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Caltrain will fix-up PA stations, replace bridges

Original post made on Nov 24, 2007

Caltrain will kick off a $35 million improvement project at both Palo Alto train stations with a ceremony Wednesday at 10:15 a.m. at the California Avenue Station. The year-long project will also replace the rail bridges at San Francisquito and Matadero creeks.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, November 24, 2007, 12:12 PM

Comments (24)

Posted by Underpasses-Increase-Safety, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2007 at 6:05 pm

Shame that CalTrain couldn't see its way clear to put underpasses at key crossings here in Palo Alto.


Posted by hmm, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 24, 2007 at 6:24 pm

Is this the reason why half of the parking lot at University Station has been fenced off. Just droped off Sharks fans and we couldn't quite work out what was going on and nearly missed the train.


Posted by what about..., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 25, 2007 at 5:16 pm

What about the station buildings themselves? Downtown has been shuttered seemingly forever and calif ave is somewhat run-down. Are the buildings to get any attention? Will the downtown station ever open?


Posted by scott, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Nice bathrooms at the University station! Where are they. Do you use the Red Cross, MacArthur Park or the bushes? Oh yeah, you can use the hidden pay for use one for free; what a deal, what planning we have here in PA; why don't we spend 50,000 on a consultant to fix it, and I am not even talking about the North bound side; nice job every governmental agency involved. Do you wonder why they hose down the tunnels everyday?


Posted by scott, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 25, 2007 at 8:35 pm

Underpass=Grade Separation, see Measure A


Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2007 at 8:34 pm

Wonder where the $35M is coming from? Certainly CalTrain is not likely to recover these funds from increased ticket sales any time soon, if at all.


Posted by Andrew, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 26, 2007 at 9:12 pm

Fixing Cal Ave (making two trains capable of being at the station at once) should increase efficiency and lessen delays that could build up there. While that's probably not $35M, that could help.


Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 26, 2007 at 11:31 pm

According to CalTrain, the daily boardings for 2005, 2006 and 2007 at California Avenue have been: 839, 822, 825.

Assuming 2 boardings per person per day .. that comes to about 410 unique people use this station every day. Not exactly clear it's worth keeping open.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2007 at 8:47 am

Why assume 2 boardings at Cal Ave per person per day. I would assume that they only board once at Cal Ave and once somewhere else. If they meant boardings and disembarkation lumped together, then your analysis would be correct. However, boarding means getting on, not getting off.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 27, 2007 at 9:24 am

Also, there is going to be a LOT more activity at that station as Google employees move in; as 195 Page Mill is completed; as the Public Safety Building is completed; as the PTOD designation for othe California Ave. corridor brings in more housing; as California Ave. develops; and, as Stanford completes its new housing on El Camino (between California and Page Mill) and on upper California (behind Credit Suise, where at-market homes will be build after all buildings are razed).

This station will become an important stop.

Also, keep in mind that CalTrain *reduced* the stops there a few years ago, and a LOT of people complained.

We need the improvements; as do many other CalTrain stops. We should be praising anything done to improve the comfort, accessibility, or affordability of mass transit.


Posted by Andrew B. Holbrook, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 27, 2007 at 9:45 am

Just because not many people get on there doesn't mean backups can't be felt there (especially in the afternoon). This is the issue Caltrain is trying to resolve.


Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2007 at 1:01 pm

CalTrain Data shows the ridership by year:

1992:881
1995:974
1996:950
1997:1,125
1998:1,163
1999:1,211
2000:1,280
2001:1,376
2002:1,225
2003:1,026
2004:946
2005:839
2006:822
2007:825

The ridership reflects the .DOTCOM explosion/implosion in business activities; however, only 200 unique people can be accounted for during this last "up" period in the business cycle.

Even if the daily ridership doubled to 1600, this could hardly be considered an "important stop".

The ridership numbers just arn't there.


Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2007 at 1:13 pm

> Just because not many people get on there doesn't
> mean backups can't be felt there

While fixing the station to allow for one train to pass while another is boarding/unloading passengers is the right thing to do, CalTrain could have developed control systems that allowed on train to slow down until it was safe to pass the station. The trains don't seem to stay stopped very long--maybe 30 seconds at some stations.

For some reason, even though the Sunnyvale station is fairly new (and people board/disembark on both tracks), if there is a train stopped at the station, a train approaching from the other direction will stop and wait for the first train to depart. Presumably this is an access/safety issue, since passengers have no way to cross under the tracks. One can only assume that the designers of the station decided that the cost of an underpass (maybe $10M) was not worth the in delay end-to-end transit time.

