San Jose station at Delmas Ave

Jun 29th, 2010 | Posted by

by Rafael

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.

  1. Joey
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 07:36

    Too bad the downtown aerial option was eliminated…

  2. Peter
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 09:20

    Rafael, I think this is the most reasonable of your schemes that I’ve seen to date. It’s biggest selling point is that it would bring the station a good quarter mile closer to downtown. This would make it much more walkable. This idea would involve a few extra residential takings, but it would minimize visual impacts, as it would be right up against the freeway for the larger part. The only problem I see is that San Jose would essentially lose their park along the Guadalupe River there.

    rafael Reply:

    Well, the city’s plans call for a small park just west of the existing station. If that were abandoned as I suggest, there would be space for a much larger park to replace the section of Guadeloupe Park that would be lost.

    Peter Reply:

    I like the idea. Didn’t the comment period on the AA just close a few days ago?

    rafael Reply:

    CHSRA haven’t even got a valid program level EIR for the Bay Area to Central Valley section at this point. I don’t think locking in lousy decisions is what CEQA was supposed to achieve.

    Peter Reply:

    Agreed. I’d be interested in collaborating with you to work up a proposal for this.

    Rafael Reply:

    Here you go, a map of what the situation would be after the existing station was abandoned. Note in particular that moving the heavy rail corridor effectively renders the UPRR Milpitas line useless as a backup for the Alviso line. That backup function is the only reason UPRR is still keeping it on active status, even though freight trains no longer actually run through Ryland Park.,-121.901218&spn=0.005298,0.009034&z=17

    Elizabeth Reply:

    New alternatives can be submitted at basically any point in the process. Earlier is better, but late is better than never.

  3. Peter
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 09:43

    How about leaving UPRR where it is, and simply routing HSR, Caltrain, ACE, CC, and Amtrak through the new station. You could use steeper gradients, and wouldn’t have to worry about maintaining freight service during construction. You could continue using Diridon as a station for everything until construction is completed.

    rafael Reply:

    Leaving UPRR on the existing tracks means maintaining two sets of tracks and preventing proper redevelopment of the Cahill St area. Freight trains can climb 1% grades, so let them.

    rafael Reply:

    Yes, maintaining operations at the existing station until the new one is ready is what I had in mind. Note that the Delmas Ave station would be elevated but single-level, so it should not be used for mid-day stabling of Caltrain and ACE trains. That should happen at a new at-grade yard further south, e.g. near the Monterey Hwy (area currently owned by concrete company).

    That’s also near where the new tracks would fly over the UPRR right of way.

    Peter Reply:

    Heh, we could make the Gardner community do the work for us. They would probably do anything to get rid of rail service through their neighborhood.

  4. Eric M
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 10:30

    The one big problem I see is that the fly-over would have to be EXTREMELY tall where it crosses 280 because of the 87 fly-over on/off ramps themselves are already pretty high.

    Peter Reply:

    Which is why the alignment makes a dogleg around the tallest ones

    Clem Reply:

    Would the FAA have anything to say about vertical heights in the vicinity of the SJC airport approach?

    Peter Reply:

    Depends how high it is. There are some “relatively” high buildings along final. You should be ok as long as you stay beneath those. A friend of mine is an airport designer. She might be able to shed some light on the actual clearance requirements. Note that those requirements are regularly violated. Encroachment is a major problem for airports.

    Rafael Reply:

    I don’t have accurate grade elevation information for the area, but the idea was to have the station platforms at approximately the height of the traffic lanes on the adjacent CA-87 freeway, i.e. around 30 feet. I can’t imagine that would present a problem for the FAA.

    Depending on the natural gradient, freight trains would have to start climbing somewhere between Park Ave and W San Carlos St to clear the high turnoff from I-280 EB to CA-87 NB. They can only manage a 1% gradient, so the distance is critical. The full-length straight platforms for HSR would be located between slightly north of W Santa Clara and slightly south of San Fernando to make this possible.

  5. francis
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 10:39

    ugh, “iconic bridge”. some folks ought to look north several miles and see what a desire for something “iconic” did to the Bay Bridge project.

    rafael Reply:

    That’s why I would prefer that CHSRA figure out how to run on the existing tracks through Gardner. Still, if a new structure absolutely, positively must be built, do it properly. And yes, a regular tall aerial will do nicely in this case. There’s absolutely no need for a signature structure across frickin’ freeways. Do spend money on proper pedestrian connections to BART, on a bus terminal at grade, on noise mitigation for residents near Delmas Ave in the Auzerais/Josefa district and, on replacing the lost portion of the Guadeloupe River park.

