Why An HSR Design Competition Is An Excellent Idea

Nov 28th, 2009 | Posted by

One tried and true practice for designing projects with a great deal of public interest – and public controversy – is to hold a design competition. Many important public memorials have been designed this way, including the Berlin Holocaust Memorial and the World Trade Center Memorial in lower Manhattan.

Such competitions serve several purposes. They open the often contentious process of designing important yet potentially divisive projects to public scrutiny, enabling the public to participate in the selection process (therefore making them more invested in the project itself, instead of as bombthrowers from the sidelines). They also help people see what is possible and what is desirable in a particular project by having architects imagine new and interesting ways to design the project. Instead of an abstract concept or a feared design, like the “Berlin Wall” on the Peninsula, people can see something that interests them, inspires them, and gets them to see the project not as a threat but as a possibility for welcome change, an opportunity to do something new, interesting, useful, but that meets their own goals and desires.

It is in that vein that calls for an HSR design contest on the Peninsula are such a welcome development:

Joseph Bellomo has a simple proposal for the California High-Speed Rail Authority: Leave the design of the proposed high-speed rail to the world’s brightest designers.

Bellomo, a Palo Alto architect whose projects emphasize modular construction, energy efficiency and sustainable design, laments that the design of the controversial 800-mile rail line has so far been dominated by teams of engineers, each working on a separate segment of the line.

So while other local architects, urban planners and concerned residents are busy lobbying the state for underground tunnels, Bellomo advocates a different approach for selecting the design of the proposed line — an international design competition.

Last month, Bellomo sent a letter to the rail authority, the state agency charged with building the $45 billion rail line, proposing a two-tiered international competition in which architects and designers from around the world would send in proposed designs for the entire line. The proposals would be narrowed to three finalists whose ideas would be further developed.

“The only way to get good design, holistic design, is through competition,” Bellomo said.

I’m not as convinced that we need a design competition for the entire route, but a design competition for some elements of the project, including the Peninsula Corridor, makes quite a lot of sense. It would help make the CHSRA seem like less of an outside invader and more of a facilitator of modern designs for a modern urban landscape, allowing residents and architects and planners to come together to present innovative designs appropriate to the location.

This is especially valuable on the Peninsula because the objections to HSR there are almost entirely aesthetic (though they’re rooted in deeper issues of economic opportunity and a desire of some to protect what they have at the expense of others). The desire for a tunnel is driven by the conviction that an elevated structure designed by CHSRA will merely resemble a giant freeway. As we’ve shown before, above-grade HSR tracks can be built elegantly, blending well with their surrounding urban environment. A design competition can show ways to build HSR that meet both the operational criteria of the CHSRA and the other criteria of local HSR supporters. Such a design competition will never silence the hardcore HSR deniers, but that isn’t the purpose here.

Bellomo isn’t just calling for a design competition in the abstract. He is also offering his own idea, which you can find at his site (scroll down about halfway to find the HSR section). His proposal is for what he’s calling a “solar corridor”, an elevated track with a steel enclosure that holds photovoltaic solar panels. His Peninsula design leaves two Caltrain tracks at-grade, allowing for its electrification, and a either a single or double track in the elevated viaduct. In some ways this resembles Rafael’s La Vitrine concept from back in March, though with important differences.

I can’t say I’m sold on the Bellomo concept. And it’s unclear whether the visual impact of the “ribs” would be embraced by the locals. Also left unstated is what happens to the at-grade tracks at existing grade crossings. But I am glad to see him giving some thought to how to implement HSR along the Peninsula.

His idea of an HSR design competition for selected segments of the route is a very wise idea. It won’t solve everything, but it is worth embracing.

NOTE: Tonight’s the night for the switch to the new blog. Take the chance to update your bookmarks. If you haven’t already registered a username, please do so – it’ll make your posting life much easier.

  1. Anonymous
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 10:22

    "they're rooted in deeper issues of economic opportunity and a desire of some to protect what they have at the expense of others" Robert you are absolutely full of shjt

    Bobierto Reply:

    @Anonymous Sheesh, I thought there weren’t going to be Anonymous posters on the new version. I s’pose you would have to allow only members to comment for that? People who call you names – by name! – and then are too chicken to identify themselves … drives me crazy.

