Town Square

Post a New Topic

Study: High-speed rail could slow down emergency responders on Peninsula

Original post made on Jul 12, 2020

Despite a decade of delays, funding uncertainties and political hurdles, California's embattled high-speed rail project continues to slowly advance, with plans to complete the section between San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2033.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, July 12, 2020, 8:15 AM

Comments (23)

Posted by William Johnson
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 12, 2020 at 2:39 pm

Unfortunately, we all have to live with trade-offs and so we need to recognize acceptable casualty ratios as a byproduct of HSR. What is missing from the EIR is just how many deaths the longer waits will generate. We also need to estimate the number of people who will suffer permanent paralysis because their treatment for stroke were delayed. What I find interesting is that Cal Train simply decided to increase crossing delays by tripling the number of trains without any thought about the consequences.

Posted by Martin
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 13, 2020 at 11:03 am

Yes, 4 quadrant gates increase downtime, but as they say "Safety is our utmost priority". Preventing injuries always the right focus since it saves lives and costs in the end.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 13, 2020 at 11:15 am

Do we really still need HSR?
I'm sure there will be more delays and lawsuits so by the time it gets built, if ever, it will be so far over budget that's there will be no way to ever pay for it.

I say de-fund the project and fix existing transportation systems already being used.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2020 at 2:27 am

@Martin is incorrect: while adding more trains (and therefore crossing gate activation cycles), 4-quadrant gates do not increase gate downtimes whatsoever.

As seen in this clip of the 4-quadrant gates at Atherton's Fair Oaks Lane (installed to allow for Caltrain's first and only "train horn quiet zone"), the gate downtime is no longer than necessary: Web Link (also note: no horn blasts!).

@Gennady: the HSRA has been saying for years now that it didn't need to and therefore wasn't planning to pay to grade separate Caltrain's line ... so that's not new or surprising news. And as far as increased gate downtime and associated vehicle delays go, the Caltrain 2040 Business Plan (, which was being finalized and well-publicized last year, envisions running far more trains through Peninsula grade crossings (and sooner) than the HSRA does or will.

What is news (and flying under the radar) is that Caltrain's current constant warning time (CWT) grade crossing predictors are incompatible with electrification. And that Caltrain has quietly decided to replace them with non-CWT circuits that will dramatically increase gate downtimes for trains moving at substantially less than the maximum authorized speed of 79 mph.

More about CWT: Web Link

Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 14, 2020 at 8:56 am

@ Bob "Do we really still need HSR?"
Good question, especially along the San Jose to San Francisco corridor.

There really should be a calculation of the value and total cost of building HSR from San Jose to San Francisco. What is the cost per transit minute saved? And what is the cost of just improving Caltrain for the same distance and passenger load? I imagine HSR costs would be astronomical in comparison. We shouldn't have to guess or be bamboozled. This should be public information, and the basis of decisions.

Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 14, 2020 at 10:15 am

Ha, of course we don't need it, BUT we already built the SF terminal for it, so there is that. Reminds me of the Simpson's episode (monorail). The terminal needs those shinny new trains in it!!! Oh, I forgot we also did not build any tracks to connect that to caltrain yet, oh well. AND if it were built those tracks and new tunnel and caltrain and HSR used it, BTW, it does not have enough tracks to service the number of trains they already state in tha Caltrain plan for all those new trains. Funny huh.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jul 14, 2020 at 1:15 pm

@Iris, apart from some minor adjustments to tracks and signals, and some new platforms at the only mid-Peninsula stop at Millbrae (SFO), HSR will not be "built" between SF and SF because it will use Caltrain's existing (and soon to be electrified) tracks.

As for whether HSR is "needed" between SJ and SF ... yes, reaching/serving SFO and downtown SF with a one-seat (transfer-free) ride is an essential part of the business case for CA HSR. And as any student of worldwide HSR "best practices" and learnings can tell you, service to city-center stations is a key attribute to the success and competitive convenience of HSR systems. Reaching SFO and SF (and other) downtowns is critically important to the long-term success and viability of the complete systems (after all sub-phases/segments are complete).

Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 14, 2020 at 6:36 pm

HSR SJ to SF is a joke. There are no plans for grade separations which means the HSR trains cannot run at full speed. They are limited to 79 mph which is what Caltrain runs at. That makes it low to medium speed rail at best. 100 billion dollars for a train that will never run at full speed. Such a deal.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 14, 2020 at 9:12 pm

HSR has become irrelevant. By the time we have dealt with the current pandemic there will not be any funds to spend on "nice to have" projects. We will be scrapping to fund existing essential services.

Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2020 at 11:17 am

Lots of creative/wishful thinking among hi-speed rail opponents constantly looking for new arguments to stop the project. High speed rail is the way regions all over the world manage a significant part of their transportation. It's going to happen here too.

Posted by nearby neighbor
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2020 at 11:21 am

Wishful thinking among hi-speed rail opponents always creating new arguments to stop the project. High speed rail gets more expensive as the stalling continues. But high speed rail is the way regions all over the world manage a significant part of their transportation. It's going to happen here too.

Posted by Randyw
a resident of another community
on Jul 15, 2020 at 11:32 am

The gate time issue is the typical logical double standard that always benefits cars over mass transit. The gates are down at a train crossing for 10-25 minutes an hour in the worst case projections. At every road to road level crossing they traffic is blocked for more than half of the time. No one is demanding that every traffic light along El Camino be replaced with overpasses.

Each train however will carry 600 people (caltrain) or 1200 (HSR) through the intersection per cycle with no pollution. Count how many people pass an intersection per cycle in a car? Probably less than 1/10th. If the train passengers were in cars the increased traffic would delay everyone (including firetrucks) much more.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2020 at 12:18 pm

@Menlo Voter is mistaken on a couple of points. As seen around the world, HSR is almost never run at full speed through densely populated suburban areas. And so CA HSR was never supposed to run at "full speed" on the Peninsula approach to its SF terminus, and, is in fact planning to run at 110 mph (not Caltrain's current maximum speed of 79 mph). While Caltrain has no immediate plans to run that fast, its sleek new state-of-the-art Swiss electric trains (now under construction) were specified to be 110-mph-capable, and will be tested at that speed on the FRA's TTC test track in Pueblo, CO.

For more info and photos of Caltrain's new electric fleet, see: Web Link

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2020 at 12:22 pm

@Menlo Voter: also, per federal regulations, railroad grade separations are not legally required until train speeds exceed 125 mph.

Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2020 at 2:58 pm

We do not need high-speed virus trains storming down the tracks on the Peninsula. A waste of money, A burden on communities. An invitation, by the way, to attacks. Will you ride HSR after one train is derailed by a terrorist or criminal or a lunatic or a foreign operative who simply damages the track ahead? Always ask: who stands to make money from this?Maybe HSR would be useful at Disneyland - to quickly evacuate Covid-19 victims.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2020 at 6:03 pm

@Jake, it sounds like most Americans, you (understandably) don't have much knowledge or personal experience with HSR. I'd encourage you (and others) to spend a few moments to educate yourself. Have a look at the CA HSR project factsheets: Web Link

• Phase 1 of the California high-speed rail system will connect 6 of the 10 largest cities in the state.

• In blended/shared corridors, trains will be slowed to 110 miles per hour, as required by regulations. However, in other areas speeds will top 220 miles per hour.

• It will be all-electric all the time. Like electrified Caltrain, High-speed rail in California will run on 100% renewable energy.

• Other countries with high-speed rail systems service 1.6 billion passengers per year. Amtrak’s California corridors are among the busiest in the nation, with 5.7 million Californians riding trains last year.

• Providing the same capacity as high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles would require 4,300 new highway lane miles, 115 additional airport gates, 4 new airport runways costing more than $158 billion with a 50-year maintenance cost of more than $132.8 billion.

• California’s population is projected to grow to more than 50 million by 2060. $28 billion is lost each year in time and wasted fuel due to traffic congestion. Los Angeles, San Francisco and San José already rank among the top five most gridlocked cities in the nation.

Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 16, 2020 at 9:39 pm

Reality check:

and they told us it would only cost a few billion. Wait, 15 billion. No, wait, 30 billion. No, sorry, 60 billion. Sorry again, probably going to be more like 100 billion. HSR was sold on a pack of lies. It needs to be killed.

Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Jul 16, 2020 at 10:21 pm

@Anonymous poster "Reality Check" I did look at your link to the project propaganda sheet. How many passengers (aka virus patients) can be crammed into your high speed rail trains? At what cost to them and to the public? Where on the Peninsula would your trains stop? What tracks will be used? When a train is derailed or otherwise unable to proceed, how will passengers on the line get to their destinations? Would they call Lift drivers? Climb aboard electric scooters? Can you find some other public relations job when high speed rail is finally defunded? Sure you can. But get a honest job instead.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2020 at 7:29 pm

@jake, many more than on a bus or plane and far more comfortably and safely (and at much safer "social" distancing) ... but if you've been keeping up with world news, it (happily) turns out that even on transit, COVID transmission appears unlikely when everyone is wearing masks properly. Many huge (overseas) transit systems have continued to run at near capacity levels throughout the world in countries that have reduced their new COVID case rates to the single digits or less per week.

HSR systems are major infrastructure, and compares favorably with BART at $1b per mile (see VTA's 6-mile, Phase II of the SJ BART extension), or the Bay Bridge east span project which escalated over 6.5x from under $1b to about $6.5b, CA HSR costs have only escalated from around $34b (in 2008 $) in 2008 when Prop. 1A (a downpayment in the form of a $9b bond) was passed by CA voters to well under $100b (in 2020 $) ... so less than 3x in 2008 $ ... not too bad given the numerous and seemingly endless cost-escalating project delays (see: inflation, escalating cost of materials, land and labor costs in our until-recently-red-hot-economy) largely if not entirely caused by naysayer lawsuits and GOP opposition, the cost-escalating NIMBY appeasement and endless micro-management.

Among other countries, Morocco conceived of, designed, built and placed into operation a state-of-the-art HSR system during the time since CA HSR was placed on the CA ballot ... joining the club of countries smaller and/or poorer than California who are now enjoying HSR with a world safety record (despite a relatively tiny handful of mishaps) that beats any other comparable transportation mode.

Most if not all HSR detractors would do well to dust off (or first obtain) their passport and get some first-hand experience before showcasing their insular and parochial ignorance of something that the rest of the world has long understood and is enjoying the benefits of.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2020 at 7:40 pm

Time-sensitive public service announcement regarding the SF-SJ HSR segment:

The San Francisco to San Jose Project Section Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS) evaluates the impacts and benefits of introducing high-speed rail service in the Project Section. The document was released on July 10, 2020 and will be available for a minimum 45-day public review period ending August 24, 2020.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) created this Online Open House to provide enhanced access to the Draft EIR/EIS in response to health and safety directives concerning the novel coronavirus. We recommend using a computer browser for the best viewing experience. This Online Open House will be available throughout the public comment period.

For a live discussion with staff, join us July 20, July 30, or August 5 (between 4:00 and 7:00 pm) during Q&A Webinars (Web Link

You may also make a phone appointment to speak with staff during Office Hours.

For more info and live-links to the above-mentioned webinars, info-sessions, etc., see:

Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 19, 2020 at 9:14 pm

Reality check:

yes, HSR is major infrastructure. The problem in this case is that the project was sold to voters by lying about it. The project will cost far more than sold. Ticket prices will be far more than sold, even after accounting for inflation. Or, they will be subsidized. And if they are subsidized (likely), that will be another lie. There wasn't supposed to be any subsidies required. Businesses would be lined up just waiting to invest in this wonderful and profitable mode of travel. Guess what? There isn't a business interested in HSR. Because there's no profit in it.