    Dan S. Reply:

    Indeed. Iconic bridge over a freeway interchange. What a waste of resources. (Iconic bridge over the bay, well, that’s actually a different matter to me, personally.)

    Here’s my thoughts on how misplaced the effort was to even come up with that coolio bridge rendering. How about screwing the “freeway-visual-artistry” contingent and approaching Palo Alto with a proposal for an iconic elevated viaduct in order to at least politic that relationship a little bit? (Sure, add an asterisk saying a local contribution might be required.)

    You gotta give a community like PAMPA (was that our new abbrev?) a little more heady alternative than “elevated concrete freeway overpass design #23.”

    Victor Reply:

    Agreed, If they want something iconic tell them It’ll be a viaduct in a nearly straight line and tell them they have to pay for the iconic stuff If they really want It. And that immense 5 fingered monstrosity should not be built, I like the straighter Green route much better, Although I do like giving the Nimbys the Finger right in their face on paper, As that’s simply priceless.

  6. wu ming
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 11:12

    that is one ugly “iconic” bridge idea they’ve got there.

    Peter Reply:

    It seriously screams “I HAVE A SMALL PENIS!!!”

  7. Reality Check
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 11:38

    Is it just me, or is the term “line haul time” really just a train geek way to say “travel time”? Maybe it’s one of those things where “travel time” doesn’t sound macho enough.

    Rafael Reply:

    Line haul refers to non-stop time at maximum possible speed. The more generic “travel time” refers to the actual schedule in commercial service, with padding and possibly with stops along the way.

  8. Caelestor
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 12:01

    What is the justification for that “iconic structure” in the first place? Is it because the Gardner district is acting up?

    But yeah, if you’re seriously going to build over the freeway, might as well make the rail line straight. Anyway, you can still have an iconic bridge that doesn’t kill the travel time too badly. And the station should have 7 tracks max: 3 for caltrain, 2 for CAHSR, and 2 for everyone else.

    Peter Reply:

    The justification is that the City of San Jose has a serious inferiority complex and requested an “iconic bridge”.

    Caelestor Reply:


    I remember when they wanted an “iconic city hall”…

  9. Jon
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 12:01

    Good idea!

    Would it be possible to keep the tracks east of N Autumn St, at least until north of Howard St? This would reduce the amount of eminent domain acquisition. Closing N Autumn St north of Howard should be no big deal.

    Rafael Reply:

    If you do that, the curve becomes tighter and there will be more eminent domain against big box retailers in the San Jose Market Center mall off Coleman.

    Since the whole point of this exercise would be improving the curve radii, i.e. feasible express speeds, a few homes at the north end of Autumn St may have to be sacrificed. To be fair, though, Google Maps isn’t really accurate enough for this level of alignment optimization.

  10. political_incorrectness
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 12:25

    I wonder if it would be easier just to get rid of Highway 87 though that area to utilize its ROW for rail. It would certainly unlocuk San Jose from the iron grip of freeways but because of the VTA protecting their ridiculous BART project, I’m not sure that’d be the best of options.

    Peter Reply:

    If you remove 87 at this point, road transportation through central San Jose would become a NIGHTMARE…

  11. lyqwyd
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 13:54

    this is a great idea Rafael, I hope you flesh it out and submit it to CHSRA, and good luck!

  12. Spokker
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 17:36

    Off topic, but I’ve been reading some anti-rail stuff that has my meager mind thinking.

    One of the more ingenious criticisms against rail construction is that even if less air pollution is emitted during operation of the trains, the amount of air pollution emitted during construction of the project makes rail infeasible. For this specific project, I think I read that it would take 72 years for the amount of CO2 saved to equal the amount of emissions expelled during construction.

    Such consideration is not really given to freeway projects. I was reading a FEIR for a highway and all it really said is that the contractor will promise to limit air pollution during construction. Internet pundits don’t really muse on whether or not the air pollution reduction facilitated by the freeway widening (caused by decrease in vehicle hours of delay) will ever match the emissions during construction.

    O’Toole has a new post up where he explains that construction of Honolulu’s rail line (which may or may not be a good idea) will cost 7.48 trillion BTUs during construction. The implication is that they do nothing they will save a lot of energy. But is that the choice? If Hawaii has decided it needs increased transport capacity, wouldn’t a better comparison be the energy cost of construction between a rail line, a freeway or some other mode?

