Palo Alto’s Unrepresentative Citizen Engagement Process Distorts HSR Realities

Jun 23rd, 2010 | Posted by

Last night the Palo Alto City Council met to discuss its response to the Alternatives Analysis for the San Francisco to San José section of the HSR project. The city’s response is predictable: they’re attacking the planning process and making demands about the design options:

The letter identifies what the city considers to be a number of shortcomings of the report. “The lack of adequate information regarding financial, environmental, and right-of-way impacts precludes a reasoned determination of preferred alternatives, both for the City and the public,” the letter states.

“It focuses on the shortcomings, and also identifies which alternatives we think are most viable for our community,” Mayor Pat Burt said of the letter.

The authority’s analysis evaluated multiple options for the placement of tracks along the route, considering tracks that are elevated, at street level and below ground.

Palo Alto’s preferred option would be below-grade tracks which would have the least impact on city residents, institutions and businesses. However, the city said it cannot yet take a position on what it would most prefer of the three below-grade alternatives — open trench, covered trench or deep tunnel — as it requires more information to make a comparative assessment.

The city found the aerial viaduct, elevated berm and at-grade options to be unacceptable.

None of this is particularly surprising, given the way Palo Alto officials have been handling the HSR discussion since Prop 1A passed. That’s what I want to focus on in this post. While I’m sure the comments will be full of good and informed analysis of the design options, my concern here is with the entire approach the city of Palo Alto is taking to this discussion.

In short, it is becoming increasingly clear that Palo Alto’s planning and citizen engagement process is a failure, distorting true public opinion by favoring a small, vocal elite at the expense of a silent majority whose opinions are much more supportive of new density and new transportation solutions – but whose voices are rarely ever included in the city’s planning process. The city of Palo Alto has not undertaken a thorough and inclusive assessment of what all of its residents really believe about HSR. Instead they have been swayed by a well-organized group of advocates, whose views may not be shared by the city at large, into adopting a stance toward HSR that may not be supported by the population and may not reflect the true will of the people of Palo Alto.

To be clear, this is a problem experienced throughout California. CEQA does not provide for a truly democratic or collaborative planning process, but instead institutes an adversarial planning process where those who are hostile to a project are empowered to fight it. City planning processes don’t much help, since those who are hostile to a project can dominate a public meeting and create an atmosphere where those with different views do not feel empowered to share their views.

While one might argue it’s incumbent upon citizens to take the initiative and be an active participant in the democratic process, it is equally important that cities do whatever outreach they can to ensure that they have a representative sample before making final decisions on major projects. After all, HSR critics and opponents frequently demand this of the CHSRA. It should be demanded of Palo Alto as well.

As a recent Stanford University study indicates, however, Palo Alto has failed to provide an effective process of citizen engagement on planning-related issues, instead hewing to a process that does not adequately reflect the true public opinion of city residents. Significantly, this study focuses not on the HSR project, but on an update to the city’s Comprehensive Plan in the area near the California Avenue Caltrain station. The study provides a damning analysis of the city’s failure to reach out to all of its residents. Authored by Katie Martinez, a student in the Program in Urban Studies at Stanford, isn’t yet available online (though I’m told it will be soon), but I have a copy and will share some of the insights below.

Here’s how Martinez explained the study:

I began my research in Palo Alto by first observing and analyzing the neighborhood workshops used during the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan Update. These workshops revealed who was participating, how they were participating and what they were saying. I then took these opinions voiced in the neighborhood workshops and compared them to opinions from residents in the neighborhood surrounding California Avenue, going to be directly affected by Comprehensive Plan Update. The opinions from the residents in the California Avenue neighborhood at large were accumulated through a survey I created and distributed during the summer of 2009. After receiving opinions from 230 residents in the California Avenue neighborhood and interviewing residents who live in and around the area, it became evident that the opinions from the surveys and those from the workshops were conflicting. From the analysis of these two contradicting opinions, this research concludes that planners are not receiving opinions in the neighborhood workshops representative of the neighborhood going to be directly effected by the change. Unfortunately, city planners are making their decisions for the future of the California Avenue neighborhood based off of a small group of self-selected citizens who are able and motivated to attend the workshops, instead of a representative portion of the neighborhood, who are hesitant or excluded from participating.

Specifically, she found that although a significant majority of those that attended a planning meeting or workshop were opposed to new housing and new density near the California Avenue station, her survey of the residents nearby, conducted along scientifically valid lines, showed the opposite views were held by most residents:

The second question, which also aimed to measure how respondents felt towards more housing, asked how supportive a resident would be to new housing near the California Avenue Caltrain Station. A surprising 75% percent of the survey respondents were “supportive” or “very supportive” to the addition of new housing near the Caltrain station….

The third question measured how supportive residents were of new housing that included both housing and retail stores within the same building, or in other words mixed-use development. Again this question revealed startling results regarding citizens’ opinions towards housing. Sixty-five percent of residents were “supportive” or “very supportive” to the addition of mixed-use housing in their neighborhood. Only 23% were “opposed” and 12% “very opposed”.

Martinez’s analysis is that there really is a “silent majority” in Palo Alto whose voices are not being heard:

My survey unveils a large silent majority of residents in Palo Alto that do not participate in local government processes. Therefore, according to the Tiebout Model and Williams Model the majority of residents in Palo Alto are silent and consequently are either choosing to act loyal and trust the local government to figure out the problem on their own or exhibiting neglect and not participating because they know their opinion will not be effective due to local government participation framework and past experiences with a local government that does not value or stress participation.

In order to address this, Martinez proposes the following:

I therefore propose to the planning department a framework of participation that consists of enhanced neighborhood workshops, an online venue for participation and surveys to ensure that the opinions gathered through the other two avenues of participation are representative of the community as a whole.

The full study goes into much more depth on these solutions, and they are worth adopting not only by the city of Palo Alto, but by cities across the state. I know that here in Monterey, planners have been making use of online plans and a more enhanced neighborhood workshop process for a few years now, and by all accounts it produces positive results.

However, it does appear that Palo Alto’s process as studied here – which is roughly similar to what has been employed by the city for HSR – fails to meaningfully engage the public. As such, it is very difficult to see Palo Alto’s stance on HSR as being representative of the true feelings of the city’s residents.

In contrast, the November 2008 election in California saw record voter turnout – around 70%. That makes the passage of Prop 1A a legitimate reflection of the true views of the people of California and represents a very clear, very strong mandate to build HSR.

Voter turnout in the Peninsula was at least 70%, and there Prop 1A passed with around 60% of the vote. We now have reason to believe that public support for HSR has increased on the Peninsula since November 2008, despite – or perhaps because of – the persistent attacks on the project by a small but vocal group.

Palo Alto has previously called on the CHSRA to improve its public outreach. It seems clear that the city needs to do the same, in order to ensure that its decisions on HSR reflect what the people of the city actually want, and not just giving grease to the squeaky wheels.

P.S.: On behalf of Californians For High Speed Rail, I want to thank everyone who came out to the HSR reception at the State Capitol last night. I especially want to thank all those who recognized my name from this blog, and complimented my work on it. It really means a lot to know that what we do on this blog and in our offline organizing is noticed and appreciated. Thanks.

  1. Missiondweller
    Jun 23rd, 2010 at 21:11

    Interesting post. Here in SF, we’re famous for letting a vocal minority make public policy as special interest groups always seem to be able to make it to day time Board of Supervisor meetings that most working people cannot typically make. So much of what you posted certainly rings true.

