High Speed Rail Board Nixes Beale Street Alignment and Peninsula Berms

rail.jpgClick to enlarge. Downtown San Francisco alignment alternatives. The Beale Street routing was rejected today. Image courtesy CHSRA.

Transit advocates in San Francisco and residents up and down the Peninsula breathed a collective sign of relief today as the California High Speed Rail Authority Board ruled out two of the more unpopular routing options for the planned bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The board endorsed a Preliminary Alternatives Analysis report that struck down the ideas of using a Beale Street alignment in San Francisco or a raised berm (or artificial embankment) configuration along the Peninsula, similar to what Caltrain travels on now through San Carlos.

Instead, high-speed rail planners will focus on a 2nd Street approach to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, and will look at range of configurations for the Peninsula, including aerial viaducts, at-grade travel, below-grade uncovered trenches, and underground tunnels.

Both of the jettisoned ideas had met with vocal opposition, and as Curbed SF points out, acquiring property to make way for the Beale Street alignment would also have cost three-and-a-half times as much as the 2nd Street option.

Robert Cruickshank, Chair of Californians for High Speed Rail, said the route recommendations make the discussion about the rail line much more concrete.

"Over the past year or so, it’s been fairly hyperbolic from a lot of people, like those who said they were going to build a Berlin Wall through Palo Alto," said Cruickshank, referring to opponents of the berm option. "Because there hasn’t been a clearly defined set of alternatives, that hyperbole gets spread around."

While the CAHSRA will continue to study a tunnel alignment through the Peninsula, the report warned that some of the alternatives under consideration might prove to be too costly. Though Peninsula cities including Menlo Park and Palo Alto have agitated for a tunnel alignment, the report notes that building the most expensive alternative in every case along the full stretch of the line would put the project far over its budget.

"Some people on the Peninsula aren’t opposed, but want to see the best options," said Cruickshank. "They can have a more realistic assessment of the options now."

The high-speed rail line would travel up the existing Caltrain corridor through the Peninsula, potentially stopping in Redwood City, Palo Alto, or Mountain View. It would also stop in Millbrae to connect to San Francisco International Airport and then continue on to a final stop in downtown San Francisco.

The CHSRA board voted 6-1 to endorse the report’s alignment recommendations. Next up is a 75-day public comment period. A draft environmental impact report and a draft environmental impact statement are scheduled for public comment in December of 2010, with the board aiming to finalize the alignment next spring.

  • i say ixnay the stop at Millbrae, unless we’re gonna tear down everything at Millbrae and start from scratch. there’s just no good reason to have a connector to the airport. i’m assuming the local caltrain can still stop at the airport — this train is not supposed to subsidize the airline industry further than it already is — it’s supposed to cannibalize it.

  • Matt

    Peter, don’t forget about our friends in the Central Valley. Right now they have no real good airport access. If HSR connects to SFO or LAX, people living near Fresno will have easy access to a major airport without having to drive.

  • patrick

    I think Millbrae is a fairly important stop, but I do think it will have to be completely redone, BART made some pretty bad decisions there.

    Of course given the planning capabilities of the CHSRA they will probably design it as a loop-de-loop.

  • Total

    Now that the ridiculous Beale Street alternative is finally off the table, planners and advocates can focus on the rest of the SF alignment, specifically, where the 2 additional tracks needed for High Speed Rail will be built.

    The current plan is to bore a new tunnel under the ENTIRE length of the city — starting in Brisbane, under the Bayview and Potrero Hill, and in to downtown — which will cost multiple billions of dollars. A better idea would be to simply utilize the existing Caltrain alignment, which originally had 4 tracks. (You can see the abandoned tunnels as you ride on Caltrain today. 2 tracks were removed to make room for the columns of the 280 freeway)

    This far cheaper and easier plan would require demolishing 280 and replacing it with a surface boulevard, like the Embarcadero or Octavia. SF has had a great record of removing stub freeways!

  • patrick

    It’s too bad the even more ridiculous transbay terminal wasn’t killed.

    $4 billion for a station that can’t even handle all the trains planned so some will now have to end at 4th & King… wow!

    At this point I’d rather just have it end at 4th & King and save the $4 billion.

  • Although there’s much criticism that the Transbay Terminal is under-designed for the 2050 forecasted ridership of the high speed rail, I’m skeptical of the forecasts. I just don’t see high speed trains coming in more frequently than 15 minutes, which I believe the TBT would be able to handle. Osaka-Tokyo frequncies are only about 15 minutes right now.

    Another note: The 4th & King Station will not serve the East Bay very well. It’d be much cheaper to build a $4 billion tunnel to within 1 block of the Montgomery St. station than to either build an East Bay high speed stub or link BART to 4th & King or San Jose Diridon. BART to San Jose will happen eventually, but high speed rail will likely be in operation for at least 10 years before BART is fully completed.

  • patrick

    It’s not just high speed trains, it’s Caltrain (which was actually the original reason we were even planning the new transbay terminal), which will have far more trains per hour, and the Caltrain riders for the most part actually want to be in the financial district, whereas HSR riders are going all over the place.

  • I agree with Patrick and Seth. I don’t see CAHSR requiring capacity for 8-10tph since it’s only needed on the most heavily used HSR lines. Instead, Caltrain needs that capacity in the Transbay Terminal, but the current design prohibits Caltrain from using more than two tracks at Transbay. If you look in the HSR AA documents and recent literature from the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, Caltrain is given a single center platform, while CAHSR is given 2 center platforms. Because of the ridiculous incompatible platform heights, Caltrain cannot use any other platform because it will be too high.

