News

Dreams of a train tunnel slip away

Citing costs and obstacles, city prepares to abandon idea of a city-long tunnel

Building an underground rail system from one of end of Palo Alto to another would cost between $2.4 billion and $4 billion, depending on the design, according to a new study by the consulting firm Mott MacDonald. Map by Kristin Brown.

For nearly a decade, Palo Alto's elected leaders and residents have advocated for construction of underground rail tracks to accommodate California's high-speed rail system and Caltrain, which is planning to add more trains as part of its electrification project.

But with a new study highlighting the high costs and steep engineering challenges of the project, city officials are preparing to pull the plug on the idea and to consider less ambitious and less costly methods for separating the train tracks from the city's roadways. Instead, they are focusing on the idea of digging an open trench only in the southern half of the city, which would affect the railway's intersections with Charleston Road and Meadow Drive.

The strategic shift was prompted in large part by a new study from the city's consulting firm, Mott MacDonald, which identified the constraints for constructing a city-long trench or tunnel as well as estimated the costs of moving ahead with either project. The white paper made the case that while a trench going through the entire city is technically feasible, the project would face a series of significant obstacles in the northern half of the city -- issues that could push the price tag to well above $2 billion.

Among the biggest obstacles is the San Francisquito Creek. The city would need to go through a rigorous process to obtain permits from various agencies and then dig nearly 60 feet underground to accommodate the new rail system. Digging in the north would carry political challenges because of the proximity of the Palo Alto Avenue intersection to Menlo Park, where the train tracks would need to return to street level.

According to the Mott MacDonald study, it would take the tracks 2,975 feet in distance to climb back up in Menlo Park. To accommodate this ascent, the city would need to get approval from Caltrain to have a 2 percent slope for the tracks (the agency has a design standard of 1 percent).

Yet the biggest issue is cost. The study estimates that building an underground rail system from one end of the city to another would cost between $2.4 billion and $4 billion, depending on the design. The two most expensive options are a cut-and-cover tunnel (between $3.3 billion and $4 billion) and two deep-bored tunnels ($2.8 million to $3.4 billion). But even the cheapest alternative -- an open trench through the entire city -- has an estimated price tag of $2.4 billion to $2.9 billion.

By contrast, digging a trench only in the southern half of the city would cost between $500 million and $700 million if the trench only goes to Charleston, and between $750 million and $1 billion if it goes under Charleston and Meadow.

The City Council has yet to officially rule out a tunnel or a trench along the entire city. But after receiving the study, City Manager James Keene made a case in a memo that moving ahead with such a system could be very difficult and "practically unworkable." In his memo, he noted that the cost estimates in the Mott MacDonald report don't include key components of the project, including reconstructing the overpasses at University Avenue, Embarcadero Road and Oregon Expressway crossings to accommodate the new train alignment.

He also noted that the project would require approval not just from Menlo Park, where residents would see significant construction impact from work on the north end of the line, but from various state and regional agencies, including the California Public Utilities Commission, Caltrain, Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara Valley Water District. Staff doesn't not believe it can secure all these approvals, Keene wrote.

"Our staff believes that while trenching and tunneling under the entire City of Palo Alto may be technically feasible as demonstrated in the white paper, there are significant issues that make these options practically unworkable from a political (interagency) and financial perspective," Keene wrote. "However, trenching under a portion of the City -- specifically the Meadow and Charleston crossings or just the Charleston crossing -- could appear to merit further analysis as we move forward with our planning process."

Not everyone is sold on this approach. One resident, Steven Rosenblum, strongly objected to the staff conclusion that most underground options are too expensive. The analysis, he said, didn't sufficiently consider the revenue potential of going under and selling development rights over the right of way. He argued that staff's conclusion about the cut-and-cover trench and twin tunnels being cost-prohibitive is premature.

"Isn't that a decision for the people of Palo Alto and the council to make?" Rosenblum asked.

But two members of City Council's Rail Committee said Wednesday that they largely agree with staff's conclusion. Councilman Greg Scharff argued Wednesday that given the cost estimates and regulatory challenges, it's time to abandon these options.

"I fear this notion of a citywide trench or tunnel is distracting from the real work that needs to be done," Scharff said.

Committee Chair Cory Wolbach also said he is inclined to abandon the costliest alternatives, though he was reluctant to do so immediately. Though he acknowledged that these once popular alternatives now appear highly unlikely, he said he wanted to give residents who feel strongly about the topic an opportunity to make their case. Wolbach suggested delaying the decision on eliminating the most expensive option until the committee's next meeting, which is scheduled for March 21.

"It's on the chopping block," Wolbach said, in reference to an underground system stretching through the entire city. "You can get a reprieve, but you have to make the case. We need a chance to, as a community, consider our real options really thoroughly."

The committee voted 2-1, with Lydia Kou absent and Adrian Fine dissenting, to concur with staff's conclusion that citywide options for going underground "do not look promising," but that open-trench options for the West Meadow and Charleston crossings "merit further study."

Fine, in expressing his opposition, said the city needs to do more analysis and get more community feedback before it eliminates some of the more ambitious alternatives. The city, he said, needs to do more analysis on "value capture" -- selling development rights to pay for the underground structure -- before completely abandoning the idea.

"I know it's a complex issue in itself, but I don't think we have the ability to take things off the table unless we've done due diligence in explaining why they should be taken off the table," Fine said.

The Rail Committee's discussion came at a time when the topic of grade separation is becoming increasingly urgent for the council, which has committed to reaching a decision about a preferred design before the end of the year. Palo Alto officials are preparing for significant increases in Caltrain service -- to about 10 trains in each direction during peak hours.For drivers looking to cross the tracks, this will mean significant delays, with gates coming down roughly every three minutes.

In addition, Palo Alto is hoping to tap into funds from Measure B, a 2016 county measure that allocates $700 million for grade separation work in north Santa Clara County. The funding would presumably be split between Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Palo Alto. To date, Palo Alto has lagged behind the other two cities in identifying its preferred alternative and council members are now playing catch-up.

Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello said Wednesday that his staff is now in the process of winnowing down the roughly 40 alternatives on the table to somewhere between four and eight. The goal is to bring the final options to the City Council for consideration by November, according to a schedule released this week.

Staff plans to present the white paper and solicit community feedback at March 6 meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road.

Related content:

Webcast: Redesigning rail

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Correction: This article stated an incorrect start time for a March 6 meeting on rail grade separation. The presentation will begin at 6:30 p.m. Palo Alto Online regrets the errors.

Comments

50 people like this
Posted by realist
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 2:01 pm

Tunneling or trenching the train tracks has always been a hoax or stall. No one proposing a trench or tunnel has ever had a realistic plan for paying for it. Meanwhile, 10 years have gone by and costs have skyrocketed for even the simplest grade separations. Is this what the stallers wanted all along?


17 people like this
Posted by Undergrounding Could Harm Traffic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 21, 2018 at 2:30 pm

There's another problem with trenches and tunnels from Oregon north that never gets discussed, namely that it would likely make car traffic worse. The current underpasses at Oregon, Embarcadero, and University would have to be removed if the train goes underground there. Building overpasses at those three intersections would add a lot to the cost and might require taking nearby properties - the two things people don't want. But if you don't build overpasses, you'd have to put stoplights on Alma at Oregon, Embarcadero, and University. Those new intersections would be extremely busy and add enormously to travel time. So we'd spend billions and end up with worse traffic problems! Insane.


11 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 3:06 pm

All three options studied by Mott MacDonald: open trench, cut-and-cover trench and bored tunnels, call for pumping stations to evacuate storm water. Suppose a storm knocks out power to the pumps as recently happened at Oregon Expwy. The trench/tunnel could become impassable as storm water accumulates which can't be evacuated because the pumps have failed, thus completely shutting down Caltrain service, leaving thousands of commuters stranded, as well as shutting down U.P. freight and potentially CA HSR. A trench or tunnel has no natural drainage, a consideration which must not be discounted.

It is worth noting that the Mott MacDonald study omitted all other non-trench, non-tunnel options.


16 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 3:17 pm

"10 years have gone by and costs have skyrocketed for even the simplest grade separations. Is this what the stallers wanted all along?"

CPA has moved at a glacial pace on this. Years and years have gone by with no action on grade sep. — none, not even a concept or a plan. Now with "CSS", Palo Alto is starting all over again from square one, as if all of the planning and discussion that took place years ago had simply evaporated. Meanwhile, other peninsula communities have had the problem licked for years.

Maybe you're onto something.


13 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Posted by realist, a resident of Midtown

>> Tunneling or trenching the train tracks has always been a hoax or stall. No one proposing a trench or tunnel has ever had a realistic plan for paying for it.

The goal of grade separation while maintaining usable walkable bike-able paths from one side to the other has always been the goal. It is only annoying to people who only see the auto side of the requirement. I'm not convinced that it can't be paid for, but, there may not be the political will to see this as a regional issue.

>> Meanwhile, 10 years have gone by and costs have skyrocketed for even the simplest grade separations. Is this what the stallers wanted all along?

I have to comment on this assertion again. Prices depend inflation and supply-and-demand, which, in the building industry, depends on where we are in the business cycle. Long term, factoring in inflation and the business cycle, costs of most construction goes down over time. I agree that sometimes government funding has certain time windows, but, "costs have skyrocketed" is a tired assertion. We do happen to be in a construction boom-- let's get the plan straight now, and, implement during the next downturn.

According to BLS statistics, long-term productivity growth per year in single-home construction is about 1.1%, multifamily home construction 1.9%, and 5.3% in commercial construction. One reason that actual costs don't always decline is that people demand higher quality over time. I believe that may have been true with highways and bridges, so, it could be true with a rail right-of-way as well, but, just keep in mind that for the same level of quality, construction productivity has gone up over time for a long time.

Back on this project, there may be a way to build the Meadow/Charleston section below grade, in such a way that eventually, the northern section can be fixed also. Any new construction should assume that below grade is the ultimate goal, when the money becomes available.


14 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 3:36 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I think there should be an evaluation of the potential income from selling air rights before all hope is gone for tunneling trenching. I've never seen any analysis of this.


11 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2018 at 3:46 pm

"It is worth noting that the Mott MacDonald study omitted all other non-trench, non-tunnel options."

This old fallacy. No, the previous MMD study did talk about non-trench, non-tunnel options. Unless you go full Berlin Wall, you will end up taking properties. I guess you have to read it to see it.

What is not talked about is that by only trenching/tunneling South Palo Alto, you're essentially closing Churchill and Palo Alto Ave. crossings thanks to the expected Caltrain service increase from electrification. Any traffic that used to go through Churchill or Palo Alto Avenue to be added to the traffic on Embarcadero, University and Oregon Expressway. It will also drive even more traffic to Middlefield to get to Menlo Park to cross over at Ravenswood.


10 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 21, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Today's Palo Alto Daily Post printed a letter from Herb Borock -- sorry, no link available -- pointing out that Mott MacDonald, the consulting firm that wrote this opinion appears to have a conflict of interest.

Specifically, Mott MacDonald also works on rail station planning projects which are funded by the California High Speed Rail Authority.

If you watch the Palo Alto City Council meetings, you know that Mr. Borock is a meticulous researcher who often educates council members, as well as city leaders and attorneys, on laws, policies, etc.

Mr. Borock, if you are reading and see fit, please post the full text of your letter here.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2018 at 4:17 pm

What is being forgotten is that approximately half our high school students have to cross the tracks every school day. If the Meadow and Charleston crossings are trenched, what about Churchill?

The amount of students who cross at Churchill before and after school makes Churchill one of the busiest crossings for bikes and pedestrians, and that is not counting the staff and students who arrive by car as well as the school buses that need to use Churchill from the depot on the Paly campus. When Caltrain increases the number of trains it is going to make the school commute horrendous for those using Churchill.

Please do not forget about Churchill. It will cause havoc for school commutes if it is left at grade.


25 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 21, 2018 at 4:23 pm

Did they also take into account that deep-bored tunnels would cause no traffic problems during construction (and thus having more economic value)? It could also produce a few miles of really expensive land that could be used to build which would also reduce the bill further. It's amazing how little forward thinking people are here and having problem with one-time costs for something that will be here for a very long time. This should have been planed for the whole peninsula at once in one big plan that also takes into account the traffic patterns and really makes it possible to use public transport here to reduce traffic with cars that just doesn't scale. Now we're just stuck with an expensive public transport system that doesn't scale and a grid-lock on the streets that doesn't scale because everyone just makes their own private plans (and delays them, and delays them, ...)


8 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 4:42 pm

"I think there should be an evaluation of the potential income from selling air rights before all hope is gone for tunneling trenching. I've never seen any analysis of this."

Come on, Marie and "Me". It has been pointed out countless times that the City of Palo Alto does not own the land under the tracks. Caltrain is not going to simply give that valuable land away. CPA would have to either lease or purchase it. Factor in the cost of the purchase/lease, if PCJPB is even agreable to it, to the revenue from developing it. Then be prepared for the hue and cry that whatever you build on the former ROW is a "Berlin wall".

It would be imprudent for Caltrain to agree to a trench/tunnel given the flooding risks stated above.

The latest MM study omits any but a trench/tunnel solution.


10 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2018 at 4:44 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Why does it have to return to grade when it gets to MP/PA border? Is HSR seriously being done on a city by city basis? Is there no connection between cities? What if MP decides to trench their part? Does HSR need to return to grade at the border of EVERY city?

Mountain View mayor stated recently that Palo Alto is years away from figuring out what they're going to do. Meanwhile, MV is closing Castro and going after funds to assist them in their crossings. By the time PA figures things out, all of the money will be gone. Actually, by the time Palo Alto figures things out, Elon Musk will have already built the Hyperloop and we won't need HSR.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2018 at 4:45 pm

Can't we get Elon Musk to drill the tunnel? He seems to be about to start doing so between NY and DC.


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2018 at 4:50 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> What is being forgotten is that approximately half our high school students have to cross the tracks every school day. If the Meadow and Charleston crossings are trenched, what about Churchill?

Not forgotten, but, the political will is apparently not there right now.

My hope is that we can go ahead with the trenched Charleston/Meadow section quickly, and, set it up so that in the future, when deep boring is even cheaper (e.g. Elon Musk's Boring Company), a bored section from Charleston to M.P. can be added.


8 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 5:02 pm

"Why does it have to return to grade when it gets to MP/PA border?"

Because SM county, Menlo Park, Atherton and the cities north have no plans to build a trench/tunnel, so it can't be extended into SM county.


49 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 21, 2018 at 5:14 pm

Close the grade crossings. Problem solved.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2018 at 5:17 pm

@Curmudgeon.

I have seen you say this several times.

If you have a serious idea about what to do after that then please let me know. There is talk about Mountain View closing Castro Street crossing. If you have some follow through plans to your idea, please share them. Otherwise, you are just clogging up the thread.


11 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2018 at 7:24 pm

The Mott MacDonald study was commissioned by the city (from a tunneling firm, no less!) under very narrow parameters, and forbade studying any options that raise the rails or the roads even one inch. Split grade (rail up 10 to 15 feet, road down 5 to 10 feet) has never been seriously studied in Palo Alto; all we had was the full-elevation four-track paint-by-numbers "Berlin Wall" proposed by consultants working for the high-speed rail authority, shown in this visual simulation:

Web Link

That brutalist vision understandably gave Palo Alto an allergic reaction to elevated solutions, and wasted almost a whole decade. Perhaps we can now return to a reasonable discussion of feasible alternatives.


1 person likes this
Posted by George
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 21, 2018 at 7:45 pm

For a community that can’t even decide if it wants to grow to be a city or remain a town, or if this issue is a short term town fix rather than a regional, long term joint plan the solution is so much more elusive. If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there (but more slowly iand at greater risk f you have to cross the PA tracks).

Trenching is the solution if the town is going big. If people are ready to sign off on a $100 billion plus HSR boondoggle why not a solution that would really accelerate intercity travelel between SF and SJ. Of course it couldn’t be done with a small town budget and city staff - it’s a big, big project, like other big cities do.

I’m sure Uncle Elon could get this done.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2018 at 8:15 pm

Here is a document that shows the expected SPLs to be expected under various conditions.

Web Link





5 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 8:16 pm

"forbade studying any options that raise the rails or the roads even one inch. Split grade (rail up 10 to 15 feet, road down 5 to 10 feet) has never been seriously studied in Palo Alto"

As Palo Alto is wont to do, it seems they are starting all over again at square one on the matter of grade sep, so why not consider split-grade crossings this time around and have them study it if you're going to commission another study from MM? HSR is no longer contemplating a four-track solution but instead is going with a "blended approach" (if it happens at all) with passing tracks here and there, so things have changed.

I envision that Palo Alto will wind up with a trench or tunnel under Charleston & Meadow which is vulnerable to flooding and leave Churchill and Palo Alto Ave. just as they are now.

After pissing away a decade


15 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 9:01 pm

Locally lifing the tracks and lowering alms and local crossings at charleston, east meadow and churchlill is the compromise needed to move on.

This is a health and safety issue that must be solved as quickly and rxpediently as possible.

The wealthy land owners in Palo Alto will never pay the full costs of of the extremely expensive tunnel or trench options. Why should the state, federal government sink billions into one of americas most wealthy cities because a few can't stand the sight of concrete.

Look at how Caltrain grade separates on the rest of the peninsula. These are very acceptable solutions to the death and carnage that Palo Alto continues by fighting all external help to fix this major hazard.

Lifting the tracks 10 ft at 3 (or more) cross streets while lowering the roads is an easy, and affordable solution that will make alma and Palo Alto better.

The train tracks and the heinous alma expressway have always been a wall splitting Palo Alto. Lifting the tracks slightly will allow Palo Alto to add more crossings to bridge the awful alma divide. Let's stop pretending a short concrete wall or viaduct would make it any worse than those 4 lanes of asphalt.

Instead of suing everyone trying to solve Palo Alto's train death problem, maybe it's time for the city to take charge and get this work started.