    Perhaps what they need are well publicized surveys allowing all citizens an equal opportunity (and no more) to voice their opinion. It might be additionally useful for answering questions like, “Would you support Palo Alto Municipal bonds to pay the additional cost of putting HSR underground if its not paid for by the state”?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Viva PA

    Tony D. Reply:

    Viva PA for going against everything our democracy represents?! Why don’t you move to Cuba mouse!

    Missiondweller Reply:

    Which PA? The one that overwhelmingly supports HSR or the minority PA that supports NIMBYism?

  2. SS Sam Taylor
    Jun 23rd, 2010 at 21:32

    What is actually being missed here is that the project should not be built from Redwood City to San Jose or points south along this spur.

    Rather the route from San Francisco should stop at Redwood City and head directly to Tracy at 220 mph. For the near future Redwood City to San Jose can be handled by existing Caltrain

    Over the next week there are going to be stories looking into conflict of interest of some of the CA HSR Board Members and the data don’t look good for our side.

    And the Berkeley Peer Review of the Model is about to come out. Those results are not kind to CA HSR. The recommendations and conclusions from the Peers are harsh to say the least and will be a game changer.

    There are other big changes in direction coming from a meeting held last week in Southern California.

    Peter Reply:

    Dude, if you have some knowledge, then spit it out. Don’t make mysterious pronouncements of doom that no one will remember next week.

    SS Sam Taylor Reply:

    There won’t be anything mysterious after the various stories break. It’s like a teaser on television: film at 11!

    Check back in a few days. The stories don’t always print as scheduled, but they are wrapped and waiting for space to print.

    Peter Reply:

    Teasers annoy me. Either you know something or you don’t. Otherwise go away.

    SS Sam Taylor Reply:

    Well, I am out of the grave to post for first article I mentioned. And I don’t like Alan Lowenthal kicking at Richard Katz, as he is one of the best producers for transit anywhere in the United States. I believe that Katz will use this as an opportuntity to help correct the course on HSR.

    Here is the link and the beginning of the story:,0,7291746.story

    Lawmaker calls for leadership changes in high-speed rail authority
    State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, chairman of the transportation committee, says high-speed rail directors should not also serve on local transportation boards. The ban would prevent a conflict of interest, he says.
    Rich Connell and Dan Weikel, Staff Writers

    Los Angeles Times: Friday, June 25, 2010

    As the state’s $42-billion high-speed rail system draws closer to breaking ground, a key state lawmaker is calling for leadership changes that he says would prevent conflicts of interest but could expel two influential Southern California officials from the project’s board.

    Sen. Alan Lowenthal, (D-Long Beach), who chairs the Senate transportation committee, is drafting legislation that would ban individuals who hold elected office or sit on local transportation boards from also serving as a director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

    The proposal is aimed most immediately at two prominent Los Angeles and Orange County board members — Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and Richard Katz, board member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

    Both disagree with Lowenthal’s approach, saying that their service with multiple transportation agencies has improved cooperation and coordination between the high-speed rail project and local governments.

    and now, as this is posting before 11 p.m. Thursday, read the rest of the story at the LA Times

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    How can Katz use this to correct the course if he is also on the MTA Board? Are you implying that Lowenthal just wanted to put heat on the Board as opposed to really change its composition?

    Joey Reply:

    Yeah, because trains can totally run through Eastern Menlo Park, Fremont, Pleasanton, Livermore, AND the Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge at 220 mph

    rafael Reply:

    Well, as long as they’re not going through SS Sam Taylor’s back yard, he clearly doesn’t give a damn. Folks who can’t afford to live in his neck of the woods simply don’t deserve any respect or consideration.

    What’s with the “SS”, anyhow?

    Peter Reply:

    Is this you, Sam?

    Peter Reply:

    Wow, someone involved in designing and building freeways is opposed to HSR. Big surprise.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    “We got rid of all those damn Red and Yellow cars tying up the streets.” -SS Sam Taylor

    Hmmm, for some reason, I get the strangest feeling he’s against HSR. Anyone else have this strange feeling?

    Peter Reply:

    I’m curious what red and yellow cars he is referring to. Cabs?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The streetcars, Red Cars and Yellow Cars. Pacific Electric cars were red and Los Angeles Railway car were yellow.

    Peter Reply:

    Ah. Makes sense. I’m still not convinced that this is a different SS Sam Taylor, despite what Spokker states.

    Spokker Reply:

    I know him in real life and he told me about the conflict of interest stuff at a public meeting on Wednesday morning.

    His opinion on HSR is this: Use San Joaquins as a feeder service to HSR. Use the Altamont corridor. Shared use between Anaheim and LA. No heavy maintenance facility in the Central Valley. That sort of thing. I don’t know if he wants to go over the Grapevine or not.

    And yes, he keeps tabs on what’s going on, even if he has a penchant for spreading rumors and editorializing.

    Peter Reply:

    Then do YOU know what the conflict-of-interest things are about?

    Spokker Reply:

    No I don’t. He was as cryptic in person as he was here. ;)

    Spokker Reply:

    Probably has something to do with the new CEO. But then again, if you want someone with HSR experience they will probably be arriving with some baggage.

    Peter Reply:

    “Use San Joaquins as a feeder service to HSR. Use the Altamont corridor. Shared use between Anaheim and LA. No heavy maintenance facility in the Central Valley. That sort of thing. I don’t know if he wants to go over the Grapevine or not.”

    So he’s buddy-buddy with Richard Tolmach?

    “He was as cryptic in person as he was here.”

    Teaser trailers at 10 pm for the news at 11 pm make me switch off the TV before 11 pm.

    Spokker Reply:

    Yawn. A little controversy isn’t anything to be afraid of.

    At the meeting on Wednesday he and I were arguing about the California HSR project in front of a CHSRA PR person, haha.

    Elizabeth Reply:


    Clearly the profile is of the person who is commenting here. The profile is clearly however a joke/ parody – a very funny one for people who can get all the various inside jokes (not me) and a light chuckle even for people who can’t.

    Laugh a little.

    Peter Reply:

    I’m at work. I can’t laugh.


    Spokker Reply:

    Haha, that’s either another person or a joke. The “SS Sam Taylor” posting here is a transit advocate from Los Angeles.

    Peter Reply:

    That’s the one in the blogger profile. He says he’s a traffic engineer from Sherman Oaks, CA (in the LA area). His favorite books are Asphalt Paving Specifications; Concrete Curing Tables; and Rebar Strength Capabilities.

    His About Me: “We’ve got traffic to keep moving. We got rid of all those damn Red and Yellow cars tying up the streets.”

    Spokker Reply:

    Yes, I read it, but that’s not him, haha.

    mike Reply:

    The “Berkeley” peer review model has actually been outsourced to a guy in Irvine, as the Berkeley folks involved admit that they have no experience in ridership modeling. Unfortunately the guy at Irvine also has no experience or understanding of HSR systems or this specific project. There is no doubt that the original ridership model contains numerous flaws, but the peer review will be equally flawed. Honestly, neither of them is going to beat simple back-of-the-envelope calculations using ridership of other systems and relative population figures. Even McFadden’s regressions didn’t do a great job of predicting the original BART system ridership, and he won a Nobel prize for them!

    Tony D. Reply:

    When did some “peer review” gain precedence over the voters of this state? The voters spoke…live with it SS!

    Elizabeth Reply:

    McFadden didn’t do a good job?

    BART predicted 15% of commute trips
    McFadden predicted 6.2%
    Actual: 6.3%

    (read the whole gory story at page 2)

    mike Reply:

    McFadden didn’t do a good job?

