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Meeting reveals challenges for High Speed Rail

Original post made on Oct 13, 2009

Experts at a meeting held last week by the California High Speed Rail Authority revealed several design requirements which are likely to limit the options for running high speed trains through Mountain View — including limits on how the trains can be run under, over or through intersections.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, October 12, 2009, 6:17 PM

Comments (25)

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Posted by J Cierra
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 13, 2009 at 9:56 am

J Cierra is a registered user.

A nice story, and a good observation of what I also saw at Friday's meeting of the rail authority. It seemed to me, too, that the rail authority would use the downtown stop as a bargaining tool to make people not cause trouble and demand and underground tunnel.

The story does make it sound like the city staff wants a raised track more than an underground tunnel. That is not what the city staff says. They said that they do not have a feeling about it at all and that the proposal for several years has been to solve how busy the intersection at Rengstorff and Caltrain is.


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Posted by Catherine
a resident of Jackson Park
on Oct 13, 2009 at 10:50 am

No Berlin Wall across Castro PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE. I don't care if it has vines, that doesn't make up for it.

In my opinion, High Speed Rail should terminate in San Jose, with better CalTrain service serving the peninsula. Adding stops just makes it not high speed rail. Plus, do we really need ANOTHER Bay Area transit system (Caltrain, BART, ACE...). Sheesh.


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Posted by Catherine
a resident of Jackson Park
on Oct 13, 2009 at 10:53 am

Also, the thought of "trains passing through at more than 100 miles per hour" across Castro terrifies me as the parent of two small boys. Even if Castro is closed to vehicular traffic, some sort of pedestrian mitigation plan beyond gates (such as an overpass over Central and the tracks) will need to be considered if the train is at grade.


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Posted by Jarrett
a resident of Castro City
on Oct 13, 2009 at 11:21 am

Catherine:

Under Proposition 1A, the Rail Authority is required to provide service between LA Union Station and San Francisco's Transbay Terminal in under 2 hours and 40 minutes. This means termination at San Jose is not possible. It is also not desirable. Forcing passengers to transfer to slower Caltrain service will add time and impact ridership. To use your words: adding stops doesn't make it high speed rail. Transfering to Caltrain adds stops and extra time.

I want improved Caltrain service too! I ride the train every day, and would love to see more service, with less interference from grade crossing collisions. High Speed Rail will bring about better Caltrain service much sooner. Not only will Caltrain be electrified, but it will be totally grade separated with High Speed Rail. This means faster, more frequent, and reliable Caltrain service.

As for the grade crossing at Castro, if it is closed, then it will be closed to everyone. It is definitely not safe for people to have easy access to the tracks with trains traveling more frequently and at higher speeds. The Rail Authority will make the right of way completely grade separated, with no at-grade vehicle or pedestrian crossings.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm

High-speed rail is never going to make it past the study phase. The money is just not there to actually build it, and there's too much neighborhood resistance. It will prove to be a multi-year distraction from improvements, such as electrification, that were planned for Caltrain.


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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2009 at 1:23 pm

The requirement for a 1% slope is based on freight needs, not those of passenger trains, including HSR. Those can use 3.5% grades which means steeper entry and exit from tunnels. Trenches are one thing. Cut-and-cover tunnels are like trenches, only with a solid roof. Those are relatively shallow. But full-bore tunnels are set more deeply below ground. Those long entries and exits at the tunnel portals can be shortened if Union Pacific does not utilize one of the tunnels, but remains on the surface. While that will not release air-rights and a trackless rail corridor for development, it will permit UP to remain where they doubtless want to be, will not require grade separations, electrification or any other modifications at grade. In the two tunnels -- one tube of two tracks for HSR and the other for Caltrain -- don't have to be enlarged to meet UP requirements and thus are less costly. This seems the most acceptable arrangement for Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto in my mind. It may also solve Mountain View's problems at Castro.

UPs trackage rights with the JPB gives them complete authority over inter-city rail. That is, they can accept or refuse the HSR authority from developing their corridor build-out to accommodate the necessary four tracks, etc. They have not yet declared their position on this. It is presumptuous of the rail authority to assume permission from UP, given that they denied access to all the rail rights of way they own throughout California.

Mountain View should join the Peninsula Coalition of Cities if it wishes to be heard by those working on the corridor engineering designs and the project-level EIS/EIR.


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Posted by J Cierra
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 13, 2009 at 2:39 pm

J Cierra is a registered user.

The HSR needs a 1% grade, not just freight trains.

According to the engineers at Friday's meeting, the HSR cannot use a 3.5% grade locally. If they grade is larger than 1% grade between SF and SJ, the train cannot run fast enough to make the run in 30 minutes.

