Fresno-Sacramento: Alternate Route

May 28th, 2010 | Posted by

by Rafael

Note from Robert: This is one in a series of posts from Rafael thinking about different ways that we could route California HSR. It should be noted that the Merced-Fresno Alternatives Analysis has some very clear options on how to deal with much of this segment, although north of Merced is less settled at this point in time.

One of the big planning headaches for California HSR is Union Pacific’s refusal to make any part of its extensive network available for dedicated HSR tracks. The crusty old railroad has even raised a red flag on plans to purchase adjacent land for this purpose, citing the risk of derailments (and cargo spills) that could foul the HSR tracks (where at grade or in a trench) or else, damage their supports (where elevated). In effect, a private railroad is trying to impose restrictions on how land it doesn’t even own may be used. Contributor Dennis Lytton has called that extortion and demanded FRA or even Congressional action in response.

Unfortunately for HSR proponents, UPRR is a major freight railroad with a lot of political clout in Washington. The FRA would likely pay close attention to any fresh complaint from it against the revised program EIS on California HSR, since rail freight is a key component of interstate commerce and needs to operate on a low-cost-per-ton business model to remain profitable. Rulings that impose high additional liability on or require excessive new investments (e.g. in signaling or maintenance) by the private railroads could quickly lead to service cuts or outright bankruptcy.

Therefore, it is useful to explore alternative routes/alignments that would avoid the active lines on UPRR’s network. The original plan called for about 50% of the fully built-out HSR network to run adjacent to that company’s legacy tracks. This post addresses the section between Calwa (south Fresno) and downtown Sacramento in the Central Valley.

The following map shows the salient details. Naturally, this alternate route would require re-doing the program-level EIS/EIR for this section of the network.

View Fresno-Sacramento: Alternative Route in a larger map

UPRR’s competitor BNSF has been much more receptive of CHSRA’s proposal to share ROW, specifically in the Calwa-Bakersfield section. The BNSF line runs north and west out to Richmond harbor via south Stockton. It already hosts Amtrak California’s San Joaquin service. Unfortunately, the alignment through Fresno is not straight enough for express HSR service in its present state. It also fails to reach the downtown areas of Merced and Modesto yet does run through a number of smaller towns and villages.

Nevertheless, it might make sense to use certain sections of BNSF’s ROW for the Calwa-south Stockton section, in combination with greenfield sections and the available I-5 median between Stockton and Sacramento.

a) To rectify the alignment for express HSR service, there would be a tunnel section in central Fresno plus an aerial over the SJVR rail yards in Calwa. The Fresno HSR station would be underground with two platform and two bypass tracks. Elsewhere, the tunnel would feature just two tracks, dedicated to HSR service. A station site near the E Tulare/E Divisadero/CA-41 intersection might work well for the HSR operator, but there is no large plot of undeveloped land is available at that location. Note that the Amtrak station is too far out of the way for this rectification concept.

b) Considering the speeds and frequencies at which express HSR trains will be running through Fresno, the most suitable type of grade separation through the residential neighborhoods between N Blackstone and W Herndon would be a deep trench. This would include grade separation of the BNSF track(s), but only in this section. Additional measures to mitigate noise may be necessary, though concrete lids would entail aggressive (and noisy) ventilation to cope with the diesel trains operatged by BNSF and Amtrak.

c) The alignment would switch to a greenfield ROW between Planada and Riverbank. Part of that would run along Oakdale Rd (Stanislaus County Rd J17). The idea behind this is to avoid residential areas of Merced as well as a number of smaller towns along the BNSF ROW, while providing an alignment suitable for running trains at 220mph at any time of day or night. There would, however, be significant land use impacts on farms in the region. The Merced county station would be at the UC campus, way out in the boonies. However, a modified alignment would permit a station at Castle Airport instead if the county presents a viable plan to upgrade it for commercial aviation or else, for transit-oriented redevelopment. Right now, it is used for general aviation and there’s a federal prison east of the runway.

d) The merger with Southern Pacific in the 1990s added many duplicate rights of way (e.g. one between Niles and French Camp) and secondary lines that UPRR might well be willing to sell. One such line runs from French Camp to Modesto, but doesn’t actually join up with UPRR’s main line there. It runs right next to the BNSF track in the town of Escalon but is not connected to that, either.

Therefore, I’m proposing something of a “beet field” station at Escalon, with a new light rail service south into downtown Modesto (Jr College). A new Amtrak San Joaquin station there would be possible if desired.

Note that there may be scope for transit-oriented development near the HSR station and along the LRT corridor, which could easily be extended west along CA-120 and north via French Camp Rd at a later date. Admittedly, there’s a fine line between using high-density TOD to encourage strategic population growth where there is plenty of readily available water and, the risk of traditional low-density sprawl. It’s not a given that Stanislaus county planners are already up to walking it.

e) The Stockton station would be at San Joaquin St, intermodal with connecting Amtrak San Joaquin service to Contra Costa county and Oakland.

An elevated section and a new bridge would be required to get HSR tracks from the BNSF yard across the UPRR line, CA-4 and the river, where they would leverage the available I-5 median. It would be up to the city of Stockton to provide connecting bus transit to the downtown area. There would be no intermodal station with ACE or Amtrak SJ trains from Sacramento.

f) A second ROW that UPRR might be willing to sell runs from Sacramento’s historic Richards rail yards along the Sacramento river south to the hamlet of Hood, the last remaining fragment of what was once a larger network serving farms in the Delta, with cross-connections to Fairfield and Lodi along what is today CA-12.

This ROW would permit a Sacramento HSR station at the planned Richards development, albeit via a completely different approach route. Speeds on the elevated alignment through the residential neighborhoods south of downtown would have to be reduced, cp. SF peninsula or LA basin.

Note that a substantial extra-tall aerial would be needed to cross the eastern approach of the bi-level I St rail/road combo swing bridge as well as I-5, to reach the lateral location already selected for the HSR platforms. Vertically, they would be a level higher than currently planned. The waterfront would remain accessible but there would be some visual and noise blight. A trench or tunnel would be a preferable option, though the proximity to the river presents a major hazard for construction as well as a potential flood risk. Putting the HSR platforms at the station underground would also be more expensive than the plan of record, which assumes trains will approach the site from the east.

Another solution would be to radically rethink the layout of the transit hub such that UPRR/Amtrak veers north immediately east of the rail bridge, leaving just enough room for the HSR tracks to squeeze past at grade without crossing. A station at grade would be cheaper, but the California railroad museum would need to be relocated and the waterfront south of it would be severely impaired.

  1. Rafael
    May 28th, 2010 at 13:14

    Btw: IFF UPRR is prepared to sell the French Camp-Modesto ROW, it would also be possible to switch the HSR route from BNSF to that just south of Escalon and follow French Camp Rd. all the way to I-5. This would reduce the effort required in Stockton, though a new bridge across the river would still be needed. The Amtrak SJ station would have to be moved directly underneath I-5 for an intermodal station, but that arrangement would arguably do a slightly worse job of serving the people of Stockton because HSR platforms above freeway medians are suboptimal.

    Then again, the lack of bypass tracks might mean more trains stopping in Stockton.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Just relocate adjacent to I-5 or in the median with concrete barriers to please the FRA.

    Rafael Reply:

    Stockton, Fresno, Bakersfield et al. are each too small to support much in the way of commercial air service. They’re too far from each other and especially, from both SoCal and the Bay Area, for comfortable drives. It’s therefore reasonable to forecast that Central Valley residents will use HSR more intensively than anyone else in the state.

    HSR is not a drop-in replacement for point-to-point flights between the Bay Area and SoCal. The whole point is to provide service to, from and within the Central Valley as well. But I’m guessing you’re a snob who wouldn’t want to be caught dead sitting next to someone who actually lives there.

    Peter Reply:

    He probably just sees them as people who are irrelevant, not even lesser. They just don’t matter.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    It’d be so nice if we could just build both and have it done with. Both have their pros and cons.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, if money wasn’t an issue…

    synonymouse Reply:

    The I-5 alignment would be the more efficacious of the two routes as a starter while back at 99 the UP indiates it is agreeable to 110 mph passenger trains. That’s not too bad if you figure in a number of small-town stops.

    That’s part of Tolmach’s common sense argument.

    Howard Reply:

    There is not going to be any room in the I-5 median in Stockton or Sacramento because new HOV (capool) lanes are planned for there and the project to start construction of new HOV lanes in north Stockton will start any day.L now. All of you have completely forgotten the abandoned Central California Traction rail corridor between Stockton and Sacramento, east of the UP route, that is the alternative route that the CHSRA will study. The hard part will be to get to the downtown Sacramento railyards station from the northern of the CCT rail corridor at Power Inn Road (subway)?

    rafael Reply:

    God I hate carpool lanes. What a waste of precious ROW, they’re almost always empty. Just compare the number of people they actually support on a per-hour basis to the number a mass transit system like HSR could support.

