News

Plan for train trench faces obstacles in south Palo Alto

City would need to get design exceptions, permits from water district, to proceed with most popular grade-separation option

Palo Alto's two southernmost railroad crossings will most likely see dramatic changes when the train tracks are split from local streets, where officials are considering a variety of options. Map by Kristin Brown.

Palo Alto's ambitious effort to redesign its rail corridor is starting to pick up speed in the southern half of the city, where officials are narrowing down options for separating Charleston Road and Meadow Drive from the train tracks.

If the city succeeds in its "grade separation" effort, these two rail crossings are likely to see the most dramatic changes, potentially involving a trench for trains. By contrast, the city has scaled down and delayed its plans for the two crossings in the northern half of the city: Palo Alto Avenue and Churchill Avenue.

The council's Rail Committee has recently abandoned the exploration of any significant engineering solutions for Churchill, where a trench or a viaduct would require property seizures (the city is still exploring a scenario in which Churchill would be closed to traffic near the grade crossing). At Palo Alto Avenue, the city is still evaluating a "hybrid" option that would combine raising the tracks and lowering Palo Alto Avenue. But the solution, several council members have argued in recent weeks, may be best explored as part of separate plan that focuses specifically on downtown.

At Charleston and East Meadow, which are being explored jointly, the city is hoping to come to a big decision in early 2019. On Wednesday morning, the Rail Committee signaled its intent to further narrow down options for these two crossings when three members voiced support for eliminating the "viaduct" alternative in which trains would be elevated over the roadway. If the council does that, the only options on the table for these two intersections would be a train trench or a "hybrid" option, which combines lowering the tracks with raising the roads (or vice versa).

While they stopped short on Wednesday of actually recommending the elimination of the viaduct option because of concerns about issuing public notices, committee Chair Cory Wolbach and council members Greg Scharff and Lydia Kou all indicated support for doing so in November, when the item returns to the committee for further discussion.

For the city, the issue of what to do about the south Palo Alto grade crossings is a quandary that is both deeply urgent and extremely complex. The city is competing with Mountain View and Sunnyvale for funds from Measure B, a 2016 county measure that allocated $700 million to the three cities for grade separation, and Palo Alto council members recognized in February the urgency of developing a preferred alternative by the end of this year.

And with Caltrain recently launching work on the Palo Alto segment of its electrification project (which is set to be completed in 2020), city officials are keenly aware that it won't be too long before train traffic is significantly increased, bringing more gate closures and gridlock to local streets near the rail crossings.

But while council officials agree on the problem, they remain torn on solutions. The idea of building a viaduct for trains over the two south Palo Alto crossings remains deeply unpopular, with nearly every public speaker at Wednesday's meeting of the Rail Committee speaking out against it.

A much more popular solution is building a trench for trains. Davina Brown was one of about a dozen residents who said Wednesday that they would far prefer underground trains over overhead ones. Elevated trains are noisy and difficult to maintain, she said.

"Let's do the right thing now and put a train in the trench," Brown said. "It's safer, it's aesthetically more pleasing."

The popular option, however, is both the most expensive one (with costs exceeding $1 billion, according to one recent city estimate) and the one that would face the steepest permitting hurdles. It would need to win approvals from various state and regional agencies, including Caltrain, and officials are far from certain that they can get these agencies to buy in.

One thing that Palo Alto officials are hoping for is an "exception" from Caltrain that would allow the construction of a trench with a 2 percent grade, which exceeds Caltrain's design standard of 1 percent (a trench with a 1 percent grade would have to be longer and more expensive). Etty Mercurio, Palo Alto's project manager for grade separations, said that the only place in the Caltrain corridor that has a grade of greater than 1 percent is San Bruno, where there is a short stretch with a 1.3 percent grade.

"Getting a design exception is a long process and you usually have to have a very, very good justification for that process," said Mercurio, a consultant with the firm Aecom.

Another potential obstacle is creeks. Mercurio said she had recently spoken to officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District who expressed concerns about the proposed trench blocking Adobe and Barron creeks. She said she was advised by water district officials to consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which may have additional concerns, she said.

Gary Kremen of the Santa Clara Valley Water District told the Weekly in an email: "We stated that any changes to the fish-bearing creek requires environmental permits from State and Federal agencies. We immediately provided information to Palo Alto staff of our contacts with the key environmental regulatory agencies so they could get started investigating permits."

These obstacles are unlikely to be resolved by the end of this year, when the council had initially planned to select a preferred alternative for grade separation, or by next February, which is the current goal.

But if other agencies may ultimately determine whether Palo Alto can move ahead with a trench, council members indicated Wednesday that they would be perfectly willing to kill the viaduct option without external input. While Councilman Adrian Fine chafed at the idea of eliminating the viaduct without gathering more data, Councilman Greg Scharff argued that scrapping the option makes sense.

He noted that it is costing the city about $250,000 to fully explore each grade-separation alternative.