    Joey Reply:

    All the anonymous comments from before the move carried over. No more, though.

    wu ming Reply:

    initially, i assumed that someone had the wit to register as “anonymous.”

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Oh, I registered that one weeks ago.

    wu ming Reply:


  2. Anonymous
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 10:31

    It sounds pretty accurate to me.

  3. All ABOARD!
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 10:53

    Nail on the head accurate.

  4. Rafael
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 11:13

    The CSS process already creates plenty of scope for architects to participate in the design of the above-ground alternatives being considered for the Caltrain corridor.

    Architects would bring two critical qualifications to the table, relative to civil engineers:

    (a) aesthetic sensibilities
    (b) ability to manage decision-making processes involving a lot of emotions

    That said, very few architects are also themselves civil engineers. Santiago Calatrava is the only one I know of.

    More to the point, I know of no architect at all who is also a railroad engineer. These specialists need to work together in multi-disciplinary teams, with each respecting the unique expertise of the other.

    Just don't make the mistake of equating high-capacity transportation infrastructure with a static memorial site or building. The former is by definition a highly dynamic construct, the result has to actually work in terms of rail and cross traffic operations.

    Wrt to Bellomo's specific proposal: putting HSR on an elevated structure, however graceful, while keeping Caltrain and UPRR at grade does not deliver full grade separation of the right of way. While CHSRA is not formally required to deliver that, it would be a very bad idea not to.

    Caltrain alone expects to reach 10 trains per hour (each way) during peak periods as early as 2025. If each passing train forces a grade crossing to be closed for an average of 90 seconds, cross traffic will be impeded an unacceptably high 50% of the time. Individual closure events may last for 3 minutes. In the peninsula, that might be enough to induce road rage in some drivers.

    Let's not even get started about the E Meadow crossing.

    It's unclear to me what purpose a single elevated HSR track would serve. HSR has to be a high capacity system, otherwise don't bother building it at all.

    Also, fully enclosing a single elevated track would require a tube approx. 25 feet in diameter. Soundproofing depends on mass, so it will need to be heavy.

    Bellomo's slender and angled(!) columns look hopelessly optimistic for supporting such a structure in nominal conditions, never mind in high cross winds or during an earthquake.

    If an enclosure is to be considered at all, e.g. between San Francisquito Creek and Embarcadero Ave in Palo Alto, it should be for tracks at grade level. Further north and south, other solutions may make more sense in the context of established motor vehicle and bicycle traffic patterns.

    Each grade crossing in the SF peninsula needs to be looked at individually, subject to constraints on elevation changes for the tracks. As long as heavy freight must be supported, that means more massive structures and gradients of no more than 1%. However, frequent elevation changes are still undesirable for freight trains and express HSR passengers alike.

  5. Anonymous
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 11:16

    There is no way an elevated can be erected thru Palo Alto that will not be blighting unless it is along the 101 corridor.

    The competition idea is simply a trojan horse. The best Bechtel-Balfour-Beatty could impose is Brutalist Lite.

    Peter Reply:

    Interesting. “Trojan Horse” has been added to “Berlin Wall” and “blight” in the NIMBY repertoire of misleading and emotionally charged terms to be thrown out into the conversation as bogeymen.

    Same goes for mentioning Bechtel et al.

  6. Anonymous
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 11:26

    Russia: Bomb caused train crash that killed 26

    High Speed Train Crash

  7. Rafael
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 11:28

    To illustrate my points regarding enclosures and vertical elevation changes, here's a video. It shows the view from the driver cab of a shinkansen train traveling at 250km/h over a box bridge. A rectangular enclosure with glass panes on the sides could look similar.

    A few seconds later, the video shows a "roller coaster" section of the busy Tokaido shinkansen between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka. The train appears to be traveling at around 250km/h at first but then slows down considerably, perhaps to avoid churning passengers' stomachs.

    I'm fairly certain that US-style heavy freight trains could not negotiate the gradients shown.

  8. AndyDuncan
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 11:30

    I'm all for a design competition, but cost needs to be controlled. We don't need a $4b TBT at every stop along the route.

