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Palo Alto approaches decision on rail redesign

Despite high costs, putting Caltrain in trench remains city most popular alternative

Palo Alto's effort to separate the railroad tracks from local streets will, by any account, likely require the seizure of private property, cause years of traffic disruptions and cost more than $1 billion, much coming from who-knows-where.

But at Saturday's city workshop on grade separations, which aimed at narrowing down design alternatives, talk quickly turned to the perils of doing nothing. City Manager James Keene set the tone early when he cited Caltrain's plan to modernize, which will add trains to the city's 4-mile corridor, and the state's looming high-speed rail project, which would share the tracks with Caltrain.

If both of these projects are in place by 2025, the number of trains will rise from the current level of six during the average peak hour (or 10 in the busiest hour) to about 20 per hour. This will require the crossing gates to be closed for 45 seconds every 3 minutes, according to a presentation by Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello.

In other words, during peak commute hours, gates at the city's four rail crossings would be closed 25 percent of the time. The change is projected to lengthen the vehicle delays by 60 percent during the morning commute. During the evening rush, the already insufferable delays would be about twice as long by 2025, according to Mello.

At the city's three busiest grade crossings — Churchill Road, Meadow Drive and Charleston Road — cars looking to cross the tracks or to turn left from Alma will line up in "unclearable queues," and the capacity of the local roadways will decrease by 20 percent over the current levels.

That, in a nutshell, is Palo Alto's "do nothing" alternative — one that city officials and residents alike are willing to do anything to avoid.

"In the not too distant future, as Caltrain electrification proceeds and potential high-speed rail looms, as we shall see, our town can be impossibly divided if we do nothing," Keene told the roughly 90 residents who assembled at the Palo Alto Art Center. "We're here to remedy that."

Palo Alto isn't the only Peninsula city grappling with the future of its rail corridor, though it may be the only one where the most bitter debate hasn't been about the actual design but about the process of choosing one. Earlier this month, the council squabbled over whether a "stakeholder group" should be appointed to help shepherd the process along (council members ultimately opted, by a split vote, not to form the group) and over whether the process they are pursuing can rightly be described as "Context Sensitive Solution" even without the stakeholder group. (They decided, by another split vote, to keep the description.)

Some of the residents most engaged in the debate, including former Mayor Pat Burt and members of the local watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, have been calling on the current council to change course. He and others argued that a stakeholder group involving both technical experts and community stakeholders is vital to ensure community buy-in.

Councilman Tom DuBois, who chairs the council's Rail Committee, agrees. At a Sept, 5 discussion, DuBois said he was troubled by the concerns that he's already hearing from the community about the project, which he said will be bigger than the construction of Oregon Expressway in terms of its disruption.

"I worry if we continue in this way, it's going to blow up on us," DuBois said.

But for all the bickering about the process, residents and city leaders appear to be in a remarkable lock-step about the change they would like to see. Palo Alto's menu of options may still include everything from submerged roads and permanently closed grade crossings to "hybrid" options that include a combination of somewhat lowered trains and slightly raised roads (or vice versa), but the answer that keeps resurfacing at every discussion of grade separations is one the council has been favoring for nearly a decade: a Caltrain trench.

In fact, if there was one key takeaway from Saturday's workshop it's that this remains the residents' preferred alternative, by a wide margin, even if takes the council another six months of meetings, design workshops and consultant studies to officially adopt it as such.

Even after hearing about the drawbacks of building a trench — the high price tag, the years of construction, the potential impact on groundwater — residents overwhelmingly picked it as their preferred design for each of the four city's rail crossings, with roughly 90 percent choosing this option over others, according to surveys taken at the event's conclusion.

The idea of a putting trains underground surfaced in late 2008, when the California High-Speed Rail Authority announced plans to build elevated tracks along the rail corridor, triggering a ferocious citizen backlash. The rail project prompted the council to create a Rail Committee, which adopted a preference for an underground rail system as its official guiding principle and which commissioned an engineering study evaluating the costs of the project.

The city also launched in 2010 a rail-corridor study and appointed a 17-member committee to explore ways to improve local grade crossings. In 2012, a specially appointed citizens committee issued a report that identified as a preferred alternative "a trench option through Palo Alto with opportunities for trench covers in key locations."

The workshop suggested that public attitude hasn't changed much since then, despite the fact that a trench now comes with an estimated $1.15 billion price tag — roughly six times the cost of going "hybrid" with tracks slightly raised and a road slightly lowered or submerging the road under the rail tracks. The cost of raising roads over the rail corridor is a comparative bargain at $43 million.

The city expects to get some help for funding the project from Measure B, which Santa Clara County voters approved last November and which allocates $700 million for grade separations in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto. The funds from the measure are being administered by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), and some Palo Alto officials, including Mayor Greg Scharff, have been adamant about the need to move faster on picking a design alternative so as not to fall behind the other two cities in a race for county cash.

Some of those anxieties were quelled on Sept. 5, when VTA board Chair Jeannie Bruins assured the council that the agency does not intend to distribute the funds on a first-come-first-served basis. Bruins, who is a member of the Los Altos City Council, said VTA staff is still putting together the framework for administering the funds.

"We're trying to avoid this rush to be the first in line," Bruins said. "This is not about who gets to be the BART of grade separations and consume all the money — and then anyone at the end gets nothing."

Even the VTA funding will not be enough, however, to fully pay for a trench. Ultimately, the project would require additional contributions, potentially from local residents.

Council members also acknowledged this month that the project will require significant sacrifices by those who live near the tracks and whose lives and properties will be affected by the project.

"We're going to talk about disrupting Alma Street for two years or more," Vice Mayor Liz Kniss said at the Sept. 5 meeting. "We're going to be talking about asking people if they would mind leaving their homes. We're really embarking on an incredible process."

Given the significance of the project, Councilman Greg Tanaka offered another idea: letting the broader community choose a preferred alternative. He proposed having the council narrow down the options to two or three and then letting the voters decide.

"No matter what decision we make, there's going to be some really hard trade-offs," Tanaka said. "The best way to get a community buy-in is to get it validated by the voters."

Related content:

VIDEO: Behind the Headlines -- Redesigning rail

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2017 at 7:54 pm

We now know that the trench will cost $1 billion more than any other design. Will it take the same amount of time to build as elevating the tracks or much longer?


34 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 16, 2017 at 8:06 pm

Biggest basement dewatering project in history.


11 people like this
Posted by Myron
a resident of University South
on Sep 16, 2017 at 8:50 pm

I'm 51...won't see it in my lifetime. Lawsuits will stall it for years.


61 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 16, 2017 at 9:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


If this is done one crossing at a time it will be very expensive, take a long time and result in a dis-integrated design.

Please at least think about a more comprehensive and integrated approach.

Why not see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?

One thought is the put the trains underground, use the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station. And add pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.


38 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2017 at 8:21 am

close east meadow and churchill to auto traffic, instead only have an underpass for pedestrian & bikes. East Meadow is close enough to Charleston, and Churchill is close enough to Embarcadero (and fix the traffic lights on Embarcadero).

Put most of the funding into Charleston.


7 people like this
Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 17, 2017 at 9:55 am

Train Neighbor is a registered user.

