Progress Made Along the Peninsula
Californians For High Speed Rail (CA4HSR) is encouraged by recent progress made along the Peninsula regarding the high-speed rail (HSR) project.
Progress in Relation to Caltrain
First, it appears that our concerns regarding the compatibility of the Caltrain electrification project with high speed rail, reflected in our recent letter to Caltrain staff, seems to be coming to a positive resolution. Caltrain staff and the California High Speed Rail Authority (Authority) are now working together with a new plan to obtain funds (which total more than $4.7 billion from a combination of Federal stimulus/ARRA funds, Federal 2010 HSR appropriations money, and matching funds from Proposition 1A and other sources) for the San Francisco to San Jose Section of the HSR system. That plan includes the following basic elements:
Phase 1A (which would amount to $3.312 billion – $1.656 billion from ARRA funds and a $1.656 billion Proposition 1A match):
- Modification of 4th and King Station to accommodate HSR service on two platforms.
- Electrification of existing Caltrain tunnels in San Francisco.
- Extension of the existing four-track section in Brisbane to the existing four-track section that runs through Redwood Junction.
- Completion of the remaining 39 grade separations projects between 4th and King and Redwood Junction. The plan assumes elevated track except for a one-track tunnel at Millbrae Station. If a trench is ultimately selected in portions of the corridor, a shorter distance of improvements would likely be pursued unless additional funds can be found.
- Positive Train Control system for the entire corridor (either CBOSS or ERTMS).
Phase 1B (which would amount to $1.43 billion – approximately $700M to $1.0 billion of this would come from a Federal grant base on the FY 2010 appropriations and the rest would come from Proposition 1A and other sources):
- Completion of the remaining 6 grade separation projects between in Adobe Creek in Mountain View and Fair Oaks Avenue in Sunnyvale.
- Expansion of existing two tracks to four tracks between Adobe Creek and Fair Oaks Avenue. Immediately south of Fair Oaks Avenue, the new four track section would tie in with the existing four track section, which runs to the Sunnyvale/Santa Clara border.
- Reconstruction of San Antonio, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale stations to accommodate four tracks.
- Expansion of the Millbrae Caltrain/BART station to include HSR.
- Partial construction of electrification along the entire San Francisco to San Jose section (i.e. two of the four tracks along the corridor will be electrified in this phase, while the other two would be done at a future time).
Addition work left for an unfunded Phase 2:
- Extension of track to the Transbay Transit Center.
- Construction of the HSR station at Diridon Station in San Jose.
- Completion of necessary track expansions and grade separations in Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto.
- Also likely required but not explicitly mentioned would be the completion of electrification of the other two tracks and the elevated viaduct between Santa Clara and Diridon Station.
The significance of this new plan is that electrification is now planned to take place after the expansion of the corridor to four tracks and all grade separations are completed except for one section between Redwood Junction and Mountain View (which would complete grades separations and track work as part of a Phase 2 build out of HSR when funds become available). Previously, Caltrain was attempting to obtain approximately one billion dollars for the CBOSS signaling system and two-track electrification system to be built before grade-separations and track work was completed. Elements of the new plan for electrification would still need to be relocated from Redwood Junction to Mountain View, but this is much better than having to rebuild the electrification system along the entire corridor. A caveat of the new plan is what the Authority means by only electrifying two tracks, rather than all the tracks in the new four-track sections. CA4HSR asks, would the two outside tracks be electrified for Caltrain or would it be for the center tracks for HSR (see below for a discussion of the track configuration)? Also, would the overhead contact system (OCS) just be added to, or would brand new OCS structures replace the two-track structures previously installed? CA4HSR will continue to request clarification on these issues.
CA4HSR is also encouraged by the consideration of implementing either CBOSS or ERTMS. However, more clarification is needed to confirm the intent of Caltrain and the Authority regarding the PTC system. For instance, Caltrain has been claiming that CBOSS is what they need to run their trains during construction. However, CA4HSR wonders the following: if the Authority chooses EMRTS as the ultimate PTC system, could that be employed on Caltrain trains during the construction period? This may require more coordination regarding the issue of freight, something not addressed in the new FRA application or the Supplemental Alternative Analysis Report. This new development could save up to a ¼ of a billion dollars, nothing to sneeze at. We strongly encourage Caltrain and the Authority to continue to increase coordination by resolving the issues related to freight that may create inefficiencies in the PTC signaling system and train operations due to differing platform heights.
Other positive news in relation to Caltrain is that, according to Caltrain, the San Bruno grade separation project, which is currently moving forward, will not require any Federal ARRA or Proposition 1A funds as was previously applied for by the Authority. All funds will come from non-high-speed rail funding sources. Further, the design will still accommodate two more tracks for HSR. CA4HSR understands that the design is not ideal due to the curve radius. However, given the project is moving forward, we are taking the position to identify other segments of the HSR system that will help make up for the lost speed in this section.
