News

City to narrow down redesign options for rail

Lagging behind neighbors, City Council looks to scrap more than 20 possibilities

Palo Alto's effort to reconfigure its four rail crossings will reach a critical juncture next month, when the City Council is set to eliminate dozens of options from consideration.

In addition to narrowing the list of 34 design options presented by transportation staff to about 10, the council will also decide whether to officially abandon seemingly the most popular and decidedly the most costly alternative: an underground tunnel for trains stretching along the entire 4-mile rail corridor in Palo Alto.

For city staff, redesigning the rail intersections has become increasingly urgent. Palo Alto is one of three cities -- along with Mountain View and Sunnyvale -- vying for $700 million in grade-separation funding from Santa Clara County through Measure B, the 2016 sales tax increase.

Last Wednesday, as the council's Rail Committee debated the virtues and impacts of design options, Palo Alto City Manager James Keene noted that the other cities are far ahead of Palo Alto and likened the city's position to a "caboose" on a train in a Western movie.

"There is always a scene where they go climbing and they unhitch the caboose and let it go and keep on riding the train," Keene said, after Councilwoman Lydia Kou suggested that the city continue to study a tunnel option. "Mountain View has half the crossings we have and has already made a decision on what they want to do, and we can't narrow it down to 10 crossings.

"The rest of the world is unhitching the train for us, and they'll happily sit back and watch us study."

To catch up, it's critical for Palo Alto to start making decisions, he said. The council's Rail Committee largely agreed as it voted unanimously to support a list of 10 design options for the city's four grade crossings -- Palo Alto Avenue, Churchill Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Road.

At the city's northern-most crossing, Palo Alto Avenue, planning staff is proposing three different concepts: closing Palo Alto Avenue to car traffic (and possibly pedestrians and bicycles) and adding amenities elsewhere (such as a new bike undercrossing at Everett Avenue or a widened University Avenue undercrossing); a "no build" alternative that leaves it largely as is, with limited upgrades to improve safety; and a "hybrid" option in which the road is submerged in a shallow trench and the railroad tracks are slightly raised.

On Churchill, the city is also considering three alternatives: the "no build" option with safety upgrades; the closure of Churchill with more significant improvements such as a new bike tunnel or a widened Embarcadero Road; and the hybrid option.

The Meadow crossing also comes with a "no build" alternative.

The final three options pertain to both Meadow and Charleston (the only crossing where "no build" is not considered viable): a train trench in south Palo Alto that would go past these two crossings; and two different hybrid options, one with the tracks over the roads and the other with roads over the tracks.

One option that staff has recommended eliminating from consideration is a citywide trench or tunnel: a popular option that a recent analysis showed could cost between $2.4 billion and $4 billion.

While some residents have argued that the city should continue to study this alternative and to consider creative ways to finance it, possibly through sale of development rights, staff had determined that its cost -- magnitudes higher than other options -- constitutes a "fatal flaw."

Keene also rejected the notion that the city could receive the needed federal and state funding to make such an option viable, particularly if Palo Alto is acting alone.

"There would have to be aspects way more regional and our regional partners would have to be saying what we're saying now, and they're not," Keene said. "They are proceeding on different tracks, and they're ahead of us."

Kou wasn't entirely convinced. The city should continue to study the tunnel option, she said, and staff should provide more evidence for why this is impossible. In eliminating the tunnel idea, the council would not be doing a service to the region's "long-term outlook," which will inevitably include a larger population in more densely packed cities.

"I'm not willing to settle nor be pushed on this big endeavor," Kou said.

Though Kou was initially hesitant to support the winnowed down list, she ultimately voted along with her three committee colleagues after they agreed to include to keep the tunnel option alive -- if for no other reason than due diligence.

"I think a tunnel is completely infeasible, but I think there is a number of council members who will want to discuss it, so it's premature to exclude it from the discussion," Councilman Greg Scharff said shortly before the vote.

Councilman Adrian Fine also said he wasn't optimistic about the tunnel option. The city, he noted, doesn't even own the land on which the rail corridor is located. And financing the tunnel through sale of development rights would require the city to accommodate between 3 million and 4 million square feet of new commercial development.

"That's two Salesforce Towers," Fine said. "I don't think that's a realistic option for Palo Alto."

