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Posts Tagged ‘money pit’

Robert Moses Resurrected

Who would have thought that 1950’s-style highway planning would be back — only this time in the form of 224 mph high-speed trains? Draw two points on a map, a line in between, and never mind what neighborhoods are in the way of progress:

State officials looking to shoot 220-mph bullet trains through densely populated neighborhoods in San Jose — with the least resistance from residents — are shopping four alternatives to the original route along existing Caltrain tracks.

And here is the map of the alignments (click to enlarge).

sj_hsr_map

Risks of Tunneling
The proposed alignments would run underground. In any high-speed rail project, digging tunnels underneath urban neighborhoods is something to be avoided if at all possible. Not only is it expensive and disruptive, it is also supremely risky. For example: one of the worst civil engineering disasters in the UK was the collapse of the Heathrow Express tunnel. The collapse caused severe damage to buildings at the world’s busiest airport. And it was dumb luck that one of the world’s busiest subway lines wasn’t knocked out too. Similar types of disasters have happened in Cairo and Los Angeles.

Don’t Dig If You Don’t Have To
When high-speed rail technology was developed some 4 decades ago, the critical requirement was compatibility with existing steel-wheel rail infrastructure. That way, planners avoid complications of building new tunnels and ROW into urban centers.

Ironically, San Jose Diridon station has 3 railroad ROW’s running north through Fremont, and another running south. The one running South is, we now know, off limits because of UP freight requirements. But looking north, the VTA owns the ROW running north to Fremont and all the way to Niles (for route through Altamont). Moreover, the other two ROW’s are also entirely feasible, as is the CHSRA preferred alignment on I880 for their (purely theoretical) Oakland spur.

Of course, none of these cost-effective solutions will work if your main objective is building new rail line out into open space and wilderness for the benefit of real estate speculators who bought up ranchland way out past Gilroy…

Environmental Impacts of Tunnels
Lately, the idea of buildings tunnels along the Peninsula for high-speed rail has been seen as bringing certain environmental benefits. Certainly for neighbors living along the line, a tunnel does not have the visual impacts that a surface or aerial line would have. But in other areas, one should not automatically assume tunnels are environmentally benign. While tunnels mitigate noise, they may actually amplify vibration. There are also hydrology challenges to consider. The San Jose downtown area sits in the middle of a major watershed that is already severely degraded.

Guadalupe2005MapXL

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Dear San Jose:
When critics lampoon your plans for Diridon Station as a giant money pit, it was meant as a joke — not a design requirement.

The alternative routes include several ideas submitted by the San Jose transportation department, including an aerial or underground line that would thread the Highway 87 and Interstate 280 interchange and end at a new train station between HP Pavilion and the current Diridon station. The new station could be built above ground or underground, but an underground station would probably be constructed under the proposed BART station — where buses now stop in the Diridon parking lot. An underground high-speed rail station there would be about 10 stories deep.

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Question: How big a train station is required to handle bidirectional 4 trains/hr?

Most railway planners would give an answer something like this:

But in Anaheim, the solution for handling for their measly 4 trains/hr (2030 projection!) is this $180 million palatial megacomplex, the Grand Central of Orange County, otherwise known as Artic:

artic2

The “Leed(TM) Platinum-Certified sustainable building” will provide over 1255 parking spaces.

Unfortunately, the station is not an anomaly. Many cities view train stations as a form of monument building. All over California there are similar stations either being planned or already built. It would be one thing if these were “Grand Central” station stops with tens of millions of annual trips. But they aren’t — even with most optimistic travel forecasts they will always be just minor suburban stops.

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