Town Square

Post a New Topic

City digs the trench solution

Original post made on May 28, 2010

If 125-mile-per-hour electric trains are going to whoosh through town as planned by the California High Speed Rail Authority, the City Council wants to put most of Mountain View's Caltrain corridor in a partially covered trench, members said Tuesday.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 28, 2010, 9:53 AM

Comments (20)

Like this comment
Posted by Low speed rail
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 28, 2010 at 10:58 am

I wish these people would get off whatever they are taking for Meds

HSR is nothing but a method to make the current rail systems electric. I will be writing the DOT to this effect stating NOT to fund the effort.

have a great holiday

Like this comment
Posted by Mike Laursen
a resident of Monta Loma
on May 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Glad that's settled. High-speed rail, which isn't actually ever going to be built, should run through a trench.

Like this comment
Posted by MarkT
a resident of Rex Manor
on May 28, 2010 at 2:32 pm

I think that there’s a much better alternative to the proposed high speed rail (HSR) system in California -- SkyTran, at Web Link

This system overcomes many of the problems associated with HSR (and trains in general). Here are some advantages that I can think of:
• It’s much cheaper to install and operate.
• ** Its capital cost is estimated to be $10 million/mile for both directions (vs. $40 - $60 million/mile for HSR, and $100 million/mile for light rail).
• ** Its costs will decrease as volume goes up, while HSR’s costs will likely increase.
• ** SkyTran expects to be able to make a profit, while HSR will likely continue to be an expense.
• ** Its total cost per passenger mile is estimated to be less than $0.03.
• ** Its ticket price would thus be much less than HSR.
• ** Its low ticket price would attract more riders than HSR would.
• ** It’s much more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.
• It’s much quieter (almost noiseless).
• It doesn’t require widely separated large stations that riders have to travel to.
• It allows many small stations that would often be easy to walk or bike to.
• It eliminates the need for large parking lots.
• It doesn’t require heavy and expensive infrastructure, and could likely use most current bridges.
• Its lighter infrastructure would be less vulnerable to earthquakes.
• It doesn’t require the complicated and divisive right of way that HSR does.
• Its environmental impact is much smaller than HSR's.
• Its environmental impact report would thus be approved more easily than HSR's.
• It can be built more quickly than HSR.
• Its approval would likely be easier and faster, because it’s much cheaper.
• It doesn’t disrupt or divide communities on its routes.
• It eliminates accidents between cars and trains.
• It eliminates the potential for “train suicides” or similar accidents (15-20/year on SF-SJ Caltrain).
• It’s much less vulnerable to terrorism, because riders are not concentrated in large trains or stations.
• It doesn’t interfere with current traffic, roads and rail systems.
• It’s immune to trash and litter on rails, and resistant to inclement weather.
• Its riders don’t have to wait for scheduled trains.
• It can run 24/7.
• Its proposed speed is 100 MPH in cities, and 150 MPH (or more) between cities.
• Its passengers don’t stop at intermediate stations.
• Its travel time is comparable to HSR and airplanes, when door-to-door time is used.
• Its estimate of 8640 riders/hour means one track could easily handle HSR’s expected 32,000 - 38,000 riders/day in 2035.
• It’s easily expandable to include many branch and parallel lines.
• It can be redundant and robust -- with a web of tracks, allowing travel around sections that might have problems.
• It could take over the peninsula traffic from Caltrain, eliminating Caltrain’s expected $471 million electrification cost.
• It would provide improved (faster, cheaper, and quieter) service along the Caltrain route.
• It might be expanded to take over many of the other rail and bus routes around the SF Bay and LA areas.
• It might be expanded with extensions to Sacramento and other metropolitan and recreation areas (such as Tahoe).
• It would provide the functionality that voters intended when they voted for HSR.
• It’s modern, with a 21st Century design, instead of the 19th Century train concept.
• It would make California the worldwide leader in public transportation.

Because of these many positive attributes (and some I probably haven’t thought of), Californians would quickly appreciate SkyTran. Also, people from the other transportation systems will likely oppose SkyTran because it will take business from them.

