Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Caltrain/HSRA agreement and Palo Alto

On the agenda for tomorrow's Caltrain board meeting (which would be held in the County Building in San Jose, where the VTA board meets) is an agreement between Caltrain and High Speed Rail Authority on sharing the right of way between San Francisco and San Jose.

That agreement outlines how these agencies will cooperate on building the high speed rail in phases. The agreement is clear that:
  • - Caltrain will maintain ownership
  • - Infrastructure for HSR will be built alongside while Caltrain continues operation
  • - Caltrain and HSR will share tracks on a 4 track mainline
  • - HSRA will support Caltrain's effort to electrify and improve the signal system so as to prepare the rail corridor for eventual HSR construction and operation.

Some of the issues like funding and liability are not addressed in this agreement, however it does recognized these issues. Under the agreement, a program director would be appointed jointly to oversee engineering and design consultants for the corridor. The program director would report to Caltrain's and CAHSRA's executive director.

What caused concerns for Palo Alto is the vision for a 4 track right of way. Fearing that HSR would "divide" their community, Palo Alto is pursuing options such as putting HSR on a different alignment, putting HSR underground, and ending HSR in San Jose.

Regardless of what their fears are, the agreement is essential for Caltrain and High Speed Rail, and would allow both agencies to take advantage of new funding opportunities through Prop 1A and the Stimulus package. Despite the vision of a 4 tracks right of way, the agreement would be beneficial to Palo Alto and other cities because these cities would have to work with a single program director, rather than a local and a state agency.

The 4 track statement in the MOU is a vision. It is not something that can or will be done in the next few years even if there are no funding constraints. Because Caltrain operation would also have to continue, that would have a greater constraints on alignment, profile choices, and construction timings. Even with the agreement, there will be many more questions on how will HSR be built on an active passenger railroad.


arcady said...

I think the "four tracks shared by HSR and Caltrain" is in there largely to forestall other much less desirable (for Caltrain) options, such as two exculsively-Caltrain tracks and two exclusively-HSR tracks, or UP's proposal that probably amounts to the same thing, but with more annoying grade separations. One thing that makes this whole thing kind of tricky is that both HSRA and Caltrain are planning big-bang projects which in the former case build a huge new rail system from nothing, and in the latter aim to completely transform the existing one. Just planning one such project is already difficult, and trying to coordinate two is going to be incredibly tricky.
By the way, accountablevta, what do you think of the parallels between BART and HSR? Both are entirely new systems built from scratch and ignoring all local precedents, by authorities with no experience building or running rail systems, and often with a lot of disregard for any existing transportation infrastructure.

accountablevta said...

Unlike HSR, BART was and still is a non-standard system. Back in the 60s, the BART system was develop more like a science project, and those who engineered it ignored the existing standards at that time.

HSR is however a proven and well develop system in the global scale. Countries like China, Taiwan, and Korea pretty much adopted the either the European or Japanese standards. What HSRA and Caltrain want to do is to import such a system in the US.

The challenge in the Peninsula has to deal with the FRA, local communities that worry about the impacts, along with construction staging. The FRA is a legal one. The issue with the local communities is a political and communication problem.

Even as the BART system raised the bar in adding new technology, no other rail system in the world has constructed based on BART technical standards. Instead, other cities and regions constructed metros, HSR, and light rail on common standards.

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