In addition to the 10 options recommended by staff and the underground tunnel, the committee also recommended that staff add to the list a possible overhead viaduct for trains over the two south Palo Alto crossings, an addition that was recommended by committee Chair Cory Wolbach.

The committee also proved sympathetic to requests from neighbors near the Churchill crossing, about 300 of whom had submitted a petition arguing against design options that would necessitate property seizures through eminent domain. Residents, group member David Shen said, don't want their neighborhood "destroyed with a concrete structure in the middle of it that increase traffic, decreases safety."

The group, Shen said, is more open to "closing Churchill and looking at the system of roads that include Embarcadero and Churchill together to improve traffic circulation in the area, not just for cars but also for pedestrians and cyclists."

The Rail Committee's recommendation carries extra weight in the grade-separation debate because three members of the full council -- Mayor Liz Kniss, Vice Mayor Eric Filseth and Councilman Tom DuBois -- are recused from the issue because of property interests near the tracks.

This leaves Greg Tanaka and Karen Holman as the only two council members who are eligible to participate in the discussion, which is tentatively set for May 14.

The goal for the city is to select by June between four and eight options for further analysis -- an exercise that staff estimates will cost between $200,000 and $300,000 per alternative, a cost that would come out of the city's General Fund. The city would then select its preferred solution by December.

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Comments

38 people like this
Posted by Pete Henry
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 25, 2018 at 11:22 am

The tunnel option is the nest investment in the future as to:
- Continuity
- Traffic abatement
- Noise control
- Convenience
- Safety
- Improved scheduling
Pete Henry


23 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 25, 2018 at 11:26 am

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

What Pete said.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 25, 2018 at 11:27 am

Any "plan" that does not discuss funding is more of a stall than a plan forward.


26 people like this
Posted by BobH
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 25, 2018 at 12:09 pm

BobH is a registered user.

I also support the tunnel. As Pete and Judith said, it's an investment in Palo Alto's future.


42 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2018 at 12:26 pm

A tunnel is the right solution. Pay for it with a bond and pay the bond off with a tax on real-estate developers.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2018 at 12:27 pm

Be careful what you wish for.


11 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 25, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Give up, Lydia, and all you other tunnel proponents. Yeah! yeah! yeah!...I know you think it's the best solution...and it probably is, if cost wasn't an issue, it being an order of magnitude higher than other proposals. You say you have ways to fund it...bonds, support from the state and federal governments, et al. Great, but not achievable goals. Again, stop that false thinking that everyone else thinks PA is as special a place as we do, and that they will help fund our city's projects to solve our own issues. It's up to us and there are a lot of us getting tired of being hit with new or increased taxes, bond issues, et al. If there's anything to give up it's the idea of a 'soda tax'.

'resident' has it right re the funding issue. I'll bet none of the proponents have ever been involved in funding a project of this magnitude directly, other than maybe voting for a bond issue on something or other.

The most brilliant suggestion I got from the article was Cory's idea of a viaduct, if I understand what he means by that. Think Chicago, of a 4 mile span of an 'El Train'. Oh, yes, there will be trestles that some people will have to look at, but it wouldn't be as bad as a berm dividing out city. And by installing sideboards, the noise and worry about rail passengers looking down into peoples' homes would be mitigated. Push this idea ahead and have experts do a cost analysis/comparison.

Cory is no expert in this stuff, but why did it take so long for his idea to be brought up and considered? I'd go with this one if the numbers come in reasonably.


10 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 25, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

"Cory is no expert in this stuff, but why did it take so long for his idea to be brought up and considered?"

Isn't Cory the chair of the Rail Committee? Maybe he got distracted by his soda tax initiative?


Like this comment
Posted by ralph eckland
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2018 at 3:44 pm

Please don't make it an expensive 200 MPH roller coaster ride through Palo Alto.

Save all of the creek, bicycle, and automobile underpasses.

Close the Churchill crossing. Very few cars can get through it.

Add some lanes to the roads that cross the tracks.


31 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2018 at 4:45 pm

Johnson,

There is nothing "brilliant" about elevated rail. It been around and blighting neighborhoods for a 100 years now. The gimmicks Cory is hustling won't change the fundamentally inhuman nature of elevated rail.