    First of all, I said that his regressions didn’t do a good job, not that he personally didn’t do a good job. He did the best he could with what ultimately amounts to an out-of-sample forecast. Those will never be very accurate, except by luck.

    But yes, his estimates were quite inaccurate. You can see this in his own book (p. 115).

    Bottom line: he underpredicted the BART/bus share by 13% (good), underpredicted the BART/auto share by 24% (mediocre), and overpredicted the BART/walk share by 1,095% (horrifically bad). Overall he overpredicted BART’s total share by 83%. In my book, that qualifies as “not doing a great job” (again, referring to the model itself, not McFadden personally).

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Yes – he didn’t perfectly nail the composition (people turn out to be lazier than what they will tell an interviewer) but he did hit the bottom line number almost precisely. It is pretty impressive, as was his group’s willingness to go back and study in excrutiating detail what they got right and what they didn’t. The failure of transportation planners to incorporate many of the learnings from the study is, well, a failure.

    This issue of people being all good intent but not so good when it comes to actions is a serious flaw for the HSRA ridership model, which relied exclusivley on a stated preference survey for its mode choice model.

    mike Reply:

    Yes – he didn’t perfectly nail the composition (people turn out to be lazier than what they will tell an interviewer) but he did hit the bottom line number almost precisely.

    As per McFadden’s own book, which I linked to above, he said that they overestimated total BART share by 83%. I wouldn’t call that “almost precisely.”

    As Richard says, facts are stupid things.

    I don’t think much of the CHSRA ridership forecasts, but if you’re willing to allow deviations in excess of 80%, then I’ll bet that they’re “accurate.” The latest CHSRA forecasts are 41 million passengers on the Phase 1 system with prices set at 83% of airfares. I’d bet that they’ll achieve at least 22.8 million riders in that scenario (that corresponds to an 80% overestimate).

    which relied exclusivley on a stated preference survey for its mode choice model.

    I agree that stated preferences are inferior to observed choices. Unfortunately we have no observed choices because the modal choice in question – HSR – has never been offered in the US before. So all that you can do is either extrapolate from experiences in either countries, use stated preference surveys, or try to build up a structural model based on a bunch of made-up assumptions. None of those is going to be a great alternative.

  3. Peter
    Jun 23rd, 2010 at 21:55

    Completely OT, but does anyone know what construction is going on at Diridon? It looks like they’re excavating the ramps to build new platforms.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    They’re building 2 383m long island platforms at 8 inches above top of rail.

    So that they can park more and longer trains out of service at the station for hours at a time.
    (Or, in the words of staff: “to expand service”.)

    All four tracks will be connected to one mainline track at both the north and south ends, ensuring minimum throughput, maximum route conflicts, and minimum cost-benefit. That’s the way we build freight classification yards, and it works great!

    $24,127,000 of your tax dollars at work. (Also includes an island platform at Santa Clara station, for use by the ACE and Capitol dino-trains, making that a three platform track station once again.)

    All of which will will be torn out and done over for Diridon Memorial Tri-Level Pan-galactic Inter-Megamodal Super-Station.

    God bless Caltrain’s brave planners.

    rafael Reply:

    So this is UPRR’s track work, not Caltrain’s?

    Pat Reply:

    Oh … I did not realize that UPRR was a gov’t agency.

    rafael Reply:

    I didn’t say they were. Taxpayers are footing the bill since the beneficiaries will be Amtrak CC and
    ACE. Afaik, UPRR did the planning work and is now executing the track work. Richard Mlynarik went off on one of his rants against Caltrain again, but in this case his fire may be misdirected. Track #1 between Santa Clara and San Jose Diridon belongs to UPRR.

    Peter Reply:

    Well, not exactly misdirected. I think Caltrain is footing the bill in Santa Clara. I was just trying to figure out who was building at San Jose. Are they building these platforms so that they will still be able to operate when Diridon is rebuilt? Or is this simply something they’re doing anyway?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Rafael, again you have less than no idea what you’re talking about.

    Caltrain contract 10-PCJPB-C-001 SOUTH TERMINAL AND SANTA CLARA STATIONS IMPROVEMENTS PROJECT was specified by and awarded by the the fine engineering and capital project departments of SMCTA/PCJPB.

    Neither Caltrain Main Track 1 (on the opposite side of the station from the new Cahill Street platforms and track under construction and under question) nor any other track between Lick and Coast (Santa Clara) is owned by UP.

    Moreover there to be no construction on Caltrain Main Track 1 (which not owned by UP, just as MT-2 and MT-3 are not owned by UP) in Santa Clara.

    Facts are stupid things.

    Peter Reply:

    From Caltrain’s page on “Santa Clara and South Terminal Station Improvements”:

    Partial funding provided by Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, Altamont Commuter Express and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority “

    rafael Reply:

    Well, I stand corrected.

    Peter Reply:

    @ Richard

    Apparently they are planning on constructing a 4th mainline track between Diridon and CEMOF. I assume they’re not planning on straightening the curve just north of Diridon?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Peter, what I described is what is being constructed. (More or less what they call “Phase 1” in that PR one-pager you linked to.)

    And of course they’re not planning any curve straightening now or any time in the future. These are America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals we’re dealing with, not anybody with a clue.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, I agree that that is pretty dumb. Apparently they don’t yet have the money for phase 2, which is why they’re not building it. I wonder if the plans for Phase 2 are available yet somewhere.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I wonder if the plans for Phase 2 are available yet somewhere.

    No. I have some schematic plans from studies from several years back, but nothing detailed or definitive. (Unlike Phase 1, which was put out to bid.)

    One constant with Caltrain over the years is that projects only get worse as they “advanced” to final design. They’re nothing if not consistent.

    Peter Reply:

    Do you know anyone at Caltrain I could contact to get the current state of their plans?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    so they can rip it all out in 2014 to put in level boarding….

    Peter Reply:

    You’re assuming that they do the right thing and implement level boarding…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They can fly under ADA radar if they upgrade a platform or two here or there. They won’t be able to get away without implementing ADA compliant cars and platforms when they tear out the whole line and rebuild it.

    Clem Reply:

    Level boarding is not possible using 8-inch platforms. So yes, it’s a redo.

  4. Risenmessiah
    Jun 23rd, 2010 at 21:59

    Yawn. The City has to placate wealthy property owners. They are the least transient, most connected members of society. Thanks to Prop 13 property owners in a place like Palo Alto are going to skew to being more skeptical/anti-HSR.

    Jerry Brown is missing a golden opportunity to include a proposal to reform CEQA as part of his gubernatorial platform. I agree that the adversial system for land use control isn’t working and reform is needed….

    Palo Alto is praying and hoping that the UP can give it what it really wants….close access to the HSR in Redwood City without having to sacrifice anything in return.

  5. Roger Christensen
    Jun 24th, 2010 at 01:43

    Off topic.
    Last weeks Construction Committee of Metro had a power point presentation of new tunneling techniques. The Source covered this. Apparently tunnel boring machines are getting much larger and can bore one large tunnel with two tracks stacked on top of each other at a much less expensive cost than twin tunnels. Barcelona is doing this. Are there any potential applications for HSR here?

    rafael Reply:

    Whoa, stacked vertically in a single circular bore? The inner diameter would have to be on the order of 65 feet, i.e. huge. There are TBMs that large, though. A road/flood control combo tunnel in Kuala Lumpur was recently dug with such a beast.

    For rail-only applications, there would be sufficient space for an additional track to either side at an intermediate elevation. In cross-section, the tracks would be arranged in a diamond pattern. Funkeee….