The key takeaways I got from attending the meeting were:

1) Auto traffic will get much worse with more trains if we do not add grade separations

2) With grade separation, we will also be increasing the road capacity which ATTRACTS more auto traffic

3) This will require our community to develop creative solutions that include ALTERNATIVES TO AUTOS, such as: better local transit, transportation management requirements for ALL Palo Alto companies, safer bike and pedestrian routes (completely separated from autos), electric bike rental kiosks in every neighborhood, parking restrictions for all neighborhoods, etc.


25 people like this
Posted by Wait a Second
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2017 at 3:07 pm

One person who attended the rail forum told me it was possibly the worst city meeting ever. For example, the survey questions offered very limited options but you had to reply to each one before you could go on.

The article doesn't mention that the original study about trenching pointed out a big difference between South vs. North Palo Alto. South of Oregon Expressway, trenching is one possibly way to eliminate the train crossings at Arastradero and Meadow. It may well be workable. But trenching all of North Palo Alto would require rebuilding three existing underpasses (Oregon, Embarcadero, and University) and our two train stations, as well as losing the California Avenue and Homer bike/pedestrian tunnels.

Consider what happens if you trench under Oregon Expressway. The expressway would instead have to go over the trench, which means it would intersect with Alma. So you would need a traffic light there. Car traffic on both streets is very heavy and the nearby El Camino intersection is already one of the worst in the city. Adding a new traffic light will slow down cars even more. Ditto at Embarcadero and University. So we'd be spending hundreds of millions to trench and rebuild intersections and end up with slower car traffic than now.

That would be ironic given that one of the top goals of the grade separation project is to help car traffic move faster. Frankly, it would be a disaster.

Maybe those three intersections could be converted to overpasses, but that would add to the costs and perhaps require taking out existing homes, which is another thing people don't want.

There are other problems with trenching in North Palo Alto, such as the cost of rebuilding our train stations so you can board down in the trench. And if you trench under Alma at the north end of town but Menlo Park doesn't want to pay for trenching on its side of the creek, we'd have to cover those costs too.

Can anyone explain why the above isn't true? This was all mentioned in the study a few years ago, but seems to have been forgotten.


9 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2017 at 3:20 pm

"close east meadow and churchill to auto traffic"

What does this accomplish? It doesn't benefit the trains -- they already have the right-of-way.

It would further impede the flow of auto traffic at those crossings. Why not leave them as is and deal with the occasional passing train as has been done for decades?


14 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Wait a Second: You are spot on.

"Consider what happens if you trench under Oregon Expressway."

There are serious water-table issues at that crossing. There is a pumping station which pumps water 24/7. You would have to completely re-engineer and reconstruct the whole crossing, adding greatly to the expense and the time required for construction. The intersection would likely have to be closed during construction, further adding to the disruption.

"if you trench under Alma at the north end of town but Menlo Park doesn't want to pay for trenching on its side of the creek, we'd have to cover those costs too."

Absolutely. You would cross the county line as well as the city limit, not to mention crossing the creek itself and dealing with the attendant water-table issues. At some point you would presumably have to bring the trains back to grade to service the Menlo Park station, and who would pay for that? You would also have to convince Menlo Park to agree to it. Good luck.

It would be an extremely costly and disruptive mistake to reconstruct and trench or tunnel under the three existing grade-separated crossings (Oregon, Embarcadero, University), easily running into the multi-billions of dollars. They're already grade separated, so why incur the additional expense and disruption? I hope the city isn't seriously considering or promising the public a full-city-length trench/tunnel. Best to stop south of Oregon expwy.


15 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 17, 2017 at 4:05 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Larry Cohn - "What does this accomplish?"

It would punish carbon burning heathens who don't bow to the twin gods of urban planning and rail. You may bike, or you may ride, but thou shalt not drive across the holy tracks.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2017 at 5:12 pm

"Do it once and do it right."

You're new in these parts, ain't ya?


"if you trench under Alma at the north end of town but Menlo Park doesn't want to pay for trenching on its side of the creek, we'd have to cover those costs too. ... You would cross the county line as well as the city limit, not to mention crossing the creek itself and dealing with the attendant water-table issues."

There's no technical problem with tunneling under a creek that ain't even a creek most of the time. Check out the underbay road-bearing tubes connecting to Alameda, the Holland Tunnel at NYC, etc., etc.. As for Menlo buying in, just tunnel to the county line and let Menlo decide if it wants to hook up or not, and how to do it.


But seriously, folks. What citizens want and what citizens get are seldom the same. We cannot--will not--afford a trench or anything else. Close those damn grade crossings and be done with this.


17 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 17, 2017 at 5:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"You're new in these parts, ain't ya?"

Not quite - I was born in SF and have lived in Palo Alto and Atherton for over 40 years including 4 1/2 years as a Palo Alto Planning Commissioner.


16 people like this
Posted by Roger
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 17, 2017 at 10:00 pm

I attended the meeting. While I am glad the city seems to finally realize that they have to do something, I am perplexed at the current process. As pointed out by Pat Burt at the meeting, the questions posed to the crowd certainly did appear to be biased against a trench/tunnel solution, both in the way questions were posed, and the available responses. In addition, the costs of trench vs other options presented at this meeting appeared to be incorrectly biased against the trench solution. Yes, trenching will almost certainly be the most expensive solution, but not by an order of magnitude compared to the other solutions presented by the city. Furthermore, why is the city basically recreating the very thoughtful 2013 Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study Web Link Why is the city reinventing what seems to be a pretty good evaluation of the problem and thoughtful solutions? Are bloated ego's mucking up the process?

Personally, I favor the trench solution, at least for Meadow and Charleston, where it will create a rather permanent solution to effectively separate train and all other traffic that will be effective for generations to come. I would rather pay a bit more now and get a much better solutions for many many years to come with perhaps no need to take private property near those crossings. I think a similar trench solution is probably best at Churchill as well. While the Page Mill/Alma intersection is an awful traffic jam, and the Embarcadero crossing has it's own problems, at least they are both currently grade separated, and may not really need attention at the moment. The Alma crossing near San Francisquito creek is a problem that will probably require cooperative planning with Menlo Park.


9 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 17, 2017 at 10:26 pm

Roger: Here is the three-year-old engineering study from Mott MacDonald. It contains two trench solutions.

Web Link

The 1% trench is a bad idea IMO. The 2% trench has possibilities, leaving intact as it does the existing three grade-separated crossings.


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2017 at 10:51 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2017 at 11:06 pm

"There are serious water-table issues at that [Oregon] crossing. There is a pumping station which pumps water 24/7."

There are serious water table issues at multiple points along the line, not to mention crossing three creeks and dealing with rainwater infall along the whole open ditch. Gotta engineer this thing for serious wet, with backup fuel-powered pumps always at the ready. A well-sealed deep tunnel would avoid these issues.

Keeping those little crossings ain't gonna be cheap. Are they really worth it?


9 people like this
Posted by Someone
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 18, 2017 at 9:30 am

At 2-million a pop, how many houses could we build on the land that is currently Alma?
If 1000, then we've funded the trench and cover option without any debt.


11 people like this
Posted by the survey
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 18, 2017 at 11:30 am

If this "survey" by the city is anything like the city's survey about Code Enforcement, has closed ended, forced choices, is error prone and not well designed to elicit opinions.

It seems that questionnaire design is a great mystery to the city staff despite there being so many experts in the area. Or maybe they don't really want to hear from us.