    The CCT ROW is the one east of CA-99, right? That would take trains too far east and more importantly, it doesn’t reach all the way into downtown. Since UPRR has stated that it has no intention of co-operating with CHSRA at all, anywhere in the state, this option doesn’t solve the dilemma. It’s the sections through the built-up areas that are the most valuable, because exercising eminent domain against large numbers of homeowners (=voters) is politically infeasible.

    For CHSRA, Stockton and Sacramento are going to be just as painful as Fresno and south San Jose.

    Matthew Reply:

    We have built and maintain both the 5 and the 99 for use by cars. I can imagine a future where a second rail line were built along the 5 to speed up the LA – SF route, but for now we need to build an initial system that will have a reasonable balance of serving a large number of people, having high ridership, and being politically feasible. I think the 99 route does that best, despite the opinion of some that the Central Valley should effectively be bypassed. It will be much easier to secure future funding for the expansion of an existing system once the benefits of a high-ridership starter network are seen.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Us-99 existed before I-5 because it connected the cities of the CV. The same can be done with HSR; once the initial system is built out (extensions to San Diego and Sacramento), then we should start looking at cutting travel time with the I-5 alignment. We just have to make sure the median of I-5 is preserved so it remains ready for HSR, which probably won’t come to this section for a good 20-30 years. In fact, all further improvements made on I-5 in the CV should be built with HSR in mind from here on out.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Going on I-5 would do almost nothing to speed up the system, unless Fresno and Bakersfield force express trains to slow down significantly to reduce noise emissions. Any money left for an LA-SF speedup should be dedicated to working on a Grapevine cutoff: investigating the meter-scale geology to see if the single possible alignment is actually feasible, and working on increasing trains’ grade climbing ability to reduce the amount of tunneling needed, which would create more possible alignments. The Tehachapi detour costs about 12 minutes for express LA-SF trains. The SR-99 detour costs maybe 3 minutes; even with a Fresno and Bakersfield slowdown (say, to 200 km/h), it shouldn’t be more than about 7.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I question your figures on the time penalty Tehachapis vs. Tejon. I simply accord little credibility to anything coming out of Bechtel, which has been compromised by its long-term political connections.

    It is height of naivete to suggest that the median of I-5 can be set aside for any length of time for future hsr use. You are dealing with the highway lobby here – the interests who had the enormous policital clout to carve out the I-5 corridor in the first place. The only other force in American transport history comparable to the highway interests would be the robber baron railroads of the 19th century. If you want to use the existing footprint of the state owned I-5 corridor it is now or never. Later you would have to exercise eminent domain to procure a parallel ROW.

    Altamont-I-5-Tejon is manifestly faster and will engender more support and less opposition overall than the current CHSRA route scheme.

    Finally I wonder how the BNSF will ultimately react when the CHSRA actually moves to seize some of its property. I believe that the UP views the CHSRA as effectively plotting to expropriate its railrroad and converting it from a freight line to hsr. When push comes to shove the Santa Fe will get the picture and move to a more defensive UP-like posture.

    Rafael Reply:

    The line haul times are actually straightforward calculations once you have the route and define the speed limit for each section. In this context, those limits are based primarily on gradient, curvature and safety factors when running in tunnels or major faults.

    A route via Tejon would be on the order of 30 miles shorter than via the Tehachapis, but it would involve more miles of tunnels at 3.5% gradient, plus there would be two major fault crossings underground. Therefore, the average speed on a Tejon route would be lower. Note that CHSRA has always label the 12 minute difference an estimate.

    If CHSRA were to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate Altamont, you can bet that lots of eco-warriors and East Bay NIMBYs would come out of the woodwork. There is no way to route a brand-new railroad through populated areas – or even farmland – without anyone complaining.

    Bypassing the major towns in the Central Valley is a bad idea politically (it is a state project, after all) as well as for HSR ridership: flying and driving around the state is a major pain for those folks rigth now. This project is NOT about getting from SF to LA as quickly as possible, it’s about getting there fast enough and also serving long-suffering communities in-between.

    BNSF has been engaged in constructive negotiations with CHSRA, which as a state agency has no powers of eminent domain over either freight railroad. That’s a federal prerogative. It’s simply willing to at least talk about a voluntary sale of part of its right of way in the CV, whereas UP isn’t.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    @synonymouse – if the patronage on the main corridor becomes so strong that corridor capacity becomes an issue, then problems of regaining a median alignment or, as is preference, an alignment along the side are much smaller because there is an established constituency pushing for it.

    That is the reason for the relative strength of the highway lobby – the established constituency. Once HSR has that, it will be a far more even political fight.

    And when gas gets out of the moderately cheap level of $3~$4/gallon to the moderately expensive level of $6~$8/gallon, the relative political clout of the highway versus HSR will swing even more dramatically in the favor of HSR, since its only the rail oriented developers who will have the available disposable income to support political action – the car-dependent developers will be absolutely hammered in terms of their ability to lease state politicians.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Tolmach put the overall end-to-end difference at 90 miles. Even 30 miles is a lot to be saved.

    An upgrade to 110mph is adequate for the 99 corridor for now. Tejon is still faster for Bakersfield and Fresno

    The Peninsula will fight the hsr to the bitter end. Kopp doesn’t even want the Transbay tunnel.

    The highway lobby, while a huge agglomeration of interests revolving around the automobile and truck, draws its residual, basal, strength from the contractors. It has not been possible to outsource them; that is why the highway lobby remains so strong even tho the American automobile industry has been in decline for decades.

    High gas prices will not dampen freeway construction. Japan has high prices and is yet loaded with freeways. Outside of a few renegade locales, like SF and Berkeley, there is hardly a politician at any level of government in the US that will raise a word of objection to any freewayf or road project. The highway lobby remains that dominant. These guys will be only too happy to watch the CHSRA waste its time fighting the UP over a cowpath thru the Tehachapis. They would hate the Tejon tunnels – all those would see hsr trains blasting past them and then dive into tunnels under the same Grapevine that the cars have to grind over.

    Peter Reply:

    I’m not seeing how HSR along I-5 and San Joaquins upgraded to 110 mph would help connect the CV with the LA area. Looking at Waller’s maps I see a link over the Tehachapis for the San Joaquins, other than the connection in Stockton. Unless you can convince the freight operator to let passenger trains to use the Tehachapi loop, that would require the Amtrak Thruway buses. Or did Tolmach/Waller come up with a useful solution to that as well?

    Otherwise, the CV gets the total shaft, AGAIN, under Tolmach’s plan.

    Peter Reply:

    And the 90 miles number on Waller’s map compares the US-99 routing against roads, not against an I-5 routing.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Figuring out how much time you lose from each detour takes about two minutes of Google Maps. We don’t need world-class transit experts like Tolmach to tell us.

    The shortest route from LA to SF – Tejon/I-5/Altamont through Oakland and across the Bay – is 615 km long. Altamont/Dumbarton raises it to about 640. The chosen option, with Pacheco, SR 99, and the Tehachapis, is at 696. Pacheco is a net reduction in distance traveled versus Altamont/Dumbarton, SR 99 adds a trivial amount of distance (all along a 350 km/h racetrack), and the Tehachapis add about 50 km, which at mountain pass speed is about 12-15 minutes. The Tehachapis detour bad if you can avoid it, but you can’t; the rest are non-issues and the only reason to insist on I-5 is if you want the project to fail.

    It’s most definitely not 90 miles. The only way you can make it look like it’s 90 miles is if you measure road distance on Google Maps, which involves winding mountain roads. Compare the LA-Bakersfield distance in the CAHSR alignment with the road distance along the Tehachapis. Even then, the total detour is 78 miles, not 90.

    In other words: Tolmach is talking out of his ass.

    synonymouse Reply:

    A branch to Bakersfield and Fresno would take off just to the north of the Tejon tunnels. In te interim 99 corridor north of Fresno would be via the courtesy of the UP, taking them up on their offer to run 110 mph trains.

    But the initial hsr route would serve Sacramento from the outset. Sorry Modesto you will have to wait a little longer(just like Redding and a whole bunch of other California cities)for full hsr. Sac is a crucial destination for the hsr.

    I am beginning to wonder if there isn’t another hidden agenda going on here militating against t hsr thru and under Tejon. An zealous and devious Caltrans guarding its sphere of influence in much the jealous way the UP protects and marks its territory. Could the highway lobby be secretly planning to build another freeway(perhaps tollway mit tunnels?) on exactly the same alignment the hsr would need thru Tejon?

    If it turns out that the hsr has been kicked to the curb in favor of a freeway scheme that will a scandal to equal the Owens Valley water grab. A certain engineering company that pimped itd will be reviled in perpetuity.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Could the highway lobby be secretly planning to build another freeway(perhaps tollway mit tunnels?) on exactly the same alignment the hsr would need thru Tejon?