The ugly trestles are are just the tip of the iceberg.


18 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 25, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

The school board is looking at a $1.2B bond to fund construction over the next 20 years. This is after the approx. $360M bond ten years ago. That's over $1.5B for school construction. Certainly the city can fund an equivilent amount to make sure the train runs through the city in the best way possible that benefits the residents. They only get one chance to do this right.


18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 25, 2018 at 5:05 pm

Alma Street is already the ugliest street in the city and elevating the tracks won't make Alma any uglier.

On the contrary, I think elevating the tracks can make the city friendlier by allowing the city to easily build pedestrian tunnels underneath the tracks which creates badly needed cross-town bicycle and pedestrian routes. For example, safer more direct routes to Palo Alto High School, to the California Ave business district, and to the San Antonio shopping center.


22 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2018 at 6:19 pm

Resident said:

"Alma Street is already the ugliest street in the city and elevating the tracks won't make Alma any uglier".

Nice attitude. Just throw the people living along Alma under the bus.

Palo Alto should be defending the people living in our humbler neighborhoods with the same vigor it would use to defend elitists neighborhoods like Old Palo Alto.

If elevated rail really enhances a neighborhood, how about we move the elevated rail 100 yards to the east so it enhances Old Palo Alto, Professorial, and Downtown North?


5 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2018 at 6:59 pm

"fundamentally inhuman nature of elevated rail."

Get over yourselves.

Interesting to see that there are people who think elevated rail could be aesthetically beneficial by opening up the land underneath to other than commercial or residential real-estate development, such as a park or bike path. Do something like, say, a 99-year lease from JPB for the land?

There is actually a word for this: a greenway.

Web Link)


14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 25, 2018 at 7:39 pm

@Ahem - sorry, I did not mean that you or your neighbors are ugly. I mean that non-stop reckless driving on that street is repugnant. I remember that the PAPD used to occasionally set up speed traps at the churches near San Antonio Road, but apparently gave up decades ago. If the police have given up on traffic safety for that street, you can't really blame other people for getting the message. If elevating the train tracks gives the city a reason to revamp the street, it can't get any more dangerous than it is now.


11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 25, 2018 at 7:47 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2018 at 7:52 pm

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by our neighbor cities?
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2018 at 8:15 pm

our neighbor cities? is a registered user.

So if we're the caboose, what is it that our neighbor cities have decide to do? It's probably least complicated if the train stays at the same level when it goes from city to city. Are Mountain View and Menlo Park taking the train down or up or what? The article says that at least Mountain View has its plan figured out, but doesn't say what the plans are.


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 25, 2018 at 9:22 pm

It's pretty much a given that the trestle across S.F. creek will remain in place. Probably at grade in Menlo Park?


15 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 25, 2018 at 11:01 pm

Robert Neff is a registered user.

Mountain View has plans for closing the crossing at Castro, and building dual bike/ped tunnels under Central and the tracks there. Also new connections from the Shoreline bridge to downtown. At Rengsdorf the plan is to raise the tracks and lower the road. In Sunnyvale, Mary is to be a big bridge over the tracks and Evelyn, and Mary is so wide that they can accommodate a connection at grade back to Evelyn. At Sunnyvale Ave the plan is to close the crossing, and build a bike/ped underpass. Of all of these, the Rengsdorf plans are much further along than the others.


2 people like this
Posted by Casey Greenmeadows
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 26, 2018 at 12:05 am

Palo Alto is awesome! We deserve our own Big Dig! And, it's not HOW we're going to pay for it. It's WHO we're going to get to pay for it. MOUNTAIN VIEW! Those guys to the south! MPAGA! MPAGA! MPAGA!!!


5 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Apr 26, 2018 at 12:23 am

Can we send Lydia to a remedial economics course if she is going to continue to be on City Council?

How can somebody not realize how far out in left field a city wide trench is?
There might be some hope for Charleston and Meadow but even that would be a big stretch.


2 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Apr 26, 2018 at 12:26 am

Samuel,

You are delusional if you think the schools are going to get big bucks BEFORE the rail issue is decided. A large 2018 bond issue for schools is dead in the water.
The best hope for the schools if one of the least expensive rail options is chosen;
then the schools might be able to come back 4-6 years later with a slimmed down plan.