Surveys may be the new PR push by the city manager. Lots of staff for PR.


15 people like this
Posted by Just a Thought...
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 11:33 am

An interesting thought would be to offer the residents along the affected streets (Churchill, Charleston, Meadow) who are currently NIMBY toward anything but the most expensive $1 billion trenching solution, the opportunity to be free of NIMBY responsibilities and trade into an 7500 square foot lot along a newly created Deer Creek/Coyote Creek subdivision. You can also provide them a $750K stipend to build the house of their dreams and a several year head start.

The Deer Creek/Coyote Creek area behind Tesla/VMWare/Nest offices is currently zoned as agricultural conservation. A small 20-25 acre portion of it could easily support up to 100-150 homes. While agricultural conservation is great, this land could and more importantly should be put into use for the betterment of Palo Alto for all its residents as well as all Peninsula commuters in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here is a map of the location:
Web Link
Additional there are minimal NIMBY residents in this area (mostly stables/grazing land for horses) and likely minimal existing environmental pollution concerns.

Then you could design a real solution (trenching or overpass) that addresses the real problems at hand.


7 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Re: Just a Thought, Great idea, Having lived through some of the "Big Dig"in Boston I'm doubt that anyone could
dig the tunnels without closing several lanes of Alma on one side and taking the backyards of most of the homes on the other side including parts of Paly.

And for the years of construction traffic in Palo Alto will be a nightmare.

/marc


13 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 12:47 pm

The Boston Big Dig was not done by boring.

Properly done subsurface boring has no impact on the surface structures.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:26 pm

"trade into an 7500 square foot lot along a newly created Deer Creek/Coyote Creek subdivision. You can also provide them a $750K stipend to build the house of their dreams"

Name the street "McMansion Avenue".

That assumes the solution they decide upon requires property taking.


1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Where will the next workshop be held? Maybe the City Council chambers will be available if there will be no political rally there like they had last Saturday.


2 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Properly done subsurface boring has no impact on the surface structures.

Good luck crossing 3 creeks and boring through all those aquifers.


6 people like this
Posted by Just a Thought...
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:34 pm

@Peter F Carpenter - Trenching/boring definitely might indeed be the right option. The challenge is that between a heavily utilized Alma street, many intersecting streets and a full Caltrain schedule, there's not a lot of wiggle room to handle the actual construction.

The general idea with giving the residents along the affected intersections and adjacent to the tracks, the option to purchase newly up-zoned lots near Deer Creek is to compensate them for having to handle a complete change to the transit infrastructure that existed prior to their home purchase. No matter what option is chosen, the people directly along the route will definitely be subject to a lot of unknowns and will for sure be affected during construction compared to the status quo.

If the affected home owners are eminent domained at the same time without an increase in available lots that almost becomes a no go since annual inventory of available homes in Palo Alto is far less than that number.

My thought is that the people of Palo Alto who would want agriculture zoning of Deer Creek would be a similar group to those that would want to see HSR through. Additionally as was mentioned in the trenched option in particular, the area along the rail road tracks could become park land similar to the El Camino park in North Palo Alto or community gardens so you could be net even in terms of environmentally friendly land.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Good luck crossing 3 creeks and boring through all those aquifers."

It is done all the time.

The new Hetch Hetchy tunnel under the South Bay was bored:

Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:41 pm

At the meeting they downplayed the "hybrid" solution which would work well at Churchill, which is so very close to the already-grade-separated, above-ground Embarcadero crossing.

People will love trenches/tunnels until they learn how much additional property and sales tax they will have to pay to fund it.


5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:47 pm

[Post removed.]


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Web Link

North West Rail Link Sídney

Sydney, Australia

This design and build contract in Sydney includes:

15.5km long and 6.17m inner diameter twin tunnels between the existing Epping Station and the new Bella Vista Station.
5 stations with excavation of approx. 180m long and 20m wide: Cherrybrook, Castle Hill, Showground, Norwest and Bella Vista.
2 service facility shafts at Epping and Cheltenham.
59 cross passages.
Crossover cavern in Castle Hill 184m long, 21m wide and 14m high.
2 mined tunnels 300m long each between Epping shaft and existing Epping station.
Approximately 70% of the driven tunnels encounter Hawkesbury Sandstone and Mittagong Formation (transition between sandstone and siltstone), with the remaining length of the tunnel drive within Ashfield Shale (competent siltstone).

Most of the running tunnels have been excavated with 4 Double Shield TBMs 6.99m diameter. The precast concrete segments was delivered from the yard to the TBM by rubber tyre vehicles.

The excavated materials have been transported from the TBM via conveyor belts to the portals. In order to avoid disruptions to the neighbourhood around the sites, all the main and potentially noisy activities during the night have been carried out within noise insulated night sheds, including the spoil stock pile management and the segment loading in the tunnel vehicles.

The cross passages were excavated concurrently to the TBM drive using small excavators. The TBM and cross passages works simultaneously, allowed by the cross passages team working on movable crossing platforms. This provides enough space for the TBM vehicles circulation around the cross passages during construction.


5 people like this
Posted by Just a Thought...
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 1:56 pm

@Larry Cohn - Agreed - I enjoy looking at the green pasture land when coming over the hill on Page Mill as well. That said I probably would not notice if the 10-20 acre parcel across from Page Mill Pastures was converted to a McMansion 2 story only housing development and I definitely do want to see HSR/electrification happen for Silicon Valley.

I think the key to the solution is to find the right option (whether it be trenched or not) for Palo Alto and Silicon Valley as a whole and not just those immediately impacted by the various options. And the only way I see to do that is to present a really good alternative option for those immediately impacted.

My hunch is that the 90 people who showed up to the discussion are immediately impacted by the various options or known someone who is. But there are 60,000 Palo Alto residents tangentially impacted who were too busy to fit it into their schedule.


3 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm

A bored tunnel was not considered in the H.M.M study which the city has. Interesting article about the Hetch Hetchy water "tunnel". A bored tunnel would address the drainage issues of an open trench.


1 person likes this
Posted by Just a Thought...
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:07 pm

@Me 2 - That might be interesting! In all seriousness, a 7500 parcel in a subdivision along Deer Creek done right in that area, bikeable/walkable to the trifecta of Tesla, Nest, VMWare Headquarters starts looking a lot like all the serene benefits of Los Altos Hills with the convenience and Palo Alto school district zoning of Baron Park.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Doing a bored tunnel requires vision and no one city along the right of way has either the vision or the mandate to explore a portal to portal solution.

When all other options are exhausted I predict that a bored tunnel will finally be accepted as the only solution which will not cause massive surface disruptions even though it is clearly the most expensive approach.


13 people like this
Posted by Why North Palo Alto?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:16 pm

I don't think it makes sense to grade separate North Palo Alto and I'm surprised that was even considered since its a huge cost for a marginal benefit. Alma and Embarcadero area already grade separated which leaves only Alma near the creek and that could be left as is or the road could go underneath the tracks. I agree with Pat Burke on the 2% grade option. Also, if they don't grade separate Churchill, which is a reasonable option then they should provide an under the tracks bike and pedestrian path.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Bore silent, bore deep.

Except we cannot/will not afford it. Just close those crossings, or learn to live with them based on 150 years of living with them.


