CHSRA Considers At-Grade Tracks in Fresno

Mar 27th, 2011 | Posted by

Some potentially major news out of Fresno this weekend, as Tim Sheehan of the Fresno Bee reports that the California High Speed Rail Authority is considering abandoning the 60-foot high, 6 to 8 miles long viaduct for the HSR tracks and instead building at-grade:

Now, in a surprise to many observers, engineers are evaluating where tracks can be built at ground level instead as a way to save money.

The about-face by the California High-Speed Rail Authority comes amid rising concerns over the cost of the train system and fears about the noise and aesthetics of overhead tracks in communities. The new strategy, called “value engineering,” was publicly acknowledged this month by the rail authority’s CEO, Roelof van Ark.

I’m not sure why it’s a “surprise” necessarily, but this should help put to rest some of the claims by HSR critics and opponents that the Authority doesn’t listen well to locals or that it’s captive to the concrete-industrial complex. For about two years now the Fresno viaduct has been a big part of the plans for building HSR in the Valley. But the Authority is clearly paying attention to concerns raised by locals, as they have in many other parts of California. Fresno leaders worked with the Authority instead of threatening to sue or kill the project, and now they may get what they want:

Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is glad to see that ground-level tracks are back on the table.

“We’re positive about the approach [the authority] is taking,” said Swearengin, who has been supportive of high-speed rail — and the economic spark she says it could provide for the city. “The city is strong in its push for design alternatives that work for the city and its residents.”

It puts the lie to the disingenuous arguments we keep hearing from HSR opponents in places like the Peninsula, who claim that their anti-rail resolutions and lawsuits are their only option for advocating their preferred design.

So what exactly is the Authority considering?

“What we’re looking at now on those three elevated options is where we can make them at-grade,” said Rachel Wall, press secretary for the high-speed rail authority. “We’re looking at design solutions to reduce the cost without diminishing performance.”

That’s not the clearest explanation, and this would almost certainly involve closing some roads and building overpasses over others. But the cost could be significantly cheaper than the proposed viaduct.

The details matter, not just to the Authority and to Fresno but to the rest of the state, who expect a fast bullet train to be built affordably. An at-grade solution could be workable, but it will require a secure corridor that enables trains to travel at the necessary speeds, not slowed by surrounding conditions.

This should be a cheaper option, and it would follow the existing corridor. There are some nearby uses to consider, including a park, and some neighbors whose attitudes toward the project are, well, strange:

Two doors down, Jim Keller bought his home in 2007. If the rail authority opts to build its tracks on the east side of the Union Pacific line, Keller fears that officials won’t be willing to make up for what he invested near the height of the housing bubble or the improvements he’s made to the home since.

Keller has absolutely no right to expect that the Authority – or any government agency – will make up that lost investment. It’s nobody’s fault but his own that he bought at the height of a bubble. A lot of Californians falsely believed during the bubble that housing prices would always rise, but real estate is a financial asset whose value can rise or fall at any time. It is totally unreasonable for ANY homeowner to expect government to make them whole. Government agencies are mandated to pay only fair market value, which is reasonable. If that means someone like Keller sells at a loss, well, that’s nobody’s fault but his own.

We’ll await the details of the Authority’s new ideas on tracks through Fresno. It sounds like something worth exploring. And the search for cost efficiencies is welcome – as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of the service itself. Because then it’s not efficient at all, and would cost more money in the long-term than it saves.

  1. Eric M
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 15:36

    Wonder how they will deal with the UP wye just north of 180 and east of 99?

    Peter Reply:

    Well, if they’re building east of UP, wouldn’t that avoid the wye?

    Eric M Reply:

    It would, but it looks a though the west side would be the best choice all the way through Fresno. A lot of rail yards and sidings on the east side. A hybrid may work, but then the elevated rail comes into play again, crossing back and forth the UP ROW.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Nothing in the quoted text says no elevated sections:
    “What we’re looking at now on those three elevated options is where we can make them at-grade.”

  2. political_incorrectness
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 15:48

    Finally, now can we do the same for a good chunk of the ariel alignments in the CV plus the underground unecessary tunnel at Milbrae?

    Peter Reply:

    I have the feeling that with van Ark now running the show, a lot of value engineering in a LOT of locations will be taking place. We’ve already seen it on SF-SJ when they decided to see what the ridership for SF-Bakersfield would be if they didn’t quad-track SF-SJ just yet.

    Clem Reply:

    They haven’t even begun to “value-engineer” the peninsula. They just kicked that can down the road until they have some money, which they currently don’t–at least, nowhere near enough.

    morris brown Reply:

    Clem is absolutely right.

    Where did anyone see or hear vanArk say that they would entertain running HSR on the Peninsula in anything but their own dedicated tacks.

    It is only Mark Simon, speaking for CalTrain that is sending out that nonsense.

    My guess is that the new talk about eliminating some aerials, is just another PR move, trying to diffuse the very strong opposition to the project that is no openly evident in the Central Valley.

    Peter Reply:

    No, that’s not true. If you look at the Progress Reports that CARRD dragged out of the Authority’s cold, dead, hands, you’ll see reference to them looking at ridership studies for SF-SJ without quad tracking.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Valued engineer for you Brown… is to put a billion-dollar tunnel outside of your front door… the one that you legally and financially and morally bought knowing that the railroad was in front of it… so whose fault is that?.. NO old bitch we are not going to $1 billion upgrade your property to have a park in front of your home…

    Nadia Reply:

    @Peter – The newest docs we have on ridership show that the new ridership studies wouldn’t be ready for 2 yrs – so they will have no real effect on the engineering as far as we can see – especially since they are just tweaking the model (which was based on flawed data).