    Another argument is levied against light rail in Portland. Essentially, the light rail people say that light rail will reduce congestion. The rail critics come out and say, “Well, if light rail is so good at getting cars off the road, why did car volume on an adjacent freeway increase from 120,000 to 160,000 between 1986 and 1990-something? Answer that, smarty pants!”

    I think the right question to ask is, “What would the growth in volume be if light rail was not built?”

    Who knows what’s really going on, but some people act like rail is the end of the world.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But it is the end of the world. It’s going to cause the hens to stop laying, the cows to go dry, the sales associates at Nordstrom’s to be rude, blight the corn, make the no fat lightener at Starbucks to curdle…

    flowmotion Reply:

    There was a study of energy used during construction of the BART system. The findings were that the system would effectively never be energy positive, even with the assumption that every rider would be in a 10MPG V8 car instead.

    At least one can say that electricity is domestically produced and is only artificially scarce.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That ignores that 10MPG V8s are usually attached to automobiles which work well only on paved roads which use similar construction techniques as railroads. And you need lots more highway to carry the same amount of people as a railroad.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Not to mention how frequently roads need to be resurfaced — extra carbon emissions.

    Spokker Reply:

    Their argument is that they never claimed roads and highways were green. Since rail proponents claim air pollution reduction, they attack it.

    Eric L Reply:

    Nonetheless, their argument involves comparing trains to automobiles. And including the train infrastructure in the comparison. And not including the auto infrastructure. So that’s the problem to hit back on.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Yes, admittedly it was a “sunk cost” analysis. Now that BART itself is a sunk cost, its obviously more energy-efficient to ride the train.

    John Burrows Reply:

    I was looking over SFO on Google Maps—-very impressive. I wonder how much energy has been consumed building and operating the airport and how much HSR you could build and operate for the same energy expenditure.

  13. Peter
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 18:11

    Also OT: I heard today on NPR that the Governator wants to withdraw the water bond because he thinks it will lose.

    wu ming Reply:


    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    This looks almost certain to happen. More over at Calitics.

    Rafael Reply:

    This is indeed good news IMHO. Farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin valley will suffer, but we have to be realistic. Just because the soils are fertile doesn’t mean the land absolutely, positively has to be used to grow food. Agriculture consumes about 80% of the fresh water that doesn’t simply drain into the ocean. The topsoil should be collected and stored for future generations, though.

    With the state’s population expected to grow to 50 million by mid-century, it may make more sense to re-purpose it for solar power and/or algal oil production to help meet AB32 goals.

    In addition, it’s high time the state made a strategic decision on where it would like that population growth to be concentrated. My suggestion would be the CA-99 corridor between Sacramento and Fresno. Part of that area is at risk of flooding, but the levees are already being improved. However, the risk of earthquakes is low – an important consideration in making the state’s economy more resilient.

    New residential development should feature multi-story buildings with mutual and self-shading. Three stories is about as high as you can go with wood, steel skeletons become competitive above 7 stories. In-between, masonry would be cheapest but it is not earthquake resistant.

    This area has plenty of naturally available water, especially if farmers in the area are encouraged to switch from rice, alfalfa and pasture to higher-value vegetable crops. The pumping stations supplying water to the LA basin already consume about 2% of all electricity in the state. Future population growth there should be discouraged.

    The HSR spur up to Sacramento will provide a new high-capacity transportation system.

    Of course, people are going to move where the jobs are. The above strategy therefore depends on fostering new green tech industry in the Central Valley.

    Of course, the largest untapped sources of fresh water are the Eel, Trinity and Klamath rivers in the far north. A new – expensive – freight rail line between Eureka and Red Bluff along the CA-36 corridor would make a relief port for LA/LB possible, creating plenty of jobs in Eureka. Note that the existing line in the Eel River valley is prone to flooding and rock slides and should not be rehabilitated IMHO.

    Unfortunately, the location of and mountainous terrain near Eureka and Crescent City mean they are remote from the rest of the state. Passenger transportation would be based on US-101 plus new turboprop services to the Bay Area and Sacramento. That said, the north coast is subject to earthquakes and the weather isn’t all that great, either.

    thatbruce Reply:

    The topsoil should be collected and stored for future generations, though.

    Heck of a lot easier to restrict the central valley to agriculture though, or at least the inner section bounded by CA-99 and I-5. Definitely less moving of great gobs of dirt around.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Not to mention if you take topsoil and stash it someplace not on top after awhile it’s not topsoil anymore.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    You can go way higher than 3 stories with wood. In Japan they recently tested a 7 story wood structure against a magnitude 7.5 earthquake and it made it through with no structural damage. There’s even an article & video.

