Published Friday, March 19, 2010, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
Guest Opinion, Part 2 of 2
What the tunnel model looks like
[BATN: See also: Part 1: Why tunneling is the way to go
By Martin Engel
In yesterday's Post I explained why a pair of two-track tunnels going through Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto should be the preferred alignment for the high-speed rail project.
It is the only alignment that meets the needs of the four major stakeholders of the project, namely the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Caltrain, Union Pacific and the communities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
But what does this tunneling model look like?
How the tunnels will work
The twin tunnels will be approximately eight miles long, from 5th Avenue in Redwood City to San Antonio Road in Palo Alto. Of course, the tunnels could be extended as far north and south as those respective neighboring cities desire.
There will be a 45-foot tube, a 45-foot separation and another 45-foot tube.
They will be 100 feet or more below ground. Both tubes will be fully sealed against below-water-table compacted soil, and impervious to external adverse conditions.
Each tube will contain two tracks, electrified and vented for 110-125 mph trains (but not for diesel).
One tube will be dedicated for high-speed rail, the other for Caltrain. Union Pacific remains on the current tracks, which will support both Caltrain and Union Pacific during the years of construction. There will be no other alterations to the rail corridor whatsoever.
The four Caltrain stations -- Atherton, Menlo Park, and University Avenue and California Avenue in Palo Alto -- will remain where and as they are, at-grade. Platforms will be below-ground, in the tunnels. There will be access by escalators and elevators.
If there is to be a high-speed rail station on the mid-Peninsula, it would merge with a Caltrain station with shared access to all platforms.
Instead of eminent domain takings at the surface, this alignment requires below-ground land-use easement agreements only from property owners and/or cities directly above the tunnels. Tunnels can be in straight segments from station to station; they do not have to shadow surface corridor contours.
Both tubes will be full-bore construction using tunnel boring machine technology. Excavated fill can be repurposed for other high-speed rail construction uses such as berms or retained fill walls.
There need to be only two construction easements at the tunnel ends, approximately five acres each, one at each pair of portals.
To obtain a 3% gradient transition from at-grade to a depth of 100 feet, a short section of trenching will necessarily precede each portal.
A slew of benefits
With this model, there will be no need for shoo-fly temporary rail corridor and tracks. The current tracks can serve that function throughout construction.
There will be no need for grade separation or any other kinds of surface construction. Current street crossings require no redevelopment or alteration. Participating cities are literally left untouched.
There will be no need for eminent domain property takings, temporary or permanent, except at the two portal sites.
There will be no need for any Union Pacific freight accommodations. Union Pacific can continue its freight service (three or four trains daily) throughout the day, rather than at night. Leaving Union Pacific as is provides significant construction cost savings and fulfills Union Pacific's explicit requirements.
Tunneling without Union Pacific accommodation permits steeper gradient and thus shorter trench-into-tunnel transitions -- a 3% slope rather than a much longer 1% gradient.
Tunneling goes beneath or through what would otherwise be physical and technical challenges such as sound, vibration, toxic soil, underground water, utility lines, creeks, street crossings, etc.
Finally, tunneling goes well beneath the historic El Palo Alto and does not interfere with national or state heritage sites such as Holbrook Palmer Park.
Losing any of the benefits enumerated above -- which would happen with trenching, at-grade or elevated alignments -- will impose considerable additional costs.
A full-cost accounting of each alignment must take all additional necessary collateral offsets into account, such as shoo-fly tracks and grade separations.
Cost comparison among all other alignments vs. full-bore tunneling will demonstrate far more favorable cost comparability than presently accounted for.
In addition, it should be noted that per-mile unit costs diminish with the economy of scale. The second mile of tunneling will be less expensive than the first mile, etc.; the second tunnel will be less expensive than the first.
The California Environmental Quality Act requires the most efficacious environmental solution, not the cheapest one.
This way, everyone wins
Full-bore tunneling will be the least intrusive alignment within an urban environment. Even with higher costs, on environmental grounds it should be the most preferred.
There are no losers [BATN: taxpayers], only winners in this scenario.
Caltrain, in its own tunnel, gets electrified and grade separated.
The high-speed rail line, in its tunnel, gets unencumbered straight tracks to achieve target speeds with acceptable costs.
Union Pacific gets all its requirements met and obtains sole track access.
Participating communities can accept this solution as fully non-intrusive (out of sight). It will, therefore, be a major benefit for all residential communities along the corridor, putting Caltrain, as well as high-speed rail, below ground.
If the High Speed Rail Authority dismisses this alternative alignment without careful and documented environmental and financial analyses, it will become clear that the rejection was based on exclusively political grounds rather than adherence to legally required criteria.
Martin Engel, a Menlo Park resident, is one of the most prominent critics of the High-Speed Rail Authority.
[BATN: See also:
Comment: Menlo Park HSR foe Engel on why tunneling is way to go (part 1)
Comment: NIMBY Engel wants HSR "rent" to fund tunneling by his condo
Comment: Engel: HSR must be stopped or it will bankrupt us all
Comment: Ex-official from Atherton says financial voodoo can fund HSR tunnel
Menlo rail NIMBY Engel: HSR not needed; fund urban transit instead
Comment: Kill HSR to prevent more trains running by my condo
Letter: Anti-rail Menlo Park NIMBY Engel on why rail is "obsolete"
Letters: Readers (Engel) have much to criticize about proposed CA HSR
Comment: I'll say anything to oppose HSR, trains near my condo
Comment: Trackside Menlo Park NIMBY Engel on "scary" push for HSR
Comment: Competitive Caltrain wrong to keep evil BART back
Fantasy: Fast, easy, door-to-door transit everywhere for everyone
Menlo Park TOD near Caltrain subject of referendum campaign
Menlo Park train NIMBY calls for inexpensive Caltrain fencing
Letter: NIMBY train foe Engel hints Caltrain plot behind fencing gaps
Letter: NIMBY wise-ass Engel proposes "best ideas" for Caltrain
Letter: Menlo Park Caltrain grade separations not needed