Posts Tagged ‘CHSRA’

The Three Stooges

In case you missed it, here is video of the Amtrak Press Conference — where it was announced that California will be buying Acela-2 trainsets.

And if you were wondering how (or why?) a single trainset may be designed for both the NEC and CHSRA, you can listen as John Boardman explains that it is simply a matter of switching the trucks…or um, something.

And if you were wondering how this will reduce costs for California, you can listen as Jeff Morales explains that Buy-America policies, and a proprietary FRA spec will increase their buying power…or um, something.

Actually, the entire video is a huge embarrassment to the profession. I suggest having a lot of stiff drinks to make it through all the cringe-worthy moments.

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One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with existing partners. For example: Caltrain and the CHSRA are supposed to be sharing track and stations (as part of the “blended” plan) — but there has been almost no cooperation between the two agencies. Those new EMU trains that Caltrain will be getting with electrification are being designed without any input from CHSRA. Same for the new Caltrain signal system.

And now that mystery got a lot weirder. Amtrak and the CHSRA have announced they will be doing a joint procurement on train sets:

Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) are joining forces in the search for proven high-speed rail (HSR) train sets currently being manufactured and in commercial service that are capable of operating safely at speeds up to 220 mph on both Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) and on California’s developing HSR corridor.

“This is about investing in 21st Century state-of-the art high-speed rail,” said California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales. “We are pleased to join with Amtrak and look forward to continued collaboration in the future. This is a natural fit since Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and California will be the bookends for American high-speed rail.”

Perhaps Jeff Morales isn’t familiar with North American geography? California and the Northeast Corridor are several thousand miles apart.

Seriously, it is really hard to come up with a rational explanation for this plan. The NEC is a 100-year-old legacy infrastructure, whereas the CHSRA is nearly a clean-sheet design. Why make California’s system backwards-compatible with a legacy rail system thousands of miles away?

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Obligatory Upton Sinclair Quote

Dan Richard, Chair of the CA High-Speed Rail Authority, talking about his feelings on the Pacheco Jerry-mandering:

Before taking the helm of California’s High-Speed Rail Authority, Dan Richard told Gov. Jerry Brown that the plan was “really screwed up and going to end up biting you in the ankles.”

Richard didn’t like the idea of sending it up the Peninsula to San Francisco as opposed to traversing Altamont Pass. He also was in league with those who thought laying the rail along a stretch of the Central Valley was a bad beginning to the ambitious $69 billion project.

But that was then. Thursday, Richard told about 60 people gathered at San Jose State for a high-speed rail forum that he no longer has “the luxury of being a guy throwing stones.”

“Now,” he joked, “I’m a guy making $500 a month to make decisions” and has since had a sea change.

As Upton Sinclair would say, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

But even given all that, it is disappointing he is repeating all the same stupid falsehoods about the Altamont alternative:

Richard said he changed his mind about the path the train should take because the route must have a terminus in San Francisco, and swinging across from the Altamont would take longer, require a costly bridge crossing and trigger legal challenges.

Excuse me? Has Richard even read the EIR? The Altamont alternative — besides being faster and getting LA-SF service up and running decades sooner — would indeed terminate in San Francisco. And even with that “costly” bridge, Altamont and Pacheco were shown in the EIR to have similar costs.

As for these phantom legal vigilantes…please tell us who they are. If they were such a threat, then why no lawsuits against Caltrain’s Dumbarton Bridge project?

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Great Minds Think Alike

Three months ago, I outlined the many bike/ped access problems in the Fresno HSR Station Plans. It appears Fresno city planners have the same concerns.

The city has published Design Guidelines that finds many problems with the bike/ped access across the new rail line. They propose various solutions — some are good ideas and some are less-than-ideal. Unfortunately, the CHSRA have set the design parameters in concrete, and that limits the design options. But given what they had to work with, this is a positive step at least.

For example, CHSRA did not think about dedicated bike facilities in their grade-separation overcrossings. Whereas their overcrossings would have been designed with 10′ sidewalks and (in some cases) 7′ shoulders, Fresno planners propose 14′ space for bike and peds on all the overcrossings — basically a 14′ wide Class I bike facility.

Things get more interesting in the downtown area, where the street grid gets seriously disrupted. Here is their proposal (click to enlarge):

The big change is in the pedestrian bridge. CHSRA had an overcrossing that dead-ended into the station. Instead, Fresno would have the pedestrian overcrossing relocated to Tuolumne Street, providing a through connection over the tracks:

Tuolumne Street is a C3-designated (high-volume, one-way) street that currently serves as the NE-bound partner in the Stanislaus-Tuolumne one-way couplet. The CHSR 15% engineering drawings assume elimination of the Tuolumne overpass.

Re-use of the Tuolumne right-of-way for a pedestrian/bicycle access bridge is preferable to a mid-block pedestrian bridge that does not line up with the desired pathways of pedestrians and bicyclists, on the street grid. Circulation is most intuitive and convenient when it is organized in street rights-of-way, or in a way that reinforces the patterns established by a grid of rights-of-way. By creating starting and ending points at G and H Street, the new pedestrian bridge would increase connectivity, and allow restoration of normal frontage for Tuolumne Street between Broadway and F street (which is currently occupied by the approach to the existing bridge).