If there is any delay in the afternoon, it's mostly likely just a few minutes. Given the vast public subsidy in CalTrain (in the hundreds of millions of dollars at this point), it's not clear that spending tens/hundreds of millions more in order to shave off a couple of minutes of end-to-end travel time is a good use of public funds.

CalTrain says that there are about 35K weekday boardings. This is not very many daily passages for the high cost of this system.


Posted by A passenger, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 27, 2007 at 6:12 pm

And what about fixing the freaking validators? Do you know how many times I am forced to board the train without validation as the machines are invariably broken? And then I fear being penalized by the conductor? If fact, one day a rude conductor even cited me after validating everyone infront of me and just deciding to take it all out on me? I am disgusted to be living in the heart of silicon valley with such a broken system. Regarding the conductor, I will face him off in the court...


Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2007 at 6:22 pm

> And what about fixing the freaking validators?

Not certain what this is all about, but would like to point out that CalTrain's refusal to sell tickets on the train itself is just short of criminal. There is no reason that a machine that accepts a credit card and ones and fives (No change would be OK in this situation) that would allow people to buy a ticket on board should not be installed on each train. The idea that you have to buy a ticket at a station, or risk getting a huge fine, is simply over the top.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2007 at 6:56 pm

I happened to live in Dublin (Ireland) at the time they were updating their deisel commuter trains and changing them to an electric system. The old system was terrible, never on time, ancient rolling stock, and well over-used with crowded trains and no parking. It took about three years of misery commuting on these trains while the system was updated and I didn't stay long enough to reap the benefits. The problem was that the tracks had many bridges which were not tall enough for the electric trains to go through so rather than raise the bridges, it was cheaper to lower the tracks. This was done one direction at a time and the level of the tracks was lowered by about 2 feet. Consequently, the stations and platforms had to be changed accordingly. This was done of course with EU money.

Several years later I had the experience of returning to the area. The new system (given the name The DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit)) was wonderful. The new rolling stock was clean and quiet. The trains were more plentiful, faster and always on time. The speeds were increased and although extra stations were introduced the travel time was actually faster. Because the system was so vastly improved the public loved it and started using it. It became the mode of transport of choice for not only commuters into the city, but also for school children, shoppers, tourists and locals all often going just a couple of stations. Parking was improved and the stations were given facelifts and all modern amenities.

As a result, this wonderful new system is being fully utilised. People are using the trains who never felt that they would. The initial investment was well worth the outlay and all the naysayers were proved wrong.

To all those who feel that money spent on Caltrain, or any other rail or bus network, is money down the drain, I just say don't bank on it. My feeling is that it would work here. We are such a cosmopolitan bunch with roots from many other international countries where public transport is the norm, that only the diehards who have never experienced wonderful public transport would not use it.

However, piecemeal is not the answer. A full overhaul of the whole system is what is needed and the longterm benefits would not be felt until such time as the whole is completely workable interactively.


Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 27, 2007 at 9:04 pm


> To all those who feel that money spent on Caltrain,
> or any other rail or bus network, is money down the drain

Without full disclosure of the costs associated with any transportation system, the level of subsidies can not be known. The CalTrain system has sucked up hundreds of millions of dollars in public subsidy, which will never be recovered at the fare box by virtue of the very low use of this system.

There are over 6.5M people living in the greater Bay Area, all of which need some sort of transportation. Let's say that the average person needs 4 "trips" a day (going somewhere for some thing). That comes to 25M trips (conservatively). Adding together BART and CalTrain's daily boardings, the total mass transit "trips" about 350K "trips". Mass transit hardly makes a dent in the transportation needs of Bay Area residents.

And CalTrain is not the worst offender, BART has consumed billions. The ill-fated Airport spur chewed through $1.5B, with little hope of making its projected ridership.

Sometimes Mass Transit works (such as in areas where a well-defined transportation corridor exists), but in general--it doesn't work at all.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 28, 2007 at 1:16 am

Cars are more expensive.

Mass transport needs *comprehensive* infrastructure, including tip-top coordination to work.

This region, and our country in general, have mostly ignored mass transport infrastructure, and effective mass transport coordination - for decades.

Now it's time to catch up, and start to find new ways to get people out of the automobile.

Please don't tell me that our highway system, and the ferocious waste of the internal combustion engine, is more efficient than mass transport - properly deployed.

