eliminate the horn noise, but they don't solve the problems of trespassers and suicides. Even if HSR wasn't built, Caltrain will be increasing service per their 2025 plan, and they cannot afford lengthy grade crossing delays which quiet zones don't fix. Grade separation is the answer.

Matt said...

@ Jarrett Mullen property value!

How can school children study knowing that 200 yards away someone is traveling 125 mph in a train?

Rafael said...

@ matt -

the very fact that Palo Alto residents chose to site one of their two high schools right next to an active railroad with sulfur-belching diesel locomotives plus bells and horns (at the Churchill Ave grade crossing) speaks volumes.

For reference, Newsweek recently rated the top high schools in the country. Palo Alto High came in at #554, the city's other high school (Gunn) at #117. Another service, SchoolMatters, ranks Gunn #74 nationwide (Gold) but Paly High just Silver. The latter is still a good school, just not as superlative as some would have you believe.

TomW said...

Matt said: "How can school children study knowing that 200 yards away someone is traveling 125 mph in a train?"
Umm... seriously, why wouldn't they be able to? I honestly cannot understand what your point is.

Rafael said...

@ TomW -

Matt forgot the <sarcasm> tag.

Anonymous said...

If this AM (Thursday) is any indication of a permanent change, I would have to say the CalTrain got the message on horn sounding. Volume and length of sounding greatly reduced.

Sitting in a community meeting at the Menlo Park civic center last evening, horn blowing stopped the meeting several times. Hopefully the problem is now solved as of this morning.

Anonymous said...

An earthen Great Wall of China? That should go over big. A little quieter than a concrete elevated especially the ones using hollow core beams. You don't have to resort to overseas examples of rail noise. BART is right under your nose and it is a perfect example of how difficult it is to remedy.

I simply can't grasp the obsession with the Caltrain ROW when moving to 101 would cause the dispute to evaporate. If anything the Peninsula portion could be deferred until more funds become availble. BART is going sop up all the money for the next few years anyway.

Devil's Advocate said...

Furthermore, at night, there will be NO noise at all. Based on what happens in EU, these trains will probably operate only during the day, maybe 0630 to 2200. At earlier (or later) times you might have only some low speed Caltrains, which will be less noisy and without need for horns.
I doubt there will be night service HSTs. Night time would probably have insufficient demand for HSTs and it would be likely utilized for tracks maintenance.

2 miles away said...

Caltrain spokesman Dunn is all over the news this morning admiting that they just in the last week or so changed the position of the horns - from being under the trains to being on top. NOT because the decibals were too low or non-compliant, but because of the pattern.

What's really go on here is
a) They are using strong arm tactics to get "support" from the surrounding residents for changes they want to make - driven by high speed rail - namely the grade separation work. This is like gangsters in the city visiting vandalism and bodily threats upon store owners, then offering to 'protect' them for a 'small fee'

Someone - probably the CHSRA in doing sound measurements, probably pointed out that the horn noise wasn't disturbing enough to residents as it already was.

b) I will guarantee that CHSRA is making its 'before' sound measurements this week for the program EIR. We'll see Caltrain back down in a couple days, and put the horns back to how they used to be - but not before CHSRA has gathered trumped up sound measurements. Be guaranteed they'll be required to provide the dates they measured sound, and whether these were the faked up sound measurements during end of july/beg of Aug 2009, or if those were taken under truthful normal circumstances.

Because they know their EIR "no impact" arguments were predicated on HSR being no worse than existing conditions, which we all know is a dirty lie.

If Caltrains' objective was to infuriate, piss off, and double down on the objections of the locals, they're doing a great job. I live miles away from the tracks, and have for more than 40 years. And the train all of a sudden sounds like its in my backyard. Its clearly outside of 'normal', and its entirely obvious the game they're playing here.

If its hardball they want to play, its hardball they'll get.

Anonymous said...

Anon 957,
The Caltrain row is reality, not an obsession. It's what the voters of California and silent-majority of peninsula residents want.
Moving HSR to 101 just because a handful of whiny, wealthy lunatics want it moved isn't happening!
By the way Robert, this was one of your best threads yet!

Anonymous said...

@anon BART is right under your nose and it is a perfect example of how difficult it is to remedy.

It IS easy to remedy, BART just doesn't bother doing it. IT is time consuming and costs money. When BART opened it was very quiet. BART is now nearly 40 years old and has suffered from a lack of proper maintenance. HSR does not have the option of constantly deferred maintenance.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:57am -

HSR along 101 makes no sense, for the following reasons:

a) there's no available median and Caltrans will not sacrifice traffic lanes. Ergo, trains would have to run on aerial alignment for the entire 50-odd miles. Construction would severely disrupt traffic on the SF peninsula's primary traffic artery for years.

b) the aerial would force dozens of existing freeway overpasses to be torn down and rebuilt at massive expense as underpasses or else very tall overpasses with much higher apexes. The latter implies very steep sections to either side and possibly problems for tractor-trailer combinations.

c) HSR along 101 does nothing to implement complete grade separation and electrification of the Caltrain service, i.e. there's no benefit multiplier.

