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Palo Alto raises fresh concerns about Caltrain electrification

Original post made on Apr 22, 2014

After years of talking about the benefits of a "modernized" Caltrain system, Palo Alto officials on Monday turned their attention to the thorny impacts of the project, which include downed trees, traffic impacts and a new power station that officials say would bring a new eyesore to the Greenmeadow neighborhood.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 1:24 PM

Comments (50)

Posted by Wait, what?, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 22, 2014 at 2:55 pm

IS this really being considered for Greenmeadow neighborhood, Greenmeadow Way, or, rather is it proposed for inside the Cal Train right-of way, across from the neighborhood, and if so where, exactly? It is ambiguous in the document referenced.

Posted by Bike Commuter, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 22, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Chapter 2 of the Draft EIR has the two Palo Alto parallel station options shown in figures 2-15a and 2-15b, see pages 24 and 25 of Web Link

I prefer option 2 which sits between the massive building under construction at 195 Page Mill Rd. and the RxR tracks. It is already a commercial/industrial area.

With the tracks behind our back fence, we're not thrilled to have 50 foot poles with the wires between 16-23 feet but we do prefer the electrification over the current diesel engines.

Interesting the project does not include grade separations for where the tracks cross Alma, Churchill, Meadow and Charleston.

Posted by Sorry Palo Alto, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 22, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Yeah!!!!!!!!!!! Let's stay in the 19th Century, listening to diesel engines and breathing diesel fumes. After all, we are in Palo Alto and can't do any better than staying stuck in the past.

Posted by Wait, What?, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 22, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Thank you, Bike Commuter, for pointing out where to find further detail. I agree with your assessment.

Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2014 at 3:41 pm

A halt must, be put on this entire Caltrain project, until everyone in Palo Alto is happy. The entire world revolves around Palo Alto, so we must not be inconvenienced by anything to do with project.
Another example of the two- faced hypocrisy of palo altos " green" talk.

Posted by @CaltrainNews, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Mmmmm, diesel...


Glad I caught this. Appropriate blurbs in tweets on the way home tonight, Gotta save our trees!

Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:22 pm

The key part of this story is the opening sentence:
"After years of talking about the benefits of a "modernized" Caltrain system, Palo Alto officials on Monday shifted their attention to the thorny impacts of the project, which include downed trees, traffic impacts on Alma Street intersections and a new power station that officials say would bring a new eyesore to the Greenmeadow neighborhood."

Did our council not realize or think that there would be impacts from this project on the city. Or were they so giddy from taking another step in making Palo Alto the " greenish" city?
One has to wonder about the competence of our council, that they do not even consider these issues. i am, sure our clueless ones, like Holman et al, will be quick to backtrack ( just like they did for the Maybell project and the HSR measure).

Posted by Thomas Paine IV, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:23 pm

So what happens to crosstown traffic if Cal Train triples the number of trains as planned? The EIR does not mention the impact of 2-3,000 cars idling while they wait for the crossing gates at peak commute hours.

And what about the safety of school children with 2-3 times the number of trains speeding through at grade crossings?

Just another example of Cal Train dumping their problems on our community.

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:27 pm

@Thomas Paine IV

Traffic idling because the tracks aren't grade separated is the price you pay to avoid BERLIN WALLS!!!! SPLITTING PALO ALTO IN HALF!!!!

Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:27 pm

TP IV-- won't all the communities that have at grade crossings have the same problems? Or is this all about Palo Alto??

Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:29 pm

Robert-- what is this Berlin Wall thing? I know it is fashionable in Palo Alto to,give " cute" names to things that do not meet the high standards of perfect community. But stop and think of what the Berlin Wall was, what it stood,for, how many people died because of it etc. if a grade separation is built, it will not be anything like the Berlin Wall

Posted by William Blake II, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:34 pm

As an asthmatic, I would love to get rid of all the diesel fumes.

Now, if we could just lessen the smog from Alma!

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Rupert, you seem to be rather late to the party: Web Link

Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Robert-- that was my point. I am not saying that you are the least bit original . People in the city have a knack for coining inappropriate terms for things that go against their delicate sensibilities -- over a decade ago it was " third world backpacks" to describe leaf blowers. Now it is the use of the term " Berlin Wall". The reason their will never be grade separations is that the city would have to use eminent domain to take land for the separation.

