High Speed Rail San Francisco Terminal Alternatives
Breath a little easier Watermark and Baycrest owners, and Transbay proponents cheer, as a plugged-in tipster notes the California High Speed Rail Authority has rejected the Beale Street Alternative (Option d) and recomended a Transbay terminus (with service at 4th and King) for high speed rail into San Francisco.
From the California High Speed Rail Authority’s preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report:

Only Option [a], in which HST and Caltrain service is offered at the Transbay and 4th & King locations, has been identified to be carried forward into further engineering and environmental analysis.

Option [b], with which all HST service goes to the Transbay Transit Center and there is no HST service at the 4th & King station, is not practicable and does not meet project purpose and need and objectives due to insufficient capacity.

Option [c], which assumes that all HST service terminates at the 4th & King station, does not satisfy Proposition 1A as HST service would not reach the Transbay terminal as a San Francisco terminus.

Option [d] with which HST service would go to a Beale Street station at Transbay Terminal and also to a 4th & King station is not practicable because of difficulties constructing the tunnel along The Embarcadero and under the Bay Bridge and because it would have extensive impacts to properties and displacements.

As the sole dissented, chairman Kopp was left unsatisfied.
High Speed Rail Scoop: Build On Beale, Demolish The Watermark [SocketSite]
While San Francisco Might Get High-Speed Rail, Will The Transbay? [SocketSite]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by corntrollio

    Not that this was anything but a political ploy, but good to see the analysis.

  2. Posted by Shza

    I haven’t really followed this issue but I don’t really understand the rationale for rejecting option (b). If there is going to be Caltrain service to Transbay regardless, why would there be insufficient capacity there.
    It just seems like adding a stop 1 minute away from the origin/terminus isn’t great for “high speed.” One of the many reasons the “high speed” service on the east coast sucks is because there are way too many stops.

  3. Posted by anon

    Shza – the stop at 4th and King isn’t for trains that would then go to the TTC. Some trains would go to the TTC, some would go to 4th and King, but no trains would go to both.

  4. Posted by corntrollio

    Did they ever seriously consider HSR going closer to Civic Center instead of TBT? I suppose being closer to the Financial District is desirable and maybe that’s the primary driver for TBT, but I never quite understood why a train station needed to be inside the most expensive bus station ever. Civic Center would have provided better curve radii and would have been an easier connection to BART/Muni (which eliminates the 4th & King/Central Subway issue). And if I remember correctly would have had more space for platforms (probably could do 4+4 which should be enough for our purposes if you compare SF to Tokyo, even though for some reason Kopp seems to want 12).
    I suppose the other advantage is that TBT is closer to a potential HSR spur to the East Bay/Sacramento if they ever go over Altamont, but that’s years off, and I’m not even sure that the current plan even contemplates an easy connection there.

  5. Posted by Alexei

    Where would you put the station near Civic Center?

  6. Posted by HSR doubter

    Meanwhile, Caltrain is BROKE, and service cuts are on the way.
    http://blogs.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2010/04/broke_caltrain_likely_to_cut_h.php

  7. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    HSR doubter wrote:
    > Caltrain is BROKE, and service cuts are on the way.
    The goal of HSR is not to get people from SF to LA in a cheap, fast, and efficient manner is it to get billions of dollars of taxpayer money to consultants, bankers, heavy construction firms and unions. Back in 1933 (when consultants, heavy construction firms and unions were not as good at sucking money from taxpayers) the entire San Francisco Bay Bridge was built in about three years for about $60 million.
    In 1989 after the earthquake we started a series of multi-million dollar “studies” (those “consultants” know how to work the system) on how to fix the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The MTC web site says that the current cost of the new ~2 mile eastern span of the bridge is “8.6 billion, including a $900 million program contingency”. The MTC expects the eastern span to be fully open in “late 2013”.
    It is scary how the official numbers are getting close to my early prediction of $10 Billion and 25 years. And remember the same people will be building HSR to LA are the ones that are building the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge at ~$5 Billion a mile (making the Hunter’s Point/3rd Street rail at ~$150 Million a mile over 10 years seem like a bargain project finished quickly).
    If we finish HSR is California it will probably be long after I am dead and it will make a lot of people rich (and in the end the only way to get people to ride it will be with huge taxpayer subsidies just like every other public transit project in the United States). I laughed out loud when I read some of the revenue predictions from the HSR boosters…

  8. Posted by spitpalm

    The Chinese are going to end up building this thing anyhow.