  9. HSRforCali
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 11:39

    This doesn't have to do with the discussion, but I recently came across a map on the Transit Coalition's website that shows the permitted speeds along each section of the HSR system. Between Palmdale and Bakersfield, it shows speed will be between 150 and 200mph. But since it's flat empty desert land, (up to Tehachapi at least) couldn't trains reach 220mph on this segment? This could probably help cut travel time.

    Here's the web page URL by the way: http://transittalk.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=highspeed&action=display&thread=722

  10. AndyDuncan
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 12:00

    The land from Bako to tehachapi is anything but flat.

  11. HSRforCali
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 12:25

    @ AndyDuncan

    I'm talking about the area between Tehachapi and Palmdale.

  12. Rafael
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 12:25

    Some examples of HSR stations that were architected rather than merely engineered. It's uncommon for track structures to receive a similar level of attention to aesthetic detail.

    1) Lyon St. Exupery airport station: TGV Satolas, architect Santiago Calatrava. Note that the station is on the branch down to Marseille, so trains between Paris and downtown Lyon never reach it. SNCF does not operate TGV trains between downtown Lyon and Marseille, so locals couldn't even use the TGV system to reach their local airport, even though both have TGV stations. An express streetcar is now being constructed instead.

    Other HSR stations by Calatrava:

    Lisboa Oriente + The Nations Park (TOD) in Lisbon, Portugal.

    Liege Guillemins and environs (TOD), Liege, Belgium

    2) the planned new railway station for Stuttgart, Germany. Architect Christoph Ingenhoven (both videos in German).

    It is the centerpiece of the regional Stuttgart 21 project and part of the EU's Paris-Bratislava/Budapest priority axis. The new station will replace a very large and sophisticated terminus station with a eight underground run-through tracks. Note the large sculpted skylights-cum-columns.

    3) High speed rail station for Florence, Italy. Architects Foster + Partners.

    Deep underground, but the architects decided against a full mezzanine so daylight can reach the platform level.

    4) New central station for Berlin, Germany. Architect Meinhard von Gerkan.

    The station features elevated tracks running east-west and underground tracks running north-south. It is served by 164 daily long-distance/ICE plus 324 regional/commuter plus 1100 S-Bahn trains (when they're running :-X)

    dom Reply:

    Of course the SNCF does operate TGVs between Lyon (Part-Dieu) and Marseille ! About one every hour.
    They take 1h40 to 1h43 to do the trip vs 3 to 4 h for the TERs (regional trains, on the classic network); this from a query on their website. Unfortunately it doesn’t give the intermediate stops as a paper schedule would (and I am in Paris…)
    I wanted to make a link to that query, but :
    1 it disactivates if you show no activity for a while.
    2 I don’t know how to post an actve link here! (my first time).
    Leaving Lyon, they use the classic line (direction Grenoble, South-East) up to Saint-Quentin-Fallavier (just south of Satolas) where there is a connection to the high speed line; there is also a connection on the other side, allowing TGVs from Grenoble, Chambéry and the Alps (and hopefully, one day, Turin) to take the line to the north.

  13. AndyDuncan
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 12:51


    The run simulation showed in the August board meeting indicated a "speed limit" of the full 350kph between Sylmar and Mojave, those run simulations are using the specs from the AGV as the trainset, they show the train getting up to full speed along some of that route, so I'd guess that the map you linked to is either out of date or not granular enough.

  14. All ABOARD!
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 13:29

    ITs not flat but its easy building, and plenty roomy





  15. Anonymous
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 14:42

    You really don't think that the hsr is going thru these towns like Mojave without stopping there? Every burg is going to demand its own station. The whole purpose of the Palmdale detour is to enable a second LA in the high desert. Ergo you gotta stop there. It's all politics – ditto for the hsr being ordered to slow speeds due to high noise and vibration levels.

    When you dumbed down to the Tehachapis you bought into a milkrun. TS

  16. matt
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 15:31

    Anon 2.42

    AHHH Slippery slope!!! Once you stop in palmdale you have to stop in Bishop too!!!! AHHHHHHH beware!

    Ok then We wont build Palmdale.