Btw, as far as the noise emissions from elevated rail alignments go: the trick is to use advanced rail-wheel interfaces, install sufficiently tall transparent sound walls plus ballast bags between the rails - especially in viaduct sections, where sleepers are bolted directly to the concrete substructure.

It really isn't necessary to copy everything BART does. You need to look beyond the Bay Area for innovative solutions.

Clem said...

The horns have become a huge pain.

This boils down to a simple plumbing problem.

To make the blasts more distinct, they had to move the valve and the horn / restrictor closer together, to prevent bottling up air in the pipe between them (and the resulting wheeze that prevents the sounding of short, distinct blasts).

There are two ways to solve that: move the valve closer to the horn, or move the horn closer to the valve. They chose the latter, since the valve (in the cab) is hard to move. The result is massively increased sound pollution.

The real solution is to return the horns to where they were (down low) and to install a new valve near the horn with an electric push-button control in the cab.

They're trying to go the cheap route, using Neanderthal technology. It's blowing up in their face, and rightly so.

Devil's Advocate said...

I frankly don't know how it would be possible to have a US101 alignment.
I travel on that freeway twice daily and there is no longer a median. An aerial structure similar to BART would probably be very expensive and would need to solve the problem of the many overpasses over the freeway.

The only way would be to totally eliminate the left lanes from both directions and have the train at freeway level (like BART along I580 or CA-24). I don't think this option would be liked by many motorists. If you eliminate two lanes from US 101 the traffic will suffer it and many commuters will not support that choice. If you think that 4 or 5 PA Nimbys are a problem, try thousands of car commuters (including myself) opposing it. Remember that not everybody in the world is as enthusiastic about HSR as you are. Sure people are for it, but if it comes to the cost of an increase of commute traffic people will start opposing it. HSR would not reduce commute traffic, because it's not a transportation system that replaces the daily commuting. It's a system that replaces (at least some) airtravel and long distance car travel.

If Caltrain ROW is not doable, the only other alternative is an embankment or low level viaduct over the bay or the west bay marshes.

Unknown said...

@Morris and others

Quiet zones (QZs) sound like a good idea until you actually delve into the details. The facts are these:

1) Any quiet zone in the State of CA requires approval from CPUC.

2) CPUC will not approve a QZ unless the affected railroads (in this case, Caltrain and Union Pacific) jointly request the QZ along with the local jurisdiction.

3) Caltrain experiences 10 to 20 pedestrian/motorist fatalities per year, giving them enormous liability exposure. As such, Caltrain will never request a QZ unless the local jurisdiction agrees to assume liability for any injury or fatality lawsuits that may arise after the QZ is implemented.

4) No local jurisdiction wants to assume that kind of liability. (Palo Alto studied the issue several years ago and concluded that implementing a QZ would require them to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars per year just for extra insurance, in perpetuity. And of course that amount would rise year over year, as inflation, health care costs, etc rise.)

The bottom line is that you won't see quiet zones appearing throughout the Peninsula. It's far too expensive for the local jurisdictions, especially when you consider that all a QZ does is silence the horns without providing the any of the safety benefits that federal/state/county-funded grade separations entail.

Rafael said...

@ Devil's Advocate -

figure the first HSR train to leave SF at around 6:00 and the last one to arrive there sometime around midnight - HSR has to compete against early-bird and red-eye flights. However, cruise speed through populated areas could be reduced after 22:30.

UPRR will continue to operate freight trains on the Caltrain local tracks at night, but they will no longer need to blow their horns after grade separation.

Anonymous said...

Oh god, I hate the affluent snobs in the peninsula who complain about all of this.

Not surprisingly, the original article about train noise was written in the Daily Post, a newspaper written by and for the affluent, NIMBY set who hate public transportation and constantly complain ab out the size of local government.

What this really boils down to is "no riffraff on Caltrain to spoil our affluent image of Atherton, Menlo Park, etc."

I live and work near the tracks, and I didn't think there was a major difference in noise. but then again, I don't feel the need to get pissed off with nonsensical complaints against public transportation.


lyqwyd said...

Wow, the NIMBY rhetoric is amazing.

Okay, I give up, you are right:

Yes, a less than 1.5 mile elevated berm in Palo Alto is the Great Wall of China.

Yes, grade separating an already existing ROW which will eliminate horn soundings will destroy cities across the nation.

Yes, all the cities along the peninsula were founded as meca's for those that are ultra sensitive to sound, hundreds of years before rail was invented, much less a Rail line was rudely forced to run through those cities, against the will of the residents

@2 miles away:

what do we get if your guarantees are wrong? can we get a refund on your post?