    4-5 stories with wood is no problem with standard construction practices.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …until it catches fire. Most US building codes limit wood construction to three stories for wood then more fire resistant methods if you want to go higher.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    California’s codes already allow for a building constructed from wood up to four stories, and the height limits recently went from 50′ to 70′.

    Seattle & Portland allow for 6 stories, Minneapolis allows 5, British Columbia recently upped it to 6.

    Perhaps fire concerns limited heights to 3 stories in the past, but that’s no longer the case.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    plus, CA allows for a fifth story if the first floor is a concrete pedestal.

  14. PeakVT
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 21:23

    I made a similar proposal the last time the San Jose alignment was discussed here.

    PeakVT Reply:

    I forget why I put the station so far north. I think I saw more room for high-density development immediately adjacent to the station if it was in that location (ie, the area bounded by Coleman, 87, Julian, Stockton, and Taylor).

    Rafael Reply:

    My apologies for not referencing your proposal. Now that I look at it, the biggest issue with a station that far north would be the lack of connectivity to BART and VTA light rail. The walking distance to the new ball park would also be unacceptable.

    However, the alignment for the tracks is basically the same, so we’re in agreement on that.

    PeakVT Reply:

    No apologies needed. I’m not sure if I ever posted the link.

    A couple of comments on your proposal.

    While having high-speed run-through tracks certainly isn’t necessary, this station is a piece of infrastructure that CA will be stuck with for decades, if not centuries. So the alignment should be done right unless the cost would be prohibitive.

    I don’t see the need to support large freight trains on the aerial tracks. There’s enough room north of the Caltrain depot for six tracks, so any freights going north to Oakland wouldn’t have to merge back onto the Caltrain passenger tracks. Having the HSR/Caltrain fly over the freight tracks would be trivial. Not supporting freight would allow for steeper grades on the viaduct. (I’m not sure where UP is switching freight bound for the peninsula, so can’t comment on that right now.)

    This project is also an opportunity to move various VTA lines away to more pedestrian friendly alignments. I see several possibilities, but I haven’t put them into a map yet.

    Your proposal nicks the corner of the Lake House Historic District. I’ve updated my map to show the entire district. Personally, I don’t think three wood-frame houses are much to worry about.

    Rafael Reply:

    It’s important to retain a freight connection between Santa Clara and Gilroy, otherwise the entire Central Coast corridor becomes useless. I’m proposing that the existing heavy rail corridor incl. the land the existing SJ Diridon station is on be abandoned and re-purposed. That means accommodating the 1% gradient constraint for freight trains.,-121.901218&spn=0.005298,0.009034&z=17

    Yes, four historic buildings east of Delmas Ave would have to be razed. We’re building a $35 billion HSR line here, let’s not cripple it.

    Clem Reply:

    Wood frame buildings like this are relatively straight forward to move.

    PeakVT Reply:

    I added some new VTA alignments to my proposal, and made a few other updates.

    rafael Reply:

    Aha, interesting. Of course, every time you’re running light rail in streetcar mode, you have to model the impact on road capacity, accident risks etc. as well as potential ridership. By and large, streetcar service is too slow to attract a lot of ridership for suburban lines. That does not apply in the downtown area, where distances are much shorter.

    IMHO, the single most important expansion of the LRT network is to the SJC terminals. The BART folks are mulling a people mover to their terminal station at the Newhall Yard, but tunneling under the runways would be seriously expensive.

  15. Howard
    Jun 29th, 2010 at 22:42

    How would moving the Diridon train station to Delmas Ave effect the design of the proposed Diridon BART station? How would easy transfers be maintained? And what about the existing VTA light rail line and transfers?

    rafael Reply:

    Afaik, the plan is to locate the BART station under W Santa Clara, with the western end of the platforms roughly at Cahill St. West of that, the alignment enters a curve under the existing rails to head up to the heavy maintenance facility/terminal station at the Newhall Yard in Santa Clara. If the heavy rail station were moved, the walking distance between the platforms would actually be a little bit shorter.

    The VTA light rail 901 line has a station at San Fernando/Delmas. In addition, eliminating the legacy rails would permit double-tracking a short section of the Winchester line just south of the existing heavy rail station. The 902 line has a station at the Children’s Discovery Museum, though that would be a couple of blocks from the southern end of the heavy rail platforms.

    I’ve added BART and VTA light rail to the map. Buses would need to be slightly re-routed as well. However, there would be plenty of room under or next to the elevated rails for a bus terminal between W Santa Clara and W Fernando. There are currently parking lots on both sides of Delmas Ave in that block.

