News

City looks to bring public onboard for 'grade separation' debate

Palo Alto plans to launch outreach campaign on rail project with a May 20 community meeting

Faced with a new set of challenges and opportunities, as well as a transformed political landscape, the Palo Alto City Council's Rail Committee is embarking on a new mission.

Once a premier venue for criticizing California's proposed high-speed rail, the four-member group is now dedicating its efforts toward a far more popular idea: rebuilding the city's four rail crossings to fully separate Caltrain from local streets.

On Monday night, the City Council is scheduled to adopt a new charter for the committee, with a greater focus on grade separation. And on May 20, the city plans to host a community meeting in which residents will be asked to weigh in on the best way to achieve this goal -- an early step in what promises to be a long and intense outreach process. The Rail Committee, which consists of Chairman Tom DuBois, Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilmen Eric Filseth and Adrian Fine, approved the first phase in this process on Wednesday morning.

The new charter won't shift the committee's focus so much as underscore its recent efforts and acknowledge the new political realities. On the one hand, both the high-speed rail system and Caltrain's electrification effort are now facing significant financial and political hurdles, including the federal government's recent decision to withhold from Caltrain an expected $647 million grant for electrification. On the other hand, Santa Clara County's passed Measure B dedicates $700 million for grade separations in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Sunnyvale -- money that has brought a sense of hope and urgency to Palo Alto's rail-improvement dreams.

At its recent meetings, the rail committee acknowledged both of these shifts when it unanimously endorsed a new charter and began to map out the outreach process to get community buy-in for grade separations. So far, the process involves setting up a Technical Advisory Committee consisting of experts from various transit organizations (including the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and Caltrain), holding community meetings and working with Project for Public Spaces, a nonprofit that specializes in getting the public involved in designing large-scale projects.

The first big meeting, the committee decided Wednesday, will take place on May 20 and will stretch from 10 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Feedback from the workshop would be analyzed and used for crafting future steps. Concurrently, city staff will try to set up the new committee and hold a meeting to gauge feedback from partner agencies.

City Manager James Keene said Wednesday that the May 20 event will give staff a good idea of the public's level of interest in grade separation, as well as give the city a chance to tap into the community's expertise.

"A community workshop is the fastest way to get it out and get a sense of scale and scope," Keene said Wednesday.

The charter change, which the council is expected to approve on its consent calendar, doesn't entirely eliminate reference to high-speed rail. It does, however, signal that the fighting project is no longer a top priority. The preamble, which was proposed by Keene and accepted by the committee states: "While the Committee in the past has focused on High Speed Rail, Caltrain grade separations and electrification will be the essential focus of the Committee for 2017-2018."

"That makes really clear that, on staff side, we will be compelled to devote the necessary attention and resources," Keene said at the March 22 meeting.

Members of the committee generally agreed at that meeting that the new guiding principles should clearly declare Palo Alto's strong support for Caltrain improvements; the city's desire to improve east-west connectivity and traffic circulation; its plan to "advocate strenuously" for Measure B funding and other external funding sources for grade separation; its desire to work with neighboring communities on this issue; and its support for Context Sensitive Solutions, an intensive public-outreach process, for grade separations.

There was some debate, however, as to whether opposition to high-speed rail should remain the city's official position, which DuBois argued that it should, even if the project isn't likely to happen, and his three colleagues leaning the other way.

Fine noted that Palo Alto has always been clear about how it views high-speed rail.

"But the high-speed-rail situation has certainly changed and I don't see it on the radar at the moment," Fine said. “I'm not sure how it helps us to bring it into this charter."

Scharff and Filseth generally agreed with Fine, with Filseth saying that the project is "unlikely to be a factor any time soon."

"We really need to figure out what we're going to do on grade separations," Filseth said. "That should really be the focus on the document."

The committee ultimately agreed to retain some references to the city's opposition to high-speed rail, noting in one of its guiding principles that the project "should be terminated."

"If the project proceeds, CHSRA (California High Speed Rail Authority) should provide funding for affected cities to analyze potential impacts," the new guiding principles state. "Palo Alto believes that CHSRA should fund grade separations and should not commence service until they are complete."

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Comments

34 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 5, 2017 at 3:46 pm

It is about time!

For such a long time, Palo Alto has misplaced her priorities. We are even behind our neighboring cities (e.g. Menlo Park) in picking priorities and efficient use of our precious resources.

Day after day we are seeing the problems with our traffic and the safety of our children yet we spent major time and resources in such issues like mobile home park, helping a few special interest groups to fight reasonable growth and ignore the major issues like traffic, safety etc.

Wake up politicians and special interest groups!


26 people like this
Posted by Gordon Gecko
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Before trying to get the public on board, how about giving us a hint how much this will cost? Can it be funded out of our reserves? Out of the money the PA Utilities over-charges us to channel into the General Fund.

The city seems to think we're a bottomless pit that exists only to fund anything and everything they propose.


18 people like this
Posted by LongtimeResident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2017 at 5:33 pm

LongtimeResident is a registered user.

With the Measure B $700 million, If I had to choose between grade separation and electrification, I would go for electrification. With the upcoming Positive Train Control, and Quad Gates, the street level crossings become no worse than your average stop light on El Camino.

The real "bang for our buck", would be electrification.


10 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2017 at 6:12 pm

The $700m is for grade sep.

That leaves about $215m for Palo Alto. Everyone will want a trench. This won't even begin to cover it. Get real Palo Altans. There will not be a multi-billion trench. Palo Alto isn't special.


30 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 5, 2017 at 6:14 pm

Yep. HSR is a dead duck.

It's time to underground Caltrain. Time for the Boring Company.

(actually it's time to merge BART and Caltrain... AND then underground the thing)


56 people like this
Posted by Grrrr
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 5, 2017 at 6:27 pm

Please, please, please give us grade separations! With the frequency of CalTrain, it has become difficult to get from one side of town to the other!

It's extremely frustrating to be waiting in traffic for SO long, then have only three cars cross the tracks before the barricade comes down AGAIN!!


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2017 at 8:00 pm

A syniotic solution exists. Build boarding platforms at each grade crossing, and have all trains stop at them. You get improved safety and expanded access to transit for suburbanites. Out of the box, way cheaper and more beneficial than digging ditches or piling up dirt.


27 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2017 at 8:34 pm

@Curmudgeon

That would only be a good idea if your goal was to quickly get rid of Caltrain by completely crippling the service. Otherwise that's such an awful idea for so many reasons, it certainly doesn't deserve being repeated over and over.


5 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2017 at 9:53 pm

Curmudgeon: It has been explained to you time and again in this forum why your idea is D.O.A.. For reasons ranging from regulatory approval to disruption of the Caltrain schedule to the fact that under your plan, crossing gates would still have to come down and traffic come to a halt while trains cross the intersections, your idea won't fly, yet you persist in bringing it up.

Electrification vs. grade sep.: The former involves electrifying the entire 50+ mile right-of-way; the latter involves just four crossings in Palo Alto. Your comparison is thus deeply flawed. The trains run just fine using existing motive power. If anything, it needs more passenger cars to alleviate the S.R.O. situation.

Trains in a trench: Palo Alto faces formidable water-table issues along the right-of-way in addition to several creek crossings. There's a lot more involved than simply turning a boring machine loose and boring a tunnel. Keep in mind that Palo Alto gets 1/3 of the $700 million Measure B funds, or $233 million.


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 5, 2017 at 10:12 pm

@Grrr, you say "It has become difficult to get from one side of town to the other!

It's extremely frustrating to be waiting in traffic for SO long, then have only three cars cross the tracks before the barricade comes down AGAIN!!"

Sure it's extremely frustrating -- as frustrating as traffic light timing where we wait for SO long and then only 3 cars can turn or get through before the light changes AGAIN!!!

If the city can't fix regular traffic light timing after years and years of complaints, why should we expect them to get a zillion-dollar trenching project right?


5 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2017 at 10:19 pm

Great news. Even if Trump derails funding for electrification, Caltrain isn't going away.

Let's get this thing done.


12 people like this
Posted by Coffee Spitter
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 6, 2017 at 9:29 am

"Let's get this thing done."

Ha! This is Palo Alto. Remember that bike bridge? Almost done, right?


10 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 6, 2017 at 10:21 am

Electrification and grade separations go hand in hand. The purpose of electrification is, among other things, so Caltrain can run more trains. When there are more trains, there will be more closed crossing gates and more traffic backups. The south part of town will be cut in half.

Grade separations are also much safer than level crossings.

Which option is selected depends on many things, including taking of private property for right-of-way if the roads rise or dive under the tracks. Keeping Alma Street open across the inclines over or under the tracks gets complicated. All the options are expensive.


13 people like this
Posted by Matt Austern
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Apr 6, 2017 at 10:27 am

You think boring a tunnel would be cheap compared to other options? I don't. I think the amount of money available for grade separation is a tiny fraction of what boring a tunnel would cost. I think the cost of boring a tunnel under Palo Alto would be comparable to the cost of boring a tunnel under Seattle (the tunnels would be comparable in length, after all), which means we're talking billions. If you think this project would cost 10x less than what the Alaskan Way viaduct will end up costing, what about the project seems to you like it's 10x simpler? I'm coming up with nothing.

Given the amount of money we have to work with, Palo Alto's realistic options for grade separation are basically the same as the ones that other Peninsula communities have used. If we in Palo Alto focus on options that cost 10x what we have, we'll just delay anything happening.