NONIMBYS said...

These whinney babies need what any cry babie needs ..A hard slap across the face..the whole TOWN!!
Remember you moved next to a 140 year old railroad..babies

Morris Brown said...


Thanks for your post here on how the horn problem should have been taken care of, but was not, at least up to now.

Anonymous said...

BART and the Big Dig are concrete examples of how things work out in the real world - not in the rosy imagination of boosters.

Dig it - if Bechtel builds it this thing will be butt ugly and noisy as hell. Cut the crap and just admit that you don't really care whether the hsr turns out to be an esthetic turkey you just want to rush ahead and build something in your lifetime.

Everyone is assuming that the hsr has a lock on success. Maybe. Au contraire I suggest that it has it has the distinct potential for mediocrity possibly even notoriety.

Why does everyone ignore the fact that the Tehachapi alignment is a FAILED passenger route? There is not a single passenger train on the line either going to LA or east. If this line had convincing potential how come it has not been upgraded over the past 150 years?

The route selection has to be the closest to a straight line between the areas where the majority of the population live. That would be the SF Bay Area and LA, not Sacramento and Fresno. That is the raison d'étre of I-5. As far as that goes Fresno can be easily cut in with a branch as with the highway system. If purportedly critical articles, such as in the NY Times, do not recognize the permanent handicap imposed by the Tehachapis route they are little more than paid advertisements.

Unknown said...

I'm living at Jack London Square and we have the same problem with Amtrak and the the freight trains blasting their horns in the middle of the night, I have to wear ear plug to be able to sleep.

This is what I any many people hate about trains. I'm a big proponent of high speed train but to get the people really to support it the existing horn problem must solved.

Unknown said...

I'm a big proponent of high speed train but to get the people really to support it the existing horn problem must solved.

The corridor upgrades that would accommodate the high speed train ARE the solution to the existing horn problem. The only way to get rid of the horns is to get rid of the crossings. The only way that is going to happen in the next couple decades is with the high speed rail project.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:18am -

the CV towns sprang up where the water is, i.e. near the Sierras. The reason relatively few people live there right now is that it gets really hot in summer, most of the water is reserved for agriculture and driving for a really long time is just about the only way to get anywhere.

Once California's population growth returns to its historical rate of about half a million a year, it will have to gradually shift from the Bay Area and LA to the CV to avoid a host of attendant infrastructure capacity problems. Running HSR down I-5 instead of the hwy-99 corridor is a truly ignorant suggestion.

As for the Tehachapis, CHSRA did investigate the option of sticking with hwy 99 south of Bakersfield and crossing the transverse range at Grapevine. That would certainly be a lot shorter, but it turned out that there was only a single viable alignment with a maximum gradient of 3.5% that crossed both the Garlock and San Andreas faults at grade. However, it would run very close to the Lake Castaic Wildlife Refuge.

In addition, the analysis was based on the best geological information then available. The strata in the area are severely faulted, there's no telling exactly what workers would run into without conducting expensive exploratory tunneling first. By contrast, there are literally hundreds of viable alignments through the Tehachapis, so the construction risk is much lower.

Of course, LA county's desire to develop the Antelope Valley (pop. in early 2008: approx 1 million) and leverage Palmdale as a relief airport for LAX also played a role. The primary reason was, however, geology. At HSR speeds, the detour via Palmdale only adds ~10 minutes to the SF-LA express line haul time.

Anonymous said...

@anon Why does everyone ignore the fact that the Tehachapi alignment is a FAILED passenger route? There is not a single passenger train on the line either going to LA or east. If this line had convincing potential how come it has not been upgraded over the past 150 years

you don't know what you are talking about. It's not a "failed" passenger route. It owned by the freight railroad and they specifically and consistently refuse to allow passenger traffic on the ROW. It is too busy and they don't want trains in the way anywhere east of bakersfield. The section from palmdale into the san fernando valley IS a passenger row and is being used by metrolink for commute traffic already.

Rafael said...

@ pederb -

the fact that Amtrak and freight trains are running along Oakland's Embarcadero/1st/SP in streetcar mode (between Market and Webster) is a real problem. The only way to eliminate bells and horn noise is to close the road to vehicle traffic and, to grade separate selected cross roads via (fairly steep) overpasses. The tracks need to stay at grade to support rail freight into and out of Oakland Harbor.

Jefferson and Alice would be good candidates, connected on the far side by extending Water St. for a block in both directions. The Embarcadero would remain open to vehicle traffic west of Market and east of Webster.

Market itself should probably get an overpass as well, since it's the established access route to the ferry terminal as well as part of the freight harbor. Pretty much all other grade crossings between Market and Oak should probably be closed permanently, with no more than the odd bike/ped overpass.