3 people like this
Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:46 am

Bill Bucy is a registered user.

Does it say anything that this topic has drawn 23 comments while the issue of office growth drew 70? I'm not sure but noticed the disparity.


1 person likes this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2018 at 9:00 am

So, perhaps we should only rebuild Charleston, and allow the Caltrain/CHSR project put quad-gates into Palo Alto Ave, Churchhill, and E. Meadow?

That would give us grounds for a "complete Palo Alto quiet zone".

Martin


8 people like this
Posted by Jeremy
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 26, 2018 at 10:03 am

Pete Henry said: "The tunnel option is the nest investment in the future"

I agree with your points, and a tunnel would be ideal. But where would the money come from? It would cost well over $2 billion dollars according to realistic assessments...


13 people like this
Posted by Tome to wrap it up
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 26, 2018 at 10:48 am

@Bill Bucy "Does it say anything that this topic has drawn 23 comments while the issue of office growth drew 70? I'm not sure but noticed the disparity."

This thread is the usual posters talking to (insulting) eachother. There are only only 17 unique posters so far yielding such insights as:

@Gale Johnson "Give up, Lydia, and all you other tunnel proponents"

@ODB "Get over yourselves"

@chris "Can we send Lydia to a remedial economics course"

Too many insults and not enough cooperation and listening. No wonder this issue never gets resolved.

Close the crossings.



Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 1:06 pm

"Close the crossings."

Close all four at-grade crossings? Can you imagine what a nightmare the gridlock would be?

"Too many insults and not enough cooperation and listening. No wonder this issue never gets resolved."

Never mind the insults. There are too many people suggesting unworkable ideas such as your idea to "close the crossings".

"So, perhaps we should only rebuild Charleston"

Charleston and Meadow both as in the first H.M.M. study. Stop at Matadero creek.


14 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 2:25 pm

"Never mind the insults. There are too many people suggesting unworkable ideas such as your idea to "close the crossings"."

Actually ODB, this is the logical conclusion to how you're thinking about, which is finding the cheapest solution possible without any disruption on Alma.


15 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2018 at 2:59 pm

@ODB

Meadow dead ends into a side street of EC, whereas Charleston follows through to Arastrdero Rd. We don't need them both.

Martin


2 people like this
Posted by brian
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2018 at 3:09 pm

"A tunnel is the right solution. Pay for it with a bond and pay the bond off with a tax on real-estate developers."

In addition to cost, a tunnel is not possible if Menlo Park choose to split grade Ravenswood OR Caltrain don't accept a grade of 2% OR Caltrain don't accept a tunnel.

At least one of these things is likely to be true.


5 people like this
Posted by Live near
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 26, 2018 at 3:09 pm

"We don't need them both."

If "we" are in Downtown North, of course "we" don't.
Try to cross the tracks particularly South-bound between 4 PM and 8PM. Last two weekends was the direct experimental evidence of how bad we need them. Charleston crossing was closed for two weekends for repairs. It was a horror show on Meadows.


6 people like this
Posted by Live near
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 26, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Brian is certainly right. It cannot be done on the local level and has to be a coordinated decision by all involved. Another evidence of how interdependent we all are. We live on a rather narrow strip of land. This project will be not only expensive and technically challenging. It will reveal who we truly are and if we are willing to throw our neighbors under the bus.
I do not own property near the tracks but I am not willing to solve any of my transportation problems at the expense of others.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 4:08 pm

A 2% trench or tunnel requires a variance from JPB. See the first H.M.M. report. Of course we don't know in principle if JPB is willing to grant such a variance because AFAIK there has been no outreach by CPA to Caltrain/JPB.

Read that again. We are actively planning a potentially multi-billion-dollar project and if CPA has interfaced at all with Caltrain/JPB about the project, I am not aware of it, and the clock is ticking.

Again, city staff has wisely rejected a tunnel which would cross S.F. creek and thus the city limit and county line. This will hopefully preserve the Palo Alto station and the University underpass.

If your tunnel/trench came to grade at Matadero creek, that would be the smartest thing.