My understanding is that federal money requires that the system already have an installed base, which SkyTran does not have. It is likely enough cheaper than HSR that even with a possible loss of federal money, it would still be cheaper for California. Also, the federal limitation could be changed or modified.

Like this comment
Posted by Vijay Kumar
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 28, 2010 at 2:32 pm

The existing trains run upto 110 mph. What's the big difference? Both will be slow when they approach mountain view, to stop at the station. So, the speed anyway will be much less than 125mph. Why spend all this money for the trench - which the state doesn't have. Also, we couldn't afford the loss of a lane on Central Expressway.

In sum - leave the tracks as they are and use them for both the existing trains and the HSR.

Like this comment
Posted by Seer
a resident of Jackson Park
on May 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm

It's amazing to me to see the misconceptions and outright ignorance displayed on this forum. I'll try to tackle some of it. What I'm posting is easily verified with some simple searches online.

1) Low Speed says, "HSR is nothing but a method to make the current rail systems electric."

Sorry, Low Speed, but the speeds proposed for high speed rail mean you need different rolling stock and most importantly different rail lines designed to a completely different standard. You can electrify trains running on current rail lines, but they won't go over 78 MPH - by ruling of the FRA, the Federal Rail Agency. The reason is that standard rail lines aren't smooth enough - either over a few feet or a few miles - to keep trains from jumping the track. In fact standard rail is not welded together and is not "smooth" with wobbles of up to an inch in 10 feet. In response, normal rolling stock is designed with cushy suspensions to absorb the shock of going over such rough track. If you drive normal rolling stock faster, it will simply bounce off the track like a car without shock absorbers. HSR rolling stock is tightly sprung like a sports car, and much like a sports car, it requires very smooth rails to reach the 150MPH-plus speeds that it is designed for.

2) MarkT would like to see SkyTran instead of HSR. He thinks it will reach 150 MPH.

I happen to like the idea of SkyTran a lot. However, it is an untested technology that may never reach the 220MPH design speed of California's HSR, which uses tested and proven German/French technology. Also, there is the common misconception that somehow a single line will serve both urban and long-distance travel. You wouldn't use your bicycle to travel to LA, so would you share a SkyTran or railway line with people traveling from Menlo Park to Palo Alto at 30MPH if you wanted to get to LA in two hours at 220MPH? Of course not - unless you liked spectacular crashes. So any system would require at least 4 guideways/tracks in any corridor: two for local traffic, and two for long-distance. SkyTran would make a great - and necessary - feeder for HSR that would handily replace CalTrain. However, it isn't a shoe-in for HSR replacement: I doubt that people would want to spend 3 hours sitting in a personal SkyTran pod about the size of an elevator, when they could relax on an HSR train and hit the dining car.

3) Vijay Kumar thinks that "existing trains" run up to 110 MPH. He says that they'll slow down as they hit Mountain View.
Vijay, read my note above, "existing trains" are limited to 78 MPH for safety reasons based on the physics that govern their design. This is one of the reasons they started from scratch with BART, just to reach a design speed of 90 MPH. To offer a 2 1/2 hour trip from SF to LA, HSR will stop at most once on the peninsula. It would be nice if that stop was MV, but for efficiency's sake, it should be in the middle between SF and SJC. To serve all the 'burbs along the way, you'll still need a slower, urban rail system which will feed the HSR stops. Given where CalTrain is going, that's likely to be BART or maybe the SkyTran. But in any case, it won't be running on the same tracks as HSR, or you won't be able to call it High-Speed anymore.

There's excellent reference information on the SMART website at Web Link Their reports on rail design standards and vehicle selection are a good summary of the issues I brought up here. The Federal Railroad Administration website is also useful.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan C
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 28, 2010 at 4:01 pm


The new photo for the trench option doesn't show the 7' elevation of Castro that will be necessary as it crosses the tracks (see Web Link on the City's website).