    The basic takeaway: Caltrain riders are screwed; a lot of trains will still terminate at 4th and King.

    I don’t know why more people aren’t outraged at this proposition. Every single Caltrain train should be accommodated at Transbay.

  • patrick

    So I did a little more research and it looks like 4th & King will now have more total platforms than transbay, 2 for HSR & 2 for Caltrain, while transbay will have 2 for HSR & 1 for Caltrain. Why are we spending $4 billion on transbay when it seems like it supports less than half of the total capacity required?

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    All you people are just geeking out about trains per hour. The fact of the matter is that getting off a train at 4th and King sucks, there is nothing to do, and nobody wants to get off a long-haul train there, ever. It’s fine for Caltrain to terminate there because people it serves the baseball park and commuters without luggage.

  • Carwil

    As much fun as trains per hour geekery is, I just wanted to remind everyone that there will be a Central Subway running north to Chinatown from 4th and King by the time HSR and the Transbay Terminal open.

  • patrick

    Jeffrey, Caltrain will be carrying far more people than HSR, who are using it every day, and the majority of whom want to go to the financial district, very few want to go to union square. It would actually make much more sense to terminate all trains at 4th & King, and the tourists could hop on Muni to get to union square, or fishermans wharf, and have all the Caltrain trains go to transbay, which is where the majority of riders want to be.

    Of course Beale would have had 10-12 platforms, so it could have supported both HSR & Caltrain & Altamont Commuter Express trains if there’s ever a dumbarton rail bridge and Capitol Corridor if there’s ever a new transbay tube.

    Instead we get a $4 billion dollar station that can’t even support our projected loads, so we have to re-build and expand the 4th & King station (who knows how much that will cost) and it still won’t even support possible future rail connections.

  • Transit advocates most certainly have not “breathed a sign [sic] of relief” over this plan. On the contrary, this Plan confirms Caltrain has made a faustian bargain with the CHSRA.

    Caltrain (which has the VAST majority of Peninsula trips) will lose its express tracks, and most likely revert to a slow, all-locals service. Instead, CHSRA cherry-picks the lucrative baby bullet market, causing even bigger operating deficit for Caltrain. Caltrain and HSRA will be not be designed as integrated system, meaning no shared platforms, no shared stations. Heck, even the signaling will be incompatible.

    Half of Caltrain’s runs would still only go as far as 4th/King. Instead of serving Caltrain riders, the HSRA gets to park trains at the Transbay Terminal for its 30 minute(!) layovers.

    But hey, Robert Cruickshank thinks this is a swell plan! So it must be good, right?

  • Transit advocates in San Francisco and residents up and down the Peninsula breathed a collective sign of relief today as the California High Speed Rail Authority Board ruled out two of the more unpopular routing options for the planned bullet train between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    Oh, so they ruled out the insane, contractor-profit-driven, BART-directed Los Banos route into the Bay Area? Altamont was chosen, with higher ridership, lower cost, lower community impacts, and lower environmentl impacts? And BART Fremont-Warm Springs-Berryessa-San Jose is dead, with the $12 billion freed up from duplicating the HSR tracks going to useful local transit projects? Good to hear. Breaking news from streetsblog! But how come nobody else is repeorting this?

    Oh, and the relieved sighs must also be from learning that the sub-human intellects who staff the TJPA have gone back fixed the catastrophic and elementary design flaws they knowingly and willingly engineered into their Big Bus Stop in the Sky so that it SIMPLY CAN’T ACCOMMODATE USEFUL AND PROMISED RAIL SERVICE, right? Because any “transit advocate” who would “breathe a sigh of relief” about the present scheme is either completely ignorant or completely stupid.

    And streetsblog reporters must have located a super sekrit document that shows Caltrain NOT LOSING ALL EXPRESS SERVICE FOREVER, and not being restricted to just two tracks with all trains following each other down all the way to San Jose, and streetsblog investigations must have revealed a Caltrain service plan other than the one they published which shows NO CALTRAIN SERVICE AT ALL TO TRANSBAY other than at most 4 trains an hour ONLY DURING PEAK COMMUTE HOURS.

    Wow, lots of causes for sighs of relief from “transit advocates” if any of this were true.

    So, is any of it true, or is somebody just lazily typing in press releases?

  • Jeff

    Caltrain only needs one platform at 4th/King right now for the 1-2tph they run. How about increasing the track height of the Caltrains so they match the HSR and so every train car is handicap accessible and they could use the same track/stations if needed all along the Peninsula.

  • tommy

    Actually, i think the big majority of area HSR riders WILL want to go all the way to Transbay, because most riders arriving/departing in S.F. will be going to/coming from points north or east (since HSR isn’t serving the East Bay and BART will reach downtown San Jose (thus linking with HSR south) no earlier than who knows, 2035 or something? plus BART to S.J. will take longer and be expensive with probably a two-dollar santa clara county surcharge…). If you’re going to/coming from northern San Mateo County or southern S.F. or the Mission even, most people would rather take BART to or drive to Millbrae rather than take the painful voyage to stupid 4th and King.

    I know, stop the central subway and use the money to expand the Transbay Terminal to the necessary size… ha

  • tommy

    Caltrain is indeed getting screwed. For purposes of drawing more ridership, they need Transbay even more than HSR does. And if they can’t have express service, they’re not much better than BART. which is a frightening proposition. Plus, won’t Caltrain, after electrification, once again be stopping in Atherton and at Broadway, at least on locals? And the “limiteds” will probably make a few MORE stops than they do now, since they can’t pass the locals, they may as well make almost as many stops… that’s my fear, anyway


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