14 people like this
Posted by Caltrain JBP HSR
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2018 at 4:52 pm

The tunnel option is the worst investment for the future of the rail corridor as to:
- Impossible to add 1 or 2 future passing tracks
- Restricts use of diesel freight trains
- Prone to flooding
- Expensive to maintain
- Increased costs of operating underground stations (lights, ventilation, sewers)
- Reduced safety / fire / explosions in tunnels / evacuation
- Possible catastrophic damage from earthquake
- Entire tunnel could float to the surface in a liquefaction event
Railroad right-of-way owner.


3 people like this
Posted by Why isn't Caltrain paying for and designing this?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 26, 2018 at 7:09 pm

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

Why are individual cities paying for this and not Caltrain? It seems to me like it is their responsibility.


4 people like this
Posted by What?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2018 at 7:17 pm

@Why isn't Caltrain paying for and designing this?

why should they ?
Its a City created problem.
- Building houses too close to the tracks - allowing rich people to move in to them. Of course they want to shut down the train. But that's not Caltrain's problem.


2 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 7:22 pm

"Why are individual cities paying for this and not Caltrain? It seems to me like it is their responsibility."

Caltrain's interest is in moving trains. Automobile traffic is not their concern, especially if it is not on their right of way. If a municipality wants a road to cross the tracks, historically it has been the concern of the municipality.

Caltrain does not participate in the design of city surface streets and how those streets interface with their right of way.


17 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2018 at 7:22 pm

Above ground rail has lots of toxic side effects that make it incompatible with human habitation. Of course it looks cheaper if you just ignore the toxic side effects and instead pass the cost of the toxic side effects on to the surrounding neighborhoods to bear in the form of higher medical costs, life expectancy, property devaluation, etc.

Corporate group think 101: internalize benefit... externalize cost.


Like this comment
Posted by What?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:09 pm

@ODB "If a municipality wants a road to cross the tracks, historically it has been the concern of the municipality."

....and legally.
The city does NOT own the property on which the train tracks run.
Putting auto crossings ACROSS the train tracks and property was a city decision and they are responsible for the poor design and implementation that folks seem so concerned about.


1 person likes this
Posted by What?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:17 pm

@Ahem: "Above ground rail has lots of toxic side effects that make it incompatible with human habitation."

Not necessarily. You are making too many assumptions.


5 people like this
Posted by Harry Merkin
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:28 pm

Alma already carries far more people than Caltrain ever will. It therefore makes no sense to spend billions to accommodate autos to Caltrain. Shut it down and use the land for roadway expansion.


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:36 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Okay, who is going to pony up $500,000,000 per MILE to make another " Big Dig " fiasco? The more you wait, the more the cost goes up!
Why not invest in some BUS tickets ( save that money! ) and find out how the DENVER METRO AREA resolved this same issue with clean, electric LIGHT RAIL trains instead of the stinky, polluting mess called Caltrain ( which should not exist in the first place ). Or is Palo Alto too embarrassed to admit some city has done a better job of handling the job of moving people without spending a $BILLION every two miles to do it. BTW, those numbers were from over a decade ago. How about asking a sound level meter ( I'll bet you can borrow one from the PAPD ) to check the sound level of the RTD light rail trains as they go by. BTW for that amount of money, PA should just buy an underground boring machine. But how do you sell it when you no longer need to bore holes with it? Auction it off with no minimum? Sell it to Perennial Gouger & Extortion to fix their exploding underground gas lines? How about creating underground homes for the homeless so they do not show up anymore ( why is that person look so white, daddy? Well, only white people are allowed in Palo Alto, darling.) ( that used to be true in the history of Palo Alto, That was why East Palo Alto was created; when RED-LINING was practiced ).


Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:44 pm

Above ground rail has lots of toxic side effects that make it incompatible with human habitation.

So do BART trains, automobiles, motorcycles, airplanes and probably nuclear submarines.

So what?


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 26, 2018 at 8:53 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I just thought of another use for a boring machine: pawn it off to other cities on the Peninsula! They are also going to have to bury the Caltrain tracks too! And add a underground connection to HSR in San Jose! What do you not have that the VTA has already? Some people doing nothing for an enormous yearly salary....but I digress.....


4 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 9:08 pm

"Alma already carries far more people than Caltrain ever will. It therefore makes no sense to spend billions to accommodate autos to Caltrain. Shut it down and use the land for roadway expansion."