7 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2018 at 9:18 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

There must be money built into the HSR bond that gets the train through Palo Alto. How much is that, and can't that be added to whatever Palo Alto comes up with?

I think it's horrid that cities and counties come up with individual solutions as to how HSR travels. How much extra money is being spent due to the fact that communities aren't working together? How many people are being displaced due to the fact that Palo Alto can't trench north due to San Mateo County being at grade. What an inane way to complete a project of this size.


19 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 9:26 pm

The price tag of CA HSR keeps ballooning. I doubt there are sufficient funds available to grade separate Palo Alto together with all 15 other communities on the Caltrain corridor AND solve all of the problems associated with building HSR from L.A. to S.F. — if it happens.

With any luck, when cash and carry Jerry is gone the next governor will pull the plug on the whole project.


20 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 21, 2018 at 10:04 pm

A tunnel is by far the most expensive option. However, it also offers the greatest long term reward; the trains, what ever they may be and how ever many there might be, would be literally out of sight and out of mind for generations to come. In addition, there could be hundreds of acres of prime peninsula real estate made available to recoup a lot of the cost, again, literally on top of mass transit.

Our city govt has failed on this research in my opinion. They assumed that Palo Alto would be the sole source of income to pay for this project. Unfortunately that may be the truth, but I am unaware that the city has thoroughly explored state and federal funding sources. Where there ever any conversations with our state and federal representatives specifically about this topic? The city has also apparently ignored repeated the suggestion from some in Menlo Park to tunnel from RWC to Sunnyvale. Thus eliminating the 2% grade issues of connecting to rail in Menlo Park. It seems that 'our' study was for a short segment of rail, only in Palo Alto, and in a vacuum, completely oblivious of what may or may not happen in Mtn. View, or to the north in Menlo Park.

Sorry, I consider this study a failure of leadership, a expedition completely lacking vision for the future of this town, and after so many years of studies and hand wringing, this is it? Really? This could have been done decades ago for so much less. Sadly, I will not be surprised if the preferred plans from the transportation department come with the latest fads some how incorporated into the rail line, think traffic circles for trains, bulb outs, giant white dots and other obstacles on the tracks that somehow facilitate rail traffic.


4 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 21, 2018 at 10:29 pm

A simple and cost effective solution is:

Block all three crossings at Churchill, Meadow and Charleston (like Castro at Mountain View). Build two bike/pedestrain bridges/Underground crossings at Churchill and Meadow.


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 21, 2018 at 10:33 pm

"If you have a serious idea about what to do after that then please let me know. There is talk about Mountain View closing Castro Street crossing. If you have some follow through plans to your idea, please share them. Otherwise, you are just clogging up the thread."

Yes. Convert the leftover street stubs to residential lots and gain some housing.

Look, nobody complains about the many, many long-closed crossings in this town: Hawthorne, Everett, ... , Channing, ..., Seale, ..., Colorado, ..., Loma Verde, ..., Verano, ..., ... . I'm only proposing we close four more.

And let's leave the judgments about thread use to the moderator, OK?


11 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 21, 2018 at 10:38 pm

A split grade solution a la San Carlos is the best option. The "Berlin Wall" comments are rather absurd.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 21, 2018 at 10:50 pm

Curmudgeon.

Your idea would be to build housing is interesting. My question though is what about the traffic. If we lose those crossings, what happens to San Antonio, Oregon and Embarcadero? Those roads are busy enough at present. There is just no way they could handle the extra traffic. Even if pedestrian/bike tunnel/bridges were built at the present crossings, it would not alleviate the necessity for the vehicle traffic to still find alternative crossing points.

At least at Castro Street, there is Shoreline very close by but that gets extremely clogged with traffic also.

I really don't think any of these crossings can be closed without bringing cross town traffic to a complete standstill during commute hours.


16 people like this
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 10:59 pm

This project falls into the same category as the police building that has been talked about for the last 20+ years.

City manager & city council can spend 10 million dollars on painting the streets for bikes and putting up obstacle courses for bikes. But a police building to address the earthquake safety or grade crossings? We've gone through at least 3 city managers, and how many city council members?


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 21, 2018 at 11:32 pm

Just saw a second BART trans-bay tube estimate $15 billion. About the same 4.4-mile length of tunneling Caltrain all the way through Palo Alto. That would be $3,000,000 per Palo Alto taxpayer, given that no more than 5,000 of us could afford another nickel and the rest will throw themselves on the mercy of the court. On the other hand, raising Caltrain fares by $30 for each and every ride would cover it in about 30 years at current ridership numbers. Except I'd bet a Palo Alto tunnel is more expensive than a trans-bay tube, since the tube is just a pre-fab laid on the silty bottom of the bay rather than actually dug. Selling the reclaimed railroad right-of-way land is a red-herring, as it would all be bought with yet more taxpayer dollars for subsidized housing or long-promised city park space or unencumbered bicycle corridor or extension of VTA light rail.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 21, 2018 at 11:57 pm

Suppose you divide Churchill into residential parcels. How big would those parcels be and what kind of vehicular access would they have for emergency vehicles such as ambulances, fire and police? Meanwhile, you've created a logjam of automotive traffic, the very thing grade sep is supposed to relieve.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 7:39 am

"Selling the reclaimed railroad right-of-way land is a red-herring, as it would all be bought with yet more taxpayer dollars for subsidized housing or long-promised city park space or unencumbered bicycle corridor or extension of VTA light rail."

How many times do I have to repeat this? CPA does not own the rail ROW. It would be up to the PCJPB to decide what to do with the ROW, if anything, because THEY OWN IT. CPA could purchase or lease the ROW and how much would that cost? Or PCJPB could lease the land to developers and they would have PCJPB as their landlords. They could build high-rise housing or office buildings or what have you. Then Palo Altans will cry over the "Berlin wall" that's being built and the most they could do is file a lawsuit, but what would be the tort? It's PCJPB's property and they can build whatever they want on it.

Turning the ROW into a multimillion-dollar bike path is not as simple as waving a magic wand.


20 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 8:10 am

The City finally hired a real consultant and received real costs and challenges. I have beens saying this in this media for five years now -- that a trench is monetarily, politically and physically all but impossible. You can go back through if you don't believe -- I even predicted $2-3 billion. I work in the rail industry and also environmental consulting and know the challenges of the hydrology along the Caltrain line as before rail I worked as a consultant for firms in Standford Park on underground water issues. It's time to abandon this idea once and for all. There isn't enough money to divert to this from any level of government, and frankly Palo Alto isn't so special that it gets to spend $2-$3 billion of someone else's money on a quaint rail tunnel. In addition, the real-estate over the tunnel thing is not borne out in real-world examples where tunneling/trenching has occurred. It's time to go for a real option for grade separations and finally deal with the issue.


5 people like this
Posted by floater
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 9:00 am

During a large earthquake, the ground in Palo Alto could experience liquefaction causing the entire concrete trench to float to the surface like a boat. Mitigating this disastrous possibility will add more $$$$

The Transbay Terminal has hundreds of steel anchor cables drilled deep into the ground to prevent it bobbing to the surface like a beach-ball in a swimming pool during the next big-one.


10 people like this
Posted by Why isn't Caltrain paying for and designing this?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2018 at 9:47 am

Why isn't Caltrain paying for and designing this? is a registered user.

I totally don't understand why this is an issue for individual cities to solve, Caltrain should be taking care of all of it, maybe using funds from the HSR.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 10:05 am

I agree with those folks pointing out that it should have been built in to the ROW upgrade project to tunnel/trench/below-grade the tracks as needed. There are too many negative impacts to elevating the tracks: noise, safety, security, and walkability/bike-ability. It would be affordable as part of an overall project, but, subdividing it town-by-town creates problems at every boundary, such as the Palo Alto/Menlo Park creek crossing.


7 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Feb 22, 2018 at 10:10 am

Caltrain is not paying for it because it isn't a Caltrain problem. It is a problem for people and cars that want to cross the tracks, given that the train has higher priority.


5 people like this
Posted by Kerry
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 10:17 am

Thank you Curmudgeon for letting us know that "Hawthorne, Everett, ... , Channing, ..., Seale, ..., Colorado, ..., Loma Verde, ..., Verano, ..., " were once train crossing streets. It seems to me that CalTrain should not lead to the destruction of so many neighborhoods and homes to increase their ridership. Palo Alto already has grade under/over passes at University, Embarcadero, Oregon and San Antonio. Perhaps expanding and making these crossings handle more traffic and timing of the lights might be a viable solution. Personally I think Embarcadero and Page Mill backups could be revamped/reworked to handle the traffic into Stanford, especially Stanford Industrial Park.


4 people like this
Posted by who pays for the pumps
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 10:37 am

"Why isn't Caltrain paying for and designing this"

Caltrain does not benefit from a trench, so has no reason to pay for one.
Caltrain's preference is to just close the grade crossings permanently and not allow cars to drive over their property.
Caltrain are not going to waste $4bm for a useless lump of concrete trench, when for $4bn they could electrify the entire track and replace every train.

Even if PA were to pay the entire cost, it is not clear why Caltrain would agree to have their valuable 4 track wide right-of-way narrowed to 2 tracks in a trench without substantial financial compensation.



10 people like this
Posted by Patrick
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2018 at 10:58 am

The trains should flyover the road like they do in San Carlos and San Bruno.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:19 am

Posted by Patrick, a resident of Mountain View

>> The trains should flyover the road like they do in San Carlos and San Bruno.

Why?

The way it was done in San Carlos is exactly what I wish to avoid.


4 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:31 am

Do the people who say it is a Caltrain problem realize that Caltrain has little revenue of its own other than from the fare box?

Caltrain would in effect have to ask Palo Alto for the money to tunnel.

Alma could easily pass under the tracks.

At Churchill, a bike/pedestrian tunnel could be constructed.


16 people like this
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:34 am

Here is a mystery:

Drive to most any area (take Stockton for example) and there are numerous underpasses that take expressways under city streets, highways, and rail crossings.

Lowering the tracks just a few feet puts solid earth in the path of sound waves, and would put the trains below fence levels and out of site. There has to be a hybrid solution -- vs. the "all or nothing" rail line discussion. Where is the attempts to mitigate the concerns?

Palo Alto needs to improve safety measures and correct the bottleneck of Highway 101 to El Camino traffic with or without the high speed rail. Just go to San Carlos or Redwood City and you will see grade separation for even shopping centers.

Stop the manipulation and lets get on with a solution that can work. My guess is that there are those that really don't want mitigation to work and are only staging a public discussion to say "we tried." Either Palo Alto is just not as bright as our neighboring cities or its decision makers are playing stupid. Neither scenario reflects well on self-proclaimed "best and the brightest that hire the best and the brightest."

Find the points of agreement and strenthen them, honor and inventory the points of disagreement, and then structure mitigations that deliver the greater good.

We are locked in a power struggle between the polar opposites that desparately want their own way, and and the residents get thrown under the bus. May those with good rationale thinking and the sincere desire for the greatest good for the entire community rise above the current obsfuscation.

Timothy Gray TimothyGray@sbcglobal.net


11 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:39 am

I grew up in the Boston area and lived through the morass of the Big Dig. This seems reminiscent of that... it would help city leaders to study the lessons learned in Boston especially with regards to tunneling.

I’m also confused as to why elevated track options aren’t being discussed. Seems like modern architecture could do better than mound-o-dirt-with-wall options. Perhaps a flyover, like the Shanghai maglev to their airport?


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:44 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Timothy Gray,you're probably right that these public discussions are only a "we-tried" side show. Why else would Mr. Mello STILL have 40 -- FORTY -- alternatives on the table that he hopes to reduce to 4 or 5 real soon now??

What a waste of everyone's time.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:52 am

Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows

>> Drive to most any area (take Stockton for example) and there are numerous underpasses that take expressways under city streets, highways, and rail crossings.

>> Lowering the tracks just a few feet puts solid earth in the path of sound waves, and would put the trains below fence levels and out of site. There has to be a hybrid solution -- vs. the "all or nothing" rail line discussion. Where is the attempts to mitigate the concerns?

I appreciate that you would like to be very logical about this issue. One thing that I don't see in your discussion is a full consideration of pedestrians and bicyclists. This is extremely important to many of us.

Regarding noise, you might want to review the following document, which has a lot of information regarding noise from trains:

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Shut-It-Down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:52 am

> I totally don't understand why this is an issue for individual cities to solve,
> Caltrain should be taking care of all of it, maybe using funds from the HSR.

The costs estimates for the Palo Alto tunnelling is cited in the city's study at $2B-4$ for about three miles of undergrounding. Caltrain is about 77 miles in length. If Palo Alto were to expect Caltrain to pay for this project, then why wouldn't every city/town up and down the line demand the same?

So, assuming $3B a mile (probably low), the total tunnelling costs could easily come to $75B (as a first estimate). HSR, while still poorly costed at this point, is probably around $100B. Hard to see how HSR is going to pony up that kind of money. Of course, Palo Alto could pass a parcel tax and carry the total cost on its own.

A lot cheaper to just shut Caltrain down.



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Posted by Shut-It-Down
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 11:58 am

> assuming $3B a mile

Typo--

should be: $1B a mile


1 person likes this
Posted by walls
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:06 pm

"Seems like modern architecture could do better than mound-o-dirt-with-wall options"

But "mound-o-dirt-with-wall" is cheap, and unlike other options, it can be implemented without shutting down the rail system. Using standard rail maintenance machines and gravel ballast, the high of the rail can be raised 6 inches over multiple weekends until the height is raised 10 feet.

"mound-o-dirt-with-wall" is cheap to maintain and cheap to repair after earthquakes.


3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:36 pm

"I really don't think any of these crossings can be closed without bringing cross town traffic to a complete standstill during commute hours."

It is much cheaper to enlarge existing undercrossings than to build new undercrossings or loft the rails. Embarcadero is way substandard and should have been widened decades ago. Oregon likewise. San Antonio overcrossing can be widened with no property takings. Somebody just has to do what is obvious.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:39 pm

"Regarding noise, you might want to review the following document, which has a lot of information regarding noise from trains."

Thanks Anon for linking to that study. The problem is that it only measured sound at grade. If you want to go full Berlin Wall, the sound will propagate further, but we don't know how far. It also skews the analysis by using One Hour Cumulative Sound Level, which averages out the sound over an hour. The peak sound of a passing train is going to be much higher, but of course, they wouldn't want to put that in a study that is meant to favor building HSR.

So, in other words, the study is fully of "statistics" (in other words, lies, damn lies....)


1 person likes this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Marie is a registered user.

It is some public entity: Caltrain/HSR/CA State something that owns the train tracks. They would benefit from selling the air rights and improving Palo Alto and other expensive towns along the peninsula. Why not divert that potential income to trenching/tunneling? We are all in this together.

The reason why Palo Alto is reluctant to do a split grade is the number of parcels that would have to be acquired. The number of houses that would be torn down is substantial, just for Meadow and Charleston. I've heard over 50, I've heard 86 but I've never heard any true cost benefit analysis that includes land acquisition.

Remember the struggle for Buena Vista (the owner refused to sell for decades). Those with longer memories, remember the divisiveness and political turmoil when houses were seized to build Oregon Expressway.

There has to be more cooperation between towns, counties and transportation agencies to come up with a plan that helps everyone.

And I've read that all of this turmoil and cost will only increase Caltrain capacity by 10%? This piecemeal planning has got to stop. We need a coordinated plan that will benefit everyone and increase capacity more. I think all the platforms would have to be rebuilt to handle longer trains. And additional development on the ROW is the only way I can see to pay for it. It worked for Grand Central. It worked for some streets in SF.

And thanks to the big dig in Boston, we do know that tunneling in landscapes with high water tables is possible. We just have to get together and figure it out. Speaking of which, does anyone know if there was land freed up by the big dig? And what happened to it?


13 people like this
Posted by Simplistic
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2018 at 12:57 pm

why don't we just:
a) leave Caltrain alone as it is and keep it for Caltrain use only;

b) re-route high speed rail up along 280 (or on top of 280) connecting with Caltrain by highway 380 then up to San Francisco.

This takes the noise, congestion away from the main cities on Peninsula. HSR now longer compete with local Caltrain. HSR gets really nice views of Crystal Springs. No longer causes congestion to the peninusula cities.

The interesting thing is this - given the fact that Caltrain has regular breakdowns, what is HSR going to do to stay on time? Their answer will be to expand the train lines up and down the peninsula. The suggestion above gives HSR its own tracks, lower costs and non-interference with Caltrain.

Problem fixed. Booyah!


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:02 pm

"It's time to go for a real option for grade separations and finally deal with the issue."

relentlesscactus: What's your solution?

Caltrain's interest is in moving its trains, not in facilitating the crossing of its tracks in the municipalities through which it passes. The repective cities own those streets. Every grade separation I can think of: Mathilda, San Antonio, Oregon, Embarcadero, University, Holly, has been financed by the cities, not by Caltrain or its predecessor Southern Pacific, so there is historical precedent. PCJPB itself lacks the funds to grade separate each community up and down the peninsula at a few million dollars each.

Given all of the squabbling and years-long stalling that has surrounded this issue in Palo Alto alone, Caltrain is lucky the problem isn't theirs. Multiply the sturm und drang over grade sep in Palo Alto by the dozen or so communities that need grade sep, starting with Menlo Park and Atherton to name just two, and Caltrain is lucky to be out of the planning and financing part of it.

That said, even though they won't be involved in the design, financing and political bickering, any plans which involve moving the tracks or modifying the right-of-way will have to be APPROVED by PCJPB. They own the tracks and they own the ROW. This includes any scheme to put the tracks below grade or to elevate them, as well as the construction of shoofly tracks to divert the trains around construction. I'm sure Union Pacific will want to have a say in it as users of the tracks.

Poor Joshuah Mello has a mountain of proposals on his desk to sift through, some good and some kooky if this forum is any guide.

He also has a waste basket in his office.


3 people like this
Posted by They would benefit from selling the air rights
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:02 pm

If Caltrain calculated that could make a profit by putting putting tracks in a trench and exploiting airspace above, the whole peninsula would be trenched already.
There is almost nowhere in the world that doing that makes economic sense.