4 people like this
Posted by Caroline V.
a resident of Portola Valley
on Apr 6, 2017 at 11:04 am

Thank you Palo Alto for this information and allowing us to submit our input
In my opinion this decision only falls in the hands of tax payers. You do not even have enough money to repair our infrastructure - our roads and bridges are in very bad shape- there is definitely no money to build the high-speed rail.

Community work shops are no problem for council members because they continue to be paid and perhaps even paid overtime When we, the tax payers who attend these workshops, only get limited time to speak, have to stop our work, lose family time, lose paid time, so this is not a fair and not a democratic process.

So please make it fair and democratic and have tax payers (not just voters) help make the decision by using the proper process - and please not to add to our huge debt - wait until a new election takes place...oops sorry you just postponed elections until 2018 ... so this should wait as well


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2017 at 11:48 am

Palo Alto is at least 10 years behind the curve on grade sep. Other peninsula cities have had it for years, e.g. San Carlos.

Heel what I said before: there are two different tasks. One is grade separating four crossings in Palo Alto. The other is electrifying 50+ miles of right-of-way, more if you electrify all the way from S.F. to Gilroy.

Caltrain electrification was really intended for HSR. The prospect of electrifying Caltrain was a bagatelle offered by Jerry Brown to get peninsula cities behind his HSR project.

ISTR that for its tunnel, Seattle budgeted $1 billion per mile before "cost overruns". Palo Alto doesn't have that kind of money


11 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Tunnels and Trenches are beyond possible. There is not sufficient money, anywhere or anytime soon. So I suggest that we forget that.

So what is left? I see four:
(a) elevate the tracks over some or all of the path through Palo Alto (see between Brittan and Holly in San Carlos; or sections of BART in West Oakland)
(b) bridge roadways over the tracks at crossings (see San Antonio, or Shoreline in Mt. View)
(c) dig roadways under the tracks at crossings (see Oregon and University)
(d) a combination of (a+c)

What street crossings are we talking about:
(1) Charleston
(2) Meadow
(3) Churchill
(4) Alma (north end of town)

So which solutions best match which crossings?
(1) and (2) are close enough together that perhaps (d) could work for both of them with the tracks elevated between them.
(3) has no good solution that I can suggest; perhaps others can.
For (4) I believe that (b) could be made to work.

My civil engineering days are long gone, but there are excellent public and private engineers who can design and estimate costs for the above. The projects could then be prioritized and, when money found, implemented. Yes, someone will have to pay for it, and part of that 'someone' will need to be the City of Palo Alto.

If the citizens of Palo Alto really want this to happen, then let's take a disciplined approach to look at what is seriously feasible. Form cohesive groups and petition the City Council to get some high-level design concepts put on paper along with costs. NOTE - Although undesirable, some of these plans may require the acquisition and demolition of private property. That is also a cost that the citizens will have to decide to take.


5 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 6, 2017 at 1:06 pm

Thank you Carl Jones for your thoughtful comments!


6 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 6, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Here are some thoughts:

1. Eliminate freight service on the line. The physics of heavy freight trains makes elevation transitions for grade separations too long and too expensive.

2. Don't run a commuter passenger service on a heavy rail infrastructure. This is 19th century technology, and even with PTC and electrification won't scale ridership 10x to 100x to make it worth the effort.

3. Take advantage of the existing right of way to offer bus service and bike routes up and down the Peninsula.

Don't think about rail, think about transportation.


Like this comment
Posted by Curt
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Eliminate freight trains as well as Caltrain. Replace with elevated light rail (e.g. BART). All the Peninsula cities will pay for it, out of tax revenues and establishing priorities (actually possible, given the public desire for grade separations and public transportation by rail). There will be no federal money available for quite some time, because California is no longer in play for the Trump administration. Time to choose....


10 people like this
Posted by Not so fast....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Dear Carl Jones,

Evidently, you have not taken a close look at at map to understand how bringing roads over the tracks Charleston and Meadow would eliminate turning movements for autos at critical intersections.

A flyover like there is at San Antonio requires an enormous land footprint for the clover leaf ramps that enable turns.

How would they create space for that footprint at these locations? --by wiping out homes and allowing flyovers to invade existing south Palo Alto neighborhoods that currently abut these intersections. There are costs associated with those kinds of changes.

There are no easy solutions here. When you consider the long-term costs to the community of various options, tunneling and trenching become more attractive.

We need some serious cost analysis of long-term costs (including impacts mitigation) of the various options to guide our financial decisions. That work, as far as I know, has not been done.

These are very complicated problems, dear neighbors. Let's roll up our sleeves and work together to find the best (albeit won't be perfect) solution.


3 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2017 at 3:19 pm

Marie is a registered user.

@ Not so fast - so true. None of the estimates I have looked at talk about the cost of land acquisition which would be required by the cheapest construction, possibly making it not quite so cheap. The cost exceeds cash involved, by reducing the housing stock and the anguish of those forced out who cannot buy an equivalent property, certainly not with the same property tax. So any discussion of a particular design, must specify the land to be acquired, its cost, both in $ and in anguish to the owners losing their homes.

The scars from the acquisition of the land to create Oregon Expressway are still here. There were significant political consequences to those decisions. If I lived here, I would still have supported the creation of Oregon Expressway but based on that experience, the city must look closely at the impact to the nearest neighbors of eliminating the grade crossings. It must be done - I understand that. But it must be done by minimizing as much as possible the impact on neighbors, particularly by avoiding the acquisition of land by eminent domain. I would rather spend more money on construction, if at all feasible, to avoid spending money purchasing some of the most expensive (in $ and emotions) residential real estate in the U.S.

While eliminating freight trains would reduce costs and the amount of land needed by a lot, I've been told that there is no legal way to do so based on the contractual agreements between Caltrain and Southern Pacific. Also, eliminating them would add a lot of traffic to make up for those trains.


5 people like this
Posted by Tom Williams
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 6, 2017 at 3:32 pm

1). Without grade separations, PA and, by extension, Stanford, will eventually be known as the Suicide Capital of the World. It is a given that once the suicide prevention netting for the Golden Gate Bridge is permanently installed, the current large unpublished number of suicides on the GGB will move south to the cozy environs of PA and Stanford.

2). Now that I have the attention of Stanford, the City Council, the Real Estate Board and other interested parties, don't squander all of the $233 million on a grand Palm Drive entrance into Stanford. If Stanford wants a prettier entrance, their $Billions+ Endowment can pay for it. PA will then take 90% of their share to pay for consultants to host study groups to do it the "PA Way". These grade crossings will be the most over analyzed/over landscaped grade crossings in modern US history.

3). For once, I urge PA and Stanford to join the rest of the greater Bay Area and think of the greater common good. Separated high speed rail will eventually come, just maybe not in the immediate future nor with all the bells and whistles. You have Gov. Leland Stanford to thank for that...sorry...


3 people like this
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 6, 2017 at 4:25 pm

"Not so Fast" has raised some important questions about grade separation. I didn't notice anyone raising the issue of how East-West traffic will be re-allocated if there is grade separation. There are lots of single family homes on Charleston, Churchill, and Embarcadero well away from the railroad tracks and they can most certainly expect even worse traffic on their streets. The San Francisquito Creek and El Palo Alto tree will most likely be impacted by the Alma separation.


4 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 6, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Dear Not So Fast and others,
I never said it would be easy or would not 'cost' (note my final paragraph).
I only said that if the citizens of Palo Alto wanted grade separation on some or all of the train crossings, then railing on this forum would not do any good. Nor would espousing solutions that will never be able to get the money necessary to implement.
My references to existing crossings were not examples of solutions to be implemented, but instead of examples of where there were solutions and what similar solutions might require.
There WILL BE ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES. They must be identified in any proposed solution. And the citizens of Palo Alto will need to decide what is more important. HOW ELSE CAN A DECISION BE MADE?
I repeat - if we want to eliminate grade crossings, then we first need to decide what is actually feasible. I do not believe that tunneling or trenching is (which has nothing to do with what I would like to have if wishes could come true). So I provided what I believed to be the only other options. If you seriously believe that tunneling and trenching are viable solutions, then what are the numbers for costs that you expect and what are the sources of the monies necessary for implementation? I just do not see them.
Respectfully,
-carl jones


37 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2017 at 5:10 pm

The "common good" is the principle underlying communism and fascism, and is antithetical to the principles underlying in a constitutional republic which protects the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the mob.

It is disgusting to hear the mob on this thread callously calling on the government to move forward on a project that will involve the "taking" of private property, and the blighting of hundreds of other properties and homes.

The loudest voices extolling the "common good" are never in the minority that will be sacrificed for the "common good". In the case of Caltrain the "common good" is the 1% (yes 1%!) of the Peninsula's population who by some quirk of fate have found a use for Caltrain's obsolete one-dimensional "system".

Passenger rail lost its viability and any opportunity to be a real mass transit system 50 years ago. Caltrain will never carry more than 1% of the peninsula's population.


