Palo Alto Weekly
News - August 6, 2010
Tunneling dropped as Midpeninsula rail option
Covered trenches also ruled out as design options for Palo Alto and neighboring communities
by Gennady Sheyner
Deep tunnels and covered trenches have been dropped as alternatives for the Palo Alto/Midpeninsula portion of the state's high-speed-line under the latest plan from the California High Speed Rail Authority, officials disclosed Thursday.
The agency dropped the tunnel and cut-and-cover alternatives despite heavy lobbying on their behalf by Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Mountain View and other Midpeninsula cities.
A short tunnel under San Francisquito Creek is a possibility, the report indicates — which would facilitate flood-control planning and possibly remove threats to the root system of the landmark El Palo Alto redwood tree.
The authority board discussed design options for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the line at its meeting yesterday in San Francisco.
A new staff report lists just two design options for the Peninsula segment: one relies on at-grade and aerial structures and another includes tunnels at several portions of the segment. Tunneling is still an option for a stretch in San Francisco, in the Burlingame/Millbrae area and in Santa Clara, where a major station is planned.
But in Palo Alto, where city leaders and residents have long clamored for an underground tunnel, deep tunnels and covered trenches now appear to be off the table. The only design options recommended by staff engineers are at-grade trains, aerial viaducts and open trenches, according to a staff summary made public at the meeting.
According to the Supplemental Alternative Analysis, the covered-trench alternative in the Palo Alto area is "impracticable due to major constructability issues" and presents significant ventilation and life-safety problems.
A deep tunnel would "result in critical risks due to ground conditions, have major constructability issues, lengthy construction schedule and substantial cost features," the report said.
"Partially or completely covered trench or short-tunnel sections may be constructed to ameliorate either narrow right of way or environmental concerns" on the Peninsula segment, the report states.
"The San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto could be a location where a short tunnel underneath the creek would be necessary in order to not interfere with the creek's water flow," it states.
It says that in other sections, trenching would be designed "to not preclude future decking or coverage.
"This would allow cities to cover sections of the trench if they found it desirable and if it were acceptable by Caltrain and the Authority."
Covered sections of less than 600 feet could be added later "without requiring sophisticated fire/life safety systems," it said.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at email@example.com.
Posted by Robert,
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 7, 2010 at 6:24 pm
Thank you for your question. IF we could make it vividly clear, on a personal basis, to the people in cities and towns throughout California...
1. that HSR, if implemented, will greatly increase the state's debt, probably to the tune of about a tenth of a TRILLION dollars,
2. that our children and theirs would be saddled with significantly greater taxes going forward to service that debt, something that will affect their quality of life in a substantial way, and
3. that other more important aspects of California life, e.g., our schools, parks, fire and police resources, and basic infrastructure (roads, bridges, tunnels, etc) would receive insufficient resources and allowed to deteriorate even further than they have been already (HSR's opportunity costs),
all that for a project that will
-- likely run at a significant annual operating deficit (which will require NEW infusions of public money),
-- add relatively few jobs in the steady state (compared with the ludicrous claims of 600K!),
-- be unable to fulfill or come close to its promise of 2 hours and 20 minutes from downtown SF to downtown LA. WHY? For several reasons, including the fact that major, costly, and imperfect anti-terrorism security screening procedures would be put in place throughout the HSR system that would require the same upstream waits and delays that we're familiar with in the case of airlines.
-- price its tickets far higher than the CHSRA's most recent utopian claim of 83% of the cost of an airline ticket price for the same route. (They claim that the system is going to make millions of dollars of profit annually even while pricing their tickets below those of SWA! Anyone want to bet the farm or mortgage on that one?)
then the base of opposition to this project (as conceived, as designed, and as it is being implemented) will broaden significantly.
Encouragingly, even with the deception of the Prop. 1A campaign and the vague and incomplete information provided in the voter pamphlet backgrounder, not to mention the utopian promises made for HSR, 47.5% of the people voted against 1A in November 2008. If the vote were held today, with the increased construction and costs estimates CHSRA has been forced to acknowledge) it would likely lose by a substantial margin.
We are beginning to see more journalists, e.g., Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee, dig into and shed light on the underbelly of this project, revealing its flawed assumptions and uncompelling case for profitability. We are beginning to become aware of the waste of $9 million of public money, our money, that CHSRA is lavishing on Ogilvy, a slick PR firm, to have it try to improve HSR's "image" by commissioning deceptive public opinion surveys and propagating misleading and hyper-optimistic interpretations of their "findings." As people begin to wake up to this web of deception, waste, and misplaced priorities, they will begin to put more and more pressure on their legislators to SCRUTINIZE the project as currently mismanaged, and if its flaws persist, to deny it any of the $9.5 billion the electorate authorized (but DID NOT REQUIRE) the legislature to spend on it.