In the bay area substantial buildings need deep foundations into the crappy soil, otherwise they will sink and fall over like the Millennium Tower. There is no space for trains among a forest of foundation piles.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Posted by Marie, a resident of Midtown

>> Speaking of which, does anyone know if there was land freed up by the big dig? And what happened to it?

The land that was freed up by the elevated section going underground is mostly being used as a series of parks and plazas.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:16 pm

This trench isn't going to happen either. If this ever happens, half of Alma will be added to the railroad right-of-way and it will travel at ground level.


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Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:24 pm

"b) re-route high speed rail up along 280 (or on top of 280) connecting with Caltrain by highway 380 then up to San Francisco. This takes the noise, congestion away from the main cities"

This route was studied and rejected, apparently avoiding cities is the opposite of the what a transit system is supposed to do.

Web Link

Caltrain has regular breakdowns because they are using antique trains with home made spare parts. The new electric trains will be reliable and their movements digitally choreographed with the high speed trains.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:27 pm

One option that has not been considered is to bore a tunnel starting at some point north of San Antonio Road. As the impediment is crossing San Francisquito creek, bring the trains back to grade, say, behind the Paly campus. It would go under Churchill and over the existing Embarcadero crossing.

You would need an engineer to evaluate this plan given the depths and slopes required.

Alternatively, tunnel under Embarcadero and bring the trains back to grade north of the Paly campus but south of University Ave.


1 person likes this
Posted by noob
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:32 pm

What happens and what does it cost if Palo Alto doesn't do anything? Is it a case of $4B or $0? If so, then there's a lot of other things I'd want to be spending $4B on before a rail tunnel.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:36 pm

For the 100th time, if PCJPB decides to "exploit the air space" on its ROW, can you imagine the hue and cry of building a "Berlin wall" through Palo Alto as PCJPB exploits that space vertically and builds high-rise office and residential buildings? All of the proceeds from this scheme would go to PCJPB's coffers as owners of the property and not one penny to CPA's. Get a clue, folks.

Am I blue in the face yet?


1 person likes this
Posted by Depressed Scenario
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:53 pm


@Maurice
"It would go under Churchill and over the existing Embarcadero crossing."

That option has been studied and is not possible because of the shape of Palo Alto, it would need to go under both: Web Link



18 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2018 at 1:58 pm

"Poor Joshuah Mello has a mountain of proposals on his desk to sift through, some good and some kooky if this forum is any guide."

Poor Josh Mello? Give me a break. He's part of the problem, focusing only on putting up street furniture and constricting vehicle flow in Palo Alto. I see no leadership from him, his office or many of the wimpy council members on this topic. He's more focused on getting awards for his bicycle leadership.

Parcel taking is politically dead, especially in today's (lack of) housing environment, not to mention the political power of certain neighborhoods. It's been analyzed already by the consultants and that's that.

So really the options:

1) No change, which will essentially close Charleston, Meadow, Churchill and Palo Alto Ave. crossings. Think you're going to be able to cross at grade with 10 trains/hour?

If you want to keep the existing Cal Ave and downtown stations, you need to have the train at grade in North Palo Alto, you either 2) Berlin Wall or 3) trench/tunnel from San Antonio to eventually be at grade by Oregon Expressway. This also will close Churchill and Palo Alto Ave.

3) Trench and tunnel the entire way. Pay for new stations at Cal Ave and downtown PA.

4) Berlin Wall the whole way. Also pay for new stations at Cal Ave and downtown PA.

HSR and the backroom deal to electrify Caltrain really screwed Palo Alto. All for a not-so-mass transit system that still won't be that much more mass even with electrification. Shame on you who voted for and supported Proposition 1A.

Trench/tunnel can be paid for. The question is would Palo Alto be willing to let revenue from development pay for it? From what I'm hearing, the residentialists would rather have a Caltrain that divides the city by doing nothing or just allowing a Berlin Wall.

Grade separation or closure of all ungraded crossings will happen, whether we like it or not.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:02 pm

"What happens and what does it cost if Palo Alto doesn't do anything? Is it a case of $4B or $0? If so, then there's a lot of other things I'd want to be spending $4B on before a rail tunnel."

All of this planning is in anticipation of increased train traffic with an expanded Caltrain schedule, and CA HSR if that ever happens. With any luck and with cash-and-carry Jerry long gone, the next governor will pull the plug on HSR. Hope springs eternal.

To answer your first question, motorists would have to deal with rush-hour traffic congestion as the gates come down and the trains sound their horns every time a train passes, just as they do now. At the same time, we have people suggesting the closure of the crossings altogether, a non-solution which can only make the traffic congestion worse, so go figure. No wonder it's taking Palo Alto decades to solve this problem with people suggesting dingy ideas such as that.

To answer your second question, there are more cost-effective options available than a multi-billion-dollar tunnel but they are not even on CPA's radar screen. The three options covered in the latest MM study are: open trench, cut-and-cover trench, and bored tunnels (two bores).


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:17 pm

"3) Trench and tunnel the entire way."

Get with it. That idea has been considered and was discarded quite recently, the obstacle being S.F. creek which forms the city limit and the county line. Not gonna happen.

The trains must be at grade by University Ave. to avoid relocating/rebuilding the Palo Alto station, and to make it across the creek at grade.

Probably the only way to achieve g.s. at Palo Alto Ave. would be to have the roadway go under the tracks, and that would be a very tight squeeze.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:24 pm

A practical idea would be to trench or tunnel under Charleston and Meadow, back to grade around Matadero creek, across Oregon and a San Carlos-style hybrid crossing at Churchill, provided no homes are taken.

Don't like hybrid crossings? Suck it up, Palo Alto, and enjoy your $2 million palace (or McMansion as the case may be).


1 person likes this
Posted by brian
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:30 pm

"the next governor will pull the plug on HSR"

As I understand it neither the Governor nor the Legislature has the authority to pull the plug on a Ballot Initiative. Lawyers have already filed suit to prevent the Legislature from making even a minor "clarification" to the text of Prop1A.

A second statewide ballot would be needed and that won't happen before 2020.


16 people like this
Posted by PA Staff Critic
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:35 pm

Anyone counting on Josh Mello devising an acceptable solution to all this will be sadly disappointed. He and his staff are the source of our mind-blowing expenditures on the bike friendly disasters on Ross Road and at Jordan Middle School. Not good examples of intelligent traffic management projects - why plan on anything different from the same group?


5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:41 pm

"provided no homes are taken."

That's already been analyzed in the previous study from 2014. Hybrid crossings will take parcels. Period.

Web Link

Might want to read it. To raise Caltrain high enough to not take parcels, it is essentially keeping the crossings at grade. What makes Palo Alto different from San Carlos is the close proximity to Alma and a more narrow ROW.

Unless you're also advocating the closure of Alma. That would make driving on Middlefield even more fun than today.

It seems that you need to get over the fact that hybrid crossings take parcels.

As for closure for at grade crossings, even if they aren't physically closed, they will essentially be closed. There's already a backup at Churchill on Alma today during rush hour. With 10 running at peak times, it will only get worse.


8 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm

It astonishes me that Mello and CPA are taking seriously these half-baked suggestions to close the crossings entirely (Chaleston, Meadow, Churchill and P.A. Ave), but they apparently are. They're also talking about adding crossings at Everett and Loma Verde, which means more stoplights on Alma.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 3:07 pm

The first HMM study from 2014 only raised the tracks by 3 feet, not enough for a proper hybrid crossing.

You need to depress the roadway by apx. 7 feet and raise the tracks by apx. 7 feet to achieve 14 feet of clearance as required by state law. Read it again. The first HMM study from 2014 did not consider this option; it only considered elevating the tracks by 3 feet. It also lacked diagrams or drawings of the type of structure they contemplated.


1 person likes this
Posted by Todd
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Considering Palo Alto motorists can't be bothered to stay off the tracks, count me as another vote to close the grade crossings, at least until the tracks are grade seperated. Caltrain riders' lives should not be put at risk due to the city's incompetence.


17 people like this
Posted by Samuel L
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2018 at 3:19 pm

Samuel L is a registered user.

Are we really to believe that PA city staff can figure out the best options on a multi-Billion dollar project when they can't even figure out how many parking permits to issue?

I don't see this going well.

How can it be that CAHSR can pick the route and the cities are supposed to figure out how to get it from point A to B in between only their borders?


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2018 at 3:38 pm

"You need to depress the roadway by apx. 7 feet and raise the tracks by apx. 7 feet to achieve 14 feet of clearance as required by state law. Read it again. The first HMM study from 2014 did not consider this option; it only considered elevating the tracks by 3 feet. It also lacked diagrams or drawings of the type of structure they contemplated."

Please read more carefully. From the study:

"For every 3’ the tracks are raised, the length of the impacted area along the cross street decreases by 40’-50’ at each end."

So you're basically saying raise the tracks an additional 4 feet from the study. That means the impact area is reduced by around 50 or so feet. The impact area by elevating the tracks 3 feet is approximately 400 feet around based on how they are telling us what streets have to close. So, if you look at 350 feet around the crossing, there are still properties in this radius that would be taken.

The problem is access to roads. In addition to the development, you're cutting off properties from either Alma or Churchill, depending on keeping Alma at grade or depressing Alma.

Your 7 foot hybrid crossing will still take parcels.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 3:47 pm

"So you're basically saying raise the tracks an additional 4 feet from the study."

No, I'm saying to study it, which it hasn't been.

I'm also saying to use a different engineering firm such as Hexagon, the firm that did Holly Street.

I've lost confidence in M.M. because they didn't even include a crayola sketch on a brown paper grocery bag of the colossal edifice they envision that would lay waste to a vast amount of the surrounding terrain, taking dozens of $2 million properties as it does. Gawd only knows what kind of back-room deal was made with M.M.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 22, 2018 at 3:51 pm

It has been studied. You just refuse to read the study more closely. It took me 3 minutes to figure this out based on what was written.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 3:55 pm

On what page of the 2014 study does it discuss a 7-foot elevation of the tracks? I can't find it; all I can find is discussion of a 3-foot elevation.


3 people like this
Posted by Done. Finished. Kaput.
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 22, 2018 at 4:28 pm

NNNEXT!!!


13 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2018 at 5:30 pm

I’m with Maurice on this one. A tunneling firm was hired to study underground options, and traditional split grade or elevated designs (see San Carlos, Belmont, San Bruno and lately San Mateo 25th) have NOT been adequately studied for Palo Alto.

It’s about time, and 2018 is not a decade too late. Failing to perform due diligence for all reasonable design options will just result in poor traffic and safety outcomes. This train isn’t waiting, and the issue likely won’t be settled on Palo Alto’s terms.


46 people like this
Posted by Moderation
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Dreams of a train tunnel slip away

Thank Goodness !
It's a foolish idea and I'm glad its finally being put to rest.
NO MORE TALK OF TUNNELING PEOPLE. IT'S OVER.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 6:05 pm

The headline is misleading. You can't tunnel all the way through town to S.F. creek, but you could tunnel to, say, Matadero creek.


2 people like this
Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 22, 2018 at 6:44 pm

Don't draw pie on the sky!

There is no way we will allow the tax increase to fund any of the plan on the table.

The cheapest and most effective way to do this is to block Churchill, Meadow and Charleston and build bike and ped crossings at Meadow ad Churcill.

This matches what our City fathers (mothers) thinking from beginning. San Antonio, Oregon and Embarcadero crossings are more than enough.

Yes. Those existing crossings do need improvement and expansion.

This also will be an improvement for students safety and traffic problems. Especially, on Charleston and Arastradero and Stanford.

Yes. This will create more traffic on El Camino but that is desirable for commerce on those sections of El Camino.


6 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 6:48 pm

"block Churchill, Meadow and Charleston"

How does this alleviate automotive gridlock?


8 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 22, 2018 at 7:32 pm

The state is spending hundreds of billions on HSR, tens of billions on a tunnel from nowhere to nowhere in Pacheco Pass, billions on an overpass in the middle of Fresno, so there's no reason the money can't be spent to do it right and tunnel the tracks through Mountain View and Palo Alto. City leaders need to stand firm and insist on a tunnel or no deal. Citizens should not accept anything less. Either the state pays for the tunnel or the tracks are relocated outside of city limits, no negotiation necessary.


2 people like this
Posted by curious
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 7:40 pm

When did Loma Verde and Colorado and the others cross the tracks?


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 8:06 pm

"When did Loma Verde and Colorado and the others cross the tracks?"

I grew up on Loma Verde in the late '50s and it never crossed the tracks that I'm aware of. It would connect with Margarita on the other side of the tracks. Both streets are quiet residential neighborhoods. So what does he want to do, turn them into bustling thoroughfares? That's something to be up in arms about.

Same with Colorado, which would connect with Sheridan in old Mayfield near the county courthouse.

Everett has nothing to connect to on the opposite side of the tracks. Are they going to build a new road at El Camino Park?

Who knows what they're thinking.

"City leaders need to stand firm and insist on a tunnel or no deal. Citizens should not accept anything less. Either the state pays for the tunnel or the tracks are relocated outside of city limits, no negotiation necessary."

CPA has no leverage here. I've explained why many times.


4 people like this
Posted by Moderation
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2018 at 8:21 pm

"Citizens should not accept anything less. Either the state pays for the tunnel or the tracks are relocated outside of city limits, no negotiation necessary."

Yes. Lets all demand nothing less at the next meeting where UP has to come to the city to ask permission to operate their trains on the tracks and land that UP owns.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2018 at 8:56 pm

"Lets all demand nothing less at the next meeting where UP has to come to the city to ask permission to operate their trains on the tracks and land that UP owns."

I hope you're being facetious.

Caltrain owns the tracks, the deal with U.P. has been forged and the ship has sailed. But you already knew that, right?


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2018 at 9:10 pm

Posted by curious, a resident of Midtown

>> When did Loma Verde and Colorado and the others cross the tracks?

Never that I know of. Looking at the September 1948 high altitude photo on Google, what I see is the obvious: California Ave is a grade level crossing, and, Page Mill also cuts through to Alma. Not much on the bay side of the tracks south of Matadero Creek, but, you can see they are laying it all out for development.


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Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2018 at 8:54 am

An expensive tunnel or trench option will always be possible some day.
If in the future Palo Alto became the richest city in America, on no wait...


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 23, 2018 at 9:59 am

So, basically Maurice, you want a full design of a 7-foot hybrid crossing at Churchill before you even entertain an iota of thought.

Well, this pretty much sums up the Palo Alto Process in a nutshell. It's our version of CEQA nonsense at a local level.


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Posted by T Krupp
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2018 at 10:06 am

The discussions center around archaic technology and balkanized dicision making offering grossly suboptimal solutions. What somewhat current (2004) elevated rail looks like:
Web Link
This train travels at 250 mph, somewhat faster than the vision for the Peninsula, yet manages to have minor impact on the communities it passes through.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2018 at 10:45 am

"So, basically Maurice, you want a full design of a 7-foot hybrid crossing at Churchill before you even entertain an iota of thought."

For the second time, I want it thoroughly studied as the other options have been.

Please stop misrepresenting my posts which you have done twice now.


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Posted by steel wheels
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2018 at 11:04 am

"This train travels at 250 mph, somewhat faster than the vision for the Peninsula, yet manages to have minor impact on the communities it passes through."

But to travel at 250mph the track would have to be a very straight line, horizontally and vertically, which means it would need to be on a very tall viaduct that goes outside of the current twisty right of way. In reality it would have an enormous impact on communities it passes through. And maglev track is too expensive and not compatible with existing infrastructure so you have to build entirely new stations downtown which is also very expensive. Even the Chinese abandoned the idea of using this technology and went with classic high speed rail for their countrywide network.

Just because it is technically possible, does not mean it is economically viable.
Hyperloop also falls in the category of technically possible but not economically viable, as did Concorde.


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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:21 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Double Sigh. I've posted the cheaper alternative many times before; look at the DENVER METRO AREA RTD LIGHT RAIL for the solutions to get rid of car/bike/ pedestrian separation issues.

IF WE HAD WHAT WE WERE PROMISED 40 YEARS AGO, WE WOULD NOT HAVE THESE PROBLEMS! WHERE IS THE COMPLETE LOOP OF BART??

Now it is time to pay the piper!

Get rid of that CF called CALTRAIN. Electrify the new, high speed LIGHT RAIL system. Go OVER ( far cheaper than building a $1 BILLION/MILE tunnel ) the places that cause the grade separation problems.

Go ahead and Google Map RTD Light Rail serving the Denver Metro Area. RTD had some smart people build it after we TAXPAYERS FIRED the do-nothing people, kinda like the people running the VTA right now. VTA is all talk and nothing else. If the VTA Board of Directors got fired and faced a clawback of the money they ripped off the County, They could actually become part of the solution, not part of the problem.
The only real solution is to get ALL transit people on the same page and generate a solution that is reality based and start with FIRING PEOPLE WHO HAVE DONE NOTHING FOR 40 YEARS. Most, if not all VTA Board members. Now, figure out a REALISTIC plan to bring true transit solutions, not empty trains to nowhere.

All of this is going to cost MORE money than if BART had made the complete loop AS WAS SOLD TO THE TAXPAYER 40 YEARS AGO.

So get all the " rocket scientists " to DO something, instead of talking about how great the future of transit will be. You even have successful examples to look at.

Do not fall into the " not invented here " problem. Just get a solution built that solves the mass transit and the grade separation problem. Denver did!

Then there will be a HSR terminal and a proper link to San Jose and points South.


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Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:29 pm

The Palo Alto City Coucil started the high speed rail discussion with a policy that all rail solutions would be applied to all of Palo Alto — “One for all and all for one!”

Several years back the City Coucil approved in a secretive manner on a Consent Calendar that the prior “One solution for a united Palo Alto policy” would be abandoned and set policy criteria that would favor tunneling in the North and leave the south without a solution.

When I expressed concern, Larry Klein scolded me for fueling the “fictitious” North over the South favoritism of City actions.