1 person likes this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2017 at 5:28 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

I've used the bike/pedestrian underpasses at N. California, Homer and Mayfield. The underpasses are almost big enough for an automobile. Just a little wider and most cars would be able to pass one lane in each direction. No trucks, buses or other tall vehicles - they use San Antonio, Oregon or Embarcadero. And be sure to leave dedicated lanes for pedestrians and bikes! No fancy cloverleafs, just a 2-lane road with bike/ped lanes, crossing under tracks AND Alma at E.Meadow, Charleston, N. California. Alma could continue to lanes under tracks to ECR.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2017 at 6:26 pm

Grade sep in Palo Alto is exclusively a Palo Alto issue. CPA cannot unilaterally make decisions affecting the entire right-of-way from San Francisco to Gilroy, such as eliminating freight trains, eliminating Caltrain or extending BART.

Caltrain is owned by the three counties it serves. It and the freight trains aren't going away, period. Freight was part of the deal struck when CalTrans acquired the commute rail service from Southern Pacific (now Union Pacific) circa 1980.

CPA has already spent money on an engineering study which IMO was very poorly done. It envisions taking an absurd number of homes (which are probably each worth over $2 million now). It failed to consider the option of hybrid separations where the tracks are elevated and the roadways depressed as was done at Holly Street in San Carlos. CPA needs to engage a better engineering firm, such as the one used by the city of San Carlos, and examine the feasibility of hybrid grade separation.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2017 at 6:47 pm

[Post removed.]


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 6, 2017 at 7:28 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2017 at 7:32 pm

" Curmudgeon: It has been explained to you time and again in this forum why your idea is D.O.A.."

Every innovator hears that. I bet lots of unimaginatives informed Jobs and Wozniak their little homemade computer was nice, had a cute name, but nobody, repeat nobody, would ever pay out any of their good money for one. Whatever would they do with it? Likewise for Mr. Bell's telephone.

You got the gates part right, but they would be up while the train was stopped, same as the Alma gates work with northbound trains. And electrification, we are assured, will confer neck-snapping acceleration, so let's use that as an enabler for this cheap, beneficial solution.

So keep your thinking in your box if you want, but stay out of the way of the rest of us.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2017 at 8:04 pm

Curmudgeon old boy, if your brainchild is such a grand idea, why wasn't it implemented decades ago?

I'm sure you'll keep bringing it up, though. Your posts, comparing yourself to Jobs, Wozniak and Bell are always good for a belly laugh, as is your desire to inflict whiplash on Caltrain riders with "neck-snapping acceleration".


15 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Good Grief, the Palo Alto Process of study, study, study, we are sooo smart, and miss opportunities rears its head again on this issue. Does anyone remember that way back in ancient times the city actually did just this? The city officially commissioned a rail corridor study, a bunch of people spent a long time studying the issues, and wrote a pretty good report on the issue. This paper actually reported on it. Mysteriously, it was dismissed and never spoken of again almost as fast as that report was released, and not even mentioned in this story. That study was completed in 2013.
Well, for those interested in not wasting too much more time reinventing a perfect Palo Alto wheel, take a look at the news story from PA Weekly Web Link and read the final report on the study here Web Link

From that report:

The Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study
The report of the task force
Approved by the City of Palo Alto City Council January 22, 2013

Executive Summary:

Introduction

The Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study was initiated in 2010 as a component of the City’s response to planned rail investments along the Caltrain rail corridor, specifically the California High Speed Rail project and potential modifications to Caltrain operations. To provide guidance for the Study, the City Council authorized the appointment of a 17-member Task Force in July 2010. The purpose of the Task Force was to:

generate a community vision for land use, transportation, and urban design opportunities along the Caltrain corridor, particularly in response to improvements to fixed rail services along the tracks through Palo Alto. The study may address some High Speed Rail (HSR) issues in a timely manner, but it is not limited to the HSR effort and would provide a vision and context for other rail improvements (even without HSR) and the City’s land use, transportation and urban design response to those actions.

The study area encompasses approximately 1,000 acres, and is bounded by Palo Alto Avenue on the north, San Antonio Road on the south, one half block east of Alma Street, and one half block west of El Camino Real.

Based on the position of the current City Council, combined with likely economic and physical impacts, the Task Force concluded that instead of considering the full range of options that has been discussed for rail configurations, only two alternatives would form the basis for the study’s analysis: a Below-Grade Open Trench configuration and a Two-Track On-Grade configuration. These two options represent the full range of issues and opportunities confronting the rail corridor largely because one of the configurations, the Below-Grade Open Trench, provides opportunities to grade-separate all crossings of the rail corridor while the other, the Two-Track On-Grade, requires solutions to the many issues that already confront at-grade Caltrain operations.

It should be noted that the Task Force, City staff, and consultants did not undertake a comprehensive analysis of all the potential impacts of the rail alternatives, such as noise and air quality. Such an effort was beyond the scope and resources of this study and will be conducted as part of CEQA and NEPA analysis of the rail project itself. The focus of Task Force efforts was to identify issues, a vision, and strategies for the corridor and its adjacent areas, which can be used as input to the preparation of any future rail improvement program and assist in the update of other City policy documents, such as the Comprehensive Plan, regardless of the selected rail improvement alternative.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 6, 2017 at 10:45 pm

"if your brainchild is such a grand idea, why wasn't it implemented decades ago?"

Look around, willya. It's been working for decades, a century even, at the Burlingame station by the Howard crossing, at the Menlo Park station between Oak Grove and Ravenswood, and the Palo Alto station by Alma, for example. Go see for yourself.

I'm merely suggesting how to extend that configuration to save money, lives, and money, while augmenting CalTrain's customer base as a bonus.

"always good for a belly laugh, as is your desire to inflict whiplash on Caltrain riders with "neck-snapping acceleration"."

Whiplash ain't MY desire. Other people are promoting CalTrain electrification and touting its acceleration as a compelling advantage. Give THEM heck, not me. I'm only pointing out another of its potential benefits.


7 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2017 at 1:31 am

Palo Alto has two stations, as does Burlingame. Now you want to add Caltrain stops at Charleston, Meadow and Churchill. The trains would thus make FIVE stops in Palo Alto, six if you count the stop for Stanford football. That's just ridiculous. Get real; Caltrain would never agree to it. CPA does not own the trains, the tracks, the stations or the right-of-way. CPA cannot compel Caltrain to add stops or change its schedule.

Under your plan, the gates would still come down and block automobile traffic while the trains cross the intersection -- the very thing grade separation is intended to eliminate. Train traffic would still have priority over auto traffic.

"Other people are promoting CalTrain electrification and touting its acceleration as a compelling advantage."

And you're swallowing the sales hype hook, line and sinker.


1 person likes this
Posted by L
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2017 at 1:40 am

The Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study cited above mentions a trench option but fails to address the myriad and formidable water-table and creek-crossing issues. It also fails to address the currently-grade-separated crossings at Oregon, Embarcadero and University.


6 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 7, 2017 at 11:25 am

Thanks to Eric for the link to the 2013 report. It is worth at least a quick review and some parts a close read.

From page 4.08: "The preferred alternative for rail by the majority of the Task Force is the trench option through Palo Alto with opportunities for trench covers in key locations."

I certainly agree that, IF FEASIBLE, a below-grade open trench would be the best solution at addressing all of the problems that are identified in the report. However, as "L" notes, a trench will run into problems of its own.

Page 4.12 contains excellent information that everyone should read:
Table 4.1: Comparative Overview of Below-Grade Open Trench and Two-Track On-Grade Configurations on Select Crossing Locations
It shows what could be done if a trench were built. It shows the difficulties for at-grade crossings. But note that, if the trench is not feasible, then the at-grade (or 'train slightly up and roadway slightly down') solution is the only alternative except status quo.

On the summary on page 4.02 the report says: Detailed engineering studies of trench, grade separated and at-grade options are necessary and should include the potential impact of increased train traffic and bicycle/pedestrian/vehicular traffic.

I do not know that those detailed studies have been done and that realistic construction time and costs have been developed. If someone knows, please point me to them. When they exist, then we can look whether sufficient funds can be raised.

On page 6.12 the report does provide a list of potential sources of funds. But that is all it is - a list, and 'potential'.



2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2017 at 1:59 pm

"the at-grade (or 'train slightly up and roadway slightly down') solution is the only alternative except status quo."

This is called a "hybrid" grade separation. It was done at Holly Street in San Carlos. The tracks are elevated apx. 7 feet and the roadway depressed apx. 7 feet, giving you apx. 14 feet of clearance.

Separating four crossings is sure to be cheaper than trenching 5 miles of track from just North of San Antonio to Palo Alto Ave., with three crossings already grade separated and which would have to be rebuilt and trenched, not to mention the water-table issues and creek crossings I have discussed.

Let's do an economic review. $700 million of Measure B funds divided among Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto leaves $233 million for Palo Alto, far from enough for a 5-mile trench. With just $233 million, grade sep could be done in STAGES. Pick one or two crossings to be done first and do the rest later as funds become available. Don't forget to add "cost overruns" to any construction estimates. They are very real -- just look at the Bay Bridge which went 3X over budget.

To depress Alma street by 7 feet would require 350 feet on either side of a crossing, resulting in a 2% grade. At first blush this seems reasonable and doable. It would take 750 feet on either side of a crossing to despress Alma by 15 feet. You would then have a tunnel under the tracks without raising them and without crossing any creeks.

I don't know what the legal requirements are and whether you could do a shorter tunnel if all but automobile traffic were prohibited, IOW what is the minimum legally acceptable vertical clearance?