    Sure. California has nothing but money for 20-km base tunnels for roadways.

    Peter Reply:

    @ Alon

    Note that you point out a flaw in his reasoning (is that the right word for it?) / FUD-making, and, as always, he turns around and, instead of responding to your calling him out, goes off on a FUD tangent?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    If anything, synonymouse, there’s every reason for Tejon Ranch interests to want an HSR stop along the I-5 corridor, given their ambitious development plans for the Lebec area.

    I just drove that route today, I-5 over the Grapevine/Tejon Pass, and I am more convinced than ever that the idea of routing HSR there is monumentally stupid and would be a truly incredible waste of money. It is an *extremely* mountainous route from Castaic to Wheeler Ridge, a distance of about 45 miles. It’s also very earthquake-prone, with a much smaller population than Palmdale/Lancaster.

    As far as I can tell, synonymouse, your constant “Grapevine!” argument is your way of trolling against the HSR project, your particular FUD as to why this project shouldn’t be built, even though cost, geology, population location, and common sense suggest the Tehachapi route is superior and therefore the right way to go.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Judging by the reaction I must be on to something. My recollection of the Tehachapis is that that region is more mountainous and longer. You make the Grapevine sound like Donner. But I guess everything is puffed up in Lalaland.

    So it looks like it is Caltrans that is kicking the hsr out of heaven.

    You guys wander off on detours, insist on corridors that are already jammed, ignore the state capital and launch a vendetta with upscale Peninsula burgs. And you worry about fud?

    Peter Reply:

    “Judging by the reaction I must be on to something.”

    Right, because every time we call someone an idiot we secretly agree with him.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    wander off on detours

    It’s a passenger railroad, it’s going where the passengers are.

    insist on corridors that are already jammed

    Jammed with potential passengers. The ones that will be using the passenger railroad.

    ignore the state capital

    There will be more than the initial line built. It’s unfortunate that Sacramento isn’t the passenger draw that San Francisco and Los Angeles are but San Francisco and Los Angeles are the place people are and where people want to go. The point of a passenger railroad is to carry passengers. Passengers are easier to find where there are lots of people.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Judging by the reaction I must be on to something.

    No, you’re not. Your “90 mile” number isn’t on to anything; it’s an ex recto statistic that takes 2 minutes to refute if you bother to try. The reaction you’re getting comes from the fact that it’s really easy to prove you wrong here.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Could be our disagreement stems from living in two parallel but different universes. In
    mine I-5 goes over the Grapevine; in yours it goes over the Tehachapis.

    Peter Reply:

    Ok, so, here’s some math for you. On Google Maps, the shortest distance between Transbay Terminal and LAUS by road is 381 miles. And that distance includes directly crossing the Bay on the Bay Bridge. If you instead follow 101 to 152, out over to 99, then 58 and 14 to 5, it’s 463. 82 miles is not 90.

    Joey Reply:

    Synonymous: The Tehachapi route is NOT more mountainous. It does require two mountain crossings, but the total distance of rough terrain is roughly comparable to that of the grapevine (about 50 miles either way). The rest of the Tehachapi route is across the desert, which is one of the easiest places to build. And the terrain of the Tehachapi is MUCH easier than that of the grapevine. In fact, the comparison to donner probably isn’t that far off…

    HSRforCali Reply:

    I’ve heard that the Tehachapi alignment is actually cheaper than that of the grapevine; does anyone know how much cheaper?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Peter, the actual LA-SF route is going to be 432, not 463. The difference is that the roads through the mountains are curvy and the train is going to go straight.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “HSRforCali Reply:
    May 31st, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    I’ve heard that the Tehachapi alignment is actually cheaper than that of the grapevine; does anyone know how much cheaper?”

    Hard to say, since the Grapevine alignment is fraught with risks which could cause the pricetag to explode like the Big Dig — and the Tehachapi alignment isn’t.

    In the *best case* scenario the Tehachapi alignment is only slightly cheaper (still millions of dollars, mind you). In the *worst case* scenario it’s much, much, much cheaper, orders of magnitude.

    HSRComingSoon Reply:

    Actually, the Techachapi works better for future connections. First, Tehachapi allows for a connection to Desert Express, or whoever is building HSR to Vegas for a NorCal route to Vegas. Second, this is a new idea, but it can take a lot of time off travel from NorCal to San Diego. Specifically, by building a line that travels East-South-East from Palmdale and closely follows the Eastern base of the San Gabriel/San Bernardino Mtns to HWY 138, then traveling parallel to 138 until reaching Cajon Pass, whereby following I-15’s path closely, you can get to San Bernardino every quickly and meet up with the planned Phase II to San Diego. This could be done in about 80 miles, in comparison to having to travel through LA and the San Gabriel Valley, which could be more than 120 miles when starting from Palmdale and is slower travel due to population densities and stations. Even better, you can travel at higher speeds and not make intermediate stops, thus making a trip to SD from NorCal even faster (and shorter) than planned. The added benefits: a HSR route over Cajon Pass to travel directly from the planned SoCal HSR segments to Vegas either by Desert Express or CAHSR along with increased ridership and profits.

  2. Rafael
    May 28th, 2010 at 14:49

    @ Robert –

    thanks for the preamble with the link to the preliminary AA for Fresno-Merced. It just seems to me that CHSRA are still proceeding on the assumption that UPRR will come around in Fresno as well as Merced. My post was more of a “what if” in fact UPRR succeeds in sticking to its guns.

    In addition, I question the wisdom of planning the Fresno-Merced section without considering how tracks would continue north to Sacramento. If you don’t have a viable strategy for acquiring a suitable ROW for phase 2, why bother laying any track at all between Chowchilla and Merced? As long as the ROW up to Sacramento is in limbo, Merced really shouldn’t be part of any starter line via Pacheco Pass. It’s not like this project is fully funded already.

    Instead, CHSRA should just have contractors prepare the subsoil for turnoffs toward both the UPRR and the BNSF corridors but not actually install the high-speed switches yet. That’s a cheap way to keep your options open. If and when the planning and funding for phase 2 north to Sacramento materialize and actual construction begins, take the starter line out of operation for a day or two and exercise one of these options.

    All of this is perfectly legal under the catch-all “usable segment” language in AB3034 since that term refers not just to technical feasibility but also to the cost-benefit ratio. A branch that serves Merced only is unlikely to turn an operating profit, the population just isn’t there at the moment. I suppose it might make sense if there were some state-level strategy to attract new migrants to California to settle where water is readily available and earthquake risks are low but afaik, there is no such animal.

    Instead, there’ll be an $11 billion water bond on the November ballot. If it passes, that will fuel further growth in the parched southern half of the state plus it’ll become even harder to get prop 1A(2008) bonds actually appropriated. Just accept that farming on the west side of the southern Central Valley will become ever more difficult. Mendota, west of Fresno, is pretty much a ghost town already. Figure out a way to prevent loss of valuable topsoil and then, start building solar power or algal oil plants out there. Diversify the local economy. We can always import almonds from Kyrgistan or wherever if we have to. What we can’t do is import renewable electricity from there, nor can we afford to risk expand oil production off the California coast.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    I wonder how the CV cities would react if the CAHSRA told them they wouldn’t be able to construct a high-speed train system (creating hundreds of thousands of jobs) because UPRR wouldn’t allow them? Perhaps this could provide more political pressure to force UP to give in?

    Rafael Reply:

    Unfortunately, the major freight rail operators are famously impervious to local or even state-level political pressure. The CV towns, perhaps even California as a whole, may not be powerful enough to get Congress to act against UPRR.

    Note that while BNSF does a good job of accommodating passenger rail operators, it has also been in conflict with the city of Fresno for over a century over noise, vibration and traffic impacts due to the proximity to residential housing and the lack of grade separations. The city has never had enough money to acquire the ROW, because BNSF would have to fund the construction of a western bypass through prime farmland with the proceeds, including crossing UPRR, CA-99 and the river somewhere between Madera and Fresno.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Down here in LA, Metro came to an agreement with UP that the “Colton Crossing” project would receive government funding in return for discussing the possibility of HSR using their ROW in the San Fernando Valley. Perhaps the same thing could be done further up north?

    Rafael Reply:

    Colton is the crossroads of the major rail freight arteries into and out of LA and LB harbor. Considering the traffic volume, it makes perfect sense to grade separate the UPRR and BNSF lines. However, the gradient constraints will mean the project affects a much wider area than would be the case for a road grade separation.

    I’m not sure what exactly UPRR is giving away regarding HSR in the San Fernando Valley, though. Afaik, SCRRA already owns the ROW between Redondo Junction and south Palmdale. Now, if UPRR were more open to negotiations in the Antelope Valley (Palmdale-Mojave), that would be a welcome development.