Please watch as this plays out and resist any solution that does not benefit equally all neighborhoods. We cannot accept anything less than a United solution — we cannot let the south part of the City be thrown under the train.

I sincerely hope that I have to come back to you with a sincere apology for raising an invalid concern. Sorry to report this, but I smell a manipulation that can only be stopped now by Standing together.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:36 pm

"When did Loma Verde and Colorado and the others cross the tracks?"

Confession time: The discussion of crossings at Loma Verde and Colorado and the others may originate from my posting of Feb 21, 2018 at 10:33 pm, where I postulated closed crossings at these and other streets in order to make a point about the effects of closed crossings.


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Posted by maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:52 pm

"look at the DENVER METRO AREA RTD LIGHT RAIL for the solutions to get rid of car/bike/ pedestrian separation issues."


Could you please summarize the salient points so we don't have to hunt for them?

"All of this is going to cost MORE money than if BART had made the complete loop AS WAS SOLD TO THE TAXPAYER 40 YEARS AGO."

That ship has already sailed. You can't turn back time.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2018 at 1:02 pm

"Confession time: The discussion of crossings at Loma Verde and Colorado and the others may originate from my posting of Feb 21, 2018 at 10:33 pm, where I postulated closed crossings at these and other streets in order to make a point about the effects of closed crossings."

Well at least you admit to intentionally posting cruft. Still, you intentionally posted cruft and it got out of hand, something about a "wicked web".

I have heard on one of the CPA videos that they're planning to build crossings at Everett and Loma Verde. I can't figure out what they plan to connect on opposite sides of the tracks at these streets, but that's CPA for you.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 23, 2018 at 3:06 pm

"For the second time, I want it thoroughly studied as the other options have been."

It has been.

"Please stop misrepresenting my posts which you have done twice now."

I read what you write. And it's clear you want yet another study to be done, delaying the decision even further. That's Palo Alto Process.

As for Mr. Gray - "we cannot let the south part of the City be thrown under the train. "

Uh, from what I've been reading, if we tunnel/trench at all, it will be in the south and the north gets nothing other than traffic. I think you need to put that South PA chip on your shoulder away.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2018 at 4:22 pm

"Well at least you admit to intentionally posting cruft. Still, you intentionally posted cruft and it got out of hand, something about a "wicked web".

It was intentionally obviously ridiculous. Way over the top. One presumes intelligence in one's audience. But occasionally one must point out the obvious to the oblivious. My apologies to you.


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Posted by Ed Shikada
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2018 at 4:29 pm

Ed Shikada is a registered user.

Thanks to PA Online for covering and community members for weighing in on this important topic. It’s really valuable to understand perspectives of stakeholders that don’t make it to meetings.

I won’t try to respond to all comments, but a few points may be worth clarifying especially for folks that may not be closely tracking the issue:

- The trench/tunnel paper focuses exclusively on this approach to grade separation, to provide more in-depth info than previously available. With a topic this involved, we wanted to release the info and start public discussion rather than wait until other options can be equally described and evaluated. We have about 40 other ideas that are being reviewed, and do expect to start public review of other options at the next Council Rail Committee meeting, tentatively set for March 21st.

- There is some interest in “value capture” - tagging new development with a share of the costs. A paper on financing options is also circulating (www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/62296). The paper states: “Project based funding and associated “value capture” tools could provide significant funding assuming major development opportunities can be enabled and linked to the grade separation and related improvements. However, value capture tools face significant challenges related to the predictability and timing of funding.” The paper estimated that up to $235 mill could be generated, assuming tied to 2,000 new residential units and 750,000 commercial sq.ft. This would be a fraction of the cost of the citywide trench or tunnel concepts.

- The financing paper also provides an overview of other possible funding, including state and federal sources. For a variety of reasons, the best case of that funding is expected be on the order of $400 mill. Projects like our grade separations typically involve several different sources, and we will continue to pursue all. Getting to local consensus on a preferred alternative is critical to obtaining funds from other levels of government.

Finally, one request. Please refrain from calling out City staff by name, at least anyone below director level ;-). Our staff have tough jobs and don’t act alone, so let’s keep them out of any crossfire.

Thanks again for engaging; these are important decisions and better made with many smart people on the problem.

—Ed Shikada, Asst City Mgr & Utilities GM (director)


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2018 at 5:11 pm

Mr. Shikada:

"This would be a fraction of the cost of the citywide trench or tunnel concepts."

A citywide trench/tunnel is putatively off the table according to city manager Keene, so why bring it up?

Would you care to hazard a guess how much PCJPB would want to acquire or lease the ROW through Palo Alto?

Thank you.


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Posted by Ed Shikada
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2018 at 5:32 pm

Ed Shikada is a registered user.

It's extremely rare (and in many cases ill-advised) for city staff to wade into an online forum. So to clarify, this is a bit of an experiment for us and specifically intended to provide useful info. I'll refrain from dialogue here, but feel free to contact me directly at ed.shikada@cityofpaloalto.org. Thanks!


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Posted by Supply & Demand
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 23, 2018 at 7:30 pm

Block all three crossings (Churchill, Meadow and Charleston) and build bike bridge/tunnel for two (Churchill, Meadow/Charleston). Also buy us time in case we found funding from future sources or private donations.


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Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2018 at 8:20 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"It's extremely rare (and in many cases ill-advised) for city staff to wade into an online forum."

It's also unfortunately extremely rare to get responses from city staff to our calls, letters and emails, a topic that has been covered by the media. PA Weekly has published several articles and editorials about the unfortunate lack of responsiveness to legitimate complaints (see all the topics about Ross Road, the Jordan lane, failure to notify residents of major projects as close as our front yards, outreach failures re major meetings effecting us directly, ...)

Until staff at all levels starts becoming responsive, We therefore have to turn to online forums here and on Next Door to get any type of response.

Any oth


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Posted by OMV Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 23, 2018 at 9:45 pm

Per Ed Shikada's post above: "The paper estimated that up to $235 mill could be generated, assuming tied to 2,000 new residential units and 750,000 commercial sq.ft. "

That's all well and good, but what are the chances that Palo Alto residents will accept that much additional growth? This would presumably be above and beyond what's in the Comp Plan, since it's on land that's currently assumed to be occupied by transportation facilities. Seems extremely unlikely given the city's very restrictive height limits and office space cap...


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Posted by Petula
a resident of Mayfield
on Feb 23, 2018 at 10:37 pm

You people are throwing too much money and time at a non-problem.
You should devote your time and resources to something useful like literacy, reducing hunger and poverty, curing disease, etc.
Close the crossings if the train bothers you so much, or use an overpass like San Antonio, and the problem is solved.
Its time to move on - the train tracks and trains have been there longer than any of you have been alive. I know because I'm 98 and have lived here all my life.


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Posted by value capture
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2018 at 4:22 am

German railways "captured value" by building an office tower above Berlin central rail station. It was such a feat of engineering, Nation Geographic made a documentary about it: Web Link


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 8:03 am

"German railways "captured value" by building an office tower above Berlin central rail station."

Making it a true "Berlin wall". I can hear the cries of "dividing the city" now if an office tower is built on the ROW. The revenue would accrue to PCJPB unless CPA buys or leases a part of the ROW and becomes the landlord, assuming PCJPB is willing to sell or lease. But who cares as long as a real-estate developer is making money, right?


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 8:13 am

Whether you realize it or not, this forum is part of the much-touted "CSS process". Whether you heed the discussion here is up to you. Pat Burt is the only person involved in the process who makes his presence known here from time to time, so kudos to him.


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Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2018 at 8:41 am

"look at the DENVER METRO AREA RTD LIGHT RAIL for the solutions to get rid of car/bike/ pedestrian separation issues."

While you are correct about VTA, citing Denver is nonsensical. Their crossings to the airport are among the largest fails in US history, a new technology that wasn't fleshed out and they had to have flagmen at all the crossings for many months to prevent collisions, at a cost of millions of dollars. As well, they way undershot the cost and oversold what they could build, leaving many communities without promised and voted-on rail service for decades to come.

You site a complete FAIL as an example.


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Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2018 at 9:06 am

"buy us time in case we found funding from future sources or private donations."

$3 billion in pre-secured private donations? Hilarious.


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Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2018 at 9:21 am

"The paper estimated that up to $235 mill could be generated, assuming tied to 2,000 new residential units and 750,000 commercial sq.ft."

Amazing a city employee would post this, giving hope to trechists. This would require high-rise apartments along the right-of-way, securing the right-of-way developments rights, and the approval of voters who would hate the idea, and numerous agencies, and would pooch a path along the route. And this is a decades-long process when Palo Alto has at most a year or so to decide. Not a chance in h---.

Look at Reno, where 40 years of pushing and a very fortuitous railroad merger and extreme political pressure actually got them a rail trench. That was built so that they could lay in place giant cement caps over the trench that would allow buildings to be built on top to bridge the gap in downtown and help reimburse the cost of the trench. Dreaming, never happened! But pretending it COULD happen is all that is needed for political purposes.

That sort of fortuitous funding source is extremely unlikely for special-special Palo Alto (or rather, a small minority of residents who think they are special-special), sans the sky opening up and raining down $3 billion in nickels.


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Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2018 at 10:28 am

Someone above asked me what my solution would be. First of all, the idea of an "all town" solution is ludicrous. The conditions through the town change, requiring unique solutions to each crossing. Second, the entire section should be engineered for a three-track system, as the capacity will be needed. To ignore that fact will only mean a horrific and unimaginably costly rebuild a decade or three hence.

Keep the system at grade on each end. Not only can Palo Alto not control the solutions at its borders, this is the only sane solution economically and environmentally.

At the north end, cross San Francisquito Creek at grade. Alma should pass under the rails here. Keep the Palo Alto station at grade. Churchill is the biggest challenge and probably should be closed, with a ped/bike undercrossing. Keep Embarcadero, Oregon and California Avenue at grade as is. Add ped/bike underpasses at Colorado and Loma Verde.

Raise the right-of-way gently up from California Avenue to Meadow, and gently back down from Charleston to San Antonio. Depress Alma approaching Meadow and Charleston from each direction. This will also require depressing Meadow and Charleston from each direction approaching the tracks to meet Alma below. There is an ideal mix of rail-up/road-down that will optimize the various trade-offs. This may be roughly 35% rail up and 65% road down, but then no one is paying me $20-30 million to do a full engineering study, so I could be off a few feet either way.

Trenching the rails is possible but much more costly, and requires building a shoo-fly on Alma for years-to-come, whereas the raising can probably be done one-side-at-a-time and keep the shoo-fly in the right-of-way. There is also the hydrologic challenge of how to route Adobe Creek with a trench.

To help with sound reduction, a mini-wall should be built just 30" high to block the rail and wheels (the sound source) from direct line-of-sound with neighboring properties. This method has proven quite effective in Japan and elsewhere.

The above together will cost several hundred million dollars, but not billions. Caltrain has stated that it will help out, with a reasonable plan, as it did in San Mateo County. Frankly, Caltrain is disgusted with Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto and sitting on its hands while these cities battle their internal demons (a handful of noisy residents), hoping the residents can be brought to their senses before the ugly spectacle of eminent domain becomes necessary, but at some point it will, and no one is going to like, or benefit from, that process.

All of this is outside of the issues of electrification, equipment choice, and high-speed rail, all of which are arguable. This is about the need for greater Caltrain capacity and the very important need for grade separation.

I will say that although I don't respect the process chosen by Palo Alto politicians (avoidance, delay, not forcing residents to face reality), I do understand it. The reality is that homes will be taken in the area of Charleston and Meadow, and this reality is going to be a political cluster-F that no politician wants on their watch.

Pound and wail all you wish -- the political, economic and engineering realities dictate that a solution very close to the one I outlined will come to pass.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 11:23 am

Very good post, restlesscactus.

One thing: a 3-track ROW is not within the purview of CPA as it is PCJPB's ROW. CPA can only deal with the crossings and even they will have to be agreeable to PCJPB.

What exactly is the benefit of completely closing the Churchill crossing? Why not leave it as is?

If I were in charge I would ditch Mott MacDonald (pun intended) and bring in the engineering firm that did Holly Street. Mott MacDonald has not impressed me with its competence, given that their first study for CPA called for the seizure of dozens of residences at a cost of $2 million each. Word of this has gotten out and now PA residents are in a panic that their homes will be leveled, so IMO Mott MacDonald has really poisoned the well on the entire project. Mott MacDonald failed to provide any kind of sketch or artist's-concept drawing in their first report of the grand edifice they had in mind which would require taking tens of millions of dollars in residential property through eminent domain.

I would also ditch the harebrained scheme to add RR crossings at Everett and Loma Verde. Everett has nothing to connect to on the other side of the tracks, and Loma Verde has very little to connect to unless you're going to turn residential Margarita Ave. into a thoroughfare to El Camino.

Privileged Palo Altans need to disabuse themselves of the notion that a railroad crossing is going to look like the Taj Mahal. It's going to look like a railroad crossing. Grow clinging vines on it if you want.

There is one other option that you omitted: Do nothing, leave the crossings as is and let privileged Palo Altans stew in their rush-hour gridlock. The cost would be whatever has already been spent on wheel spinning and engineering studies that will never come to fruition.


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Posted by Patrick Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 24, 2018 at 11:29 am

Patrick Burt is a registered user.

Thanks to Ed Shikada for weighing in with helpful information. I've long believed that city staff could contribute to better community dialogue by providing factual information and resources, but not opinion or advocacy, about important issues.
I'd like to clarify Ed's reference to the potential revenue from "value capture" resulting from tunneling or covered trenching. The $235 million figure cited from new development would come from increasing allowed density in areas surrounding the tracks, in addition to building over the tracks. The report does not clarify the geographic areas covered by the up zoning nor the other assumptions they used. The report can be seen at,
Web Link.
More importantly, the report only considers very modest business tax options rather than evaluating business taxes more equivalent to what cities like San Francisco charge. If dedicated to local transportation, major capital projects (including grade separations) and a comprehensive citywide trip reduction program could be accomplished. That scale of funding would be a game changer and the level of revenue needed to actually have major impacts on our severe and worsening transportation needs. Unfortunately, even that level of dollars is not likely to pay for citywide tunneling or trenching.


3 people like this
Posted by value capture
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2018 at 12:10 pm

The best way to capture value from the rail line is to upgrade Palo Alto station to a high-speed rail station and surround it with skyscrapers built on city property. This is what San Francisco is doing around the Transbay Terminal, and it is what San Jose is doing with the Google transit village and even Fresno is considering a 15 story minimum height restriction for new buildings surrounding the future HSR station.

Businesses will pay a premium to rent office space that employees can walk to from a multi-modal transit center.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 12:27 pm

"upgrade Palo Alto station to a high-speed rail station"

I believe CPA has already told CA HSR to take a hike and there will be no HSR station here.

Palo Altans will love more skyscrapers. They make real-estate developers wealthy.

"even that level of dollars is not likely to pay for citywide tunneling or trenching."

Net of the cost of acquiring development rights from PCJPB (Caltrain). Everyone glosses over that.


8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2018 at 4:29 pm

I hate to break it to you Ed Shikada, but this is the Internet. There will be no refraining from anything, especially if any department has been seen as non-responsive to complaints. And boy, are there complaints about Ross Road and the disaster on Middlefield and the nonsensical painting of lanes on N. California.

Maybe we will just call you out instead?

As for relentlesscactus: " There is an ideal mix of rail-up/road-down that will optimize the various trade-offs. This may be roughly 35% rail up and 65% road down, but then no one is paying me $20-30 million to do a full engineering study, so I could be off a few feet either way."

You and Maurice can go party together. Alma is too close to the ROW. Partially sinking the crossings will require 1) sinking Alma (leaving properties on Alma w/o road access - eminent domain) 2) leaving Alma at grade and sinking the Charleston and Meadow under Alma (leaving properties on those streets w/o road access - eminent domain again) 3) Closing Alma (hope everyone in Midtown will enjoy the extra traffic on Middlefield).

or 4) leaving it at grade as Maurice mentions above and drive more traffic on Embarcadero, University and Oregon Expressway when Caltrain amps up its service with electrification.

And anything requiring eminent domain is a political nonstarter.

This analysis has already been done, though not to the exquisite detail that Maurice demands. (Web Link)


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 24, 2018 at 5:15 pm

"Alma is too close to the ROW."

Another planning failure from the nineteenth century. Sigh.

Simple cheap solution: Leave Alma and the tracks alone. Sink Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill under both. No direct Alma access from any of them, designate access routes via side streets as with Central/Mathilda in Sunnyvale (go look). Convert the sidewalks and the adjacent property strips already owned by the city to access lanes for the affected houses. Cut the red ribbons and grin for the cameras.


2 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2018 at 5:21 pm

>What exactly is the benefit of completely closing the Churchill crossing? Why not leave it as is?

An at-grade crossing is a potential for a collision and/or death. The goal should be zero at-grade crossings, especially on a line as busy as Caltrain, and a line that carries passengers, and a line that runs through a dense urban area.

Understand about MM. In their defense, they design what HSRA tells them to design.

JPB should be the one asking for everything to be built to a three-track standard.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 5:43 pm

"Simple cheap solution: Leave Alma and the tracks alone. Sink Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill under both. No direct Alma access from any of them, designate access routes via side streets as with Central/Mathilda in Sunnyvale (go look). Convert the sidewalks and the adjacent property strips already owned by the city to access lanes for the affected houses."

Cheaper than digging a trench or boring a tunnel. No cries of "Berlin wall". No shoofly tracks or haggling with Caltrain over the slope of the tracks through a trench. It is seismically stable. How about the water table? Will it require pumping? No chance of shutting down Caltrain/HSR due to flooding (just auto traffic). It would be a lot like the Embarcadero crossing.

You should sketch out this idea showing your access lanes and access roads and submit it. Print a Google map and make your sketch. I believe you need 14 feet of vertical clearance so you can calculate the approximate slope (1400 feet at 1%). Don't forget to make provision for peds and bikes.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 6:05 pm

"Understand about MM. In their defense, they design what HSRA tells them to design."