An aerial view of any major highway, in any major city, at rush hour (and in some places, like LA, anytime) is enough to convince anyone that there is something terribly wrong with the way Americans transport themselves from place to place, especially when it comes to commuting.


Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2007 at 9:07 am

For a simple test of how useless mass transit is for most people, draw your daily trips on a map using your automobile. Compute the time associated with each segment. Now, try to use mass transit to make these trips. Include walking time to the nearest mass transit access point, waiting time for each leg of the trip. When determining the personal cost of this transit mode, monitize your wait time so that your delays show up as real dollar costs.

It will not be much of a surprise to see that if it is not impossible to get where you want to go, that it will take quite a long time and is very expensive.

The next bit of this experiment is harder to perform--scale up the costs of a public system that actually provides people access to wherever they want to go whenever they want to go, as they can now with personal conveyances. It quickly becomes clear that no such system could be built.

What great nation has ever appeared on the earth using a government mandated and provided "mass transit" system? It has never happened, nor will it ever happen.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2007 at 11:19 am

I had to get to downtown San Jose a week or so ago for an evening event. I planned to get there early for dinner beforehand. What I didn't expect was to be sitting in traffic for over an hour. Palo Alto to downtown San Jose normally takes 20 minutes for me, but in commute times it is ridiculous. If a suitable alternative existed, I would have used it. If it does exist, it needs to be publicised more. I wish I had gone to Mountain View and taken light rail, because that would have been quicker for the first trip, but at the end of the evening, sitting on a train for over an hour was not something I would gladly savor.

So, planners, get your thinking caps on. There could be a market, you just need to market to it.


Posted by Validators, a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 28, 2007 at 11:21 am

> And what about fixing the freaking validators?

I had not similar but the same incident while boarding the bullet that leaves PA at 8:05. I received a citation while the tickets for other people were validated. The "rude conductor" didn't even give me a valid reason for citing me and forced me to sign the slip. Its a shame that this is happening even though their own validators are broken


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 28, 2007 at 11:42 am

"For a simple test of how useless mass transit is for most people, draw your daily trips on a map using your automobile. Compute the time associated with each segment. Now, try to use mass transit to make these trips."

This is a faux argument, if I ever saw one. Do you call what we have here "mass transit". You must be kidding! How about doing that same computation for a place like Amsterdam, or NYC, or Paris, or London - where *real* mass transit, well-coordinated mass transit, really exists.

you say:
"The next bit of this experiment is harder to perform--scale up the costs of a public system that actually provides people access to wherever they want to go whenever they want to go, as they can now with personal conveyances. It quickly becomes clear that no such system could be built."

Have you even *done* this experiment based on *eliminating, or sharply curtailing* the costs associated with private, one-person-to-a-car transport? I want to see your computation, and then admit your error. Yours is very weak analysis, based on hunches, without considering the *full*spectrum of mass transport benefits.

Also, I have to laugh when you say that we will never institute or mandate mass transit. Give it about 20-30 years to build infrastructure, then another 20 years for habit change. It's gonna happen, period.

We will probably always maintain some kind of private transport, but expect even that to change dramatically, to smaller, cheaper, alternate fuel modules that are *part of* the mass transport system




Posted by trains are expensive, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 28, 2007 at 12:14 pm

> Have you even *done* this experiment based on *eliminating,
> or sharply curtailing* the costs associated with private,
> one-person-to-a-car transport?

This experiment is the responsibility of those promoting "mass transit".

For instance, even a subset of this experiment is revealing--replace the traffic on Highway 101 with trains and buses and see what the cost is in terms of public subsidy, not to mention the high cost of personal delay in transit time.

Most people spend less than 28 minutes getting to/from work. There is simply no way that a public transit system could provide that sort of performance.

Mass Transit works in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo and other big cities. Can't image life in places like those without it. But for the rest of the world .. it's just another social engineers pipe dream.


Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 28, 2007 at 1:02 pm

"replace the traffic on Highway 101 with trains and buses and see what the cost is in terms of public subsidy, not to mention the high cost of personal delay in transit time."

Another faux argument. Mass transport will *scale*, and merge with other urban/suburban adaptations, like infill housing near transit, etc. etc.

Aside from the invention of a personal transporter (al la Star Trek) there is *nothing* you can do (except complain) to stop the eventual universalization of mass transport. We've passed the tipping point.

From now on, we will trend in that direction.


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