Alma doesn't carry passengers between San Francisco and Gilroy.

Get real. The city of Palo Alto can't shut down Caltrain with the wave of a magic wand. The trains have been here for 150+ years, they serve a number of cities in three counties and aren't going away.


2 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 26, 2018 at 9:14 pm

@Live near

That's because, Charleston is a thoroughfare, and Meadow is not. If you shut down Meadow for the weekend, you will not see the same affect.

Menlo Park did a cost analysis of passing auto vs cost to build, and it became clear that Ravenswood was much more cost effective than all the other crossings combined. The same applies to Charleston/Meadow.

Martin


Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 26, 2018 at 9:46 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

To answer what has been the responsibility of railroads like the AT&SF, there was the fact that when a landowner lived on one side of the railroad tracks and a highway existed on the other side, a railroad placed a crossbuck sign when the ROW crossed a landowners driveway. You see this on the modern BNSF railroad ROW now. It has been the city responsibility to ASK for better level crossing warning equipment. Now, with the growth of America's major export, LAWYERS, the questions are starting to get complicated. For example, both BART and RTD Light Rail, both have high voltage and current involved with their motive power. That is why you see warning signs along their elevated trains; instead of death by oncoming trains, death by electrocution seems so impersonal. It takes more work to do it. Elevating trackage also stops the impatient motorist from going between lowered crossing gates, just to get clobbered from a train from the opposite direction ( yes, that has happened many times and no,you are not a Darwin Award winner, we have exceptions as I was a judge on-line ).
FYI on nuc's causing pollution, I think you have a bigger problem with both warming and radioactivity from the waste water from the Japanese Nuke plants that melted down when that tsunami hit them AFTER the lights went out! The plants required EXTERNAL POWER to be able to control the reactors and start up the backup diesel power generators. the control rooms were DARK and everyone tried to put together strings of their own car batteries to get lights and power their control consoles, just to watch in horror as each reactor starting to melt down! This means the Humbolt Current ( Santa Cruz! ) is seeing raised temperatures and increased radioactivity that makes Chernobyl look like a picnic (I swiped that from a James Bond flick ) I hope that gives Ahem something to think about...I learned Failure Analysis thanks to an employer in Silicon Valley and studied TMI, near misses ( we have lots )The arrogance of the Russian trying to bully the atoms in Russia and Tepco's gamble that humanity has yet to pay the bill on. I have to admit that there is man made global warming but not from the source everyone thinks of..Remember radioactive exposure is cumulative. By the time the Geiger Counters start clicking, it may already be too late..


11 people like this
Posted by Go PA
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 26, 2018 at 9:55 pm

@tome to wrap it up
It’s not so much that palo Altans are throwing insults. Rather, city council members make some judgements that severely undermine Palo Alto’s quality of living. For instance, energy and $ is directed towards renaming 2 middle schools, as opposed to directing that effort into addressing mental health crises among our youth. (I might even add, shouldn’t we rename Stanford itself? He was a racist at the time — isn’t that as bad as the eugenics movement? Just some food for thought)

Furthermore, money is poured into a Ross road bike boulevard with incredibly dangerous bulb outs and islands. Couldn’t that money be spent into analyzing solutions and potential issues re: alma street and railroad?


It’s a reiterative narrative of city council members not representing what the people of Palo Alto want. They don’t listen to us, and it has reached to the point where the power is in OUR collective hands. We need to scream, we need to shout, we need to advocate for ourselves, for our children, for our community. Because City Council ain’t gonna do a dam thing that will help US.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 26, 2018 at 10:26 pm

If Palo Alto builds $250-1000 million worth of railroad infrastructure on Caltrain's ROW who owns the infrastructure?

If Caltrain owns the infrastructure Palo Alto built, is Caltrain responsible for the maintenance and upgrades or does Palo Alto have to maintain the infrastructure and upgrade it when it becomes dilapidated and/or obsolete?

If Palo Alto retains ownership of the infrastructure it built, can Palo Alto charge Caltrain a toll to use the infrastructure to help defray the cost of construction, maintenance, and to fund capitol improvements to the infrastructure when it becomes dilapidated and/or obsolete?