True, but this is the [clueless] city of Palo Alto. And they are just as clueless IMO.

I went to Paly from 1970 to 1973 and no pedestrian received so much as a scratch at Churchill for many years before or after. I've crossed at that crossing hundreds of times.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2018 at 6:25 pm

Big balls suggestion from Curmudgeon who basically wants to condemn entire blocks of houses on Churchill, Charleston and Meadow. As we have discussed on other threads about this, every house on whole blocks will have to be taken because there will be no road access for these properties.

Using Maurice's 1400 feet required at 1% slope on each side of Alma/ROW, let's look at what blocks of houses will be taken:

> Churchill from Waverley to El Camino Real
> Meadow from South Ct to Wilkie Way
> Charleston from Carlson to Wilkie Way

I count at least 10-15 houses in Old Palo Alto that would need to be taken with eminent domain alone just for that side of Churchill.

If time=money, the litigation this option will go through makes this more expensive than tunneling the entire way.

Don't see this option happening. Ever.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 6:53 pm

Curmudgeon addressed this issue. It pays to read the entire post:

"Convert the sidewalks and the adjacent property strips already owned by the city to access lanes for the affected houses."

You will lose some trees and foliage in the process and no street parking on the affected streets.

You may be able to have a steeper slope which would affect fewer properties. I picked 1% because it is a very conservative value, used for big hulking trains. Perhaps it was too conservative. A 3% slope would require 467 feet.

A real traffic engineer needs to study this. Curmudgeon is probably a better traffic engineer than anyone at MM.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 7:00 pm

612.5 feet from Churchill and Alma to Emerson is what I get.


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Posted by Paly Grad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 24, 2018 at 7:27 pm

Has anyone studied the feasability of an underpass at Alma?


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Posted by Jeepers
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2018 at 7:38 pm

Jeepers.
Let it go people!
There are like 5 (five) of you on this thread arguing over something that nobody else wants, and nobody wants to pay for. Time to move on.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 24, 2018 at 9:02 pm

"Convert the sidewalks and the adjacent property strips already owned by the city to access lanes for the affected houses."

I read this. Doesn't make sense. These are Palo Alto lots. The city barely owns any space between the street and the privately owned lots. To have side streets, you basically have to *double* the width of Churchill to have enough space for side streets. You're basically putting four lanes where two lanes currently exist.

Still would require eminent domain.

Jeepers - you're free to not read this thread. Something to think about - If we don't do anything, I hope you enjoy that extra long backup on University Avenue 12-18 hours a day. Keeping everything at grade will drive even more traffic over the currently grade-separated streets. I'm sure you Crescent Park folks will really enjoy that.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 24, 2018 at 9:10 pm

Thanks to those still in the discussion. I am out but I am pleased that those who have ideas and skill can thrash ideas about and maybe, just maybe, something worth having can be made to happen.

It is through healthy thrashing of ideas that breakthroughs are often made.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 24, 2018 at 9:38 pm

He said "access lanes", not sidestreets.

You read it but not carefully enough.


3 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2018 at 12:17 am

Relentlesscactus has it exactly right, with a spot-on prediction of what is (eventually) going to happen in Palo Alto.

Regarding the eminent domain process: it’s not that big a deal. It is neither rare, difficult nor all that expensive, and certainly not the “political non-starter” that some community members mistakenly believe it to be.

When a reasonable amount of land is needed to build a reasonable grade separation design, such as described by relentlesscactus, the land is acquired.


3 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2018 at 3:41 am

A road can have a slope of 6%.
For an underpass, the difficulties begin if the road slope cannot return to the surface before the next road junction, then the entire junction needs to be lowered causing a cascade of expensive complications. Raising the height of the rail by just enough so that the underpass road slope can return to grade before the junction can be the least expensive option.

When whole point of the Eminent Domain law is to enable the state to quickly and efficiently acquire property that is needed for a public good without (too much) argument or debate.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2018 at 9:58 am

Posted by Clem
a resident of another community

Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community

Nice of others outside of Palo Alto to tell us what we should be doing. That's like sending money to other districts in the hopes of influencing elections (or, ahem, what people are claiming that the Russians are doing).

This is a Palo Alto issue. It's our money, unless you guys are offering to pay for it.

Maurice and Curmudgeon - define what you mean by access lane. If it has to fit a car, it won't work without widening. Walking/biking only?

My sense is if you look at Churchill, Meadow and Charleston, one of these is not like the others. I'm guessing that we'll just end up closing Churchill and figuring out how to build a Cal Ave.-style underpass for Paly students. Another place where bikers can endanger pedestrians by not walking them.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 25, 2018 at 10:46 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Speaking of who's paying, what type of "value capture" is coming from all the businesses that have over-run PA?


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2018 at 11:12 am

"A road can have a slope of 6%.
For an underpass, the difficulties begin if the road slope cannot return to the surface before the next road junction, then the entire junction needs to be lowered causing a cascade of expensive complications. Raising the height of the rail by just enough so that the underpass road slope can return to grade before the junction can be the least expensive option."

Thank you for that information. That's why you need to have a qualified traffic engineer evaluate this idea. Maybe it's feasible and maybe it's not. But get a real engineer involved and not an armchair expert.

"My sense is if you look at Churchill"

If you were a qualified engineer your "sense" would count for something, but I assume you are not.

We also need to hear from people who aren't in mortal fear of losing their homes and poisoning the discussion by shooting down every idea out of hand. I don't care if they live here or not as long as they have something to contribute besides "it won't work" without properly studying the idea. Again, maybe Curmudgeon's idea is feasible and maybe it isn't but it is worthy of study for the reasons I enumerated earlier.

At 6% slope you need 233 feet to lower the roadway by 14 feet.


3 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2018 at 11:29 am

" We also need to hear from people who aren't in mortal fear of losing their homes and poisoning the discussion by shooting down every idea out of hand"

I'm not in mortal fear of losing my house. I'm safely away from the impacted blocks on Churchill. What galls me is the casual attitude of just taking away someone's property, especially because of the backroom deal made between HSR and Caltrain in Sacramento. Caltrain is a failure if you look at it from a mass-transit system perspective.

233 feet is 3/4 up the block to Emerson on Churchill. You're still impacting 10 houses on the Old Palo Alto side . How would you feel if someone not in your neighborhood comes in just says we need to take your house? We'll just Eminent Domain your house and that's that. Feels pretty good, right?

This is the problem with our politics today - damn the community, it's all about me. I don't live near the RR crossings, yet at least I care in general about the people near the crossings to understand these impacts. Sounds like a lot people here don't care and are just in it for themselves.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2018 at 11:39 am

As for this crack, Maurice:

"If you were a qualified engineer your "sense" would count for something, but I assume you are not."

Nor are you, apparently, but that doesn't appear to prevent you from using the pythagorean theorem, or do you need to be a licensed mathematician to do that? You just need to look at Churchill, Meadow and Charleston to know that Charleston and Meadow are wider and more heavily trafficked.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2018 at 11:57 am

"How would you feel if someone not in your neighborhood comes in just says we need to take your house? We'll just Eminent Domain your house and that's that. Feels pretty good, right?"

Enough of your fear mongering. We're not even close to that stage. Suppose Curmudgeon's idea can be realized without taking ANY homes? We don't know for sure without a study. If deemed feasible, the next step would be to put it before the voters, so there are a lot of steps before the first home is taken through eminent domain, if any at all.

Mott MacDonald is in San Jose so already there are out-of-towners involved. This is a citywide matter and the only firms qualified to deal with it AFAIK are outside of Palo Alto, so get over it.

Mott MacDonald poisoned the well with their first study which contemplated taking dozens of homes. Now when people hear "grade separation" many of them panic and think "my $2 million home is going to be taken away through eminent domain".


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2018 at 12:04 pm

No need to resort to sarcasm.

Curmudgeon's idea may work on some streets but not on others. If it doesn't work on Churchill then come up with another idea. If it does work on Charleston or Meadow then go for it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2018 at 12:13 pm

"I'm guessing that we'll just end up closing Churchill"

Why? It will only exacerbate the traffic congestion. Leave it as is if you can't come up with a satisfactory solution and deal with the gates coming down when a train passes as we have for decades.

With that kind of illogic it's no wonder Palo Alto can't wrap its head around grade sep.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2018 at 12:22 pm

"This is a Palo Alto issue. It's our money, unless you guys are offering to pay for it."

Umm, last time I checked, you didn't have any city money for constructing grade separations. VTA (your county) will be paying for some of it out of Measure B. CHSRA (your state) will be paying for more of it, as they did for the San Mateo 25th project now under construction. So far, you've been studying all manner of gold-plated solutions to be funded with OPM (Other People's Money), but at last a serious discussion about funding sources is starting. We should all be thankful for that, and we all have a stake in the outcome.

"This is the problem with our politics today - damn the community, it's all about me."

That's exactly right. Sometimes the "me" or "my house" must be preempted by "us" or "the community," which is precisely why eminent domain laws are on the books.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2018 at 12:49 pm

"You should sketch out this idea showing your access lanes and access roads and submit it. Print a Google map and make your sketch. I believe you need 14 feet of vertical clearance so you can calculate the approximate slope (1400 feet at 1%). Don't forget to make provision for peds and bikes."

Thanks for the endorsements. I'm working some details. At Oregon UC the grade begins about 500 ft (one city block) from the overhead obstacle, which is a 3% grade for a 15 ft drop. Google Maps shows no absolute show stoppers at Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill.

Street widths vary. Existing turn lanes provide extra working width. People will be surprised to learn how much of their frontage is public property. I was. So don't give up on Churchill. Or close it to autos and upgrade the nearby Embarcadero UC.

What surprises me is that nobody's investigated this option already. Fatally hung up on immediate Alma access, I suppose.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2018 at 1:05 pm

Curmudgeon: You keep studying it. You're motivated and thinking outside of the box. This is one of your more practical ideas. It may work on some streets and not on others, or none of them or all of them. Your efforts are the next best thing to hiring a professional engineer to evaluate the idea, which would cost $$$.

The next meeting will be on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Palo Alto Art Center Auditorium. You should bring your idea and documentation. Maybe contact the people in charge and have them reserve some time for you.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2018 at 1:26 pm

Clem: "Umm, last time I checked, you didn't have any city money for constructing grade separations. "

You must have missed Ed's post above. They are working on it.

"VTA (your county) will be paying for some of it out of Measure B. CHSRA (your state) will be paying for more of it, as they did for the San Mateo 25th project now under construction. So far, you've been studying all manner of gold-plated solutions to be funded with OPM (Other People's Money), but at last a serious discussion about funding sources is starting. We should all be thankful for that, and we all have a stake in the outcome."

Palo Alto has continually been screwed by VTA. Even though we pay our share of taxes to VTA, VTA continues to study how to reduce service to Palo Alto. This would be the first real investment in Palo Alto in decades. CHSRA is not paying anything. The only money that's been spent is for electrification of a dying service. No grade separation money exists by Prop 1A or the disaster that is CHSRA. I love that you continue to be active in the HSR blog threads, but this is our city.

Curmudgeon and Maurice - interested in seeing what you guys figure out.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2018 at 1:58 pm

"No grade separation money exists by Prop 1A or the disaster that is CHSRA."

Riiiiight. In San Mateo, CHSRA is plowing $84 million from Prop 1A into grade separating 25th, 28th and 31st Avenues. Shovels are in the ground right now: Web Link

"Palo Alto has continually been screwed by VTA."

And will be again if Palo Alto doesn't get its ducks in a row soon to access Measure B grade separation funding, before BART San Jose cost overruns suck that funding dry!

"electrification of a dying service"

You're certainly entitled to your own opinions, but the fact is Caltrain ridership is on a sustained upward trend and many rush hour trains are standing room only. Electrification will unlock capacity increases that will likely double ridership in the coming decade. Caltrain will go from the 2.5 lane freeway that it is today (Web Link) to the equivalent capacity of a six-lane freeway, all without adding any tracks.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2018 at 3:21 pm

Palo Altans may feel differently about a trench/tunnel once they see Caltrains barreling down Alma Street on a shoofly track.

Standing-room-only trains, electrification of the ROW and new rolling stock are hardly the earmarks of a "dying service". Enough of this B.S. On the contrary, the baby bullets were a great idea and remain quite popular.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 25, 2018 at 3:46 pm

"And will be again if Palo Alto doesn't get its ducks in a row soon to access Measure B grade separation funding, before BART San Jose cost overruns suck that funding dry!"

In that we can agree.

"You're certainly entitled to your own opinions, but the fact is Caltrain ridership is on a sustained upward trend and many rush hour trains are standing room only."

Mark Twain statistics again.

I ride Caltrain 3-4 days a week. I am very familiar with the service. Actually when things are standing room, there is actually space in the middle cars. The staff onboard even tell people that. I choose to be in a standing room car to optimize my exit. So do many others.

I am also fortunate that I have the flexibility I have to support a 1.5 hour door-to-door commute on Caltrain + MUNI. It servers me because I live walking distance to a station and my office is in San Francisco. That is still (even with in the pro-tech polices of the late Mayor Lee) not the situation for most commuters on the peninsula. I'm at least self-aware that I am fortunate, but it's not shared with most people on the peninsula.

The ridership increases is akin to being the tallest midget. It's a tiny percentage that does not address the commuting needs of most people here. Why do you think tech buses crowd 101 and 280? Caltrain stations are nowhere near the major job hubs on the peninsula. Both Facebook and Google HQs are on the other side of 101 from Caltrain. Cupertino isn't even served by Caltrain. Big companies in Palo Alto are way off near Foothill Expressway (no, residentialists, Palantir is nowhere near being "big").

Caltrain is designed to fail because of the land-use policies on the many cities of the peninsula and how Silicon Valley has historically evolved. I don't hate Caltrain. It's just designed to funnel people to San Francisco, and many of the largest employers in the Bay Area don't happen to have their HQ there. We simply do not have the density on the peninsula to support a heavy rail-based system in a way that is sustainable. These investments are one-time only and not in a sustainable endowment. What happens after electrification? More losses and fare increases.

Go ahead and keep fluffing up Caltrain. It serve my needs. But it doesn't serve the peninsula very well at all.


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Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2018 at 4:59 pm

"Curmudgeon and Maurice - interested in seeing what you guys figure out."

Don't wait for me; jump in.

This thing won't be designed in these forums. Hopefully, tho, somebody with real clout will pay some attention and give this some thought (or take it out of their wastebasket).


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2018 at 6:08 pm

"This thing won't be designed in these forums. Hopefully, tho, somebody with real clout will pay some attention and give this some thought (or take it out of their wastebasket)."

Your idea is worthy of consideration. You should email it to one of the city officials we have been asked not to name here, rather than leaving it to chance. Or go to the meeting. That's what the meetings are for.

How would through traffic on Alma handle your design? You would have to depress Alma on either side of the cross street in question. It seems to me that depressing Alma street was considered in the first H.M.M. study, but they did not consider access lanes for driveway access on the sidestreets.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2018 at 8:54 am

Those who are basically against Caltrain/commuter rail, ask yourselves where you want to put the freeway to replace it. Look at my previous posts on this: Caltrain is a mid-level commuter service, but, the ROW can be upgraded to support an enormous ridership. Do some research (that is, study the already existing research online) and do the arithmetic.

As for options to replace the grade-level crossings: most of the non-below-grade proposals fail one (or all) of the following tests. Is the replacement:

- Bicycle and pedestrian -secure-
- Bicycle and pedestrian -safe-
- Bicycle and pedestrian -friendly and inviting-

* Many bicyclists and pedestrians are reluctant to use narrow, out-of-sight tunnels for security reasons. Likewise, long enclosed ramps and bridges. Especially at night.

* Intersections with unimpeded right turns, or more than two lanes wide with no safe island on the other side, or with traffic turning left into a crosswalk, are all safety issues.

* Pedestrians are often reluctant to cross through long urban "deserts" with no retail businesses or housing. Bicyclists often prefer to avoid long steep up-ramps.


==>> Keep Palo Alto bicycle and pedestrian safe and friendly.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2018 at 10:01 am

"most of the non-below-grade proposals fail one (or all) of the following tests"

How do you know? Have you seen any of the proposed designs?


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2018 at 10:58 am

"Do some research (that is, study the already existing research online) and do the arithmetic."

Upgrading the ROW doesn't do squat for land-use policies in and around the track. Getting to-and-from the stations, whether you're a resident or going to work on the peninsula is not solved with "arithmetic." Tell me how electrification will get Facebook to move from 1 Hacker Way to, say, California Avenue. What's the math for that?

The key to understanding this is that, outside of people with bikes, no one was been denied boarding on Caltrain if you make to the train on-time. I travel on it all the time. Not a single person has been bumped as an individual.

Basically it sounds like this electrification is just going to address comfort (oh, no, standing! how will people cope after standing in front of their standing desk all day?!) and getting more two-wheelers on board.

So where is this magical growth in ridership going to come from? Just build it and they will come?

Sorry. Not buying this at all.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2018 at 12:54 pm

"Basically it sounds like this electrification is just going to address comfort (oh, no, standing! how will people cope after standing in front of their standing desk all day?!) and getting more two-wheelers on board."

They're preparing the ROW for HSR. See "blended approach". The ROW will need to be electric for HSR to use it, at least that's what they're planning. Extending the electrification to Caltrain is a bagatelle they're offering to peninsula cities to assuage potential opposition by the cities involved.

"So where is this magical growth in ridership going to come from? Just build it and they will come?"

Excellent question. Raising fares to pay the crews needed to operate the additional trains certainly won't bring more riders in and of itself, something about "charge what the traffic will bear". If they simply add more trains without an increase in ridership, the added trains will be largely empty. Another question is, why can't they solve the SRO problem by adding an extra car or two to the rush-hour trains that need them? I don't think electrification will be the panacea for Caltrain that has been sold to the public.