  9. Posted by joh

    The Chinese are going to end up building this thing anyhow.
    If that were the case, HSR would be done in a year or two.

  10. Posted by some random guy

    @FormerAptBroker:
    >Back in 1933 (when consultants, heavy construction firms and >unions were not as good at sucking money from taxpayers) the >entire San Francisco Bay Bridge was built in about three years for >about $60 million.
    First, from Wikipedia: The total cost of construction for the bridge was $77 million
    Next, the inflation rate since 1933 is 1,579.74%. I’ll let you do the math and see if you still think today’s costs are out of line.

  11. Posted by flaneur

    @some random – The inflation rate you quote means 1933 prisces need to be multiplided by 16.8. That brings the updated 1933 Bay Briddge cost to below $1.3B. Still a lot less than the $6B the State is now paying to replace half of it.

  12. Posted by Rillion

    “If that were the case, HSR would be done in a year or two.”
    Yeah but there would be lots of quality issues, like bad welds, toxic substances, lead paint, etc.

  13. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    some random guy wrote:
    > First, from Wikipedia: The total cost of construction
    > for the bridge was $77 million
    The cost for the “bridge” was about $60 million. Wikipedia links the cost to a DOT.CA page that says the $77 million is “Including Transbay Transit Terminal” the $77 million cost also includes the approaches on both sides (including the toll plaza and miles of elevated freeway in SF) and as Wilipedia writes: “the largest diameter transportation bore tunnel in the world”.
    We are not digging a new tunnel or building new approaches so the new eastern spas should cost about $30 million in current dollars.
    > Next, the inflation rate since 1933 is 1,579.74%. I’ll let you do
    > the math and see if you still think today’s costs are out of line.
    The math is $30,000,000 x 15.7974 = $473,922,000
    The costs are completely out of line since the current estimate (not including the $900mm “contingency”) is $8,600,000,000. We should be able to build Eighteen (18) bridges for that much money.
    P.S. The MTC web site says: “in 2000 Caltrans launched a $3 million San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge West Span Pathway study to look at the technical feasibility and cost of extending the bicycle/pedestrian path onto the west span.”
    P.P.S. The Examiner wrote in 2009 “The Bay Area Toll Authority voted Wednesday to spend $1.3 million to study the possibility of having bicycle lanes across the entire length of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.”

  14. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    FormerAptBroker – while I don’t doubt that there will be contractors attempting to milk a project of this scale, you can make the same argument for any large public works project. What is your solution ? Build nothing ?
    Note that HSR is significantly different from the bay bridge in that segments of HSR can (and will) be contracted out to different firms, making the project more competitive. It will be easier to compare costs between construction firms and hence more difficult for any one firm to conceal over charges.
    And you missed one of the key reasons for building HSR. Yes, it will provide a fast, comfortable, and cheap way to travel. HSR is also a strategic play in times of uncertain energy futures.
    Commerce between the LA metro and northern CA is critical to the state’s economy. Right now there’s no viable way to make that journey aside from incinerating lots of tiny ancient critters that took millions of years to accumulate. Petroleum is running out and its price will eventually skyrocket.
    HSR runs off of the electrical grid which can be powered by a much wider range of energy sources. When the price of Jet-A fuel crosses the $10/gallon threshold HSR will have a clear competitive advantage the existing options.
    This thing will take a long time to build out. We can’t afford to wait until air and auto travel becomes prohibitively expensive to start this and insert a decade+ long gap in business travel.
    And I find your comment “huge taxpayer subsidies in public transit projects” funny. Who do you think pays for the never ending freeway construction projects, including the bay bridge project you bellyache about ?
    Any transportation mode, even walking, relies on public funding. We need to look towards the future and decide which transportation modes will be viable. I think anything dependent on petroleum is going to face escalating operating costs. The current cost to bring a barrel of oil from the reservoir to the wellhead is about $20 and rising. That’s just for the elevator ride to the surface : exclusive of drilling, exploration, transportation, refining costs. We’ve tapped out the cheap oil and the increased costs will be passed on to the retail consumer.