    Normal twin bore rail tunnels support dual tracks side-by-side. They’re cheaper to excavate than two single bores, but only suitable for standard speed operations. For 125mph+ single bores are preferred because the aerodynamic interactions with the walls are symmetric.

    Two single bores with an additional, smaller central service/escape bore are pretty much the only way to achieve adequate levels of safety for very long tunnels (6mi and up).

    JamesJonas Reply:

    Herrenknecht 19 meter Mixshield Boring Machine

    DeepStack: HSR/BART – If such a bore machine exists, could BART and HSR be stacked within a single bore?

    Why BART?

    Clem Reply:

    Why BART? was clearly exposed as an irrelevant question if somebody somewhere ever decides to design a proper mixed operations corridor. Any train, any track, any platform. Then maybe we can admire the almighty Herrenknecht, a machine anything but boring.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Because it’s BART!!!

    JamesJonas Reply:

    – ROW status-quo during construction.
    – Tracks converted to local Trolley/Light Rail Service for transit to BART stations following construction. Possibly via VTA extension. Freight night service continues.
    – Shared cost – HSR/BART

    – Neighborhood, Local and State rail infrastructure
    – Gradual transition, less community impact, softens political firestorm from Peninsula residents.

    Fits? I still cannot quite tell. Simply dropping Rail Boxes seems to say that the answer is no, but tighter profiles may be possible. Someone spin-up your CAD system.

    JamesJonas Reply:

    Interesting…do you have link?

    JamesJonas Reply:

    Found it…

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Are there any potential applications for HSR here?

    No. How could there be? Get out a piece of paper, a ruler and a compass and think about it. Or just look at the cross-section of a mainline train for that matter.

    If you’re interested in 2 HSR tracks in a single large TBM bore, the HSL-Zuid Groene Hart tunnel is the only thing of any relevance, and then only of relevance between Newark and East Palo Alto.

    Vertically stacked metro lines in a single circular section tunnel are nothing at all new.
    You can even see this on the 25 year old Red Line extension in Boston.

    All that aside Barcelona L10 is one of the largest and most impressive infrastructure projects in the world.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    still probably gonna run you somewhere in the realm of $1 Billion per mile. Bored tunnels are expensive no matter what.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Bored tunnels are expensive no matter what.

    Try telling the Spaniards that. (Try throwing a rock in Spain and hot hitting a tunnel boring machine!) Or the notoriously low-cost Swiss. Or try finding any TBM construction that costs anywhere close to USD600m/km anywhere outside the trade-protected US of A (our slogan: “where contractor welfare is always our number one priority”.)

    The Groene Hart tunnel to which I alluded ( 8.5km 14.9m diameter 300km double track ) was a sub-$500m civil contract, just for example, and yet that Dutch HSL project is a poster child of wretched cost control and project management.

    Facts are stupid things.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One of the TBMs they are using on the Second Avenue subway is decades old so I doubt tariffs have much to do with it Or is it the 7 extension…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I think there’s one subway line in Yokohama that cost about $650m/km. And nowadays there’s Crossrail, at about $1b/km, but the UK isn’t much better than the US when it comes to cost control. But otherwise, no, I haven’t found anything about $500m/km. And while I’ve found plenty of projects over $200m/km, they’ve all had to go deep underground and cross under a lot of older urban infrastructure: Paris Métro Line 14, the U55, the Jubilee Line Extension, the Oedo and Fukutoshin Lines, Amsterdam’s North-South Line.

    The reason things cost more in the US isn’t trade protection. People in the know in New York tell me that the problem is that the public bidding process is byzantine and has over-exacting specs, so the competent people don’t bother. The only people who bid on city projects are too corrupt or incompetent to get private sector work. The original idea was to prevent contractors from doing shoddy work, but even that’s moot now that suing costs more than what is recovered by damages.

    The few Second Avenue Subway contracts that were put out to tender after the recession, when the more competent people ran out of private sector work, are now coming in at about half the asking price. Half of $1.7b/km is still too high, though; the rest of the difference is union rules that mandate overstaffing, cost escalations leading to budget contingencies that the contractors figure into their profit margins, etc.

    (On the other hand, one of the local budget-busters – the 7 extension’s nearly 600-meter underground tail tracks – is pure city/consultant stupidity.)

    thatbruce Reply:

    The Amsterdam Noord-Zuid metro line is expensive in the station construction, not the comparitively shallow tunnel boring.

  6. rafael
    Jun 24th, 2010 at 08:11

    Wrt Palo Alto: a basic tenet of democracy is that every citizen has a right to vote (or provide input) but it’s up to individuals to get off their duff and exercise those rights. You snooze, you lose. These days, planning processes at all levels have web sites and planners typically accept input in multiple formats incl. email and phone calls. It isn’t necessary to make the time to attend a physical meeting.

    Yes, it would be nice if planners made more of an effort to actively seek input from the “silent majority”. Palo Alto NIMBYs complained that CHSRA hadn’t reached out to them prior to Nov 2008. However, we’ve called bull puckey on that many times, precisely because the information was available online for anyone who bothered to take the time to read it.

    That cuts both ways. Robert claims that “we now have reason to believe that public support for HSR has increased on the Peninsula since November 2008” without offering any evidence. If he’s right – and perhaps he is – then it’s up to this silent majority to make itself heard at city hall, PCJPB, CHSRA, TJPA etc. If a few hundred Palo Alto residents were to hold a Sunday afternoon rally in the downtown area to endorse HSR or else, submit a signature drive to that effect, city planners would take notice. Absent such tangible evidence, the squeaky wheels – often, retirees with time on their hands – gets the grease.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    1. “Increased public support on the Peninsula” – I chose my words carefully there. When I have the evidence ready to post, I will do so. I did not make more of that in this post because the evidence isn’t yet ready.

    2. You missed the point of this post almost entirely. There are strategies the city can take, and is not taking, to maximize public input. Instead they have chosen to let a small and likely unrepresentative group drive the public reaction. Palo Alto city council decisions are not reflective of public opinion, but of their own biases and those of the most vocal group. While I fully agree that there is a burden on the citizens to participate, there is also a burden on the city to maximize participation, and to be honest in whose name they are speaking. The current council is neither speaking nor acting on behalf of the whole city when they attack HSR; they speak and act on behalf of a small minority of people.

  7. Pat
    Jun 24th, 2010 at 10:05

    Robert, this process is the way a REPRESENTATIVE democracy works! Hello! The “vocal minority” made civil rights happen. The “vocal minority” made the environmental movement happen. And unfortunately, the “vocal minority” made Prop 8 happen as well.

    Democracy requires participation. If people exclude themselves from participation, then their opinion. does. not. count. If they don’t vote. then. their. opinion. does. not. count.

    I agree that density should be higher in every city along the peninsula. But asking people who don’t participate their opinion, is meaningless.

    Katie Martinez’s study should have asked NOT how much people “care” but how much will they actually do:

    * Would they be willing to miss their favorite TV show to attend a meeting?
    * Would they be willing to talk to their neighbors?
    * Would they be willing to spend time research the issue?

    Why should someone’s opinion count if they are willing to spend more time on the latest Lady Gaga gossip than on housing density in their neighborhood? Lady Gaga is more important to them!

    A blog post that relates this issue of participation to management:

    You don’t like the result of the current “vocal minority” – then organize your own! This is what REPRESENTATIVE democracy is all about.