    It would be nice if state and county transportation officials had similar leverage up north. The main BNSF and UPRR rights of way do cross four times, at grade: in Calwa (south Fresno), in south Stockton, in Bay Point (Pittsburg) and in Richmond. However, freight traffic along these routes is probably not as heavy as down in Colton. Afaik, there are no plans to grade separate any of these intersections.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Although I’m usually all in favor for government funding for rail, I don’t believe the government should be funding over half of this project; especially since the benefit it’ll have for passenger rail is minimal at best and really only helps the private companies, one of which is obviously quite anti-HSR.

    rafael Reply:

    Next, you’ll be telling us that the trucking industry pays its fair share of the freeway construction and maintenance costs.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    That’s different. In this case, UP would be preventing the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. I’m sure an anti-jobs movement would go over quite well with Obama.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Congress doesn’t need to act — only the Surface Transportation Board.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The staff people we’ve spoken to in Merced are very cognizant that extended service up to Merced is indeed very extendable for a phase 1 project.

    Even if you end up building it, you may see minimal service, if any, a la Bart to SFO where Millbrae to the airport doesn’t run. The only justification for building the branch now is that, according to the ridership model, everyone in Sacramento will drive to Merced to use the service.

    Merced’s best shot at decent service levels would ironically be Altamont, where every train would pass through Merced.

    wu ming Reply:

    hell yes i would drive to merced from sac if it meant that a grueling and ugly as heck 7-8 hour drive to socal (or an unmentionable daylong train ride on the coast starlight) would become a 2 hour drive and an hour and 40 minute train ride to LA union station.

    flying would take about the same amount of time, given that i’d have to drive there and find a place to park at the airport, and need to come to sac metro nearly 2 hours ahead of time when it’s busy, and the flight take an hour and a half, but the cost of the tickets would be higher and it’s an unpleasant experience, esp. with kids (we took the taiwan HSR several times with a toddler, and it was worlds easier for her to wiggle and walk around a bit in the voluminous leg space, to say nothing of the train’s lack of pressurization-related eardrum popping that plagues little kids).

    once the HSR is up and running, i’d prob. just catch the capitol corridor to sac valley station (or drive, depends on how traffic on the causeway is), catch one of the san joaquins running from sac to merced as a feeder service, and switch to HSR at the station. it would be way easier.

    you’re also forgetting the people at UC merced going to the bay area on weekends or vacations, students going to and from university, conferences in different parts of the state, etc.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    Californians For HSR is pushing the Authority to plan for relocating the Amtrak Station in Merced to the HSR station site proposed downtown along the UPRR line. That way people can also take a feeder train to merced and have an efficient transfer.

    rafael Reply:

    @ Elizabeth, Wu Ming –

    so CHSRA wants people to drive 120 miles from Sacramento to Merced so they can catch a train to LA there? Sounds like the DesertXPress business model for Victorville, only more so ;^)

    @ Daniel Krause –

    If UPRR were prepared to let Amtrak California onto its main west coast line, they’d probably be running there now. Depending on the details of where exactly the Merced station end up, it might be possible to construct a spur off the BNSF ROW that ends right next to the UPRR line. However, I don’t think anyone is willing to spend any money on any such a spur anytime soon.

    UPRR and BNSF don’t really need it, they already have multiple cross-connects in various locations and standing agreements on mutual trackage in case part of either company’s line becomes unavailable for any reason (track work, accident, natural disaster etc.)

    CHSRA has decided to drop Castle Airport from the list of candidates for the HMF, in part because siting the county’s station in downtown Merced would make the construction of such a spur necessary.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    Yes, CA4HSR is proposing a spur from BNSF to UPRR for Amtrak. As part of a project, extra at-grade tracks could be constructed in the UP ROW in downtown Merced. Then there would be an intermodal station, with Amtrak at-grade and HSR immediately above.

    Of course, UPRR needs to be forced to accomodate this arrangement. If this is not done, and the HSR station and Amtrak are located in different areas of Merced, then a shuttle would need to be set up between the two station. Such a shuttle would be a horrible connection, requiring two transfers.

    You are right about the costs of the spur, but the Authority should see such a project as increasing ridership as a quick tranfer from Amtrak to HSR will encourage more to complete their trip entirely by train from Sac to SoCal. They should include a good portion of the costs in their budget. I wonder how much the huge parking lot would cost to construct to accomodate SAC park and riders, not to mention the lost TOD development that could take place in lieu of an oversized garage. Just costs related to the garage could contribute a good chunk of money to the spurs to get Amtrak to the UP line.

    Elizabeth Reply:


    I wouldn’t attribute any volitition to this plan. It is what the highly flawed ridership model spit out and the HSRA is planning accordingly to, including 7,700 parking spaces in Merced. For comparison San Diego airport parking is about 8,100 spaces (including offsite) San Jose airport parking is about 8,500 (including offsite).

    Of course the stations should be intermodal with other transit.

    If you really wanted to serve the northern San Joquain valley/ Sacramento area in Phase 1, you would do Altamont. I am actually surprised that Gagliani has not pushed harder for it, given the high risk to her community that they endure all the construction pain and don’t really get any service.

    Anyway, have a good weekend.

    rafael Reply:

    Katleen Galgiani was instrumental in getting AB3034 passed and the Merced and/or Modesto station will arguably serve Livingston as well.

    I don’t know how hard she fought for Altamont behind the scenes. San Jose has a million inhabitants and that Santa Clara county insisted on its BART extension, which will use the only readily available ROW between Niles and San Jose. However, San Jose really wanted HSR service frequency on par with SF and SF really wanted the HSR project to pay for Caltrain electrification so it could implement its Transbay Terminal project. Santa Clara county wasn’t willing to chip in for electrification because too few commuters into San Jose use Caltrain. Silicon Valley’s worker bees either live there or in the Mipitas-Hayward portion of the East Bay, hence the preference for extending BART.

    On top of that, constructing HSR tracks between Redwood City and Tracy would be even harder and more expensive than doing so along the Caltrain ROW – as painful as that’s going to be.

    wu ming Reply:

    if you don’t have any other option, you gotta do whatever works. it would be nice to have the sac extension done in phase one, but if it’s not there, the choices are either driving all the way, drive + train, or flying with all those attendant irritations and costs.

    or i could always take the 3 hour capitol corridor west to san jose and then transfer there for a 4.5 to 5 hour trip. either way it’s making the best of mediocre options. people in stockton or modesto would have a better deal than those of us in the sac-area.

    Matthew Reply:

    How would it be a 4.5-5 hour trip from San Jose? It’s less than 2.5 hours to Los Angeles by train from there, or are you expecting to drive another 2-2.5 hours from Los Angeles?

    Peter Reply:

    He lives in Davis, and I think the 4.5 – 5 hours is his total travel time.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’m not going to go look it up again. The fastest way to get to LA from Sacramento once phase one is completed is to take the Capitol Corridor train between San Jose and Sacrament and HSR between San Jose and Los Angeles.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The issue is scale and the current lack of connectivity to any regional transit. The studies on high speed rail access and egress show that if you are driving and there is an airport closer to you, most people will choose air over

    Phase 1 estimates for Merced boardings in 2030 are 7,300. No service to Sacramento, no service to Ontario or San Diego.

    Full system estimates for Merced boardings in 2030 are 2,500. Service to Sacramento and Ontario and San Diego.

    The flaws in the model lead to having everyone who would have used a modesto station (4,400) and then some drive to Merced (for intents and purposes, driving from Modesto to Merced and then continuing driving and driving from Modesto to Merced and getting on a train cancel each other out). Yes, some people will drive, but that is not how most people act which is precisely the reason that everyone has been rightly fixated on the location and access of the stations.

    Just for reference, daily boardings for ALL Boston stations are 3,500.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    “The studies on high speed rail access and egress show that if you are driving and there is an airport closer to you, most people will choose air over [hsr]”.

    That makes sense. However, for Merced, Modesto and Stockton, the Merced HSR station will be closer than any airport with any kind of service. People who live in those towns pretty much don’t fly unless they’re going somewhere really far. Right now your only option is to drive into the Bay Area, or take one of the commuter busses to BART. Sacramento “International” Airport doesn’t have a whole lot of flights, so you end up needing to go out of OAK or SFO for most of those really long trips, or have a two-leg connection out of sac.

    The end result is that there’s likely a lot of pent-up demand. Will people drive from Modesto or Stockton to Merced and then hop on a train to avoid having to sit in LA traffic? You betcha.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Yes, some will. The question is how many. Will 1.5x the total Amtrak ridership in Boston do so?