"I think people have a fairly good sense of what a viaduct will look like," Scharff said. "It's a quarter of a million dollars to explore, it causes a lot of anxiety in south Palo Alto and it causes me a lot of anxiety. It would be really unattractive and it would impact people's quality of life."

The committee initially considered recommending the removal of the viaduct option, but held back after Fine expressed his concerns and agreed to place the item on its November agenda. Fine noted that given the challenges with tunnels and trenches, that may end up being the only feasible option. The decision should not be based solely on the fact that many people oppose it; it should be consistent with the city's big-picture goals and objectives.

"We could be boxing ourselves into a solution that isn't possible,” said Fine, the sole dissenter in the 3-1 vote to place the item on the November agenda.

His colleagues all recognized that given the uncertainties about a possible trench or tunnel in south Palo Alto, eliminating the viaduct would leave the "hybrid" option as the only grade-separation option on the table for Charleston and Meadow. Given the uncertainty over the underground options, Wolbach suggested Wednesday that the city prepare different scenarios: One that assumes the city will get the needed approvals for a trench and another one that assumes it does not.

"I think we should be looking at two alternatives at the end of the process, not one, because we don't have answers from Caltrain and we probably won't have answers in a couple of months," Wolbach said.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

37 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Calling the trench "popular" is naive. The trench is only popular if someone else pays for it. If residents have to pay for it (a billion dollars divided 67000 Palo Alto residents is $60,000 for each family of 4), then I guarantee that it will lose any vote by a landslide. The city has tried to find finding many different times over the last 20 years and never come close. Any attempt to fund this project now is just an unrealistic political stall maneuver that will hurt the city in the long run.


32 people like this
Posted by Think Bigger Or Bust
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2018 at 3:31 pm

Why not just eliminate the problematic grade crossings and have only San Antonio Road, the Page Mill/Oregon underpass and the intersection of Alma/ECR (near that old tree the city is named for) as the primary crossings?

Expand the two existing crossings (San Antonio and Page Mill) to multi-lanes and then build an overpass or underpass by that dead tree crossing approaching ECR.

For access to the areas and neighborhoods between the three remaining crossings, drivers will just have to use the one that is closest to their destination.

Later road modifications can include expanding Middlefield Road and Oregon Expressway with additional lanes. It would only require acquisition of one side of those roads and as I recall, there already is a small frontage road running along Oregon which could be used as well. ECR could also be widened in the same manner via eminent domain. Transportation engineers would have the option of choosing which side to incorporate for this undertaking...maybe the ugliest one (although both sides are pretty ugly at present).

Now you've got some smoother flowing traffic arteries and perhaps the speed limits could be increased as well to 45 mph. By thinking expressways and eliminating various street crossings, less gridlock.

The next step would be to have a moratorium on the number of people who could reside in Palo Alto plus restrictions on further office development.

It would still be somewhat quiet and peaceful in those neighborhoods away from the traffic and these would be the most expensive places in PA to reside. The other neighborhoods closer to the traffic flow would be less expensive due to the noise and would depreciate in value allowing for more affordable housing costs.

Kind of like some parts of PA would be similar to El Segundo while the other parts would be more like Manhattan Beach.

These changes would also allow for East Palo Alto to further develop as a feasible alternative resident community...one far more desirable than it is today. Redevelopment of the town would ensure that shift as gentrification entered full swing and various residents displaced for new housing tracts.









16 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2018 at 4:14 pm

>>> "Another potential obstacle is creeks. ... the proposed trench blocking Adobe and Barron creeks ... a "non-starter."

Well Duh, just look at the trench plan
Web Link , it is obvious that water from the creeks will flow right into the trench and fill it up!

Do you really need to spend $250,000 to see that?


19 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2018 at 4:36 pm

In the post soviet world it seems like all of the megalomaniacs have decided to go into urban planning. Guess there's not much room left in politics for an aspiring Stalin or Mao.


40 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 17, 2018 at 8:11 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

It is baffling that a trench would be estimated to cost $1 Billion. That is more than the cost of Levi's Stadium. It's not like they're building a subway to Sacramento. It's a four-mile trench. What is driving the massive cost?


14 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2018 at 9:30 pm

It's seem pretty clear that Palo Alto is going to dither away and pick the most expensive and time consuming option and then miss out on the $700 Million available for these crossings. We are heading toward the "nothing" option, i.e. the crossing will remain the same. It's just going to be gridlock.


5 people like this
Posted by Positivist
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2018 at 10:25 pm

Leave the crossings as is, except install traffic signals for the trains. With proper signaling they can get more than adequate advance warning of an impending stop. That muchly admired whiplash acceleration our new electric trains will feature guarantees they'll stay on schedule.


4 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 17, 2018 at 10:47 pm

Not sure why the viaduct proposal would be eliminated. My understanding at this point is that it's the only financially viable option. Why don't they put it to a vote?


