News

Palo Alto considers legal options against Caltrain

City irked by train agency's decision to seek exemption from state environmental law

Weeks after learning about Caltrain's plan to seek an exemption from California's environmental law for its proposed electrification project in the event of a lawsuit, Palo Alto officials are preparing to consider their legal options.

The City Council has set a special closed-session meeting for this evening to consider potential litigation against the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. The session, which was placed on the agenda last week, comes two weeks after the council heard a presentation about Caltrain's staff about the recently completed Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the long-planned project, which seeks to replace diesel trains with electric ones starting in 2019. In addition to enabling an increase in trains, the electrification project also intends to set the stage for the ultimate construction of high-speed rail.

Caltrain's recently approved EIR, which identifies the project's impacts and proposed mitigations, concluded that the project would worsen congestions three intersections on Alma Street and that these impacts cannot be mitigated because of physical constraints. While Palo Alto officials have requested that Caltrain help mitigate some impacts by working with the city on grade separation, the agency has declined to do so, citing the high cost of building a trench for Caltrain.

"Due to geometric constraints on it (Alma), we didn't find any feasible mitigations other than grade separation that Caltrain is not financially capable of doing," Caltrain's consultant Rich Walter told the council on Jan. 12.

The document also asserted for the first time Caltrain's intention to claim exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act, the very law that makes the EIR mandatory, should the project face a lawsuit. While Caltrain officials said they plan to go along with the mitigations laid out in the report regardless of the law's applicability, they also said they reserve the right to declare themselves exempt from the law if the document faces a legal challenge.

"The statement of the JPB is that they reserve the right to assert this," Walter said, referring to the exemption from CEQA. "It doesn't change the commitment that the agency has made to the mitigations identified in the EIR."

Marian Lee, executive officer for Caltrain's modernization, told the Palo Alto council on Jan. 12 that the agency is willing to work "outside CEQA" to figure out ways to address the project's impacts on local intersections.

"We're not turning away," Lee said. "Where there are impacts, we've been directed by the board to meet with (city) staff and consider what are the additional things we can do."

Caltrain's response did not entirely satisfy the council, with several members saying they were skeptical about the agency's stated commitments to mitigating the impacts given its simultaneous assertion that state law does not apply to the electrification project.

"That's a lot of words," Councilman Marc Berman told Lee after she said that Caltrain plans to work with staff outside the CEQA process. "If you're saying CEQA doesn't apply, there's no guarantee that anything will actually happen on that front. You're pledging to do your best, but there's nothing in the document that says there will be any mitigations for these impacts."

Lee also said Caltrain would be interested in potentially entering into a separate partnership with Palo Alto to pursue grade separation, which is something that both the agency and the city want. This could be accomplished through a memorandum of understanding.

Vice Mayor Greg Schmid wasn't entirely pleased with this response and asked Lee to inform her board that one of its good "partners" is "upset."

"We are partners, which is why it's so disturbing for you to come and claim the right to have an exemption from CEQA," Schmid said. "CEQA is our way to have a dialogue over issues and mitigations. Your board reserving the right (to claim exemption) indicates that we are less of a partnership for the future."

Tonight's closed session will be held at the end of the regular council meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. Read the agenda here.

Comments

29 people like this
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:30 am

How is works. Project is planned, studied and planned some more. Then funding is approved which seems a go and then lawsuits happen. Project is tied up in the legal system and the costs rise or delays. In the meantime traffic gets worse, time is lost and other places in the US get done on time.


35 people like this
Posted by You're Kidding, Right?
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:34 am

Cleaner, quieter, faster, more frequent Caltrain-- this is the biggest improvement to come to Palo Alto in decades. The benefits FAR outweigh any potential negatives. A lawsuit would be a ridiculous waste of time and money.


33 people like this
Posted by no more stalling
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:37 am

Lawsuits will just stall the project and increase costs. We badly need electrified Caltrain to reduce congestion and pollution for commute traffic. If the city wants grade separation, we should work with the county to pay for this, just like cities in San Mateo County are doing.

However, expect a lengthy lengthy battle with NIMBYs who do not want grade separation, because this is uglier than at-grade crossings. But don't let this battle stall the Caltrain improvements.