Besides throughput of automobile traffic, a side benefit of grade sep is that trains won't have to sound their horns if the crossings are grade separated.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2018 at 1:02 pm

"They're preparing the ROW for HSR. "

Ding ding! We have a winner. This is the backroom deal from Prop 1A. All those ridership statistics were just window dressing. Or to look at it another way, the sheep's clothing for the HSR wolf.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Mark Twain statistics again.

>> I ride Caltrain 3-4 days a week. I am very familiar with the service.

>> I am also fortunate that I have the flexibility I have to support a 1.5 hour door-to-door commute on Caltrain + MUNI. It servers me because I live walking distance to a station and my office is in San Francisco. That is still (even with in the pro-tech polices of the late Mayor Lee) not the situation for most commuters on the peninsula. I'm at least self-aware that I am fortunate, but it's not shared with most people on the peninsula.

Of course it isn't as helpful to people traveling to Palo Alto as it is for those traveling to San Francisco. But, you are wrong about this:

>> The ridership increases is akin to being the tallest midget. It's a tiny percentage that does not address the commuting needs of most people here.

It sounds like you typically ride on one of: 215, 217, 225, 319, 323, 329, all of which are very full according to the ridership survey. (It sounds like you experience quasi-SRO frequently.) It looks like those trains alone drop somewhere between 4450 and 5332 passengers into SF between 8:07AM and 9:11AM. That is two freeway lanes of SOV (with the traffic moving) right there. Overall ridership north/south/local is 62,000+ boardings/day. That is a two lane freeway north/south between San Francisco and San Jose. If Caltrain shut down, where would you put that freeway? Not in my backyard, thank you. That isn't a "midget" no longer how you want to look at it.

>> Go ahead and keep fluffing up Caltrain. It serve my needs. But it doesn't serve the peninsula very well at all.

Caltrain makes a huge difference to San Francisco-- without it, another four-lane freeway into downtown. Most of the Caltrain capacity, as you say, is optimized to deliver passengers into San Francisco (or San Jose). See ridership reference below. I agree that the distributed destinations in Santa Clara County are a challenge. People see Caltrain go by and don't think that much about it, but, 1050 people on one single SRO train like the #329 is a half-hour of SOV traffic on a freeway lane.

**Web Link


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2018 at 2:32 pm

"Overall ridership north/south/local is 62,000+ boardings/day. "

62,000. That's always the number being thrown around. One way trips. People take round trips. That makes the number of individuals at 31,000 per day.

Only 31,000 per day. The entire day.

(actually what's funny is that 2017 ridership actually dropped vs. 2016, but let's not talk about that)

Again, certain trains have been SRO, but no one, other than bicyclists, have been bumped to later trains. Like I said, it meets the need of a tiny percentage of commuters on the peninsula, but the investment in electrification to increase capacity is not justified on the ground. As you even said, it doesn't help that companies in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are spread out.

Show me a large number of people bumped and I'll reconsider. But I don't see it in my years of commuting on Caltrain. Again, it meets my needs, but it isn't the end-all-be-all that Caltrain and its proponents would have you believe.

I'm not asking to shut down Caltrain (after all I use the service). I just question the massive investment in electrification that is driving this grade-separation discussion that we're having.

Admit it. Caltrain electrification was simply a show to get the ROW prepped for HSR that will never get here.

Is that so hard to acknowledge?


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Part of the problem with Caltrain is its pricing and its frequency. Say you are riding from Palo Alto to Redwood City. That is crossing two zones and means that the price of a ticket is more than that of riding between Palo Alto to Sunnyvale although that would be a longer distance in miles. The other problem is that if you miss your train, the next one that stops at both stations is not the next train but would be an hour later. Both those things keep ridership down on relatively short commutes.

Likewise, those who live in Gilroy have almost no choice in train and the cost of riding the train is not affordable when taking free parking at work into account. Since living in Gilroy is much more affordable than living on the Peninsula, it would make sense for those commuters to find Caltrain attractive. Unfortunately, for many it does not.

Since Caltrain is being touted for the need for increased housing on the corridor, it makes sense that these shorter commutes are accommodated better. Otherwise it will not attract more people to ride instead of drive.


3 people like this
Posted by maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 26, 2018 at 3:38 pm

30,000 per day is the ridership number I usually bandy about.

"Caltrain electrification was simply a show to get the ROW prepped for HSR that will never get here."

Yep. That is what the "blended approach" is all about.

Electrification for HSR plus a fleet of 96 brand new electric EMU'S for Caltrain. At the same time, the cities are on their own to come up with the millions required for grade sep.

If CA HSR ever gets rolling, which I hope it won't, I predict the trains will be largely empty. They have made no effort to determine how HSR will compete against driving (cheaper) and flying (faster).


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 26, 2018 at 3:52 pm

"They have made no effort to determine how HSR will compete against driving (cheaper) and flying (faster)."

Flying also can be cheaper. In this past year, I have been able to fly SFO-LAX for $113 round trip on United. That's cheaper than what they're proposing for HSR.

(just waiting for more commenters from the CHSR blog to flock here)


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2018 at 5:09 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Maurice wrote:
"... trains won't have to sound their horns if the crossings are grade separated."

Trains won't be allowed to sound their horns unless the engineer sees a reason to do so if crossings are converted into "quiet zones." Atherton created the first and only quiet zone on the Caltrain line at its Fair Oaks Lane crossing (adjacent to their station) in 2016. It's working very well now. More recently, every city and county along the entire 42-mile new SMART train between San Rafael and northern Santa Rosa has taken the necessary steps (see Web Link
) to make their crossings quiet zones.

Atherton now has a 'quiet zone' for Fair Oaks rail crossing (Menlo-Atherton Almanac, June 14, 2016)
Web Link


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2018 at 6:40 pm

“62,000. That's always the number being thrown around. One way trips. People take round trips. That makes the number of individuals at 31,000 per day.”

If you’re going to have it that way, then 101 has zero people or vehicles traveling in the southbound lanes. People take round trips, as you say, so traffic counts should only be tallied in one direction to measure the number of vehicles and people who use 101.

Sounds fair?


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Posted by Stump
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 26, 2018 at 8:35 pm

@Clem.

Right on!
In fact, people drive to work and then most of them head out for lunch and back, then home and many go out again in the evening. so divide traffic counts by 6 !


2 people like this
Posted by aaa
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2018 at 9:03 am

"They have made no effort to determine how HSR will compete against driving (cheaper) "

It does not require much effort, the American Automobile Association calculates the average cost of driving from Downtown LA to Downtown SF at $213. ($0.56 x 381).
If HSR ticket is $100, it is much cheaper than driving, and 3 hours quicker and much more comfortable, and there is a full size toilet aboard and you can chat to fellow travelers at the coffee bar. Ok, you have to get an Uber for the last miles, but still its cheaper unless there are 3 people in the car, which generally there isn't because the average vehicle occupancy rate is 1.1

Cost of driving: Web Link


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2018 at 9:37 am

Sure, Clem from somewhere else. Let’s count the total number of people who commute on 101 vs. Caltrain. I don’t think those numbers would make Caltrain look any better, especially if you look at the (lack of) ROI from electrification.

As for aaa, if you have three folks in the car, the math for HSR fails. Also you have to figure out how to get to the HSR station at both ends, so 100 one way is not the total cost. That’s why the comparison to airports is more apt. And my 113 round trip beats 100 each way.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2018 at 9:49 am

That AAA figure sounds awfully high. It is 358 miles by actual odometer reading when I drive from Palo Alto to L.A., so let's say 390 miles from the city to L.A. My car gets about 30 mpg on the freeway so I use approximately 13 gallons of gas. If gas is $4 per gallon that's $52. The car is insured whether I make the trip or not. Add a few $$$ for wear and tear on the vehicle and it's still less than $75.

That post assumes HSR delivers on the fares and travel times promised to the public to induce them to vote "yes" on Prop. 1A.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2018 at 10:13 am

Those are great questions:

What is the ROI of highway 101 improvements?

How many individuals use 101?

On the latter, I seriously doubt that it’s more than 10x Caltrain, seeing as 101 throughput is only about 4x Caltrain during peak hours. Before electrification.


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Posted by aaa
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2018 at 11:18 am

"you have to figure out how to get to the HSR station at both ends, so 100 one way is not the total cost. That’s why the comparison to airports is more apt. And my 113 round trip beats 100 each way."

So your $113 round trip includes the cost of getting to and from the airport, twice! impressive.

The Gov is not going to make multi billion $ transport investment decisions based on an anecdote that someones brother-in-laws cousin once got a flight for $19.

The FAA knows exactly what the real average air fare paid from SFO to LAX is because they collect and collate that info from the airlines.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2018 at 12:33 pm

Reading comprehension, aaa - I said that flying is more comparable than driving because it is like HSR in that you have to find transportation to the airport. We in Palo Alto would have to drive or take an Uber to the mythical San Jose or San Francisco HSR stations. A car can get you door-to-door.

And by the way, I do lots of business travel - I secured that United fare many times last year. That number has more basis in fact than a projected fare in future that keeps going up (wasn’t it just $86 each way a few years ago?).

As for Clem - keep believing that fairy tale. I’m not proposing to close Caltrain. That mythical capacity increase from electrification - most of that can already be handled with today’s trains. As I said before, Caltrain has yet to bump passengers who don’t have bikes. I don’t see Caltrain people pushing people into trains like those old subway pictures from Japan. There is still excess capacity in Caltrain even during rush hour.

Unless I see systematic bumping on rush hour trains, the ROI from electrification is not justified.


3 people like this
Posted by aaa
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2018 at 1:06 pm

"We in Palo Alto would have to drive or take an Uber to the mythical San Jose or San Francisco HSR stations."

Some people might take the modern efficient electric Caltrain from Palo Alto to San Jose then walk across the platform onto the high speed train.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2018 at 1:14 pm

"We in Palo Alto would have to drive or take an Uber to the mythical San Jose or San Francisco HSR stations."

Naw, take Uber to Caltrain P.A. or Calif. Ave., then take Caltrain to S.J., or take the 22 bus from El Camino in P.A. to the S.J. depot. You have options. You're not above taking the bus, are you?


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2018 at 2:14 pm

Posted by Maurice, a resident of Midtown

>> That AAA figure sounds awfully high.

Those would include amortized fixed costs as well as variable costs. True marginal costs per mile are more like 15-20 cents per mile in California-- thus, your calculation.

>> It is 358 miles by actual odometer reading when I drive from Palo Alto to L.A., so let's say 390 miles from the city to L.A. My car gets about 30 mpg on the freeway so I use approximately 13 gallons of gas. If gas is $4 per gallon that's $52. The car is insured whether I make the trip or not. Add a few $$$ for wear and tear on the vehicle and it's still less than $75.

That is in the ballpark. OTOH, the actual, total cost, to "society", of auto travel, is more like $1.00-$1.20 per mile**. 7-10X your marginal cost. You only pay about 70% of the total cost -- we all pay the other 30% or so. The total cost, for example, includes the capital costs paid for roads and bridges out of property and income and sales taxes, and, external cost of collisions to society (deaths, disabilities, etc.); as it happens, people who have never been in an injury collision apparently tend to greatly underestimate the likelihood and cost.

What is really telling about your calculation is that you only look at the marginal cost to you of highway driving out in the country, while the real issue is the cost, to all of us, of urban transportation. Your $5000 or whatever it is worth car consuming parking spaces worth $10,000-$40,000, adding to peak congestion at intersections, causing lost time for you and everyone else. etc., etc.

Why wouldn't it be worth quite a bit of money -to you- to help get other people off the roads? You are already subsidizing all of us to drive -- to the tune of 30% of all the money spent on driving. Why not help subsidize all of us to utilize more efficient methods and get us off of "your" roads?

** Reference:
Dr. Kara Kockelman, et al, THE ECONOMICS OF TRANSPORTATION SYSTEMS: A REFERENCE FOR PRACTITIONERS, 0-6628-P1, TxDOT Project 0-6628: Economic Considerations in Transportation System Development & Operations, JANUARY 2013; Chapter 1 Page 1-17


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2018 at 2:56 pm

"the real issue is the cost, to all of us, of urban transportation"

No, we were discussing the comparative costs **to the individual traveler** of driving vs. flying vs. HSR.

If you want to discuss the cost to society, the highway upkeep, the rail subsidy, the taxes, the cost of the air breathed on an HSR train, that's a separate discussion that we can leave to the Ph.D's.

I'm not a moderator. Be my guest if you want to threadjack this discussion.


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Posted by SuperD
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 27, 2018 at 3:17 pm

Ya'll should have thought about these things before you voted for high speed rail....


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2018 at 5:48 pm

"Naw, take Uber to Caltrain P.A. or Calif. Ave., then take Caltrain to S.J., or take the 22 bus from El Camino in P.A. to the S.J. depot. You have options. You're not above taking the bus, are you?"

Haha. True. If I were doing leisure travel, sure, take the train or bus. But if I'm doing business travel, the bus/train time and schedule alignments become less enticing. For example, I can take Caltrain+BART from Palo Alto to SFO today, but the hoops you have to jump to do that? You have to take Caltrain->BART in Millbrae. Take BART north(!) to San Bruno and then take BART south again to get to the airport.

It's madness, but it's par for the course. I'm sure there's some optimal cost structure that has the Richmond line go to Millbrae but Pittsburg/Bay Point go to SFO. There's a mostly unused section of light rail that goes between SFO and Millbrae.

It certainly doesn't encourage taking "mass" transit to the airport from the peninsula. And I'm walking distance to a Caltrain station. It becomes even less encouraging to someone who has to drive or take a bus to Caltrain to get to HSR. In my many years of using mass transit, I've learned that when you're traveling/commuting, two transit agencies at most. Add a third, and everything becomes unpredictable.

Given how we can't even align the schedules among VTA, Samtrans, Caltrain, BART, SF MUNI and AC Transit., how are we going to expect a local multi transit authority like Caltrain and a statewide agency like CHSRA to align their schedules?


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Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 27, 2018 at 6:32 pm

Caltrain already coordinates schedules between overlapping limited runs, as well as getting the baby bullets through just fine. Even with luggage, the transfer at Diridon from Caltrain to Amtrak is pretty straightforward. Multi-day luggage on a bus can be a hassle though. The BART SFO thing is self inflicted by the ridership. The operation costs less for the limited ridership this way. When they started, it ran the logical way.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 27, 2018 at 7:25 pm

Many times I have taken a SamTrans bus from El Camino and California Ave. direct to SFO, but that was a long time ago. Or, I could stay on the bus and ride all the way to 7th & Mission in the city. It was a little cheaper than Caltrain.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 27, 2018 at 10:42 pm

" The BART SFO thing is self inflicted by the ridership. The operation costs less for the limited ridership this way. When they started, it ran the logical way."

Right. I think that says a lot about how convenient Caltrain is for the majority of peninsula residents. You would think that going to a busy airport would be a popular use case to use "mass" transit, especially given how expensive parking can be at SFO. I can't blame BART for optimizing people coming from SF or the East Bay.


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Posted by HandInYourWallet
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 28, 2018 at 9:46 am

This is a classic case of state-sponsored robbery. They are taking the benefit of the train, and leaving us with the costs.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 12:12 pm

Posted by HandInYourWallet, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> This is a classic case of state-sponsored robbery. They are taking the benefit of the train, and leaving us with the costs.

"HandInYourWallet", you know who -really- has a grip on your wallet? The highway lobby, the heavy truck lobby (the folks that got the weight limits pushed way up), etc. You are paying for streets, roads, highways, and freeways with property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, -and- gas taxes. You know what causes most wear and tear on highways? Heavy trucks. Talk to me about "state-sponsored robbery" when you get those guys hands off my wallet.


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Posted by Trucker
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2018 at 12:47 pm

Anon: Do you buy food? toilet paper? furniture, etc.? How do you think these necessary items reach you? By flying droid? Trucks take a toll on our roads but what would we do without them?


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Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 28, 2018 at 1:24 pm

@Trucker: We built the Interstate Highway System to make faster freight feasible. Freight rail is way more energy efficient and would be better for more bulk goods if truck transport were taxed more fairly. I'd rather pay more for trucked fresh dairy & produce, and less for wheel alignments when I hit a truckers Pothole. I started out in life at Caltrans. Freeway number of lanes depends on projected auto traffic, but design pavement section depends on projected Truck Traffic. Truck freight currently pays for less than 70% of the cost of trucking on Freeways. Gas taxes and sales taxes make up the rest.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 1:41 pm

Posted by Trucker, a resident of another community

>> Anon: Do you buy food? toilet paper? furniture, etc.? How do you think these necessary items reach you? By flying droid? Trucks take a toll on our roads but what would we do without them?

If trucking companies paid for the full cost of road wear, then, more heavy freight would travel by rail and ship, trucks would reduce heaviest loads, employing more truck drivers. With realistic pricing, costs of some things would go up, costs of other things would go down even more, and taxes paid by the general public would go down. In many cases we would have separate roads for trucks and cars. (Surely you could appreciate that?). Everything would be more efficient and productive.

Have you ever been trained on the effect of heavy loads on road wear? Do you realize that by doubling the load on an axle, you are causing more than 10X the road wear? Imagine if truck per-axle loads were limited to 1/2 what they are now. Heaviest loads would have to be split up, employing more drivers. Roads would last much longer, require fewer repairs and construction delays.

Ask yourself what is really in it for -you- to allow very heavy loads. It doesn't benefit drivers, or, consumers, or, the trucking industry. Most of the benefits accrue to construction companies that repair highways, and, the oil industry. Not you.


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Posted by Trucker
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Even with train freight, goods still need to be loaded on a truck and delivered to a store. What's the alternative to transport via truck? And why not build better roads that aren't so vulnerable to potholes? It makes sense that we all pay more taxes for truck damage when we all benefit from the goods delivered by trucks. I'm sure everything in your home, including the materials required to build your home, where delivered by a truck! Stop vilifying the trucking industry and blame Caltrans for not knowing how to build roads and for not keeping up with maintenance. Of course if the roads were built properly Caltrans wouldn't survive. Road maintenance is how they stay in business!