    But dangit! Once you bypass palmdale then you have to bypass Bako, and Fresno, And San Jose, and all the rest and then all we have is TBT to LAUS….damnit! If only we were capable of rational decision-making instead of just irrational movements!

  17. Rafael
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 15:56

    @ anon @ 2:42pm –

    … and now you know why the folks that wrote AB3034(2008) put in a clause that limits the entire network to 24 stations.

    That means one station still has to be eliminated, actually. City of Industry? University City? Mid-peninsula? Irvine?

    Won't be easy…

  18. Brandon in San Diego
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 18:20

    Function over Form

    Interesting idea. For me, and I imagine for any one form an engineering background or train background, a design competition could be palatable if appropriate design parameters were in place for the wouldbe visionaries. Among those should be items which support, or not preclude, operating trains, maintaining tracks and stations and systems, access for personnel, ectera.

    That goes without saying.

    However, I cannot imagine anyone without experience in rail engineering to have the faintest idea how to proceed.

    And for that matter, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to pursue such an effort, particularly if it involved the whole corridor. Stations, yes.

  19. Robert Cruickshank
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 18:32

    Brandon, I can see people taking a crack at grade separations. There's got to be a better way to do that than the "Berlin Wall" nonsense being peddled. I like how the San Carlos overpass is done, but even that is a variation on the basic theme.

    I'm sure there will be more design competitions for some of the stations (there was already one for Transbay Terminal, and I think for ARTIC as well). Hopefully those will move us further away from the tyranny of trying to ape Santiago Calatrava and Estaçao do Oriente, which I've expressed my dislike of on previous occasions here.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Bridges, yes. Tunnel entrances, yes. I can imagine such if the rail elevation and certain clearances were already determined or assigned. I cannot imagine a novice having the necessary expertise to design a rail corridor.

    The rule of the game should be ‘function, function, function.’ “Form” must be secondary.

    In my opinion, architects and engineers CAN work together very well… each bringing their valuable talents and perspectives together to design and construct something very appealing for the public and which is useful for users. I do not know that CHSRA and their consultants have an organizational structure that favors one profession over an another… but, I take for granted that early design efforts for a rail corridor are heavily engineering oriented.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    And I suspect you are right about that. It is an organization of engineers. The assumption seems to be that where the architectural element comes in is at the stations, which CHSRA is expecting to largely be built by the cities/counties.

  20. All ABOARD!
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 18:32

    I can't imagine why, when budgets are constrained, we would build anything but a a strictly basic, utilitarian system where all the money goes into reliability and not looks.

  21. AndyDuncan
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 18:42

    I can't imagine why, when budgets are constrained, we would build anything but a a strictly basic, utilitarian system where all the money goes into reliability and not looks.

    I agree completely. Now, about that TBT…

  22. All ABOARD!
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 19:05

    (tbt isn't coming out of the hsr budget, aside from the train box, its a san francisco project padi for the residents and developers)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    With hefty chunks of money coming from the people in the East Bay, the rest of the Bay Area, the State and Federal government.

    JimSF Reply:

    It not coming out of the hsr budget. The hsr /prop1a budget should be for the basics. cities/regions who want more elaborate construction will have to fund that in other ways.

  23. Eric
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 19:09

    I can't imagine why, when budgets are constrained, we would build anything but a a strictly basic, utilitarian system where all the money goes into reliability and not looks.

    Budgets are always constrained (if they aren't, that's a sign of a very poorly managed project).

    People want to live and work in attractive environments. You really want to go back to the sixties and seventies when Caltrans just slapped in ugly-ass freeways wherever they felt like it, the local community be damned? You really think you can encourage the type of TOD that will make HSR economically beneficial if you don't consider aesthetics? Really??

  24. Anonymous
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 19:38

    You fellas act like Prop 1A is as sacrosanct as the Constitution. Oh hey, the Constitution can be amended. I guess if you change your mind and outlaw slavery you can build more than 24 stations on California's hsr.

    If the Machine that runs this bankrupt state deems more stations are politically popular they will be added.

    As far as that goes, if the electorate veers strongly to the right again this jury rig of a project could very well be aborted.