This would create several dead-end roads, some of which may require turning circles or else motorized turntables (for long vehicles).

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:18pm -

"If this line had convincing potential how come it has not been upgraded over the past 150 years?"

The US simply hasn't made public investments in long-distance passenger rail in a very long time. Building oodles of F-22 jets to fight an enemy who no longer exists is soooo much sexier than digging new railroad tunnels, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

@rafael - that stretch through jack london square is a mess and people are always turning out of parking garages and intersections and getting in front of trains. Unfortunately theres a lot of access to business, htoels, garages on that street. In in usual fasion the railraod does not consider this to be its problem. IT's their row and they are running their business and and if its a problem for anyone else , oh well. You know that is always that attitude of the freight railroads. Has been for 150 years and always will be.

neroden@gmail said...

"when moving to 101 would cause the dispute to evaporate. "

If you can get Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration to agree to vacate or shrink the highway, sure, go for it.

Otherwise, there isn't enough room, it's not straight enough, and it requires far, far, far too many overpasses to deal with on-ramps and off-ramps and so forth.

Getting a straight-enough-for-rail route out of the 101 corridor (without an immensely expensive superbridge 100 feet up for the entire length) involves knocking at least one lane out of the highway in each direction along its entire length, and taking out many more lanes and probably entire sets of exits to make room for decent stations. If you can convince Caltrans and the FHA to do that, then we will seriously consider your 101 "proposal". Otherwise not.

neroden@gmail said...

"If this line had convincing potential how come it has not been upgraded over the past 150 years?"

Because the freight railroads are not interested in passenger trains. The existing Tehachapi line is good enough for their freight traffic, but only if they keep passenger trains off it. If there's enough extra freight traffic they'll double-track it.

Back when they *were* interested in passenger trains, nobody lived in the Central Valley, and the Coast line was far, far more logical for their passenger trains -- despite which they did run passenger trains over the Tehachapis.

Anonymous said...

Rafael wrote:

"the CV towns sprang up where the water is, i.e. near the Sierras. The reason relatively few people live there right now is that it gets really hot in summer, most of the water is reserved for agriculture and driving for a really long time is just about the only way to get anywhere.

In the winter the CV is plagued with ground fog, another reason for many not wanting to live there. so too hot in the summer --- too damp and cool in the winter. Ok for ag, not so ok for people.

The only reason to more there is cheap (relatively) land, allowing families to get more home for their dollars. These family don't want to crowd around transit stations, they want detached homes -- thus urban sprawl in another area.

I-5 was certainly the route that should have been chosen, but again this project not about passengers going from north to south, it is all about the money.

Bianca said...

Anonymous 9:57am said:

I simply can't grasp the obsession with the Caltrain ROW when moving to 101 would cause the dispute to evaporate.

The reasons why running HSR along 101 have already been covered. But I'd also like to take issue with the presumption that the land near the Caltrain ROW is hallowed ground and everything else is without value.

There is no such thing as cheap real estate in the Bay Area. It is only because the real estate market is so perversely distorted that you have million dollar homes on lots that abut an active railroad line. That kind of thing normally doesn't happen. Usually that land is zoned for commercial or light industrial use instead. Why the city fathers decided to allow residential housing adjacent to a railroad is beyond me, but it is what it is.

The folks who live in houses near 101 care just as much about their homes as the folks who live near the Caltrain ROW. For that matter, the folks who live in Fremont and Livermore are the same way, and it must surprise them to see people say HSR would destroy towns the Peninsula and so we should run it through their communities instead.

The idea that simply changing the alignment is going to make the controversy go away is self-centered and lazy thinking at best.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

well, then the access points to those parking garages etc. will need to be moved. Not at all easy or simple, but probably doable over time. What's needed is a long-term plan for fixing the situation along Oakland's Embarcadero, even if it takes a decade or more to implement it.

@ anon @ 1:10pm -

you are assuming that Central Valley residents will not change their lifestyles once HSR is available. That flies in the face of the HSR experience everywhere else in the world.

It will take time, perhaps a decade or more, but HSR will gradually increase residential and commercial building density in the vicinity of its stations and in clusters beyond it. Without density, connecting transit doesn't work so places like Fresno won't be able to get any off the drawing board. With density, a whole bunch of other desirable urban features become possible - notably self-shading architecture, parks, walkable entertainment/nightlife districts etc.

Fortunately, the CV isn't riddled with earthquake faults. That alone will prompt some businesses and residents to move and rely on HSR to remain connected.

Diversifying the CV's economy away from food production may become necessary anyhow as the twin pressures of relentless population growth and a shrinking snowpack make agriculture increasingly less viable. Don't be surprised to see much of the westside covered in heliostats or closed biofuel reactors rather than walnut trees 30 years from now. Remember, Silicon Valley was mostly orchards back in the 1970s.