12 people like this
Posted by Jayme Ackemann
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:42 am

Your lede sentence is not only misleading it is not factually accurate. Noting in the EIR that we preserve the legal right to exercise an exemption to the CEQA process at some point in the future is not the same thing as actually exercising that right. To state that, "Caltrain plans to seek an exemption..." is incorrect. Had you contacted Caltrain for comment on this story, I would have explained this issue to you more clearly.

What we have done in the EIR is maintain all our options should the need arise to move the project forward expeditiously. But we have been very public about our intention not to exercise to the exemption and to work with the communities who have participated fully in the vetting of this project begin nearly a decade ago when work on the EIR first began. We are committed to the mitigations as they have been laid out in the EIR and we plan to continue to look for ways to improve the project further mitigating potential impacts.

Jayme Ackemann
Communications Manager, Caltrain


5 people like this
Posted by Local Patriot
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:47 am

Lawsuits are our defense against big government tyranny.


52 people like this
Posted by jared bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:05 am

How about if we do not sue them.
Electric trains are great. They're quiet and convenient and clean.

Let's spend our palo alto money on helping them do it well.


6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:41 am

I agree electrification is a good idea.

I wonder if the solution here is to find the money build a trench for Caltrain. This would be a win for traffic at the two intersections. Maybe we could tap some of the high speed rail money.


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:42 am

Why do they have a way in Europe to have their electric trains for over 50 years. Have you ridden one or had your hotel window facing the tracks? If you did, you would not be against clean, much less noisier rail.


2 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 11:54 am

As one who lives on Alma near points of anticipated future congestion, I'm definitely concerned about these proposed changes, but even more the high speed rail that is anticipated to be hauling tail up and down the peninsula in future years.

At those speeds, it wouldn't take much to derail a train, sending it crashing into the apartments and residences, just across Alma from the rails.

Not looking forward to all this "progress."


4 people like this
Posted by gsheyner
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm

gsheyner is a registered user.

Hi Jayme,

Thanks for the clarification. I added the clause "in the event of a lawsuit" in the lede. I thought the story made that clear (I mentioned this further down in the story), but if it's confusing I'm happy to clarify.

You mention that Caltrain has been "very public about our intention not to exercise to the exemption." The EIR that Caltrain just approved states:

"By having voluntarily adhered to the strictures of CEQA, however, the JPB does not intend to waive its ability to assert that CEQA is preempted by federal law. In short, the JPB expressly preserves its ability to assert preemption if legal challenges to the EIR are initiated."

Thanks,

Gennady


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:15 pm

More trains means increased congestion (not less) on the roads trying to cross the tracks because fewer cars, bikes, pedestrians are able to cross at a time due to all those closings. Anyone who tries to get anywhere during peak commute times knows how bad those backups can be. They must separate the tracks - trench or tunnel - because the long term costs will far outweigh the upfront expense.

When Philly was extending their high speed line into South Jersey in the 70's, Haddonfield refused to allow them to build raised tracks through the center of their historic downtown. The town insisted on below grade tracks and to this day, it was the. best .decision. ever. Having lived in the area through the construction, before, during and after, it astounds me that this is being shoved off the table.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:31 pm

> Cleaner, quieter, faster, more frequent Caltrain--
> this is the biggest improvement to come to Palo Alto in decades.

And all for just $1+B (and financing charges)? The cost/benefit for this project is virtually zero. If Caltrain promised to start carrying, say, 250K unique people a day, and reducing the congestion on the highways by say, 15%--then maybe this project might have some "legs". But as it is, it's just another "pig in a poke".


1 person likes this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Jayme,
it's great that you want to make Caltrain's stance clear. Always better when groups can work together. To that end, Caltrain has said they will work with city governmente to mitigate the unavoidable congestion. I stead of vague statements, it would be easier to support Caltrain, if there was a concrete mitigation plan prior to approval.

As it is, the crossings are dangerous and cause considerable congestion. With additional trains at the rates being discussed, travel from east-west will become nearly impossible.


2 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:43 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"Noting in the EIR that we preserve the legal right to exercise an exemption to the CEQA process at some point in the future is not the same thing as actually exercising that right."

In other words, you're still holding this option over the head of Palo Alto. Sorry. A threat is still a threat.