  25. Joey
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 20:45

    As much as I know you'll dismiss this, it seems like CHSRA has some sort of logical parameters as to where to put stations and where not to. If you look at the populations of most of the cities along the route – all but a few are of populations greater than 100000 people (this includes Palmdale). I know the city of Tehachapi pushed for a station a little while back, though that doesn't look like it went anywhere. Truth be told, the 24 station limit looks like it exists for this purpose. It is not 100% final, and may in fact have to be changed at some point, but in the mean time it is probably preventing a flood of station requests from every cluster of buildings that happen to be along the route from flooding the authority. There is a method behind the madness.

  26. Robert Cruickshank
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 20:54

    The 24 station limit can be changed, but not very easily. It was put there partly to appease environmental groups concerned about the possibility of a Los Banos station. The Sierra Club, for example, saw the limit as a key reason to support Prop 1A.

    So yes, of course the limit can be changed. But it won't be particularly easy. Environmental groups would be up in arms about it, unless there was another assurance that no Los Banos station would be built.

    There's also the matter of cost and overall travel times. More stations mean longer travel times (except for express trains) and definitely means greater cost.

    So there's really no political momentum behind changing the 24 station limit, not at this time. Tehachapi just isn't politically connected enough to make it happen. The system already hits the key population centers. What's left are smaller places that might get a station later on, once the system has been open and operating for a while, but I really don't see any reason to believe we'll go above 24 anytime soon.

  27. Joey
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 21:02

    I thought Los Baños was explicitly prohibited anyway (no station between Gilroy and Fresno or something like that…)

  28. Robert Cruickshank
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 21:05

    Joey, that is correct, thanks for the reminder. The 24 station limit was seen as an additional layer of protection against sprawl inducement, especially elsewhere along the route.

  29. Morris Brown
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 21:23

    Robert writes:

    The 24 station limit can be changed, but not very easily. It was put there partly to appease environmental groups concerned about the possibility of a Los Banos station. The Sierra Club, for example, saw the limit as a key reason to support Prop 1A.

    So yes, of course the limit can be changed.

    Actually the station at Los Banos was eliminated and specifically mentioned, not because of a 24 station max limit, but for other reasons. As Prop 1A is written, you cannot have a station anywhere between Gilroy and Merced.

    As Rafael has mentioned, a high speed rail project doesn't want to be turned into a slow commuter project with a station every 10 miles.

    Well Robert I agree the 24 station limit can be be changed. However, the limit is written into Prop 1A, just as other provisions governing the project and the expenditure of bond funds are.

    Being a voter approved proposition, it will take the legislature to propose amendments to Prop 1A. That will take a 2/3 vote of the legislature. Then the amendments will have to be put on a ballot and approved. That is the only way the language and requirements of Prop 1A can be modified.

    Such a process might well be necessary, since there are other provisions in Prop 1A, that the Authority might well want changed.

    I'm a bit surprised that, to the best of my knowledge, nobody here has brought up the fact that Prop 1A demands that a passenger be able to go from any one point on a corridor to any other point, without having to get off and transfer to another train.

    This make the concept proposed of having the project go from LA to San Jose and then use a CalTrain bullet train to go the rest of the way to SF, not allowed under Prop 1A.

    I would welcome any effort to get the voters of California to again approve or modify the project.

  30. Robert Cruickshank
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 21:31

    Actually, that too is a good point Morris, that the provisions of AB 3034/Prop 1A are not very easily changed. Also glad to see you reminding people that the oft-stated desire of some Peninsula NIMBYs to break HSR by forcing people to transfer to Caltrain at San José Diridon isn't likely to be permissible under that law.

    Still, as much as you might like to see AB 3034/Prop 1A modified to suit your desires, or repealed outright, it's not going to happen. There is little chance of you getting the 2/3rds vote you'd need to gut the project or cancel it entirely. Especially once we get federal stimulus funds.

  31. Eric
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 21:49

    Actually, that too is a good point Morris, that the provisions of AB 3034/Prop 1A are not very easily changed. Also glad to see you reminding people that the oft-stated desire of some Peninsula NIMBYs to break HSR by forcing people to transfer to Caltrain at San José Diridon isn't likely to be permissible under that law.