31 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 17, 2018 at 11:58 pm

Viaduct is just a euphemism for an elevated freeway for trains. It should be any surprise that putting an elevated freeway through the middle of Palo Alto is not a popular idea.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 1:12 am

Can't read the word viaduct without images of an old Marx Brothers routine, but more seriously of the Embarcadero Freeway or the Cypress. San Francisco's new transit hub is cracking already.


7 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 1:16 am

@Nayeli
"It is baffling that a trench would be estimated to cost $1 Billion"

CAHSR estimates the cost of a robust trench at $350m/mile.

In Palo Alto there needs to be two trenches, a trench within a trench, the outer trench holds back the soil, the inner trench is a waterproof tub. Pumps must constantly keep the space between the trenches dry. The inner trench must be anchored deep into the soil to prevent it floating like a boat if the pumps fail.

The people of Morgan Hill thought they could do a Locally Generated Alternative that was better than the Authority proposals. Their trench proposal was buried by the experts: Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by BlarryG
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 18, 2018 at 1:42 am

Build the trench. $350M per mile. Build high density housing over it along with a complete N-S separated bike lane. You will more than pay for burying the rail. Housing problem solved, rail problem solved.


8 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 3:24 am

^^^^^
In Palo Alto's fragile soil, high density housing units would need deep foundation piles which cannot economically co-exist with a trench.


12 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 7:17 am

The only solution tenable to residents is the trench. Nobody supports and nobody will support the elevated freeway for trains, no matter how many paid influencers are brought on board. So it's either build the trench, close the crossings, or leave the crossings as-is.


17 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 7:27 am

On the other hand, there is strong support for bike / pedestrian crossings across the tracks. You could build a bike / ped bridge over or under Charleston, Meadow, and maybe Loma Verde for a fraction of the cost of a trench or elevated train freeway. If traffic backs up every day because the crossings are left as-is, more people would be encouraged to bike instead. It's a good solution for everyone.


6 people like this
Posted by Another Alternative
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 18, 2018 at 8:04 am

> Leave the crossings as is, except install traffic signals for the trains. With proper signaling they can get more than adequate advance warning of an impending stop.


If that is the case, eliminate the train and make it an electric light-rail. A bus on rails.


11 people like this
Posted by Giraffe
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 18, 2018 at 9:36 am

Giraffe is a registered user.

Can't Palo Alto just say NO? If Caltrain wants more capacity, let them build taller long trains instead of increasing frequency. Or they have to pay for building a tunnel.


14 people like this
Posted by @Another Alternative
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 9:38 am

You realize the entire peninsula uses that train and not just Palo Alto, right? The train isn't being downgraded just to appease you guys. It's clear that in the end you all are going to waffle on this rather than just elevate the tracks, so enjoy your gridlock traffic.


6 people like this
Posted by bike bridge
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:06 am

@JR "You could build a bike / ped bridge over or under Charleston, Meadow, and maybe Loma Verde for a fraction of the cost of a trench or elevated train freeway"

Building a bike/ped underpass is not as easy as you think. Federal ADA law requires an underpass to have a ramp at least 250 feet long and quite wide. The only way to add a pedestrian underpass to Charleston and Meadow would be to remove one traffic lane and that would increase gridlock and cut off driveway access to many properties.

Alternatively the city could condemn some private properties on either side of the tracks and build a zig-zag ramp on a rectangular off-street parcel.

The Hybrid grade separation option, which sinks the road by 5 feet, results in less property takes than a bike underpass would.


6 people like this
Posted by Caltrain
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:19 am

@Giraffe "let them build taller long trains instead".

Caltrain IS introducing longer trains (increasing to 8 cars from 6), but longer trains need longer platforms and that becomes increasingly problematic in constrained locations.

A triple deck train would not fit under existing bridges.

Caltrain's new double deck electric trains are already under construction: Web Link


17 people like this
Posted by Micha
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:30 am

[Portion removed.] The train will run wether you fix your crossings or not. Get over yourselves and accept the fact that a train does, and always has, and always will run On those tracks, and the riders from across the area and the rest of the state arent stopping to appease you. Why did you buy anywhere near a train if you dislike them so? [Portion removed]


7 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:36 am

How disgusting. these comments haven't changed in 5 years. The trains are coming. Get on the train or get out.


12 people like this
Posted by Profiles in Cowardice
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:37 am

Typical of fine to be dismissive of Palo Altans' preferences. Fine should be reminded he represents us, the residents of Palo Alto. Let's not waste money researching an option that is not politically viable in our city. Myself, and virtually every other Midtown and South Palo Alto resident I've talked to about this issue, are adamantly against the idea of the viaduct option.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:43 am

The Homer bike/ped underpass is nice, though tracks were already somewhat elevated. Without elevated tracks, however, they managed another nice underpass at the San Antonio station with no real estate seized so far as I know. Ramps there are only 140 feet. No clue as to the cost of either of these installations.