Overall, CA4HSR commends all parties in planning the corridor more holistically.
Progress in Relation to Interoperability and Grade Requirements
The Supplemental Alternatives Analysis (AA) Report, released on August 5, contains some significant changes in approach that address key concerns expressed by CA4HSR in our comment letter for the Preliminary AA Report regarding interoperability and grade requirements.
The Supplement AA Report now recommends focusing on a track configuration that is oriented to allow access to both local and express tracks more easily. The Preliminary AA Report contains alternative track arrangements that placed the two Caltrain tracks to east or west side of the two HSR tracks, making overtakes very difficult if not possible. It appears the Supplemental AA Report has eliminated these alternatives, thought it is not absolutely clear. The report also revises text that allows for both HSR and Caltrain trains to perform overtakes, something not planned for in the Preliminary AA Report. This is a significant development that CA4HSR strongly endorses. All in all, it appears that interoperability has been greatly improved.
The Supplemental AA Report indicates that the 1% maximum grade design criteria for HSR tracks has as been relaxed so as to allow for 2% grades in some sections. This should allow for shorter elevated and trench sections. CA4HSR sees this is an improvement. We encourage the Authority to consider expanding application of 2% grades or more where costs and impacts can be reduced.
Discussion of Track Configuration Changes in the Supplemental AA Report
In addition to the new focus on interoperability, the Supplemental AA Report does recommend a specific track configuration for the four-track corridor, with Caltrain utilizing the outside tracks and HSR trains utilizing the inside tracks (Caltrain—HSR—HSR—Caltrain or Slow—Fast—Fast—Slow as commonly referred to in the blogosphere). The rationale for this, according to the report, is to significantly reduce ROW requirements. By keeping Caltrain on the outside, the platforms at the Caltrain-only stations can be placed on the outside, allowing for a much narrower ROW between stations. Some rail advocates prefer having HSR tracks on the outside and Caltrain tracks in middle with center platforms at Caltrain stations, which provides some operational advantages, such as allowing Caltrain to cross over to use the opposite platform at their numerous stations. However, this configuration necessitates a wider ROW, which is very challenging when considering impacts on the Peninsula. CA4HSR currently does not have an official position on the configuration regarding the whether HSR tracks should be on the inside or outside. We will continue to study this issue for the time being. For more information on these track configuration issues and the surrounding debate, please refer to the Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog post titled “Peninsula (Northeast) Corridor.”
Changes Still Needed in the Supplemental AA Document
CA4HSR still wants to see a commitment to the following items in the Draft EIR/EIS:
- A strategy to resolve freight issues so consistent platform heights are achieved between Caltrain and HSR.
- Designing HSR/Caltrain stations on the Peninsula to allow for cross-platform transfers (like is done at MacArthur BART station).
- Consideration of an adaptive re-use/redesign of the Millbrae Station to save money over the proposed tunneled station.
Discussion of Vertical Alignment
Currently, CA4HSR has not taken a position on the vertical alignment profiles along the Peninsula. To date, we have been allowing the design process to unfold before jumping into the fray over what makes sense along the Peninsula. Building an improved and effective Peninsula Rail Corridor is an extremely complex undertaking, and we feel it needs a lot of study before a final determination should be made.
For sections of the corridor where at-grade is not feasible, we are open to both remaining options – elevated and uncovered trench – and believe both bring benefits to the communities while also enabling effective HSR service along a shared corridor with Caltrain that enables improvements to that service as well. Obviously, the details matter, and we will continue monitoring this issue and work to participate in facilitating a healthy and constructive dialogue between all stakeholders, as this process will remain contentious. However, with the significant narrowing of the ROW requirements for four tracks, we are encouraged that the impacts of either one of these alternatives will be significantly reduced.
It is too bad the Palo Alto Daily Post has come out strongly against both options, including a trench, which is something many people along the Peninsula have been willing to pursue. We continue to believe that the voice of high speed rail supporters in these communities has not been given full and equal weight by cities along the southern Peninsula, and strongly encourage elected officials to work to include views that represent the full range of opinions in their communities. We urge all stakeholders to view the new designs has progress towards coming to a common solution for all involved.
Update: The Authority Staff memo regarding the FRA application for the SF – SJ Section mentioned the following (page 12):
“Electrification of the alignment, dimensioned for Caltrain and HST whereby 2 tracks only will be electrified in this phase.”
This point has now been clarified by the Authority’s Dominic Spaethling in an e-mail to Elizabeth Alexis of CARRD. Apparently, electrification will cover all tracks between San Francisco to San Jose, including the four-track sections.
This is additional good news. It essentially means electrification will be totally completed except for the two-track segment that will remain in Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto.