At the San Mateo County Rail Partnership meeting held last week, the capacity results were announced. Yes, High Speed Rail and Caltrain can co-exist on two tracks. One outcome could be 6 trains for Caltrain and 2 trains per hour for HSR requiring no passing tracks. This alone would increase the amount of trains from 86 to approximately 170 trains per day without freight. The results of this capacity study do not take into consideration how the system will be built (at grade, elevated or below ground) because the study was ‘elevation blind” says Caltrain.
The official number of trains a two track system can bear during each peak hour is ten. Six for Caltrain and 3-4 for High Speed Rail but to achieve the upper end of the numbers would require a continuous 7-8 mile passing track to accommodate that train volume. One such track model tested went north from Redwood City putting the City of Belmont in the same position they would have been in if High Speed built 4 tracks as planned. They would have to demolish the current grade separation and rebuild it for the four track capacity. It would disrupt if not destroy businesses along Old County Road that would incur a huge loss in tax revenue for the city. Another possible area yet untested would be in Santa Clara County around the Mountain View area heading South which could be 3 tracks but a longer stretch of passing tracks.
Today Caltrain runs 5 trains per hour during peak commute periods and the preliminary result of the capacity study would give them a total of only 6 trains per hour. According to Marian Lee, Caltrain’s original idea for improving service and frequency was 10 Caltrain train sets per hour documented in its “Vison 2025 . Is Caltrain sacrificing too much in order to electrify the corridor? Has Caltrain significantly downgraded its frequency and service expectation in order to accommodate 2-4 HSR trains/hour?
Let’s look at the past actions of Caltrain and the Joint Powers Board to understand a bit more. At the September 4, 2008 Joint Powers Board meeting (prior to passage of IA) Bob Doty, former Peninsula Rail Program director, unveiled Caltrain’s Electrification 2015 Plan to include updated trains called Electrical Multiple Units (EMU), and a train protection system overlay (C-BOSS) with ability to run 12 trains per hour.”
Doty continues,“FRA sees our train control system (C-BOSS) as their answer to positive train control. They have had an experiment going nationwide and they fall on their face every time because they made it too complicated. We’re simple.” He adds the system is High Speed Rail compatible.”They [FRA] are looking at us to help them resolve that problem and it’s a pilot program for the United States”….What are you really to end up at the end of the day for the first time ever, you get rapid transit performance on a commuter rail infrastructure. Never been done. Never been done in the United States,” said Doty.”
See what Clem Tillier, rail enthusiast says about the proposed C-Boss system which is a computerized monitoring system that watches over train operators and slows or stops a train in case of human error. He compares that system to other less costly systems. http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/
Doty continued, “If we don’t get support, it’s not going to happen. We’ll be right where we are today, or (pause) maybe we won’t.” That’s what we could have by 2015.”
Mike Scanlon, CEO, then comments, “The elephant in the room is how we pay for it.” He then comments about funding sources, local shareholders, regional funding, new state and federal money coming in the next year or two….”Finally, I don’t want to jinx it but the High Speed Rail could be a source of funding….The High Speed Rail has a real promise to be a major contributor to helping us re-build this corridor because the benefits will be theirs and ours….We have strong support in Washington….We are going to have this as a national model that promises to show ways that we can increase the thru-put [how many trains run] in productivity not just passenger railroads but freight railroads too, has a whole lot of promise for us.”
Note: At that time, the proposition hadn’t been voted on. Today three years later the country is in a different political and fiscal atmosphere and even members of Joint Powers Board have slashed their cash support for operations of Caltrain, local and regional agencies are strapped for revenue so one would think it’s highly unrealistic that they would contribute building an electrification system. High Speed Rail might be Caltrain’s last chance.
While this is only the first brush at the results of this capacity study, the question is, are we headed in the right direction? Is this good for Caltrain and the communities it goes through? And is the Simitian/Eshoo/Gordon Plan (SEG Way plan) http://joltleft.com/transportation-policy-in-san-francisco/california-high-speed-rail-peninsula-legislators-take-action being accepted by Caltrain, High Speed Rail Authority and the Independent Peer Review Group.
Let’s see how Caltrain and High Speed Rail measure up next to the SEG Way plan conditions:
Condition #1: Elevated structures are Viaducts are not permitted unless the cities want them.
Only grade or below grade designs will be considered since it “explicitly rejects elevated structures or viaducts.”
Caltrain: They say have not studied horizontal design but did not explicitly rule out aerial structures but Marian Lee said later, “ We haven’t ventured into that dialogue yet because our capacity study is “elevation blind”…but when we do, we understand that SEG wants local support for what this looks like.
High Speed Rail: They confirmed at their August 25th board meeting that they increased their estimates from a two track viaduct to a four track viaduct as well as trenching costs which will be part of the newest business plan.
Condition #2: Stay substantially in the Caltrain ROW. Special note the SEG program did not specify the number or tracks despite reports otherwise.
High Speed Rail Authority: CEO agreed in principle but warned that there could be instances it went out of ROW. They also said in Spring Senate hearings they were waiting the Attorney General’s office ruling on the legality of the SEG Plan compared with AB3034 (1A vote) and California Environmental Protection Agency.
Independent Peer Review Group: “There appears to be a significant possibility that a ‘blended’ approach, in which a limited number of high-speed trains (2-4 per hour), could be initially operated in conjunction with local rail services.”
#3 Conditions: Reduced scope in the Environmental Impact Report:
This means a smaller project, construction once and then “you’re done,” stated per Senator Simitian at a Sacramento meeting this year.
Caltrain did say they were in favor of reducing the scope as long as it was legal stated in the Friends of Caltrain meeting on August 19, 2011
Peer Review Group: This paragraph is from the August 22nd response the Peer Review gave to the SEG group about their proposal: “With respect to the question you raise about changing the HSRA’s EIR to reflect only the initial stages of the blended operation, this approach would also be consistent with our recommendations for an EIR/EIS to focus on the initial service levels, however it would be misleading not to keep in mind that, if future passenger demand does in fact reach the higher amounts forecasted, then capacity additions consistent with HSRA and local operations will eventually be needed. It is possible that Caltrain’s electrification EIR, suitably modified, would suffice. None the less, the proper approach to this issue will require legal judgments about the environmental process that we cannot offer”
High Speed Rail: They are waiting for an Attorney General Ruling.
See next article Part 2 for Community Reactions and Senator Simitians admonishment to CEO Van Ark of CHSRA.