  15. Posted by corntrolllio

    “Where would you put the station near Civic Center?”
    Well it certainly would have required some amount of eminent domain. It would make a lot more sense for track geometry and getting high speed trainsets in and out, however.

  16. Posted by sucky_lamer

    HSR is ridiculous and a total waste. Don’t get me wrong I am a HUGE proponent of rail transport. I don’t care about 200+ mph trains, just give me one that’ll go oh, say 80-100 mph. And put them everywhere.
    HSR is going to burn through a hundred billion dollars by the time it’s done. We could have a “normal” passenger rail system (you know, something that even Bulgaria has) that spanned the entire state and further with that money.

  17. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    ^^^ The largest cost in CSHSR is right-of-way acquisition. Slower rail systems will have similar ROW purchase costs. While it is true that construction of high speed rails costs more than slower rail operations note that all of the countries that have adopted HSR systems now build mostly HSR facilities for new rail lines. I doubt they are choosing HSR over conventional because they want to waste money.
    I do agree that a comprehensive “slow” 100mph system would serve us better than a single SF-LA link though I’d expect the comprehensive network to be a lot more expensive due to the need to buy more land and build more stations.

  18. Posted by corntrollio

    Agree with Milkshake. It’s not like a comprehensive rail system at 100 mph wouldn’t get the same response from Peninsula NIMBYs, for example, even though the damn rail line has been around since the 1800s!
    But Milkshake — HSR isn’t just a single SF-LA link, if you look at the plans. SF-LA is just phase 1 and is what is written into the proposition to get the initial funding. The whole system includes San Diego, Orange County, and Sacramento, and presumably would include an East Bay overlay (although the NIMBYs will be out in full force for that too).

  19. Posted by corntrollio

    Btw, the extra cost for HSR is both dedicated tracks + grade separations + some token amount of straightening some curves if you’re on an existing right of way. For HSR, you are piggybacking on Caltrain’s ROW, and you do have to straighten a few curves (although not the worst one in San Bruno, apparently).
    But ROW is typically the biggest issue and that cost is at least the same for the same network size for conventional rail. That’s why HSR has faced some of the challenges it has with existing ROW — the existing ROW rail owners want windfall compensation for their unused ROWs (even though they have been unused for a very long time, rail ROW is always valuable).

  20. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “the extra cost for HSR is both dedicated tracks + grade separations + some token amount of straightening some curves”
    Grade separations are not an extra cost for HSR. Any new trackway created for passenger rail will need to be fully grade separated because the CAPUC will not allow the creation of new level crossings.
    A “slow” network will require curve straightening too. Try taking Amtrak from SJ to Sac and you will see what I mean. There are super slow points in Fremont and around the Carquinez Strait.
    Still there’s no doubt that 100MPH railways are less expensive than HSR. But the difference is not huge.
    As for “comprehensive network” I was thinking of a net larger than what the full build-out of CAHSR imagines. This includes north of SF and into Oregon, eastward towards Nevada, and coverage of the 101 corridor. Also a finer grained string of stations along the way. The existing Amtrak services are just a toy for tourists. I want my ski train dammit ! Departure from Oakland @5pm, arrive in Truckee at 8pm. Return Sunday evening.
    I’m resigned to just driving through snowstorms for the rest of my snowsports lifetime though.

