Friday, October 21, 2011

Some bad news for San Jose-San Francisco CAHSR

A recent CAHSRA memo bodes poorly for the current planning up in the Bay Area:

Since June, Caltrain has made significant progress in determining what capacity could be realized on the Caltrain corridor. The HST service would require at least four trains per hour per direction to serve the estimated passenger demand to and from the Peninsula and San Francisco. The Phase 1 service plan used for the Project‐level SF to SJ EIR stated that eight high‐speed trains phpd would be required for a fully built out Phase 1 during peak periods. Consequently, Caltrain has focused its operations simulation efforts on studying scenarios with six Caltrain trains and four high‐speed trains phpd which will offer the required performance level expected of high‐speed rail and the passenger capacity expected during this initial phase. While the initial model results show promise that such an operation is possible, as discussed above there are compromises that will need to be made by the Authority in order for the blended approach to work. Specifically the Authority will need to accept:
• That the high speed trains will not operate at 125 mph as originally envisioned for the SF to SJ corridor and consequently not be able to make the 30 minute travel time goal between SF and SJ as stated in Proposition 1A. It is not yet clear whether high‐speed trains will need to operate at 79 mph or possibly may be able to reach speeds of up to 110 mph on the Caltrain corridor. Further investigation continues.
• That the high‐speed trains will operate on a railroad with “at‐grade” crossings. The original performance criteria for the statewide system required a “fully grade‐separated” system.

An estimate of the capital cost of providing the necessary infrastructure for a blended solution indicates that it remains substantial. Initial estimates based on the existing engineering work by the Authority puts the total at approximately $5.3 billion (2010 dollars) for the mid‐line overtake solution.
The Transbay Transit Center (TTC) in downtown San Francisco is the preferred destination for the statewide HST system in San Francisco. According to recent estimates from the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, the estimated cost of developing the tunnels from 7th and Common Street, to the Transbay Terminal at Fremont and Mission Street is approximately $2.6‐$3 billion in year of expenditure dollars. This estimate includes the tunnels, stations and platforms at the TTC that would be able to serve thehigh‐speed and Caltrain trains. The $2.6 billion cost of this project is not currently included in the $5.3 billion estimate for the blended service described above.

At a grand total of eight billion dollars for the construction of a segment that will not manage the speeds (indeed, quite possibly being slower than current Metrolink and Amtrak trains in Orange County along the LOSSAN line) necessary to meet Prop 1A requirements, it is highly unlikely that CEO van Ark will not choose to "value engineer" the routing as is being studied with the renewed look at the Grapevine routing. Indeed, choosing to go with the superior Altamont corridor as a cost savings measure (since it would require a much smaller amount of shared ROW between Caltrain and CAHSR and would reduce the cost of the Sacramento extension) seems like it would almost be a slam dunk as the Authority is not prejudiced in its routing options, either Pacheco or Altamont, under the terms of Proposition 1A while the Authority is likely going to need to convince the Legislature to amend the law to permit the Grapevine route to proceed, bypassing Palmdale.

It also introduces the potential that an IOS encompassing the entire San Joaquin Valley, from Sacramento on south (and potentially to Los Angeles) might not be as crazy an idea as it initially seemed. Phase II extensions, after all, are permitted if they will not interfere with Phase I construction or funding. If extending to San Jose or San Francisco is delayed due to routing studies or insufficient capital, Sacramento may be ideally placed to take advantage of that delay, using the on-hand capital for a quick expansion and ignoring much of the current NIMBY issues in the Bay Area.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the Authority's apparent willingness to consider mixed traffic with at grade crossings. If it is willing to do so in the Bay Area, it may very well be willing to similarly do so in Southern California and adopt a "blended LOSSAN" system rather than the current Riverside-Inland Empire dogleg. Not only this save a tremendous amount of money, but while the total cost of a Los Angeles-San Diego LOSSAN upgrade retaining grade crossings is likely in the same eight billion dollar ballpark as San Jose-San Francisco, it has the advantage of serving a much greater populace with a far larger potential for automobile diversion and ridership than either the current dogleg or the Bay Area Caltrain upgrade.

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