Posted by capacity, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 22, 2014 at 5:05 pm

If the city is concerned about Caltrain capacity, that is reason to proceed as quickly as possible instead of stalling. Stalling just can keep the needed capacity from going online for years. If Caltrain gets overloaded, all those extra commuters will just drive and then you can imagine what street traffic will look like. We need to get this done ASAP.

Posted by grade separation, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 22, 2014 at 5:19 pm

From the report "Thus, Caltrain cannot commit to a comprehensive
program of grade separations at this time to address all significantly affected intersections and this impact is considered significant and unavoidable"

So, Caltrain plans to triple the number of trains, they however don't care about the impact to traffic!

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Apr 22, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" this impact is considered significant and unavoidable"

The law makes no exception for impacts which are both significant and unavoidable SOLELY because they are expensive. This language would doom the proposed project if it is challenged in court.

Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Rupert, I'm saying you're late to the party because the "berlin wall" comments were being made in reference to grade seperations... about 5 years ago. I'm sure you can see the humor now that people are worried about congestion from an increased number of trains, which wouldn't be an issue if there were grade seperations.

Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2014 at 6:37 pm

The analysis is incomplete - if ridership increases from 47,000 (today) to 69,000 (year 2020), that means 22,000 more people need to arrive to take the train, and those 22,000 people will be going somewhere when the get off the train.

This means around 3,000,000 square feet of office space needs to be built within 15 minutes of the Caltrain station, and housing and/or parking needs to be built for 22,000 within 10-15 minutes of the station.

If the growth is proportional to today's ridership, then Downtown Palo Alto would need to to have 2,200 more housing units or parking spaces, and around 300,000 more square feet of office space.

Has the City Council or City Staff figured this out yet?

Posted by Burt, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 22, 2014 at 7:20 pm

In my view, several of the 'benefits' of electrification are pretty flimsy, and not worth the $1.5B price tag.

Electrification will reduce noise? I don't think so. Increased ridership can only be accommodated by more frequent trains on the tracks. Longer trains simply don't fit at most stations and block intersections. That means more crossing gate noise and train horn noise.

Electrification will reduce traffic? It might improve traffic between San Jose and San Francisco which is good, but will most likely have a more negative impact on local traffic. Again, more trains (presumably during peak commute times) means more gate crossing down time, which does nothing but exasperate existing cross track traffic congestion.

Since when is electricity pollution free? Clean, relatively quiet diesel electric generation is a reality now. Why it's not used in passenger rail is not clear to me. Note the tractor trailer power generators regularly used at big sports venues. Granted, less diesel emissions along the Caltrain corridor is an admirable goal, but none the less, the electricity is generated somewhere, and in CA, it's most likely to be from burning fossil fuel. IF additional power generating capacity is needed to power electrified Caltrain, who gets the power plant in their town?

In my opinion, Caltrain would be better served by spending the $1.5B trying to fully grade separate the tracks all along the rail corridor. Trenching, over/under passes, what ever it takes. With a fully grade separated rail system, traffic congestion waiting to cross the tracks goes away. Fewer but longer trains can be used to move more people for probably less cost than operating additional trains. No rail crossings; train horns and gate bells pretty much disappear except perhaps at stations.

I would much prefer a grade separated Caltrain corridor than an electric Caltrain corridor. Caltrain (and our local reps in Sacramento) was so eager to electrify that they took the HSR bribe, um, bait.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 22, 2014 at 7:23 pm

If you look in the Travel Section of your paper you will see a beautiful AMTRAK locomotive that is high tech and fuel efficient. It would make more sense to purchase the high tech locomotives and add more cars to the trains.
I watched the PA CC Meeting and did not feel that we were ahead of the game here. Overhead lines, trees removed, equipment in neighborhood properties, unclear on HSR being on peninsula and effect. How do you add HSR when you have overhead electrical wires.

HSR will not be on the peninsula - the ultimate train will be Mag-lev. To change up because of HSR which will not happen does not make sense.