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Posted by Trucker, a resident of another community

>> Even with train freight, goods still need to be loaded on a truck and delivered to a store. What's the alternative to transport via truck?

Delivery by truck is how it is currently done and will be done in the near future. What is it that says that trucks should be loaded so heavily as they are now and allowed to cause as much wear as they do now? Just because we need trucks does not mean that we need trucks with so much weight per axle. As an aside, on residential streets, garbage trucks are a significant cause of wear and tear.

In any case, what is in it for -you- for trucks to be as heavily loaded as they are now? Lighter axle loads will mean more work hours for truckers, and, less money to the oil industry.

>> And why not build better roads that aren't so vulnerable to potholes? It makes sense that we all pay more taxes for truck damage when we all benefit from the goods delivered by trucks.

The key point is, cut the load per axle in half, and, everything will cost less and be more efficient.

>> I'm sure everything in your home, including the materials required to build your home, where delivered by a truck! Stop vilifying the trucking industry and blame Caltrans for not knowing how to build roads and for not keeping up with maintenance. Of course if the roads were built properly Caltrans wouldn't survive. Road maintenance is how they stay in business!

Vilifying the trucking industry?! Instead of being defensive about it, try studying the following document, which does a decent jobs of explaining how much wear and tear the heaviest trucks cause:

Web Link


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 28, 2018 at 2:26 pm

^ And let's limit commercial airliners to 40 passengers.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 2:52 pm

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde

>> ^ And let's limit commercial airliners to 40 passengers.

Why? Are you concerned about wear and tear to the air?

In any case, the latest generation of airliners are far more efficient and far quieter than previous generations. Take the Boeing 787 for example. Check out the numbers here:

Web Link

Over 100 seat-miles/gallon for the 787-9 304-seat configuration at longer distances. For shorter distances, check out the Boeing 737 MAX-8. Difficult to compete with those numbers if limited to 40 passengers.



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Posted by brian
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2018 at 3:31 am

"if truck transport were taxed more fairly"

In Germany they toll trucks based on the distance driven in kilometers, the number of axles and the emission category of the vehicle.

"Toll revenues in excess of system operating costs provide funding for transport infrastructure improvements. The scheme has provided freight companies with an incentive to purchase vehicles with lower emission rates. The UK Commission for Integrated Transport (2007) cites a 6% decrease in the number of empty runs and a 6% shift to rail from road freight mode as a result of implementing the system. Those factors are likely to lower the emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants on German roads."

I will come to California one day: Web Link


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:14 am

Posted by brian, a resident of another community

>> In Germany they toll trucks based on the distance driven in kilometers, the number of axles and the emission category of the vehicle.

Hi brian, say, I've been wondering about something. In the German system, how do they know how much the vehicle weighs, whether the axle limits are being followed, etc.? In California, most of the weigh stations they formerly used to spot-check trucks weight have been shut down.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2018 at 11:05 am

As long as you guys are aware of increasing the cost of commercial transportation will inevitably increase the cost of milk and bread, then go for it. Remember, companies don't foot the bill of increased regulatory or tax burdens - end consumers do.


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Posted by Rich
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 1, 2018 at 11:55 am

I am concerned that the Palo Alto city council not prematurely close off any options based on the rail options white paper. Yes, this report raises problems, but problems have potential solutions.

In the February 23 Weekly, page 10, Council member Adrian Fine raised the possibility of selling development rights as one way of paying for part of the tunneling cost. If some of that development were to business, the city might gain future tax revenue also.

Broadly speaking, there are two sets of problems; cost and technical/political.

Fine’s suggestion is just one possible way to address the cost issue. There may be other ways. For example, there are large firms whose employees live and commute on the peninsula. They will benefit from the tunnel approach by having a more desirable place for their employees to work and commute. Might those firms be induced to help pay for this option? Since a tunnel would be environmentally positive, might some funding be available from some environmentally conscious groups?

It would seem that there would be a cost saving to Palo Alto if Mt. View and Menlo Park were also to decide on putting the tracks under ground.

The 1% vs. 2% slope problem might go away if Mt. View and Menlo Park were also to decide that tunneling is in their best interests also.

What is needed is to take each problem raised by the report and apply “Creative Thinking” to each problem. This involves looking at each state and regional agency and analyzing each problem from their point of view and asking questions, such as why is this item an issue? Who benefits from adhering to that requirement? This approach involves working with these agencies to understand their point of view and working cooperatively with them to find ways to satisfy their needs while allowing the tunnel to move forward. Yes, this will take time, but the eyesore and noise of trains above ground will be with the area for the entire future, if the tunnel approach is not implemented.

Creative Thinking involves “thinking outside the box.” Most people are not used to doing this. Creative Thinking can be taught, but people have to decide they really want to solve the problems.

The decision of what to do with the tracks affects not only us, but future generations also. Therefore the cost of this project should be spread out so that we pay some of the cost, but future generations also pay their share also.

The final decision as to what approach to be taken should be up to the voters.


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Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 1, 2018 at 11:59 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Instead of selling more development rights, maybe the city could FINALLY institute the business tax and start counting the employees who are over-running us and clogging up our roads.

I'm so tired of the CC pushing the costs onto residents so they can get more campaign contributions so they can push more development. Lather, rinse, repeat.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> As long as you guys are aware of increasing the cost of commercial transportation will inevitably increase the cost of milk and bread, then go for it. Remember, companies don't foot the bill of increased regulatory or tax burdens - end consumers do.

That is absolutely correct. The point you are clearly missing, though, is that the current system subsidizes the cost of excessive road wear. If those costs were fully baked into the price of truck-based shipping, then, more of the heaviest loads would be carried via train, the heaviest loads would be split across several lighter loads, and, the entire system would be -more efficient- and cost all of us -less-. The prices of some things would go up, and, others would go down. The price of milk might go up, as you say, but, the price of bread might go down.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2018 at 1:17 pm

"I am concerned that the Palo Alto city council not prematurely close off any options"

I think you mean you are concerned that PACC WILL prematurely close off ... You don't want PACC closing off options.

One wonders if Adrian Fine is aware that CPA (City of Palo Alto) does not own the right-of-way. The land is within the PA city limits but is owned by the entity that owns Caltrain, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB), a consortium of San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties through which Caltrain passes.

You can't build on land unless you own it or have been granted the right to build. PCJPB would have to agree to sell or lease the development rights. You would have to factor those costs into any revenue from development, assuming PCJPB is agreeable to the deal in the first place. I have made this point countless times. AFAIK CPA has not even approached PCJPB to inquire about this option.

Next, there are sure to be cries of "Berlin wall" if, say, a high-rise office tower or similar structure(s) are planned for the right-of-way. There would predictably be strong citizen resistance to the idea. I have also made this point countless times.

"there are large firms whose employees live and commute on the peninsula. They will benefit from the tunnel approach by having a more desirable place for their employees to work and commute."

It would benefit the employees but would not directly benefit the companies.

"Might those firms be induced to help pay for this option?"

There is no harm in asking but I'm not optimistic as there is no direct benefit to the companies.

"It would seem that there would be a cost saving to Palo Alto if Mt. View and Menlo Park were also to decide on putting the tracks under ground.

"The 1% vs. 2% slope problem might go away if Mt. View and Menlo Park were also to decide that tunneling is in their best interests also."

From what little I know about it, those cities have plans for grade sep which do not involve a tunnel. Given that Palo Alto has been grappling with grade sep for 10+ years and hasn't accomplished much, I think it would be daunting, to say the least, to involve other municipalities. Those cities may want to actually exclude Palo Alto from their plans given PA's history of stalling, wheel spinning and tail chasing on grade sep.

Involving other cities wouldn't reduce the cost per mile of the project. 1% vs 2% slope determines the length of the trench. A 2% slope will result in a shorter trench.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2018 at 3:51 pm

"This involves looking at each state and regional agency and analyzing each problem from their point of view and asking questions, such as why is this item an issue? Who benefits from adhering to that requirement?"

Almost nobody wants a tunnel because it would be prone to flooding and need constantly pumped, would be prone to damage in an earthquake, could not be used by diesel freight trains, would require long disruptive ramps hosted by neighboring cities who would not benefit from the actual tunnel, and a two track tunnel would create a bottle-neck in a potentially 4 track transport artery at a time when regions, states, and feds are looking for ways to increase transit capacity.
You can't build anything heavier than a bungalow above the tunnel because of the geologically weak soil conditions.

There are only a few hundred people who really want a tunnel so bad they would be willing to help crowdfund it.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2018 at 5:04 pm

"You can't build anything heavier than a bungalow above the tunnel because of the geologically weak soil conditions."

You are probably correct. I can't envision where the foundation for a building of any size would go, let alone underground parking facilities. You would have to bore the tunnel so deep that access to it would be a nightmare. You would also have to drive pilings through so much soggy soil, c.f. the leaning skyscraper in San Francisco.


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Posted by Ralph Eckland
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2018 at 5:27 pm

Governor Browns high speed rail project probably will never be completed in our lifetime. Maybe in the mean time you could consider adding more automobile lanes going in each direction at each underpass, overpass, and street level crossing so that more automobiles can get across the tracks in a shorter period of time as they add more needed commuter trains.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2018 at 5:58 pm

"consider adding more automobile lanes going in each direction at each underpass, overpass, and street level crossing so that more automobiles can get across the tracks in a shorter period of time as they add more needed commuter trains."

Where are you going to come up with the land to add these lanes? I don't think it can be done without taking private residences by eminent domain at $2 million each.

Seems like a non-starter.


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:10 pm

"Almost nobody wants a tunnel because it would be prone to flooding and need constantly pumped, would be prone to damage in an earthquake, could not be used by diesel freight trains, would require long disruptive ramps hosted by neighboring cities who would not benefit from the actual tunnel, and a two track tunnel would create a bottle-neck in a potentially 4 track transport artery at a time when regions, states, and feds are looking for ways to increase transit capacity. "

Welcome from someone else from another community. HSR talking points? HSR has not officially asked for passing tracks in Palo Alto. Only behind closed doors. Ironically you won't get passing tracks with the existing ROW, elevated or not - there's no room without taking out part of Alma.

You're better off asking for tunneling where there's plenty of room.

By the way, no passing tracks were just another lie by CHSRA - the blended system is not supposed to have them in Palo Alto.

As for your other points - they are simply engineering challenges with well-known solutions.

"You can't build anything heavier than a bungalow above the tunnel because of the geologically weak soil conditions."

So should I wait for all those skyscrapers in Manhattan built over LIRR and NJT tunnels to fall over?


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:22 pm

"So should I wait for all those skyscrapers in Manhattan built over LIRR and NJT tunnels to fall over?"

Are you suggesting that there be a row of skyscrapers along the Caltrain ROW?


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2018 at 12:03 am

"So should I wait for all those skyscrapers in Manhattan built over LIRR and NJT tunnels to fall over?"

No because Manhattan is built on a mountain of very hard rock: Web Link

Palo Alto is built on weak ocean sediments.


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2018 at 2:30 am

"Palo Alto is built on weak ocean sediments."

In addition, the ROW is over several creeks and aquifers. The Oregon expwy. underpass must be pumped 24/7. All of the trench/tunnel plans call for pumping stations. If the pumps were to fail during a storm as they did recently at Oregon expwy, the trench/tunnel could fill with storm water, potentially shutting down Caltrain as well as all freight operations and possibly CA HSR because the trains could not move through the flooded trench/tunnel in Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2018 at 4:16 am

"In addition, the ROW is over several creeks and aquifers."

In addition, the ROW is entirely within a zone moderately susceptible to liquefaction, with the exception of the San Francisco creek area which is very susceptible to liquefaction, according to USGS.

Here is what happens to an air filled underground pipe during liquefaction: Web Link


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2018 at 6:30 am

TBM, what is your idea for grade separation in Palo Alto?


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2018 at 7:30 am

A lot of criticism of below-grade options here.

Any proposal should improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, security, and friendliness.

Examples of the wrong way to do it: San Antonio, and, in San Carlos at Brittan.


Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Mar 2, 2018 at 9:10 am


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2018 at 9:15 am

(This comment system needs work)

Maurice, I wouldn't expect a non-Palo Alto resident to have any ideas for us. This person is just here as an HSR-supporter to stir up the pot. Wouldn't be surprised if this person is yet another refugee from the HSR blog.

As for "weak ocean sediments," there's a whole field of civil engineering dedicated to soil mechanics. There's been much building on all kinds of sediments and types of geography. This is a mostly solved engineering problem. If we're so worried about earthquakes, we shouldn't be building anything here, including a fast choo-choo regardless of grade.

Yet here we are.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2018 at 10:01 am

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> If we're so worried about earthquakes, we shouldn't be building anything here, including a fast choo-choo regardless of grade.

Hi Me 2,

Say, I was wondering where you sit on the political compass:

Web Link

I'm curious about who likes to use "choo-choo" and why.


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Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2018 at 10:49 am

People have been building grade separations for millennia, the Romans were very skilled at building viaducts, so I don't buy into the idea that if you "think outside of the box" you will come up with a brilliant solution that nobody else has imagined in 2000 years.
The options are well known and most likely, in the end, the chosen option will be what most others have done; raise the rail on a mound of dirt.
A tunnel is technically possible, but very challenging and therefor expensive and few people outside of PA "want" a tunnel but they could be persuaded to go along with it if PA pays for it and does all the bureaucratic heaving lifting.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 2, 2018 at 12:45 pm

"I wouldn't expect a non-Palo Alto resident to have any ideas for us."

Our friends from Mott MacDonald are from San Jose. A design is sound or unsound no matter where it originates. AFAIK there aren't any engineering firms in Palo Alto qualified to handle this project.

"If we're so worried about earthquakes, we shouldn't be building anything here"

Building codes in the region have been updated over the years to deal with seismic risk.

Concerning construction on top of a covered trench or tunnel, you have to consider how far to drive the pilings in order to hit bedrock (which was apparently not done in the case of the leaning skyscraper in S.F.). This was not a consideration in the latest MM study. Then consider the load that, say, an office tower will put on the tunnel itself, plus the considerations of where to put the foundation and any parking facilities and the load they will place on the tunnel. Then you'll have to address cries of "Berlin wall" from the citizenry when they learn that a high-rise office tower is going to be built on top of the tunnel.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 2, 2018 at 4:22 pm

"Our friends from Mott MacDonald are from San Jose. A design is sound or unsound no matter where it originates. AFAIK there aren't any engineering firms in Palo Alto qualified to handle this project."

Come on Maurice. Don't be so pedantic. MM was engaged by the city and directed by them. I don't expect others, who live outside of Palo Alto to have the same incentive - they just want us to hurry up and see any grade separation outside of elevation or closing the crossings to be slowing them down.

I'm not suggesting that we build skyscrapers on top of the tunnel. My point is that lots of stuff gets built on top of tunnels in many soil conditions. These are engineering challenges, not obstacles.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 2, 2018 at 8:36 pm

Posted by Ralph Eckland, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Governor Browns high speed rail project probably will never be completed in our lifetime.

Perhaps, but, I hope that it is. I would like money spent on the ROW on the Peninsula not to be wasted when HSR is completed.

I don't agree with all the pessimism about whether or not people will ride HSR. In Europe, a majority of people choose HSR over air if the end-to-end trip is < 4 hours, and the price is less than the airline price. Add in some population growth and SOV auto travelers, and the ridership will be there.

I'm not saying, though, that project-wise, it has gotten off to a good start. But the potential is there.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2018 at 3:20 am

@ 6:21, Quentin Kopp says CA HSR "will be conventional rail".

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2018 at 7:49 am

"I don't agree with all the pessimism about whether or not people will ride HSR. In Europe, a majority of people choose HSR over air if the end-to-end trip is < 4 hours, and the price is less than the airline price. Add in some population growth and SOV auto travelers, and the ridership will be there."

Be careful of applying context from other situations. The European railway system was built before the advent of low cost carriers like Ryanair. In fact, those LCCs are *taking away* market from the railways. For example, France's SNCF is a world of hurt and there's an impending showdown between the railway unions and the Macron government. Also, Europe is more densely populated than California, inside the cities as well as in the countryside.

Europe != California, no matter how much people here would wish it were.

And the airline tickets are *not* cheaper than rail, just like here. As I mentioned above, you can get a roundtrip on United for less than $120 to LAX. HSR rail tickets are projected to be $100 *each way* - and they're going up ($86/each way was projected three years ago).

There's no business case for HSR here.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2018 at 7:52 am

"Europe != California, no matter how much people here would wish it were."

Well, actually, there is one way that Europe = California, and that is where the unions have way too much influence over state government policy. We would absolutely get inefficient bad service from HSR that costs too much.


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Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2018 at 8:40 am

"And the airline tickets are *not* cheaper than rail"

Correct, if you look at Paris->Bordeaux which is similar distance to SF->LA (499km, 2h 54m)
Train is cheaper than flying, particularly if you buy a few days ahead.

Tue 6 March 2018 ticket price:
Bus: €9.90
TGV: €77.00
Fly: €112.00

If you book 3 months ahead the average TGV price is €20

Just like with airlines, the train operator in CA will use yield management to sell seats and you will see anecdotes from people who buy a round trip on HSR for only $20.

Travel mode price comparison: Web Link


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2018 at 9:07 am

In Europe train fares are not cheaper than airfare, but for business travel it is irrelevant if the company is paying. What is more interesting to note is that time is money to many people (business people in particular). It is much quicker to get from city center to city center by high speed train and you can turn up at the train station 15 minutes before departure, unlike an airport.

What is keeping trains competitive in Europe is the time factor. The air time between major cities is short enough, but the 2 hours before check in time, security and baggage checkin make air travel more of a hindrance than train travel.

It may be cheap enough to fly from Bay Area to LA area, but when you add in the amount of time it takes to get on the plane and the likelihood of short distance flights being delayed (particularly at SFO) or even diverted from one Bay Area airport to another, train travel can become more attractive. Who wants to arrive in Oakland instead of San Jose or SFO?


