Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Most readers are familiar with the Sierra Club’s opposition to transit-oriented development. But now the Club has sunk to a new low:


One of the Club’s arguments is that the law would generate opposition to new transit lines. Why would NIMBY groups support transit investment if it all but requires upzoning?

But as Ethan Elkind points out, this is a feature not a bug. Far too much money has been wasted on new rail lines to low-density communities. When these communities refuse to approve the necessary development to generate ridership, it wastes the taxpayer investment. At the very least, the bill would ensure future transportation investments are spent on communities that actually want public transit.


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The technology is vapourware. And even if it could be made to work, it would inevitably lead to intrusive police behavior, and traffic jams for riders as they pass through the security theater:

Less than a week after a man detonated a pipe bomb strapped to his chest in a crowded subway corridor in Manhattan, Senator Chuck Schumer urged the federal government on Sunday to speed up the rollout of a technology that can detect concealed explosives in crowded areas.

Since 2004, the Transportation Security Administration has been testing machines that can detect whether a person is concealing an improvised explosive device in crowded mass transit environments. Mr. Schumer called on the agency to speed up the tests and deploy the machines in New York City subways, bus stations and airports.

It is worth pointing out that New York has actually had two recent terrorist attacks on transportation facilities. The other attack, which Schumer failed to mention, involved a homicidal truck driver who killed 8 cyclists on a bike path. Fixing the dangers on bike paths is easy and uses proven technology; i.e. bollards, curbs, k-rail, etc. But whereas Schumer is promising “unlimited” funding for vaporware bomb detectors, he seems to have little interest in protecting users of sidewalks and pathways.

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Following up on yesterday’s posting on the VTA single-bore proposal, I thought it is useful to share BART’s opinions on the idea. Several of their staff testified at a VTA Board meeting in September (the relevant video section is embedded below).

Needless to say, the BART senior staff were not amused with the proposal. They have decades of experience with underground heavy metro, whereas VTA has no never done such a project. You can sense their exasperation as they go over the blunders in the VTA design. It is not encouraging that VTA Board members asked so many dumb questions.

Their entire testimony is worth watching, but the flaws that really stand out were the following:

  1. The single-bore design carries $440 million to $1.8 billion of additional risk.  There several reasons for this, but the main culprit is market risk. Very few firms are qualified to do such a design, whereas there are many local firms qualified to bid on a conventional twin-bore project. Another risk is that the VTA single-bore design has not progressed beyond the “cocktail-napkin” engineering stage.
  2. The deep bore stations as spec’ed out by VTA do not conform with California fire code. It is unclear how to work around that constraint. VTA tried to hand-wave around the issue by claiming the standard twin-core stations are also non-compliant (BART staff vehemently disagreed).
  3. The stacked platforms are too narrow to handle large “event” crowds that are to be expected, such as a concert or Sharks game.

It is clear that if the VTA were to go ahead with their design, it will take longer to complete, have higher cost, and result in a tunnel with serious safety, access, and operational problems. And for what — to shave some months off a road closure!? Geez, what a train-wreck this is turning into.

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One bore or two?

Answer: two bores

For the past year, the VTA has been selling the idea of doing its BART tunnel in a single bore instead of twin bores. BART staff has been very opposed. If you don’t know what this all means, here is a diagram to show the difference:


The twin bore on the right is the usual BART configuration. The single bore on the left is what VTA is proposing to build.

The VTA describes the single-bore concept as a new and revolutionary approach to reduce costs and construction impacts. In fact, the idea has been around forever, and is really only useful in situations of limited ROW or for other technical issues. The single-bore design has a number of downsides, which are obvious just by studying the above diagram.

