High Speed Rail design options reviewed in San Jose

As part of the ongoing planning process for the California High Speed Rail project, a Good Neighbor committee meeting was held tonight at the Roosevelt Community Center, east of downtown San Jose. To make the review more localized, several segments were identified and “separated” so that each could be reviewed separately. Diridon Station is not only a major transit hub, it is also the nexus of two such segments: San Jose-to-Merced and San Jose-to-San Francisco. The Good Neighbor committee, which is made up of local residents and other potentially affected parties, has been providing feedback on the station design, planning throughout the station area, the ballpark, and the most controversial piece, the prospect of either an aerial or tunnel rail segment that will run through the area. From the beginning, local residents have been opposed to an aerial option and have forced the City to include a tunnel alternative as part of the environmental review. This is in keeping with what Peninsula residents have wanted for some time, though finance constraints may make it difficult to move forward with anything other than an aerial option.

A modern, wave-shaped station may serve as the HSR terminal. It would stand adjacent to the existing depot and above the planned BART line.

The image above is only one of several possible station designs, all meant to give the public a sense of the building’s mass and volume. The apex of the new station would be 90 feet above grade, more than twice the height of the current station but 20 feet lower than HP Pavilion, which is located a block away. There could be a large public space in between the two stations or a larger, fully connected “grand” terminal.

The current view from the west along the Alameda (Santa Clara St) as one approaches Diridon Station and HP Pavilion

Same view with the aerial viaduct for high speed rail added. A mezzanine level takes travelers from the station to the HSR platform, above the commuter trains.

I’ve mentioned before that the ballpark has not received nearly as much resistance from locals as the HSR project, and the above pictures are Exhibits A and B of that resistance. The height of the rail will be 65 feet above grade, with another few feet above that for the platform and a retaining wall and/or fence. The columns and the viaduct itself appear to be buff or sand-colored concrete, which should help soften the look compared to drab, gray concrete. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that the structure itself is a behemoth. As the alignment enters and exits downtown, it will be widened to four tracks, making it the equivalent of a very tall freeway. Expect the property values for recent buyers at Plant 51 to come crashing down (at least on the side that faces the station) if the aerial is built.

The ballpark did get mentioned, insofar as there is some buzz about whether or not MLB will be making a decision on territorial rights (yes, some of those folks read this site). If the owners and Commissioner Selig decide to take the issue up (they never have officially) and rule in Lew Wolff’s favor, the decision will set a few more things in motion. Another Good Neighbor session would have to be held shortly thereafter. At that session several things would have to be discussed:

  • Design of Cisco Field and how it differs from the alternatives approved for the original and supplemental EIRs
  • Timing of the project, including land acquisition, referendum, groundbreaking and construction
  • Status of needed infrastructure improvements (Autumn Parkway)

If/when this session occurs, I’ll post a notice well in advance. I urge anyone with a passing interest to attend. (Note: A similar session to the one held tonight will be held at the MLK Library a week from tonight.)

Satellite photo showing how everything fits together. Blue line is the HSR alignment.

Twenty-five years ago, the Diridon area was partly light industrial and partly residential. HP Pavilion allowed the City to clean out many of the residences (via eminent domain). With Cisco Field, it’s expected that most of the industrial properties will go away as well, as those don’t fit in with the concept of a commercial transit hub. We touched on this two years ago, and this is yet another small step towards fleshing out the vision. The Diridon Station Area Plan, which was approved by the City Council in April, is starting its own EIR process now (PDF).

51 thoughts on “High Speed Rail design options reviewed in San Jose

  1. Hey RM, are those official CHSRA photo renderings of the future Diridon station? I ask because the 65-ft. freeway viaduct approach, complete with concrete monstrosity, looks awfully suspicious. I know the downtown association is pushing hard for an underground alignment, so needless to say I’m scratching my head at that third photo render. Besides, previous renderings showed a much lower approach, something more like 40-ft. In height. No way does it have to be a 65-ft. Concrete monster.

  2. Anybody who thinks the high speed rail is going to get built is dreaming. The state is broke, the US government is broke, and high speed rail is a losing proposition.

  3. A $45+ (B)illion dollar project in a broke state? Where are the ‘Mama’s and the Papa’s’? California dreamin’ …

  4. If there is one thing worth investing in during a recession, its infrastructure.

  5. Wow seeing that bridge I can understand why the NIMBY’s have been up in arms. That thing is massive. I mean it’ll lord over the arena and ballpark it’s so tall.

