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Rail report: Tunnel cheaper than trench

Original post made on Apr 12, 2010

If high-speed rail ends up running through a covered trench in Palo Alto, it won't be easy or cheap, new California High-Speed Rail Authority data indicates.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, April 12, 2010, 10:33 AM

Comments (26)

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Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Let's face it – High Speed Rail on the Peninsula has a lot of problems.

1. An at-grade system for all four train tracks requires roads crossing the track would either have to be raised or lowered. Very expensive!

2. The "berm" option would create a new "Berlin Wall" along the Caltrain tracks. The berm would create a perceived barrier which is not consistent with the local communities' character and land uses.

3. The tunnel option is very expensive – costing cost nearly six times more than an aerial structure.

How about running the trains along existing tracks from San Francisco to San Jose at reduced speed, then high speed to Los Angeles. This would increase the trip time a little but save our neighborhoods and lots of, money!

Konrad M. Sosnow


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm

If you're going to do that, why wouldn't you just start the high-speed rail line at San Jose and have people take CalTrain to San Jose?


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm

I meant that as a hypothetical, of course. It says right in the text of Proposition 1A that the high-speed rail line has to run from San Francisco to Anaheim.


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Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:44 am

This is a total waste of money.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 7:31 am

Not only a waste of money, but, if ever actually built, harmful to the jobs of hundreds of airline employees in our local area.


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Posted by Allen
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2010 at 7:33 am

How about recognizing that running HSR and Caltrain together will bankrupt Caltrain due to the loss of riders who decide to take a modern "express" train instead of Caltrain. What percent ridership loss would bankrupt Caltrain? Looks like something close to zero from recent reports but this should be studied and the reality recognized. What a shame it would be to build a dual system and have Caltrain go BK right after. One entity should run both services in which case I believe adding 3 stops to HSR and using the existing tracks without sharing them is the way to go. You still have to deal with making the roads go under or over the tracks so I am assuming this is cheaper than a tunnel, the only other reasonable alterniative.


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Posted by M.C.
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2010 at 9:46 am

^ if you haven't already recently read, caltrain is already broke.


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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm

1. The government isn't in the job of keeping airline employees employed. It's in the job of maintaining the overall public good.

2. Flying is inherently inefficient and not at all green, particularly for relatively short flights such as between SoCal and NoCal. It uses a significant percentage of the fuel to lift the plane off the ground, and relatively little for the rest of the flight.

3. Easy ways to prevent people from using HSR between SJ and SF: either ban local passengers, or charge more for HSR (more benefit, higher price)than Caltrain (if it exists by then--we need to find a way to rescue it!). Amtrak charges (much) more in the Northeast corridor than the local railroads, yet they're all publically funded entities.

All this said, the folks who live in the Peninsula have a legitimate gripe; no easy solutions to the problem. I still think an alignment down 101 makes much more sense.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm

re: "1. The government isn't in the job of keeping airline employees employed. It's in the job of maintaining the overall public good."

I agree with you. But I think President Obama, or any President we've ever had, would disagree with you about his job not being to save or create jobs.

Of course, he's also backing high-speed rail, which goes to show the inherently schizophrenic nature of big government involved in every aspect of our lives. Believing in big government requires compartmentalizing each "big issue" like The Environment or The Economy in one's mind, and never thinking about how your efforts to fix one has effects that leak into the other.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm

re: "2. Flying is inherently inefficient and not at all green, particularly for relatively short flights such as between SoCal and NoCal. It uses a significant percentage of the fuel to lift the plane off the ground, and relatively little for the rest of the flight."

Relative to high-speed rail? Do you think that high-speed rail trains aren't going to use energy? The construction of all that track between San Francisco and Anaheim (at minimum) will not have any negative effects on the environment?


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

re: "3. Easy ways to prevent people from using HSR between SJ and SF"

You want to build this huge, expensive project and then discourage people from using it?!


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Posted by why
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Apr 13, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Lets expand the 101 so we can accommodate the HSR in the middle of the freeway. I'm pretty sure people will get really pissed off when they see a train go by while their stuck in traffic.

We can even (I would think) create a system where this new HSR could serve as our new Caltrain, hence we would eliminate the nuisance of waiting at stop lights when trains go by.

I'm surprised that CA and more specifically the bay area which is home to Silicon Valley, cannot even come up with a plan that can be efficient and cost effective at the same time.