  21. Posted by corntrollio

    There are definitely a lot of super-slow points on all California rails. They’re designed for freight, so no one cares. The Niles Canyon area would have been an obstacle even if they had decided on Altamont instead of Pacheco. In any case, I will certainly decline your invitation to take Amtrak from SJ to Sacramento. :)
    Didn’t realize new rails needed to be grade-separated regardless of what type. Of course, we haven’t seen new rails in ages, so who the hell would know?

  22. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    I didn’t know about CAPUC’s insistence against new level crossings either until I tried to advocate for a new pedestrian crossing across some freight (not even CalTrain) tracks. Even though those tracks only received a single 10MPH train daily, it was deemed too dangerous to create a new crossing. I thought that ruling was overly cautious and the alternative to constructing a $50K level crossing was a $5M pedestrian bridge.

  23. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Whoah, I did a little searching and discovered this 2008 doc in which the CaPUC now documents design guidelines for pedestrian level crossings.
    So I might be wrong about CaPUC rejecting new grade crossings. Oh happy day, I think I need to dust off my proposal and resubmit.

  24. Posted by corntrollio

    I forgot to add in my prior posts — Beale Street as an alternative was rejected in 1994 for Caltrain’s downtown extension (see report link below). At that point it was assumed that there’d be 6 tracks, 4 of which would be for Caltrain. Now it has been reversed to 4 for HSR, of course.
    http://bayrailalliance.org/files/library/Caltrain_DTX_1994_final_report.pdf

  25. Posted by Alex D

    I’m a fan of HSR in general and HSR in CA in particular. But the only good thing about the way the project is developing is that the implementation is going to be such a total disaster that we forget about the folly that is the east span of the bay bridge.

  26. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    G.E. estimates that the United States will spend $13 billion in the next five years on high-speed rail routes. China, with a much more ambitious infrastructure program, will spend $300 billion in the next three years on overall expansion of its rail routes, mainly high-speed routes, according to G.E.
    This is really just breathtaking to realize that China is outspending us on infrastructure investment by a factor of 50 to 1. And even that tiny little bit we are investing in gets attacked by both the NIMBYs and the small minded posters here. No wonder America is losing its edge.

  27. Posted by anon2

    NVJ, you miss the point. Many are not against HSR, but are aware of how difficult building ANYTHING in California is today. The Bay Bridge project is a perfect example of how things have changed in the last 70 years, and I would not be surprised if YOU would be against the construction of an additional bridge structure because of your obsession against private transportation vehicle technology. (BTW, I am convinced that automobiles will change over the next 30 years, and the smelly ancient technology we currently use to get around in will not be what is used in the future. I will be driving a pollution free vehicle while you may still be riding to work on a 140 year old noisy smelly slow trolly.)
    In China, they are not only building HSR, but new roads as well. The death of HSR is not the “idea” of HSR, but the way we are politically organized as a state with various groups in places like the Peninsula that will block any type of construction. I see Los Angeles embracing HSR wihle many Bay Area groups are fighting it. The real solution may just be to give up on the Transbay Terminal and have the terminal in Oakland which has been mentioned many times before. San Francisco would not want an airport in SOMA, so why must it have the train terminal there? A 12 minute BART transbay journey from Transbay Oakland will not be that difficult.

  28. Posted by FormerAptBroker

    The Milkshake of Despair wrote:
    > I find your comment “huge taxpayer subsidies
    > in public transit projects” funny. Who do
    > you think pays for the never ending freeway
    > construction projects, including the bay
    > bridge project you bellyache about ?
    The people that use roads and bridges pay for them with gas taxes. They pay so much that gas taxes are also used for other things (like public transportation)…

  29. Posted by anon

    FormerAptBroker:
    Numbers from the USDOT (2005):
    $114 billion collected from gas taxes.
    $21 billion spent on non-road related uses (FTA, etc)
    That leaves $93 billion for roads.
    Total USDOT expenses for JUST highway uses: $154 billion
    Sooooo…how does $114 billion = $154 billion + $21 billion in your mind?