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    I don’t know how many, but don’t forget we’re also talking about boardings, not trips to LA. It’s conceivable that some people will commute to Fresno or Bako on that line. Amtrak’s low boardings in Boston are dwarfed by the commuter lines with which it competes. There’s no real transit anywhere in the CV (Jim’s Amtrak line notwithstanding) to compete with HSR.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Amtrak provides low-quality service to Boston. It provides a few slow trains to Maine, a single daily slow train to Albany, and an hourly train to New York that’s slightly less slow than the others. The Acela’s average speed on the NY-Boston segment is 102 km/h, which would embarrass medium-speed diesel operations, let alone high-speed rail.

    dejv Reply:

    Acela’s 102 km/h is similar to European IC/ECs with average stop spacing around 100 km, top speed of 140 km/h, 5 % schedule slack and some anticipated construction-related delays.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    140 is barely even medium-speed. I was thinking mostly of Israel Railways’ Tel Aviv-Haifa express runs, which run 160 km/h diesel trains and average about 120 km/h with one intermediate stop, just north of the Tel Aviv end.

    rafael Reply:

    I’ve updated the map to show the option via Castle Airport I was talking about. If there were a strategic decision to construct a passenger terminal with an integrated HSR station there, it would serve a huge catchment area in the CV and even relieve Bay Area airports.

    MTC et al. are currently looking for ways to cope with the anticipated increase in demand for air travel out of the Bay Area. However, because they’re bureaucrats working for the nine-county area rather than the state, they’re not even considering HSR to leverage the long, hardened, fog-free runway at Castle. Synergy? What’s that?

    Peter Reply:


    Tule fog isn’t fog?

    rafael Reply:

    Evidently, the Air Force didn’t consider tule fog a really serious problem or they wouldn’t have stationed a bunch of B-52 strategic bombers there for several decades during the Cold War. I’ll admit, thought, that I don’t know enough about what restrictions FAA would impose (cp. SFO).

    Peter Reply:

    The aviation operational problems with Castle are runway capacity and fog.

    The number of operations an airport can support is directly linked to the number of runways the airport has. Castle only has one runway. Any airport you want to use as a major reliever airport is going to need at least two runways.

    The fog would make things difficult to maintain high levels of operation in poor weather. In poor weather aircraft separation minimums are increased dramatically (In good weather aircraft basically just have to maintain visual separation, which allows them to fly closer to one another).

    Most precision approaches are going to require 200 foot ceilings and 1/2 mile visibility. This is referred to as Category I. Category II allows you to descend to 100 feet AGL (I forget what the visibility requirement is). Now, it is possible to land airplanes in zero-zero visibility. Category II allows you to use autoland, so no pilot input is not needed. The ground equipment for Category III is very expensive to install and maintain, and is therefore only installed when and where necessary.

    Now, please note that an air carrier field’s capacity requirements are going to be a lot different than that of a bomber base. A bomber base is not going to need to be cranking through airplanes every few minutes, so they won’t invest a lot to install a Category III ILS. They would simply curtail their operations in poor conditions or divert to a different field. That would explain why it was ok for the USAF to base a bomber fleet there.

    wu ming Reply:

    seriously. every thanksgiving, like clockwork, there’s a local news story about all these sad-looking thanksgiving weekend travelers stuck at SMF waiting for the fog to clear.

    yet another reason why HSR will be a freaking godsend for the valley.

    dejv Reply:

    MTC et al. are currently looking for ways to cope with the anticipated increase in demand for air travel out of the Bay Area.

    The real question is – will the increased demand for air travel materialize after CAHSR is built? Judging by example of Acela and AVE, the trains would have to be really expensive to allow that.

    rafael Reply:

    Fair point, I suspect the folks looking at Bay Area airport capacity haven’t factored in HSR’s potential to free up slots currently used for in-state flights. A great deal depends on the last mile between the HSR station and the passenger terminal. Neither SFO nor SJC nor LAX nor ONT nor BUR will be within walking distance (cp. Paris CDG, Frankfurt, Heathrow Terminal 5 and others).

    Ergo, it’s not that the airport planners aren’t aware of HSR, just that the project is far from funded, the ROW hasn’t been secured and real-world demand in California still unproven – especially in terms of passengers using connecting trains instead of connecting flights. Ergo, the conservative position for airport planners is that HSR is still a paper tiger at this point, in spite of prop 1A and an initial down payment from the federal government.

    Even if they did optimistically assume that the HSR starter line will be completed on something close to schedule and operate roughly as advertised and, that fares will really be around 83% of air fare, there would still be an increase in air travel demand to out-of-state destinations not on the California network. DesertXPress may put a dent in demand for air travel to Las Vegas, but that’s just one city. General demand growth is a direct result of anticipated population growth and increasing affluence plus further globalization of the economy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Look at the flight schedules for the commercial airports in the Central Valley. Most of the flights are destined for hub airports. Those flights go away if HSR serves the hub. There would be much more frequent service, it would be faster, cheaper, more comfortable than a commuter airline flight.

    rafael Reply:

    True, but then I was referring to the ongoing planning study for commercial aviation capacity out of the Bay Area. If there were an HSR connection up the East Bay to Sacramento Int’l (SMF), it could be leveraged to relieve SFO and OAK. However, no major upgrades to Amtrak CC nor tracks into SMF are are currently planned. The latter would involve a connector in west Sacramento plus a new bridge across the river.

    Castle, on the other hand, could be developed for commercial aviation with an HSR station on the CV main line integrated with a new passenger terminal. Unfortunately, there are no plans to do just that.

    dejv Reply:

    Again – will that be necessary, after HSR captures all trips to CV and LA basin minus feeder flights to LAX?

    Rafael Reply:

    @ dejv –

    It might well be, since folks in the Bay Area will continue to demand lots of direct flights to places not served by HSR. If the trains are successful, they’ll free up a lot of slots at SFO and SJC that are currently used to serve the California corridor. However, over time airlines will fill them with flights to other destinations. This applies especially if the long-haul medium-capacity 787 and A350 aircraft compete effectively against the current hub-and-spoke model. Once capacity becomes scarce again, we’re back to square one.

    In other words, if you accept the premise that California’s population will soon return to its historical growth rates, with only a modest shift in the migration split into the three primary California regions in favor of the CV, then HSR will only postpone demand for more airport capacity. Hopefully it will do so by several decades.

    dejv Reply:

    Given the probability of much more expensive fuel by then, I expect boom of fast overnight trains to destinations like Pacific Northwest, SLC, Phoenix or SD and airlines trying hard to get as many passengers to single big planes like A380 as possible to minimize per passenger consumption. If you add to mix that SFO’s feeder flights would be close to zero thanks to its position on fast rail network, need for more airport capacity after HSR starts operating is questionable.

    dejv Reply:

    to say nothing of the train’s lack of pressurization-related eardrum popping that plagues little kids

    I’m curious how will trains do in this respect at 1km Bakersfield to Tehachapis summit climb.

    rafael Reply:

    He meant planes, of course.

    High speed trains actually are slightly pressurized to minimize ear-popping as they enter and leave tunnels. There’s a pressure wake between the train and the tunnel wall. Not something you’d ever experience on standard speed rail in California, since there are very few tunnels for them to run through and they don’t run fast enough for the effect to be noticeable.

    dejv Reply:

    Train travelling 3.5 % at 200 km/h climbs at 7 km/h aka 2 m/s aka 4 knots and they can go for even higher speeds. I experience ear-popping at much lower vertical speeds, so they’ll have to tackle this problem. High speed trains are indeed pressurized, but IIRC it’s only designed to stop shock waves, not gradual pressure changes like that over Tehachapis.

    I don’t know about trains in CA, but on one European IC/EC route I used to travel regularly, I could recognize if the car was pressurized or not even when travelling at 100 km/h through double-track tunnel.

    wu ming Reply:

    going through tunnels on taiwanese HSR (which do not have near the elevation change as you’re talking about here, but do hit tons of tunnels at very high speed), i could definitely feel some pressure changes, but the experience was nothing like taking off and landing on a plane, and we were spared the routine of the toddler in pain from the pressure change.

    rafael Reply:

    The severity of the problem is mostly a function of the shape and size of the tunnel cross-section plus train speed. The shape of the train’s nose affects the spatial gradient of the static pressure wave along the leading and trailing cars, not the peak value of the pressure increase. The gradient is mostly relevant for mitigating tunnel boom (i.e. exterior noise).

    Note that two-track bores introduce asymmetry in the lateral aerodynamic forces, which can cause stability problems at very high speed. However, California HSR trains would anyhow run at reduced speed through most of the tunnels through the mountains on account of the gradient.

    Joey Reply:

    My understanding is that fire codes require two-bore tunnels for any distance greater than about a kilometer anyway.