    I have some additional ideas at:

    Bianca Reply:

    But Pat, people *did* vote. Prop 1A passed in Santa Clara county by 60.36%. That’s a healthy majority. But after the election, a fairly small number of people have made a lot of noise at city council meetings, and Palo Alto is essentially overlooking the will of the voters in favor of a small number of people who didn’t get their way at the ballot box. People voted, and they voted in support of HSR, and the city council is turning a blind eye to that.

    It’s not representative democracy to have the will of the voters shouted down after the election.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Excellent rebuttal to Pat’s BS! And by the way, we don’t need to “organize” a “vocal minority,” because our great democracy allowed the MAJORITY to speak loud and clear in passing Prop. 1A. Love it or leave it Pat!

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I will say that there is indeed a need to conduct ongoing organizing of the HSR-supporting majority, and that is what Californians For High Speed Rail exists to accomplish.

    What seems to be the case is that Palo Alto employs a planning process that does not fully engage the public, and therefore produces outcomes that do not properly or accurately reflect true public opinion. Other cities, including Monterey, have taken steps to have better and more effective public engagement and involvement. There is nothing stopping Palo Alto from doing the same – unless they are concerned that a more effective process might produce outcomes that the current city leadership would not prefer, such as revealing how strong HSR is supported.

    Pat Reply:

    @Robert —

    “unless they are concerned that a more effective process might produce outcomes that the current city leadership would not prefer”

    Oh geez Robert. Maybe there is something other that skulduggery at work here. Get out your tin hat!

    Pat Reply:

    People also voted for Prop 8. The anti-gay marriage proposition. So I guess Robert should shutup about that and ust go along with the “will of the voters”?

    Pat Reply:

    @Bianca —

    Which set of voters? This is called a representative democracy. The representatives are allowed to vote however they wish. Once the voters have chosen their representatives, its the representatives *only* that are allowed to vote. Go back to civics class please!

    If you don’t like this – have a recall and get a new representative.

    And yes representatives are allowed to “ignore the will of the voters”. happens all the time.

    Bianca Reply:

    And yes representatives are allowed to “ignore the will of the voters”. happens all the time.

    Of course. And the voters can choose not to put them back in office. Exhibit A: Yoriko Kishimoto.

    Public support for High Speed Rail on the Peninsula is a lot stronger than the opposition is willing to accept. Politicians who are wildly out of step with their constituents ignore the will of the voters at their peril.

    Pat Reply:

    So every public official opposing Prop 8 should be voted out. “Will of the Voters” cuts both ways.

    And your point reaffirms my point. There is a mechanism to handle this issue.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    What Bianca said. 60% of San Mateo County and about the same in Santa Clara County voted for Prop 1A. That proves the HSR critics are in the minority. You and the other HSR opponents lost the November 2008 election and lost it decisively – especially given that it came in an extremely high turnout election.

    What has Palo Alto leadership done to engage the majority that supports HSR? The burden of democratic participation runs both ways. I agree more should be engaged in the planning process, but what the Martinez study found was that the planning process is set up in a way that, intentionally or not, intimidates and discourages those who do not share the views of the loud, hostile minority.

    At minimum, Palo Alto city leaders should be honest in their statements on HSR. They are not acting on behalf of the city as a whole, but are representing their own individual views and those of a small group that have been speaking out on this.

    rafael Reply:

    Uhm, Palo Alto isn’t saying no HSR. People there voted for prop 1A because they want HSR. That, however, does not mean they gave CHSRA blanket permission to implement HSR any way they like it. Voting for prop 1A was just the first – and easy – part of getting this thing built. Proponents need to actively participate in the alignment alternatives stage of the planning process if they want it “done right”.

    Seems like you’re under the assumption that Palo Alto is eager to kill HSR. That’s not the position they’ve taken. All they’ve said is they’re not satisfied with the level of detail CHSRA has provided so far and that they can therefore not make a decision on which of the below-grade options they will express a preference for. Granted, any below-grade option is going to open a can of financial and engineering worms, but if you take them at their word, they have not said “no thanks”.

    They have said they’re in no mood to pay a dime toward putting the tracks below grade. Then again, this is just their “draft” comment letter, i.e. the first shot across the bow. They’re playing hardball because they think CEQA gives them a way to get the state and federal governments to do something they’ve wanted for decades: put all of the rail tracks below grade.

    Is that reasonable? I don’t think so. But all politics is local and given the state’s weak political leadership, CHSRA is at risk of being held hostage by the pet peeves/projects of every single county and municipality the tracks must run through.

    Peter Reply:

    Well, the nice thing is that while their preferences will be taken into account, the Authority does not have to bow to them. As long as their comments are responded to and taken into account in the EIR’s analysis, and the analysis is well done, there’s nothing they can do. They can sue, but they can’t win on that issue. They would have to convince the Legislature to not fund the project if they don’t want it to go forward in a manner that they don’t like.

    Tony D. Reply:

    re: PA; could they live with at-grade rail with aesthetically pleasing sound walls (Earth tones with trees, climbing vines for landscaping, etc.) and below-grade street undercrossings? It worked with Hwy. 85 through western Santa Clara Valley. I’m all for compromise, but not straight up opposition.

    Sara Armstrong Reply:

    We’ve seen various visualizations of the different above and below grade alternatives but hadn’t had the at-grade option contextualized. So, to help aid discussions about the trade-offs among the various options, I created this map identifying the potential property impacts for at-grade trains with underpasses (does not account for right of way width constraints):,-122.137949&spn=0.010803,0.026157&t=h&z=16

    (zoom in to Churchill, Meadow and Charleston) Yellow is full parcel acquisition; blue is partial. Based on the design guidelines from the Preliminary AA (Table 4-5).

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Caltrain and CHSRA have done an absolutely wretched job.

    Elevated rail has the potential to greatly increase ground level pedestrian and car mobility in the cities, and is by far the best way to make stations that really serve the communities while providing the best pedestrian and transit access, but they never once even tried to make the case, and allowed the entire process to be hijacked by fear, uncertainly, doubt and outright misrepresentation.

    Of course neither Caltrain nor CHSRA show any interested in actually serving the communities through which the multi-billion pork-fest will run, the former completely, inexcusably and idiotically ruining all prospect for future regional service by outright abandoning express service on its own right of way and inexcusably choosing to have no station and hence track compatibility with the tenant on its (our!) line; the latter by proposing nothing but a non-stop, Flight Level Zero Airline run at excess speed, with fraudulent justification, outrageously exce$$ infrastructure, and offering less than nothing to every single city between SJ and SF.

    In a world where the rail corridor capital projects were designed as regional transportation improvements they can and should have been sold to residents up and down the line as being investments that would both provide them with better transit service and provide them with a better environment than a ground level honk-honk dino-train with infrequent service, crappy stations, and far too few east-west crossings.

    Instead all that is offered is pain and disruption: no wonder that the first and only reaction is to bury the damned thing and make us forget it.

    Elevated and highly-accessible stations, negative impact on existing east-west road crossings, added east-west road and pedestrian cut-throughs: it was (and is) the best way to do things, making for better communities with better mobility and better transit, but the opportunity to make the case and to at least frame the debate in terms of local benefit was never even taken.

    So sad. So mindbogglingly incompetent (that’s assuming that a good public outcome rather than a high public expenditure was on anybody’s agenda … hah hah hah!) on the part of the agencies, staff and consultants.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Here’s a stupid solution. Place the tracks on an elevated structure and place retail and restaurants in the bottom. Turn Alma Street into a pedestrian-only zone from Loma Verde Avenue to San Antonio Road to encourage development. To mitigate noise from trains, place a soundwall approx. 3-10 feet high along the tracks covered with foliage and other greenery. The height of the soundwall would depend on preference of the surrounding community to either completely hide passing Caltrains/ HSTs, or only cover up the bogies and rails from which most of the noise would emit from. This design would give the illusion of a retail corridor; one might even notice the trains passing right overhead. I know there’s no way PA would shut down part of Alma Street, but it’s just a thought.

