Saturday, March 10, 2012

When a local issue misses to grasp the statewide issue over High-Speed Rail

Sometimes our best insights about a situation are provoked by local newspapers and websites, not the MSM, "mainstream media" or national press.  Here's an article from The Mountain View Voice, on the Peninsula, that misses the point, and a comment that pretty much nails it.

Let me explain what's going on for context.  As we've described in the past, the realization that there won't be future funding for California's high-speed rail project has galvanized local and regional transportation organizations and agencies into action.

It's basically a grab for funding that exists, especially since there won't be any more after this.

That means that not only do the transportation groups in the Bay Area and the LA Basin seek a piece of the current HSR funding, they will try for even more, leveraging off the state HSR bond funds for high-speed rail.  All this is with the active support of the state's Democratic legislators and the Governor which now is managing the high-speed rail project with far greater personal involvement. This intended process is of questionable legality and evidence of desperation.

You need to cut through all the train development rhetoric, which only confuses the issue, and see this for what it is, a money grab.  We've explained in the past that a lot of new jargon has been created to promote the illusion that these are all essential steps for "improving" passenger rail in California, and of course, the single fixation on "jobs." 

Let's be clear; nobody in power gives a damn about that. Electrifying Caltrain, the regional commuter train on the Bay Area Peninsula, will not appreciably improve that commuter service, although it will be a highly visible hardware upgrade. 

What that electrification is about points to bringing high-speed rail to the Caltrain corridor so that Caltrain can benefit from future HSR funding to expand the corridor and thereby grow their Caltrain Empire. By expand, I mean add two more tracks and elevate the four tracks on a bridge-like viaduct. It will also create all the desired grade-separation of cross-streeets. This expensive infrastructure expansion idea is on hold only due to lack of funding. 

One more point.  The article focuses on the HSR impact in this Mountain View Community centered around Castro Street.  It's an example of the CHSRA people having successfully involved the individual towns and cities, urging each to express their alignment preferences.

That's nonsensical inasmuch as they can't build an amusement park roller-coaster.  The tracks must remain as straight and level as possible.  Therefore, whole stretches of contiguous communities must agree on an alignment in order for it to be practical and buildable. 

Anyhow, it's all irrelevant because the rail authority is going to build what it wants and what it can afford, regardless of any local concerns.

Now, about the comment just beneath the article. It's one out of several. Jay Turlock gets the basics right. Simply put, what he's saying is, it's not about the train; it's about the money.  

However, his last thoughts indicate that he favors electrification for Caltrain.  Our counter-argument is that electrification is too expensive (in cost/benefit terms) and won't produce the improvements for commuter rail service by an organization now notorious for its mis-management and self-serving agenda. Since we can have no confidence in the Caltrain organization, we have no confidence in the merits of electrification either.

Oh, and I don't agree with Mr. Turlock about the Pacheco Pass not being the preferred route.  That will be the route simply because HSR wants it that way and there is no compelling political reason or force to change that route for the alternative Altamont/Bay crossing route. 

By the way, we intend to attend the Simitian meeting in Mt. View next Tuesday referred to in the article. It will be a milestone event and we shall be taking notes.  Stand by.

Uploaded: Thursday, March 8, 2012, 12:22 PM                                             

Four train tracks may still be ahead for MV  
by Daniel DeBolt 
Mountain View Voice Staff

Part of the growing popularity of a "blended system" for high-speed rail and Caltrain is that Palo Alto and other cities may be spared the addition to two tracks to their Caltrain right of way. Other cities, but not Mountain View. Adding two more train tracks is still on the table for Mountain View, according to a recent Caltrain analysis.

In an "operations analysis" for the blended system that allows Caltrain and high-speed rail to share two tracks along most of the Peninsula, Caltrain has created five scenarios to allow high speed trains to pass slower local trains along the Caltrain corridor, increasing capacity. 

One scenario places four tracks from Sunnyvale's Lawrence station to Mountain View's San Antonio station. The scenario adds a new track on each side of the existing tracks to allow high-speed trains to blow past local trains that have pulled over for a stop on the new tracks. 

Four tracks through downtown Mountain View could significantly change Castro Street and the downtown train station where Public Works officials say there are clearance issues involving the light rail tracks and the 1887 replica train depot. And city officials have not been able to find an acceptable solution for a grade-separated crossing at Castro Street that may be necessary with more trains running during peak hours. 