    Rafael Reply:

    Note that abandoning the UPRR Milpitas line would create the option of a VTA light rail network extension along the Guadalupe River, serving the SJC terminals.

    James Reply:

    As long as VTA is on the Milpitas line keep it going all they way to Milpitas. It crosses over the other VTA lines but would tie in a lot of residential and business areas. Another step toward replacing the light rail network we used to have. The more connected the system is the more it will be used.

    James Reply:

    As for the airport branch, continue up Guadalupe to Trimble and Trimble to Montegue across 880 to Park Victoria and north on Park Victoria for a few miles and maybe even transition into the median of the 680 and head up into Fremont. The entire area is lines with development.

  16. Brandon from San Diego
    Jun 30th, 2010 at 06:51

    As I understand the Firebird proposal, it is to design the corridor infrastructure and trackwork to accomodate a specific operating plan. And, that operating plan is quite specific.

    How specific is that? And, how much flexibility remains in that operating plan if the initial operating plan fails?

    rafael Reply:

    It is actually normal for railways to tailor their infrastructure to an operating plan. It’s how new passenger rail infrastructure is supposed to be designed. CHSRA is doing it back a$$wards.

    Regarding flexibility, designers should run a number of scenarios to model the ways in which operations might need to change in the future. In the concrete example of Firebird, that could include different headways (e.g. 3min vs. 2.5min vs. 2min) to assess how robust the timetable would be, different assumptions about rolling stock performance, different express service patterns etc.

    As for failure, let me turn that argument on its head: what if full quad tracking turns out to be complete and very expensive overkill because both Caltrain’s and CHSRA’s ridership forecasts turn out to be wishful thinking?

    wu ming Reply:

    given the inevitability of peak oil, it is extremely unlikely that the ridership forecasts will be undershot. if anything, the planning assumptions are woefully pessimistic about the immense push factor that skyrocketing gas prices (and regular shortages of fuel) will have on all of our rail systems, esp. those insulated from oil prices.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    our rail systems, esp. those insulated from oil prices.

    More expensive oil will of course have absolutely no effect whatsoever on any other energy costs, nor upon the energy efficiency of other sectors of the economy.

    So, ummm, well, we might as well put CHSR ridership down as “infinite”, then. The sky is far too pedestrian a limit. All of which is a good thing, because “infinite” is kind of the design and construction cost number our CHSRA consultant pals have in mind.

    PS Electricity to power high speed rail (200mph! 210mph! 220mph! Do I hear 230mph?! Who cares, when you’re insulated from oil prices?!) will come from gently harvesting charged batteries from the ripe battery trees that line the bylanes of the bucolic Central Valley.

    wu ming Reply:

    there is a tremendous amount of sun and wind energy potential in the central valley, and very regular offshore winds up and down the coast. tides are another great source of energy, esp. given the steeper undersea slope of the california coast. there’s a fair amount of geothermal resources, although we do need to be careful with accidentally lubricating fault lines. and even replacing existing hydropower with newer, lighter, more efficient turbines would get more power out of the dams.

    there is far, far, far more potential for renewable electrical production in CA than what an electrified rail system would use.

    Dan S. Reply:

    Your prosy pontification is off the mark in this case, Richard. I don’t see how you’ve commented on wu ming’s point at all. With which I basically agree.

    (While I wouldn’t go nearly so far as to guarantee CHSRA’s ridership predictions, I would strongly endorse the link between gas prices and public support for — and use of — HSR in particular and transit in general.)

    I was commuting on Caltrain when gas prices peaked right around the same time we were all voting on Prop 1A and the sales tax to bring BART to SJ. The high gas prices had a remarkable effect on the behaviors of Peninsula residents, as much as they would be loathe to admit it! Those trains were *packed* and standing-room-only for commutes into the city.