Anonymous said...

central valley people like trains. they have fought politically to keep and improve the current service and they want more than anyone, for high speed rail to hurry up and start.

@rafael - I think it should be a trecnh- or an alameda type corridor - which I think is being planned anyway.

Sam said...

I'm laughing at the comment that no one wants to live in the Central Valley because of the hot weather and fog. How many people live in Houston now? I know that I would personally take hot weather and fog over hot weather and super high humidity any day of the week (no offense intended towards residents of Houston).

flowmotion said...

@Rafael - Actually, I think that you are the one making assumptions.

Certainly it is reasonable to expect some increased commercial density around an HSR station. However that will not change the basic development and transportation politics in places like Fresno. The vast majority of residents will use the service infrequently at best and won't see any benefit living or working near a station. In that sense, HSR is about the least effective way to spend money to reduce sprawl.

Furthermore, if Fresno's leadership believed that HSR was anti-sprawl ("anti-growth"), they would very likely drop their support for the project. Central Valley cities are on the route primarily because of CAHSR's own internal logic (route selection, ridership predictions), not because of any innate desire for increased urbanization in these places. You are proposing a solution to a "non-problem" as far as they're concerned.

If it were to come down to a political decision between funding HSR or new ring roads, the result is obvious.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

you know as well as I do that heavy freight trains can't handle more than a 1% gradient. Is there enough run length between the rail yard at the harbor and Clay St. to make the transition? The distance between Webster and the Lake Merritt outflow is short as well.

Also, the Amtrak station can't be on an incline. It would have to be moved unless a tunnel is bored under the outflow, in which case UPRR's east rail yard between 5th and 12th Ave would be affected. Etc.

Final point: during construction, it might be necessary to construct temporary shoofly tracks along the old ROW down 3rd Street. Tunneling there is no possible because the northern ends of the Posey/Webster road tunnels to Alameda are too close to the surface there already. They might need to be reinforced to support the weight of heavy freight trains passing overhead on the shoofly tracks.

Building a few overpasses and adapting the access points to underground parking structures sounds easy by comparison.

Rafael said...

@ flowmotion -

I wouldn't be so sure. Bob Costa (D-Fresno) is the politician that got the whole HSR ball of wax rolling. He wrote the original bill that was to be presented to voters back in 2004. The CV's local politicians and voters are also mustard-keen on getting HSR service. They're not dummies, they know airlines aren't going to suddenly offer them cheap flights to the Bay Area or SoCal.

Also, folks in inland areas fared very badly when the price of gasoline tripled in the span of just a few years recently. Real estate prices tanked when long-distance commuting by car became seriously expensive and employers started laying off workers. Oil prices fell to $36.5/barrel in January but have since recovered to the $60-70 range. That a almost factor of 2 in just six months.

As the world economy gradually recovers, thanks in no small part to Chinese consumers, the long-term trend toward triple-digit prices is reasserting itself. We probably won't see $140/barrel again anytime soon, but average gasoline prices are only going to go one way until and unless massive new fields and/or affordable alternatives become available: UP.

There may be some speculative froth, but not much: as consumers China, India, Russia and elsewhere become affluent enough to switch from scooters to small cars, growth in global demand for gasoline and diesel - and therefore, oil - will remain strong, easily dwarfing the impact the first few electric cars may have.

Many local politicians and even residents of the Central Valley may still be in denial about where fuel prices are going, but massive new ring roads are probably not the way to go. High-density urban planning along new light rail/BRT transit corridors is.

We've got no money for toys said...

"central valley people like trains"

No! YOU like trains.
Most people in the CV wouldn't know how to get their asses off their car seats, and wouldn't give a hoot about your choo choo toy.

flowmotion said...

@ Rafael -

Certainly, Central Valley political forces would love for professional jobs to migrate to their towns from LA and the Bay Area. After all, they have a ton of empty housing tracts to develop. ;)

I'm sympathetic to the oil arguments, but the facts are still that HSR will only take a miniscule number of people out of their cars and doesn't address oil consumption in any significant way. If one really wanted to address this, spending significant state resources to capture the air travel market is about the last place you would start.

And attacking them for being "in denial" is somewhat ironic, because I would bet the local political lobby has a far more accurate vision of their future than you do. But maybe after Fresno adds another half-million people, they'll paint a BRT lane on the street and you can declare victory.

Anonymous said...

If the Peninsula had caved in to BART 40 years and let it grab the SP ROW there would be no place for the hsr to go but the 101 corridor. What's the difference cost wise between an elevated down 50 miles of Caltrain ROW or down 50 miles of freeway? You would have to raise some overpasses - so what - that's what contractors are for. After the next quake Caltrans will be bitching they need to retrofit them again anywasy.