    Still, as much as you might like to see AB 3034/Prop 1A modified to suit your desires, or repealed outright, it's not going to happen. There is little chance of you getting the 2/3rds vote you'd need to gut the project or cancel it entirely. Especially once we get federal stimulus funds.

    RC in swagger mode is always entertaining. He thinks he's not just some random gadfly, but someone who's really got some political clout.

  32. Joey
    Nov 28th, 2009 at 21:59

    Farewell, Blogspot. You have served us well.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Indeed it did. Nearly 600 posts and over 20,000 comments. I’m kind of stunned, really.

    Paul H. Reply:

    I’m really not stunned. The need for the system is out there, and the majority of Californians believe that HSR is the future California should be building for itself. This blog has become the internet’s source of commentary and analysis of America’s first true high speed rail system. Other societies are passing America by, and for the most part, they all have a vastly superior public transportation infrastructure to the United States, which includes 200 mph trains (France, Spain, Germany, Japan, CHINA). The writing is on the wall, and California is stepping up. The political will must fall with giving this country’s citizens more transportation options. It’s how we grow. Productivity will improve, and this state’s economy will be the beneficiary of building HSR. The automobile helped us get this far, and I believe high speed rail will the best way to move people in the future.

    wu ming Reply:

    it’s also worth pointing out that the growth in HSR abroad is almost always part of a broader focus on many different interlinked modes of transit. china, taiwan, korea are building bullet trains and electrifying rapid rail, but they’re also expanding urban feeder networks like crazy as well. if california is to thrive in the 21st century, it needs to do the same.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    If you ever wanted to post your own impressions of Asian HSR – whether it’s in Taiwan, PRC, Korea, Japan, etc – that would be most welcome.

    Spokker Reply:

    To be fair, most of those comments were from jim! :)

    JimSF Reply:

    just doing my part.

  33. lpetrich
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 06:49

    I find it rather strange that the only thing that some people can think of is that the line will resemble a “Berlin Wall”. Haven’t they seen the BART viaducts?

    I will concede that they may not look very pretty; they are blocky bare concrete. But they have about the smallest volume that is technically feasible, and they could do for the high-speed trains. Those trains will be relatively lightweight, with their railcars weighing as much as BART ones, so one could copy the BART viaduct design without much change.

    In fact, putting the HST’s on a viaduct would make it easy for the other trains to cross over; they won’t have to cross the HST tracks at grade.

    Peter Reply:

    I think the BART viaducts are, after what they arrogantly claim to be the “Berlin Wall”, the NIMBYs worst nightmare.

  34. JimSF
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 09:52

    @eric People want to live and work in attractive environments. You really want to go back to the sixties and seventies when Caltrans just slapped in ugly-ass freeways wherever they felt like it, the local community be damned?

    What I want is for cities who want anything beyond a basic functional platform, and ticket window, to pay for whatever upgrades they desire.
    As for the stretches of track in between, most of it is at grade, with a fence along both sides and thats all it should be. We have tunneling to pay for, cut and fill to pay for, trains to purchase, and so forth and their isn’t an endless pot of gold from which to dig.
    My sensibilities are not offended by brutalist concrete. Its a railroad, not the teacup ride at disneyland.

    EJ Reply:

    Option 1. Build cheap train. Train ugly. People sad to look at train, do not want to live or work near train. People not live near train, people not take train. People not take train, train have no money. Train sad.

    Option 2. Spend money on making train look good. People happy to be near train, want to live and work near train. People live and work near train, people take train, train make money. Train happy. Train can use money to buy more train, make more people happy.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Shinkansen trains were butt ugly for its first few decades, and the elevated structures it uses are plain and brutalist. The system still gets more passengers than the rest of the world’s high-speed rail services combined.

    Chris Reply:

    Shinkansen trains are also in Japan, not in the US. Japan has long valued function over form far more than Californians.

    I don’t think that we need to make every station look like the Taj Mahal, but it would be a mistake, IMO, to have them be simple concrete slabs.

    JimSF Reply:

    BART is in the uber sensitive bay area and its concrete hasn’t stopped people from riding one bit. Never did, never has.

    Chris Reply:

    BART’s ridership per route-mile is pretty much the worst in the world. Most of that is because of the horrid design of the system (underbuilding of the core, overbuilding of the suburban feeder lines) of course, but if we’re looking at BART as a way of doing things, we’re screwed.

