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Tunneling the trains is not a new vision

Original post made by Jay Thorwaldson, editor emeritus, on Sep 30, 2008

The “mini Big Four” Palo Alto city leaders proposing to tunnel the Caltrain tracks deep underground to make room for parks, bike lanes and condos were a bit surprised to hear they weren’t the first to think up the idea.

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Comments (22)

Like this comment
Posted by good one!
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 30, 2008 at 5:43 pm

This is a good piece of journalism. Well-written, and informative. We need to have more of this from the Weekly.


Like this comment
Posted by seriously?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2008 at 6:29 pm

What a great idea that will help to increase real estate values and reduce the danger associated with above ground tracks. Our town would be so much nicer without the tracks running through it. Imagine life at PALY without the sound of the train running by!

A great, marvelous idea.


Like this comment
Posted by bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2008 at 6:39 pm

Before I jump on the bandwagon I want to know the cost per mile to tunnel or trench. Then I would ask where the funds are coming from. The surface extension of BART to SFO cost hundreds of millions (several billion?). And it was surface construction.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2008 at 7:21 pm

When it is deemed necessary for highway to be widened between Palo Alto and Mountain View, who pays for it? It isn't the residents of Palo Alto or Mountain View. No. Caltrain finds the funds from its system and overall funding for California. Who benefits from it? Well, it can be argued that Palo Alto and Mountain View residents if they use highway 101 will benefit. But, the benefit is not to them alone, it is to all those who use highways all over the Peninsula, the South Bay, and even the East Bay.

Similarly, who should pay for an upgrade of the rail service (by tunnel, trench or what have you)? Certainly not the residents of the area in which the tracks are located. Who will benefit from the upgrade of the service? One could argue that the local residents who use the service. But, the benefit is not to them alone, but to all who use public transport all over the Peninsula, the South Bay, the East Bay and yes, all the way to LA.

So really what we need is not a localized project by a small transport body, but a Californian transport czar with oversight for all transport, not just in the Bay Area, but all over California.

We need a statewide public transit authority with oversight and funding for the overall transport policy for the whole of state. If we cannot get a statewide body, even a Bay Area body would be better than nothing. But, we must not do any upgrades piecemeal. We must get a picture of what is necessary for the whole of the State and the funding must come, not just from Palo Alto, or Mountain View, but from California.

And for those who think that they would never use the system, the fact that it is there will ultimately benefit every single Californian, from keeping the roads and skies less busy, to transport of food and freight, to giving our tourists an additional method of seeing the State and by having an overall authority to see the overall picture, this can be achieved for the benefit of every one of us.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2008 at 7:23 pm

Typo

Of course I meant Caltrans (not Caltrain) funds the widening of highways, rather than the individual cities which the highway runs through.


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Posted by JLD
a resident of University South
on Sep 30, 2008 at 7:24 pm

Trenching all of the three discussed train lines (Caltrain, BART and the HST) under El Camino through the peninsula would be a great enhancement both for trains and communities, who can rdeclaim the land now used for the rail road tracks.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2008 at 9:13 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Just, please, no BART. Beside everything else, the inability of BART to carry freight wastes the benefit of public carriage that rationalized use of eminent domain to extend railroads. Imagine if the freight that now rides the night trains were to be thrown on to 101.


Like this comment
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2008 at 10:50 pm

> Imagine life at PALY without the sound of the train running by!

A tunnel is not the best solution to that problem.

The sound of the train running by PALY is principally composed of (a) 1/4 mile of federally mandated horn blowing for the Churchill Ave grade crossing, and (b) a barely-muffled 3000 horsepower diesel engine designed in the 1970s.

Build an underpass for Churchill and electrify the railroad, and presto, no more sound of the train running by PALY... just a discreet swish. And for billions cheaper than a tunnel!

> who should pay for an upgrade of the rail service (by tunnel, trench or what have you)

Since the tunnel or trench itself adds nothing to the rail system's ability to perform its transportation function, the state certainly shouldn't pay for it. Burying the tracks is solely a benefit to local residents.


Like this comment
Posted by GSB
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 1, 2008 at 10:42 am

OMG, a new post!

Seriously though, good piece of writing.


Like this comment
Posted by I Read Somewhere
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2008 at 11:07 am

Somewhere I read that FOUR, count 'em FOUR tracks are being contemplated for the peninsula: two for CalTrain and two for HSR. Criminy sakes alive, how many tracks do you need going up and down the peninsula? H***s bells, why not go all out and have SIX tracks -- two for Caltrain, two for HSR and two for freight?!?! And Bayshore will still be jam-packed! Name one other place in the U.S. which has FOUR parallel tracks for passenger service.

Somewhere else I read that after the trains are tunneled/trenched, the existing right-of-way will be turned into the world's most expensive bike path. Then I read that the right-of-way will be used for HSR. Then I read that they want to lease "air space" on the right of way for real estate development. So which is it, bike path, HSR or development? I also read somewhere that they want to tear down the Palo Alto depot and develop there. So where is this envisioned influx of HSR passengers supposed to debark, where will they park their cars and how will they make arrangements for other means of transportation once they have detrained?