Let me reiterate taht I am not at all satisfied with the H.M.M. study and think it should be redone.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2017 at 2:23 pm

14 feet is the minimum legal vertical clearance in the state of California.

Web Link

You might be able to get away with a 4% to 6% grade.

Feet required to depress roadway by 14 feet at various grades:

1% 1400 feet

2% 700 feet

3% 466.6 feet

4% 350 feet

5% 280 feet

6% 233.33 feet

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2017 at 2:41 pm

"Separating four crossings is sure to be cheaper than trenching 5 miles of track from just North of San Antonio to Palo Alto Ave., with three crossings already grade separated and which would have to be rebuilt and trenched, not to mention the water-table issues and creek crossings I have discussed."

Any sufficient depressing of the roadway will require eminent domain, including the so-called hybrid model. Digging a tunnel is more expensive, but infinitely more politically palatable. Alma is a major thoroughfare in Palo Alto, so any depressed roadway will have to go under Alma too (unless people really enjoy 24 hour traffic jams on Middlefield), which will end up taking multiple residential and commercial parcels.

Not going to happen, especially for the Churchill crossing.

Digging also opens up opportunity for development along Alma, which can help pay for going underground.

The blockheads advocating for HSR could have avoided the peninsula cities challenges had they budgeted going underground from Palo Alto to Redwood City. They chose to be stubborn about their 4 track - then blended track approach. I think they had a window of potential support right after the Proposition passed and they dropped the ball.

Even professional politicians can be dumb too.


4 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2017 at 2:58 pm

The peninsula, like it or not, is racing towards ultra high density and that requires a subway. Trench to put a new subway line below grade under existing tracks and preserve surface for freight or put freight on HSR . Putting HSR through PA, etc makes no sense, it belongs parallel to 101. A new subway would eliminate thousands of cars - many wouldn't even need cars and cars are a huge and growing problem and expense for the peninsula. A new subway below existing CalTrans track would radically improving life for everyone, preserving towns along the line while vastly improving transit up/down the corridor. Expensive? Yes, but the total cost of half measures hasn't fixed the problem or created room to grow. Time for a bigger vision.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2017 at 3:43 pm

How many billions will your pipe-dream subway cost inclusive of cost overruns, and where do you plan to come up with the money? Would this subway be only the five-mile stretch in Palo Alto or all 50 miles of Caltrain from S.F. to S.J.? How many years will it take to raise the money and build it?

Palo Alto is at least 10 years behind on the issue of grade sep. You can opt for a fairly expedient solution or fritter away decades planning a costly and grandiose redesign of Caltrain.


1 person likes this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2017 at 4:18 pm

LESLIE- The pennisula as mega tech hub is surely vital to Californias future, if not the vitality of the western u.s. If we consider that, a serious world-class center for millions engaged at the leading edge but at the same time where people can live, grow families, enjoy reasonable housing, retire etc. then it will require bigger and more holistic planning. The Caltrans track requires no additional right-of-way to run from SF down to Gilroy. Billions, yes but financing would probably be far easier to put together than the really misguided hsr. And, no, not Caltran, separate authority. Ten years, maybe - hopefully less but portions could implement as they are built. Subways can move a lot of people - NYCs subway moves almost 6 million per day. 101 peak daily/day is about 100-200 thousand (maybe others have better numbers). Maybe we can ring Elon's doorbell and borrow his tunnelling machine


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 7, 2017 at 5:21 pm

Great idea, George. All you have to do is raise a couple of hundred billion dollars. A subway all the way from S.F. to Gilroy.

See you in 20 years.


8 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2017 at 5:53 pm

Subway / trench is absolutely the right solution. It wasn't feasible before due to Caltrain running on diesel, but with electrification, all track should be moved underground. Cost is irrelevant, we should build the BEST system, not the simplest, cheapest or easiest.

Imagine moving the track underground, a bike highway could be built on top where the tracks stand today. A non-stop bike road from San Francisco to Palo Alto (or all the way to San Jose). THAT is the solution we should be striving toward, not "grade separation" for a few intersections.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2017 at 7:08 pm

"Get real; Caltrain would never agree to it. CPA does not own the trains, the tracks, the stations or the right-of-way. CPA cannot compel Caltrain to add stops or change its schedule."

Compel is not the plan. Ever heard of persuasion based on mutual self-interest, like offering more customers (read: revenue) in return for safety? Not to mention foregoing long schedule disruptions after accidents by foregoing the accidents. And avoiding the cost$ advocated local pipe dreamers, who cannot compel CalTrain to spend many million$ piling dirt on its right of way in any event.

"Under your plan, the gates would still come down and block automobile traffic while the trains cross the intersection"

You have a firm partial grasp of the obvious.


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2017 at 11:40 pm

Leslie - easy for you to advocate when your property in Midtown (if that's where you really live) isn't endangered by eminent domain by your grade separation concepts.

If you feel so strongly for it, how about you sacrifice your own property to at least one family that will be displaced by your hybrid concept?

Not so easy to support when you are directly impacted, isn't it?


2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Apr 8, 2017 at 9:48 am

Leslie says, ".....where do you plan to come up with the money?"

How about California stop sending soooo much money to Washington? D.C. ???

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Apr 8, 2017 at 10:06 am

L says, "The Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study cited above mentions a trench option but fails to address the myriad and formidable water-table and creek-crossing issues."

What are those issues? I would think that if a tunnel could be dug under the bay from San Francisco to Oakland then dealing with Palo Alto water tables and creeks should be no problem.


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2017 at 11:30 am

"What are those issues? I would think that if a tunnel could be dug under the bay from San Francisco to Oakland then dealing with Palo Alto water tables and creeks should be no problem."

You're clearly uninformed on this subject.

A trench/tunnel is a great idea but how many billions will it cost just for 5 miles through Palo Alto, and where will you come up with the money? Trump just cut off the Caltrain electrification funds so it won't come from Washington. You have $233 million in Measure B funds which you would know had you read the article.

Me2: San Carlos did hybrid grade sep at Holly Street years ago with NO property takings. Where is the engineering study that says hybrid crossings will require taking homes in Palo Alto? I invite you to post a link to such a study if one exists as I would very much like to see it (not the H.M.M. study).


20 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2017 at 12:46 pm

@Leslie,

Palo Alto is not San Carlos. In Palo Alto your proposal will obviously involve the taking of property and additional blight. You can't just pretend it won't. How do you justify the taking of a neighbor's home and/or property and the additional bight many others will have to endure?


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2017 at 1:42 pm

"In Palo Alto your proposal will obviously involve the taking of property and additional blight."

How is this obvious? Do you have any proof? If you do, let's see it; otherwise you're simply making an unfounded statement.

Tunneling/trenching is clearly the least disruptive option to existing property. All you have to do is solve the engineering challenges and fund it.

There was talk of tunneling/trenching the trains back in the 1960's. Here it is 50 years later and we're not one millimeter closer to trains n a trench than we were a half century ago, or even to grade separation without a tunnel or trench.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2017 at 1:46 pm

No tunnel was dug under the bay from San Francisco to Oakland. That tunnel was built elsewhere and barged to its current site. We can't do that in Palo Alto because we don't have barge access to our location.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2017 at 2:20 pm

"Palo Alto is not San Carlos."

It certainly isn't.

San Carlos has had grade separation for years. They found practical solutions, funded and built them and have moved on. Caltrain is happy, Union Pacific is happy and the local citizenry is happy.

Palo Alto can't get out of its own way. Palo Alto, with its Stanford and Silicon-Valley brainpower and its vast inventory of $2 million homes. Palo Alto is years behind the curve just in studying the matter.

Do you suppose there's a reason San Carlos and all other peninsula cities have put not put the trains in a trench in the 35+ years JPB has owned the right-of-way? Again, all you have to do is fund it.


8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2017 at 2:51 pm

Leslie,

Do you even ride Caltrain? The way you talk about San Carlos, it sounds like you've never been a passenger through that city. In San Carlos, Caltrain is aligned with El Camino Real on one side and Old Country Road on the other. It's primarily commercial on both sides of the track AND there's more space between those two roads. San Carlos layout around Caltrain is Palo Alto is not comparable at all.

Just overlay the designs in San Carlos over the Palo Alto rail crossings and it's pretty obvious there will be private property taken for your ideas. No study required for that. I'm sure our neighbors in Old Palo Alto along Churchill are really going to like what you're proposing.

Sorry. Palo Alto neighborhoods along Caltrain were against lifting the tracks for HSR - they aren't going to support doing it for Caltrain. Give it up. It won't fly in Palo Alto.

If you like what San Carlos is doing, you're free to move over there. Nothing's keeping you in Palo Alto, where you seem to hate how things are here.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Everyone is in agreement that a tunnel/trench is the optimum, most utopian way to achieve grade sep. with zero property takings. Figure every property taken by eminent domain would add about $2 million to the project, so ideally there would be no property taken.

Every time the question of funding this grand idea of a trench through Palo Alto is raised, the question is met with deafening silence.

The H.M.M. study, if you read it, proposes trenching from just north of San Antonio to just south of Matadero creek where the water issues begin, going under Charleston and Meadow for a distance of what, less than 2 miles?

Oregon, Embarcadero and University are already grade separated so that leaves Churchill and Palo Alto Avenue, which is up against a creek, without grade sep.


4 people like this
Posted by Rational
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2017 at 3:56 pm

O.P.E.N. T.R.E.N.C.H

Less noise
Less visual impact
Low impact on streets (pop up 5' over)
Create real estate (garages and station buildings over train lines).