Keep screwing around with Palo Alto et al and they might just respond with dump your high and mighty Caltrain and replace it with BART. At least with BART PA would get its subway, ala Berkeley. Wouldn't it be The Big Con of our day if BART were orchestrating the whole hsr scorched earth campaign so as to finesse its way into Peninsula at last. BART and MTC are a devious and perseverant lot - I wouldn't put it past them.

proudnimby said...

Looks like the Berlin Wall to me on the video, but I'm sure when it's all done it will look like those pictures of Italy that were posted a year or so on this blog.

We've Got No Money for Toys said...

Flow Motion is 300% right.
All these billions should be spent to expand metro transit (BART, Metrolink, Buses etc.) and it would have a much larger impact on traffic congestion, oil consumption and pollution.
Most of the gasoline (and most of the traveling time) is spent during the daily commute to work within each metro area, not on the occasional trip from/to the CV/SF/LA. Getting 50% or even more of the air market between GLA-SFbay is not going to do much for oil consumption. People traveling by plane don't add much to the oil consumption equation. Those who do, in great numbers, are the millions of daily commuters who travel those 10 to 40 miles one way to work everyday. If you want to decrease oil consumption and pollution and traffic congestion you should build more commuter trains and forget about this hi-speed thing, which ultimately will serve only those few who are in a hurry. Let them continue to travel by airplane, and let the masses have better transit to improve their everyday lives. We spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours commuting inside cars every year. High Speed Trains will not change that at all.

lyqwyd said...

@ toy trains

the billions being spent on highway expansion should be used to fund Commuter Rail/Light Rail/BRT etc. HSR serves a clear purpose, has been proven successful throughout the world and has been approved by the voters of California.

@anon 3:43

the peninsula isn't going anywhere near BART after the SFO extension debacle. San Mateo county will be paying for that for decades.

sure fire disaster said...

California will be paying billions and billions for the High Speed Rail for decades to come; that will never come close to break even and which will have, at best perhaps, in 2030 15,000,000 passengers / year.

This project will dwarf the last debacle, the Boston Big Dig, that PB pupervised.

wmata said...

the facts are still that HSR will only take a miniscule number of people out of their cars

which will have, at best perhaps, in 2030 15,000,000 passengers / year

What are these "facts" and statistics of which you speak? Please link to verified studies of ridership that back up your claims. Instead of tossing around accusations, let's have a discussion based on factual analysis.

Rafael said...

@ proudnimby @ 3:50pm -

for seismic safety, the preferred solution is a single central row of columns per pair of tracks. However, there's no reason why that can't be made to look elegant and visually lightweight.

For example, the design could avoid conventional massive rebar cylinders with welded frameworks of slender steel columns and braces that are then encased in a relatively thin layer of concrete. The space underneath can be paved (parking spaces, bike path etc.) or landscaped to create a paseo ferrocarril.

All of that costs extra but it's still peanuts compared to tunneling or years of delay thanks to political shenanigans and/or court cases. The only legal issue CHSRA really has to watch out for is environmental justice claims in poor/minority neighborhoods elsewhere along the route, otherwise it'll blow its budget. The best way to do that is to get the local community to chip in on the delta between the lowest cost alternative and the locally preferred one.

Rafael said...


Talgo to sell two new trainsets to Wisconsin for Amtrak's Hiawatha service, set up assembly + maintenance plant in that state as a loss leader to regain a foothold in the US market.

The trains are presumably diesel-powered FRA-compliant Talgo XXI units, a beefed-up derivative of the UIC-compliant BT model that has proven popular for secondary intercity lines in Europe.

looking on said...


Come on:

you write

"The best way to do that is to get the local community to chip in on the delta between the lowest cost alternative and the locally preferred one."

The deal with the public for passing Prop 1A, was this 9 billion for HSR will be the only funds California voters will have to furnish.

Spokker said...

I got to argue with a councilman from the City of Orange about high speed rail today at the ARTIC early scoping meeting.

He and another gentleman were talking about the project and I asked them what they thought of it. The other gentleman said he was very much in support but the Orange Councilman was there because he was very concerned over traffic, and also said, "Why should I pay for a high speed rail line that I won't use?"

Hoo-boy. I gave him an earful, about car subsidies and how trains can be a public good and that we can't really widen freeways anymore than we have and all that stuff. You know, all those nerdy talking points.

He mentioned something about Amtrak never making a profit and I told him, "Well, the road in front of your house doesn't make a profit. The interstate highway system never made a profit, but aren't we glad the federal government bore the brunt of this huge capital expenditure and we have this incredible system today?"

He then sort of shrugged and had a look that screamed, "I gotta get away from this guy." It was great. I must assure you, though, it was a very civil conversation.

Nothing really new was presented at this meeting, but there were a lot of people there and at times the chatter was deafening.

Brandon in California said...

@looking on...