Posted by Peter Carpenter,
a resident of Atherton
on Aug 10, 2010 at 5:21 pm
Adam is correct, my density data re France was incorrect.
"Probably no country in the world is better suited to high-speed rail than Japan. From Greater Tokyo, one of the world's largest and densest metropolitan areas, rail lines travel to chains of other large, dense cities typically located 25 to 50 miles apart.
As of 1949, most rail lines in Japan were owned by Japanese National Railways (JNR), a government corporation. Although nationalized, JNR was not subsidized and had earned a profit, or at least broken even, every year until it began building high-speed rail lines. As of 1960, Japanese rail lines carried conventional trains at conventional speeds. In that year, autos accounted for just 5 percent of Japanese travel, while rails carried 77 percent.
Then construction began on the Shinkansen, the world's first high-speed rail system. The first bullet train between Tokyo and Osaka proved highly profitable, and it has carried more people than all other high-speed rail trains in the world combined.
Once this line was built, however, Japanese politicians demanded bullet trains for their own cities and prefectures. With one exception, all lines built since the first one have lost money. Japan's experience shows that once a nation starts building high-speed rail, political forces make it hard to stop. Despite the need for huge subsidies that Japan cannot afford, the nation's taxpayers are forced to pay for high-speed lines into the prefectures of every powerful politician in the country.
These and other political factors have driven up bullet train costs, and caused Japanese National Railways to switch from a profit-making venture, before 1964, to a money loser ever since. JNR raised passenger fares, but that only pushed more people off the trains and into automobiles. Total automobile travel surpassed rail travel in 1977 and has kept on growing. Between 1965 and 2005, per capita driving increased by more than 900 percent, while per capita rail travel increased only 19 percent.
By 1987, expansion of bullet-train services and other below-cost operations had swelled JNR's debt to more than $350 billion. That high debt load led to a financial crisis, which significantly contributed to the nation's economic woes of the last two decades. The government was forced to absorb JNR's debt and privatize the railways.
As of 2007, rail's share of Japanese passenger travel had declined to 29 percent, which may still be more than in any other country in the world. And the average Japanese person travels about 1,950 miles per year by train, which is definitely more than people in any other country. But only about 20 percent of those rail miles are by high-speed rail. Automobiles carry 60 percent of passenger travel, and the remainder is divided between bus and domestic air.
After adjusting for inflation, Japan has spent about the same amount of money per capita on high-speed rail as the United States has spent on the interstate highway system. Yet the returns to Japan's mobility from its investment are far smaller: the average American travels 10 times as many miles on the interstates as the average Japanese travels by high-speed rail.
A final interesting feature of the Japanese government's emphasis on passenger rail is that it has had a detrimental effect on freight rail. Rail carries only about 4 percent of Japanese freight, while highways carry 60 percent. By contrast, more than a third of freight goes by rail in the United States, while highways carry a little more than one-fourth.
Europe's experience with high-speed rail provides another cautionary tale for the United States. As in Japan, high-speed rail in Europe is a money loser and it carries relatively few passengers. Italy introduced high-speed trains to Europe in 1978, and France followed with the Paris-Lyon train à grande vitesse (TGV) in 1981. Germany and other countries followed a few years after that.
France has been the European leader in high-speed rail. French trains carry 54 percent of Europe's high-speed rail passenger-miles, followed by Germany at 26 percent, and Italy at 10 percent. More than half of all rail travel in France is on high-speed trains, but in the overall European Union, nearly four out of five rail passengers still travel at conventional speeds.
When operating at high speeds, the French TGVs run on dedicated tracks. But TGV trains also operate on conventional tracks at normal speeds. In fact, while TGV trains may be seen throughout France, they only operate at high speeds between Paris and a few other cities. Germany's high-speed intercity express trains operate at their highest speeds only on selected routes, such as Berlin-Hamburg.
High-speed rail has done little to change European travel habits. In 1980, intercity rail accounted for 8.2 percent of passenger travel in the 15 countries in the European Union at the time. By 2000, the share in those countries had declined to 6.3 percent, and it has fallen further since then. Meanwhile, automobiles have modestly gained market share in recent decades. But the real challenge to high-speed rail has come from low-cost airlines. Thanks to deregulation of European airlines, the domestic airline share of passenger travel has more than doubled.
Because of the prominence of high-speed rail in France and Germany, rail has a higher share of passenger travel in those countries than in the rest of Europe. But the automobile's share of travel in both France and Germany is also higher than in the rest of Europe. The average French resident travels 7,600 miles per year by auto. By comparison, the average French resident travels about 400 miles per year on high-speed trains. In the European Union as a whole, the average is only about 100 miles per year. Rail's higher share in France and Germany comes at the expense of bus travel, not auto driving."