    Van Ark sent Palo Alto a letter where he makes it clear that the EIR will study the full 4 track solution because they must reflect the plans for 2030 and they believe that number to be accurate.

    @YesonHSR – I understand this is an emotional issue for you, but the name calling has to stop. Calling Morris (or anyone) an “old bitch” is out of line.

  3. joe
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 16:17

    Fresno’s discussion is similar to the one Gilroy is having about station location – maybe a bit reversed.

    Fresno is considering switching to at grade tracks. Gilroy saw the at grade alignment for a downtown station and did not like the overpasses. The City is studying the options in depth, downtown or edge of town.

    Opponents are going to play on unknowns such as “fears about the noise and aesthetics of overhead tracks in communities.”

    Nadia Reply:

    technically, out of town – it is in Santa Clara County land – not Gilroy city limits.

    At a recent meeting, the Authority said if the station is downtown, the trains that don’t stop will go through at 185 – an in the E101 station – they’ll go through at 220

    Either way – noise will be a factor at those speeds no matter what you do

    VBobier Reply:

    Only if You’re nearer than 10′-15′, Remember HSR is electric and electricity has no noise, plus the wheels make very little noise that’s hearable, Unless You have ears like a bat. HSR uses welded ribbon rail and does not use loud slow diesel-electric(Freight) or Here(Passenger, Sounds rather healthy) or steam(Just cause I like steam) engines, Here’s the Spanish HSR AVE S-102 / S-103 made by Siemens on YouTube, So HSR is not all that noisy and I played It back at max volume too, Oh and My speakers are amplified, Not passive junk. You want noisy, You got It.

    VBobier Reply:

    Oopsie the 2nd is freight and not too loud, the 3rd is steam-passenger and loud, You’ve been warned. The one marked Spanish is HSR.

    joe Reply:

    Noise is not a factor, it’s a scare tactic.

    Clem Reply:

    Spoken like someone who’s never heard a high-speed train at full speed from the outside. Noise is very, very much a factor. Noise neophytes might enjoy a little primer on the subject.

    185 mph, let alone 220 mph, is not practiced through downtown areas anywhere in the world, for reasons that ought to become obvious to anyone who studies and understands the subject. I doubt Gilroy would want to be the first.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Seriously, it depends how close you are. Yes, really close you would certainly want some kind of noise protection.

    But it’s far, far quieter than the squealing, tunnel-amplified New York City Subway, for instance. As you know well.

    At some point you have to decide whether a little noise is worth it for other benefits (like a decent location). Some thought should be put to locating the express tracks in such a way that their noise is directed somewhere other than to nearby residents (and people waiting at stations). There are probably a couple of different ways to do it, ranging from putting the express tracks in an artificial tunnel or box, to putting them overhead with sound walls pointing the noise upwards.

  4. James Fujita
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 16:18

    There are some major streets in Fresno which will still have to go either above or below the tracks.

    But if they can SAFELY bring HSR down to ground level, I’m all for it.

  5. Dennis Lytton
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 16:18

    Keeping the train on the ground as much as possible and having other infrustructure go under or over it is better for the train anyways – HSR then gets the most straight/level shot. I also think that the line:

    ” . . . the new strategy, called “value engineering,” was publicly acknowledged this month by the rail authority’s CEO, Roelof van Ark.”

    is a very good sign. It’s reflective of the abandonment of the gold plated corridor from LA to Anaheim and comments last week in LA at RailPac/NARP expressing a desire to get into the LA basin via the conventional ROW as an interim.

  6. Eric L
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 16:54

    Would this restrict the speed and frequency of trains not stopping at Fresno? Have they considered building two corridors, a high speed corridor outside of Fresno wherever it can be built most cheaply and a local corridor that branches off to go into Fresno built as cheaply as possible with at-grade crossings?

    VBobier Reply:

    I don’t think grade crossings and HSR will work together, Build bridges or Under passes, These will be and are safer, The grade level trackage will save money and make the money that is available go that much farther down the track.

    synonymouse Reply:

    A second high speed corridor outside of Fresno would be I-5; in the Fresno proper area it would have to be one of the existing alternatives.

    As to the Peninsula the towns should hold their nose and approach BART, which has killed the TBT extension before. BART sucks but Caltrain appears incapable of standing up to or dealing with PB.

    One thing is for sure, and all the hsr foamers had better come to grips with this, there is way too much money in PAMPA for PB to eff with them. Hillsborough was one the CNBC list of the 17 places rich people were moving to, no condos or apartments permitted and median price over $2mil.

    John Burrows Reply:

    For sure Hillsborough is a place where real estate is pricey, but they will not be touched by the high speed rail route. Did something happen in Hillsborough that I missed? And how does Hillsborough relate to PAMPA?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    He’s dead sure that rich people all over the country oppose electric trains. Like the ones in Scarsdale or Greenwich…. well maybe those aren’t good examples. Short Hills! no, that was a community planned around the train station. How about the ones along “Old Maids Never Wed And Have Babies” ya know Overbrook, Merion, Narberth, Wynnewood, Ardmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr, the ones along the Main Line…oh never mind…

    synonymouse Reply:

    The rich of greater PAMPA will stand together against blight, aka aerials. In the end I believe they will go with BART Ring the Bay, which can do a two-track subway in the richer and trendier sections.