  6. @Dan,
    That’s what I’m talking about. I believe that photo render is an “inside job” sponsored by the SJ downtown association to scare folks into supporting an underground alignment. Put simply, it doesn’t need to be that high or monstrous. 20-40 Ft. Aerial approaches, similar in height to current roadway over crossings of railroads, would work just fine. Past renderings have shown such as well.

    • @Tony D. – As I mentioned in the post, the renderings are meant to start discussion and are by no means official. The 65′ foot aerial is there because of a 24′ clearance mandated by the FRA over the Union Pacific track and the need for the mezzanine. The aerial could be 5-10 feet lower, but that would require eliminating the mezzanine and bring passengers in over the top of the platform, making the station even taller. Away from the station the aerial would be lower. The renderings are a product of the HSR working group, not some political ploy.

      @all – Whether or not there is enough money for the whole project, some money has been approved and is being spent. That means they have to plan for it. Your tax dollars at work.

  7. @David I find it hilarious that you are skeptical of HSR’s prospects based on economic reasons. Oh the irony…

  8. Thanks RM,
    Looking forward to the CHSRA releasing their revised business plan on November 1. Looking like first full segment will be SJ to Sylmar (LA). Ballpark, Diridon station, arena, BART..its gonna be awesome!

  9. Excellent Bartleby! (Sound of a huge GULP coming from Davids throat)

  10. My bad RM. Ceasefire granted.

  11. 45+ billion is massive.

    400 million is “reasonable”.

    HSR, will never connect the BA and Sac, to SoCal.

  12. 45 billion funding by the state of california and the feds is much more “reasonable” then 1 billion (land and stadium funding) by city of Oakland. And this is coming from someone who is also a pessimist on HSR in general having experienced it frequently in China and Taiwan….

  13. I’m sure if the HSR authority tells us Californians it loves us enough, and promises never to move the system out of state, the $45 billion will magically appear.

  14. Great post ML!
    HSR is the type of project that people complain about before completion and afterward wonder how they ever lived without it. If only the NIMBY-ism from the Peninsula wasn’t so rampant I’d feel better about it’s prospects of completion.

  15. I’m all for HSR and have used it in Europe and love it. Create good paying jobs building and operating it; get to LA and SD in a few hours, about the same as flying with all the early check-in BS.Weren’t the Republicans trying to block funding for this? Also, underground in the urban areas would be a bit nicer than the massive structure in the pics, but it would add more to the cost.

  16. If California can’t or won’t build HSR because it claims the economic data don’t support it, we should sell the state to someone that is willing to to spend their own money to build it. Maybe China is interested?

  17. If California was on their own, it would be one powerhouse economy. We pay more into the Fed govt. then what we get back, unlike most of the red state south.

  18. Time for California to either secede or become a prefecture of Japan. (Sorry RM, waaay OT)

  19. My understanding is that the first segment is supposed to make a profit that is to help construction for the rest of the system. People also have to keep in mind the opportunity costs associated with the project. No train system means more cars on the road. More freeway and airport expansions. Its projected that the train system is supposed to cost less than the projected costs of those expansions.

  20. I don’t know how you interview Bud Selig for 25 minutes and not ask a question about the A’s or Rays, but Bob Costas somehow pulled it off. Apparently Red Sox pitchers drinking beer is a more important topic.

  21. I forgot to ask this but is it not the plan for the initial track to run between Merced and Bakersfield? And not only is it going to Merced, but it is in fact bypassing the originally-preferred Pacheco Pass option? That is to say that by going further north and ending in Merced, they’ve effectively made the Altamont Pass the de-facto option, thereby eliminating the Peninsula.

    • @Genaro – The initial run is from Corcoran to Chowchilla, where it would split off and go to either Pacheco Pass or Merced. Pacheco is still planned, Altamont is not happening on the current schedule.

  22. Oh, I thought they were going to terminate in Merced; as far as Altamont, it’s still an option because the tri-city Peninsula lawsuit will determine whether they have to go that way or can continue with Pacheco, though I guess if they can’t get that route, they may scrap the whole project.

  23. The initial run is from Corcoran to Chowchilla …

    Oh man – it’s the State Prison Express!