    Rafael Reply:

    All I know is that the consensus of the experts that attended CHSRA’s tunneling workshop in 2004 was that any single tunnel over 6 miles in length would need an expensive third tube for service/escape (cp. Channel Tunnel). One of the attractions of the Tehachapis route was that this didn’t apply as literally hundreds of alignment permutations that all keep the length of each individual tunnel below that threshold were identified.

    CHSRA will probably use two-bore tunnels as they are cheaper to excavate than a pair of single-bore systems.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Note that two-track bores introduce asymmetry in the lateral aerodynamic forces, which can cause stability problems at very high speed.

    Scotty! Engage the double-talk generator and set level to “vaporize bulldozer”!

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    It would be insane to allow double-track bores of non-trivial length on high kinetic energy rail system located in the prime global exporter of state violence.

    If CHSRA consultants and employees aren’t thinking long and hard about derailment containment and emergency service access, harder and longer than rail system designers elsewhere in the world, and acting on it, then they’re grossly professionally negligent.

    Rafael Reply:

    @ Richard –

    define “non-trivial”. CHSRA’s position appears to be that dedicated escape tubes are not needed for anything less than six miles long. There might be vertical emergency access shafts left over from the construction process. A short tunnel would typically be dug with one TBM advancing from each end. Long base tunnels are dug using additional machines lowered into position in the middle to dig toward the portals. Not sure where CHSRA’s head is at on the drilling strategy.

    Btw, the old 9.1-mile Loetschberg rail tunnel in Switzerland built 100 years ago features a single twin bore with a bypass. The new base tunnel has two single bores plus an escape/service bore.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    At what speed do trains travel through the Lötschberg tunnel?

    dejv Reply:

    Go to the source.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    dedicated escape tubes are not needed for anything less than six miles long

    “… then they’re grossly professionally negligent.”
    In this case, Exceptional Conditions do indeed pertain in USA-USA-Number-One.

    the old 9.1-mile Loetschberg rail tunnel in Switzerland built 100 years ago features a single twin bore with a bypass.

    Wrong yet again. 14612m double track, always has been, always will be.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Richard, he’s been feeding the double talk generator Jolt Cola again. I have no idea what his single double bore tunnel would look like. I think he’s aiming for two track single bore tunnel but who knows. Putting two tracks in one tunnel, besides the technical and life/safety issues it introduces isn’t very bright when you are doing it with a machine that bores round holes.

    Raphael. pie are round except when you are calculating the area of a circle when they are square. Handy thing to know when you are calculating the volume of a cylinder, TBMs make cylindrical holes. I leave it to you to calculate how much bigger the nearly perfectly round hole has to be to fit tow trains instead of two separate tunnels each one accomodating one train.

    dejv Reply:

    Few notes to tunnels:
    – double track tunnels are extensively used on Italy’s and Japan’s HSR, even for longest tubes. They have to include access shafts though
    – according to TSIs, the “magic lenghts” for tunnels are 5 and 20 km, short tunnels are fine w/o any special measures, long tunnels have pretty strict regulations and each very long tunnel (>= 20 km) needs it’s own set of further regulations in addition to those of long tunnels
    – double track tunnel needs lesser cross section bored than pair of single-track tunnels, but that can be offset by access shafts and/or parallel service bore

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    FWIW the Taiwan HSR system is all two-track tunnels, and they run through many of them at full speed, though most of them are pretty short.

    Samsonian Reply:

    Considering major tunnel sections can cost billions to bore, it would seem that using a large diameter TBM to bore a single, 2 track tunnel makes a lot of sense and could save a ton of money.

    If 2 bores need to be built for legitimate technical reasons, it still might be worth using large TBMS for 2 tracks in each tube. 2 tracks in each direction, would allow one to be used for freight. I’m mainly thinking of Tehachapi, where the existing Tehachapi Loop is a major bottleneck.

    Of course, it would require dual-mode locomotives, and probably 1-2 more per trainset to pull/push up steeper grades. But it would dramatically increase freight capacity (3-5 fold) with a low marginal cost over what we’re going to do anyway with HSR, and serve as a strong inducement for cooperation from UPRR.

    Peter Reply:

    But digging a bore for freight would require that that bore be at a grade that could be handled by U.S. super-heavy freight.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Guys, the worst derailment, fire, and secondary collision risks aren’t from metal fatigue, earthquakes, fastener failure, sloppy maintenance or any Act of God. Either repair US foreign policy (good luck with that), or attempt to mitigate the consequences.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In modern times, the deadliest train accidents have been due to sloppy maintenance (Eschede) or management pressure to be on time at all costs (Amagasaki). Terrorism doesn’t really figure into this, because there are much lower-hanging fruit – the physical tracks, the stations, local transit, airplanes.

    Peter Reply:

    2 m/s = 393 feet per minute. From personal experience from flying, this will only be a problem if you are severely congested. In small airplanes, 500 feet per minute is generally seen as the upper limit of the “comfort zone” in terms of rate of descent.

  3. Alon Levy
    May 28th, 2010 at 17:02

    How much would a tunnel under Fresno cost?

    Joey Reply:

    A cut-and-cover tunnel might not cost that much more than a 60 foot aerial.

    Rafael Reply:

    The section between N Blackstone and Calwa, which would include the station at E Tulare, would need to be bored as it would run under a large number of residential and commercial properties plus two freeways.

    Running tracks in the UPRR corridor would definitely be a lot easier and cheaper, but that company may yet succeed in preventing that. Acquiring a new ROW immediately west of it would entail relocating a large number of businesses and impact frontage roads north of Belmont Ave. CA-99 doesn’t have an available median in Fresno and the area to either side of it is also built up. Note that UPRR’s huge N Weber yard directly abuts the freeway.

    A bypass route well west of the whole city would also be possible, but only at the expense of farmland. It would also preclude a core objective for the project: serving the downtown of one of California’s major cities. (A) beetfield station(s) might be acceptable for Merced, even Modesto, but probably not for Fresno.

    Rafael Reply:

    There is always one other option, of course: free up lanes on CA-99 through Fresno by upgrading existing rural roads south and west of the city to a grade-separated expressway “business route” for through traffic.


    This would also be expensive, though.

  4. Daniel Krause
    May 29th, 2010 at 10:43

    We need to be encouraging our representatives to force UP to be more accomodating. It is not like we are asking that UP go away. The Authority is already planning to avoid even being in the air space above UP ROW through Fresno, which seems ridiculous to me, by planning to place elevated tracks to the east or west of the ROW (please note the ROW is very wide in downtown Fresno and most of vacant land). I see no reason why HSR tracks couldn’t go directly above the ROW through Fresno. However in Merced, it is likely the tracks will have to be directly above UP (and hopefully a relocated at-grade Amtrak station). I prefer the Authority to stay the course and serve downtown Fresno and Merced without resorting to an unaffordable subway station.

    Switching to BNSF is problematic, especially between Merced and Stockton. This option maybe possible by connecting trains from the UP line at a downtown Merced station to BNSF, then cutting back over to to UP in Stockton. However, under this scenario, the Modesto station would then have to be located at the existing Modesto Amtrak site at the outskirts of town or the station could just be eliminated al together. The point is it would miss the downtown of Modesto.

    UP has acccomodated certain levels of passenger rail before in many examples. There is no reason to go weak in the knees now just because UP is playing hardball. They are probably positioning themselves for negotiation anyway. Furthermore, things are changing and with passenger rail becoming more of a national priorority, the political will to force UP to be reasonable is more and more likely.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    Please see the link of CA4HSR’s scoping comments for the Sac-Merced Section.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The UP has one great advantage beyond its corporate size and success – it is correct. If its opposition undoes the fix it will be to everyone’s benefit and the rr will have performed a great public service in outing corruption.

    The CHSRA has no business traipsing after ancient railroad routes – it needs an essentially new alignment, like BART. And this megaproject cries out for a signature big engineering accomplishment to distinguish it. That would be of course the Tejon tunnels.

    This could be a win-win. Palmdale wants fast service to LA. That can be accomplished without hsr. In return the northern part of the LA basin reclaims its hsr station. Bakersfield and Fresno get faster service via a branch to I-5 than via the Tehachapi detour. Everybody winners.

    Peter Reply:

    I thought you didn’t like anything BART did? Unless it happens to fit your theory of the day?

    Peninsula Rail 2010 Reply:

    BART mostly used old rail ROWs for its routes. Even the Transbay Tube was a lower-capacity replacement to the Bay Bridge Railway.

    synonymouse Reply:

    How can you build an electric railway and not do something right? Just because BART trains are noisy, tinny, and ugly and its Indian broad gauge is Bechtel’s curse doesn’t detract from the fact that is a functioning electric railway.

    Fact remains that Tolmach is right about paralleling I-5 and mining Tejon. A clean break with the creaky, meandering past is the best way to start.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Both have their pros and cons. But as Robert has said, the point of HSR is to connect the people, not bypass them. The I-5/ Grapevine alignment can be built later to reduce travel time after the extensions to San Diego and Sacramento are completed.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I suggest that shortly that the difficulties associated with the current CHSRA routing scheme will become so great Tolmac’s alignment will be re-adopted.