The 3.5% maximum is only for long stretches of track where the train can build speed, like the hills on the north side of Los Angeles.


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Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Oct 13, 2009 at 8:55 pm


I think the only sensible thing to do is put it in a tunnel until it gets out of the bay area, nobody is going to want a 100mph train anywhere above ground in a populated area. Would help to keep teens away from the tracks also. plus, they should be able to do much higher speeds in a tunnel. Channel tunnel trains do almost 200 mph.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 13, 2009 at 9:58 pm

re: "the only sensible thing to do is put it in a tunnel until it gets out of the bay area"

From a recent Mercury News article (Web Link): the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment is 50 miles, and the cost to bore a tunnel is $250 million/mile. That comes out to $12.5 billion. Plus the cost of below-grade stations.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 13, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Annual cost of the Santa Clara County Healthy Kids program, which may have about half its funding cut: $300 million.


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2009 at 6:10 am

Why not take out most of Central Expwy, narrow it down to 2 lanes with a turn lane, the train can be in a tunnel without messing with castro or the other grade crossings


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Posted by Rafael
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2009 at 8:23 am

How does CHSRA intend to deal with the VTA light rail track(s)?

@ Martin Engel -

Considering the high cost and ROW width requirements of tunnel construction, four tracks underground isn't a realistic ambition. Forcing HSR underground would almost certainly mean keeping both Caltrain (up to 10 trains per hour each way in 2025!) and UPRR at grade. Cross traffic would snarl up during rush hour for the next century as new underpasses would become much more difficult or even impossible to construct.

Unless HSR is allowed to run above ground, there will never be full grade separation nor electrification for Caltrain, because Santa Clara county will spend every last transit penny (and then some) on the BART extension to Santa Clara for decades to come. Caltrain's diesel fleet is nearing the end of its useful life and EPA Tier 3/4 rules on locomotive diesel emissions will make replacing it with new diesels very expensive. For the commuter railroad, it's electrification or bust.

@ J Cierra -

"If they grade is larger than 1% grade between SF and SJ, the train cannot run fast enough to make the run in 30 minutes."

No-one is talking about speeds in excess of 125mph in the SF peninsula and these trains can sustain speeds of up to 220mph. At high speed, *power* is proportional to the cube of velocity, so at 125mph these trains are using less than 20% of the rated power of their propulsion systems. For reference, a fully equipped Alstom AGV has 12,000kW (16,000hp) of traction power yet weighs just 510 metric tonnes - 23.5kW/tonne is massively higher than anything on the peninsula today. Competitors like Siemens, Talgo, Bombardier, Rotem and Hitachi have or will have comparable products. HSR trains would have no problem climbing a short 3.5% incline at 125mph without losing any speed at all.

The roller coaster argument is completely bogus, the 1% limit is imposed by *heavy* freight, pure and simple. If the SF peninsula were declared a "short freight line" with axle loads limited to e.g. 22.5 metric tonnes (i.e. European standard for medium freight) and shorter consists, higher gradients of 2 to 2.5% would become feasible. For more details, please read up on:

Web Link

@ James -

the speed limit inside the Channel Tunnel is 160km/h (100mph) because Eurostar bullet trains have to share it with Eurotunnel vehicle ferries and also light/medium freight trains. Those are limited to 120km/h (65mph), so passenger trains have to slow down as well.


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Posted by J Cierra
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 14, 2009 at 9:51 am

J Cierra is a registered user.

@ Rafael - You may be making a good technical point, I cannot judge, but the information is not mine. The 30 minute limit needing a 1% grade is what the engineers said at the open house last week when someone asked about this exact question. They should know more about the limits because they are designing the system.

It was the HSR engineers who said they needed the 1% grade to make the 30 minute run between SF and SJ.


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Posted by Rodger
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 14, 2009 at 1:45 pm

The tunnel alternative creates a long green park space the length the Caltrain corridor. The raised platform alternative is shown as a large wall-like structure with vines and other decorative features.

Let's fight for the long green park, it will transform the area in a positive way, if not I think we will end up with the Berlin Wall which will be a blight and create a fantastic amount of noise.

The area we live in is a special part of the world, let's make it better not worse.


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Posted by Bruno
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 14, 2009 at 2:04 pm

It amazes me how many people still think we can start from scratch on this thing. Take out lanes on Central??? Not a good idea at all. That road is one of the only routes left where you can actually make good time heading South. The path has been chosen. Tunnels are not economically wise and they would simply hide the view of our city from its riders.

One more thing, PLEASE PLEASE stop using the Berlin Wall in your arguments. That's pretty insulting to the people who died crossing over that wall. Yes, people were shot on the spot and died. Is that what you think is going to happen here if an elevated track is built?