  24. OK – so here’s a serious question:
    Does UP still run freight on the Caltrain line? If not, then the HSR Authority should purchase the right-of-way from UP and electrify it. This way, the HSR route can be shared with an electrified Caltrain, eschewing the need for either the tunnel or that awful elevated structure.

  25. Pretty sure UP still uses the lines, perhaps not as frequently but every once and a while we’ll get a train coming through.
    Caltrains definitely should have been electrified already instead of wasting resources on the Baby Bullet trains. That whole agency has been mismanaged into insolvency and the hypocrisy from those on the Peninsula who fight for it’s survival yet fight against HSR is rich.
    ML, did you see the end of the Quakes game? Kaval mentioned that they are currently working with the city and need to get the final designs finished, with the hope to break ground by February for a 2013 opening day.

  26. He also mentioned a capacity of 18,000, though I thought he said 18,816 as the max give or take.

  27. I believe 18,816 is the max allowed under the EIR. But it seems like they’re aiming toward the max or very near it now which is a nice change from the pitiful 15,000 they were planning previously.

  28. if we are to believe that the stadiums are linked (Earthquakes, A’s) than this fits nicely with the timeframe–Earthquakes done by 2013–just when the A’s will need to start—to be done by 2015

  29. Yeah, that’s why I thought about mentioning it; is it not the first time from the Quakes side that a definitive start-date has been stated? I had remembered your post about the timelines being linked as well as that one posting looking for contract bids; do you think they already have a firm lined up?

  30. Ah, interesting thought ML, thanks!

  31. Yeah looks like the Quakes groundbreaking will be in February (at least that’s what Kaval said last night on the broadcast). If they’re moving on that would it be reasonable to assume they’re ready to move on the A’s ballpark as well (which means they know something we don’t)?

  32. Went to a San Jose Unified School District “walk-athon” in Willow Glen Friday. Present were mascots from the Sharks, Quakes and… the A’s. Stomper showed up to entertain the kids. No SJ Giants or Frisco Giants mascots in sight.

  33. Well, I paid attention to the A’s at that parade. But the Giants got all the bandwagon-hopping attention that day. Anyway, that’ was 10 months ago. Stomper received a very nice reception the other day.

  34. HSP is DOA. Needs to be completely rethought to eliminate the pork and find reasonable benefit financing. All will require new legislation. Starting with Bay Area to LA point to point service like the airlines. The route should go down I-5. When you board a flight to LA, you don’t want to stop in Merced, Modesto, Fresno, etc. Second, cities that get HSR stations should a benefit fee for development within a mile of the stations. Third, Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties should pay the lion share of the cost of the SJ to SFO line because it didn’t pay into BART . That line could also serve CalTrain which needs a secure source of financing. BART to SJ needs to be built before HSR. That will cost $10B, all the money now devoted to HSR. In my opinion the most feasible solution is Livermore BART to LA Union Station. The proposed Livermore BART station will provide transfer to the ACE line and plenty of parking. When we get more money, we can extend it to SJ, SFO, SF, OAK, etc. Maybe two other station on route. Still probably $20B, but less aerial structures and cheaper land acquisition if down I-5.

  35. High speed rail – quicker and about the same price to get a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to LA, no? So what’s the point of the rail line?

  36. @ pjk
    1. Flying is not quicker SJ to LA when you consider all time involved, including: (a) The fact that trains stop right at destinations (e.g. downtown LA, downtown San Jose, downtown Palo Alto or Mountain View), whereas the airports are relatively in the middle of nowhere, adding significantly to trip time; (b) train stations link up with transit (e.g. LA Metro, Metrolink, Caltrain, ACE, VTA light rail, BART), airports do not (Try getting to SJC on transit. Try getting anywhere from LAX without a rental car, which can easily add 30 – 60 minutes); (c) the amount of extra time needed to arrive early for check in and get through security (60-90 minutes); (d) the amount of time it takes to deplane and pickup baggage from baggage claim (30 minutes).

    2. Flying sucks. Security is intrusive and a pain. Airplane seating is uncomfortable and you have to remain strapped to your seat most of the time.

    3. By comparison, train travel is a joy. You can show up five minutes before your departure and step on board. No one makes you take off your shoes or grabs your crotch as a condition of boarding. You can walk around on the train. You can actually see stuff out the window most of the way.

    4. Train capacity scales easily. By comparison, building extra freeways and expanding airports is very expensive. Maybe more expensive than HSR, in the long run.