WRT the Paly High noise problem, electrification alone will take care of that. I don't see why you need an underpass at Churchill for noise abatement. Besides, the noise problem is of PAUSD's own devisement. They knew full well what they were getting into when they built those buildings so close to the tracks back in the late '60s.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Oct 1, 2008 at 12:00 pm

> Name one other place in the U.S. which has FOUR parallel tracks for passenger service.

There are several.

Let's start locally. You might not have guessed: Caltrain. There are sections with four parallel tracks in Sunnyvale, Redwood City and Brisbane to enable Baby Bullets to overtake local services. Without them Baby Bullet express service would not be possible.

Sunnyvale: Web Link

Brisbane: Web Link

The four-track example that most readily comes to mind is Amtrak's Northeast Corridor between New York City and Philadelphia, which sees much the same mix of traffic envisioned for the peninsula: commuter rail with frequent stops, and long distance intercity trains (Acela Express) cruising at 135 mph. Due to their different speeds, these trains need to overtake each other; you simply can't mix them together on the same track.

Track is cheap. Right of way is expensive, but thankfully already owned by Caltrain (including the bike path behind PALY). Earth works and concrete (of which tunneling is an extreme example) are very expensive.

> I don't see why you need an underpass at Churchill for noise abatement.

Horn blowing, and on rare occasions, the crunch of sheet metal followed by emergency sirens.


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2008 at 12:12 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

The elimination of grade crossings and the electrification would bring 150 mph trains within reach with standard passenger equipment. Imagine commuting from Lompoc.
Recent train trenches are readily accessible in Reno and Long Beach.


Like this comment
Posted by I Read Somewhere
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 1, 2008 at 2:29 pm

<< Caltrain. There are sections with four parallel tracks in Sunnyvale, Redwood City and Brisbane to enable Baby Bullets to overtake local services. Without them Baby Bullet express service would not be possible. >>

Add two tracks for HSR to the four existing and my remark about six tracks is no joke.

<< Earth works and concrete (of which tunneling is an extreme example) are very expensive. >>

And we haven't even broached the issue of the water table. The underpass at Oregon/Page Mill has to be pumped 24 hours per day.

It is my understanding that there are to be no grade crossings for HSR, so if it were built it would have to go either over or under Alma, Churchill, Meadow and Charleston. In that case the idea of underpasses for those roads sounds sensible, but HSR in its current form is so badly conceived that it may never happen.


Like this comment
Posted by Trainguy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Check out this interactive high-speed rail map:

Web Link

Try going from San Francisco to Sacramento. Look at the route it takes and have yourself a good laugh or cry. Want to go from Oakland to Sacramento? Sorry Charlie, can't get there from here.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 1, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Hmmm...anyone here ever hear of the "big dig" in Boston?? Not sure that that was such a great success and it was a great expense. I seem to recall that is already having issues with parts of it falling down.


Like this comment
Posted by Andrew Mackenzie
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 3, 2008 at 8:13 am

OK, consider for a moment that we did have the funds to "bury" the train tracks. Do you know that the underpass at Oregon Expwy and the train track is below the water table and as such requires constant pumping to keep it dry? And that constant pumping has sucked contaminants from HP and other companies that have polluted to the site. Not to mention El nino years - remember '98 when the Oregon underpass flooded?

WAY too many what-if's here w/ potentially really bad answers.

--Andrew


Like this comment
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 6, 2008 at 9:59 am

The cost of repair after each of the foreseeable earthquakes will be so great that all that will happen will be a train unable to be quickly brought back into service.


Like this comment
Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 6, 2008 at 9:59 am

The cost of repair after each of the foreseeable earthquakes will be so great that all that will happen will be a train unable to be quickly brought back into service.


Like this comment
Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 6, 2008 at 11:21 am

Of course “They’re insane.”, all of Palo Alto is insane. That's what makes it such a great place to live. This place is fueled with insane people coming up with wild, hair-brained ideas that sometimes actually work. It would be wrong to dismiss this idea out-of-hand without giving it some consideration.


Like this comment
Posted by Hal Plotkin
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 16, 2008 at 4:48 pm

Thanks for remembering the late, wonderful community leader Joe Carelton. Joe was an exceptional leader and mentor.

Ditto with Martin Gorfinkel, who remains a very active and positive force for good in our local community affairs.

Jay, I wonder if you remember the way Joe led the fight to create a paramedic service here in Palo Alto?

He was a brilliant tactician. Gentle, smart and effective. He was having trouble getting the city staff to focus on the issue so he came up with the idea of getting our Palo Alto Youth Commission, which I chaired as a junior in high school, involved. Joe also brought us together with Palo Alto firefighter Tony Spitaleri (now the mayor of Sunnyvale), who brought experts from other communities to the Youth Commission to talk about how we could improve our city's emergency services. Joe helped us hold hearings, take testimony and watched over us from the back of the council chambers as we made our report to the City Council. He made it look like it was our idea.

When the Council finally approved the paramedic program Joe wrote me and our other Youth Commissioners a nice letter giving us credit for the accomplishment and encouraging us to stay involved in public affairs.

It was so good to see his name in your column today.


Like this comment
Posted by Watch Dog
a resident of another community
on Oct 23, 2008 at 9:46 am

Watch Dog wants to know how 6 posts in 2 years constitutes a blog...

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by nowhhineyy
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 21, 2009 at 1:43 am

stop[ whinwu=innggggg hebbsss


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