Residents will have a chance to discuss such issues on Tuesday evening, March 13, when state Sen. Joe Simitian hosts a hearing on high-speed rail at Mountain View's Center for Performing Arts at 7 p.m. 

Simitian proposed the blended system along with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon.

The passing track option through Mountain View makes sense because "it stays substantially within the Caltrain right of way," said Caltrain spokesperson Seamus Murphy. "'Substantially' was the word used by Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon when they proposed the blended system. We don't want to go outside the Caltrain right of way at all if we don't have to."

Passing tracks would only be necessary if running more than two high-speed trains in each direction per hour and more than six Caltrain trains per hour. With a passing track, four high speed trains could run every hour, for a total of 10 in each direction every hour. 

"When you increase the number of trains every hour there will be more potential for impacts to traffic and safety," Murphy said. So far results show that with "six Caltrain trains and up to four high speed trains every hour in each direction, "we can feasibly operate that level of service in a safe way," Murphy said.

Other options for passing tracks would put an additional two tracks through segments with at least three stations somewhere on the Caltrain right of away. Options include a 10-mile segment between Bayshore and Millbrae stations, a 9-mile segment between Hayward Park and Redwood City stations and a 6-mile segment between Hayward Park and San Carlos stations. A fifth option involves adding only one passing track, which would be shared by high-speed trains going in both directions. Its location has yet to be proposed.

Murphy said Caltrain hopes to spur the electrification of Caltrain, which would allow the capacity of the line to increase to 70,000 riders a day. It is now at 45,000 after 17 consecutive months of growth, up from 40,000 riders a day in 2010.

Caltrain doesn't have decision-making power over the final design, but will make a recommendation to the California High Speed Rail Authority. All five passing track options are still on the table, Murphy said.

Mayor Mike Kasperzak said he didn't think that it was "an issue four tracks or two tracks," in Mountain View, because the bigger impact would come from adding more trains. If 10 trains ran each hour in both directions, that would mean one every three minutes, making the Castro Street crossing "not useable," Kasperzak said. 

The City Council has discussed putting the tracks in a trench, the cost of which is "probably not practical," Kasperzak said. Its not a favorite idea to put Castro Street under the tracks, which would mean lowering Castro Street starting at Villa Street, changing the character of the city's historic 100 block. Raising the tracks has some support from residents who want a bike path underneath, but council members haven't supported the idea because it would chance the city's landscape so much. 

"I personally don't think it's workable to have Castro go under or over the tracks," Kasperzak said. 

Murphy said grade-separated crossings were not required until trains go faster than 110 miles per hour, which is the speed Caltrain is studying for high-speed rail. Caltrain trains now run at 79 miles per hour.

"Do you just close Castro Street?" Kasperzak said. "There are not a lot of good choices. They are all difficult."


Posted by Jay Tulock, a resident of another community, on Mar 8, 2012 at 9:22 pm

I do not think the author or the readers understand what is going on here. The amount of money to actually build the entire system is staggering and not politically feasible to obtain from the feds, not in the next few decades at least. 

What is now happening is not an attempt to build high speed rail or prepare for high speed rail. This is a last ditch attempt to spend the state bond money in an attempt to electrify Caltrain by calling it a prelude to high speed rail and hoping that those making a legal ruling on this are actually political hacks who will declare that to be so. 

Caltrain's own plans do not call for the ability to run the high speed trains up the Peninsula. Caltrain has created a plan that in theory has the ability to run one single high speed train each hour. In theory. That is only there so that they can say the are doing it for high speed rail so they are eligible for funds that the authority will give to them as nothing more than a conduit for federal funds. A conduit that in itself is a conduit to pay high priced consultants to put together lavish plans that will never come to fruition. 

Caltrain has no actual plans to run this single high speed train and high speed authority fake plans are for many times more trains than that. This works only because the Pacheco Pass route is never going to be built. High Speed Authority cannot say this out loud lest San Jose support is lost.

Do not be lulled into thinking this has anything to do with high speed rail or getting ready for high speed rail. This is an attempt by Caltrain to take voter approved funds that were meant for high speed trains and instead use these billions of dollars to electrify their railway. As a builder of trains worldwide including some electrified lines, I am supportive of Caltrain electrifying. 

This would be a positive move for the railroad and for the Peninsula. No one however should be fooled as to what is really going on here. This is a desperate feeding frenzy drooling at the billion dollar trough on the other side of the fence, Caltrain hoping someone else does not make it to the trough first, or they take away the trough altogether before anyone can eat.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville

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