    BART is the diabolical corrupter – it can actually finesse the 3 crones and a drone who control the patronage machine. The TBT basement will simply have to go empty for a while. Maybe Muni can se it. In an era of dwindling subsidies BART will emerge on top, as it is the uncontested master of scoring funding.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The Italians do that “express around, local through” approach a lot (of course, not with level crossings), and it seems to substantially increase the cost of their corridors versus the Spanish or French. Its the opposite of value engineering ~ its political “try to be all things to all people” engineering.

    And Fresno is going to be on the majority of the services, so the extra time added by slowing down to 110mph before entering that section would be experienced by the majority of trains through the CV.

    Joey Reply:

    What the italians do amounts to building a few interconnections with existing lines coming in and out of cities (though with some upgrades occasionally). It has to be more than that. How do Italian costs compare when you factor out Florence-Bologna, which is almost exclusively tunnel?

    It’s worth noting that in CA there is no existing infrastructure on which to run trains into city centers. That’s not to say that I’m opposed to the idea though.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    the track may be lousy but there’s existing ROW everyplace except in downtown San Francisco.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Milan-Bologna cost €6.9 billion for 215 km. That’s $40 million per km, on a line that has only 3 km of tunnel and 32 km of viaduct.

    The Italians don’t even have the “Everything is expensive here” excuse of the UK and the US; in general, Italy is not a country of very high construction costs. The Messina Bridge budget is pretty bad by Scandinavian standards, but the subways in Milan and Naples are the cheapest in Europe outside Spain, and the Bologna-Florence HSR segment is reasonably priced for being almost entirely in tunnel.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    In the US context, it would have to be dedicated passenger rail with whatever time separation is required by the FRA over a PTC segment ~ I could see it in Gilroy, which is a much smaller urban center to get around and which will have a substantially smaller share of services stopping, which would mean the main HSR corridor would not run through town and so the bypass circular radius could be substantially tighter.

    But unless the bypass is funded from a separate pool of money (as a complementary conventional rail corridor), it still seems like it would inflate the CAHSR budget.

    Eric L Reply:

    I was assuming “at-grade” meant there would be at-grade crossings but it looks like that is not the case, so ignore my concerns.

    I’d think they would want to put it in a trench anyway just for noise mitigation, though.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    A sidewall the height of the trucks and clear panels to extend the height of the trains would be a lot cheaper noise mitigation than a trench ~ remember, the trench has to be wider than an overpass, and that width costs money in any event, with a premium if any of that property is not already in public hands.

    VBobier Reply:

    And people are used to Sound Walls, So this should help & I’d think cut costs, Plus be more robust when It comes to quakes than a pylon would, I’ve seen enough of those fail, Their something that should only be used when absolutely necessary, One less thing to maintain being at grade, autos/trucks can go over or under as they do at freeways or down at 223rd street in Carson CA over a rail yard, If that means a few properties are needed here and there for over/under passes, It’s sill less than a trench and I think their reason for the pylons was to keep the eminent domain or buying of property to a minimum, among other reasons which have changed. In sensitive areas, Like a wildlife preserve/habitat pylons are a necessary thing, elsewhere It may depend on what the alternatives cost, If some other way is cheaper then one would go with what’s less expensive and keeping costs down will stretch the money and maybe even the tracks into or nearer to Bakersfield.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Also if they were designing for the lighter weight HSR when first working it out, then just tacked on ability to hold up the 33ton/axle load locomotives that haul the San Jaoquin in response to the “independent utility”, its easy in that kind of incremental design process to paint yourself in a corner ~ the incremental cost for beefing up the long viaduct for heavy equipment is itself enough reason to look very hard at keeping the corridor on or near the ground wherever practicable.

  7. ant6n
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 20:16

    This could cut communities in half – instead of a complete street grid, you’d have few overpasses, far in between.
    Why can’t they run it just below grade. If they build it in a trench between 2 and 4 m deep, it would probably make it much easier to build overpasses, and keep the tracks safe.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    … the railroad and highway already there don’t exactly facilitate a rich fabric of connectivity.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Its not saying dogmatically run at grade and every existing level crossing is cut ~ its saying looking at the strategy of trying to avoid working at the engineering by just having a big long trench and going back and actually working at the engineering.

    There are options at every intersection. The option selected at one intersection may limit the available neighboring option. You put it together you get a package of alternatives ~ rail at grade over road, rail at grade under road, split grade rail diving under road, split grade road diving under rail, elevated rail over road at grade.

    Cost them, prefer the capital efficient approach that gets the job done, present the alternatives within a reasonable leeway if there is a strong community preference, and for options outside that leeway, present the option and the price tag if the community prefers that one.

    Trenches have a wider footprint, which can mean more property taking, and of course can interfere with drainage creeks. But sometimes if it makes sense to do two or more split grade crossing with rail under road, it may make sense to do that as a single trench rather than as a series of dives.

    Winston Reply:

    HSR won’t cut communities in half any more than the existing freeway and railroad tracks that HSR would run adjacent to already do. Digging a trench is much more expensive than an aerial structure and extremely silly where you already have fairly few crossings.

    VBobier Reply:

    I doubt It will always be that way, Down on 223rd street & S. Alameda St or E. Carson St & S. Alameda St in Carson CA there is an overpass that goes over a rail yard, Both streets used to be an at grade crossing, You had to keep an eye on the tracks in both directions all the time as there were at least 6 tracks to cross and SP(So Pathetic) did switching there, Now It’s a UP(Utterly Pathetic) Yard.

    Jeff Carter Reply:

    Please explain how existing railroad tracks, which have been there for over 150 years, which is off limits to the public, fenced off in many places, with limited cross streets, does NOT already, separate the community? How is it any different if two additional at grade HSR tracks are added?

    Can anyone answer this question?

    Morris, Nadia, Elizabeth?