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2017 at 4:07 pm

My proposal to stop all trains at all crossings for passenger loading avoids all the above acrimony over ditches and Berlin berms and property takings. It also saves piles of money while enhancing CalTrain revenues, not to mention its safety aspects.

I have faith in the intelligence of the people on this forum. They will eventually get it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2017 at 4:13 pm

@Curmudgeon

Of course its a legitimate idea, its modeled after the wildly successful VTA light rail system!


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 8, 2017 at 5:40 pm

Your plan would do all of those things, Curmudgeon. All you have to do is convince Caltrain to have five stops in Palo Alto and completely redo its commute schedule and deal with the likely objections of all other cities on the peninsula, just to relieve traffic congestion in Palo Alto.

For the 100th time, the FRA requires that trains have the right-of-way over auto traffic so the gates would still come down and halt automobile cross traffic, so you haven't accomplished much.

"Create real estate (garages and station buildings over train lines)."

Rational: The logical question is, how are you going to build these garages and station buildings over the train lines if this trench is open? Any such buildings would be on land owned by JPB (Caltrain).

The plan in the H.M.M. study to trench from San Antonio to Matadero Creek is looking appealing.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2017 at 6:10 pm

"For the 100th time, the FRA requires that trains have the right-of-way over auto traffic so the gates would still come down and halt automobile cross traffic, so you haven't accomplished much."

For the fifty-thousandth time, stop exaggerating!

The plan is not to facilitate auto traffic (aren't we trying to cut it down anyway?), it is to increase transit accessibility in underserved south PA, concomitantly boost CalTrain revenues with an expanded ridership base, and improve safety by eliminating trains speeding thru grade crossings at 60-plus.

Why do you oppose those worthwhile goals? Why do you think CalTrain ought to spurn additional riders and revenues?

"...convince Caltrain to have five stops in Palo Alto "

OK, four's enough. Close Churchill crossing.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2017 at 11:48 pm

@Leslie, that's where our aquifer is most shallow. Awfully big basement to dewater.


18 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 9, 2017 at 2:01 am

I am starting to warm up to Curmudgeons concept. Curmudgeon is starting to think outside the box, and has the courage and imagination to confront the problems head on and propose creative solutions.

The hybrid solution just looks like a politician's solution. Pretend most of the problems don't exist. If you can't deny the existence of a problem, just split the baby or copy somebody else's banal solution. If that doesn't work, blame the ossified CE firm you hired to study the problem.

Curmudgeon's concept also has the advantage of opening a technological path forward towards a system that could leverage evolving networking, ride-sharing, and autonomous vehicle technologies. One-dimensional steel-wheel on rail technologies are a technological dead-end and have been for 50+ years. The French figured out how to put rubber wheels on their passenger rail cars back in the 1950s. Why can't we do it?

I also give Curmudgeon's plan high marks for safety. Just imagine a a 60mph express train derailing and careening off a 7-10' high embankment into a cheaply constructed stack-n-pack complex of micro-units. There would be nothing left but splinters.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Cost of trench at 2% grade in 2014 dollars, from H.M.M. study (no property takings):

$488,187,283

The trench would go under Charleston and Meadow and would stop short of Matadero creek. No grade sep at Churchill and Palo Alto Ave.

The H.M.M. study lacks any map or diagram showing the contemplated parcel takings under their non-trench options.

Closing Churchill defeats the purpose of improved "connectivity". Leaving Churchill as an at-grade crossing has a lot of merit given the economics involved.


8 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2017 at 4:40 pm

All of the scenarios will need to be fully studied for their design alternatives, costs, circulation impacts and other trade offs. This will be a really complex process needing to incorporate the Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) process that has been city policy for several years. We should not pre-judge the outcome of CSS, but I can offer some additional information.
The full HMM study did identify the number of properties that would need to be taken at E Meadow and Chuchill without a trench. This number would likely change from more refined calculations and design, but it was in the range of 60.
The study did not estimate the trench cost if a 3% grade was allowed for the trench which is more plausible based on Caltrain's new freight agreement. The cost of a 3% grade would move it closer to the cost of non trench separations when land acquisition cost is included and would avoid the highly decisive scenario of taking many residences.
The agreement in the County Measure B funding provided $700 million for the grade separations between Palo Alto and Sunnyvale. Mountain View now plans to eliminate the Castro crossing so there are now six separations to share those dollars. The agreement in principle with the north county cities was that the $700M would be shared among the separations rather than equally among the cities, but those specifics remain to be finalized.
The HMM study did not evaluate Churchill at that time because the north city crossings were recognized to be even more challenging than the south. CSS would examine all alternatives in a community driven process. Options such as leaving Churchill as an at grade car crossing and just grade separating pedestrians and bike there would also be studied.
This is going to be the biggest transportation project in the city since the huge battle over Oregon Expressway in the early 60's. We will need to do this thoroughly, thoughtfully and inclusively for it to be successful.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2017 at 6:09 pm

Pat Burt: The H.M.M. report does not say why such a large number of parcels would need to be taken in the varous non-trench solutions. Absent a map or diagram we do not know ehich parcels would be taken and their relation to Alma and the sidestreets.

One of H.M.M.'s design assumptions calls for four lanes, each 11 feet wide, plus bike lanes, sidewalks, etc. H.M.M. needs to clarify wjether the parcel-takings would be due to the contemplated widening of Alma or any of the sidestreets.

Unless it is to widen some of the streets, I cannot think of a reason so many parcels would need to be taken.


.


4 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2017 at 7:01 pm

@Leslie
The short answer is that dipping or raising the cross streets to get under or over the tracks also severely impacts properties an requires takings on Alma as well as the cross streets.
The CSS process, if used by the council and staff, would fully vet the various iterations of each basic alternative. Community impacts or benefits, beyond just the vehicular movement, would also be integrated in the decisions. The HMM study only looked at a couple of options to give us a high level view of the possibilities. The community needs to weigh in to understand the CSS process and determine if it will increase the quality of the outcomes and their likelihood of obtaining broad community support.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 9, 2017 at 7:07 pm

Meadow and Charleston design options depended on whether all traffic movements onto and off of Alma were maintained. If for example we simply trenched Meadow to run under both Alma and the tracks, with no turns available, it would require some creativity at Emerson, and block off any through traffic on Park Blvd, though looks like minimal effect on any physical properties. We'd have an unimpeded east-west thoroughfare, and Alma through traffic would be expedited, but of course the overall circulation impacts might be unacceptable. Turns off Alma would head for El Verano on one side and Lindero on the other, perhaps requiring signalization and wreaking havoc on those currently peaceful streets. Traffic on Park Blvd already cannot cross Meadow, except bikes and peds. To keep Park as a major bike route, there should be some way to devise a bike/ped bridge. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but those are the trades. A full interchange with ramps like Oregon Expy would obviously take many properties away.

Trenching the train with a 3% grade might be fun for HSR. Do we have an engineer who can calculate the speed necessary to "catch some air"?


3 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 9, 2017 at 7:34 pm

@Musical
A full CSS process will evaluate the range of designs and their impacts such as your questions about limiting certain vehicular movements. Unfortunately, each version that solves certain problems creates others. CSS is designed for the community and technical experts to identify issues, look deeply at the alternatives and weigh their trade offs, ultimately moving to a consensus alternative. CSS is the proven "best practice" for this kind of complex and contentious big transportation project.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Barron Park School
on Apr 9, 2017 at 7:34 pm

musical: Perhaps the tunnel under Alma and the tracks plan you described above would work at Churchill and/or Palo Alto Avenue, with a train trench going under Charleston and Meadow? You would have driveway access issues on Churchill so the idea of leaving Churchill alone, at least for the time being, seems attractive.

As I understand it, 1% grade is Caltrain's preference but a 2% exemption can be had. Not sure about 3%, and of course Union Pacific would have a say.

I still don't understand the need for all these parcel takings. Presumably the structures would be razed and something put in its place. To me this suggesets that they would widen these already fairly narrow streets just to get over or under the tracks. Do you get it, musical?


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Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 9, 2017 at 7:40 pm

Pat Burt: Threads such as this one, and there have been many like it in recent years, ARE part of the CSS process. It has already begun!


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:04 am

The parcel takings would accommodate full-blown interchanges like Oregon at Alma, up-ramps, down-ramps, off-ramps, on-ramps. Fewer parcels needed for Embarcadero-type partial interchange, i.e. no straightforward way from Alma to westbound Embarcadero.

Regarding grades: The Tehachapi Grade, famous for its full loop, is 2% carrying heavy transcontinental freight. I've read about some mainline routes up to 2.5% in West Virginia coal country. Quite a chore for mile-long loads, requiring multiple engines. On our Caltrain path, 2.5% should not be a problem for short freight trains on short straight sections. Technically, apropos my above remark about catching some air, there's a limitation on how quickly the transition from level to 2.5% can be made. Clem calls it the vertical curve radius. (We all know Clem by now, right?) -- Web Link -- I'll defer the rest of the freight discussion to his authoritative website. Turns out by the time you get to 2.5%, you're already 15 feet deep and must start leveling out, smoothly reaching the required 30-foot depth. This takes about 2500 to 3000 feet of track, which does fit nicely between San Antonio and Charleston, and again from Meadow to Matadero Creek. Clem makes the case for banishing heavy freight, but allowing light freight. I'll note that current freight trains serve Hanson Aggregates at Pier 94, the adjacent Cemex plant on the Islais Creek Channel, and Pier 80 which has recent rail upgrades.