1 person likes this
Posted by MVResident67
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 26, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Don't forget about VTA's push for the "dedicated lane" BRT option which would result in the loss of use of one lane of El Camino Real in each direction, resulting in a significant amount of auto traffic diverting off of ECR and instead using Central Expressway/Alma. The VTA Draft EIR makes mention of this anticipated "significant and unavoidable" impact (to Central) and further states that for XYZ reasons, VTA will not be able to do anything to mitigate this negative impact. I understand that Palo Alto has officially said "no" to the dedicated lane option, but if VTA is able to get Cal Trans to sign off on the deal, then all bets are off, as Cal Trans has ultimate control over the right of way of El Camino Real, at least that's how I understand it.


3 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:15 pm

This is a misplaced priority. The city sues Caltrain which helps hundreds of people me included to/ from sf without having to drive and pollute California. Meanwhile the city impose its overarching control in cases like BV mobile home closure. This is real conundrum fir Palo Alto when you have slugs with no other talents in getting real jobs and ended up working at city hall. Mean while, the ones that should be at city hall are too busy making bug bucks


1 person likes this
Posted by Until the town is totally unlivable
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:16 pm

If you think traffic congestion is bad now in Palo Alto...whoooo boy. Enjoy this one.


1 person likes this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

To Garrett (first commenter) et al who choose to portray opposition as "stalling" or obstructionism or ...

See article and discussion: "Report: Caltrain 'modernization' to worsen Alma congestion" (Web Link)

Caltrain and Santa Clara County have known of the necessity of grade separations at multiple locations (not just in Palo Alto, think Castro Street...) for at least a decade, probably almost two decades. Not only did they fail to plan for this, but they looted funds that were supposed to be accumulating for this sort of thing (extra sales tax), "reallocating" it to BART to SJ.

Yet Garrett et al advocate "Do only the portion that I support" and damn the rest of you.


1 person likes this
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm

How far must you trench around the Palo Alto tree?

I could see another lawsuit dealing with construction near the tree's roots.

Would underground platforms and station services need to be built?


2 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Relax folks.
The golden Gate Bridge took 17 years to finally get approved, because of all the Naysayers.

HSR has another 7 to go.


2 people like this
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:55 pm

Below ground or above ground will worsen traffic due to construction of major earth moving. The only way to avoid major disruption is not to build at all.

In the meantime ridership will increase to a point of full crowded trains where people will be forced to drive on already crowded roads. More trucks, cars, busez and othed vehicles adding to a longer commute.


19 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Trenching is not possible in northern Palo Alto because of the stream crossings. Trenching is only possible in the southern 1/3 of the city. If we want grade separations throughout town, it has to be by elevating the tracks. This was proposed 10 years ago and could have been finished by now, if it was not so strongly opposed by NIMBYs. Caltrain is elevated through many parts of San Mateo County and it works pretty well up there.


5 people like this
Posted by Roland Luo
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:38 pm

I don't think this is a solution. It simply blocks a needed update to public transit.

The real and more economic solution is:

1. Block off Churchill/Alma crossing and build a bike bridge over Alma. traffic nearby can use Embarcadero underpass.

2. Block off Meadow/Alma crossing and build a bike bridge over Alma.

3. Block off Charleston/Alma crossing and build an overpass or underpass over Alma for Charleston traffic.


Like this comment
Posted by Roland Luo
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:40 pm

My recommendation also will benefit the safety of the students who need to cross the tracks everyday.


Like this comment
Posted by MP-Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:43 pm

A RAILROAD-INTERSECTION EVENT:
On January 12, 2015 about 2:30 pm, I waited in the left turn lane of El Camino Real to cross the Caltrain tracks on my way to downtown Palo Alto, via Alma Street. There were two autos in front of me. The light changed and the cars proceeded. The first vehicle crossed the pair of railroad tracks and made a right turn onto Alma. The second vehicle crossed just one track and made a right turn, between the NB and SB tracks. As I crossed, I could see it stranded between two set of tracks.... Help was needed. I drove directly to the University Park Fire Station on Alma Street to report the event. Immediately the firemen went to problem-solve. For "the rest of the story," contact the Fire Department.