    Does not the busy, noisy, El Camino present a similar ‘separation’ of the community?

    The same question applies to the central valley in regards to the railroads and freeways.

    VBobier Reply:

    I’d love to know this too…

  8. Alex M.
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 21:08

    Well, if it’s cheaper and still lets the trains go through at 220 mph, they should do it.

  9. Ken
    Mar 27th, 2011 at 21:23

    The interstate and our highways already have overpasses and underpasses. I don’t understand the big deal about this.

    joe Reply:

    Location, location, location.

    In my town the at grade station would force over passes in city center.

  10. Joseph E
    Mar 28th, 2011 at 01:56

    Downtown Fresno only has 5 at-grade crossings of the UP rail line. 3 major streets are already grade separated (2 elevated, one under the rail line). Since the streets can tolerate 6% grades and the 5 remaining streets are not very big, it should be cheaper and better to elevated or trench the streets, and leave the HSR tracks at-grade.

    I’m glad Van Ark is having the engineers reconsider this. Perhaps he will fix the stations at Millbrae and San Jose, and even the tunnel and station in San Francisco, with the excuse of “value engineering”.

    Despite the at-grade option being cheaper, it will actually be better for everyone (including train riders) compared the planned mega-station with mezzanines.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Or do separate split grade crossings for some/all of the five. Given the difference in vertical clearances, split grade tends toward the road diving under and the rail climbing over. Doing that with an infill embankment and an overpass over the road also makes for a much smaller incremental cost for the independent utility.

    VBobier Reply:

    To get higher speeds the track should be kept as level as possible, So going up just to avoid a road, Even by a little bit should be avoided. Let the roads go over or under as needed, the grade for the tracks takes precedent over the roads I’d think.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Higher speeds than what? A train running, say, 220mph has a lot of momentum, and a 1% or 1.5% slope for, say, 1000 feet is not daunting task for an HSR train.

    The way that split grade would normally be designed is to determine how much rise or dive the road can accomplish given constraints, and work from there. If it has plenty of clearance to the first intersection on each side to dive all the way under, no dramas. But even if it doesn’t, if it can dive 10ft to 15ft, that’s often enough for a split grade crossing to work out fine.

    Clem Reply:

    It’s all a matter of vertical radius. Get educated on the subject in the CHSRA’s very own Technical Memo 2.1.2

    Nathanael Reply:

    If the road can safely dive 15 feet — well, seriously, how many 15-foot-tall cars have you seen? As long as there are a few truck underpasses, it would seem perfectly acceptable to have other limited-clearance underpasses.

    The rails can be raised one or two feet anywhere at all before really being considered “raised” (in other words, it doesn’t increase the width of the right of way or require significant engineering), though this will probably not get you much additional clearance.

    Joey Reply:

    You have to account for the width of the structure and the rails as well.

    Clem Reply:

    As level as possible.

  11. Risenmessiah
    Mar 28th, 2011 at 07:03

    Simply put, this is about shifting cost to the city. The Authority was going to have to pay top dollar for the viaducts, but if it builds at ground level, then the city and county are on the hook for the overpasses and underpasses. This also makes it look like the Authority is playing nice with locals, because the city will still hold some sway how these changes are implemented.

    Of course it also means those looking for the Logan’s Run station is are out of luck. I’d prefer a subterranean number that looks like a wine cellar, buttressed by a mezzanine of trellises and leaves… but that’s another blog post.

    Jack Reply:

    There is no evidence that CHSRA wouldn’t be paying to separate the crossings.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    The 2009 Business Plan for CHSRA includes 4 to 5 billion in local grants for construction. This would be a really clever way to make that happen. Fresno uses its own funds to do grade separations, leaving the Authority to concentrate on building the track.

  12. MGimbel
    Mar 28th, 2011 at 07:12

    The Authority will be asking for $1.2 billion of the rejected Florida money:

    Brandi Reply:

    I’m surprised they wouldn’t go for more. I mean first rule in negotiations is you ask for the whole enchilada so you can get part of it. Also surprised they are going for Merced first as opposed more towards LA or SJ.

    dave Reply:

    Maybe they can stick “Value Engineering” in their later and build Altamont first.

    VBobier Reply:

    Altamont is a dead issue, Get over It and move on.

    dave Reply:


    tony d. Reply:


    Alex M. Reply:

    Prepare to be disappointed.

    Alan F Reply:

    It will be difficult for CA to get the $1.2 billion, let alone more. If they can extend the corridor to Merced for the $1.2 billion, that gives them a good case because it establishes a baseline corridor. Question is how much more is needed for electrification and purchasing a starter set of HSR trains? They will need to do extensive testing and training of the HSR trains & service. Merced to Bakersfield with a heavy maintenance yard Will allow for that.

    The southern extension from Bakersfield to Palmdale, although critical, is going to be expensive. Is there a reliable ballpark figure on what that section will cost to build?

    The news is starting to trickle in on what the other states will be asking for. MA will be asking for $110 million to replace the Haverhill bridge which the Downeaster from Boston to Portland, Maine and the MBTA commuter train use. Bit of a stretch, but it is probably what MA had the studies ready for while the Inland corridor planning for Springfield MA to Boston is still in a very early stage. That Maine has 2 moderate Republican Senator (perhaps the last 2 moderate Republican Senators left standing) does not hurt.

    The number of worthy applications for the $2.4 billion will greatly exceed the amount available. CA HSR should not expect to get most of it.

    Jack Reply:

    Have to read into the politics. They have a greater chance of getting to the wye with the backing of the Merced group (castle’s folk), as well as a SOP to them to make them feel better about being placed on the back burner. The current design priorities still place them in last position on any HMF options.