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2018 at 9:13 am

Airline pricing has nothing to do with distance. Comparing Paris-Bordeaux is like comparing San Francisco-Sacramento. You should be comparing city pairs between two major population regions.

And right now SFO/SJC/OAK to LAX is cheaper by air than the projected high fares for HSR. And the train fares can’t go any lower or the business case gets even more worse than already is.

Try again.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2018 at 9:20 am

Two hour check-in time for SFO-LAX? What kind of nonsense is that? When is the last time you flew? With smartphone check-in and TSA Pre-Check, I can get to the airport 40 minutes before departure with and still be first on the plane no problem.

And I many people carry on their luggage for short hops.

Sorry, the 2 hour check-in HSR talking point is invalid. And if you don’t like SFO delays there are plenty of options at SJC and OAK that don’t have the same problems.


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Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 3, 2018 at 2:49 pm

If travel up and down the state is NEVER going to expand, the Old Farts are correct, HSR is a boondoggle. In any other context, it makes sense. We can't wait until some geopolitical event makes driving or flying more expensive due to oil prices. We won't get more runways or freeway lanes (except someday maybe on I-5 through nowhere). In addition to SF - LA Express passengers in under three hours downtown to downtown, HSR can serve business travel from the valley to the Bays and back. Those folks now spend 3 or 4 hours driving, when instead they can be working on HSR. Folks get work done now on ACE and Cap Corridor, but freight controls the schedule there. We are part of why HSR is so expensive. Despite the will of the voters, Many on the Peninsula as well as in the Central Valley can only stick up for themselves. Lack of consideration for the common good is an early sign of the decline of a civiliation, just saying....


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2018 at 3:23 pm

Ever wonder why Santa Fe, Southern/Union Pacific and other private railroads got out of the passenger rail business and Amtrak came into existence?

Hint: the private railroads still haul freight.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2018 at 5:59 pm

"If travel up and down the state is NEVER going to expand, the Old Farts are correct, HSR is a boondoggle."

I find it amusing that someone named Old Steve is calling someone like me an "old fart." Let's do the age game here. You first.

"We can't wait until some geopolitical event makes driving or flying more expensive due to oil prices."

In case you didn't know, we own our own destiny now when it comes to oil prices, thanks to fracking. I think I read somewhere we have (or will soon) overtake Saudi Arabia as the largest exporter of oil.

"We won't get more runways or freeway lanes (except someday maybe on I-5 through nowhere)."

We may not get any more runways, but there is a ton of unused capacity in the air between the Bay Area and Southern California. Right now, the flights between LAX/BUR/ONT and SFO/SJC/OAK are mostly regional jets and narrow bodies (737s/A319/A320s). If there's more demand, they can upgauge the aircraft to something larger. Heck, the Japanese, the land of the Shinkansen for a long time flew 747-400Ds that seat 546 passengers between Japanese cities.

Yes, with no additional runways, we could potentially fly 3-4x the number of passengers in the air. I repeat - without new runways.

" In addition to SF - LA Express passengers in under three hours downtown to downtown, HSR can serve business travel from the valley to the Bays and back. "

So basically you're encouraging Bay Area sprawl to reach the valley. In any case, tell me what fares roundtrip between the Valley and San Francisco do you expect? It's not going to be Caltrain fares, I can tell you that already. Either you're optimized for long distances or commute distances. A train focused on one would be a terrible at meeting the needs of the other from a speed and cost perspective.

And, furthermore, you still have the same problem that Caltrain has - many of the tech jobs are still on the peninsula. HSR would only get you to San Jose or San Francisco.

Nope, as much as the CHSRA folks would like to pretend, you HSR will do nothing for commutes.


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Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 3, 2018 at 6:58 pm

@Me2:

I'll go first. I worked at Caltrans when Gov Brown was Moonbeams the first time. Rode Caltrain before it was Caltrain. Helped Survey it for Caltrans. Have been riding it to SF ever since, I don't go any other way to the City.

Just because we have become a net exporter, does not mean OPEC can't make gas $6/gal someday. More planes or more cars, either make more Climate Change than clean power HSR. I'll see your fully automtated, fully electric, no trucks I-5, and raise you HSR. Money is about the same either way (if you count everybody's costs, including Carbon tax).


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2018 at 8:42 pm

"I'll go first. I worked at Caltrans when Gov Brown was Moonbeams the first time. Rode Caltrain before it was Caltrain. Helped Survey it for Caltrans. Have been riding it to SF ever since, I don't go any other way to the City."

So it appears that younger people (e.g., me) are against HSR. It seems that the "old farts" are the supporters :-)

"Just because we have become a net exporter, does not mean OPEC can't make gas $6/gal someday."

Personally rather have $6 gas if were in the form of a Pigovian carbon tax.

"More planes or more cars, either make more Climate Change than clean power HSR. I'll see your fully automtated, fully electric, no trucks I-5, and raise you HSR. Money is about the same either way (if you count everybody's costs, including Carbon tax)."

The real substitute for HSR is a plane. Yes, driving is an option, but really, given the per person fares CHSRA is projecting, driving won't be impacted with HSR. And as I mentioned above, we still have 3-4x the capacity in the air without adding runways, it makes HSR even less sense.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2018 at 9:17 pm

The US has a world class hydroelectric power system, huge reserves of clean burning natural gas and an automotive fleet that will probably be completely electrified within the next decade... but the hippy generation's war on cars continues.

Is the War on Cars the hippy generation's Vietnam?


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 4, 2018 at 10:30 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto,


HSR has advantages at intra-California distances; when integrated with other, local public transportation. As in Europe, typically. Clearly, people (like me) are looking at an evolution towards an integrated public transportation system with HSR as the longer-distance mode.

>> Personally rather have $6 gas if were in the form of a Pigovian carbon tax.

Highly-efficient (Single-Occupancy) cars built for $10/gallon gas, or even carbon-free electric energy, still -don't scale- to urban density. (Single-Occupancy) cars work in low-density environments-- out in the country. Younger people, such as yourself, "Me 2", should understand -scaling-. Given a right-of-way, such as a freeway lane -- and its maximum utilization skyrockets with public transportation -- e.g. buses and trains. Or even large SUVs with every seat filled. SOVs just don't scale.

You like analogies? Single-occupancy vehicles are like old programmed I/O devices that moved one byte at a time under program control. Way too much wasted time per byte (person) moved. Why not move 500 or 1000 bytes (people) with one operation?

The key to understanding HSR, and, the future of the Caltrain Right-of-Way, is to picture what an integrated public transportation system will look like in 25 years.

Airplanes are fast once at cruising speed/elevation, and at 500-3000 nm trip segments, reasonably efficient. At < 500 nm, efficiency suffers, and, the time overhead for a flight allows trains to compete favorably at distances such as San Francisco - Los Angeles.

Web Link

Trains are much more efficient than aircraft at all distances, however.

Web Link


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2018 at 10:39 am

Really, Anon - still talking about cars? HSR is not a direct substitute for cars, and definitely not a substitute for commuting, where HOV lanes matter. Stop with the talking points. HSR will never be for local transit - especially with only stops in San Jose and San Francisco.

If we really care about local transit, where an impact could be made, the Prop 1A 9 billion bucks should sent to improve Bay Area and Southern California transit. BART certainly could have used it. Could have used that money to underground Caltrain the entire way. But no, Jerry wants to spend our money to make his (dubious) legacy.

"Airplanes are fast once at cruising speed/elevation, and at 500-3000 nm trip segments, reasonably efficient. At < 500 nm, efficiency suffers, and, the time overhead for a flight allows trains to compete favorably at distances such as San Francisco - Los Angeles."

That's your opinion, but I find it amusing that you state it as if it were fact.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:43 am

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Really, Anon - still talking about cars? HSR is not a direct substitute for cars,

An integrated system of public transit is required. We don't have that now.

>> and definitely not a substitute for commuting, where HOV lanes matter.

Commuter rail, integrated with local transit, and HSR, is a substitute for cars. Or vice versa, which is what happened post-WWII.

>> Stop with the talking points.

Whose "talking points"?

>> HSR will never be for local transit - especially with only stops in San Jose and San Francisco.

"Integrated system" == local public transit + commuter rail + HSR
At San Francisco - Los Angeles distances, HSR can be faster door to door than flying.

>> If we really care about local transit, where an impact could be made, the Prop 1A 9 billion bucks should sent to improve Bay Area and Southern California transit. BART certainly could have used it. Could have used that money to underground Caltrain the entire way. But no, Jerry wants to spend our money to make his (dubious) legacy.

Politicians have legacies. Right now, we are suffering from past politicians' decisions to listen to the auto/trucking/freeway lobby. They bet that we couldn't do arithmetic. They were apparently right about that.

>> That's your opinion, but I find it amusing that you state it as if it were fact.

That is why I put in the links. Which you could follow, and read. I could have put in many more. Here is another one, which shows you how it works for a longer range transport, the Boeing 777-224.

Web Link

It takes a certain amount of time and fuel to get an aircraft up to speed and altitude, then it cruises, nowadays surprisingly efficiently, then you bring it down to the destination airport. Different aircraft are optimized for different types of flights. Look at the numbers; they aren't my "opinion".

As for HSR, it starts with two urban areas. There is a reason that urban areas migrate back towards public transit when jobs and housing get dense. This has already started to happen -even in LA-. (!).

[One place that still is a holdout: Phoenix, AZ. Visit this winter while the air is still cool and see how you like it. The good news is that with some luck, in an hour you can drive 60 miles. The bad news is that 60 miles will only take you from one end of town to the other.]

If you have two urban areas with local transit, integrated with regional transit, integrated with HSR, you can get very good door-to-door times, which makes it an attractive way to travel. I've done it in Europe; think of California as being similar in size and population to a larger European country.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2018 at 12:03 pm

"An integrated system of public transit is required. We don't have that now."

And with HSR, we still won't have one. The money that could go to local transit will go to a train that doesn't help us at all. There would be a much more relevant, larger impact if we get our act together with local transit. This HSR argument assumes what we don't have today and currently have no plans for a better future. Yet another assumption that is flawed with the HSR business plan.

"the Boeing 777-224."

(sigh - yet another example of Internet desk research. this also tells me Anon doesn't fly that much)

Still picking and choosing for your examples? The 772 is designed for long-haul flights, not <500nm hops. It's also an mid-90s design. If you're going to do that, why not also compare it to a mid-90's HSR design?

A more appropriate comparison would be with the CS100 or the E190-E2. The 772 will be long gone in 2030. I love when people argue that competing technology just stands still. That's how companies are driven into the ground.


5 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 5, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Any chance we can see an agenda for the March 6 meeting? These meetings have earned a reputation for being somewhat circular. The community well understands the challenge, we've heard the introductions and the overview, we've broken up into small discussion groups, and we've placed post-its on walls. In what way will this meeting be different?


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Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Mar 5, 2018 at 1:36 pm

@Me 2:

Since you seem well informed on aviation, when will optimized aircraft for <500 mile trips have a smaller carbon and ozone footprint than electric powered HSR based on California's published green energy requirements for 2030? As one who hates both flying and driving to LA, but has at least one family member going at least once a month, I am happy to keep supporting HSR.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

"An integrated system of public transit is required. We don't have that now."

>> And with HSR, we still won't have one.

(As I said a bunch of times,) HSR is a part of it. Not the whole thing. Any single investment in public transit -could- be wasted if there is no integration. So what? You can say that about any investment in any -system-.

>>> "the Boeing 777-224."

>> (sigh - yet another example of Internet desk research. this also tells me Anon doesn't fly that much)

Actually, I have probably flown in that particular plane and a similar model a bunch of times (I don't keep a log; do you?) But, that isn't why I grabbed that link. It was used as an example of an aircraft with a particular range of operation, and, a nice graph available, which I gave you the link to, showing how fuel efficiency in planes drops dramatically when used outside its intended range of operation.

>> Still picking and choosing for your examples? The 772 is designed for long-haul flights, not <500nm hops. It's also an mid-90s design. If you're going to do that, why not also compare it to a mid-90's HSR design?

Pick the best available plane for a 300 nm and show me how it is more fuel efficient than current HSR technology. (TGV?). (In 2030, HSR will be electric.)

>> A more appropriate comparison would be with the CS100 or the E190-E2. The 772 will be long gone in 2030. I love when people argue that competing technology just stands still. That's how companies are driven into the ground.

In 2030 the probability is that I will be dead, but, I like to imagine that California will have a transportation system that serves the economy and doesn't depend on fossil fuel. An integrated, all-electric public transportation system, that competes, door-to-door time, with flying, will be a big help. It can be done.

You are right about how companies are driven to the ground. MBAs who can't figure out the value of new technology, and marketing and sales departments who can only optimize for the next quarter. Countries can also be driven into the ground by politicians who are stuck in the past.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2018 at 2:57 pm

"I like to imagine that California will have a transportation system that serves the economy and doesn't depend on fossil fuel. An integrated, all-electric public transportation system, that competes, door-to-door time, with flying, will be a big help. It can be done."

I want a pony too. But as a long as older long-term residents keep blocking all development, there will be no such thing for peninsula residents. Mass transit requires mass, as I've said repeatedly. We residents don't want that so we'll never have "electrified door-to-door" transit using rail.

HSR+Electrified Caltrain still does not meet the needs of Bay Area local transit. Heck, we can't even get effective mass transit to our airports from the peninsula today. If we can't even address today's needs, what kind of magic will we need to have if HSR were to actually happen (which it won't).


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Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 5, 2018 at 9:16 pm


So for those arguing that it is too expensive to trench.. Who cares! The whole thing is never going to pay for itself anyway.

First of all, there will be a 13 mile long tunnel included anyway. Imagine how amazing it would be if this was up the peninsula?

Second of all, connecting SF to LA is silly when the larger problem is connecting SF to anywhere NOT SF. Spend the money on improving transit around the bay, extending BART along the peninsula, etc. not by building railways which we know will never recoup their costs already.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 5, 2018 at 9:55 pm

BART is underground in San Francisco. The Caltrain extension from 4th & Townsend to the financial district will be underground. BART is underground in Berkeley and the six mile long BART extension through San Jose will be underground. The only thing being debated in San Jose is whether they should have one 45' bore or two 21' bores.

It is kind of interesting how our Federal, State, and local taxes are available to fund underground rail through San Francisco and San Jose, but not Palo Alto.


2 people like this
Posted by Spend the money on improving transit around the bay
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2018 at 2:31 am

But residents of Fresno and Bakersfield and the rest of the state are not going to help pay for better transit around the bay.

The 13 mile tunnel is part of a 24-station state-wide transit system that is funded at the state level so that funding cannot be diverted into special-interest local projects for the few.

If residents of the bay want better transit they have to mostly pay for it themselves.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 9:23 am

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> I want a pony too. But as a long as older long-term residents keep blocking all development, there will be no such thing for peninsula residents. Mass transit requires mass, as I've said repeatedly. We residents don't want that so we'll never have "electrified door-to-door" transit using rail.

>> HSR+Electrified Caltrain still does not meet the needs of Bay Area local transit.

Caltrain is -already- meeting the needs of a lot of local transit users. Electrified Caltrain, with quad tracking where appropriate, and with upgraded train controls, and with no level crossings, can have an achievable rush hour capacity of 100,000 passengers per hour.**

IOW - fully upgraded Caltrain can service *all* of Palo Alto's passenger commuters from outside. Not that they will all take Caltrain, of course. That isn't the point. You seem to think that Caltrain, and, commuter rail, are somehow not serious. ("pony"). In fact, there is no more efficient way to move large numbers of people over significant distances at speeds that people find usable.

** Web Link


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2018 at 11:48 am

Anon, we are just going in circles. I already commented on false projects of ridership growth from electrification and actually how small the percentage of riders on the peninsula is supported by Caltrain in this thread.

You can scroll back up to read it.

Your confidence in your knowledge from reading things on the internet is charming, though. As a current commuting rider and long time user of mass transportation in the Bay Area while living in the city and on the peninsula, I don’t buy any of the bunk put out about electrification. I have had jobs that I could use public transport, like now, and many jobs that I couldn’t. My experience has shown me when it can work and when it doesn’t. And for the majority of folks on the peninsula, it never will as long as we continue our existing land use policies. Period.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 8:30 pm

The Caltrain ROW is being prepared for the CA HSR "blended" scheme (which was not part of prop 1A in 2008). All the claims of increased ridership and more trains per hour are nonsense being fed to the public so they won't squawk about service disruption during construction and the ugly catenary.

SRO on rush-hour trains can be solved by adding cars.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 10:31 pm

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>>Anon, we are just going in circles.

Agreed.

>> Your confidence in your knowledge from reading things on the internet is charming, though.

I've been living in Palo Alto since before there was "the internet". Everything from most research papers to totally fake news is on the internet. Including Palo Alto Online. When I post something on a bulletin board, sometimes I provide credible sources for assertions. Normally in the past I haven't been criticized for that.

>> I have had jobs that I could use public transport, like now, and many jobs that I couldn’t. My experience has shown me when it can work and when it doesn’t.

I agree 100%.

>> And for the majority of folks on the peninsula, it never will as long as we continue our existing land use policies. Period.

Frankly, it is a choice. The highway lobby will happily accept our subsidies for highway-based transit (yes, I have provided many -sources- on all this) for as long as we provide them. If we re-direct more money to public transit, it can enable more people to use public transit. It is a choice we make.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2018 at 7:55 am

"Frankly, it is a choice. "

Yes. The trade-off between having a job and not. The choice of having time with your family or not.

You're right. It is a choice.


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Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 8, 2018 at 9:53 am

Posted by Me 2, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> Yes. The trade-off between having a job and not. The choice of having time with your family or not.

The trade-off is between "Broadacre City" drive-everywhere city planning, and, public transit. We are extremely fortunate to have a rail right-of-way along a peninsula which can be scaled to handle an enormous number of commuters. With smart planning, we can have commuter rail comfortably carry a large number of us to our jobs. Commuter rail scales extremely well. Without it, we can all be stuck for six hours a day sitting in our cars. We would be extremely ill-advised to give up that right-of-way at this point in history.


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

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