When I hear "trench", I think of something below ground. In this case, the "trench" will be made partly by building up the ground around the sunken tracks by 7', leaving a fence-high mound at the end of Castro, ending Evelyn on one side at a berm, and putting up retaining walls to the elevated road at the storefronts on half of the 100-block of Castro, leaving them in a sort of trench. There are trenches, and then there are "trenches".

Then I looked at the at-grade drawing (Web Link). The outside seating at restaurants near the tracks would actually be above road level, with more view of pedestrians and shops in the distance than of vehicles a few feet from me. There's a pedestrian bridge at shop front level = current road level. (This is NOT at all how it appears to me in the photo accompanying this article. Have a look at it again from the perspective of sidewalk level and imagine overlooking Castro dropping below that.)

With the at-grade option, the main losers in terms of view are vehicles driving on Castro/Moffett and Central. It is a longish underpass and we’d be looking at retaining walls on the side, but I’d rather suffer that a minute or so in the car than when walking or dining downtown.

I went in thinking trench (the kind I pictured in my mind) and, surprisingly, came out thinking maybe "at grade", especially given the trench's much higher cost and added years of construction.


Like this comment
Posted by phm
a resident of The Crossings
on May 28, 2010 at 4:05 pm

"Mountain View has relatively few (homes) near the Caltrain corridor." Huh? The Crossings neighborhood, the townhouses near the north end of Ortega St., the homes downtown on and near Evelyn, the apartments on Crisanto for a start, plus all those new apartments coming to the Minton's site. Thank you City Council for considering those of us who will be most affected by HSR. Especially thanks to Jac for urging the city to take a strong stand now for a trench.

Like this comment
Posted by Jarrett
a resident of Castro City
on May 28, 2010 at 4:42 pm

I can understand the concerns regarding noise vibration, and blight stemming from the HSR project, but a lot of the chatter coming from local governments and citizens along the peninsula feels more like hyperbole.

LowSpeed et al. have some misconceptions that need to be cleared up:

Caltrain was planning to transition to an electric railway with or without high speed rail. With high speed rail, Caltrain gets a completely grade-separated right of way much sooner. Even without high speed rail, Caltrain is slowly working on grade separating the entire system to avoid disruptions for suicides and other collisions. As challenging as the grade separations are to design, it would eventually be necessary because Caltrain plans on running 114-130 trains a day in the future which would severely delay auto traffic at grade crossings. Say what you will about the current budget shortfall, but an electrified Caltrain will be a much more efficient railway for the peninsula which benefits everyone.


PRT is untested and unproven with the exception of a Virginia system that looks and runs nothing like what you're proposing with SkyTran. Even the ULTra system at the Heathrow airport is a low speed parking lot circulator designed for short trips. I could see PRT integrated with HSR as a local circulator, but not as a massive state-wide initiative.

Seer & Vijay:

Point well taken about train speeds: Express caltrain trains currently come through Mountain View at 79 mph. Caltrain is currently restricted to 79 mph because, like Seer mentioned, of FRA restrictions that come from track maintenance and signaling standards. The current equipment could run faster if the signals were modified, and the track and rolling stock were held to higher maintenance standards. There is an example of this in Southern California where Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner runs at 90 mph on regular tracks with equipment similar to Caltrain’s. However, faster speeds and greater train frequency demand grade separations.

As for BART, it was not built because of speed incompatibility. Existing track could’ve been electrified and maintained to a higher standard with better signals and it would’ve been fine. In fact, trains on the NY-DC Northeast Corridor ran at speeds of 110mph on jointed rail in the 1920’s, so BART is not necessary purely for speed.

However, your speed will be limited by the number of stops you want to make and the different service patterns you have. For instance, express trains must pass local trains and that requires four tracks. The more frequency you have, the more sections of 4 tracks you need. That’s why the shared high speed and Caltrain corridor requires 4 tracks. There will be local Caltrain service (all stops), express Caltrain service (less stops) and HSR service (no stops & some stops). That’s 4 levels of service at different speeds and frequencies that have to play together. It’s totally doable as it’s done all around the world and done between Washington DC and NY daily.