I can only hope the CSS process really does lead to a consensus, rather than just wearing down community opposition to decisions of the hired technical experts, or being forced to take orders from Sacramento.


5 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2017 at 2:22 am

"The parcel takings would accommodate full-blown interchanges like Oregon at Alma, up-ramps, down-ramps, off-ramps, on-ramps."

JEEMINY CHRISTMAS!!! It's time to hire a different engineering firm if you ask me! What are we building here, a four-lane freeway? This Hatch Mott McDonald outfit sounds like it's way out of step with the purpose of the project. They fail the CSS test, IMHO.

I look at Broadway in Burlingame and Holly in San Carlos and I don't see full-blown freeway-style interchanges; I see grade separations which are much more compact, with a much smaller footprint. That's why I've been questioning the high number of parcel takings. There HAS to be a way to do this without laying waste to the surrounding neighborhoods.

Here, scroll down to the Broadway photo: Web Link

IMO the first thing CPA needs to do is fire Hatch, Mott, McDonald and hire a better engineering firm. Find out who did Holly Street and Broadway and hire THAT firm. H.M.M. wants to build freeway interchanges in residential neighborhoods and displace a couple of dozen families in the process. That is just plain wrong in so many ways!

Are you listening, Pat Burt?


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 10, 2017 at 4:47 am

Wait a sec, the parcel taking would be necessary for leaving the tracks in place and making Meadow, Charleston or Churchill into undercrossings, with or without connectivity to Alma. Either you sink Alma as well, and keep a set of traffic signals; or you keep Alma at grade and lose all connectivity. Apparently either of those omelettes break a lot of eggs, and H.M.M. has estimated how many, spelling out their assumptions on lane widths, bike lanes, buffers, barriers and sidewalks. I had to re-read the H.M.M. study to remember they weren't suggesting any "full-blown interchanges" like at Oregon, so my statement to that effect was in error.

Your Broadway example is the cheapo "put the train in the sky" solution that nobody here would be happy with, and everyone near the tracks fears we'll end up with. I suspect that's how the CSS process will lean. It's for the greater good, you know. Our difference is that the Burlingame Broadway berm is in a commercial/industrial area, while our situation in Palo Alto is entirely single-family residences.

H.M.M. offered the rail-trench option (at 2% grade) for Meadow and Charleston at $488M with no parcel takings. (Extra distance for the 1% option ran the estimate up over $1B for a lot of digging.)

Meadow and Charleston undercrossings with Alma lowered came in cheaper at $319M, including taking 32 parcels at $2M each, plus 7 partial parcels.

Leaving Alma at grade and losing the turning movements, looks like Meadow and Charleston undercrossings could be done for a combined $186M, taking 29 parcels.

Like you, I can't figure out why so many parcels, but several driveways would no longer connect to to Charleston as the roadway ramps downward. Seems to me that such a number of bulldozed parcels would allow space for turning ramps. This will all come out upon further investigation. I'd take the H.M.M. estimates as just a starting point, in 2014 dollars, and indicating relative costs of one option over another.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2017 at 8:21 am

I am no engineer or cost expert, but I do like the idea of a combined approach with elevating the tracks a little as well as lowering the crossing streets with also dipping Alma to accommodate the turns without taking big turning circles.

What I do hope though is that the work is designed to be completed as quickly as possible. I know the noise will be an issue to neighbors, but surely a few months using weekends rather than a few years of disruptions will be best. The way they have been doing the work on highway 101 with just summer work and 9 -5 schedules has made this bridge work take much too long.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Apr 10, 2017 at 9:08 am

An elegant open viaduct, covered in creeping vines (ivy, potato plant, etc. for aesthetics and to prevent grafitti) solves many problems:

• no surface road, sidewalk or driveway grade changes necessary
• easily fits in current right of way, no property takings (whether negotiated or via eminent domain)
• open underneath, so can be landscaped and used for new parallel bike/ped paths, linear park
• allows unlimited new perpendicular at-grade road & path crossings
• allows station/neighborhood complimentary shops and services underneath (bike share station, small cafe, etc.)
• cross-town east/west connectivity is greatly improved and even enhanced/restored (vs. a berm)
• allows for a safe, accessible center-platform station design at California Ave.
• lower capital construction and operating & maintence cost vs. trench or tunnel

Trenches and tunnels "the gift (to Caltrain/HSR) that keeps on giving" due to the extra pumping equipment and operating expense of continually pumping out ground+flood waters, particularly during winter storms that have area creeks (San Francisquito, Matadero, Adobe, etc) and nearby storm drains overflowing. Open trenches must be fenced and/or walled off so people and objects do not fall or are not thrown onto the right of way and 25kVAC catenary infrastructure below ... and they're by definition barriers and lost space unavailable for other uses.

The BART transbay tube is literally a double barrelled set of pipes which were sunk and joined end-to-end on the clear Bay floor and then pumped dry. No pesky creeks, underground utilities, streets, sidewalks or adjoining properties/houses to deal with working around or relocating.


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2017 at 9:38 am

"I am no engineer or cost expert, but I do like the idea of a combined approach with elevating the tracks a little as well as lowering the crossing streets with also dipping Alma to accommodate the turns without taking big turning circles."

Unless you are living on one of the parcels that will be taken by the government.

"An elegant open viaduct"

Not going to happen. That's what started the anti-HSR crusade on the peninsula. It's not going to happen for Caltrain.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2017 at 10:51 am

Me2, that's exactly what I thought my idea would prevent!

Of course it could be done the other way too with a slight trenching of the tracks and a slight elevation of Alma. We don't want to make big clover leafs, but if the streets were all at the same level then the turns would be made at the same level with signals the way they are now.


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

"Like you, I can't figure out why so many parcels"

One thing is certain: the H.M.M. report runs 7 pages with attachments. There is NO map or diagram of the contemplated parcel takings, nor is there a rudimentary sketch or artist's-concept drawing -- nothing -- so we can't even begin to visualize what they propose to build.

The trench under Charleston and Meadow is the most aesthetically and politically palatable solution. The Broadway-style crossing might work at Churchill if trenching isn't practical. You want the trains at grade when they reach Embarcadero.

That large number of parcel takings should set off red lights and sirens with CPA staff and city council as it would probably be D.O.A. with residents. Palo Alto needs to do plenty of due diligence or CSS or whatever you want to call it and know exactly what you're getting before spending multi millions on a white elephant. Without a sketch or drawing it can't be visualized.


4 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2017 at 11:52 am

The "Freight Trains Forever" shibboleth with die fast when BART gets to Downtown San Jose and extends across the old freight train line from the East Bay via East Palo Alto to Redwood City. BART is already in the outskirts of San Jose.
Web Link

The day a freight train cargo can be put on a driverless electric truck on paved roads, Union Pacific will stop sitting on its right-of-ways and sell it off. Those land values keep going up so waiti g just means they'll have a bigger payday when eminent domain takes back the Caltrain land originally granted to Leland Stanford and his robber baron pals.

Containerized trucking killed off the San Francisco freight port and soaring land values killed off San Francisco's huge train switching yard. Electric driverless vehicles will kill off the need for the Peninsula's freights trains long before Palo Alto ever decides anything about grade separation except to throw more tax money at consultants for reports our politcians keep throwing in the trash.


6 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Oops, Mr. Dame, not Mr. Stanford, ran the rails through Palo Alto:

Web Link

And, we the public already own that rail land. SP just has a right to run freight and collect rent from some easements and licences for utilities along the right of way? Thus, any taking of land rights for modern uses will be less than normal fee simple land costs.


18 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2017 at 3:35 pm

Leslie said:

"... WE can't even begin to visualize what they propose to build."

You are not the standard by which the world is measured. Many on this thread have been able to begin to imagine what they propose to build, and have been way ahead of you understanding that it would require the taking of a significant number of homes and/or properties.

I am still waiting for you to explain how you justify taking your neighbor's home or property?


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Good ideas, Reality Check.

You can approach this as the "Berlin Wall" or as your "elegant, open viaduct", a thing of (relative) beauty covered with vegetation and greenery, with zero parcel takings. The benefit of zero parcel takings cannot be overestimated. Put a brick or stone façade or cladding on it and you've got something.

I did a back-of-the-envelope study of your approach several months ago -- manybe a google search will find it. There was enough distance starting at the southern city boundary to bring the tracks over Charleston and Meadow and back down again to service the existing Cal.Ave. station, then back up over Churchill and down again to be at grade at Embarcadero. One would think the prospect of open space below this viaduct would have some appeal (though Caltrain would own it, not CPA).


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 10, 2017 at 5:23 pm

@Oldster,

Autonomous vehicles will probably kill passenger-rail before they kills the freight business. Railroads carry heavy loads very efficiently, but were never optimized to carry light loads (like passengers). Passenger have always been a side business. Union Pacific knows the railroad business better than Caltrain. Union Pacific kept the profitable freight business and unloaded the loser passenger business on Caltrain.

A friend of mine travels everywhere by car, but never drives in traffic. His year old C-Class Mercedes can drive itself at any speed below 15mph. The transportation business is evolving. Rail-less vehicles are in a much better position to leverage new technologies.