    Since Americans catastrophically lack the spine to tax it, we’ll just have to wait for market forces to raise the price of gas until these very same, predictable behavioral changes take place again, likely to the noisy complaint (but quiet assent) of our fellow citizens.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I cannot imagine how the CHSRA ridership forecasts can be wishful thinking. The probability of that being the case seems so low as to not be worth considering. Unless you think the price of oil is going to collapse sometime over the next 25 years, or that California will somehow be immune to the HSR successes we’ve seen around the world, including the NEC.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Further, it makes sense to build to anticipate future demand, not build for what one assumes present-day demand will look like. Obviously you want to balance potential operating plans and a desire to build for future capacity. So far I see no indication that CHSRA has failed to reach that balance.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Trackwork and stations should be designed to provide flexibility for a range of operating scenarios. However, many scenarios are not on a printed schedule. They include unplanned events or emergencies or basic access for Maint of Way personnel to maintain the system. That means, from time to time that track segments and/or platforms will not be accessible while regular operations may still be scheduled. Of course, the addition of trackwork to enable switching from track to track can mitigate much of that, but scenario’s having different train systems sharing track and accessing different platforms at different stations… that adds A LOT of complexity… so much so that sharing track does not seem feasible to me.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Sharing track is eminently feasible people, even people here in the US, do it all the time. Just pick platforms etc that are the same.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Can you describe what ‘firebird’ is? That is what this mini-thread speaks to.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I can’t, not politely anyway.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    There’s no problem at all with infrastructure+rolling stock+operating plan = strategic targeted integrated capital+service plan.

    The problem is that Rafael’s operating plan is stupid.

  17. Richard Mlynarik
    Jun 30th, 2010 at 08:57

    Step 1: Caltrain shares tracks with HSR, not freight. Only a certified moron would even suggest otherwise.

    There is no Step 2.

    The problem is now 100% solved, on a single level, at or above grade, at the existing Cahill Street station site in San Jose, with 3 tracks (1 FRA + 2 non-steam-age) between Cahlll and points south along the existing rail right of way. (Track speeds are not optimal, but are not catastrophic given that all trains will stop, and well within “engineering is the art of the possible”.)

    End of story. Thank you for playing.

    rafael Reply:

    Ok, hot shot. You tell us how you’re going to convince the folks in Gardner to accept even a third track through their district.

    Given that UPRR runs a grand total of 3 freight trains a day each way on the Central Coast corridor, I don’t see a need for a dedicated freight track as long as those trains can be operated on an integrated schedule.

    I’ll be happy to learn from you but all you ever do is state that everyone but yourself is a complete idiot, without articulating a workable comprehensive approach. Switching to Altamont isn’t going to happen. Your Sketchup models for individual Caltrain stations have been impressive, but those are point solutions.

    Peter Reply:

    More like 3 freight trains a night.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Point out that the ROW is already three or four tracks wide, that electric trains running on CWR rail on concrete ties are much quieter and that they don’t spew diesel exhaust? Throw in that the substandard grade separations will be rebuilt so that things like fire trucks can get through it might interest them.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Mixing UP and real trains at all should be off the table. Otherwise you end up with CBOSS. And much much worse to come.

    Telling UP that the can no longer operate Santa Clara-SJ-Tamien is volunteering for political, regulatory and extortionate grief and when that just isn’t necessary. The first rule of successful engineering: don’t borrow trouble. (There was a better alternative possible at one time — super-infrequent freight run around downtown SJ altogether on the old WP San Jose branch — but that ROW was lost a decade ago, sadly.)

    There’s space for 3 tracks Cahill-Tamien. Real trains only need two. Therefore one can be FRA. You’ll note that the highly professional and scupulously ethical and super-rigorously justified Alternatives Analysis “eliminated” this alignment because Caltrain+FRA (Caltrain PLUS FRA — something only a moron would ever even consider for a microsecond) “needs” 2 tracks and HSR, in its splendid isolation from steam-era Caltrain Commuter Rail, also “needs” 2. 2+ 2 = 4 is larger than 3

    Your “the folks in Gardner” line is purest bullshit: when pork-seeking corrupt staff seek to justify the “need” to direct hundreds of millions of extra dollars to a “solution” (“iconic” or otherwise) that just so happens to land in their pockets, why, amazingly, there are all sorts of Legitimate Community Members Whose Concerns Must Be Addressed, but when it’s a matter of people elsewhere questioning the “need” to screw up their regional transit service forever or to object to massive over-construction (that ends up directly in PB and friends pockets) that is necessary neither for them nor for legitimate, realistic rail service … why then these people are (per Rafael and Robert and YesOnHSR etc) NIMBYs and BANANAs and OBSTRUCTIONISTs and DENIALISTs. Gardner=good, Palo Alto=bad.

    There is room for 3 tracks. Only 3 tracks are needed. End of story. Thanks for your interest.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Mixing UP and real trains at all should be off the table. Otherwise you end up with CBOSS. And much much worse to come.

    You do in California. People in other places in the US come up with different solutions.

    Clem Reply:

    Ok, hot shot. You tell us how you’re going to convince the folks in Gardner to accept even a third track through their district.

    Largely the same way that you would convince folks in Atherton to accept a third AND a fourth track through their district. So, you tell us how!