7 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

The idea of a bored tunnel is growing on me after reading that Hetch Hetchy article. I must add the caveat that the trains should come up to grade south of Oregon expwy., otherwise you're paying millions to tunnel under three crossings which are already grade separated.

It seems that a tunnel would be the most politically saleable.

"Doing a bored tunnel requires vision and no one city along the right of way has either the vision"

When I think of the Palo Alto CC I don't think "vision".

Here is an out-of-the-box idea: Tunnel under the ROW. CPA leases or acquires development rights on the surface from PCJPB (Caltrain, owners of the ROW). CPA then leases development rights to the myriad local developers who would just love to have a piece of Palo Alto. The lease money CPA collects from developers would defray tunnel construction costs.


4 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:56 pm

A bored tunnel to handle diesel powered freight rail also requires huge ventilation fans. If it is to return to grade south of Oregon it cannot be bored as deeply and maintain grade. The shallower tunnel would increase the risk of surface disruption. If Palo Alto wants a trench similar to the Alameda Corridor between Downtown LA and the Ports of San Pedro and Long Beach (which crosses creeks and all the other conflicts we have been discussing) let's just get on with raising the extra money. Even if corridor rights can be leased for a bored tunnel, Bonds would still be needed for financing the construction and transition. The rest of our neighbors only owe us feasible and cost effective. Whatever else we want, we need to be prepared to pay for locally. Electrification is coming, let's get on with it.


5 people like this
Posted by jim h
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 18, 2017 at 3:38 pm

This should be seen as a multi generation problem. If money didn't matter, underground beats every other solution by many fold. Why not set this as a goal to achieve and try to find the funding solution.

UNDER/OVERPASS + optional bike only or removal of some crossings
PROS ---
- Safety improvement
- Somewhat better traffic
CONS--
- Will not address noise issues which will increase a lot
- Will not address increased future traffic because no new roads
- Closing any current crossing to cars increases traffic problems
- does not unify or create a better aesthetic

UNDERGROUND - TRENCH OR TUNNEL
PROS---
- Eliminates noise and all safety issues
- Reclaims extremely valuable land for park
- Allows for widening Alma, and/or adding new bike lanes
- Decreases future traffic issues due to possible new East/West crossings if and
where needed.
- Joins all Palo Alto together
- Increases Aesthetics
CONS---
Cost-but this is a solution for multiple generations
Payment could be from very long term bonds, Standford, local donors etc.

ABOVE GROUND ---
PROS ----
- Increases safety
- Possible to add new East West crossings
CONS---
- Is this possible for freight trains as well as Caltrain and maybe HSR?
- No solution to increasing noise problems
- No land reclamation
- No ability to widen North South Roads
- Worsens aesthetics
- Further divides community
- More expensive that a handful of overpass/underpasses


7 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Sep 18, 2017 at 3:54 pm

@Jim h:

Three years ago we had an extended discussion about all these issues, the Mott MacDonald report documents many of the points. Meanwhile, everybody else moves forward around us and Caltrain Electrification is coming, VTA Grade Separation money will be available to SOMEBODY sooner, rather than later. Palo Alto has a long history of making the perfect into the enemy of the good. This can easily become another case. Ten years ago I did a little work for a proposed public safety building. Do we have one yet?? Maybe Downtown Reno Nevada's rail trench is a better example than So Cal's Alameda Corridor.


7 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2017 at 4:28 pm

"This should be seen as a multi generation problem."

Jim H nails it. This is our generation's big opportunity to transform Palo Alto, and in a good way. The timeline for any investment ROI should be over the appropriate timeframe. This is not a 5 year solution or a 10 year solution. Think of it as a decision that will influence how Palo Alto evolves over the next 50-100 years.

My take is that we need to underground the ROW and find a way to work with Menlo Park (and Atherton) to make it happen.


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 4:33 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Lobby for a bored tunnel through Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton.

If the people have no vision then our leaders certainly won't!

The tunnel idea was posted years ago:
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:36 pm


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2017 at 5:14 pm

So Peter - what are you doing on the Atherton side to push this forward?


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" what are you doing on the Atherton side to push this forward?"

I have been constantly urging the Town Council to support this approach - and I would welcome company in those efforts.


3 people like this
Posted by Dig It, Man
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 5:21 pm

"Lobby for a bored tunnel through Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton."

We better add at least Mountain View. There isn't enough room to dive to operating depth between the MV border and Adobe Creek. We need also to check the border conditions at Sunnyvale, etc. In fact, go for a tunnel on the entire route. It makes little sense to pay the nonrecurring costs of assembling a machine and spudding in for a dig of only a few miles.

Maybe there's some possibility to tap into HSR's mountain of money for this.

As for diesel exhaust--ban diesels. Use electric tugs in the tunnel as needed. Some ventilation will be necessary in any case to keep the air breathable.


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 18, 2017 at 5:56 pm

"I have been constantly urging the Town Council to support this approach - and I would welcome company in those efforts."

Sounds like you're going to need to build a coalition of Atherton residents to push the Town Council to reach out to Menlo Park and Palo Alto City Councils to get this moving forward on your side. You're going to get the same questions there that we're wrestling over here - how to pay for it. Do you think Atherton residents are willing to pay for their part of undergrounding Caltrain?

As for Mountain View - that ship has sailed. They've already made their decisions. It's a dumb decision, but they're going to close Castro Street. Web Link


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" Do you think Atherton residents are willing to pay for their part of undergrounding Caltrain?"

Yes!


2 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 6:13 pm

"- Reclaims extremely valuable land for park"

Don't forget: the ROW is owned by PCJPB, not by the municipalities through which the ROW passes. Palo Alto or any municipality can't just start building on it without first acquiring the right to do so, be it a park, bike path, commercial development, whatever, because they don't own it.

"Lobby for a bored tunnel through Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton."

"I have been constantly urging the Town Council to support this approach"

If you've only been urging the Atherton town council, why haven't you also been "urging" the city of Menlo Park and San Mateo county for your large-scale vision?

"Payment could be from very long term bonds, Standford, local donors etc."

I see you omitted taxes from your list. You're talking about a multi-generation sales and/or property tax increase.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 6:17 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"If you've only been urging the Atherton town council, why haven't you also been "urging" the city of Menlo Park and San Mateo county for your large-scale vision?"

Because I am only one person - I cannot and don't speak for others.

The silence is telling.....


3 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 6:37 pm

"Because I am only one person - I cannot and don't speak for others.

The silence is telling....."

It kind of puts the kybosh on your grand vision involving multiple agencies if you or others aren't lobbying those agencies for it.

You could submerge the trains through Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, even all 16 (by my count) communities on the ROW. This is a taste of the challenges involved in getting so many agencies involved, specifically, the communities that don't already have plans for grade separation. A city like San Carlos has already separated the tracks and won't even deal with the subject.

Your enthusiasm is admirable but eventually reality sets in.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 6:41 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Democracy is hard work - clearly there are not many who are prepared to make the effort.

If you want cheap then you will get cheap.


2 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 6:42 pm

"There isn't enough room to dive to operating depth between the MV border and Adobe Creek."

The 2% trench proposal addresses this.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2017 at 6:59 pm

@The silence is telling.....