    Remember a regime change is coming in November both in Sac and DC. Even if Jerry Brown he has to be careful about setting himself up for the Gray Davis treatment. Altho Democrats outnumber Republicans by 2 to 1, Davis won by a respectable majority, hadn’t done anything close to culpable, and actually tried to steer a moderate course, the likes of Darrell Issa and cabal were able to pulloff what amounted to a right wing coup d’état at the state level. And Brown is also an EastBayer, very much favoring Altamont.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Again, a major problem with the Altamont alignment is that a separate spur would have to be built to San Jose.

    Peter Reply:

    Still haven’t heard an explanation why Jerry Brown would favor Altamont if Oakland was left out (as it would be for decades).

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Again, a major problem with the Altamont alignment is that a separate spur would have to be built to San Jose.

    You mean a spur to San Francisco, right? Because San Jose is the Tenth Largest City in the Universe.

    Anyway, as you will clearly never be able to understand, but which bears repeating in case there is somebody out there with basic reasoning skills who hasn’t heard this, the problem with any train line ending in San Francisco is terminal capacity. Having only the trains on the SF “spur” needs approach, thread through route conflicts approaching the station, stop, empty, occupy a platform, reload, depart, thread through route conflicts and head off is a massive advantage simply cannot be achieved in any other fashion than either (a) insanely keeping Caltrain out of downtown San Francisco (our corrupt PBQD/Caltrain overlords’ “solution”) or (b) terminating a portion of HSR trains in San Jose.

    Altamont provides this, while also providing:
    * San Jose-Fremont-Livermore-Stockton commuter service at no cost;
    * Massively reduced construction impacts Santa Clara to Redwood City;
    * Redwood City-Fremont-Livermore-Stockton commuter service at no cost;
    * Few constraints on and higher capacity for Caltrain, which will always carry at least twice the passengers of HSR on the SF peninsula, but which is being systematically constructed and screwed over by our PBQD overlords;
    * A justification for a larger Diridon Memorial Pan-Galactic Inter-modal Hyper-port in San Jose than would be needed if all HS trains ran through the station towards The Minor Conurbation That Must Not Be Named. And bigger is always better in SJ, right?

    There’s nothing not to like.

    Just stop your ears, close your eyes, rock backwards and forwards, moan quietly to yourself, and keep repeating “spurs suck” and all will be well…

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    favor Altamont if Oakland was left out

    Connecting BART Livermore-Dublin-Oakland could provide an incredibly attractive service, and not just to one station in Oakland.

    The existing line Dublin-Bayfair is scandalously lightly used (read: empty two hour hours twice a weekday, in one direction only), there are few intermediate stations, and there are multiple possible terminals/turnbacks/destinations for the connecting (even possibly dedicated) BART trains. Door to door speeds (remember, most people aren’t bound for the corner of 12th and Broadway in Oakland) would be comparable or even faster than HSR into Oakland.

    BART to Dublin should never have been built, but since it’s there and since it doing nothing most of the time, reusing it is a fantastic engineering solution and a one with great benefit for the entire East Bay.

    Rafael Reply:

    @ Richard –

    ok, so how would your main HSR line run between Altamont and San Jose, specifically west of Niles? Are you suggesting the spur up to SF branch off in Redwood City, the UC/Niles/Fremont area or even further east? I’m just trying to understand your proposal.

    Fwiw, I think that if CHSRA does stick with Pacheco, HSR has a better chance of growing ridership quickly because (almost) all of the initial trains will serve both SF and SJ. That is critical for securing the additional funds that will be needed for the phase 2 spurs.

    Once there’s enough demand to actually fill 4-6 full-length single-level trains with bums in seats, the operator can expand the fleet with bi-level equipment and use that to serve SF. By that time, I suspect equipment with top speeds above 300km/h will already be available. The older trainsets can then be used for additional trains that terminate in San Jose or Millbrae/SFO (assuming CHSRA snags the Brisbane yard). By that time, there would probably also be calls to run a spur up the East Bay to Oakland (Coliseum).

    Rafael Reply:

    @ Richard –

    regardless of whether or not any brand-new passenger rail route is ever built through Altamont, BART is already planning to extend the currently underused Dublin/Pleasanton line to Livermore at a cost of a billion or so. The extension is, however, unfunded.

    Several of the station options under consideration would put BART next to the UPRR corridor, which would permit a new intermodal station with ACE. Any proposal for HSR tracks across Altamont should include an intermodal with BART in Livermore or else in the East Bay (e.g. Union City).

    synonymouse Reply:

    Via Altamont the hsr would come damn close to Oakland. And would provide a significant boost to BART ridership. Overall Altamont serves the central Bay Area better than Pacheco.

    The initial hsr routes should follow the primary path of north-south automobile traffc in the state. That means Altamont-I-5-Tejon.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The main line goes from Livermore to Fremont to San Jose, Most Importantest City in the Universe.
    The spur line goes branches off from the Capital of Silicon Valley super main line in Fremont and heads to Redwood City and then to The Minor Conurbation that Must Not Be Named.

    What’s so hard to understand? Take some lines on a map, and then fill in labels next to them in such a way that they make people happier.

    Rafael Reply:

    @ Richard –

    forget the labels. Which specific rights of way are you suggesting for dedicated HSR tracks Altamont-Fremont-San Jose and for Fremont-RWC-SF?

    Get off your high horse and down to brass tacks please. The devil is in the details here.

    Samsonian Reply:

    Admittedly, Altamont requires a significant amount of UPRR cooperation. Their ROW in the cities of Pleasanton, Livermore, and Tracy are the most ideal.

    Fremont-SJ is a problem.

    I remember we had this discussion before, and I brought up the fact the SPML is largely unused by UPRR and/or could have pair of dedicated passenger tracks laid down in it, especially if the gap in the WPML is closed with UP’s main line. You pointed out that the Ryland Park area is very constrained, and indeed it is.

    But I remembered that the Bay Rail Alliance had an idea called CalTrain Metro East. From what I gather, it proposes using the SPML from Fremont (intermodal station with BART), down to the Great Mall area in Milpitas (intermodal station with VTA Light Rail (for whatever that’s worth)), goes a bit further south, probably transitions to an aerial (or below grade for the spendy/tunnel-hungry), then leaves the SPML ROW going west on Montague Expressway and Trimble Road (intermodal station with VTA Light Rail at North First Street), and then either (1) goes into SJ Airport with an airport station and then join CalTrain line into SJ, or (2) just joins UP’s Alviso ROW to CalTrain line and using Santa Clara and SJ stations.

    The idea has been around a long time, and I think it would do the job really well. It hits major job centers, areas that have TOD potential, leverages existing transportation corridors, and has intermodals with existing rail service.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Fact remains that Tolmach has no engineering expertise and, like you, is talking out his ass about drilling through two fault lines underground, as if it’s perfectly straightforward and reliable.

    Nathanael Reply:

    By “correct” you mean “wrong”, of course.

    In the Central Valley, the Southern Pacific (allowed to merge with UP in an unconscionable mistake on the part of the antitrust regulators) got the most direct as-the-crow-flies routes, and that’s reason enough to use them for HSR.

    Samsonian Reply:

    the Southern Pacific (allowed to merge with UP in an unconscionable mistake on the part of the antitrust regulators)

    While it would have been better if SP merged with a primarily East Coast railroad for competition’s sake, consider the time period. It was still in the 90s, and the industry was still suffering from the damage dealt decades earlier.

    If there wasn’t significant consolidation, we could have seen those companies go bankrupt. The STB probably didn’t have much of choice. Some rail service at higher cost, is better than no rail service at all at any cost.

    Keep in mind, the US rail network once had over 300,000 route miles at its peak. Today it has less than half that. Undo-able amounts of damage have been dealt to the rail network’s reach, and we’ll never have a rail network that big again.

    This wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t over-regulate and over-tax the industry, while massively building and subsidizing a road and aviation system. Or even better, if the railway infrastructure were publicly owned and invested in, like we invest in roads, aviation, and waterways. Not surprisingly, that’s the case in almost every other country.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “And this megaproject cries out for a signature big engineering accomplishment to distinguish it”

    Now you’re *advocating* Bechtel-type self-serving pro-concrete, spend-money-as-fast-as-we-can tactics? Oh-kay. I guess you disagree with Richard M….

    rafael Reply:

    UPRR’s red flag relates primarily to the risk of a horrendous follow-on accident if one of its freight trains were to derail or spill cargo and foul an adjacent HSR track or its supports (if elevated). This includes track stacking scenarios, except for rail over- or underpasses which they must allow by law.