4 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2018 at 10:40 pm

ODB: “Caltrain does not participate in the design of city surface streets and how those streets interface with their right of way.”

Sure they do. Caltrain designed and built the grade separations in San Bruno. They designed and are now building the new grade separations in San Mateo. They take on these projects after the community agrees on a reasonable solution, which evidently may take a while longer in Palo Alto. Don’t worry, there’s no rush.

Harry Merkin: “Alma already carries far more people than Caltrain ever will.”

That is exceedingly likely to be false. Data: Web Link

the_punnisher: “the stinky, polluting mess called Caltrain”

Remind us what is stinky and polluting about this? Web Link



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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 12:11 am

"If Palo Alto builds $250-1000 million worth of railroad infrastructure on Caltrain's ROW who owns the infrastructure?"

An excellent question.

Thinking out loud, Caltrain is responsible for the safe operation of its trains in compliance with Federal law. One would think Caltrain is responsible for maintaining the RR infrastructure because CPA not qualified or equipped to maintain a railroad.

Suppose CPA built a viaduct with a greenway below it; could Caltrain charge CPA for the use of the land, i.e. could Caltrain lease the land to CPA? In the case of a tunnel, would CPA or Caltrain maintain the pumps?

Could a deal be struck where CPA finances the improvements, such as a tunnel, but Caltrain is allowed to use it and pass its trains through it and maintains it, with no money changing hands?

I don't believe any money changes hands for the freight rights Union Pacific has to run freight trains on the Caltrain ROW. Don't forget that these improvements would be built on land owned by Caltrain.

"Caltrain designed and built the grade separations in San Bruno. They designed and are now building the new grade separations in San Mateo. They take on these projects after the community agrees on a reasonable solution, which evidently may take a while longer in Palo Alto."

The first question is, has CPA reached out to Caltrain? I have seen nothing which indicates they have, and this is a very complex and expensive project.


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Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2018 at 1:21 am

>> "If Caltrain owns the infrastructure Palo Alto built, is Caltrain responsible for the maintenance and upgrades or does Palo Alto have to maintain the infrastructure and upgrade it when it becomes dilapidated and/or obsolete?"

If Palo Alto wants changes made to the ROW to benefit them, Palo Alto pays.
If Caltrain wants changes made to the ROW to benefit them, Caltrain pays.

Is Caltrain asking Palo Alto to help fund the electrification upgrade, I don't think so.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 2:07 am

"If Palo Alto wants changes made to the ROW to benefit them, Palo Alto pays.
If Caltrain wants changes made to the ROW to benefit them, Caltrain pays."

We get that CPA would pay for the initial design and construction.

After initial construction there are the questions of ownership and maintenance. CPA is unequipped to maintain a railway and Caltrain would likely not allow it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 12:04 pm

"Is Caltrain asking Palo Alto to help fund the electrification upgrade, I don't think so."

Oh, we paid for it. Our federal taxes are funding the project.


2 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Speaking of electrification, here is the first pole going up Web Link , and the first train: Web Link
tick tock tick tock.


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Where did this first pole go up?

I assume this will be done twice in Palo Alto: once for the initial electrification which has already begun, and a second time when CPA gets it together and actually does grade separation. The second time will be at Palo Alto's expense I assume?


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 1:51 pm

"Our federal taxes are funding the project."

Does this not come out of the state HSR money, the bonds which were approved by voters 10 years ago but which they are unable to sell?

This is really preparing the ROW for HSR which will use the Caltrain ROW under the "blended approach". If not for HSR, Caltrain would continue to run on diesel for many years to come.

Put your fingers in your ears as Palo Altans start whining about the "ugly overhead wires" and what they will do to the value of their multimillion-dollar properties.


2 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2018 at 2:18 pm

"I assume this will be done twice in Palo Alto": Thrice if you need a shoofly.

"Where did this first pole go up?" San Bruno.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2018 at 3:32 pm

Keep it local. Dig under the tracks or bridge over them. Those are the cheapest (aside from closing the crossings) and least disruptive (no shooflies clogging Alma) options.


4 people like this
Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 27, 2018 at 3:35 pm

Ridiculous. The residents will never vote for anything they can actually afford, so this is going nowhere. A tunnel and trench isn't going to happen in your lifetime, given the city's unfunded pension liability. Yes, they'd be really great, but there is insufficient support for spending the money, because it's SO much money affecting so FEW people.