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2017 at 6:44 pm

"I am still waiting for you to explain how you justify taking your neighbor's home or property?"

I don't justify it. Not one single home or parcel should be taken for grade sep. I keep questioning H.M.M.'s numbers because they haven't justified the large number of proposed parcel takings. To me their numbers seem wildly excessive and possibly totally unnecessary. As far as I'm concerned, a plan involving parcel taking at all is a non-starter.

If you're looking for an argument you'll have to look elsewhere.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 10, 2017 at 10:05 pm

"As far as I'm concerned, a plan involving parcel taking at all is a non-starter."

Good. That closes off all gradesep options. Now let's move on with a practical surface solution.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 10, 2017 at 10:47 pm

"That closes off all gradesep options. Now let's move on with a practical surface solution."

Why don't you call Caltrain and ask them what they think of your idea?


2 people like this
Posted by Steven
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 11, 2017 at 9:28 am

I don't know if this works, but would it be feasible to build trenches that aren't especially deep (to avoid water table issues), then build steep arched bridges at each of the rail crossings? Just wondering if this works and if it would save money. Could be a terrible idea, or maybe it has legs?


4 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2017 at 9:50 am

Under any scenario--trench, viaduct, bridge, hybrid crossing--where will the trains go during the years of construction? Will Alma be reduced to one lane in each direction?


8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2017 at 10:13 am

Leslie: "I keep questioning H.M.M.'s numbers because they haven't justified the large number of proposed parcel takings. "

It's not that hard to figure out.

Even with no turnouts, to keep Alma as a functioning thoroughfare, you need to sink Alma or dig under it. In sinking Alma, properties on Alma that used to have road access will no longer have it. If you dig under it, then the grading for Churchill, Meadow and Charleston will have to start somewhere up the street, leaving those properties without road access. Look above at the 2% grade requiring 700 feet. That is almost to Ramona street.

And we're not talking about all the surrounding foundation that's required to build an underpass. it's more than just digging where the road is. It requires a pretty big foundation and support structure to support cars and trains above it.

That's why it's so easy to "imagine" why there are a lot of properties that would have to be taken.

Has no one learned from the Oregon Expressway debacle?


Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 11, 2017 at 11:39 am

How about planning just one grade separation with the Boring Company to see if "we" can dig a shallow trench for two rail lines at one street intersection without interrupting rail service? How about Charleston or East Meadow as a first trial?

And, when autonomous vehicles are finally a reality that tunnel could be used for hyperloop. We'd than have truly high speed "rail".


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2017 at 1:56 pm

I don't think it's asking too much of H.M.M. to provide some illustrative documentation of the parcel takings they propose, and drawings of just what they propose to build, be it a freeway interchange or whatever, even if it's just a crayon drawing on a brown paper bag. We would then not have to deal in imaginary conceptualizations and guess at what they propose to build.

It's true, we are dealing with very narrow residential streets and there isn't much room to maneuver. A train trench under Charleston & Meadow, OR a "graceful viaduct" over those streets would involve no takings of $2 million homes, no driveway encraoachments, no lowering of Alma or any sidestreets and no disruption of the surrounding neighborhoods. Sounds like the way to go.

For the time being, leave Churchill as it has been for over 150 years and deal with the inconvenience of stopping for crossing trains.

Maybe there's a way to burrow under the tracks at Palo Alto Avenue.

Oldster: Keep in mind that the ROW from S.F. to S.J. is owned by Caltrain (Joint Powers Board), so any construction on the ROW requires their approval. Union Pacific merely has freight-carriage rights in perpetuity along this ROW. Union Pacific (formerly Southern Pacific) owns the ROW south of San Jose, including the stretch between San Jose and Gilroy used by Caltrain.

I'm not sure whether you mean an open trench or an enclosed tunnel, but either way you'd have to get the trains from grade level into and out of this trench/tunnel, and that means a graded approach of 1% to 2%. This would require the construction of a "shoofly" track to divert trains around the construction site. It might mean a single track for a stretch and a lower speed limit for the trains, particularly the baby bullets.

Putting a shoofly track on Alma street is not likely to happen. For one thing, the trains are owned by Caltrain and Alma street is owned by CPA -- and that's just the beginning.

If you're gonig to do one crossing why not do them both (Charleston and Meadow)?

Steven: I don't think your idea would work. For one thing, these are narrow residential streets with homes having driveways that need to access those streets, so there isn't room for much of anything such as bridges and approaches to bridges like at San Antonio Road. Maybe there's a way to get under Palo Alto Avenue.

The way Hatch, Mott, MacDonald dealt with the water-table and creek crossing issues was to end the trench before Matadero Creek. The trains would come up to grade level, avoiding water-related issues, and go over the existing grade separation at Oregon expwy and on to the Cal. Ave. station.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 11, 2017 at 5:56 pm

"Under any scenario--trench, viaduct, bridge, hybrid crossing--where will the trains go during the years of construction? Will Alma be reduced to one lane in each direction?"

Why, they'll just put rubber tires on the trains and let them trundle merrily down El Camino for the duration. Or they'll move the track to on top of the pile of dirt dug out of the trench until it's time to put the tracks in the trench. Then we hope the dirt pile just goes away.

Best, close CalTrain and widen Alma into the former ROW to achieve a net local capacity far beyond what CalTrain could ever provide.

Pipe dreams? Maybe, but objectively no sillier than the gradesep proposals floating around. Seriously folks, the ability to advocate gradesep with a straight face is inversely correlated with one's native intelligence.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2017 at 7:03 pm

"objectively no sillier than the gradesep proposals floating around. Seriously folks, the ability to advocate gradesep with a straight face is inversely correlated with one's native intelligence."

What did Caltrain say when you called them and described your idea?


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 11, 2017 at 8:07 pm

Here is Caltrain's stance on grade separation:

"Improve Safety. Eliminates pedestrian, bicyclist, and motor vehicle
conflicts with the railroad, which eliminates potential for accidents.
– Improve Circulation. All modes would not have to stop and wait each
time a train passes."

It sounds like Caltrain wants more grade sep, not less, and they own the right-of-way.

Web Link

This project seems to fall into three compartments:

1. Charleston & Meadow: Trench or "elegant viaduct". An elevated viaduct would be vulnerable to seismic risk.

2. Churchill: Limited options due to space constraints. Perhaps leave grade crossing in place?

3. Palo Alto Avenue: Tracks are in close proximity to El Camino Real, a county road. This limits the length of an approach to a submerged automobile tunnel. In addition, Palo Alto Avenue is very close to the railroad trestle and San Francisquito creek, the boundary between Palo Alto/Santa Clara County and Menlo Park/San Mateo County. There is thus insufficient room to the North to elevate the tracks. It may thus not be possible to grade separate Palo Alto Avenue.


2 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Apr 11, 2017 at 11:06 pm

@ Leslie--

Maybe the Churchill crossing could be closed to automobile traffic, but build a good pedestrian-bike tunnel under Alma and the tracks for kids going to Paly. The Embarcadero undercrossing might need to be reconstructed to 2 lanes in each direction, to help with the additional traffic.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 1:42 am

WilliamR :

What would be the benefit of closing Churchill? It wouldn't help the trains as they already have the right-of-way. It might benefit Alma not having cross traffic on Churchill.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 12, 2017 at 2:28 am

@Leslie -- 3. Palo Alto Avenue: not sure whether ECR is county or state. There is 350 feet of road from ECR to the tracks, about the same distance as on University from High Street to under the tracks. The first driveway on Alma is at 101 Alma, also about 350 feet to the tracks. The Alma/Palo Alto Ave intersection would be problematic, also accommodations for bike/ped traffic, but no more so for an undercrossing than for an overcrossing. Six percent is about the upper limit on roadway grade steepness under California guidelines for grade separation, and that'll get 20 feet down in 350 feet.

As for undercrossing construction logistics with an active railroad, I think that's the showstopper. Invariably I've seen so-called shoo-fly tracks installed, and none of our existing grade crossings has room for them, especially trying to reroute rails this close to the San Francisquito Creek trestle.

ps: the benefit that some see of closing Churchill is to keep cars from stopping on the tracks.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 6:40 am

El Camino is state road 82.

I have to revise my measurement. I remeasured from the westernmost rail to the end of an approach which starts out going NW on El Camino and curves to the east just before the tracks. I get about 300 feet, giving 15 feet of vertical clearance at a 5% grade.

My tunnel entrance is at apx. 37.446592 N, -122.170581 W, preserving the curve there and keeping it at grade. The other end of this tunnel would be a ways down Alma street, so you might just be able to squeeze a tunnel in. The tunnel would curve in addition to the 5% grade so you're looking at a low speed limit. Bikes and peds are probably off limits in such a tunnel. My western tunnel entrance is entirely within CPA city limits. If you encroach on El Camino you have to deal with the state of California.

When was the last time a car got stuck on the tracks at Churchill? Is the inconvenience of closing Churchill to through traffic justified?


2 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Apr 12, 2017 at 9:01 am

The Churchill crossing seemed to be the most difficult place to build any kind of grade separation for auto traffic. The tracks look like they are closer to Alma there than at Meadow or Charleston, and it might be difficult to take a corner out of the Paly campus there. The lanes on Alma are narrowed now for the left-turn access, which causes problems for trucks. It's a dangerous for kids going to and from Paly, getting bunched up on the Churchill sidewalk and waiting between the tracks and Alma. That's why I suggested closing the crossing and adding a bike/pedestrian tunnel. You'd still lose at least one house on the corner, though.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2017 at 4:04 pm

"When was the last time a car got stuck on the tracks at Churchill?"