    I also wonder if this means the authority is leaning more towards Bako to SF first and tackling the huge engineering challenges of the LA connection for last?

    Clem Reply:

    Politically it is impossible for them to build north of Chowchilla without first building west to Los Banos. Doing so would open an opportunity for service to begin via Altamont rather than Pacheco, something we know they are dead-set against.

    VBobier Reply:

    Altamont is not happening, Nor will It, It’s Pacheco and nowhere else.

    Joey Reply:

    Shame – it could’ve saved billions of dollars in the long run.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In the long run, Diridon and Kopp are dead.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But their edifice complex lives on – as in BART to SFO via the wrong side of the mountain.

    Spokker Reply:

    There is… another….

    There… is…


    VBobier Reply:

    Yer forgetting It would require tunneling under the bay or a bridge, Neither are cheap to build.

    Joey Reply:

    The CHSRA’s own cost estimates, which included SJ and SF termini and a new high bridge, pegged Altamont at only $400m more than Pacheco.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It did also warn that the new high bridge might be unconstructable due to the contraints of working inside a National Wildlife Refuge. :-P

    Joey Reply:

    Clem had a point though that the geology below the dumbarton corridor is well known thanks to recent tunneling there, meaning that tunneling would be much less unpredictable (read: less expensive) than it would be normally. Besides, it’s not like Pacheco doesn’t have its own bizarre cost increases (e.g. “signature” bridge in SJ).

    Clem Reply:

    I always get a chuckle out of comments like this.

    dave Reply:

    Well it seems things are changing rapidly, so don’t celebrate victory for Pacheco until its being constructed.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yet building north of the Wye without building west is Option 1, and building west is option 2B.

    datacruncher Reply:

    The Merced newspaper article says “The staff will make its recommendation to the authority’s board Wednesday. “With the extra money we think we can do one of two things,” Barker (Jeff Barker, deputy director of the rail authority) said: Extend the track to south of Bakersfield to at least Tehachapi or build the track 39 miles beyond the triangle at Chowchilla toward Los Banos and San Jose.”

    We won’t know until Wednesday what the Board votes to do, start toward Tehachapi and Southern California or head further north.

    Wad Reply:

    Would these improve San Joaquin times in the interim, and how?

    thatbruce Reply:

    Neither of these options (extend south of Bakersfield or west of Chowchilla) are along routes that the San Joaquin takes. Any improvements to the San Joaquin running times would be from operation over the CV track already funded, should that eventuality come to pass.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    So there won’t be an option to link to the BNSF track further north of they complete the Wye?

    Or does that rather depend on which Wye option is selected?

    thatbruce Reply:

    I don’t know for sure, but I would assume that any track segment which is funded under the independent utility clause would include connections to existing trackage (to be removed once said segment is part of the larger CAHSR routing).

    J. Wong Reply:

    Actually, I think that all it includes is funds held in reserve to be used to connect if the system isn’t built. So they won’t connect unless in the end it’s clear that the system isn’t going to be built.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    As reported below, Option 1 builds the Wye and then continues to Merced, with the other side including a Bakersfield station, which would indeed improve San Joaquin times in the interim.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Where do we write to tell them to head for Tehachapi? (Not that I expect them to actually get enough money to go beyond Merced-Bakersfield, but just in case.) That would leave one major tunnel before the easy run to Palmdale, and an all-rail route from LA to Bakersfield.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If they’re not building a station in Los Banos, what’s the point of extending track there if they can’t get to Gilroy?

    Nathanael Reply:

    I suppose they’re not going for more because they don’t think they can finish the LA-Bakersfield tunnel design in time.

  13. J. Wong
    Mar 28th, 2011 at 07:23

    I think the primary driver here is cost not community input. The Authority has a fixed allocation for the CV segment and must come in under budget if the rest of the system is to be built. This gives lie to the claim that the Authority is controlled by those (cough, cough, “mouse”) only interested in profit by “gold-plating” the system.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Or it could mean they are interested in actual profit rather than hypothetical profit, and if they have to back down to silverplating to make sure the project gets built, they are willing to do that.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “actual profit” – what a laff. Can’t wait to see what kind of spin a private entrepreneur like Richard Branson puts on that preposterous notion. Wonder if he will call for driverless and how the house unions will respond to such anti-featherbedding presumptions.

    Jack Reply:


    Every other HSR makes an operating profit, why won’t ours?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    No other country builds a $1 billion one stop third rail wide gauge subway technology line to the site of an unused automobile factory.

    Why would HSR — “designed” and “studied” by the exact same people working for the exact same companies and fronted by the exact same politicals — be any different?

    Same house, same fraud, same outcome.

    Oh yeah, and it was the exact same people working for the exact same companies that “predicted” that their BART extension to Millbrae would return a profit. They did net $2 billion of our public money, though, so those “profit” “predictions” are sure good for something. Same house, same call.

    So yes, there are several tens of billions of reasons why things might be different here, “laugh*” notwithstanding.

    synonymouse Reply:

    RM is sadly right on target.

    There is definitely a need for passenger rail in California and it can be done with a subsidy level that is acceptable. But it will require much more thoughtful planning than we have seen so far. I wish we could trust the experts but that has not proven to be wise.

    Killing the Caltrain TBT tunnel in favor of BART to SFO is indeed the smoking gun that the “men in black” have to be closely monitored all the time. BART’s current hire and then fire general manager scandal is another reminder that the hsr will require a much more effective management model to achieve a modicum of functionality.