    Peter Reply:

    Neighborhoods are completely different.

    Atherton is rich, Gardner is relatively poor.

    Gardner is literally built around the line, with houses facing the line, parks abutting it, and a church built right up against it. In Atherton the houses all face away from the ROW.

    The ROW in Gardner has some serious constraints, Atherton does not.

    Gardner has a major problem with graffitti marring every vertical surface (including any concrete grade separation structures). Atherton definitely does not.

    Comparing the two is, well, like comparing Notre Dame with Fresno. Maybe not as extreme, but still, you get my point.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Neighborhoods are completely different
    Damned straight!

    Completely different!

    Not going through Atherton = tens of billions less for PB-Soprano.
    Not going through Gardner = hundreds of millions more for PB-Soprano.

    Night and day!

    By the way Peter, how come you never piped up when PB-Soprano bulldozed an entire low income neighbourhood in Millbrae in order to make room for a profitable-to-construct (but essentially unused and white elephantine and guess-who’s-holding-the-bag) BART parking lot? Maybe you were out there at the forefront of social justice argumentation and I’ve somehow forgotten your contributions to the good fight.

    Peter Reply:

    I didn’t live here yet, asshole.

    Spokker Reply:

    “Not going through Atherton = tens of billions less for PB-Soprano.
    Not going through Gardner = hundreds of millions more for PB-Soprano.”

    How is that?

    Peter Reply:

    Because Richard says so. And whatever Richard says is above question or reproach. Remember that for your future dealings with the King of, well, Everything Rail Design.

    Spokker Reply:

    I can see how Gardner may be considered the least costly alternative among several (I’m not that familiar with the proposed alignments through San Jose), but is Atherton the most costly of several alternatives?

    Either way, it doesn’t make much sense to compare them to each other.

    Spokker Reply:

    Gardner looks pretty fucked up though. Freeway cradles most of the neighborhood. I’m not sure how HSR would make that any worse than it is now. Christ.

    Peter Reply:

    I think the reasonable complaints that I heard there were the closure of the W. Virginia St. grade crossing would mean that many houses would only have one way in or out, the church would have to be moved or removed completely, they would lose park area, and the retained fill berms to transition to an aerial would be covered in graffitti (the graffitti is a big problem in that area, basically every available surface is covered, and the residents often have to use their own funds to paint over it).

    I would have preferred for cost-cutting reasons for it to go through Gardner, but the 280/87 alignment is an acceptable option (from my perspective).

    Peter Reply:

    It would definitely have made Gardner quieter. Lighter passenger trains, no more diesels except for freight, no grade crossing so no damn horns.

    rafael Reply:

    @ Clem –

    the Caltrain Firebird proposal calls for two – 2! – tracks through both Atherton and Gardner. It’s CHSRA that thinks HSR must have its own dedicated tracks absolutely everywhere, not me.

    Caelestor Reply:

    Are you the same person as Rafael (with a capital R)?

    rafael Reply:


    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    HSR shouldn’t share track with freight. In fact, HSR should operate the commuter trains on the peninsula when ready…. and having ability to use trains on either service pattern if so decided – having a single consistent platform height. And, Caltrain does not need to servive. It idea of consolidating agencies having similar/same missions is considered frequently and there is really no reason to not consider it here… unless the idea of retaining local control has a politicains panties all wadded up.

  18. Eric M
    Jun 30th, 2010 at 10:36

    I disagree with spending tons of money on this “iconic bridge”, but seriously, all the trains are going to stop in San Jose anyway, so they will not be flying around those turns currently proposed by the authority.

    rafael Reply:

    I agree, that’s why my preference would be for making better use of what’s already available, even if that means missing the 2h 40m LA-SF target by a minute or two. Letting express trains blast through San Jose at 125mph isn’t a requirement that’s based in real-world ridership patterns, but implicitly, it is in the law.

    Spokker Reply:

    The 2 hour and 40 minute requirement was the dumbest mistake they made. Even three hours is an improvement over current rail options.

    Peter Reply:

    Can you imagine all the roadblocks (railblocks?) in terms of slower areas that would have been thrown up if they had gone with 3 hours? They’re throwing up enough with the 2:40 max, already.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    The 2 hour and 40 minute requirement was the dumbest mistake they made.

    Oh no! Don’t throw Brer Rabbit into the briar patch!

    The sole purpose of this (and the 30 minute SF-SJ run-time similarly inserted by the project profiteers) was to exclude Altamont and guarantee that $10 billion of pork shower upon the “missing” Fremont-San Jose rail connection. Luckily, it just so happens that the same people who were responsible for that “dumb mistake” were not only doing the HSR alternatives analyses but amazingly enough also had drawn up and sponsored a different rail project south of Fremont.

    The numbers didn’t appear out of thin air!

    Anybody who objects to PB’s BART line thus is directly opposing THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE, who voted for exactly those transit times for HSR and who consequently will never under any circumstance accept any different rail project in the Fremont-San Jose corridor.

    The 2 hour and 40 minute requirement has succeeded in every way, from the perspective of those who chose it. So just how is it dumb?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Uh-oh. Shut up about Altamont already. Do you know how much money *that* would have funnelled to construction companies, what with building a new Dumbarton Crossing through a wildlife refuge (“unique challenges”…) and going through vociferous nests of NIMBYs along an all-UP alignment with multiple freeways to cross…. you’d have ended up with a $50 billion tunnel from the Central Valley all the way to the Peninsula, for the minor benefit of missing San Jose.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    ah but missing San Jose and the suburbs of San Jose that he lives in is a feature not a bug

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Richard, the EIS also said Altamont would take 2 minutes less than Pacheco (though now with UP’s intransigence, the more UP-dependent Altamont should take longer).

    There’s a good reason for the 2:40 LA-SF limit: without such a limit, it would be too easy to slap slow restrictions on the train everywhere – a curve here, a curve there, and soon you go over 3 hours. It’s the LA-SJ 2:12 limit that’s stupid.

    Dan S. Reply:

    Well, consider me fooled then. As a voter for Prop 1A, I thought it was a great idea to have that minimum speed requirement in there. It seemed like a reasonable amount of time for the trip to take for HSR, and I’ve always thought it would have a mitigating effect on the engineering decisions on placing the route, such that factors like local opposition and unnecessarily indirect routing would not affect too much the final length of the trip. If it was placed there with the intention of gaming the process, then IMHO bully to whoever crafted that scheme; perhaps it was successful. Doesn’t bother me though.

    I never wanted a “perfect” HSR system for California. I just wanted HSR.

    jimsf Reply:

    ^well that’s the most refreshing comment I’ve read in while. Of course it’s impossible for it to be perfect because perfect is in the eye of the beholder. For m as a traveling californian, access to more places is a more perfect outcome than highest speed or shortest travel time. For some the opposite may be true. For every person you please you will make another person unhappy, be they nimbys, foamers, armchair engineers or whomever. The fact is, you can only do so much. the project is subject to local democracy in action no matter who builds it or where its built or how its built. YOu can argue over shuffle problems around, but you still wind up with problems. Better to keep moving forward whenever and wherever you can if you want to ride the train sometime in this century.

  19. Peter
    Jun 30th, 2010 at 13:19

    Off-topic: The Authority is arguing that the trial court in the Atherton case can summarily deny the Petition for Writ of Coram Nobis without briefs and/or oral arguments. One of the elements that has to be argued in such a Petition appears to be there was extrinsic fraud. The Authority’s letter to the Court states that the Petition made no such argument, wherefore it can be summarily denied.

    We shall see how this proceeds.

    Peter Reply:

    Oh, and there appears to be an informal status conference scheduled for Friday on the procedure for handing the Petition.

    rafael Reply:

    I think you just lost half our audience with the legalese. “Coram nobis”? “Extrinsic fraud”? I’m not sure how many of our readers know what either of those are. Won’t matter, though, if the court sides with the Authority.

    Peter Reply:

    Sorry about that. I thought that bringing up those terms would be ok since we’ve already talked about them in the past.

    Most lawyers have never heard of Coram Nobis. It basically means that a party can request that a court reopen a case that has been closed for good. It requires, among other things, that the opposing party intentionally withheld information from the court or the other party, and that information would have definitively, or in all likelihood, changed the outcome of the case.

    Peter Reply:

    So it’s really high burden to prove, and the Authority is arguing that the Court can make the decision to deny the Petition without further ado.

  20. James M.
    Jul 1st, 2010 at 08:42

    Would a tunnel still be viable in this case? After looking at GOOGLE maps, the tracks would have to rise about 60 to 80 feet or so, but they would only have to go down about 30 (very rough estimates on my part). That would miss the fly-overs, and that might also spare some of the buildings.

    Thank you for your time,

  21. jimsf
    Jul 1st, 2010 at 09:57

    I think that signature san jose bridge, besides being unnecessary, is just ugly. Hasn’t cable stayed ben done to death already?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They have to do something ugly, after all they won’t be getting a station that looks like a sun bleached dinosaur skeleton.

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