In the end, nothing will happen. Elevating the tracks was done decades ago in San Carlos and Belmont, and the world didn't end. It's the most cost effective solution. But it will never fly here, so nothing will happen at all.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 6:18 pm

"Does this not come out of the state HSR money, the bonds which were approved by voters 10 years ago but which they are unable to sell?"

Yes, but the project was in jeopardy until the federal government ponied up $680M+ in grants to make it happen.

" It's the most cost effective solution"

Pennywise, pound foolish, as they say.


4 people like this
Posted by Crossing
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 27, 2018 at 6:55 pm

@y Downtowner: “Ridiculous. .... it's SO much money affecting so FEW people. .....In the end, nothing will happen .....nothing will happen at all.”

I agree completely.


1 person likes this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 7:28 pm

If the next governor is any good, he/she will put a halt to HSR.

Just had to say that.


2 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 27, 2018 at 9:01 pm

ODB: “If not for HSR, Caltrain would continue to run on diesel for many years to come.”

Not at all. Caltrain has had plans to electrify for about a generation, independently from HSR. Here is a study from 1992. Web Link

Diesel doesn’t work well for heavy traffic with closely spaced stops. It’s slow, inefficient, loud, and dirty.


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 27, 2018 at 11:25 pm

1992 was 26 years ago :)

There was no impetus for electrification until HSR came along with the "blended approach".


4 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2018 at 7:14 am

ODB: “There was no impetus for electrification until HSR came along with the "blended approach".”

No, it’s just that until HSR came along you might not have been paying as close attention. There was plenty of impetus, just read the text of VTA measure A (2000) for example.

Again, the revisionist notion that Caltrain electrification is joined at the hip with HSR is way overblown. Not that it matters anymore, since construction is underway.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2018 at 2:28 pm

"Again, the revisionist notion that Caltrain electrification is joined at the hip with HSR is way overblown. Not that it matters anymore, since construction is underway."

Not revisionist history. Electrification would still be dead in the water without the choo-choo-to-nowhere(tm).


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 28, 2018 at 4:18 pm

"There was plenty of impetus, just read the text of VTA measure A (2000) for example."

That was 18 years ago, 8 years before Prop 1a was voted on. Electrification didn't move forward until after the HSR "blended approach".


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Posted by Rider
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 28, 2018 at 4:54 pm

@ ODB “That was 18 years ago, 8 years before Prop 1a was voted on. Electrification didn't move forward until after the HSR "blended approach".

Yes it did.
Anyone riding the rails is well aware of the preceding plans and efforts. You seem unaware of the history, or are just not paying attention to facts that don’t support your case.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 28, 2018 at 7:18 pm

You're arguing a moot point, electrification is already going forward


3 people like this
Posted by Humanity 101
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 29, 2018 at 8:32 am

@Robert

Perhaps if we all work together, the citizens of Palo Alto can stop this electrification nonsense and shut down Caltrain. The train is an affront to our humanity and has lots of toxic side effects that make it incompatible with human habitation. Our citizens are some of the creme of the crop of high society, well educated, philanthropists, wealthy and politically connected. Out voice counts more than most in the political hallows and we should not disregard our importance to the system. When we speak, Sacramento listens. We deserve better.


Posted by @Humanity
a resident of another community

on Apr 29, 2018 at 2:43 pm


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6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2018 at 10:01 pm

The cost of maintaining passenger rail is not limited to the cost of maintaining the the infrastructure but maintenance costs also need to include the additional cost for law enforcement, public safety, and social services associated with this form of transportation.

"Junkies Take Over Civic Center BART Station"
KPIX CBS SF Bay Area ~ April 25, 2018 Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 30, 2018 at 4:13 am

@Ahem: I agree. We would save a ton of money if we shut down public transit and everybody just drove their own cars instead.... we would need fewer police, ambulances, EMTs, fire engines and crews. We wouldn’t need to repair the roads as often or clean up after accidents as often, so the Caltrans budget could go down. Public safety costs would go way down. Without BART stations for example, there would be no places for the junkies to collect so that problem and its costs would go away.


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

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