Probably because it's a bad idea, sorry, you're living in a fantasy world if you think that is even possible. The city has already had 100+ years to fix this and they haven't gotten much closer. That's why I support closing the roadways, caltrain passengers shouldn't have to put their lives on the line just because Palo Altans can't figure out "wait until it's clear on the other side before crossing the tracks"


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 7:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

King George to the colonials - "You are living in a fantasy world...."

Fortunately there were those who had the vision and courage to take the hard road.


3 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 7:15 pm

"caltrain passengers shouldn't have to put their lives on the line just because Palo Altans can't figure out 'wait until it's clear on the other side before crossing the tracks'"

You'll have to come up with a better straw man than that. Name one train passenger who has died for the reason you give in the 150+ years of the trains' existence, together with the date of the incident.

Years ago I proposed installing crossing cameras with a $500 fine for violating the CVC section you allude to. It's an idea so simple, even a city-council person could think of it. It wouldn't achieve grade separation but a $500 ticket would get people's attention and would eventually generate revenue until the crossings are separated. It could be implemented within a matter of months.

It's such a good idea, it could never happen in Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 7:30 pm

"It's a dumb decision, but they're going to close Castro Street."

They did the exact same thing in Palo Alto decades ago. Have you ever wondered why California Avenue doesn't cross the tracks? It used to, until they closed it years ago. Calif. Ave. was never a major traffic-bearing artery anyway.


1 person likes this
Posted by jb
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2017 at 7:32 pm

I always find it helpful to price things out in more concrete terms for infrastructure because it's easy to get excited about proposals without internalizing the costs.

At $1.15B, a trench would cost the average Palo Alto household $46,000 in today's money (actual payments would be higher because it's paid over time with interest).

I'm a resident of a neighboring community, a daily Caltrain rider, and big proponent of mass transit. Something clearly needs to be done with grade separation but glad I'm glad I'm not paying that bill.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 7:47 pm

"At $1.15B, a trench would cost the average Palo Alto household $46,000 in today's money (actual payments would be higher because it's paid over time with interest)."

...until you factor in the inevitable "cost overruns" which can realistically double or treble the cost, cf. the bay bridge.


7 people like this
Posted by Make it a park
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2017 at 7:48 pm

We need a city council with a vision of how the city should look in 50 to 100 years. I envision a connected city East to West with a wide long park running the length of the city that bikers and walkers can enjoy. This in on top of the trenched train.

This won't happen overnight and a plan is needed to perhaps start at the easier end of the city - Charleston and Meadow and work our way North. Yes it will take time and money, other intersections will need to be redone, but it is doable and can be wonderful. Just don't cover this area with development. We have enough of that. Make it a city long park. With the push to turn the city into Manhattan - it will be our Central Park.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 8:50 pm

Make it a park: How much do you estimate it will cost to acquire the right-of-way from Caltrain?


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2017 at 9:33 pm

"The 2% trench proposal addresses this."

Does it move the creek or the city limit? A bored tunnel is deeper down than a ditch.


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Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2017 at 9:42 pm

"Does it move the creek or the city limit?"

Read the proposal.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2017 at 10:23 pm

"Read the proposal."

Don't you know offhand? It's a key point.


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Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 12:18 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Curm - FWIW

"a maximum grade of 2% is used to minimize the length of the trench while avoiding impacts to the creeks. Using this alternative, the trench will begin just south of the Matadero Creek. It will pass under Baron Creek, Meadow Dr, Charleston Rd, and Adobe Creek, and will return to grade just north of San Antonio Rd."


2 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2017 at 1:53 am

"the trench will begin just south of the Matadero Creek."

This is the wisdom of that plan. It doesn't waste millions on crossings which are already grade separated (Oregon, Embarcadero, University).


5 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2017 at 7:44 am

Since 2010 the CC has passed resolution after resolution declaring a north to south trench as city policy for HSR. The rail corridor task force endorsed a trench from MV to MP. Everything after that is a technical or financial question. If the engineers come back and tell us a deep tunnel is cheaper than a trench after all the construction costs are factored in, I’m sure the community will accept that alternative (and yes there are technical issues with freight, but the freight rights are up for sale right now. Buy them already, Caltrain).

As far as paying for the trench or tunnel, we need to look to the nascent TMA members as primary funders for capacity upgrades. Couple billion dollars from the TMA members and Stanford, few hundred million from Measure B and perhaps $500M (bonded over 30 years) from the rest of us.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2017 at 10:54 am

"a maximum grade of 2% is used to minimize the length of the trench while avoiding impacts to the creeks. Using this alternative, the trench will begin just south of the Matadero Creek. It will pass under Baron Creek, Meadow Dr, Charleston Rd, and Adobe Creek, and will return to grade just north of San Antonio Rd."

... for an open ditch. How about for a bored tunnel, which would be substantially deeper?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 19, 2017 at 11:14 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

A bored tunnel would require grades only at either end and the rest of the tunnel would be flat.

The bored tunnel would be deep enough to go beneath all the creeks and existing underpasses.

The only surface disruption during construction would be at the entry and exit ramps/grades and at each station where a vertical access shaft would be needed.


7 people like this
Posted by No trench, please
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 19, 2017 at 11:20 am

Trenching is too slow, too intrusive, and extremely expensive-- to say nothing of impracticality.

Elevate the tracks, or, do what Sunnyvale did in the first half of the last century: build overpasses at the crossings.

If any trenching is done, trench under the tracks and make underpasses!


5 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2017 at 1:04 pm

"A bored tunnel would require grades only at either end and the rest of the tunnel would be flat."

If those grades are > 2% it won't fly with Caltrain. If they're > 1% but < 2% it will require an exemption from Caltrain.

"at each station where a vertical access shaft would be needed"

Those would be Calif. Ave. and Palo Alto. By the time you reach those stations you've tunneled under existing grade-separated crossings and have pissed away millions in doing so.

There isn't room for a 1% or a 2% grade from the Palo Alto station to the creek if you're going to go over the creek. If you're thinking you'll tunnel under the creek, you're back to that fantasy project of involving Menlo Park and San Mateo County which can't get off the ground.

Do you own stock in a tunnel-boring company? Nice of you to come here from Atherton and spend Palo Alto's money.


28 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2017 at 1:56 pm

This is supposed to be the most affluent and productive regions in the United States. LA just built the 17 mile-long underground Red Line. Why can't we build a bored tunnel?

Do it once, do it right. Pay for it with a tax on real-estate development.

Real-estate developers made tremendous fortunes causing our traffic problems and they will be the biggest beneficiaries of increased Caltrain electrification, so it is only right that they should pay the lion's share of the cost.

Let's face it, Caltrain really isn't a mass transit system. It only serves less than 1% of the Peninsula's population. Caltrain is really just an advertising gimmick to help real-estate developers sell office space and "close to transportation" stack-n-pack to car-phobic millennials before they outgrow the idea of living in 500 square-feet.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2017 at 2:26 pm

There was another news report this morning about Bay Area traffic getting worse.

The report I heard mentioned that public transportation was one of the key factors in getting rid of the gridlock across the region. It had numbers showing that BART and Caltrain ridership is continuing to climb and that increasing ridership is paramount to getting this region moving.

For this reason, it has to be public transportation that is one of the major goals of the reason. The fact that so many big companies such as Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. are becoming transportation companies for their own workers shows that they get it. However, buses on our already crowded roads can't be the only solution.