  30. Posted by Dan

    anon2 to NVJ: “I will be driving a pollution free vehicle while you may still be riding to work on a 140 year old noisy smelly slow trolly.”
    They don’t shovel coal to run the trains anymore. Muni Metro and BART run on electricity. The 140 year old cable car system runs on electricity, too. So your battery powered car of the future is just catching up with old technology used by mass transit.

  31. Posted by anon2

    This has a better chance of happening than HSR……
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5tvSJdj5Yok
    The Bay Area and L.A. are not Chicago and NYC. Both California “cities” are multi-center sprawling urban zones without the transit infrastructure of NY or Chicago. If I went on a train to L.A., how would I get to my meeting with my client in Santa Monica, followed by dinner with relatives in Pasadena?
    All mobility requires energy use, but what will people really want? The freedom to drive to destinations of their choice, perhaps using greener and cleaner technology, or trains? IF we had the type of extensive rail network that Europe has I would choose trains, but we have almost nothing here to compare so I will still be driving. I make the best of my drives to L.A. and stop in Big Sur or Santa Barbara (for a mini vacation) and enjoy areas that would not be available on the HSR network.

  32. Posted by anon

    ^Amazingly enough, you’ll be able to rent cars at the HSR stations! I know, crazy huh? I thought the same thing when we were building airports – no one’s going to use the dern things because I need to go somewhere after I land at the airport, and I don’t live next to an airport. Then, lo and behold, there were these things called “parking lots” to park my car, and these other things called “taxis” or “rental cars” to use on the other end. I know, it sounds crazy, but it’s how things work! You probably have to see it to believe it.

  33. Posted by Dan

    Widening the highways between here and LA would be costly. And the infrastructure for electric cars to drive unlimited distances will be expensive as well. Doing nothing to increase transportation capacity is not a good option, with California’s projected population growth. HSR is reasonable when one considers the alternatives.

  34. Posted by tipster

    Slightly off topic, but not entirely, I discovered that the cost of electrifying Caltrain would be made up in energy savings in somewhere between 600 and 1200 years.
    “MYTH: Electrification will solve Caltrain’s problems. [FACT:]The idea of converting Caltrain from diesel-electric locomotive power to a fully electric system would improve times and reduce pollution and noise. But it will not save much money, which is Caltrain’s biggest problem. Depending on the cost of diesel fuel, electrification is expected to save only between $1 million and $2 million per year. The cost for conversion, meanwhile, is high: It’s expected to take $785 million for building costs like overhead wires and another $440 million for new train cars.”
    The source of this information isn’t cited, so who knows if it is correct. It also is dependent on current costs of diesel as well as current costs of electricity, which could rise or fall at different rates. If everyone switches to electric cars, electric rates could rise faster than diesel fuel costs.
    http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_14839828

  35. Posted by anon?

    Hey Dan, where does electricity come from (typical SFer answer — rainbow-colored poop from unicorns)? Want to guess CA’s second-largest energy source?
    RE: China — yes, communist oligopolies are very good at large infrastructure projects. Whether their subjects want them or not.
    RE: 12:14, apples and oranges. BTW, the US DOT budget for FY 2009 was about $71 billion. The proposed 2010 FY budget has been porkified to around $90 billion.

  36. Posted by Dan

    Straw man, anon?. I didn’t claim electricity was pollution-free. I countered anon2’s claims on electric cars vs electric mass transit.

  37. Posted by anon?

    ^^Not what you wrote Dan, but OK. Still waiting for your answer to question 2. And no, it’s not unicorn poop.

  38. Posted by diemos

    As fossil fuels supplies become squeezed the alternatives that can be scaled up (solar, wind, nukes) are ones that produce electricity so it’s reasonable to start thinking about a build out of electric infrastructure.
    However I would rather see the freight rail system be electrified as a priority over commuter and inter-city transport.
    As inter-city transport becomes more and more expensive you will find that much of the “need” for it will disappear.