What do you get - 6 runs an hour vs 5 runs an hour - that means everyone is trapped at lights and signals on a continual basis. trains every 10 minutes vs 15 minutes.

That beautiful AMTRAK locomotive looks so much better and a huge savings of taxpayer dollars.

Posted by sunshine, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2014 at 10:22 am

My first impression on arriving in PA in 1964 was: what, why do they have so many on grade crossings in this area? I thought this was a reasonably developed area with a world class university, not some small backwater place where the trains disrupt traffic all day.
Now is the time to MOVE and get all the on grade crossings converted to either underpasses or bridges.
Why are the trains still spewing diesel fumes? They should have been electrified years ago when we first became interested in air quality.
Yes, we will lose some trees. We lost an entire street of trees just a couple of years ago thanks to PA city workers who didn't ask before they cut. Suddenly California Ave was denuded. Sure, they planted some ugly things in their place. I guess the new trees complement some of the ugly sculpture foisted on us by the city. Does anyone on the Art board have any real artistic sense?
Trains here are slow, dirty, overcrowded and leave you off in San Francisco far from the center of any business district. No, a ball park is not the only business of importance there.
Let's move on--underground all utilities, separate all train crossings, convert to diesel locomotives, bring Caltrain across the bridge and connect it to trans-continental trains.

Posted by Noah, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 23, 2014 at 10:55 am

Won't matter anyway. Once global warming truly kicks in the entire area will be under water, split, grade-separated, or otherwise.

Goodbye Palo Alto.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 23, 2014 at 10:57 am

If you go up to SF check out the overhead electric wires - wow - isn't that pretty and modern? It looks like SF is some antiquated transportation mess. And it is - one of the worst managed systems out there fraught with financial problems.
I am not impressed by overhead wires - both for transportation and for my backyard - where they have to continually cut the trees that are always overcoming the wires.
CALTRAIN was originally built to service the industry that was there. That has gone by the wayside but you now have BART which takes you where you want to be.

Posted by Carol Gilbert, a resident of University South
on Apr 23, 2014 at 11:16 am

Cutting down all those trees, adding the overhead infrastructure--boo hiss. Work on what we've got and how to improve it until the next best answer is developed.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton
on Apr 23, 2014 at 11:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

We can have our cake and eat it too by boring underground tunnels - it would be VERY expensive but it would free up the surface right of way for a linear park or housing or other alternatives.

And it is being done elsewhere right now:
Web Link

Web Link

Posted by amazes me, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 23, 2014 at 11:59 am

I just amazes me that our council gets all hot and bothered about an "eyesore" big box next to RR tracks but at the same time so cheerfully worships increased density and all the mythology around it - that all the new residents that come with it will arrive without cars - they will just be walking and biking their hearts out - and BTW, going to and fro the train station - all the while leaving our neighborhoods will untouched... go figure

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

If someone came up with a proposal to abandon Caltrain and replace it with horses and buggies I am sure there is a vocal group in Palo Alto which would strongly support it.

Posted by bobgnote, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 23, 2014 at 12:11 pm

bobgnote is a registered user.

You can't get federal biodiesel, such as DARPA would have, by growing algae, or such as I would have, by recycling CO2, at every furnace, to grow algae, FAST, and distill methanol and nitro-methanol.

You can't get legal hemp, but look at all the talk, of legal BUDS, when hemp is on the DEA Schedule I CS list because of industrial hemp, while Obama's crack and smack and Zimmy's crank and Temazepam are only on CS II.

So, as deflection of the vital biodiesel issue, Hearst ran the Reefer Madness campaign, in collusion with Andrew Mellon and Mellon's brother-in-law, Harry Anslinger, so FDR sold out, with the Democratic Congress, to pass the Hemp Stamp Tax Act of 1938, declared unconstitutional, in 1972, whereupon Nixon founded the DEA.

This stupid, costly e-train ramble is part of the stupid, infinite drug war ramble, so don't forget, what we've been forced, to forego, which includes all forms, of biodiesel and about 10K market-leading products, from industrial hemp.