2 people like this
Posted by Caltrain
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:50 am

The existing bike/ped underpasses do not comply with current regulations, not by a long shot, and cannot be used as a template.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:53 am

Regulations, smegulations, the Palo Alto way.


8 people like this
Posted by jim
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:56 am

If you visit the East Bay, please look at elevated BART. We could build a better version that could be aesthetically pleasing. I actually like it. With an elevated you have these advantages
- can have park and/or bike paths underneath
- complete separation, yet complete views unlike a berm
- completely opens up Palo Alto. Rather than just a limited number of car crossings, new roads could be connected improving traffic conditions
- A good designer could create something that would actually be interesting to look at.

Some people liken these to freeways, but they are thinner, sleeker and more interesting to look at. Cities all over the world have adopted elevated transit and embrace the style of it. The opposition thinks these are ugly and somehow defile our environment. What about all the roads and telephone poles everywhere? Why can't people be open to this as an aesthetic solution as well as practical. I truly believe that folks on the Peninsula just veto this on a knee jerk reaction to something we aren't used to.


14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2018 at 11:04 am

If Palo Alto spends $250+ million to build infrastructure on the Caltrain ROW, who owns it?

Who is responsible for maintenance? Insurance? Who rebuilds it if is destroyed in an earthquake, flood or other natural disaster?

If Palo Alto owns the infrastructure it paid for, can Palo Alto charge Caltrain to use it?


21 people like this
Posted by Disappointing report on this meeting.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 18, 2018 at 11:08 am

Disappointing report on this meeting. is a registered user.

I was at the meeting. This is a very poor report on what occurred. I did not speak for or against any specific options. Along with many others who also did not speak to specific options, I asked the committee to direct staff staff to get better organized and do work in parallel in order of needed operations.

Two motions were approved:

1). Agendize Rail Committee discussion of removing viaduct option and adding alternative passenger with single track freight at grade in south PA. Direct staff to create a work plan and running list of key issues to get answers on.

2). Finalize and send formal letter to Caltrain under mayor's name to request grade constraint info.

Why, after all of these years, do we not have an answer about the grade constraint? Why do we still not have information from the Water District and Army Corps of Engineers on ground water/creek constraints? This information is essential to guide the engineering and design process. If these agencies believe ANY city should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars creating plans without knowing this kind of information, they are being irresponsible to the taxpaying public. Caltrain, this kind of behavior is brand busting. Get your act together. You are a public agency. You will need us to approve future tax measures for you. Don't create community mistrust by behaving hostilely toward communities who ask for information.

We need Caltrain electrification. We need more trains, but Caltrain needs to work with communities along the corridor to help us all create thoughtful plans that connect us and that work within community context. Our city staff also need to get their act together. They received some direction on this yesterday.

To the Mountain View writer, you are not going to like the plan that your City Council approved for Rengsdorff. They have a plan...and it sucks. Have you looked at it? I have.

I am still open to all solutions. There are still too many unknowns that might make certain solutions infeasible...or feasible. To the aforementioned agencies I say, please provide the information that communities need to make the rail corridor work efficiently for every community along it.


3 people like this
Posted by Arches
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 11:12 am

@jim, "Why can't people be open to this as an aesthetic solution as well as practical."

A viaduct could have a design that copies the stone arches at Stanford: Web Link

If you are willing to pay $1bn for a trench, build a viaduct at half the price instead, you will then have $500 million to spend on decoration.


17 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2018 at 11:40 am

Build the tunnel. Whatever solution we choose is going to be there for 100+ years.
Monies should come from the wider region like it does for bridges, it isn't just an issue for Palo Alto residents since the roads serve a larger community thanks to CC supported overbuilding.

Keep the bike advocates out of the discussion. They are a small, but vocal, advocacy group that has already contributed to wasting 9 Million Dollars on a rarely used bike boulevard.

Viaduct advocates should look at what it looks like in San Carlos. A viaduct is a wall. Imagine that slicing through our mainly residential community.


2 people like this
Posted by bob.smith
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 11:44 am

@Disappointing report on this meeting.

Caltrain has detailed technical standards published online that state what the maximum acceptable grade is: Web Link , so the response to the mayors letter will probably be cut-n-paste from those standards.

In addition to excessive grade, Caltrain could reject the trench concept because is narrows their valuable right-of-way from 4 tracks to 2, will fill with muddy water in a rain event because the newly blocked creeks will overflow into it, will be prone to catastrophic damage in an earthquake, particularly if liquefaction occurs, and will leave Caltrain with severely damaged property if Palo Alto goes bankrupt before the trench is completed, which is likely because nobody outside Palo Alto is going to help pay for a lump of underground concrete.




5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2018 at 11:51 am

Railway arches are used in various places as useful space. With a bike/ped path running in front of the arches space can be used for shops, cafes, artist studios, markets, homework centers, community space, meeting spaces, etc. Web Link Maltby Street Market could teach us how.