We need to create an independent engineering panel for them to come up with new proposals to HSR because it is obvious these new trains are not going to run through Central Expressway.


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Posted by reader
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2010 at 2:08 pm

're: "2. Flying is inherently inefficient and not at all green, particularly for relatively short flights such as between SoCal and NoCal. It uses a significant percentage of the fuel to lift the plane off the ground, and relatively little for the rest of the flight."

Relative to high-speed rail? Do you think that high-speed rail trains aren't going to use energy? '

-0-

Mike,

As for the science of energy efficiency and greenhouse gases when it comes to flying vs. trains, flying is the clear loser. In fact, it's one of the worst things you can do to the atmosphere, in part because the gases those planes give off are released at such a high altitude, where they expand, increasing their ability to do damage.

Here's one of dozens of scientific studies on the subject that you can find online: Web Link.

The energy efficiency is also no comparison. Trains take energy to get going but then take advantage of momentum, which can keep hundreds of people moving for many miles at high speed with very little additional energy. The planes, meanwhile, have to constantly burn energy to stay aloft (which is why it's not good when an engine goes out).

As for environmental degradation, both planes (airports) and trains (tracks) have to dominate a certain amount of space to do their thing, and these have to be taken case-by-case. SFO is a terrible airport in this sense, since it took a lot of bay infill to build. Different places have different stories. Add them all up though and they're probably not as bad all our roads.

Anyway this doesn't negate everything you said but we should get the science straight.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 4:18 pm

reader, your assessment of efficiency assumes that the trains are full of riders. But we all see far-from-full public transportation trains and vehicles quite often. Private airlines expend a lot of effort on making sure those shuttle flights within California are scheduled at the right times and at the right prices to be mostly full; if they don't, they go out of business. Public transportation agencies could expend the same level of effort, but experience shows that they don't. The strong incentives to do so aren't there; they know they'll get their subsidies regardless of ridership level.

Also, the airports have been built already. The high-speed rail route has not.


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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 9:17 pm

re: You want to build this huge, expensive project and then discourage people from using it?

No, just discourage using it between SJ and SF. The true benefit isn't for a 45 mile trip, it's for 100+ miles. And this would only to protect Caltrain so that they don't lose ridership due to it.


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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 9:20 pm

re "Trains take energy to get going but then take advantage of momentum, which can keep hundreds of people moving for many miles at high speed with very little additional energy"

And, like the myriad number of Priuses around here, they use regenerative braking, which pours juice back into the grid as they slow, available for use by other trains. Also, electrified rail isn't solely dependent upon fossil fuels.


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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 13, 2010 at 9:36 pm

re: "Also, the airports have been built already."

As well as the roads. All on the public dollar. And we continue to pay for them, to the tune of many billions per year. I wonder if the same arguments and venom were coming out 50 years ago when the superhighways and mega jetports were being built. Costs too much. No one will ever use them. Today's traffic doesn't justify building 'em. Too much noise (oh yeah, that's still true...)

My point: progress comes at a cost, and sometimes you have to swallow the costs early to see the benefit over the long term. In 25 years, if the line is built, it'll become so ingrained in our lives that we couldn't believe that people actually flew to LA. This is what's happening in countries like France, Germany, and even China--the domestic air travel business is becoming non-existant, replaced by all-weather, efficient, fast trains.

Granted, there will be upkeep costs for the rail line, but my guess is the traffic won't be nearly as heavy as on our highways, without the injurious effects to the roadbed.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 14, 2010 at 7:55 am

MVFlyer, no venom here. I'm simply debating with you.

I do think that you, and many other folks, have not fully grokked how deeply in debt the California and Federal governments are.


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Posted by reader
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

First of all, I applaud your use of the word "grokked."

And it's true, we're so far in debt as to make this whole conversation moot, probably. But that's the economics. I only wanted to focus on the physics here, the benefits, scientifically speaking, of trains over planes.