These big companies have both money and political clout. They need to be the ones investing in transportation infrastructure since they are the ones with the most workers who need to be transported on a daily basis. They will have to be part of the solution. And in my opinion they are becoming experts on how to run transportation companies better than VTA or any of the other agencies administrators. We can't look at say Caltrain without looking at first and last mile solutions that work hand in glove.

Anyway, the long and the short of it as far as I can see is that Google, Facebook, Apple, etc. should be appealed to for improving Caltrain and also for improving the connectors and infrastructure that support it. If they want trains running every 10 minutes, then they have to understand that at grade crossings won't work.

They can do more than the City of Palo Alto, to get things moving at real speed. They can get adjoining cities and adjoining agencies to talk to each other. They can do what ordinary citizens and individual cities seem unable to do. They can in fact move mountains, or creeks, or whatever else is the problem to trenching.

Let them have a say in what is going to happen and let them come up with the funds, grants, etc. to make it happen.


15 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 2:53 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Resident - Affordable housing, caltrain electrification, the new urban density, etc... These are all effectively corporate welfare for the big companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple. Why pay employees more when you can have the cities subsidize housing and transportation. Keep that in mind if the city tries to do something crazy like float a billion dollar bond to build tunnel or trench.


12 people like this
Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 19, 2017 at 2:57 pm

Here's a solution: Deep six high speed rail. It's a solution to a problem that we don't have. The project has already ballooned in cost and you know that it will end up costing more to ride the high speed choo-choo than it does to fly to LA. They've already broken their promises on the cost. Trust me, this fiasco will end up costing the tax payers a pretty penny to keep running the future, even though they promised that it wouldn't. I smell another Bay Bridge in the making here - over budget, not safe, and full of problems...Get rid of high speed rail, at least for now. High speed rail is something we can do further down the road, if we actually need it.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2017 at 7:01 pm

"... do what Sunnyvale did in the first half of the last century: build overpasses at the crossings."

Too feasible. Simple overpasses, crossing over Alma with no connections to it, would do the job at minimal cost and will therefore not be considered further. Now to get back to the business at hand...


" "at each station where a vertical access shaft would be needed" [snip] Those would be Calif. Ave. and Palo Alto. By the time you reach those stations you've tunneled under existing grade-separated crossings and have pissed away millions in doing so."

Those grade-separated crossings are paid for and way obsolete. Fill 'em up with the tunnel tailings and pave 'em over.

I think we should include a brass firehouse pole in each of those access shafts to serve late passengers. Commuting should be fun.


"There isn't room for a 1% or a 2% grade from the Palo Alto station to the creek if you're going to go over the creek."

Continue under the creek and surface at RWC. Menlo and Atherton have grade crossings to subvert.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2017 at 9:38 pm

"Here's a solution: Deep six high speed rail."

Brilliant idea! Another voice in a growing chorus. Unfortunately, your solution doesn't grade separate Palo Alto.

Cash-and-Carry Jerry will be out of office soon. Find me a candidate who will pull the plug on HSR and I'll vote for him or her. Can you find such a candidate? I can't.

"Why can't we build a bored tunnel?"

Cough up enough billions and a bored tunnel is yours. For how many years did you say you were willing to pay that increased sales and property tax? And your kids and grandkids who will still be subsidizing HSR in perpetuity? Get San Mateo county on board and you can tunnel all the way to RWC or even south city. Go ahead, get all those communities in San Mateo county to agree to pay for your tunnel.

"something crazy like float a billion dollar bond to build tunnel or trench."

See above. Which is crazier: a billion-dollar bond or a five-mile, multi-billion-dollar tunnel under already-grade-separated crossings, financed by sales- and property-tax increases on Palo Alto's inventory of $2-million homes?

Isn't "community input" great?


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 19, 2017 at 10:11 pm

"Which is crazier: a billion-dollar bond or a five-mile, multi-billion-dollar tunnel under already-grade-separated crossings, financed by sales- and property-tax increases on Palo Alto's inventory of $2-million homes?"

This is even crazier, because it's logical: let the tunnel users pay via trainfare hikes and road tolls at the former crossings. I mean, ain't it worth a few bucks to not have a 70 MPH train drawing a bead on your Bimmer?


10 people like this
Posted by Who's gonna pay
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2017 at 10:45 pm

In the end, the tracks will be elevated in Palo Alto because (a) there are existing underpasses and (b) the commonfolk are already financially strapped paying Silicon Valley rents or mortgages.

Yet no one mentions that we have tech titans in our midst who could pay for a tunnel with change found in the seat cushions of their Teslas.

Nobless oblige, anyone?


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Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2017 at 11:10 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Who's gonna pay & Resident - If you want "tech titans" to pay for public transit, there is a mechanism for that called taxes. Begging to help poor Palo Alto out isn't as effective. But if you do want to go for the on your knees approach, at least tell the architectural review board to approve all their home renovation plans so they are in the giving mood.


4 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2017 at 11:54 pm

"the commonfolk are already financially strapped paying Silicon Valley rents or mortgages."

It's easy to forget that Palo Alto is filled with people who aren't named Steven Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.


11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 19, 2017 at 11:58 pm

@Larry Cohn,

You should go back and reread my post for comprehension. I didn't say we should raise property taxes or sales taxes to pay for a bored tunnel. I said:

"Do it once, do it right. Pay for it with a tax on real-estate DEVELOPMENT".


3 people like this
Posted by Just a Question
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:02 am

I'm just wondering whether the Caltrain could continue to operate on it's current tracks if there were boring activity going on underneath?
Otherwise, what is the plan for the train/tracks while the trenching were being done. That will take years to complete.


3 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:40 am

"Caltrain could continue to operate on its current tracks if there were boring activity going on underneath?"

I'm not an engineer but I would imagine so. It would make a good case for doing the work with a minimum of surface disruption. There would still be big trucks hauling away the bored-out earth.

That said, it would be foolhardy and would waste lots of money to tunnel north of Matadero creek where the crossings are already separated (unless you own stock in a tunnel-boring company).


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Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2017 at 2:01 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Larry - there are four at grade crossings in Palo Alto, two are north of Matadero: Churchill and Alma/Palo Alto Ave.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 3:11 am

"there are four at grade crossings in Palo Alto, two are north of Matadero: Churchill and Alma/Palo Alto Ave."

Why spend millions tunneling under Oregon, Embarcadero and University which are already grade separated, to get to Churchill and Palo Alto Ave? The per-foot cost of tunneling is steep. This is why a San Carlos-style solution looks attractive for Churchill Ave.

At Palo Alto Ave. you have limited space, a city limit/county line, a creek and aquifers to deal with -- not easy. Tunneling to the S.F. creek won't work unless you get Menlo Park involved, and good luck with that.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 3:43 am

Here are some real-world tunneling costs, ranging from a low of $27 to a high of $439 million per mile, a median of $233 million per mile. That comes to $1,165, or one billion, 165 million for five miles.

Web Link

Tunneling halfway across town, say from Matadero creek to S.F. creek, would be 582.5 million to go under the already-grade-separated crossings, double that when "cost overruns" are taken into account.

One idea would be to tunnel under Churchill and bring the trains back to grade north of Paly High and south of University Ave. That would solve the problem of separating Churchill Ave. It wouldn't be cheap, though. The challenges involved in tunneling under University all the way to S.F. creek have already been described.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2017 at 7:21 am

Do we really want to become the Palo Alto roller coaster, under then over, over then under?