Like this comment
Posted by Venture resident
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 18, 2018 at 11:53 am

Venture resident is a registered user.

Dear PA online,

Can you please state your source on "trench with costs exceeding $1 billion, according to one recent city estimate". The current "published" estimated by the city was $750-1B. Web Link
(page 27).

Venture resident


5 people like this
Posted by tom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 18, 2018 at 12:49 pm

An open viaduct or bridge can be aesthetically pleasing and actually open up the city by removing the train track barrier separating Palo Alto. See the Figg Bridge web site for innovative bridge designs. www.figgbridge.com


9 people like this
Posted by HardChoices
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 12:58 pm

My thoughts:

A tunnel would be wonderful. Unfortunately it is not going to happen. It would be like the Big Dig in Boston. The main reason is lack of (LARGE AMOUNTS) money. Not to mention lack of coordination with adjacent communities.

As much as I like the 'trench' solution, what about the creeks? How are they going to cross the tracks? And have you looked at what gets washed down into those creeks from the mountains to the west? The cleanup of dirt just completed was staggering.

Then there are the "berm" and "viaduct" - the difference in my mind being that the berm is solid/opaque and the viaduct is an elevated trackway with some or a lot of open space beneath. San Carlos and Belmont are of the berm kind. Oakland and other East Bay BART lines are of the viaduct kind. Of those two I'd certainly prefer the viaduct. It would have to start just after San Antonio (because of the existing overpass). However, what does that mean for the existing stations? They would have to be elevated, too. I can see that at California, but not so much at downtown Palo Alto.

Finally, there is the "leave it at grade" option. Current crossings at San Antonio, University, Embarcadaro have no lights. Add another lane at Embardadaro on the north side (eliminate that exit to Alma if necessary). Build an over/under crossing of Alma at the northern end of the City. Then take the minimum number of houses to build an overpass on Charleston. I bet you could do it for fewer than 10 houses.

Finally, I bet that clever engineering could build a bike/ped overpass at Churchill. (and certainly if you closed Churchill to cars).


16 people like this
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Oct 18, 2018 at 1:09 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

@Venture resident,

As you correctly point out, the projected costs for the open trench with a 2 percent grade under West Meadow and Charleston are listed in the Mott MacDonald report as between $750 million and $1 billion (for a trench going from one end of the city to another, the cost ranges from $2.4 billion to $2.9 billion). With a 1 percent grade, "the complexity and therefore the projected costs (would be) well beyond these costs presented herein," the report states. So if the city doesn't get its design exception for a 2 percent grade (which does not appear to be a slam dunk, based on Wednesday comments), the estimate will be far higher than $1 billion.

Given all the above caveats, the recent concerns from the water district about creek impacts (and the money it would take the resolve these concerns) and the sharp cost increases for all of Palo Alto's infrastructure projects, I would be surprised if the cost estimates for the trench went down since the Mott MacDonald report was issued in February. That said, I agree that I should have have written "costs potentially exceeding" rather than "costs exceeding" when it comes to the $1 billion estimate. Sorry if I had overstated the case.

I expect there will be more clarity on this later this year, when the city's consultants from AECOM complete their own cost estimates of the trench. I look forward to revisiting the issue then.

Thank you for your comment.


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat2
a resident of University South
on Oct 18, 2018 at 2:21 pm

The Trench option sounds good, but the need for a 2% track slope will be a non starter for CalTrain. In addition, the Water District does not like a trench coming into the creek's path. I would like to see the Embarcadero and University Ave. underpasses added as tasks for Aecom to work out details on changes needed.


9 people like this
Posted by Another Option
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2018 at 2:34 pm

A giant trestle ascending past San Antonio Road in PA and descending at the border of Palo Alto/Menlo Park would also do the trick. Elevators from the street level could take passengers to the train platforms at California Avenue and downtown Palo Alto for boarding.

Cars could now easily pass beneath it at the various grade crossings. It would resemble the roller coaster at Santa Cruz but not as extreme.


4 people like this
Posted by Caltrain
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 2:42 pm

@HardChoices "Finally, I bet that clever engineering could build a bike/ped overpass at Churchill. (and certainly if you closed Churchill to cars)."

Ill take your bet, no way fit a bike/ped overpass without blocking driveways.

If you close Churchill to cars, Caltran standards require a turning circle (or T) be built at the end of the dead-end street which necessitates the demolition of at least 2 properties. With luck there may be enough space for a turning circle plus a 250 feet curved ramp for an underpass.
A pedestrian overpass requires a very long ramp to get a wheelchair 30 feet in the air at the legal maximum incline.

HardChoices indeed.


2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 18, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks Gennady, not only for your admission and clarification, but for your cautionary words as well. Anybody who has lived here long enough, knows what a preliminary cost estimate of a project means in PA. Doubling that number might get close to the real final cost.