  39. Posted by anon2

    Of course one could rent a car at a HSR station, but then what is the point? I would rather see a true central HUB station simlar to what NY has where you get off of an intercity train and go one level down to urban transit. THAT is not going to happen in L.A. Doen’t renting a car screw up the so-called car free dreams of HSR boosters?
    I would rather take my own vehicle and enjoy the drive. When I lived in the U.K., the train would take me from London to Glascow twice as fast as driving. I would then arrive in Glascow and have a world of quick safe transit choices to get me where I was going, there was no need for a car. Renting a car at Union station L.A. would add another hour to the trip, followed by the drive to where I was going (Santa Monica, another hour, so it would just be quicker to drive from SF). Why not just take the 5 or so hours and go down highway 5 and drive directly to your destination?

  40. Posted by Dan

    LA is finally planning its subway to the sea, so by the time HSR is done, you might be able to change trains in Union Station, and take the subway to Santa Monica.
    If you are driving to Santa Monica from downtown, and you time it right, it can be a very fast drive by freeway. And driving from SF, taking 580 to 5 to the 405 to Santa Monica can be slow, too, if you time it wrong. If I were traveling to Santa Monica, I might just fly to LAX. But if you choose to drive, HSR means that you will still be able to get to LA in 5-6 hours; with increased population and cars on the road, the SF-LA drive has been getting slower and more prone to delay, and will continue to do so unless there are more travel alternatives.

  41. Posted by anon

    tipster – electrifying Caltrain also makes the service FASTER, meaning that it’s more competitive with other modes, and would thus be used by more people. It’s not always about saving money, sometimes you have to invest money to make more.

  42. Posted by anon

    anon2 – who in the world is marketing HSR as a car-free thing? WTF? That wouldn’t make sense in any nation, let alone the US. Rental cars and taxis will be a HUGE part of any US HSR system, just as they are a huge part of the airport system.
    Why in the world would you think that the goal of HSR is to make somewhere car-free? That makes absolutely ZERO sense.

  43. Posted by anon2

    “Why in the world would you think that the goal of HSR is to make somewhere car-free? That makes absolutely ZERO sense.”
    I agree! In fact I like the idea of freight rail being first to be electrified as well. I think if anything HSR will be a nice alternative to air travel. I was responding to the comments posted earlier saying that HSR will help take cars off the roads. There is a lot of things California could do with 80 billion dollars besides HSR such as the development of alternative sources of energy and saving the failing educational system.

  44. Posted by anon

    Freight rail is run by private companies. Are you suggesting handouts to them? Subsidies? Or nationalization of the freight rail industry?
    Either way, certainly doesn’t make much sense to pursue that on the state level, that would need to be federal for about a billion different reasons.
    HSR could certainly help take many cars off of the roads (for example, it provides direct reasonably priced travel between Fresno and LA or Fresno and the Bay Area or Bakersfield and Modesto, etc, etc), but that’s totally different from making somewhere car-free.

  45. Posted by diemos

    “Are you suggesting handouts to them? Subsidies? Or nationalization of the freight rail industry?”
    I suggest that if we are going to spend X billion dollars on the rail system it would be better spent on freight rail electrification than HSR passenger service.
    If you were awake over the past five years you might have noticed that we have abandoned even the pretense of free market capitalism in favor of crony capitalism and corporatocracy.

  46. Posted by anon

    Oh, I wasn’t saying that it would necessarily be a bad thing (I’m no free market whore), but how in the world would it be accomplished at the state level?

  47. Posted by joh

    Why not just take the 5 or so hours and go down highway 5 and drive directly to your destination?
    That used to be my argument against flying to LA, especially right after 9/11. Getting to SFO, checking in early, flight time, rental car time, etc — after all that, it really doesn’t take that much longer to drive. But the fact of the matter is, driving long distances is something that many people do not enjoy. And while flying is easy, HSR will be even easier. And faster. And way more relaxing.
    It’s also important to factor in the costs of driving. An average vehicle costs $0.50 per mile to operate, or close to $200 each way. If you drive a 7 series bimmer or an S class, it probably costs twice that.

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