The first problem is that platforms are deeper underground. Passengers would have to descend several additional levels to reach the trains. The station would also have fewer entry points on the surface. This layout would be especially bad if it were used at Diridon station and the CHSRA persists in building its HSR tracks on an aerial. Transferring from BART to HSR would entail a trip from 85′ underground to some 60-80′ up in the air. If you enjoyed playing Chutes-and-Ladders as a kid that might be fun, but not so enjoyable for people with luggage or wheelchairs.

quote2The second problem with the single-bore is that the stacked design does not allow for track crossovers. Crossovers give BART the operational flexibility to move around a disabled train. The stacked design eliminates a planned crossover near the downtown station.

The single bore station also brings higher operational costs. Running all those additional elevators and escalators to the lower depths adds $1.5 million in annual costs. The VTA staff report concedes that the construction costs are comparable for single vs. twin bore. Thus taking into account the higher operational expenses, the single bore has higher life-cycle cost.

So why even consider the single bore design? It has higher cost, worse passenger access, and operational problems. Well, there is the reduced construction impact, right? The VTA says the single-bore requires less cut-cover construction. But the VTA has been greatly exaggerating that benefit. The single-bore design would ideally reduce street closure time by all of 10 months. And those closures would occur in 2-block chunks. Inconvenient for drivers perhaps, but hardly a good reason for screwing up a major rail infrastructure project.

Further reading: http://vtaorgcontent.s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/Site_Content/bod_092217_wrksp_packet.pdf.



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SMART’s modern 21st century railcars

It is a clean-sheet railcar design, and yet it never occurred to the designers that passengers might want to move between cars? *Facepalm*

While the standard pairs allow passengers to travel directly between each car, riders on the three-car trains cannot leave the extra car until the train is stopped. The third car has a restroom but no snack bar, since the cars are designed to include only one of those.

“Anybody that wants to buy a cup of coffee and is in that car that doesn’t allow them to walk all the way through is going to have to leave the car at one station and race over to the other one,” said Steve Birdlebough of the group Friends of SMART. “It’s kind of a nuisance.”

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Caltrain had a celebratory groundbreaking for its new South San Francisco station:

Years of planning and coordinating culminated with a few public acknowledgments lasting just a little longer than the time Caltrain doors stay open during a stop at the South San Francisco station. But following state, regional and city officials digging their ceremonial shovels into loose dirt during a groundbreaking, Monday, Nov. 6, construction on the new South City station is now on track.

According to the project plans, the existing station will be replaced with a new center boarding platform leading to a pedestrian underpass connecting travelers to downtown South San Francisco, at Grand Avenue and Poletti Drive. The improvements will also make the station fully compliant with Americans with Disability Act standards.

In fact, the station will not be ADA compliant. The “new” station continues Caltrain practice of building low platforms that do not provide level-platform boarding. Wheelchair users, and others with mobility issues, will have to use a wayside lift.

FRA regulations require level platform boarding at newly built stations. It is curious that the FRA rejected plans for new stations at places such as Roanoke and Milwaukee due to platform interface issues, but apparently signed off on this deficient design at SSF.

Level platform boarding benefits not just wheelchair users but all train passengers. Trains get seriously delayed when conductors must hoist wheelchair riders onto trains. Level boarding also speeds up loading of bicycles, rolling suitcases, etc. Level boarding is a key part of the Caltrain Modernization Project. Caltrain even ordered specially built trains with doors at two levels for this purpose, the but SSF platforms won’t line up with either of the door levels.

caltrain steps


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Capitol Corridor Money Pit

Caltrans has put out a draft version of its statewide rail plan. At first glance, it looks brilliant. They use ideas borrowed from the Swiss, such as pulse scheduling and integrated ticketing. Perhaps someday even 125mph electrified trains running on frequent schedules.

But dig deeper into the actual projects in the 20-year pipeline and it is disappointing. They will mostly throw money at existing Amtrak corridors that have to share track with freight. It is a huge waste of money — for example:


So after spending $324 million, we get a whopping 2 additional round-trips added to the schedule — in a corridor that will soon have faster and cheaper BART service.

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