    If Branson’s people are content with the Detour then I would have to say the private model is not much better. If PB really is committed to value engineering they need to cost out the Quantm alternative and hold back their not invented here instincts. It has the potential on paper of being both cheaper to construct and operate than the Detour. You can still serve your damn Palmdale and it accommodates both the 99 and I-5 corridors in the San Joaquin Valley. I certainly hope they don’t start shoveling toward Tehachapi before any “private investors” do a perfunctory in-depth analysis.

    Jack Reply:

    It’s a detour to pass by over 5 millions potential riders?

    VBobier Reply:

    Which would be a seriously dumb idea, But some like Synonymouse, Morris Brown and Richard Mlynarik would rather avoid the towns along SR99 & just take more farmland along the I5 to set farmers even more against HSR, HSR should go through as little farmland as possible, In as straight a line as possible, Not go through as much farmland as possible.

    thatbruce Reply:

    @VBobier: I don’t think the proponents of ‘HSR along I-5’ are talking about anything except putting HSR down the median of I-5, in order to take advantage of the overpasses already built and the land ownership already being in the hands of the state.

    As you’ve pointed out, the I-5 through CV corridor fails the critical test of ridership and is likely to encourage urban sprawl on the west coast of the CV, making it unsuitable for a passenger rail operation.

    Joey Reply:

    To my knowledge, Richard has never advocated anything resembling an I-5 alignment through the central valley. He has stated that running at 350km/h through Central Valley downtowns is not viable, but his solution is to either have greenfield stations just outside of the cities in question or build station loops for stopping trains only. Please try to avoid grouping the angry but rational critics with the angry and irrational critics or CAHSR.

    Caelestor Reply:

    Also, keep in mind that RM highly supports the Palmdale route.

    Jack Reply:

    Last I checked BART wasn’t building HSR.

    VBobier Reply:

    Correct and Agreed, BART is 5′ 6″, The track gauge for HSR is 4′ 8.5″ which is Standard Gauge and no wider or narrower.

    VBobier Reply:

    The track gauge for BART tracks currently is 5′ 6″.

    J. Wong Reply:

    They’re referring to Parsons & Brinckerhoff, the engineering firm, who they claim is behind both BART and CAHSR in _all_ the decisions made by those two organizations.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Tejon accesses both the I-5 and 99 corridors quite nicely. Simply ask yourself the question where does 99 go south from Bakersfield. The I-5 racetrack would be entirely express – no stops, no sprawl. And the Quantm alignment incorporates your precious Palmdale.

    For a private operator to even think of breaking even hsr platform personnel would have to be making airline non-pilot wages. Otherwise welcome hsr to BART: politicized, squabbling board of directors, million dollar baby gm’s, and excessive compensation packages all around.

    Seismic risks at Tejon are trivial by comparison to the risk of half-empty trains over the Detour – 50 fixed miles of extra expense.

    VBobier Reply:

    And no passenger stops, stations or what not, It would only encourage what You decry the
    most, Developers wanting to build tracts along the I5 creating whole new towns, Decreasing farm land that Farmers, their employees and others need to make a living with and that puts food on California’s tables. Tejon is out no matter how many times You wish It Syno, There isn’t a chance of HSR going up through that pass and no matter how much You rant and rave It ain’t happening, It’s better to go around, As It’s more energy efficient than Tejon ever will be as It’s simple Physics, A long gradual grade takes less energy than a short steep grade any day, Deny that.

    J. Wong Reply:

    @Mouse, I think you’re confused about what airline pilots actually make. BART operators are no where near what a pilot is making. Which begs the question of whether HSR would really be operated by a BART-like system.

    Also, you tend to always assume a strict dichotomy. You’re assuming that everyone (or at least a significant majority) flying between the Bay Area and the LA region (which isn’t just SFO-LAX) won’t tolerate going through Palmdale, but you’re wrong about that. Anyone who chooses the train already isn’t factoring absolute performance into their choice. They’re choosing for other reasons (cost, convenience, comfort) and won’t really care if the route is through Palmdale.

    Andrew Reply:

    Richard – it’s the same reason as all other projects happen. Lack of political will. The consultants will design anything that you tell them to design. The political gods want BART to San Jose. They don’t care about maximizing ridership or in making smart station planning choices. And the consultants don’t want to make political trouble, so they recommend what’s most convenient politically, not what maximizes ridership.

    For projects to be a success, you need someone that cares about outcomes for potential passengers and knows how actual systems operate. They can then direct the consultants to produce useful designs. At least that’s how it generally works in Europe. Same consultant firms, much better outcomes. Reason? Transit projects aren’t political vanity projects (usually).

    joe Reply:

    The same political gods built highways to San Jose.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Andrew has hit the nail on the head. The consultants are not necessarily good or bad — they do what they’re told. They have a strong aversion, generally, to alienating people, so if “BART to SFO” is popular and the politicians want it, they will give them BART to SFO — their money is in giving their employers what they ask for.

    This is why it is a bad idea to get politicians who are asking for really stupid things.

    I can honestly say that the Tejon route was ruled out on strictly engineering grounds. On the other hand, look at the succession of different designs for the route from the San Fernando Valley to Palmdale. They keep being changed — for the worse — in order to appease powerful NIMBYs — particularly Disney. This is *standard*. The fact that the Peninsula NIMBYs are acting grotesquely unreasonable is the only reason they haven’t gotten major, undesirable alterations in the project. Likewise, the fact that Hanford has rejected EVERYTHING is the only reason it hasn’t gotten major, arbitrary, undesirable alterations to the project.

    Fresno’s being cooperative and giving *useful* political pressure, and the stretch through Fresno is likely to be the best-designed stretch on the entire route.