I don't recall a deal like that... I recall it being part of a plan, emphasis on 'plan', to fund the LA to SF segment... with additional funding coming from the Feds and priovate sector interests.

And, that planned extensions to Sacramento and San Diego would be funded with operating surpluses from the initial segment.

However, personally I do not expect operating surpluses to be a guarantee, or would be sufficient to fund those legs. And, additional State support would be necessary. Of course, the Feds and private sector would be expected to participate in those extensions too.

lyqwyd said...


Prop 1A said the state of California will pay no more, which is very different than the voters of CA. If a city or region wants a vanity station, or a tunnel, they get to pay for it themselves.

Bay Area Resident said...

Christ, that Renfe video is a disaster in terms of PR. If that is what the CHSRA is claiming is "ok" for backyards and quiet, I suggest they find a plan B. It sounds like a super sonic transport.

Bay Area Resident said...

Rafael, OMG. You are usually pretty good with facts, I guess you must not have kids or at least not kids in schools.

That newsweek study on schools used this criterion for ranking,
Public schools are ranked according to a ratio devised by Jay Mathews: the number of Advanced Placement, Intl. Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2008 divided by the number of graduating seniors.

Based on this criteria, the gang infested east san jose high school OVERFELT winds up on the Newsweek list of 1500 top schools as number 1102. Does anybody actually believe that Overfelt, with its API score of 550, is REALLY one of the nations top 1500 high schools?

Based on an ACTUAL criteria, Paly's API score is approx 950, and it is ranked #85 in the nation here:

Although Paly is traditionally below Gunn, Saratoga and Lynbrook/Monta Vista in the bay area.

Anonymous said...

What does school rank in PA have to do with high speed rail?

Anonymous said...

We've got no money for toys said...
"central valley people like trains"
No! YOU like trains."

NO my dear, THEY like trains I know because I have been selling THEM tickets for nearly a decade now. THEY did indeed advocate to increase service from one daily round trip to today 12 daily round trips and before selling them tickets I worked on board said trains many times when they were packed to the gills. They are sold out during holiday periods. YOU don't know what you are talking about. THEY love the train over driving and THEY tell me so all the time. What do YOU know about anything other than your stereotypical assumptions about the valley?

Anonymous said...

@ flowmotion "Furthermore, if Fresno's leadership believed that HSR was anti-sprawl ("anti-growth"), they would very likely drop their support for the project. "

Anit sprawl and anti growth are not the same thing.

Do al of you people live in southern california or what? I don't think any of you know anything about northern california - the bay or the valley - what a lot of ridiculous assumptions. If I were here making the usual stereo typical comments that everyone knows about southern cali id be run out of here. You people all need to stick to worrying about what goes on down there and quit talking about the valley like you know anything about it.

Contrary to what you think, and contrary to the jokes we make in SF, the valley is not populated by a bunch of trailer dwelling hicks. The ties between the bay and the valley are very tight, and there is a level of sophistication to their lives that isn't much different than the bay area. In fact half the valley population is from the bay, and the other half are international immigrants from around the world. They actually do know what a train is. They actually do go to the opera even. And, with high speed rail and the availability room for companies to locate there and have good access to the rest of the state, jobs and the economy that follow will be created there. MAny do prefer suburban living but there is a growing segment of young people who may have the past left town for urban centers, who will stay and create their own versions of urban. And it so happens I was just in downtown fresno for the weekend and while the current lack of economy was showing, the downtown itself is gorgeous. Especially compared to that 5 million acre strip mall you call LA. The fact that the san andreas fault is moving you people closer to us everyday is terrifying. I only hope the same forces raise the tehachapis to an impassable height before you get here.

And to think I was starting to enjoy trip to LA. Now I have to ban it and send my tourists to Monterey instead.

THETRUTH said...

WE spent billons for an oil war..what does that bother you Robert that you deleted my post?I

Alon Levy said...

Based on this criteria, the gang infested east san jose high school OVERFELT winds up on the Newsweek list of 1500 top schools as number 1102.

It's common for some low-income areas to sport one very good magnet school. Said school will usually have similar demographics to the city it's in, but will have students who excel academically. For instance, Yonkers High School is the highest ranked school in Westchester County, ahead of posh schools in towns like Scarsdale or White Plains; it achieves its success by selectively drawing Yonkers' best, and indeed, the other 8-9 high schools in the city have test scores so low you wonder whether students there learn anything.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

"What does school rank in PA have to do with high speed rail?"

One of the central arguments of Palo Alto NIMBYs is that HSR would supposedly have a negative impact on the academic performance of students. The presence of reliably good schools is a major reason why families move into the catchment area, why they are willing to pay for their schools locally and why there is such a high premium on residential real estate in the city.

If Paly High, the high school next to the tracks, were to slip in the rankings, that premium could evaporate. If graduates were to have a harder time getting accepted by top universities and/or parents had more trouble paying for college, that would be a huge issue for Palo Alto residents well beyond the zone directly affected by train noise.