6 people like this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2017 at 11:17 am

Need to consider tunneling benefits from a long term growth opportunity - a transportation improvement that actually significantly improves transportation up and down the penninsula enables much higher housing density along the tracklines. That helps to solve the bigger issue - jobs and tech growth but no housing. If considered as a long term investment in the region then a regional authority, similar to the HSR funding model, would pay for it. Unlike the HSR, there are real passengers and real future growth that would justify the state, financial interests, and tech leaders to get behind the effort.

In addtion to quite a few jobs, Simply declaring the project would allow serious and coordinated planning of the corridor over the next few decades.


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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:50 pm

Maybe the local billionaires think there's something better to do with a billion or two of their money than putting a train in a trench? It seems like an incredible misallocation of resources.


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Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2017 at 1:13 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Larry Cohn - I'm just suggesting we keep the facts straight, there are 2 at grade crossings north of Matadero that shouldn't be left out of the discussion. The real "why tunnel" question s why do it at all when you could elevate the rail for a fraction of the cost, in a fraction of the time, and solve the problem the crossing problem just as well.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2017 at 4:18 pm

"In the end, the tracks will be elevated in Palo Alto ... "

In the end, however 'end' gets defined, the tracks and roads will stay right where they are because nobody will pony up the $$$ for the alternatives. It's that simple.

The era of American infrastructure investment has been over for half a century.


2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 20, 2017 at 5:36 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@curm - Measure B is $6.5 billion in infrastructure spending, so clearly people are willing to pony up. There is enough money there to elevate the tracks over at least 1 or 2 crossings (Charleston & Meadow would make sense), but not enough to trench or tunnel or fix all four crossings.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2017 at 9:02 pm

"Measure B is $6.5 billion in infrastructure spending, so clearly people are willing to pony up. There is enough money there to elevate the tracks over at least 1 or 2 crossings..."

This Measure B: Web Link? And just one or two crossroad hops for all that? Holy roller coaster, Batman.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 9:09 pm

"there are 2 at grade crossings north of Matadero that shouldn't be left out of the discussion."

Those are the two toughest crossings to grade separate. My current thinking is that a tunnel under everything, which comes up to grade around PAMF, is an effective way to go under Churchill. It would be very, very expensive, though, but if that's what Palo Altans want they'll have to pay accordingly. A referendum on tax increases would tell us if citizens are willing to pay. And do it all without taking any private property.

Again, Palo Alto Avenue has limited space, proximity to the creek, the city limit and county line, and aquifers, for starters.

"you could elevate the rail for a fraction of the cost, in a fraction of the time, and solve the problem the crossing problem just as well."

Aw, there you go being practical. I call it the "San Carlos solution" but it's really called a "hybrid" crossing. It really is the best, most cost-effective solution, but you'll hear cries of "Berlin wall", noise and "divides the city". I think it needs to be studied by the right engineering firm which Mott MacDonald did not do. I have a feeling it is feasible to do without taking one single parcel of property, but that's for a qualified engineering firm to decide.

So, Palo Altans, do you want to pay huge bucks for a tunnel, or have the "San Carlos solution", or sit in worsening traffic congestion waiting for passing trains during rush hour? The choice is yours.

I have a feeling none of those options will make Palo Altans stop acting like rich, spoiled children.


3 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2017 at 9:13 pm

This Measure B:

"vital projects for the North County, such as $700 million for Caltrain grade separation"

$700 million to be divided among Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto as I understand it.

Still want that multi-billion-dollar tunnel?


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Posted by Bob Nyden
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 22, 2017 at 3:46 pm

Ideally the tracks would use tunnels bored deep enough to go under existing Oregon, Embarcadero, University and San Fran. Creek. This would allow the existing tracks to remain mostly in situ until the new right-of-way was ready. Using rotary boring systems like those for the London Tube and elsewhere in the world, the excavated earth could be used to build up dikes to stave off the rising Bay, brought on by global warming. I can only imagine how many government agencies and citizen groups would have to agree before anything like this could happen.

Alternatively, I can envision a (probably cheaper) rail system raised on viaduct pylons like BART sometimes does and as is often found in Europe. This could also allow existing tracks to be used during construction with only modest alterations and would not be as physically divisive as solid raised berms. The land below the viaducts could be used for pedestrian/bike paths or housing.


9 people like this
Posted by Marie Bergere
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2017 at 4:41 pm

Here is a concept that will pay for itself out of fares box incomes and make train noise to almost nothing. Elevate the tracks over Palo Alto on a graceful arch on pylons. Begin raising at each city limit and with a 2% most grade to please the train people build a bell shape curve to a summit several hundreds feet above the ground. Think of the Silicon Valley view from there! Palo Alto will at last get on the map. It will be world famous. Passengers will happily pay higher fares to ride and pay more for the special open trains that stop at the summit. Nobody will complain on the ground because all they will see are some pylons.


2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2017 at 5:52 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Bob Nyden - A tunnel deep enough to go under Oregon Expy would require a heck of a remodel of the Cal Ave station. It probably would cost more than the total dollars available for this project.


3 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2017 at 5:48 pm

"go under existing Oregon, Embarcadero, University and San Fran. Creek."

How does Menlo Park feel about this?

"several hundreds feet above the ground"

How will this structure fare in an earthquake, cf. Cypress Viaduct 1989 and Mexico City 2017? It'll be topheavy with trains going over it.

"Passengers will happily pay higher fares to ride and pay more for the special open trains that stop at the summit."

Caltrain is subsidized. They can't make the system pay for itself out of farebox revenue let alone finance a construction project. Besides, the onus is on Palo Alto, not Caltrain, to finance grade sep. in Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by Marie Bergere II
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2017 at 9:48 am

"How does Menlo Park feel about this?"

The graceful arch will include at its apex a giant magnifying class that can be positioned to focus the sun's rays on terrestrial targets. If Menlo Park makes a fuss, we can fry 'em like ants. Portola Valley, you're in our sights too!

"How will this structure fare in an earthquake..."

In the event of an earthquake, a flock of ethically raised doves will deployed from the graceful arch that will support the structure and train(s) during the brief repair interva."

"Caltrain is subsidized. They can't make the system pay for itself out of farebox revenue..."

To make up the revenue shortfall, members of City Council will put in overtime providing foot massages to downtown residents.


6 people like this
Posted by Marie Bergere
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 24, 2017 at 12:54 pm

"How will this structure fare in an earthquake, cf. Cypress Viaduct 1989 and Mexico City 2017? It'll be topheavy with trains going over it."

It will fare as the 280 bridge on its very high pylons over Crystal Springs Canyon that is topheavy with trucks and cars will fare. You do ride on it, do you not?

Pay no attention to my child. He is a little silly in his head.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2017 at 4:11 pm

"Elevate the tracks over Palo Alto on a graceful arch on pylons."

This is the best plan yet, second to closing the rogue grade crossings.


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Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2017 at 5:20 pm

It would seem that putting the roadbed between or atop two vertical supports would be more stable than some other elevated designs I've seen. Think Golden Gate bridge.

Note how the roadbed is between the vertical members, so there is lateral support on either side. It seems to this non-engineer that it would stand a chance in a shaker. In Palo Alto you wouldn't build it that high, though.