2 people like this
Posted by Roland Luo
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:52 pm

If you put up walls at Churchill/Alma and Meadow/Alma crossing as dead ends on both side. You also cut down on the noise and help quiet down the train noise.

There will be no alarm sounded and light flashing when train approaching at all 3 intersections!


Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Within a set distance you will find 2 business districts, a creek, a rail bridge, a landmarked tree, a few street crossings and one of them below groundb with a historic train station.

All of which needs trenching to build train tracks below the street and with freight trains running at night. So design in height, width and slopes of tracks all have to be designed with very little effect on rail operations, traffic and must be tied into with existing or future designs.

Dealing with gas line replace near some schools is frusting enough.


Like this comment
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 4:02 pm

If they build it they will come. 50-60 splashed folks a year. They have to fix the grade crossings...


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Caltrain averages 10 suicides per year, compared to 45 per year on the Golden Gate Bridge (even though Caltrain is 40 times longer than the Golden Gate) and probably a lot more with handguns. We could prevent far more than 10 suicides per year by investing a fraction of the cost of Caltrain suicide barriers into counseling and mental health programs instead.


7 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 6:53 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

I grew up in New Jersey in the 50's. They had daily Electric Commuter trains to NYC way back in those dark ages.
This absurd notion a few people have that overhead train power is an eyesore need to look at VTA light rail. Way less visual wire than a typical street corner.


2 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:01 pm

Do none of you remember the reaction to the grade separations proposed by the joint HSR/Caltrain Peninsula Rail Program for Palo Alto back in 2009? After that experience, it's no wonder that Caltrain won't touch those with a ten-foot pole, at least until the City government can build a coalition of strong community support around the idea of grade separation. The City study released a few months ago quite specifically excluded from its scope the only financially feasible above-grade options, which had previously been termed "Berlin Walls".

As this study found, below-grade options are off-the-charts expensive and stand precisely zero chance of being funded.

Until that fact is properly understood, and phrases like "sell the air rights" are no longer heard, this debate won't go anywhere.


3 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:04 pm

>The real and more economic solution is:

1. Block off Churchill/Alma crossing and build a bike bridge over Alma. traffic nearby can use Embarcadero underpass.

2. Block off Meadow/Alma crossing and build a bike bridge over Alma.

3. Block off Charleston/Alma crossing and build an overpass or underpass over Alma for Charleston traffic

That is an interesting and, possibly, a realistic approach. I would add that an overpass at Page Mill and El Camino, to allow a much more efficient east-west traffic flow would be a good idea...it has been proposed for decades. Maybe for Charleston/Arastradero and El Camino, too?


3 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:18 pm

I don't get it, all those claiming that electric trains will be so quiet are ignoring the fact that the engine isn't the only thing that makes noise on a train. The only thing quiet about electric trains is the electric motor compared to the diesel engine, that is true. However, anyone who has ever actually taken a seat on Caltrain near the front car, or who lives within several blocks of a gated rail crossing, knows that the trains are blowing their horns almost constantly as they roll down the Peninsula. Add to that the dozens of gate crossing bells. Multiply the train horn and gate crossing bells by more trains running on the tracks, and you end up with more noise, not less. The horn noise carries for miles, far beyond the distance diesel locomotive noise is heard. I can not believe that more electric trains with no grade separations equals less noise along along the Caltrain corridor. Electric trains with grade separations would be a remarkable improvement.

Jayme Ackemann's comments read just like a page from the HSR playbook. We reserve the right to completely ignore any and all of your concerns if/when they do not conform to our plan. By the way, we're above the law, so good luck stopping us. Jayme, the issues are very clear.


1 person likes this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:27 pm

> I would add that an overpass at Page Mill and El Camino, to allow a much more
> efficient east-west traffic flow would be a good idea...it has been
> proposed for decades

Proposed back in 1967, at least. But the City Council felt that it would be a "very ugly structure" for El Camino/Page Mill, and they dropped the idea. There was, about the same time, a suggestion for an overpass at San Antonio/El Camino. However, one of the City Council members (Los Altos) was an owner of Chef Chu's, and there was resistence to buying the land from him for an overpass.

It's a shame that we haven't done traffic modeling of those two intersections to see how things might be different with those sorts of structures in place.