Like it or not, those who are near the top of the pyramid want to stay there and help their kids reach even higher, even if that's really expensive. That's just human nature.

The huge flaw in the NIMBY argument is that Caltrain's status quo is supposedly just hunky dory. It isn't and, HSR will improve the situation for that school as well as most of the families who live in Palo Alto. The downsides will be limited and impact those who took the risk of buying property in the immediate vicinity (~1 block) of the active railroad tracks. Caveat emptor.

Anonymous said...

So I am suppose to buy the argument that the exceptional children of palo alto can only be exceptional if they study next to conventional FRA compliant rail but will wind up in prison if they study next to high speed trains.

How did people with such poor critical thinking skills wind up with money? Oh yeah some one gave it to them.

Of we ll know they don't believe their arguments any more than we do. Its just part of the everything but the kitchen sink approach to getting hsr stopped.

As an SF nimby living here in the nimby capital of the world, I find their tactics to be quite pedestrian.

The "what about the children" schtick is tired.

flowmotion said...

@jim - By putting "growth" in quotes, I was hoping the sarcasm was obvious.

I certainly don't believe the CV is "hicks", however places like Fresno do have a typical mid-sized American city approach to growth: Development is desirable, traffic congestion can still be managed, etc. You mention migration to the Central Valley from coastal areas, but you don't mention the affordable mcmansions and ten-minute commutes that are attracting people.

If anything, the SF/LA "we're full" attitude is the atypical mentality. It would be difficult to impose this onto the valley, and even if that were the goal, HSR is a largely ineffective way to do it.

Anonymous said...

@ flowmotion. This is what will happen. The hsr will go into downtown Frenso either on the bnsf next to the city hall and current santa fe station on the east side of downtown, or on the UP row next to the stadium on the west side of downtown - in either case it will be a few blocks from dead center downtown fresno. The departures and arrivals will create demand for services, food and retail, as well as hotels. While the housing situation now is still bleak, once it recvoers there will be developers who will want to build downtown lofts and condos and such, that have an affordable price tag and will provide an alternative for people who either, A0 want to leave the bay for more affordable housing in the valley, but still prefer the downtown lifestyle, ( young singles who will be able to afford to buy) and B) young people who would otherwise leave town for the bay and LA who will choose to stay in fresno and create their own urban reality. This ha happened in both San Jose and Sacramento between the late 80s and 200 both san jose an sacramento have shed their cow town and taco stand image.

The addition of HSR adds a new dynamic to a place like fresno because never before has fast easy access to the rest of the state been available. Ye they like to drive, but they can't drive 220 mph. with HSR suddenly hollywood is 90 minutes away. suddenly a trip to see "wicked" at teh Orpheum is 90 minutes away. suddenly The would be but can't afford it Santana Row buyers will be able to buy the same lifestyle in frenso - 60 minutes away, and a thrid the price.

These things / changes will take time, but I can say with certainty as someone who has watched how things work in this state for 45 years, that this is exactly what is going to happen. Just wait and see. It will take 20-25 years and two boom cycles before its firmly entrenched, but it will happen.

I know this for sure. Id bet a paycheck on it.

Anonymous said...

In addition, you have to take into account a couple of other things as well.

The aging population. Empty nesters are opting for smaller places with walkable communities. The suburban lifestyle is still popular among many, but more and more its being seen as a liability.

Is it realistic to think that the price of gas will remain at $2-3 a gallon for the next 25 years?

We never know where the next "silicon valley" will appear. No one in the 70s ever thought that the Santa Clara valley with its orchards and rice fields and taco stands would become the center of the tech universe.
A smart chamber in a place like fresno can draw business. In fact there is a lot of money in fresno already and it has a huge untapped potential to be "The" place to be some day. It is the the center of the state. It has something socal will never have. Plenty of water and something the bay will never have, affordable land.

I'm putting my money on fresno if it gets hsr. ONly because ive seen this type of thing before .... and this looks very familiar.

Bianca said...

Bringing things full circle:

Caltrain to reduce horn volume.

BruceMcF said...

jim: "Is it realistic to think that the price of gas will remain at $2-3 a gallon for the next 25 years?"

Hell, its not realistic to think that the price of gas will remain at $2-$3 a gallon for the next 2.5 years, unless the world remains mired in a global recession. We may well see $2-$3 gallon oil at various times over the coming decade, since extreme price volatility is normal for supply-constrained commodity markets, but anytime the world economy gets moving, we will be looking at higher gas prices.

The key, of course, is world prices ... Europe, Japan, and China can all cope with $120/barrel crude oil far more comfortably than the US, so its quite possible for crude oil to be high enough to throw the US into recession without being high enough to choke off global growth and global demand for crude oil.