Like this comment
Posted by Jarrett
a resident of Castro City
on May 28, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Another thought:

While the Council and many citizens appear to be pushing the "out of sight out of mind" option, we must consider the pedestrian connectivity between different modes at our transit center. For instance, how can we improve the station experience for a transit user? Are the connections between bus, caltrain, and light rail quick and efficient? After all, Caltrain & VTA are predicting about 8500 riders for the Mountain View station which is more than the Lake Merritt BART station currently sees. How are those 8500 people going to interface and shop within our downtown? Will there be shops near the station for convenience items? Should the station be moved further north so it straddles Castro St? Imagine using the station yourself. Imagine what should be right next to the station and how you would transfer between different modes.

If we throw all our weight and energy behind a trench but ignore these essentials, we'll spend a lot of money and get a place that doesn't function very well.

That's why I think we shouldn't write off the elevated alternative so soon.

First of all, it doesn't have to be ugly. We're used to the nasty Caltrans concrete box girder highway structures which are awful. We don't want that. How about something more like this?

Web Link

That's an elevated railway station in Berlin with shops and access on the bottom floor.

Web Link

Here's a view from the street. The variety of materials makes the structure appear less massive, plus the shop buildings make it more human scaled with added convenience to train passengers. See that train on the top? That's the exact same equipment Caltrain will likely purchase for electrification so you can get an idea of what the size is like. This structure is also 4 tracks wide.

Like this comment
Posted by low speed rail
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 28, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hey real smart seer

"It's amazing to me to see the misconceptions and outright ignorance displayed on this forum. I'll try to tackle some of it. What I'm posting is easily verified with some simple searches online.

1) Low Speed says, "HSR is nothing but a method to make the current rail systems electric."

Sorry, Low Speed, but the speeds proposed for high speed rail mean you need different rolling stock and most importantly different rail lines designed to a completely different standard. You can electrify trains running on current rail lines, but they won't go over 78 MPH - by ruling of the FRA, the Federal Rail Agency. "

Please explain where on the smooth rail with a trench any train will reach 150mph anyplace via San Jose and San Francisco and for how long in duration.

If the idea is to destroy the cities along the way for a jobs program to create a new rail system then will not reach above an 80 mph average keep dreaming.

The letter was sent to DOT on the notion to stop funding the idiotic idea of HSR San Jose to San Francisco.

Like this comment
a resident of Shoreline West
on May 28, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Pay for this trench .you live by railroad tracks so dont expect the rest of the state to correct your poor choice

Like this comment
Posted by Seer
a resident of Cuesta Park
on May 28, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Jarrett, you made me "homesick" for my second home city with those pix. It's really a shame that people here have no conception of how well efficient rail can integrate with a city, creating all kinds of opportunities for urban rebirth rather than the fear-based reaction people here have of thinking "blight".

Yes, a number of cities in Europe have very nice elevated trains and stations. The ones you showed aren't exactly earthquake-proof, but if you go look at the new Berlin main station, you can see a 21st century design that is equally appealing, and still elevated. Because the europeans have had trains for so long, they have become part of their daily lives and so the stations and tracks are part of the business community and not some sort of stand-alone eyesore.

Solving the problems people are complaining about on here simply requires a little imagination and a little travel to other places where they have already been solved.

Like this comment
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 29, 2010 at 12:47 am

There is nothing about Rail Configuration here:
Web Link

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Like this comment
Posted by Jarrett
a resident of Castro City
on May 29, 2010 at 2:27 pm


The final detailed Bay Area to Central Valley EIR/EIS that discussed preferred alignments in the bay area was actually available several months before Proposition 1A was passed on the CAHSR website. Draft versions were available before that.

Web Link

Within the documents are detailed maps that show what the alignments are and what the vertical alignment would be (cut, fill, etc.). There are also cross-sections that visualize the options.


Yeah, it's unfortunate our enlightened community can't imagine transportation removed from the windshield perspective. I hope to someday visit the German systems and experience the blighted neighborhoods that result from elevated structures and evil trains in general.