20 people like this
Posted by LOVE, love, love caltrain
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 26, 2015 at 8:10 pm

I am frustrated that the leadership of our fair city are playing into the hands of the local NIMBYs. Caltrain is fantastic, and electrification will make it even better.


Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 8:21 pm

CalTrain isn't broken, so I don't understand the need to electrify it. In fact, I prefer riding on CalTrain over BART. The ride is smoother and less noisy. It is easier to work while on CalTrain.

We should spend that money instead on improving the BART tracks so you don't hear that constant screeching sound while riding on it.



9 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 26, 2015 at 8:42 pm

Alan,

Caltrain is almost out of capacity. It may be able to add a few cars to existing trains without electrification, but electrification is needed to add additional trains during rush hours. Diesel trains take much longer to start and stop. So electric trains will run more frequently and get to the destination faster.


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 9:57 pm

Ed has it right... the only thing quieter about electric trains is the engine, everything else is just as noisy. The reduction in noise from the engine will be more than made up for, by the increase in noise due to the higher speed, and increased frequency of trains on the electrified system.

There is no such thing as a quiet train... elevated transit = urban blight.


4 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:00 pm

> Diesel trains take much longer to start and stop.

Pleezzzeee .. The acceleration time for an electric train might be a few seconds over a diesel, which might reduce the travel time from SJ to SF by a few minutes. (There are 22 stops between Tamien Station and the 4th and Townsend Station.)

Safety is a big issue here--and the time it takes for a train to stop becomes a key factor in how many trains can occupy the channel. Will electified trains be able to stop in significantly shorter times than a diesel train? Perhaps Caltrain can provide us stopping times for Diesel and Electric trains traveling at, say, 75 mph. Would be interesting data to have in our possession.






2 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:23 pm

@ love Caltrain

> Caltrain is fantastic, and electrification will make it even better.

I don't take it as a given that electrifying would make it better. It would just ripe-out good infrastructure and replace it with something different.


@chris

> Caltrain is almost out of capacity.

From my own personal experience from riding both CalTrain and BART I would think BART is the one out of capacity. I'm much more frequently find myself standing on a BART train during rush hour than on CalTrain. In addition, the current CalTrain cars are double decker. If we electrify CalTrain my assumption is they need to go back to a single decker car which would lose capacity. In addition if "capacity" were really the issue for CalTrain that could solve that by making some "standing only cars" which could have 2 or 3x the capacity of a normal CalTrain car.


I'm not a NIMBY. If I thought we needed new infrastructure I would say let's build it. What I see in this proposal is a lack of pragmatism from the people behind this appropriation leading to a mis-appropriation of funds.

Here are some projects that I think should be addressed with current funds.

#1) The CalTrain tracks are excessively rough between Redwood City and San Carlos.
#2) BART trains make an awful screeching sound when you ride them. And the rails seem to lack alignment. Lets fix that.
#3) I would like some real capacity from get from CalTrain to the San Jose airport.
#4) Yes, let's build that extension for BART into San Jose, that connects to CalTrain and VTA.
#5) BART stations are nasty smelling. It is an embarrassment to compare a BART station to something you might find in Japan. Please spend more money cleaning those stations more often.
#6) BART gates and payment stations are often out-of-repair. Please spend some money getting them in better shape.

All of those are "pragmatic" things that we should improve before blowing a bunch of money on a "pie-in-the-sky" project the ripes out perfectly good infrastructure. What a waste of money.








2 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 26, 2015 at 10:25 pm

I like the idea of closing off Meadows and Churchill. I don't think the traffic will be much impacted there as there are nearby crossings available.

There could be an underpass at Charleston and Alma. I don't like the idea of having raised tracks at those crossings. In San Mateo it works better since there are more space next to the tracks but the crossings at Palo Alto are too close to residential areas.




4 people like this
Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:37 am

If the Caltrain tracks were elevated at the location of the California Ave station there would be more opportunities to connect the California Ave business district with the residential neighborhoods to the east of it. Alma and California Ave could instead meet at a regular intersection.

I think the commercial end of California Ave would be a lot more successful with improved connectivity to the rest of the city. Think about it's current truncated circulation patterns and no wonder it's like a ghost town.