Thanks Adrian Fine, for your position on this. All the original proposed ideas, more than a couple dozen as I remember, have finally been boiled down to just a few. To now throw out another alternative one without more input doesn't make any sense at all. Take all those cost numbers with a grain of salt. Bottom line is...who will pay? and who will suffer the most in the adjoining neighborhoods of those proposed projects? Oh, the sight of an ugly viaduct. Check out all the ones that exist up and down the peninsula. People live in homes, now, right next to the tracks all the way up and down the peninsula. Homes are cheaper there and homes will be cheaper if a viaduct is built. That's just kinda how things work in this great country with freedom of choice, and the economics that go along with it. You pay more for quieter and more exclusive neighborhoods. I think most of our CC members appreciate that fact and like where they live because of it.

@Think Bigger or Bust: Thanks! Most Palo Altoans detest opinions from outside non-residents on what they think is best for our city. We feel we are self sufficient and capable, smarter than other people, and don't need any help from outside, except when it comes to needing money for projects. Duh...well here we are! That's what this is all about. Sometimes other opinions are formed by more clear minded people without an agenda.

Tom Dubois took a little heat from the Daily Post for not doing more when he chaired the committee. How would they rate Cory Wolbach's chairmanship now? It's a tough job and one where progress isn't easily measured, and for which there are no simple and easy solutions. I suggest not getting too anxious about any of those new schedules being met. I need to check the actuarial tables again, but I think I won't be around to see the final result.

And please, CC, do whatever you can to keep the cyclist crowd, and their lobby, out of this discussion, debate, and decision making process. They've mucked up enough projects in our town on their behalf already. The grade separation issue should be primarily focused and limited to cars and trains.




11 people like this
Posted by DTNResident
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 18, 2018 at 3:40 pm

"Trench" is a code word for "do nothing". On one hand you have highly vocal residents who live nearby demanding a trench. On the other hand, you have the rest of the city that just wants the problem solved at the cheapest cost.

The solution is not to kill the elevated tracks, it's to put to the homeowners within three blocks of the tracks a proposal: pay a special assessment of $10M per home to cover the added cost of the trench, or elevate the tracks like the rest of the city will be fine with.

As it is, those homeowners within 3 blocks are holding the rest of the city hostage with a Trench that they know full well will never be built.

No, Caltrain is not going to slow the trains down just to bail you out of a 1% grade. No, the water district is not going to let you build a trench at all. And just relocating all the utilities buried under the tracks (in parallel and criss-crossing them) will be a monumental effort. You don't just dig a hole. All water lines that cross the tracks have to be lowered and then the water has to be pumped back up forever and ever.

Anyone who gives this more than a passing thought knows this is a multi billion dollar project that will never happen. Why it is even being discussed is beyond me. Everyone who understands this project knows it will never happen.


15 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2018 at 3:52 pm

The construction cost could be only a small part of the total cost of this project over its lifetime. How much does it cost to maintain $250 million worth of railroad infrastructure and who is responsible for the maintenance costs?

Some typical maintenance costs:

Safety inspections and repairs
Landscape maintenance and watering
Litter and Graffiti removal
Security and Policing
Social services
Liability insurance


Like this comment
Posted by td
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 18, 2018 at 7:07 pm

Just wondering how the high speed rail affects this decision. Am I correct to assume that it's grade and other requirements are the same as for an electrified Caltrain?


9 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 18, 2018 at 7:32 pm

I'm sure it's fun to play Sim City in other people's neighborhoods, but back to reality -- there is no support for an elevated train freeway among residents. That proposal needs to be taken off the table immediately because it's not going to happen.


16 people like this
Posted by Don't forget the freight trains
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 18, 2018 at 9:28 pm

Don't forget the freight trains is a registered user.

For all of the folks who are still arguing for elevating the train, please remember the enormous freight trains that trundle through here. A cute little BART track or monorail track is not going to be enough to hold them up. These trains are big, heavy, and noisy.


24 people like this
Posted by No More Freight Trains!
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 18, 2018 at 10:02 pm

>For all of the folks who are still arguing for elevating the train, please remember the enormous freight trains that trundle through here.


The freight trains should be eliminated over time. They disrupt my sleep during the early AM hours.

People in PA complain about the airplanes flying in/out of SFO. The freight trains are even worse because the sound travels farther at night.

The horns they blow are really irritating and loud.



4 people like this
Posted by Quinn
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2018 at 7:44 am

@No more freight trains,

They were here before you were.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2018 at 8:16 am

There is no good way to resolve this. Every possible solution has a long list of pros and cons. The one thing that is clear is that something has to be done and that not everyone is going to be happy.

Saying that, the more talk and the more input is not going to make it any easier for anyone. We are getting to the stage that "just do it" is going to be the solution and panic is setting in. I don't want to see anyone losing their home but I think that in 20 years time we will have survived even if we are the ones whose lives were messed up by this.

However, one thing that must be taken into account is the amount of disruption it will take. Decent decisions have to be made so that alternative temporary trafficflow is part of the equation.