Recommendations: re-align the proposed pedestrian bridge in the Tuolumne right-of-way and provide vertical connection at H and G streets to expose more commercial frontage.

The next major change is to increase the opportunities for sidewalks and ground-level retail near the station. Unfortunately, I fear they will be thwarted by CHSRA mentality of isolating stations away from streets.

Finally, there is the problem of those tunnel-like undercrossings. How to make them more inviting for bikes and peds? And how to reclaim valuable street frontage for retail?


So what’s not to like? Well, there is still a problem with getting from street level to the platform. The CHSRA has deliberately complicated that trip, with fare gates, parking lots, and the like. And the secure bike parking is still lacking.

Because of the time-limits on the stimulus funds (and the election), the CHSRA is rushing to get this project out to bid. That is too bad — if Fresno had more time to press these issues, they might have actually gotten a decent design.

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Double Facepalm

Two years ago, when this blog criticized the CHSRA for its Amtrak-style practices, it was meant somewhat as a joke. Who knew they would actually go out and hire Amtrak’s Chief Engineer!?

Frank Vacca, the chief engineer of Amtrak, has been hired as chief program manager of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Mr. Vacca has over 35 years of experience in commuter, inter-city and high-speed passenger rail systems. “Frank Vacca is a highly recognized and respected executive in rail and will be a major asset in delivering high-speed rail to California in his new role as the Authority’s chief program manager,” says Jeff Morales, CEO of the Authority. “Frank’s expertise will help fulfill our ongoing commitment to partner with existing rail systems in building a statewide rail network.”

Mr. Vacca has a long and varied background in rail management, most recently as the chief engineer of Amtrak – a position he has held since 2006. He has held several other key positions with the national rail line. He was also the deputy general manager for infrastructure engineering at New Jersey Transit. In his role as chief program manager, Mr. Vacca will lead technical and engineering teams as they focus on delivering the high-speed rail project.

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Ouch. San Mateo voters love the idea of electrification, just not the high-speed rail part.

CHSRA has totally poisoned the well.

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As part of the EIR process, station area plans have been published by the CA High-Speed Rail Authority for Fresno and Bakersfield (“California High-Speed Rail Fresno-Bakersfield Segment, Part III, Section E“).

Here is a rendering of the Bakersfield design (there are several variations, all following the same template).  You should click the image to enlarge.

And here is a Fresno rending. For a downtown location, the Fresno station sure has an abundance of surface parking (parking areas highlighted in orange, the station footprint in yellow).

These designs are very underwhelming. They are so retrograde, it is as if Parsons Brinckerhoff had thawed out 1960’s BART engineers from cryogenic hibernation.

The bike/ped access is especially bad. A simple metric for bike/ped accessibility is the walking distance from platform to street. For some destinations, it isn’t too arduous — but for other directions the travel is circuitous. Visitors must cross acres of parking (not to mention the fare gates and possible TSA baggage screening) to reach the street. The Bakersfield design is especially lacking because the station would be grade-separated over a roadway, and yet no effort was made to exploit that. Really, the only direct route from platform to street is the emergency staircase.

The bike parking is also problematic because no thought was given to inside-the-station secure bike parking. Indeed, bike racks and lockers are relegated to obscure locations, away from foot traffic (making for easy theft). The lack of secure parking is inexcusable as the stations don’t lack for space. Approx. 1,000 sq-ft is allocated for a telecommunications and “station computer” center (if this high-speed rail thing doesn’t work out, perhaps Google can use the facility for a data center).

Since the stations are situated along the existing freight rail tracks, long pedestrian overcrossings were included; however, the design of the overcrossings is bizarre. Take a look at this view of the Bakersfield station, and note how the freight overcrossing doesn’t line up with the high-speed rail platform. To exit the station, one must go down, then up, then down again!

A similar problem exists for Fresno station. The tracks are at-grade, and the west entrance is at-grade, but passengers must go up and down again — because the fare gates are in the upper level concourse:

So what can be done differently? For starters, we can look to these guys for inspiration…

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Prophetic Words

In what Transdef calls the “speech of his life”, Senator Simitian explains his No vote on the high-speed rail construction. Ten years ago, Simitian co-sponsored the bill that had put the HSR bond measure on the ballot, but has now soured on the project’s mismanagement.

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The Rod Diridon Quote of the Day

For once I have to agree with Rod Diridon:

The South Bay’s Rod Diridon, who helped recruit Morales as a project board member two years ago, said Morales is a good fit now that the project is more “political than technical.”

Like other mega-projects, CHSRA decisionmaking is all political.

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Well, LA Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian is at it again.

Last month he triggered a false alarm over high-speed rail operating costs. Now he has made new allegations over the “aggressive” construction schedule:

If California starts building a 130-mile segment of high-speed rail late this year as planned, it will enter into a risky race against a deadline set up under federal law. The bullet train track through the Central Valley would cost $6 billion and have to be completed by September 2017, or else potentially lose some of its federal funding. It would mean spending as much as $3.5 million every calendar day, holidays and weekends included — the fastest rate of transportation construction known in U.S. history, according to industry and academic experts.

This is nonsense. Compare to the recently completed TGV-Est line in France. It took the French 5 years to complete a 190-mile project. And that was the whole enchilada, including electrification and signalling. Here we are talking about 4 years to do the track-only portion of a 130-mile project.

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