The trains will reach 220mph within the central valley where it's flat and the tracks are straight. Trains will be limited to 125mph or less along the peninsula. Some HSR trains will make more stops than others so the total LA-SF travel time will fluctuate depending on the type of service.

Like this comment
Posted by PESHA
a resident of Willowgate
on May 29, 2010 at 4:32 pm

I live in a condominium about 2 blocks from the station. There is more than enough noise from the trains themselves and their horns. I hope the new system, whatever is adopted, will not stop at Castro and add to the noise. Or it will be so quiet it won't disturb us.

There are many people living near the station with more coming in to new housing being built. Don't count us out. WE VOTE TOO!

Like this comment
Posted by Seer
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jun 1, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Good news. HSR trains are a completely different animal that CalTrain or freight trains, and the cars are much lighter. The result is that they make a lot less vibration (rumbling/shaking) and if they are truly grade-separated, there is no requirement for them to toot horns. If the trains stop in MV, then their average speed will be relatively low since they'll be slowing down or speeding up, and you will think that they aren't there from two blocks away, or even one block. If there is no stop in MV, the trains could be travelling at up to 125MPH, but without the heavy diesels, all you'll hear is a swooshing sound that doesn't penetrate buildings very well. I have stayed in hotels next to the HSR in Germany and I couldn't tell it was going by from even 100 yards away if I was indoors. Outdoors, the sound was much like a bunch of cars travelling about 50MPH on a wet street - something you can hear in the winter on Central Expressway. This was for ground level tracks, not elevated or in a trench.

@LowSpeed: I picked this handle in order to see who was more concerned with my handle or with what I said ;)

Like this comment
Posted by steve
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jun 1, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Lots of great energy and discussion about HSR; however it is wasted. HSR will (thankfully) never happen. I'll go book my $69 trip to LA on Southwest now.

Like this comment
Posted by MarkT
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Seer and Jarrett both have valid points about SkyTran, and I think that there are good responses.

Probably the biggest "problem" with SkyTran is that it isn't tested. So, let's test it and get it working. This is Silicon Valley, California! We've created far more complex technologies than SkyTran.
We could most likely be using it long before HSR could get through the morass of problems it has and start construction.

SkyTran's speeds of 150 mph intercity and 100 mph intra-city are projected to be slower than HSR's 220 mph, but HSR requires people to board at widely-spaced stations while SkyTran can have many local stations. SkyTran could thus serve smaller communities along its path. HSR has to stop at intermediate stations, while SkyTran doesn't. When these points are taken into account, total travel time is similar. Plus, HSR requires people to conform to its schedule, while SkyTran can run 24/7 and allows people to run on their schedule.

I already gave the data about how many SkyTran tracks are needed -- one in each direction, based on current ridership projections. Because of its flexible design, SkyTran could easily be expanded.

SkyTran could eliminate CalTrain and its noise and projected electrification expense.

People on SkyTran could easily stop along the way for meals, etc. SkyTran may not be as comfortable and plush as HSR, but its ticket prices would be dramatically less.

And, don't forget that SkyTran would be much cheaper and quicker to build, and less disruptive.

Like this comment
Posted by Seer
a resident of Jackson Park
on Jun 2, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Steve, try to think about this logically. Oil prices are projected to quadruple in the next 10 years because of a combination of dropoff in production due to depletion of oil and extreme increases in demand from China and India. Your $69 Southwest ticket will cost over $200 in today's dollars by 2020. The prices predicted for HSR trips are for the 2018 opening, also in today's dollars. That makes airlines reasonable only for intercontinental trips by 2020 - and very expensive at that. Once the oil prices are that high, there won't be any money for HSR, and California (and the US's) economy will tank in part for lack of transportation infrastructure.

Booking your trip on Southwest now won't eliminate the need for trips in 2020. And the best choice today has no bearing on the best choice then. Simple logic.

Like this comment
a resident of Rex Manor
on Jun 2, 2010 at 10:48 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Burger chain Shake Shack to open in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 17 comments | 4,874 views

The Cost of Service
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 1,181 views

Couples: When Wrong Admit It; When Right; Shut Up
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 686 views