    Think of it this way – we’re all using HSR systems outside of California to compare ridership numbers to. BART has the worst ridership numbers (per route-mile) of any heavy rail metro in the world. Are we now aiming for CAHSR to have the worst ridership numbers of any HSR system in the world. I sure hope not.

    Joey Reply:

    The designer of many of the BART stations deserves to be shot. They’re the ugliest concrete slabs I have ever seen.

  35. JimSF
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 09:58

    No wonder the state is always broke. Nobody knows how to stick to the basics when they are spending other people’s money.

  36. YesonHSR
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 10:04

    Hello..just testing the new blog

  37. JimSF
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 12:06

    stations built with prop 1a money shouldn’t be any thing more than shown. Cities such as LA SF SD may invest their own money in more elaborate multi modal construction. Cities such as Palmdale, Fresno Bakersfield, merced etc, will have decide for themselves whether to go with the basic 1a supplied platform or to invest further. We can’t expect to tell Palo Alto they have to pay for additional improvements on their own, while spending 1a funds to embellish stations for other cities along the route.

  38. JimSF
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 12:09
  39. morris brown
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 12:57

    Over at Clem’s blog, a major discussion of CalTrain and their problems with getting their electrification plan approved.

    How the discoosure over there by Clem, shakes to the bones, the premise that the UPRR is just waiting for a better deal before the fold for money.

    Peter Reply:

    I think that UPRR is going to want to continue to operate freight on the Caltrain ROW. Caltrain and CHSRA know this, which is why they have been working with UPRR on the issue.

    I think Clem is a little overly dramatic about the issue. UPRR was simply reserving its rights and suggested a schedule to resolve the issue. That’s not the same as dictating terms.

  40. JimSF
    Nov 29th, 2009 at 23:14

    Of course they are going to keep their rights.

  41. JimSF
    Nov 30th, 2009 at 12:57

    none of my post show up. Ive posted three times and they just vanish. this new format is a pain.

    Peter Reply:

    Yesterday it took over six hours for a number of posts of other people on this blog to show up on my home computer.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Sorry – that was a result of delays in the comment moderation process.

    The way that moderation works is this: first time anyone posts a comment, it is held for moderation. Once I approve it, all comments from that email address or IP address are automatically posted without moderation.

    For the last few days the system hasn’t been sending the notification emails, and so I hadn’t realized there were several pending comments until I went to the admin page to do something else.

    Do let me know if there are any ongoing issues with comment posting.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Can you say more about that, Jim? What did you do? What happened when you tried to post?

    JimSF Reply:

    well apparently you have to enter that damn elaborate captcha word everytime, and if you forget, youre post will still look like it posted anyway, so you don’t realize you forgot the bog nonsense words, but then when you go back, your post has vanished.

    also, these threads are too hard to follow, I have to go back and read the whole blog to make sure I don’t miss anything,

    the old blog had everything in chronological order. also the text is too small.

    my two cents.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    If you register, you don’t have to deal with the captcha.

    As to the threads, some of the difficulty is being used to one system and now using another. I’m still looking into ways to give notice of which comments are new and which aren’t, though that’s a more complicated matter.

    Open to ideas on the text. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Verdana.

    JimSF Reply:

    ok, I thought I did register. hmmmm ill try again.

    jimsf Reply:

    ok got my password thing figured out. sheesh. yeah verdana isn’t as good as times. I like times.

    anyway whatever my point was —– oh yeah, I can’t continue to cheer for a project when I dont see them being realistic. the word on the street is that no one actually believes this will get built even thought they voted for it. They know the money will be squandered and they know that it will turn out to be a pie in the sky pipedream The public wants it, but has zero faith in the ablility of chsra to make it happen. No one at the railroad thinks its gonna happen either. people just chuckle at my enthusiasm.
    Unless the authority can come up with a frugal plan that gets trains running sooner rather than later and keeps costs to a bare minimum, the project will indeed become a boondoggle because every one of here knows that they are going to run out of money and have to ask the taxppayers for more and the taxpayers, after the bonds, the failure of obama to produce, the billions in bail outs, and the rest, are not going to approve any more expenditures on anything, not ever. Personally, I know their wont be any revenue service in 2020, 2025 maybe at the earliest. Meanwhile watch for half-completed and abandoned billion dollar signature train stations-to-nowhere to sit idle.

    jimsf Reply:

    I even spoke with a producer of a major bay area radio personality ont eh topic of job creation in california and when i mentioned the project her response was along the lines of “they don’t even know what they are doing yet and high speed rail is still pretty much a pipe dream” and thats KGO the biggest media west of the rockies.