Like I said. Nothing but lies. You may not have a problem spending 100 billion taxpayer dollars and then providing never ending subsidies, but I and plenty of other voters in this state do. In fact, the majority of voters in this state would not vote for HSR again knowing what they know now.

If the pols running this state weren't beholden to labor unions and large construction firms this boondoggle would have been killed long ago.

Posted by Check Plus, Reality Check
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 20, 2020 at 3:21 pm

@ Reality Check -- You are 100% correct. This project never made sense. Even early supporters have turned against. Gavin Newsom wanted to cancel until learning that federal funds would need to be returned. The project should be killed.

Posted by Aldin Lee
a resident of another community
on Oct 3, 2020 at 6:11 pm

Aldin Lee is a registered user.

A bit late to this particular article, but not the subject. A few things to consider.
First, perspective is lacking with the notion of high speed rail in the U.S. In Europe and elsewhere cities have good public transit systems in place. Thus, transiting by rail and not car is sensible. Once you arrive at a station, you don't need a car. In the U.S., this is not the case in most all of its cities. Only New York City has anything comarable to the urban rail systems found in the largest cities of the world's most well developed nations. Until the U.S. sees fit to build in its cities efficient, clean, safe, appealing and convenient public transit, then rail transit from city center to city center is never going to have a great deal of demand. It currently works fairly well in the northeast corridor due to NYC's presence, and other cities which have a greater degree (though not world class) of good public transit options than other U.S. cities.
Another point to make, other than the Milbrae stop (for SFO) which has been dropped into the northern segment plan out of convenience more than need, there is no need to run high speed rail up the peninsula. You are merely looking to get people from San Jose to SF (or I would argue the SF-Oakland metro area). There are TWO other viable alternatives for doing this.
The most obvious other option is to run it up the east side of the bay area to Jack London Square Station in Oakland, which is perfectly fine. Bart should have already put a stop at the station and this would be an added incentive. An option to this alternative would be to add a cross bay tunnel that took it to the TransBay Terminal (or SalesForce Plaza), though that expense seems unnecessary since Bart already has a cross bay line.
The other alternative is to simply realize that this is a San Jose to SF/OK segment, and therefore taking the route which is most direct and has the least amount of impacts to the communities along the way should be preferred over all others. That route would be to go up the Bay, via an immersed tube tunnel. The cost of doing this would roughly equate to all of the cost involved with a land route, given the high density nature of any land route (outside tunneling through the mountains). Given the example of the Fehmarn Belt immersed tunnel project in Denmark, we can roughly estimate the cost of such a HSR bay tunnel from the south end of the bay to SF. While the bay tunnel would be 2.5 times as long, the Fehmarn Belt tunnel is for both car and rail, making it 2.5 times the size of that needed for the bay tunnel. While a directly proportional pricing relationship may not be valid, because of certain fixed costs, there are economies of scale savings for a bay tunnel project, as there are cost associated with site staging the production of the immersible tubes, which are a one time cost. There should also be savings due the depth differences associated with each project. The Fehmarn Belt Strait is a considerably deeper on average than the bay. The route through the bay would be critically decisive in estimating costs. But, all things considered, the cost bay segment should be roughly $5-6 billion. That is, in fact, the cost estimate for going up the peninsula. There would still be some costs on each end, and the cost of the actual track in the tunnel. On the San Jose end the route would follow the present Altamont Express commuter line route out of Diridon Station to the shore line of the south bay, with a few at grade crossings to consider. On the north end, there are a few options, the most southern likely being Oyster Point Channel, which puts it very close to the current Caltrain corridor.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Almanac Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Backhaus in Burlingame finally opens for the holiday rush
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,804 views

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 11 comments | 2,558 views

Fun Things to Do Around the Bay This Holiday – Peninsula Edition
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,397 views

My Holiday Wish List for Menlo Park
By Dana Hendrickson | 0 comments | 2,176 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 24 comments | 1,903 views


Support local families in need

Your contribution to the Holiday Fund will go directly to nonprofits supporting local families and children in need. Last year, Almanac readers and foundations contributed over $300,000.