You might have to drive piles pretty deep to hit bedrock with all the aquifers in the area.

Web Link


13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 24, 2017 at 7:41 pm

Quentin Kopp,the politician that introduced the original CalHSR legislation, now says CalHSR is "almost a crime". The system is slow, zig-zags 70 miles out of its way as a gift to favored real-estate developers, and is way, way over budget.

That's what happens when a system is designed to funnel local, state, and federal tax dollars through real-estate developers, construction companies and labor unions into campaign coffers, instead of to serve the transportation needs of the population.

Unfortunately Caltrain electrification is CalHSR in miniature and suffers from the same problems. Caltrain could have been electrified with battery powered cars for a fraction of the cost of a catenary system.

Palo Alto grade separation will be decided the same way. Whichever approach funnels the most benefits to construction companies, labor unions, and real-estate developers that contribute generously to the right political campaigns will win.

The Politician Behind California High Speed Rail Now Says It's 'Almost a Crime' (video): Web Link


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Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 24, 2017 at 9:01 pm

I've been making all of the points made in that video in this space for years (except about self-driving cars and a Hyperloop).

Caltrain electrification prepares the ROW for HSR and that's why it's being done. Caltrain would do just fine to continue running on diesel. Mark my words, electrification will NOT be a panacea for Caltrain,no way, no how.

When Cash-and-Carry Jerry leaves office, the new governor needs to sit down and be indoctrinated about HSR by Quentin Kopp, who has done a remarkable about-face since he was the head of CA HSR. It was on Cash-and-Carry Jerry's watch that Caltrans took over the unprofitable peninsula commute service from Southern Pacific in 1980. Today that service is known as Caltrain.

No matter who owns it, Caltrain gets cars off the freeways and that is a good thing. You can cite all the meaningless statistics you want about what percentage of the area's population Caltrain serves, but the area is better off with it than without it.

Re: CA HSR, there is a reason railroads such as Southern Pacific and Santa Fe got out of the passenger rail business. With the advent of jet air travel and the Interstate Highway system, passenger rail as a business became unprofitable. So they got out, concentrated on profitable freight, and Amtrak was set up in 1971. Today Amtrak loses millions and millions of U.S. tax dollars.

Caltrain has an unsung hero: Jackie Speier, who made the baby bullets a reality and has a Caltrain locomotive named after her.

A viaduct for Caltrain has possibilities. Palo Altans will cry "Berlin wall" and "divides the (already divided) city". They'll stop crying when they see the bill for a multi-billion-dollar tunnel.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2017 at 10:31 pm

"No matter who owns it, Caltrain gets cars off the freeways and that is a good thing. You can cite all the meaningless statistics you want about what percentage of the area's population Caltrain serves, but the area is better off with it than without it."

One could use that rationalization to justify any non-car carrier, like a once-daily luxury helicopter flight.

The question is, is Caltrain worth multibillion$ in additional investment?


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 24, 2017 at 10:45 pm

"...passenger rail as a business became unprofitable. So they got out, concentrated on profitable freight...""

The railroads convinced themselves that passenger service had to go, no matter how profitable a given run was, because "passenger trains delayed freight."

So they made passenger travel ever more miserable to kill it off, succeeded, then began going bankrupt because they were unable to compete with government subsidized motor freight in the highly profitable point to point business. They were also much too inefficient through long habit.

Railroads were only saved by massive uniload freight service (think mile-long coal trains), and ultimately by long distance containerized freight.

As far as government subsidies to transportation, try getting around off your own property without a government subsidy. Even the sidewalks are socialized.


1 person likes this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 25, 2017 at 12:34 am

"The question is, is Caltrain worth multibillion$ in additional investment?"

For grade sep in Palo Alto, yes, but not for multi billions.

For electrification, no way in Hades. Read my comments above. It's preparing the ROW for HSR. Electrification won't be the panacea for Caltrain they're selling it to the gullible public as. It runs just fine on diesel. Electrification is maybe a long-term evolutionary plan, but not the rush job it's become. Let's get Palo Alto grade separated along with the other communities on the peninsula, then we'll talk about electrification.

In hindsight, the baby bullets have been successful and were money well spent. And what do they run on? Diesel!


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2017 at 2:36 pm

We already have electric trains, ferheavensake. Hybrids, no less. Like Priuses. They make their own electricity right on board. No ugly dangerous wires hanging around the tracks. What more could people want?


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Curmudgeon,

Caltrain's current diesel locomotives are not hybrids as we have come to know them and are nothing like the sophisticated system in a Prius.

The big difference is the Prius has a large battery. A battery that is powerful enough to move the car even when the internal combustion engine is not running. This allows an on board computer to decide when to run the internal combustion engine, when to move the car on battery power alone, and when to use both. The ability to switch between electrical power provided by the internal combustion engine and power from the battery (at the right times) has a dramatic effect on efficiency, emissions, and noise.

Caltrain's diesels can't do what a Prius does, but there are true hybrid locomotives that can.


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Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2017 at 7:12 am

Take Caltrain to the city and look at any streetcar or trolley coach. No internal combustion engine on board.

Then look up at the lovely catenary. That's what Palo Altans will be crying about: "those ugly overhead wires". "Berlin wall, divides the city, waa, waa, waa" ... we've heard it all before.


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Posted by Ralph Eckland
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 26, 2017 at 10:27 am

Put in a light weight overhead Bart system along the existing train tracks.

Run the heavy trains across the repaired Dumbarton train bridge to Redwood City.


2 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 26, 2017 at 10:35 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

Web Link


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Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 26, 2017 at 11:14 am

@john_alderman

Look! No ugly overhead wires!

Why did they put handlebars on a vehicle that can't be steered?


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm

^ same reason there are handlebars on stationary bikes at the gym.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2017 at 8:09 pm

"The ability to switch between electrical power provided by the internal combustion engine and power from the battery (at the right times) has a dramatic effect on efficiency, emissions, and noise."

Don't forget that all the energy in that battery pack comes from the Prius' gasoline motor. Some of it is energy regenerated during downgrades and slowdowns, but it all originates in the internal combustion engine (Prius Prime partially excepted), just like the locomotives.

So go hybrid!


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 26, 2017 at 11:58 pm

Curmodeon,

Seriously, do you really think Toyota puts a very expensive lithium-ion battery pack in the Prius for nothing?

Of course all of the energy in a true hybrid's battery comes from the internal combustion engine, but internal combustion engines operate much more efficiently while running at an ideal constant speed, than when they are forced to accelerate. By banking energy in the battery and then using it for acceleration (instead of the IC engine), true hybrids can accelerate more efficiently and also recover energy when decelerating... unlike Caltrain's current locomotives.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2017 at 3:39 pm

" ... internal combustion engines operate much more efficiently while running at an ideal constant speed, than when they are forced to accelerate."

Locomotive designers know that and design their babies accordingly. Automobile engineers likewise, which is why the multispeed transmission exists. The battery in a hybrid auto provides reserve power for frequent short-term accelerations. Trains vary their speed as little as possible and don't need that kind of reserve.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 27, 2017 at 3:55 pm

We need jack-rabbit starts from every Caltrain stop. Take those nausea pills.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 27, 2017 at 3:58 pm

Some additional discussion:

Web Link


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