    Peter Reply:

    In what way are the houses on Roseville Circle impacted? They’re not losing any street access…

    Sara Armstrong Reply:

    In order to lower the streets, we’d need to build retaining walls so the HSRA assumes some impact to adjacent property (see page 51 of the Prelim AA for the generic workup). You’re right Starr King and Roosevelt Circles would not lose access to their driveways, but potentially a portion of their backyards would be needed to construct a retaining wall. How significant (or perhaps temporary?) such partial impacts might be would presumably depend on the design. The AA doesn’t get into that level of detail and just provides the partial/full rubric.

    Apparently (I am not an attorney) there are some other legal considerations that might come into an analysis about whether something is a full or partial take (ie there might be some argument on the part of a property owner that the “use” changed significantly enough that it is really a full take). The AA gives some basic guidelines about the engineering assumptions of a “typical” design. Obviously each intersection would have unique characteristics that would need to be considered when they drill down into 10-15% engineering and beyond.

    Peter Reply:

    Right, ok. Makes sense. All the more reason to go with a split-grade option (less property impacts/takes would be required).

    rafael Reply:

    I agree. Some of the impacts associated with deep underpasses could be greatly mitigated if the rail were slightly elevated so the streets don’t have to be depressed by as much. Also, lowering intersections with Alma by 20+ feet might cause safety problems.

    What I had in mind for at-grade was grade separating the cross roads from the frontage roads as well, with turnoffs implemented via loopbacks (cp. Oregon Expy) or side streets (cp. Central/Lawrence in Santa Clara) or else, sacrificed to divert some traffic away from secondary crossings in the interest of nearby properties. IMHO it isn’t neccesssary, technically or politically, to insist on the exact same grade separation strategy north and south of Oregon Expy, especially considering the impacts on project in neighboring cities.

    In Palo Alto, arguably the biggest issue is impacts on Palo Alto High. The most convenient access routes for anyone arriving via Alma is the narrow Churchill Ave grade crossing. With Embarcadero an incomplete intersection, losing the turnoffs between Alma and Churchill would force a fraction of motorists to use Oregon Expy + El Camino Real instead. The question is if that would be the end of the world. A deep underpass at Churchill could still feature one traffic lane each way into Professorville, without loss of property access, if bicycle traffic were diverted to a separate new ped/bike underpass located in-between Churchill and Embarcadero (e.g. at Melville).

    There’s no doubt an at-grade solution would generate more property impacts than a fully elevated or a fully below-ground alignment for the tracks. Mixed grade falls somewhere in-between. Putting the tracks underground would be nice but someone would have to pay through the nose for that.

    rafael Reply:

    Sara – thank you very much for all the work you put into that map.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The water bond issue will provide a clear indication of whether public opinion has shifted vis-a-vis hsr. If it passes you can claim continuing majority support for blow-out infrastructure spending. You will be able to gloat to your heart’s content that Bechtel rules.

    If not, the winds of public opinion have shifted against boondoggles. Already the “silent majority” – ergo the consensus – in PA favors terminating in San Jose or Altamont. In other words hold the hsr. The CHSRA is not interested now or at any time in engaging PA or any other burg; it is only interested in what LA wants and to a lesser extent what San Jose wants. End of story. The power structure in California is graphically revealed by where the successful politicians celebrate their primary victories: it is always in LA.

    Forget new drilling technologies. Bechtel has a Brutalist aversion to tunnels – see Tejon.

    Peter Reply:

    Making apples into oranges again, are we?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Not at all. The CHSRA has and will continue to fight any attempt to re-gauge public opinion on its scheme. So the public will have to express its dissatisfaction on what is the closest ballot measure available..

    The water bond issue is another massive infrastructure project that is being pushed by the same power elite and construction-engineering-labor lobby as the hsr. Another Schwarzenegger baby. It will clearly be interpreted as a litmus test. Get used to it.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Wow! Somone didn’t take their meds this morning. Peter, make that ROTTEN apples and oranges again (“pruno” anyone?).

    Spokker Reply:

    Maybe, but articles like this may have an effect on the water bond vote:

    If people get it into their heads that the drought is over, they may vote against water infrastructure. Even though we had above average rainfall, we aren’t out of the woods yet. It’ll be interesting where public opinion on water lands.

    As always, a number of factors are at work. Without taking these into consideration you run the risk of coming to spurious conclusions. A no vote on water bonds may not be a no vote on large infrastructure projects, but a no vote on water projects.

    Peter Reply:

    I predict that there will be a north-south split on the water bond. With the north being against and the south in favor (obviously).

    I know a lot of environmentalists will be voting against it for the basic fact that it doesn’t help protect the Delta area at all. It just requires that “studies” be undertaken to figure out how much water has to flow into the Delta to prevent the Bay’s salt waters from pushing back any further. The required numbers have been known since the 1970’s. And the bond doesn’t require that the minimum amount of water for this purpose to be guaranteed, due to the wording of it.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I see your point and I would subscribe to it on a commonsense level if it wereit not for corruption.. Look at how insiders have twisted the hsr to their advantage and and even more amazing they have brainwashed the obviously intelligent beings on this site that Tejon is damned and the Tehahahapis god’s country. There must be more to it. It must be a Socal inside joke – maybe there are some uber-nimbys in and around Valencia who don’t want any damn hsr any more than Palo Alto. Or they plan to reserve the alignment for a tollway.

    Many voters, like yours truly, now see corruption everywhere. Kinda like Italy, where every partyt is tainted.

    Peter Reply:

    “Many voters, like yours truly, now see corruption everywhere. Kinda like Italy, where every partyt is tainted.”

    That may be, but we don’t do anything about it.

    I vote against/for politicians/ballot items based on their merits. Not because the whole system is corrupt (I agree it is).

    We’re seeing right now the “All politics are local” issue playing out where everyone was somehow thinking that the incumbents were going to lose huge in the primaries. Instead, they appeared to do ok. Or if they were in fact ousted, there were good other reasons for it (i.e. the Dolores Carr – Jeff Rosen DA race in Santa Clara County, where the incumbent lost, but not because she was an incumbent).

    thatbruce Reply:

    Show a workable, safe and affordable alignment through Tejon which doesn’t involve:

    * Sustained grades over 3.5%.
    * Restricted speeds due to excessive curves.
    * Crossing faults in long tunnels.
    * Bankrupting the project.

    Peter Reply:

    He denies that crossing fault lines in tunnels is an issue and points to where BART crosses the Hayward Fault as to why it’s safe.

    Peter Reply:

    Just thought I’d state his prior-expressed opinions to move the discussion along.

    Nathanael Reply:

    He also denies that there’s any problem with crossing the tripoint intersection of three fault lines in tunnels.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The scoping study found one such alignment. The reason it was rejected is that there was only one alignment, versus hundreds through the Tehachapis. Since the meter-scale geology of the study area isn’t completely known yet, this one possible Tejon alignment could be disqualified in the future if more studies are done showing smaller dangerous fault lines on the route.

    The basic issue is that Tejon costs about the same as Tehachapis, but has a much larger potential for cost escalations in the future.