Instead of the city devoting all it's efforts to fighting grade separation of Caltrain maybe it should take a more serious look at Alma and how Alma which basically just functions as the tail end of Central Expressway is what is really dividing the city. Maybe it's time to redesign Alma to be more like a boulevard and less like an expressway. Alma already is that proverbial "Berlin Wall" we always have to keep hearing about.


Like this comment
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:55 am

The idea that it is Alma, and not the train tracks, that are dividing the city is just ludicrous.

Elevating the tracks at Cal Ave means an elevated ramp for a mile on either side of Cal Ave... in other words, for most of the length of Palo Alto.

elevated transit = urban blight


4 people like this
Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:42 am

@Ahem,
There would be no ramp either side because if we are going to talk about elevating Caltrain it would most likely be elevated from just north of San Antonio Ave and return to grade at about the Atherton / Redwood City border.

I just mentioned reconnecting California Ave as an example of one of the many fringe benefits of elevating the Caltrain line. Once you elevate Caltrain we don't have to have a discussions about which crossings to close. The city can start talking about which streets or new pedestrian/bicycle routes it wants to extend to cross below the Caltrain line.

I don't know what to tell you if you don't think the continuous stretch of Alma between East Meadow and Churchill is not like a barrier between the neighborhoods on either side. Are you telling me that if the Caltrain line didn't exist you would feel perfectly safe walking across Alma at any location?

When you think about what you like most about Palo Alto does that stretch of Alma give you warm and fuzzy feelings and represent "all that is wonderful and perfect" in urban design and do you think no one person or entity could ever do anything to improve on it?


11 people like this
Posted by 27 year resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:11 am

What a self-absorbed, narcissistic, and hypocritical town PA has become!


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 8:26 am

This article is confusing. I am not sure what the City doesn't like.

Is it protesting Caltrain making any improvements? I thought the City wanted people to use public transit more and that would mean improvements to the service.

You can't have your cake and eat it. Or more correctly, you can't make an omelette without cracking the eggs.

Caltrain runs at capacity in commute times. It also serves Sharks and Giants games. There may be times of lower usage and since many commuters do not ride the whole system, some parts of the service trains may run at lower capacity for part of the route, but on the whole we can't possibly expect more passengers without an improved service.


Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 8:49 am

@Resident

> but on the whole we can't possibly expect more passengers without an improved service.

I disagree.

If you look at the entire bay area transit system. Other parts need to be fixed before CalTrain. CalTrain is one of the good parts of this transit system.

This proposal destroys perfectly good infrastructure and replaces it with something else for no good reason.

See my earlier comment about what I think needs to be fixed based on my experience with both BART and CalTrain. If they are going to spend a large sum of money spend it on things that need to be fixed.


10 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 27, 2015 at 9:08 am

Caltrain is the backbone of public transit on the peninsula. Caltrain is so popular that rush hour trains are overloaded and standing-room-only. Standing on an overcrowded bumpy train for an hour is something that even young strong people don't want to do and discourages less fit people from using public transit. Caltrain badly needs an upgrade to keep up with peninsula job growth. There is no more room to build more freeways. Don't stall this vital project!


5 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:02 am

SteveU is a registered user.

@ Alan
Are you and others saying 'Don't improve CalTrain' further until all the others have improved?
IMHO we got in this whole transit/commute mess because we keep waiting for someone else to 'start'

We have way too many SEPARATE (special interest, politics ridden) systems. We need an integrated solution (which is not always a SINGLE solution)

I can fly to the UK. Get off the plane. Take a single train to London without leaving the airport. You can then catch the Underground or mainline surface buses from Victoria Station.
You can't do that in San Francisco, You can't do that in San Jose or Oakland. You must use intermediate transit which wastes time and money.

Start building on the Peninsula now, for the needs tomorrow (we rally needed this yesterday)


Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm

> Caltrain is the backbone of public transit on the peninsula.

For the past few years, Caltrain has been ferrying only about 30K-35K unique people (weekdays) between SF and SJ, and cities in-between. If one looks at the volume of Highway 101 and Highway 280, the number of unique people using this transpertation channel is significantly higher.

With maybe 3.5M people in the SJ/SF service area, Caltrain’s straight line conveyance of 30+K people hardly seems like the backbone of anything.