10 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 19, 2018 at 8:26 am

“The one thing that is clear is that something has to be done” - that is not clear at all. The world will not end if some people (mostly non-residents using Charleston as a cut through) have to wait a few minutes extra to cross the tracks.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2018 at 8:58 am

JR, I tend to disagree with your assessment.

Have you data that it is mostly non-residents cutting through Charleston?

It is something to think about that for example both our high schools are the same side of the tracks. That means that approximately half our high school students have no alternative but to cross those tracks each way every school day. Some can do it by San Antonio or Oregon or Embarcadero, but a large number are doing it at grade.

Many residents cross the tracks, not all at grade, to get to 280 or Stanford, and others cross to get to 101 or Google and Facebook.

In other words, the reason why people are crossing is not the point. The point is that traffic is crossing and yes, people will be inconvenienced even more than they are at present. It isn't just that it may be just a few minutes for them each time they cross, it is because those few minutes for them waiting to cross will mean that there is a lot less space for the rest of us who have to deal with their back ups on our arteries as we try to get where we are going which doesn't involve crossing the tracks.

Wake up to the fact that each of us who lives in Palo Alto is going to feel the effects of not only what happens when the work is being done (whatever work it is) and the effects of not doing anything to move the traffic efficiently.


9 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 19, 2018 at 9:15 am

Don't forget we are going to amortize the cost over the next 100 years. Build it right, build it once.


12 people like this
Posted by No More Freight Trains!
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 19, 2018 at 2:38 pm

>@No more freight trains,
>They were here before you were.

So were the dinosaurs. Your point?


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2018 at 4:21 pm

Posted by No More Freight Trains!, a resident of Ventura

>> So were the dinosaurs. Your point?

Diesel freight trains are far safer, cleaner, and more energy-efficient than diesel trucks on highways per ton-mile**. Electrified trains even more so.

** Web Link

** Web Link

** Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 19, 2018 at 5:38 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

Traveling extensively in Japan, I see the "aqueduct" option for trains, including the Shinkansen, in frequent use. Indeed, sometimes there are multiple levels. Japanese engineers have figured out how to solve the noise problem, earthquake issues, etc. Traffic flows smoothly under the structure. Many additional uses for the space underneath, including parking, commercial business, storage facilities, parks, bike and pedestrian paths, etc. These uses would not be available with a trench.
I've seldom noticed a "trench", except the short transition between a fully underground and an aqueduct. Most stations are now elevated, with elevator and escalator access in addition to stairs. There is plenty of room to drop off or pick up passengers by bus, taxi, or private vehicle. Lots of bike and car parking nearby, under the tracks.
With an aqueduct, trains could continue at ground level until it's built. No need to buy property or use eminent domain.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2018 at 12:51 am

"Another potential obstacle is creeks. Mercurio said she had recently spoken to officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District who expressed concerns about the proposed trench blocking Adobe and Barron creeks and called the proposed trench in south Palo Alto a 'non-starter.'"

CPA has been studying grade separation for how many years and they're just now finding this out? How much did CPA pay Hatch, Mott, MacDonald to study a trench/tunnel that turns out to be a "non-starter"?

In all those years has CPA ever reached out to Caltrain to find out if they would agree to a 2% or 1.5% or 1.3% grade? If they had, they would have an answer now. Years and years pissed away not planning for grade separation and electrification is here.

They've finally gotten wise and are doing what I suggested a long time ago: divide the project into two phases: Charleston/Meadow and Churchill/Palo Alto Ave.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2018 at 1:04 am

"It's a four-mile trench. What is driving the massive cost?"

You've been following this discussion for a long time so you should know the answer by now. For starters, they would have to divert Caltrain down Alma street during construction, which involves acquiring the land for and building two cutoffs from the main line and laying track down a divided Alma street. This is called a "shoofly" track.

Then factor in "cost overruns", c.f. the Bay Bridge. These projects always cost significantly more than the lowball figure they feed to the public.

I'm surprised you aren't better informed.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2018 at 1:07 am

"install traffic signals for the trains. With proper signaling they can get more than adequate advance warning of an impending stop. That muchly admired whiplash acceleration our new electric trains will feature guarantees they'll stay on schedule."

Federal law gives trains the right of way. Caltrain would never agree to it. This point has been made here dozens of times.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2018 at 1:12 am

"Build high density housing over it along with a complete N-S separated bike lane. You will more than pay for burying the rail. Housing problem solved, rail problem solved."

Another uninformed Palo Altan. Are you even aware that CPA does not own the right-of-way? CPA does not call the shots on the ROW.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2018 at 1:47 am

A trench or tunnel is a popular pipe dream but don't fall too much in love with it.

It pays to read the entire article:

"officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District ... expressed concerns about the proposed trench blocking Adobe and Barron creeks and called the proposed trench in south Palo Alto a 'non-starter.'"