Henry Ford had hemp ethanol, in mind, for all his fuel needs, and he used hemp plastics, in cars, starting with the Model T, and including a 1941 sedan, with an indestructible hemp plastic body, which you can see, getting sledged, on YouTube.

Go fish, electric train freaks. Rudolf Diesel disappeared off a ship, in 1917, and yes, he wanted hemp alcohol, to power his engines.

Posted by bobgnote, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 23, 2014 at 12:17 pm

bobgnote is a registered user.

AND I might add, any electric power tends to be from fossil fuel furnaces, usually gas-fired. That means FRACKING played a part, in that power.

100% of all fracking wells leak POISONS, into the surrounding ground and water, during the life, of any well.

Fracking sure did get rail-roaded into operation, didn't it?

[Portion removed]

Posted by Rupert of henzau, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2014 at 5:40 pm

[Post removed.]

Posted by DC, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2014 at 7:33 pm

I agree w/ "common sense" re increased ridership=increased parking needs. Where does that space come from?
I also agree w/ "Burt" who points out that "clean" electricity comes from not-so-clean fossil fuel power plants, so doesn't one cancel out the other for a very HIGH price tag? And we're still left w/ huge parking lots somewhere and more traffic congestion.
Agree the solution to improving vehicular traffic flow AND cleaner, smooth train traffic is biting the bullet and using the funds for fully grade separate with over/underpasses at all intersections w/ cleaner diesel trains addresses everything. And it just makes sense. At least until something high tech like the little pods used at an airport in...Brussels?? becomes available. You type in the terminal,/destination, climb into the 4seat pod, sit back, and get off where you need to. They recharge themselves at pull-outs w/ solar panels. But WE'RE the high tech kingdom??

Posted by simhedges, a resident of another community
on Apr 24, 2014 at 11:37 am

Just for comparison, the UK is converting hundreds of miles of railway track from diesel to electric for variours reasons: Diesel is inherently dirty, fossil fuel oil will run out, electric trains can take more passengers (no large diesel engines or fuel tanks), are lighter and so mean that the tracks need less maintainance, they tend to be faster (better acceleration), and will become less fossil fuel intensive over time as the percentage of electricty generated from fossil fuels in the UK continues to fall (it's currently about 60%). However, the brand new high speed network planned for the UK will not be shared with local trains (it just doesn't make sense as it would end up blocking and slowing down the high speed trains), or have any level crossings (the concept would be laughed at).

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 24, 2014 at 11:53 am

The comparison is being made between older diesel engines and electrified engines with no review of the other alternatives - new high tech engines that function much the way the newer automobiles do. At what point is the electricity generated?

My concern is that the SF system is electrified and is very costly, mismanaged, and fraught with political manipulation. There are no great schedule / cost benefits they are receiving in SF. If that is your closest comparison then what you are looking at is not effective from any standpoint - as well as being ugly.

Are we getting sucked into this mess to financially support their system? That is my guess - they are sinking and need our financing to keep them afloat.
Someone say where the electricity is being generated from - SF?
Slimhedges - the UK has a different set of problems - look directly at SF for your source of data.

Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 24, 2014 at 1:10 pm

What amazingly backward place ! All over western Europe electric suburban trains have been running for decades. Did I mention Russia?

Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 24, 2014 at 1:20 pm

Some of the comments on this thread are ill informed and hilarious. The diesel locomotive is a product of the 20th century. not the 19th century. Actually mainline electric locomotives and trolleys(light rail) are the product of the 19th century. El Camino, University Ave, and Waverly all had trolley lines at one time. In fact the trolley passed in front of Steve Jobs old house.

Southern Pacific wanted to electrify the Peninsula a long time ago but it became a pipe dream after Eisenhower's highway system. With the seemingly never ending public dollars in this state that dream is about to be reality.

The one draw back to the Diesel locomotive is the acceleration and stop times between stations. Which works well for example on the capitol corridor trains or Ace. On a line like Caltrain with it's many stops electric locomotives will work good (like those found on Amtrak's Northeast corridor) but EMU's (Electric Multiple Unit) will work better(think BART or Acela). And make more money doing it. Faster start and stop times are key. And Southern Pacific knew this before most of us were born.