    There are technological ways to sharply reduce the risk of a follow-on accident, but the price tag for merely shutting down HSR for even one day could in and of itself be quite high. If a support column were damaged, figure weeks or even months of downtime, quite possibly for freight as well. The PR impact would also be very negative. UPRR operates on a lowest-cost-per-ton business model with thin profit margins, so it’s in no mood to take out an expensive insurance policy to cover what it perceives to be an avoidable liability.

    UPRR also cites the usual steadfast belief that its business will pick up in future and that it needs to be free to construct new freight spurs serving new customers whenever and wherever they feel like it. Standard legal tactic. It’s one thing to negotiate the sale of little-used secondary or surplus lines and branches left over from past mergers. It’s quite another to permanently mess with already-tenuous backbone links in the national rail grid linking the west coast harbors to customers further inland.

    UPRR is under no obligation to accommodate CHSRA and, Congress almost certainly won’t exercise eminent domain against a major freight railroad. The state has no power to do so.

    In principle, all of this applies to BNSF as well. However, Warren Buffett’s baby has a different business model that is more compatible with passenger rail service on a schedule – at least in California. I can only speculate as to why they aren’t as worried about track fouling accidents or future business opportunities as UPRR.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    Eventually freight mainlines should be moved out of dowtown areas given the risks you described. Though there is no money now, Fresno should still consider the track consolidation for freight outside of town in the future as the country begins to invest more in rail. It seems like there would be some sort of protective barrier that could be constructed on supports for elevated HSR track that is above freight.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, a bit of earth fill embankment between the support and the freight rail line would go some way as far as impact resistance, and if properly landscaped would also green the ground level sightlines.

    rafael Reply:

    So you think a mile-long freight train derailing at 70 mph would reliably be held in check by a “a bit of earth fill embankment”?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Might not be as bad as you think. Here is some wreck footage that might be useful in assessing derailment risks.

    In the first clip, the wreck was caused by a tornado; footage is from an event camera on a trailing locomotive.

    Staged crash test in Colorado:

    Extreme tests for handling nuclear waste containters by rail:

    Why you need grade seperation:

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So you think a mile-long freight train derailing at 70 mph would reliably be held in check by a “a bit of earth fill embankment”?

    Does conversation of momentum work differently on your home planet?

    rafael Reply:

    @ D.P. Lubic –

    While tornadoes are fortunately not a hazard in California, the clip showed how a high speed derailment will cause the freight cars to jackknife. If an adjacent track or supports for it is just 15 feet away, it can easily get fouled. Make it say, 50 and the risk of massive track fouling becomes much smaller. Add a stout barrier of some type and it can reduce it further. That said, even pieces of debris much smaller than a complete freight car or, spilled solid cargo, could present a serious hazard to an oncoming HSR train.

    In 2008, a first-generation German ICE train traveling at 125mph derailed in a tunnel after hitting a flock of sheep that had wandered onto the ROW. A freak accident, to be sure, but the only reason there were no human casualties is that the tunnel walls kept the train from jackknifing as it skidded for over half a mile. The Siemens design does not feature stiff articulated frames resting on top of Jacobs bogies (cp. Alstom TGV)

    On that line, Deutsche Bahn had not installed sufficiently sturdy fencing nor ROW surveillance (CCTV + rugged vibration sensors on all tracks + data links + data links + people + tie-in to PTC), which would have maximized the chances of detecting a hazard as soon as possible and acting on it right away. By the time the driver of an HSR train sees debris or livestock on the tracks, it’s far too late to avoid disaster.

    With CHSRA planning (aka wishfully thinking there will one day be enough demand) for 9-10 trains per hour each way on the LA-Fresno network core, this isn’t just belts and suspenders. You’re talking about one HSR train passing any given spot in that section passing every 3-4 minutes on one direction or the other, on average. At an average emergency deceleration of 1m/s^2, it takes 100 seconds for a train cruising at 100m/s (~220mph) to come to a full stop. During that time, it covers 5000m (over 3 miles). The numbers vary by manufacturer, but this is in the ballpark.

    The trouble is that in many places, UPRR’s ROW is too narrow to accommodate two additional tracks or supports for an aerial at a distance that freight operator would be comfortable with. The area immediately adjacent to its ROW is often built up and eminent domain against voters is a huge political hot potato, which is why CHSRA wants to get its mitts on UPRR’s land.

    dejv Reply:


    If I read German Wikipedia, only the powerhead struck the tunnel wall, the rest of train was held upright by rails even after derailment. Note that TGV grade crossing accident in Bourg-en-Bresse, that happened at half-speed of ICE, had similar outcomes. So the real point of this accident is that fence with holes is worse than no fence at all.

    This doesn’t question your main point, high-speed ROW must be protected from any intrusions in real time.

    dejv Reply:

    * If I read German Wikipedia correctly

    rafael Reply:

    You did read that correctly, I was a little sloppy there. However, without tunnel walls, the power car would have toppled and the train would likely have jackknifed. In 1993, a TGV running at 182mph near Haute Picardie derailed after a small sinkhole unexpectedly opened up beneath the track. Amazingly, the train remained upright, in part because of the stiff articulated frame. These accidents demonstrate that HSR accidents are very survivable provided the train does not jackknife, like the one at Eschede did.

    The 2007 grade crossing accident in Bourg-en-Bresse (hmmm, chicken!) involving a TGV underlines the importance of grade separation. In France, only secondary lines still have grade crossings but provincial towns are so eager for zero-transfer TGV service to Paris that some trains operate on those lines for part of their routes.

    dejv Reply:

    However, without tunnel walls, the power car would have toppled and the train would likely have jackknifed.

    That’s inherent danger of collision with livestock – it’s long bones are strong enough to lift the train and send it off tracks, like in Polmont, Scotland. Articulated design wouldn’t prevent such lifting and change of direction IMO.

    These accidents demonstrate that HSR accidents are very survivable provided the train does not jackknife, like the one at Eschede did.

    The train in Eschede jackknifed after its fourth car destroyed bridge supports and the bridge crushed it, creating a rigid impenetrable wall for the rest of train. Any train would jacknife or crumple or both in such scenario. IMO, if TGV was involved in similar accident, it would jacknife in similar way to first and second cars of train in Studénka (aerial photo) – the articulation wouldn’t give way, but carbodies would crumple near ends instead. Note that buffer-and-chain coupling is stiffer in horizontal-plane bending than central-coupler-only configuration of ICE and any American train, including that in Chatsworth.

    I completely agree with point about grade separations.

  5. BruceMcF
    May 29th, 2010 at 12:38

    (1) Are there no place for a Fresno tunnel at surface level or an open top trench, connecting to tunnels north and south? Cheaper to not have the station fan-out in the tunnel, after all.

    (2) Whether or not to have a Merced branch would depend in part on whether the major maintenance location is Merced or the southern end of the CV. There ought to be a stabling yard near the Bay/Sac split, but whether it is a major maintenance facility is a big driver on its footprint.

    rafael Reply:

    ad (1) There isn’t really a suitable plot that would support straight 1/4mi platforms at a suitable angle. However, I did find a way to at least make the station in the tunnel intermodal with Amtrak San Joaquin, if that’s a priority. This option (light blue) would also reduce tunneling under buildings by following roads.

    Revised MAP, Fresno section

    ad (2) I suspect CHSRA will select a heavy maintenance facility site that doesn’t involve a whole lot of additional track construction. Note that the city of Fresno’s proposal for the HMF is next to the BNSF ROW, just south of CA-99.

  6. Travis D
    May 30th, 2010 at 11:10

    IIRC there isn’t any room in the I-5 median near Stockton until just about where it intersects CA-12. Perhaps swinging west into the delta after a downtown station could solve this though it would bring up numerous environmental issues. Another idea might be to use one of the aqueduct ROW’s to get out of downtown Stockton.

    Rafael Reply:

    Ok, I’ll bite. Where are these rights of way? UC Davis’ Sierra to Sea documentation project for California’s water infrastructure doesn’t show anything in Stockton.

    Btw, Google Maps satellite view suggests that the I-5 median isn’t covered with asphalt yet in the section I was suggesting. In some parts, it might only wide enough for aerial supports, but it’s not gone. That doesn’t mean it isn’t spoken for, someone mentioned a project to construct car pool lanes that will kick off soon.

    Perhaps politicians and bureaucrats in Sacramento would reconsider how they want to spend Prop 1B(2006) funds if CHSRA explained the level of UPRR’s opposition and the strength of its legal position to them. If it cannot secure a right of way between south Stockton and downtown Sacramento, that portion of the HSR project could not be implemented even if the heavens parted and it started raining money.

    Travis D Reply:

    I was thinking of the Mokulumne Aqueduct but it’s north of downtown and runs in a southwest to northeast orientation. So it’s usefulness would be limited.

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