    Peter Reply:

    Once the system is up and running and the Central Valley portion is at max capacity, then it might be worth it to construct the I-5 racetrack that certain people cream their pants over…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Once the system is up and running and the Central Valley portion is at max capacity, then it will make sense to install the latest-generation ETCS, which when fully implemented (it’s still in development) will raise capacity beyond what any HSR line in the world will ever need.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    trains can only stop so fast in normal service, there’s a limit to how many trains you can run and still use comfortable stopping distances. … and acceleration…

    Peter Reply:

    “trains can only stop so fast in normal service, there’s a limit to how many trains you can run and still use comfortable stopping distances. … and acceleration…”

    Hence the moving blocks under ETCS Level 3.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Moving blocks don’t make trains accelerate faster or stop faster. assuming the ever get moving block to work.

    Clem Reply:

    Moving blocks are no panacea and should not be expected to significantly increase capacity. The basic constraint is, as adirondacker says, the physics of heavy objects. That cannot be changed.

    Peter Reply:

    “Moving blocks don’t make trains accelerate faster or stop faster.”

    No, but you can run them closer to one another.

    Peter Reply:

    So, how much of an increase in capacity can moving blocks provide? Are they worth the R&D costs, then?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The basic constraint is, as adirondacker says, the physics of heavy objects.

    And the physics of poorly secured self loading freight. Passenger trains can stop much more aggressively than they do. Passengers don’t like it when they they and their lattes are thrown into the seat ahead of them.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Moving block signalling has largely proven a solution in search of a problem.
    Shorter blocks at station approaches and exits and other critical points returns 95% of the value at 30% of the cost.
    There’s a very steeply diminishing return on investment as more and more blocks are added; and an optimal trade-off is achieved at ~100m scales, not those of radio wavelengths. And there the costs of the extra lineside equipment is vastly lower than the development and deployment costs of moving block vapourware.

    “Get over it.”
    “Just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be.”
    “Good engineering is about 90% solutions.”

    Peter Reply:

    So I’m guessing it only makes sense then on lines that are completely at capacity, even with running bilevel trains (TGV Duplex).

    rafael Reply:

    @ Alon Levy –

    IIRC, that “one alignment” through Tejon Pass referred to one running just east of Lake Castaic, a wildlife refuge. In that single alignment, with very few/zero options for deviating to avoid as-yet-unknown meter-scale geological hazards, none of the individual tunnel sections was longer than 6 miles (i.e. it crosses a valley somewhere between Grapevine and the highest point).

    Beyond that distance for a single tunnel section, CHSRA has decided there absolutely must be a separate – and expensive – service/escape bore as well.

    However, even if I may have suggested otherwise in the past because I had misunderstood, I don’t believe that this “one alignment” crosses the faults at grade. For that, you’d need trains that can climb gradients well in excess of 3.5% yet still run at 220mph in the Central Valley. Such beasts do not exist at the moment. A design with at least 50% of all axles powered and transmissions that are switchable with load interruption (hi + lo gear ratios) might be able to deliver that.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If I remember correctly, ETCS 3 isn’t just about moving-block signaling, but also about anticipating the speed of the train ahead of you and figuring it into the stopping distance calculations. This is supposed to allow maintaining less than what older signaling systems consider a safe stopping distance.

    As for the TGV issue, the cheapest way for the TGV to increase capacity is distributed traction. The next cheapest is widening the loading gauge to allow 2+3 seating. The bilevel Shinkansen trains have nearly 50% more capacity than the TGV Duplex, even with a higher seat pitch. The only HSR line in the world that’s genuinely at capacity is the Tokaido Shinkansen, and JR Central is relieving it by spending a couple tens of billions on the Chuo Shinkansen.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If I remember correctly, ETCS 3 isn’t just about moving-block signaling, but also about anticipating the speed of the train ahead of you and figuring it into the stopping distance calculations. This is supposed to allow maintaining less than what older signaling systems consider a safe stopping distance.

    Theories are great. Do they take into account what happens when a bridge falls on a train and it stops abruptly? They aren’t going to make great strides in spacing and maintain safe stopping distances at the same time.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In principle, they do. This is years from being fully operational, which is fine because CAHSR is years from being operational and decades from needing more than what ETCS 1 can offer.

    Clem Reply:

    Rafael, Alon, ETCS Level 3 will probably never exist. What Richard said. What Alon describes is train separation based on relative braking distance. Quoting Joern Pachl, “Railway Operation and Control“: Train separation in relative braking distance leads to a maximum of line capacity. But there is an essential problem. When running through an interlocking, it is not possible to move points between two trains. When points are to be moved between two trains, the second train has to have full braking distance to the points until the points are locked in the new position. Another problem is that in case of an accident of the first train, the second train has no chance to stop and is going to collide with the first train. Because of these problems, train separation in relative braking distance is only a theoretical idea with no realistic chance to be adopted in railway transportation.

    thatbruce Reply:

    @rafael; time to revisit a previous
    post on the Grapevine ?

    @synonymouse; I noticed that you have not commented on this brief discussion of I-5 and Tejon. If you don’t wish to participate further when it is discussed, stop bringing the subject up.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Mouse here.

    The simple reason I may seem obsessive on Tejon is that I consider downgrading to the Tehachapis alignment a singular and obvious error. The existing studies were dismissive from the get-go – I simply don’t put much faith or credence in them. Bechtel and friends want the Tehachapis and and have rounded up all the usual suspects.

    Let an outsider like Herrenknecht present an unabashedly gung-ho Tejon plan and compare it to wandering with the ewepee over under and around the Loop.

    I don’t buy the sharp curve argument, nor do I lose sleep at nite over traversing the Garlock in tunnel and I was under the impression that the Loop route was around 3.5% too. Hey, if the Tehachapi line could be really improved upon that much the freight railroads would already have worked it out as it is an operational bottleneck.

    wu ming Reply:

    there is very little in common between HSR and the water bond,. many of the same people who campaigned for HSR will be out there knocking on doors and hanging flyers against the peripheral canal and socialized dams for privatized westside agribiz barons. claiming the failure of the latter would represent a tactic repudiation of the former is as asinine as sac politicians trying to twist the electorate’s shooting down of their awful 2009 spending freeze budget “fix” as a plea for public service cuts.

    synonymouse Reply:

    A defeat of the water bond issue will certainly be seen as a repudiation of infrastructure spending, which the hsr epitomizes.

    So if you love the CHSRA scheme you had better vote to grab norcal water and send it to Palmdale.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    I voted in favor of high-speed rail, but that doesn’t mean I’d vote yes for the water bond.

    Peter Reply:

    So, if, let’s say, a bond measure came up to subsidize widening I-5 through the Central Valley, and it failed, it would mean that people didn’t want HSR?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yeah but a bond measure to widen Interstates would be almost guaranteed to be funded 80% by the Federal government.

    Peter Reply:

    Not the point. Would defeat of one infrastructure measure mean that people disapproved of an unrelated infrastructure measure?

    wu ming Reply:

    “will be seen as”

    passive voice is a crime against clear writing for a reason: it obscures who is doing the action. why not jst come out and admit that what you’re saying is that cranks like yourself will read a vote against subsidized dams for private interests and a peripheral canal project to mean everyone’s suddenly changed their mind on the still-popular HSR, not that popular opinion will actually flip 180 from where it is.

    contrary to republican blatherings about liberal spendthrifts, people don’t support all state spending just because they like state spending; what the prijects do make a huge difference.

    rafael Reply:

    The only thing HSR, the water bond and other infrastructure bonds (levees, highways etc) have in common is that they all compete for state tax revenue. That is very limited because the state constitution requires a 2/3 majority for passing budgets as well as tax hikes, giving the GOP delegation in Sacramento a veto. Meanwhile, bond authorizations and ballot measures to amend the constitution can pass with straight majorities. That’s back a$$wards and the fundamental reason why politics at the state level are such a mess.