If you want to look into the future you need to learn the past.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2014 at 6:38 am

You now have a CALTRAIN. When and if this system becomes electric then your system will cease to exist - it will be part of the larger system used in SF. All of the management and funding will come from some central point in SF. What a vision. The system will then have to accommodate the larger set of schedules for the transportation center.
What happens in Europe has nothing to do with this - it is what is happening in SF - that is where this will be managed from.
Maybe that is the way this is suppose to be.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2014 at 6:43 am

Further on the topic of comparisons to Europe - read your newspaper - the biggest problem they have is their power grid. That is what Russia has that allows them to run over the Ukraine and the general vicinity. The power grid is their biggest problem. And if you have been there they have break downs in the power grid on a regular basis.

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 25, 2014 at 6:56 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Fixed Location Gas or Oil fired Electric generation is still way cleaner than variable speed Diesel motors. Running any Engine at constant speed allows optimum emissions efficiency .
So Electric is still better for Peninsula Air Quality than any Diesel Locomotive.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2014 at 9:45 am

The newest locomotives are not running on diesel - they are using a electric conversion system much like your new car is. This is not a electric vs diesel problem - it is a funding and control / political issue.

Posted by WTH, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2014 at 10:06 am

As someone from Europe, my experience is that the electrical grid is much more reliable in Europe than in the US.

I can't believe that we are even debating this here. Diesel is toxic, loud, and a petrochemical like all others. (Gas generated) electricity is much, much better than diesel.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 25, 2014 at 10:11 am

Europe has nothing to do with the situation we are looking at. Your focus point is the city of San Francisco - We are merging in to the city of San Francisco's transportation grid. Go up to San Francisco that is the limit of your measurement. Is it well managed? Is the funding adequate? If you read the Chronicle there is a continual gripe about the transportation system. We are here - not Europe.

Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm

@ resident 1 the newest diesels run on electric conversion system.

Well I don't know about newest. Diesel Electric locomotives have been that way since well before world war 2. In fact Hybrid cars are in many ways copies of Diesel Electric Locomotives. The newest most powerful diesels run AC instead of DC electrical systems.

Google Milwaukee Road Electrification and how a diesel electric locomotive works

Posted by Edward, a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Caltrain is governed by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which consists of agencies from the three Caltrain counties. The member agencies are the City and County of San Francisco, SamTrans and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Each agency has three votes.

So San Francisco is outvoted by The Peninsula and paranoia over imminent invasion is unnecessary.

Posted by Soul Brother, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2014 at 10:57 pm

I can't wait until High Speed Rail comes racing to Palo Alto at 120 mph and lowers housing prices to more affordable levels.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 26, 2014 at 8:32 am

Noted is that Redwood City has opened it new hi tech dock, deep water, in the port. It can now service any type ship, and more than 1 ship at a time. In my thinking that is for the existing commercial businesses, and potential for cruise lines, and ferry service - which is already being implemented. The port of Redwood City is going through a major redevelopment. You will note that it using a rail line consistent with the CALTRAIN line going through the Sequoia Station. That rail line is not going to go away. If a major port area going through redevelopment and is sitting next door, with the potential of BART coming over the Dumbarton Bridge for Facebook, etc. I think the electrification of CALTRAIN with the disruption to the growth and people moving requirements is a big mistake. It is like shooting yourself in the foot and cutting off the capabilities that are presenting themselves. You need to move both people and product up and down the peninsula and forcing that in a truck or car is what we are trying to avoid.

Posted by resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:25 am

The Wall street journal has an update today on the HSR - still looks like where it was a year ago.
Ed - since you are in the know where is the electricity for this train being generated? Multiple places? One place? It would be nice to know how and where that is going to happen.

Posted by huh?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2014 at 10:30 am

"BART coming over the Dumbarton Bridge"

I dont believe any agency is seriously considering this.

Posted by HUTCH 7.62, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2014 at 10:28 am

@ Resident 1
It won't be Bart on the Dumbarton Bridge. But rather Caltrain going to the Fremont Bart station after all the Right of Way is owned by the county of San Mateo.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 28, 2014 at 12:27 pm

[Post removed.]

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