San Jose station at Delmas Ave
UPDATE: I have added an optional VTA light rail network expansion between San Fernando Ave and Component Dr via the SJC Terminals to the map. This expansion would be possible only if the existing heavy rail station at Cahill St and its approaches were indeed abandoned, which would render UPRR’s single track Milpitas line effectively useless for freight rail. It’s already no longer actually used south of 101, UPRR is retaining it only as a backup for the single track Alviso line through the salt marshes.
One of the more questionable decisions CHSRA has taken in recent weeks has been to abandon the legacy alignment through San Jose’s Gardner district in favor of an even more severe chicane a little further north across I-280 and 87. There is now talk of an “iconic” bridge across these freeways. Commenter Drunk Engineer on the recent News Roundup post on Clem Tillier’s Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog noted that the pillar arrangement resembles the tips of a giant hand, most of which you have to imagine as being below grade. Note the size of the largest support column, which would correspond to the middle finger.
Click on the image for a larger view.
The big issue is that the curve radii on this no doubt very expensive cable-stayed S-shaped bridge are so tight that HSR trains would be limited to just ~50mph to avoid having passengers lose their lunch. Other issues include stability in high wind conditions and eminent domain impacts on both approaches (Auzerais Ave/Royal Ave and McLellan Ave, respectively). The Gardner district’s gain is someone else’s loss.
I have previously argued in my Caltrain Firebird post that the best solution would be to cut through FRA red tape and bureaucratic fiefdoms to simply exploit the existing tracks through Gardner for HSR as well as the legacy services. With positive train control, sophisticated traffic management and integrated timetables, this should be possible though admittedly far from trivial. Less brute-force civil engineering and more intelligent integrated operations would be my personal preferred solution.
However, even Firebird would mean slowing trains right down to ~55mph because the Gardner curves are already tight. Considering San Jose will be a significant HSR destination in its own right – in addition to the future BART connection to the East Bay – that may not be a significant issue for the HSR operator(s). Realistically, most trains will be stopping there in any case.
Nevertheless, AB3034 obliges CHSRA to deliver a 2h 40m non-stop line haul time for SF-LA, which is aggressive. Every slow section they introduce to placate local environmental opposition will be extremely difficult and expensive to compensate for with even higher speeds elsewhere. HSR tracks need to be as straight as possible, period. Given all the curves involved in reaching SJ Diridon at Cahill Street, it’s worth asking if that particular location is even worth retaining. The starter line is a $35 billion state-level project with massive federal funding and some private investment. Well, at least that is the plan. It does not make sense to bastardize it in favor of local development plans.
Speaking strictly in railway terms, it would be preferable to move everything – HSR, Caltrain, Amtrak, ACE and UPRR and all the platforms – to a new alignment along Delmas Ave, just west of CA-87. This was considered for a tunnel, but I am arguing for a single-level elevated station here. The tracks would still need to fly over the 280/87 interchange and, the green line on the map below is curved slightly west there to avoid the tallest of the turnoff lanes. After all, UPRR trains are limited to a 1% gradient and the general objective should be to keep the tracks as close to grade level as possible. The blue and red lines show the existing alignments for Caltrain and Amtrak/ACE/UPRR, respectively.
View San Jose Delmas Ave station in a larger map
A key aspect of this alternate concept is that the existing Cahill St. station (in blue) plus approaches – including the tracks through the Gardner district south of I-280 – would be abandoned and made available for redevelopment. There’s really no point in having two San Jose stations a couple of blocks from one another.
Even so, relocating the San Jose station for all heavy rail services would cost a pretty penny and force the city to adapt its development plans for the Sunol-Midtown district, though the prospective ball park site as such (shown in yellow) would not be affected.
Eminent domain takings for a Delmas Ave station would be significant, especially in the Auzerais/Josefa district. However, there would also be takings for the severely curved 280/87 alignment (shown in black on the map). Guadeloupe River Park would be impacted, though the Cahill St site would become available to compensate. On the plus side, moving the entire heavy rail corridor and station east to Delmas Ave would actually put it a little closer to downtown.
Btw: I have no problem with retaining the Diridon name for the station, wherever it ends up. What matters for the SF-LA non-stop line haul time is how straight the tracks are. Personally, I do not think many trains will ever be running through San Jose at 125mph anyhow, but if you’re going to build a new tall bridge across I-280 and CA-87, at least do it such that high speeds would be possible.