    As someone who both flies and drives to LA frequently, take my word for it: If HSR gets built and if the fare is anything within shouting distance of airfares, the airlines have a lot to worry about. I personally would probably never fly to LA again.

  37. re: Try getting to SJC on transit.
    …take VTA Light Rail ($2) to the Metro station and walk a few feet. A free shuttle bus will take you the rest of the way (about a quarter mile. There also are shuttles from the airport to and from the Santa Clara CalTrain station. And SJ Airport is about 5 minutes from downtown….And how do we know there will be such lax security on the high speed rail? For all we know, it might be as invasive as airports….Once, I took a grilling from a customs agent on the EuroStar (train going from London to Paris). He wanted to know all sorts of things. When I got off the train, I was grilled about what was in my luggage.

  38. @ Bryan Grunwald

    My understanding is that Santa Clara County is paying entirely for the BART extension because they were not original members of the system.

  39. @ pjk As soon as you force people to take transit THEN a shuttle – no matter how convenient – ridership falls off a cliff. You can argue until you’re blue in the face that it’s easy, convenient, etc. – it doesn’t matter. Every mode transfer costs massive numbers of riders. Part of the issue is that the time and hassle is cumulative. It may be a small thing by itself, but it’s on top of a lot of other things that add up and eliminate any supposed time savings from air travel.
    There’s no getting around the fact that a shuttle THEN a VTA ride to get to downtown SJ is simply less convenient than a train that drops you right there. And the situation is far worse in the other direction, because there is no realistic transit option from LAX.
    As for security, no one can say what the future holds. But I’ve ridden trains in Europe and I’ve ridden the bullet train in Japan, and none of them has anything in terms of security that is remotely close to what you face when you fly in those same places.
    Your anecdote about the customs agent is irrelevant, because there are no national borders to cross between here and LA. Nor state lines.
    HSR is supposed to take 2 1/2 hours from SJ to LA. Take your one hour flight, add ninety minutes for security and check in, another thirty minutes for deplaning and baggage claim. I’m already saving time by taking the train, and you haven’t even picked up your rental car yet. 🙂

  40. Here are two additional reasons I doubt train security will ever be as painful as airport security:

    1. You can kill the people on board the train, but you cannot use the train itself as a weapon against other targets. This makes a train less attractive as a terrorist target as an airplane.

    2. If you want to kill the people on board the train, you’d probably have an easier time doing it by derailing it somewhere on route than sneaking a bomb onboard.

  41. re: There’s no getting around the fact that a shuttle THEN a VTA ride to get to downtown SJ is simply less convenient than a train that drops you right there.

    Diridon Station is not exactly within walking distance of anything but the arena and hopefully in a few years, the A’s ballpark. Anyone who goes to Diridon still needs to either get a cab, shuttle or Light Rail to the core downtown. There were about 20 cabs lined up there yesterday, which is the norm.

  42. @pjk “Diridon Station is not exactly within walking distance of anything but the arena.”
    Not true. Diridon is less than a mile from the Fairmont Hotel and, in fact, most of an extremely walkable downtown. People routinely have dinner at San Pedro Square or elsewhere and walk to Sharks games. It also is a direct link to multiple modes of transit – Caltrain, ACE, Amtrak, Light Rail, VTA buses, and in the future, hopefully, BART. You can’t compare Diridon Station and SJC in terms of convenience.

  43. The Fairmont Hotel is a good 15-minute walk from Diridon Station. Maybe longer for some. People in business suits or maybe high heels, with laptops and briefcases in tow, are not going to want to walk all that far. So they’ll get a cab, most likely. Or, they could hop on VTA Light Rail, which drops them off at the back door of the Fairmont.

  44. Fifteen minutes with a roller bag is not bad. I’ve done it many times. Frankly, you’re not unlikely to face fifteen minutes wheeling your roller bag through LAX.
    My point wasn’t that HSR will be more convenient to your final destination in every case. That, of course, depends on the nature of your trip and location your final destination. But you are are far more likely to get dropped at or near your destination (or a convenient transit connection) by train than by plane.

  45. sorry for the late response, but only late yesterday the City’s DOT finally posted the promised video of the (massive) high speed rail infrastructure that was supposed to have been shown at the Good Neighbor Committee meeting. Don’t blink and you will see a baseball stadium South of Diridon Station. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=267F-75lOik

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