    Repeal the 2/3 rule on budgets and tax changes via an amendment to the constitution and then lock the barn door by requiring a 2/3 majority for future amendments – like any normal democracy. Would that give Dems a free rein to tax-and-spend? Not necessarily, because these changes would also introduce accountability for the majority. If voters don’t like its policies, they’ll simply hand the majority to the other lot – provided they moved sufficiently to the center to become electable. Chances are the California GOP would ditch tea party positions in a hurry in that scenario.

    Pat Reply:

    @Robert – Don’t be a d!ck. “You and the other HSR opponents lost the November 2008 election and lost it decisively – especially given that it came in an extremely high turnout election.”

    First of all you talked to me in person and you know that I explicitly support HSR. I was working on it before you were even aware of it. So stop being an ass, and mischaracterizing my position.

    @Bianca – don’t be silly. The proposition just specified funding. The exact route, structures, etc were not mentioned in the prop. Also stop mischaracterizing.

  8. morris brown
    Jun 24th, 2010 at 21:51

    OT but a real bombshell.

    LA Times:,0,7291746.story

    Lawmaker calls for leadership changes in high-speed rail authority

    State Sen. Alan Lowenthal, chairman of the transportation committee, says high-speed rail directors should not also serve on local transportation boards. The ban would prevent a conflict of interest, he says……

    this should provoke some dialog…

    HSRforCali Reply:

    I wouldn’t exactly call that a bombshell. It’s more a lawmaker stating his opinion and what should be done. We do that every day here with different issues.

    Peter Reply:

    I guess this was SS Sam Taylor’s doom and gloom story?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Lowenthal has been making hostile attacks on the HSR for years now, for reasons unclear.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Ironically, if those people were better at building good transit, it would be better for them to simultaneously serve on local and intercity transportation boards. That way they’d be able to design maximally compatible transit systems.

    Peter Reply:

    So, to me the problem seems more to be one of local officials trying to bring home the bacon, not one particularized to transit officials. Am I totally off?

  9. JamesJonas
    Jun 25th, 2010 at 12:38

    Tic-Tic-Tic: CHSRA comments on the Alternative Analysis are due on June 30th. It would be great if someone would open a blog post of draft questions/comments. My has grown to 50 items and is still a rought draft. I would welcome some other perspectives. Most of the cities have posted draft versions of their comment (like Palo Alto). Just take a look at the city’s recent council meetings (agenda/staff reports).

    Nadia Reply:

    To my knowledge, they will NOT be answering questions – just taking input. Of course, it never hurts to ask! You may want to turn in your questions and comments for inclusion in your City’s comments. That might increase your chances of getting your questions answered. In general, while they’re accepting comments from individuals, they are really looking for the city to funnel this set of comments to them.

    JamesJonas Reply:

    Several cities have indicated that they would be sending citizens comments in with their comments. Although CHSRA may want the cities to funnel comments, it is your right to send comments directly to the authority. Nadia is correct in that the impact may be greater if you work through your city.

    Three more days.

  10. Bay Area Resident
    Jun 25th, 2010 at 16:59

    Sarah Armstrong- Interesting map, thanks. As you may know the HSR authority moved the route away from residential recently in San Jose. It looks like the Palo Alto area has the potential for almost as many takings. The cynic in me wonders if HSR succumbed to the San Jose residents so as to frame the ONLY residential property takings for HSR as “spoiled rich people”. Hmm.

    Peter Reply:

    Or they had a reasonable alternative in San Jose?

    And the conspiracy theorists strike again!

    rafael Reply:

    They did and still do: figure out a way to run all rail services on the existing two tracks through the Gardner neighborhood. See my Caltrain Firebird post for details.

    Yes, that would require FRA approval for mixed traffic. Then again, CHSRA needs a “rule of special applicability” for the entire system anyhow.

    Yes, it would require moderate speeds, but the existing curves impose a speed limit of max. 55mph – perhaps even that only with gauntlet tracks. The curves for the “iconic” bridge nonsense across 280 and 87 are even tighter, figure 50mph top speed. Between Tamien and the Monterey Highway, a general speed limit of 79-90mph makes sense. The few freight trains running won’t reach those speeds, which means some capacity would have to be sacrificed or HSR speeds reduced whenever a freight train is admitted. A constraint on HSR, to be sure, but not a very severe one.

    Yes, it would require that all locomotives and trainsets plying those rail be made compatible with whatever positive train control technology is used for those two tracks. CHSRA appears to be leaning toward the off-the-shelf ETCS level 2 solution. A number of UPRR, Amtrak and (perhaps) ACE locomotives would need to be equipped with the requisite in-cab equipment (@ ~$400k a pop) plus driver training, at CHSRA’s expense. UPRR would only have a limited pool of locomotives for this stretch, but the volume of its traffic on the Central Coast line isn’t remotely comparable to that on the CA-99 line in the Central Valley. If need be, UPRR could be permitted to run additional trains with incompatible locomotives at night – when PTC is a non-issue – by leveraging the legacy signaling. The cost of all this would be peanuts compared with constructing an elevated mega-structure that would dominate the skyline in south San Jose.

    Yes, track sharing would also require competent traffic management during the day to guarantee adequate capacity. Plans should permit HSR operations to grow to ~8 trains per hour each way during peak periods, but given that Caltrain service to Tamien is light that should be no problem. CHSRA will anyhow have to invest in software and hardware for traffic management. Off-the-shelf solutions like ERTMS can handle multiple operators on the same line without modifications. Given that traffic south of SJ Diridon is currently light, that may not be the major obstacle it appears to be. HSR, Caltrain, UPRR and Amtrak would have to operate to an integrated timetable in this stretch, possibly all the way to Santa Clara. Not trivial, but doable.

    Last and by no means least, the ill-considered decision in favor of a 280/87 alignment would need to be revisited. It may be unreasonable to construct new tracks through Gardner, but there ought to be scope for simply using the existing tracks more intensively – primarily for HSR. At 55mph, HSR trains are not loud but if need be, transparent sound walls could be installed and abutting properties offered soundproofing measures like triple glazing for the elevations facing the rails. Not that it would be necessary from a technical perspective, but again, the cost would be peanuts compared to what CHSRA is cooking up in the interest of the civil engineering industry as opposed to taxpayers.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    The problem in Palo Alto is that there aren’t any sensible alternative alignments.

    rafael Reply:

    An open trench would be sensible enough, it’s just that it would cost a pretty penny because all the existing underpasses would have to be converted to roads at grade (University, Embarcadero, Oregon Expy). Unless CHSRA saves money in SF and Santa Clara/SJ, trenching in PAMPA would blow the budget.

    The city could decide to cover certain sections with a lid, effectively creating subway tunnels. Those would have to be short to accommodate UPRR’s diesel trains and avoid massive – and massively loud – fan plants. The city might have to pay for the lid sections itself, in return for air rights to development above the tracks.

    Trenching would also introduce flood risks because of all the gravity-drained conduits crossing the right of way. Re-routing those would involve either very deep trench sections with culverts above the rails or else, plumbing under the rails. The latter would work passively as a siphon for sewer mains. Storm drains are a slightly different matter because four vertical bends would substantially increase flow resistance. That can be overcome with pumps, but those then have to work reliably in the event of heavy runoff from a winter storm. There’s also a risk that the conduit could become clogged with debris.

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