But grok this: Due to the nature of their construction and use, trains are far and away the most efficient mode of transportation. This includes street cars, monorails, any kind of rail. Infrastructure aside (that is a tangential discussion which was addressed well by MV Flyer) a full plane is much, much worse than a mostly empty train. Even cars don't compare: if everyone carpooled (which would be excellent) trains will still win the carbon footprint contest -- even half-full trains (like Caltrain) or quarter-full trains would STILL be a benefit. That's how much more efficient they are.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 14, 2010 at 11:37 am

Oh, yeah! If we set aside all economic considerations, I agree: high-speed rail is totally cool, futuristic stuff! Same with the people mover systems people here have been talking about. Heck, let's also cover the Moffett hangar in a high-tech skin made out of photovoltaic cells while we're at it! :-)


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Posted by DCS
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Apr 14, 2010 at 11:03 pm

How about getting rid of Caltrain and making one system? Let's face it Caltrain is antiquated. This solves some of the space problem, and we will get a modern rail for commuters.


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Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 15, 2010 at 12:45 am

Why is Mountain View not included in the consideration for an underground High Speed Rail? Maybe because we are sitting on our thumbs here while the smart people to the north fight to suck up all of the money and we are left with the cheap solution.

Of course we all should be working on repealing this stupid project. We have a much better way of high speed travel invented here in the USA with several firms not using tax money to serve us now, hint its called 450 mile per hour air travel.


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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 15, 2010 at 2:31 am

Rodger stated: "We have a much better way of high speed travel invented here in the USA with several firms not using tax money to serve us now, hint its called 450 mile per hour air travel."

I see your point, Rodger, but the reality is that airlines DO use tax money in the form of airports (built and run by cities/counties with significant federal money); controlled by the FAA, also supported by the taxpayers; and security provided by the TSA, once again a taxpayer-funded entity (let's not start a debate on the merits of the TSA here!). And 450 mph drops down by more than half when you include time getting into and out of the airports, check-in, security, etc., and even more with delays. I've had times when my '1 hour flight' from LAX took more than 6 hours with delays.

Your earlier point is interesting too...MV hasn't jumped into the fray yet because the city sees potential economic benefit by having one of the Peninsula's stops here in town. Secretly, I'm guessing that PA's government wouldn't mind having the stop there as well for economic reasons. But you and others are right--the human cost of having the rail line going right through the heart of these and the other cities may be too much to bear.


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Posted by J Cierra
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Apr 15, 2010 at 8:42 am

Mountain View is not in consideration for putting the train underground because our city council did not express an interest in having it underground.

If your next question is why they did not, you are as curious as I am. It would have been completely easy for the Mountain View to join the Peninsula Cities Coalition.

Could the city council not understand why it would be better to have the train underground? They cannot be so dull. Even if the train had no noise or safety or other problems, consider housing values: if you are a potential home buyer, would you prefer to buy in a city where the trains is hidden, or in a city where the train has a continuous presence? Of course, the former.

Could the city council really be so stupidly naive that they are hoping to have the train stop in Mountain View, and that by not making an undegrounding fuss that they will attract the rail authority? I hope they are not! The reality is that the rail authority has not committed to any stop in the mid-peninsula, and if there will be one, they will choose the site that best serves the train based on access, not on whether the authority got their feelings hurt because Mountain View wanted underground trains.

What other reasons make the city council uninterested? What benefit would them to have the train on the surface or elevated?

I cannot understand it myself.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 15, 2010 at 11:36 am

MVFlyer, if someone who would like to see limits on government size and spending points out that some big new project is going to be prohibitively expensive, it's not a convincing counter-argument if you point out that the public spends lots of money on existing transportation infrastructure. In your world view, it might make sense to say, "We're already spending lots of money, so what's some additional marginal spending going to matter?" But in my world view, "We're already spending lots of money" is an argument for not spending more.

Also, high-speed rail stations are likely to end up having TSA security and check-in times just like airports. If not, the argument will go that we're laying a high-profile target to terrorists.


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Posted by MVFlyer
a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 15, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Mike--The reality is that I agree with you...I'm not sure we can trust the state to do this right, at target budget and time. And, I'm not convinced that selling bonds, leveraging the future, is the way to go either. We have many other problems to solve. But I also see potential economic benefit, putting people to work, giving people mobility, and growing other areas of the state, not to mention lowering our dependence on foreign (or even domestic) oil.

And about the TSA--right now, there is no security getting on the Acela (Amtrak's medium speed train in the Northeast corridor, although they call it high speed)--and this goes through some of the most densely populated and high profile cities in the US (Boston, NYC, Philadelphia, DC). With rail, terrorism can be performed on the rails themselves rather than on the trainsets, with equal consequences.


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