This is a money-losing proposition, pure and simple.


2 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:14 pm

Alan,

The more statements you make the more you display your ignorance and NIMBYism.

Electrified Caltrain cars will be double-deckers.

BART has minimal impact on Peninsula transit. If you want to ride BART, you can take Caltrain to Millbrae or the DB bus to Union City.

BART has dedicated funding from the counties it operates in.

Caltrain earns more than 60% of its operating expenses from the farebox, fare more than BART.


T


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:19 pm

It is getting scary to live in this town with its backward attitude. Don't tell me to move, I won't. I will associate with forward looking people and fight for our future which is not a village.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:20 pm

Elevating the tracks is the way to go.
Yes, expensive. But truly the long term benefits to keeping the city connected east to west, in fact, improving the connection are huge. Eliminate at grade crossing!!
It will only get worse trying to cross town when more trains are added.


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Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:43 pm

Resident,

Your utopian idea of elevated rail ignores 80 years of experience, and failure of elevated rail. Many cities that had elevated rail, have torn it down because it was so horrible. Wherever elevated rail (or any elevated transit) is erected, urban blight follows.

Real world elevated rail isn't like Disneyland.


1 person likes this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 1:43 pm

Come visit real world elevated rail in San Carlos, Belmont, or San Bruno. The urban blight is absolutely breathtaking. The failure is epic. Or not?


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Alan

Please tell me how Caltrain can take more passengers without improving service.

They must either have more trains or else the passengers must be crammed in like sardines.

Of course Caltrain must be improved to take more passengers. The only way to move more people is more frequent trains and longer trains. Both of these things require improvements to Caltrain.


1 person likes this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 11:47 pm

Just wanted to point out that Caltrain electrification includes all-new and quieter self-propelled trains, which is much more than merely replacing the noisy old polluting diesel locomotives with electric ones.


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Posted by southbayresident
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2015 at 8:54 pm

I assume most tunneling proposals for Caltrain and High Speed Rail were for 4 tracks underground which is obviously more expensive than 2 tracks but if already spending so much for a 2 track grade separation they might as well pay for 4 tracks or design in a means of easily expanding to 4 tracks when needed. I think that should apply to both above grade and below grade options / designs.

If the Caltrain ROW is restricted to 2 tracks through Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton that will become a serious bottleneck when high speed rail is introduced. Maybe a compromise solution could involve tunneling those 2 tracks north of the Mountain View station and south of the Redwood City station but instead those underground tracks would become "express only" with no intermediate stations.

In this hypothetical scenario Caltrain would no longer directly serve the Menlo Park, Palo Alto, California Ave or San Antonio stations. There would be cost savings in not having to build the underground stations which could end up being pretty far below grade due to the need to pass under existing creeks and underpasses. Remember the existing underpasses serve to grade separate cross town traffic from Alma as well (not just grade separating it from Caltrain).

With Caltrain and high speed rail underground the Menlo Park, Palo Alto, California Ave and San Antonio stations could instead be served by extending VTA's light rail line north from Mountain View and with a little bit of cross county collaboration it could be extended to Menlo Park and Redwood City. The light rail could remain at grade along the existing Caltrain ROW with Caltrain and HSR below it.

Since light rail operates at lower speeds and can stop more quickly additional station stops could be added at major intersections such as at Charleston, East Meadow, and Chuchill. While stopped to pick up passengers cross traffic could flow uninterrupted just like any other street operating railway. Light rail would follow traffic light signals like street traffic at those intersections.

All existing station structures (historic or not) would remain except to be served by light rail instead of Caltrain. The light rail would then serve as a feeder system to connect to Caltrain and high speed rail in either Redwood City or Mountain View depending which was closest to you.

Although for some people the transfer process would take longer for many people it could actually be quicker as there would be more stations within walking distance of where more people live. It would also be more convenient for short trips between Mountain View and Redwood City.

Obviously this is extremely hypothetical with zero chance of becoming reality but I think it's one way a compromise solution could be met that meets everyone's needs assuming there is no political means of getting around the restrictions against 4-track ROW's imposed by Senator Jerry Hill's Senate Bill 557 a couple years back. Otherwise I think a full 4-track system would be preferable to this.


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