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2009 at 2:19 pm

> It was the HSR engineers who said they needed the 1% grade to make the 30 minute run between SF and SJ.

The "HSR engineers" are wrong. The 1% is a giveaway to Union Pacific. Either they cannot admit to that, or the "HSR engineers" may just be a bunch of re-tooled US freight railroad engineers who cannot think outside their AREMA box.

We would be remiss not to question their pronouncements.


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Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 14, 2009 at 3:13 pm

Can't have 125mph and 3.5% grades; that would compete with Great America.


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Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Oct 14, 2009 at 3:18 pm


I still think below ground would be a better solution, even if it's a trench rather than a tunnel, or a combination of the two. Spending more on such a solution may not be a bad thing in terms of jobs and if the solution is better for the communities in the future.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2009 at 3:35 pm

> Can't have 125mph and 3.5% grades; that would compete with Great America.

You're confusing curvature with grade. Curvature is what produces acceleration. Vertical curvature would indeed be constrained to a minimum of about 10 km, but even under that constraint it is possible to design grade separations with approaches significantly steeper than 1%.

More here, for those who care: Web Link


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Posted by NeHi
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 14, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Hi Clem,

Curvature is either vertical or horizontal. The latter was determined in a contract with the Castros; I don't think that is under discussion.

The vertical part is what lifts the coffee out of your cup and you out of your seat. I don't know how much variation one can handle going thru Mtn. View at high speed but the thought of sub-ground to elevated and back between Bernardo and San Antonio makes me queasy as I write.

Subsurface you blast thru creeks and ground water. Surface you blast thru grade crossings. Elevated you have visual blight. Combine them and you compete with Great America.

I have no solution but I admire the problem.

NeHi


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 14, 2009 at 8:10 pm

re: "Spending more on such a solution may not be a bad thing in terms of jobs and if the solution is better for the communities in the future."

Big projects like this are often promoted as creating jobs. It's a half truth that jobs are created -- true only if you don't look at all the effect of the expense of the project on jobs in the economy as a whole. Politicians love to sell us on this "job creation" because the created jobs are very visible, while the ones that are destroyed or never created are virtually invisible.


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Posted by J Cierra
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 15, 2009 at 9:31 am

J Cierra is a registered user.

This discussion comes from writers with different viewpoints. One is from the residents whose lives and investments will be affected, the other by engineers and train hobbyists.

The people who like trains usually call the residents NIMBYs (short for "Not In My Back Yard") because the residents make trouble for new train projects, especially when the residents want to keep their neighborhoods quiet and safe by asking for the train to go underground.

The residents of Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto are NIMBYs because they want the new train project to go in a way that does not trash the value of their houses that they scraped enough money to buy.

The train hobbyists and HSR hope that Mountain View will not be activists like our neighbors. It is more expensive and really messy to build a train underground, and it is better if they do not need to worry about making another city happy.


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Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on Oct 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I am a train nut, yet I have to be critical of the high-speed rail project. One has to balance one's visions of how cool and futuristic high-speed rail with a realistic look at whether it will really have the projected ridership, really be finished with the projected budget, really helps the environment. Plus one has to look at who has to pay for it and what else that money could do if left in private hands or spent on public projects that are more essential or have higher benefit for cost. And while we're at it, look at the effect on airlines that travel the same routes, and all the local people they employ. Oh, and the track records of publicly-operated railroads like Caltrain and Amtrak -- they lack the entrepreneurial drive to improve customer service in big and little ways to grow ridership, and to operate with cost efficiency.


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Posted by Catherine
a resident of Jackson Park
on Oct 16, 2009 at 12:50 pm

WRT the appropriateness of using the "Berlin Wall" term...I certainly did not mean any disrespect to those who died there - I was in Berlin when the Wall fell, and it was a truly life-changing experience. Come up with a better "wall" reference not including death and I'll start using it instead :-)

I did want to convey, though, that even without guns, it has the potential to create a **serious** (and noisy) physical separation between areas of Mountain View which are currently tenuously tied together (in spite of the presence of the tracks and Central). In all of the community meetings around the 2030 vision, we have tried to discuss ways to mitigate all of the barriers which cut Mountain View into tiny islands - 85, 101, Central, El Camino, Shoreline, etc etc.

Allowing yet another barrier to be constructed completely breaks the spirit of the Mountain View 2030 visioning process.

The fall of the Berlin Wall does show that the people have the ability, when united in one massive cause, to change anything, even when it seems courses are set.


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Posted by Gayle
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 17, 2009 at 10:40 am

Has the possibility of a Moffett Field station been eliminated?


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