How many do you want? Do they have to have been nailed by a train to qualify, or merely stuck on empty tracks during a light cycle?

"What did Caltrain say when you called them and described your idea?"

Pay no attention to bloggers.


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2017 at 4:06 am

@Me 2: "That's what started the anti-HSR crusade on the peninsula. It's not going to happen for Caltrain."

No, the anti-HSR "crusade" on the Peninsula was started by a combination of "4 tracks all the way" (lots of property acquisition and/or eminent domain) and visions of a solid "berm" (aka Peninsula "Berlin Wall").

An elegant open viaduct was never seriously evaluated or discussed then as now:

• no surface road, sidewalk or driveway grade changes necessary
• easily fits in current right of way, no property takings (whether negotiated or via eminent domain)
• open underneath, so can be landscaped and used for new parallel bike/ped paths, linear park
• allows unlimited new perpendicular at-grade road & path crossings
• allows station/neighborhood complimentary shops and services underneath (bike share station, small cafe, etc.)
• cross-town east/west connectivity is greatly improved and even enhanced/restored (vs. a solid berm)
• allows for a safe, accessible center-platform station design at California Ave.
• lower capital construction and operating & maintence cost vs. trench or tunnel


Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2017 at 10:50 am

Some interesting history and ideas here:

Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2017 at 10:58 am

"No, the anti-HSR "crusade" on the Peninsula was started by a combination of "4 tracks all the way" (lots of property acquisition and/or eminent domain) and visions of a solid "berm" (aka Peninsula "Berlin Wall")."

We can choose to remember what we would like. The IN-elegant open viaduct was indeed discussed. The issue with elevating tracks, in whatever method you want to use, is the fact that train noise would then be projected much deeper into the Palo Alto neighborhoods.

And, regardless of whether it's "open" or not, it will indeed divide Palo Alto into two sides. If "open viaduct" were such a great idea, why did neighborhood activists push to tear down the Central Freeway in San Francisco because it divided Hayes Valley? It was an "open viaduct." So was the Embarcadero Freeway. That was a beauty too.


2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2017 at 2:15 pm

"If "open viaduct" were such a great idea, why did neighborhood activists push to tear down the Central Freeway in San Francisco because it divided Hayes Valley? It was an "open viaduct." So was the Embarcadero Freeway. That was a beauty too."

Excellent point! I wonder if you'll get a retort.

Oh, and here's a picture of an "elegant" viaduct: Web Link


Doesn't just make you giddy from the beauty of it??? :)


2 people like this
Posted by Jake Pruitt
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 14, 2017 at 5:16 pm

"open underneath, so can be landscaped and used for new parallel bike/ped paths, linear park"

Fill the underspace with that affordable housing near transit we hear so much about. It can't get much closer to transit than that.


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2017 at 5:22 pm

What scares me about the "graceful, open viaduct" is the seismic risk.

With trains 15+ feet in the air it's going to be top-heavy. I hate to think what would happen to a heavy freight train during a quake, much less a Caltrain full of passengers plunging 15 feet to the ground.

A "graceful viaduct" might work in an area which isn't prone to earthquakes. How many freeways were destroyed during the Loma Prieta quake? Elevated freeways were seriously damaged in soCal during the Northridge quake.

All of these proposed solutions have their disadvantages and tradeoffs. I would favor the 2% trench over any elevated solution due to the seismic risk.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2017 at 8:52 pm

"With trains 15+ feet in the air it's going to be top-heavy. I hate to think what would happen to a heavy freight train during a quake, much less a Caltrain full of passengers plunging 15 feet to the ground."

Guess what? Berms are prone to failure in quakes, too. So are the tracks on them, especially with the varying inertia load presented by a moving train. If you're concerned about trains falling into backyards, go for the ditch option. Or stay at grade.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 14, 2017 at 11:03 pm

You haven't been paying attention.

"I would favor the 2% trench over any elevated solution due to the seismic risk."

Berms have fallen out of favor in this discussion. Some have suggested a viaduct; others favor a trench.


Like this comment
Posted by Train neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on May 2, 2017 at 11:28 pm

Here's the link to the HMM study maps of potentially impacted properties for grade separation that were presented at the 10/20/14 Council meeting:
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 3, 2017 at 1:20 am

@Train neighbor, readers should be warned that's a 228 MB file. Not sure whether I'd seen it before, saved now locally to my Grade Separation folder. Plenty to digest there. No solution is simple.


Like this comment
Posted by Train neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on May 3, 2017 at 7:00 am

Here is the link to the 10/20/14 Council Agenda: Web Link where the grade separation study and maps were presented (see item 12).
Study link: Web Link

The maps files are very large and show the properties that could be taken for the two scenarios per crossing.

Scenario descriptions from HMM report:

Two scenarios were evaluated at each undercrossing. In the first scenario, Alma St would remain at existing grade and each undercrossing would pass below both the Caltrain tracks and Alma St. This would disconnect Alma St from the crossing streets and would require traffic to be routed to the next crossing to the north or south. In the second scenario, to maintain connectivity between the streets, Alma St. would be lowered to match the elevation
of the crossing street.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 3, 2017 at 11:44 am

Did you see Grocery Outlet on their condemnation list? I always suspected it was built to the sidewalk in order to preclude any Alma Street modifications.


2 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 20, 2017 at 3:49 pm

When we decided to live in the bay area, we accepted seismic risks. We cannot isolate ourselves from them completely.

Living for this long with level crossings is a sign of over analysis and under action with brain paralysis.

Dig a trench at 2% on the North side of PA to cover 2 crossings, build the bridge on the south side of PA and be done with it.

PA has become a laughing subject for keeping this pending for so long.

Let trains run at slower speed on bridges as required.

Those who want high speed can invent personal drones.

Forget ideal, perfect solution and move on with the practical approach to stop accidents, noise, delays, suicides. Stop being ancient and move on to 21st century.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident 3
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 20, 2017 at 7:19 pm

@Me 2

"It's time to underground Caltrain. Time for the Boring Company."

One small problem, there is this thing called a water table.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2017 at 8:05 pm

The north side of town has three crossings which are already grade separated. Why reinvent the wheel?

Charleston and Meadow would easily accomodate your 2% trench idea.


4 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 21, 2017 at 9:37 am

Everyday, when I pass several roadways under the tracks while train is at grade ( e.g. Redwood city) , go over the bridge with road just under grade (e.g. San Carlos), Pass under the bridge (e.g. San Antonio) I wonder what is wrong with the city of Palo alto which collects huge amount of property Tax with inflated house prices and still keeps, noisy , accident prone, ancient, delay causing grade crossings and overhead wiring. Even the third world cities have better town planning and facilitation.

Stanford has grown on it's own, builders have taken advantage and city has stayed where it was several decades back. What a shame.

Very few people on this forum have technical/engineering capabilities. Cash rich PA city should give this work to the technical team and get this done...this is unbelievable ...darkness under the lamp. Stanford town...no way.


7 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2017 at 1:34 pm

@PA Resident,

It is really Caltrain that is stuck in the past operating antiquated equipment, not the City of Palo Alto.

If Stanford is your model of the future, why doesn't Stanford operate a rail transit system on the campus?


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:02 pm

PA Resident: "I wonder what is wrong with the city of Palo Alto which collects a huge amount of property tax with inflated house prices and still keeps, noisy , accident prone, ancient, delay causing grade crossings"

You and me both. Not to mention all of the Stanford/Silicon Valley engineering geniuses in the area. They can invent a driverless car but a low-tech task such as separating the RR tracks from the cars is an impossible feat. Somehow they were able to do a nice job of it in San Carlos, but not Palo Alto.

In 2014 CPA received an engineering study for grade separation. One of the solutions is a 2% trench which involves ZERO property takings. CPA has done nothing, NOTHING, with that study in the intervening 3 years except for that coffee klatsch at Mitchell park a few months ago. City officials just sit on their hands and rake in the checks from developers.

No need for a rail system at Stanford. The campus is so small you can ride bikes all over it like we used to do when we were kids.


4 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 22, 2017 at 12:35 pm

I'm little confused:
Who is legally responsible for the betterment of railway crossings in Palo Alto?
Is it a) City of Palo Alto, b) Caltrain, c) CA govt, d) Federal Govt, e) People living in PA or f) all of them?
If you are going to give a simple answer f= "All of them", can anyone spell out legal obligations for each party.

Where can we see budget/spending for City of Palo Alto?


2 people like this
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 22, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Unless there are consequences, e.g. Penalty, missed increment, salary deduction for the responsible parties, nothing gets done.

There has to be a schedule for grade crossing improvements available on responsible party's web site showing titles of the people involved.

Where is accountability?

New home buyers are paying on average 35000 / year for property tax and they still live in accident prone, noisy city with grade crossings & overhead wiring ?


Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 22, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Now that Atherton has paved the path, Palo Alto can at least start to make all the crossings, Cal Ave Station as Silent Zones.

Quad Gates, why were they not there fist place. Put them now ASAP.
I wonder what will be the cost of sliding doors on railway platforms prohibiting the accidents and need for honking.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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