    No one believes in this project except the 10 people on this blog.

  42. JimSF
    Nov 30th, 2009 at 12:59

    as I was saying, this is all that is needed for about 20 of the 24 stations. If you present a frugal budget, then people will be more likely to go along than if it looks like we are just throwing away tax dollars.

    EJ Reply:

    Except that station isn’t particularly cheap or simple. However, it has a significant cost advantage in being a standardized design. Historically, railroads have built most stations to one of a handful of standard designs. I think the design contest should be oriented toward a standard design that can be used for most stops – not only can this save money but a uniform look provides a valuable branding effect.

    Peter Reply:

    I agree with Jim that a simple, frugal design should be sufficient. Given how many people are expected to use CHSR, I would support implementing a design that at least offers full-length shelter from the elements. As the song goes, it never rains in California, but man, don’t they warn ya, it pours. The “shelters” offered at Caltrain stops are a joke. Yes, they serve their purpose, but if you’re going to have a lot of people waiting for a train in the rain, many of them are going to be thinking that the next time they’ll just drive.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I tend to agree. The issue however is that to bring TOD to some of these stations, which funds the stations themselves, many localities and planners believe you need the station to stand out, to have a personality, to become a destination in its own right. ARTIC is a good example of this.

    Chris Reply:

    I have no problem with a simple design, but it doesn’t have to LOOK cheap. Since most of these stations are going into downtown areas, why not try to revive some civic pride (that has been lost in most Californian communities for decades) that hopefully helps bring more development to the downtowns?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    That makes sense to me. Some of the stations from the 1930s are very good models: San José’s Cahill Depot (now Diridon Station), Salinas station, and of course, LA Union Station. Those are all simple designs that are elegantly implemented.

    wu ming Reply:

    i’m a huge fan of the art deco mission stucco sort of old california station look. even davis’ modest little station has some stylistic echoes of grander stuff like LAUS. i suspect most people will want HSR to look überfuturistic, though. california could stand to preserve a hint of its historical aesthetics.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Why not revive civic pride? Because it costs the taxpayers money.

    And if you really think development required overbuilt stations, I invite you to see how the platform level at Penn Station looks.

    Chris Reply:

    I’m not proposing spending a lot on the stations, just making them more than simple concrete slabs. It doesn’t take much to change a station from a concrete slab to something that at least looks a tad nicer.

    Penn Station has the advantage of being in Manhattan, which the stations in Fresno and Bakersfield will not have.

  43. Peter
    Nov 30th, 2009 at 16:51

    @ Robert

    Off-topic, sorry. Is Californians for High Speed Rail going to be recommending a stop at SJC if Altamont Corridor Express travels along that route? I’m assuming they are submitting comments for that project…

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    We will be submitting comments, but haven’t gotten to that level of depth yet.

  44. JimSF
    Nov 30th, 2009 at 23:58

    I give up. I lost my comments, I cant get the registration to work. they keep sending me passwords that don’t work. forget it.

  45. JimSF
    Dec 1st, 2009 at 00:02

    I don’t have the patience for this. wake me when the trains start running, in 2040 when they find enough money for all this.

  46. wu ming
    Dec 1st, 2009 at 03:37

    there is something to be said for coming up with a systemwide aesthetic or unifying features, to brand the network visually in passengers’ minds. it needn’t be restrictively so, given the broad diversity in communities that the train will be stopping in, but coming up with something distinctive, even if simple enough not to break the bank, would be worthwhile IMO.

    perhaps a design competition for the whole system would make more sense than doing it leg by leg.

    Peter Reply:

    Hell, even a simple logo, like the U- and S-Bahns have would by worth it as brand recognition.

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