    Alex M. Reply:

    Once again, is money all you care about? Public transit projects are not about money. They are not about profits. And they should not be expected to be as long as massive subsidies are required for our freeways.

    Saying the BART Warm springs extension goes to an unused auto plant is a lie that you use to make it sound bad. It goes to the warm springs area of Fremont, which has a lot of people and could definitely use a BART station. It costs $1 billion because it’s broad gauge, and everything has to be custom made. They decided on broad gauge in the 60s and there’s not really anything they can do about it now. Is that reason enough to never ever expand BART? I don’t think so, because public transit is not about money.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Warm Springs could have better service with conventional commuter rail. Billion dollars buys a lot of conventional commuter rail.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Just for reference, NJTransit is restoring service to Andover for just over 5 million a mile. NJTransit, not exactly the world’s most competent or lost cost agency.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …lowest cost… The extension to Andover is part of a larger project to restore service to Scranton PA. 81 miles with some existing track. Estimate to do that in 2006 was 550 million, with an M. OR just over half a billion. So California gets a mile of BART for what NJTransit would expect to pay for 162 miles of commuter grade railroad. Or they could extend service to Binghamton NY for the same price as the BART extension. Hmmm.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sure, but BART doesn’t have unused railroad corridors that it owns.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Wrong. (Well, wrong but for pedantry.)

    Alex M. Reply:

    RM: [Citation Needed]

    Jeff Carter Reply:

    Alex M: “Is that reason enough to never ever expand BART? I don’t think so, because public transit is not about money.”

    Meanwhile, Caltrain, MUNI, AC Transit, VTA, Samtrans, etc. are slashing service and raising fares. In the case of Samtrans/Caltrain it is largely due to BART to SFO/Millbrae debt!!

    Caltrain is proposing draconian service cuts that will lead to the eventual death of Caltrain…

    Yeah right public transit is not about money….. Nonsense!!!

    BART should focus on running/maintaining the core BART system rather than building unnecessary extensions that suck astronomical amounts of money away from other transit projects and operations. BART is going to need a few billion to replace their aging fleet of railcars.

    The BART empire building should be stopped now and we must focus on expanding/improving conventional transit and rail systems, Caltrain/ACE Train.

    Nathanael Reply:

    It would probably be worth the money to regauge BART to standard gauge. Although Indian broad gauge isn’t exactly unheard of; perhaps BART could piggyback on some Indian metro orders. Apparently Indian metros are being forced to buy broad gauge by the Indian government even though they would rather buy the cheaper standard gauge. (Sigh.)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    We’ve been through this before. The Indian loading gauge is exceptionally large, whereas BART’s is very tight. The Kolkata metro is compatible with BART, but the Mumbai rail network is built to mainline standards, the Chennai mass rapid transit system runs mainline trains, and the Delhi Metro’s broad gauge lines may have too wide a loading gauge (3.2 meters, same as American mainline trains) for easy modification to BART standards.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Reading is fundamental. The comment I made was not referring to a profit by the operation of the system.

    The system will of course make an operating surplus, and given the massive subsidies given to auto transport, will of course not make a profit on all operating and capital costs behind. Whether or not an “operating profit” exists depends on business model, so its premature to discuss the notion.

    Labor costs per mile for drivers get very low when you start getting transit speeds above 100mph, so the notion that the expense of drivers will sink the CAHSR when even the Amtrak Acela generates an operating surplus is another laughable synthomouse notion.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    HSR is not labor-intensive, and that may come as a disappointment to those who expect it to create jobs by the thousands.
    When you increase train speed you also increase staff efficiency. The faster the trains, the fewer of them you need. For instance, a round trip requiring two work shifts+overtime will only need one if a high-speed train is used.
    Leaner cleaning teams, too, as passengers have less time to litter the trains.
    A leaner work force is one of the reasons the TGV makes a profit with trains 75% full while crowded suburban trains barely manage to break even.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, that’s why I described labor cost per route mile rather the labor cost per hour.

    The jobs are generated in construction ~ constructing the system, constructing new development in the vicinity of the stations, constructing complementary transport corridors. There are also, of course, jobs generated from multiplier effects in reducing the import value added component of transport versus oil-intensive car and air transport.

    That may be why towns are already getting scrappy in fighting for the heavy maintenance center.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    You are right. HSR will create more collateral jobs than in its own structure. A negative impact may also be the first one to be felt, and make news. In its first years of operation, the TGV killed two airlines (Air Inter and Air Liberté), causing the loss of many airline and airport jobs.
    I can understand the fight for the maintenance center. It will create many highly-paid jobs. For the city that gets it, it will definitely be an upgrade.

  14. datacruncher
    Mar 28th, 2011 at 17:34

    Tim Sheehan of the Fresno Bee has more on his blog:
    “In an interview last week, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin told me the city’s planning and engineering managers have been aware of the high-speed rail authority’s reconsideration of elevated tracks on the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section since early this year, well before rail officials first publicly discussed it at a March 3 meeting in Los Angeles. “We’ve had some very good contact and work sessions between the city and the authority,” Swearengin said.

    But other interested traffic professionals in the county have not been in the loop about the authority’s “value engineering” — at least, not yet.

    “We’ve never seen anything official, it just sort of happened,” said Tony Boren, director of the Fresno Council of Governments, the agency that administers Fresno County’s Measure C transportation sales tax funds”

    datacruncher Reply:

    Oh and Sheehan had this illustration credited to CAHSRA showing the 60 foot aerial superimposed over Divisadero Street in the industrial area just south of Freeway 180 in Fresno.

    datacruncher Reply:

    Whoops, forgot the link

    Spokker Reply:

    Why would it need to be that damn high?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Maybe they are shooting for that Luxor Temple look:

    Peter Reply:

    To clear freeways and other overpasses over the UP ROW, while staying at the same elevation through Fresno (no ups and downs).

    Nathanael Reply:

    Yep. If you rebuild the overpasses over the UP ROW and put the tracks at (essentially) grade level, then you don’t need to do that. Of course it may be that rebuilding the overpasses is more expensive than the super-high viaduct, but that’s why you have to do value engineering.

    Donk Reply:

    Because they found out that penis size in America is not as high as in many other countries in the world and have to make up for it.

  15. datacruncher
    Mar 28th, 2011 at 18:13

    The staff report for Wednesday’s Board meeting is posted.

    The Board is being presented with 3 options to discuss/select for the additional Federal funds application. Staff recommends “option 1” as the minimum application request but also wants the board to consider requesting additional money for “option 2A and/or 2B”. All three options would total to a request for $2.43 billion in Federal funding with a $1.04 billion state match

    To me it looks like the two questions Wednesday are will the Board agree with building north of the Chowchilla Wye before building across Pacheco and will the Board decide to apply for more than one option.

    “Option 1.  Base Case Option:  Merced and Bakersfield Extensions 
     To  Merced ‐  The  north  extension  would  construct  civil  infrastructure,  including  trackwork, 
    extending the  Initial Construction Segment from  just south of Madera,  into Merced and would 
    construct  an  at‐grade Merced  High  Speed  Train  Station  including  platforms.   This  extension 
    would include the Wye at Chowchilla, but no infrastructure or tracks towards San Jose.
     To Bakersfield ‐  The  south extension would  construct  civil  infrastructure,  including  trackwork, 
    extending the Initial Construction Segment from north of Bakersfield into downtown Bakersfield 
    and would construct an aerial Bakersfield High Speed Rail Station and platforms.”
    Cost of option 1 is given at  $1.80 billion ($1.26 billion inFederal funds and $0.54 billion State match)  

    “Option 2A.  Chowchilla Wye – West Extension
    Option 2A would add approximately 39 additional miles of civil  infrastructure extending westward 
    from the WYE toward San Jose up to the start of the first major tunnel entering the mountains near 
    the San Luis Reservoir.”
    Cost of option 2A is estimated at $1.2 billion ($840 million in Fed funds and $360 million State match) 

    “Option 2B.  Bakersfield Station – South Extension
    Option 2B would add approximately 15 miles of additional civil  infrastructure and trackwork to the
    south of Bakersfield Station (towards Palmdale).  Extension 2B would provide approximately 9 miles
    of at‐grade infrastructure and 6 miles of viaduct south of Bakersfield and includes the major viaduct
    that rises from the Central Valley and enters into the Tehachapi Mountains.” 
    Option 2B is estimated at $1.67 billion ($1.17 billion Federal funds plus $0.50 billion State match)

    synonymouse Reply:

    2B – isn’t that the area where a newly discovered fault bisects an existing dam? What happened to we gotta have on the surface so’s we can fix sit easily?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You are saying there is a newly discovered fault line bisecting an existing dam, and you want the track at grade to increase the chance of getting flooded by the damwater, but if you really had your druthers it would be in a tunnel to make things really heart pounding exciting?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Nah – the dam just got the media’s attention when they discovered the new fault.

    Tehachapi is just as dangerous and difficult as Tejon but a whole lot longer.

    PB’s bitch aginst Quantm Tejon is just FUD.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    One big driver of project risk when engaged in difficult terrain is the number of low level alignment alternative available in the event that you run into geological problem zones.

    I understand that as a risk addict, you prefer the alignment with much less leeway to cope, but its generally considered better to take the prudent option rather than the exciting gamble when dealing with such large amounts of public funds.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    his heart isn’t the only thing that pounds when he thinks of the long hard piston of a train ramming deep into the resisting mountain….

    Nathanael Reply:

    For people unlike syn, who actually want to understand, the way the design works is that there’s a major viaduct to climb from “valley level” to “tunnel level”, followed by an at-grade segment (which includes the fault line crossings), followed by the tunnel.

    The reason for the viaduct is to make the grade shallower when climbing the mountain. The base of the mountain range has some pretty steep sections (this is pretty typical, the steepest sections on my last crossing of the Rockies were right at the base). The really old-fashioned way was to build giant, curved embankments, but I think that wouldn’t be popular and would be actually quite hard to earthquake-proof or flood-proof.

    Clem Reply:

    I just did a double-take!

    “$16 million for the design/implementation of the first Positive Train Control/ERTMS interface implementation on the Peninsula”

    This would be most excellent news, if true!

    Clem Reply:

    On second consideration I have to temper my enthusiasm. This is the $16 million allocated initiallly to platform reconfiguration at 4th & King. Anna Eshoo tried to re-allocate that to Caltrain’s CBOSS project. That seems to have happened, at least partially… and the mysterious phrase “PTC/ERTMS interface” might be the worst of both worlds.

    What the peninsula needs is ERTMS, period.

    Peter Reply:

    “at-grade Merced High Speed Train Station including platforms”

    That also looks like excellent value engineering.

    joe Reply:

    “Option 2A. Chowchilla Wye – West Extension!!!

  16. rtracey
    Mar 28th, 2011 at 18:46

    Looks like the authority is also looking at “value engineering” in Bakersfield. I noticed a short blurb in the Californian about paperwork from CAHRA:

    mike Reply:

    Good news for both Bakersfield and the state, if true.

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