In addition to the water district, Caltrain will have a say in this as owners of the ROW.

"Caltrain, this kind of behavior is brand busting. Get your act together. You are a public agency. You will need us to approve future tax measures for you. Don't create community mistrust by behaving hostilely toward communities who ask for information."

Don't aim youf ill-informed gun at Caltrain. Grade separation is a City of Palo Alto project.


2 people like this
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Oct 20, 2018 at 9:48 am

pestocat is a registered user.

"Traveling extensively in Japan, I see the "aqueduct" option for trains, including the Shinkansen, in frequent use. Indeed, sometimes there are multiple levels. Japanese engineers have figured out how to solve the noise problem, earthquake issues, etc. Traffic flows smoothly under the structure. Many additional uses for the space underneath, including parking, commercial business, storage facilities, parks, bike and pedestrian paths, etc. These uses would not be available with a trench.
I've seldom noticed a "trench", except the short transition between a fully underground and an aqueduct. Most stations are now elevated, with elevator and escalator access in addition to stairs. There is plenty of room to drop off or pick up passengers by bus, taxi, or private vehicle. Lots of bike and car parking nearby, under the tracks.
With an aqueduct, trains could continue at ground level until it's built. No need to buy property or use eminent domain."

Stan, you used the word "aqueduct" several times. I think you mean "viaduct", aqueduct is a channel to carry water.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2018 at 11:47 am

The suburban train in Dublin (Ireland) has recently had the trenched parts covered and call it a boardwalk. It is used for outside dining, street festivals, children's play areas, bike and pedestrian paths, etc. Trenching can provide usable space just as well as viaducts or elevated tracks.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Japan's Shinkansen is not elevated in populated areas. In populated areas the Shincansen is underground, trenched, or travels at reduced speeds.

In rural areas the Shinkansen is elevated for its own protection. At the speeds the Shinkansen is traveling a collision with a stray farm animal or farm implement could be catastrophic.

The area under an elevated rail line could be used for light industrial uses like storage yards, auto wreckers, or parking lots, but nobody wants to have a picnic or dine al fresco under an elevated freeway for trains.


1 person likes this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 20, 2018 at 3:43 pm

"The area under an elevated rail line could be used for light industrial uses like storage yards, auto wreckers, or parking lots, but nobody wants to have a picnic or dine al fresco under an elevated freeway for trains."

You could turn it into a nicely-landscaped greenway with bike paths, BUT you'd have to strike a deal with Caltrain for use of the land and that will cost money.


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2018 at 3:57 pm

Albany CA has a greenbelt under their elevated freeway for BART, but it is always vacant. Unless there is no other option, no one voluntarily recreates under a freeway for trains. People do take their dogs there to do their business.

Guess it looked good in the architectural rendering.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Nov 6, 2018 at 7:46 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Marc Benioff invited Elon Musk to come dig tunnels in San Francisco for a new transportation system and the Tesla founder accepted: 'Sure, we can do it'


Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by densely
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 7, 2018 at 2:38 pm

Opponents of the viaduct dismiss it by saying "Berlin wall! The horror!" without addressing the fact that the existing train tracks divide the city just as effectively. It's the least expensive solution and it will keep the city from being divided further by elimination of existing crossing points.


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2018 at 5:30 pm

@Dense,

Some opponents of the viaduct "dismiss it by saying "Berlin wall! The horror!"

Others say viaduct is just a nice sounding euphemism for an elevated freeway for trains. The people you want to put in dense housing along the railroad tracks don't even want to live next to an elevated freeway for trains.

And while we are talking about euphemisms, why don't we start calling dense housing along the railroad tracks what it is... future tenements.

The joy of living close to transit: Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2018 at 2:09 am

"Others say viaduct is just a nice sounding euphemism for an elevated freeway for trains."

You're the only one who calls it that. At least there is another note in the song you keep singing besides your meaningless statistic "only serves x% of the peninsula's population.

"why don't we start calling dense housing along the railroad tracks what it is... future tenements."

That housing has been near the tracks for decades and it's far from being tenements.

More made-up cruft from Ahem.


10 people like this
Posted by Me too
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 8, 2018 at 12:37 pm

Me too is a registered user.

I am not Ahem, and I also call it an elevated freeway for trains. Including freight trains.
Many of my neighbors do as well.


11 people like this
Posted by JR McDugan
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 8, 2018 at 7:06 pm

JR McDugan is a registered user.

"Elevated Freeway for Trains" is a pretty fair and neutral term for the proposal. I don't see where the objection is. "Elevated" - Yes, can't argue. "for Trains" - Yes, it's not for pedestrians or cars. "Freeway" definition - "an express highway, especially one with controlled access." That's what the proposal is, a freeway with controlled access so roads need not be directly crossed.

For the record, I'm opposed to building the elevated freeway for trains.


3 people like this
Posted by kony
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2018 at 9:46 am

"Japan's Shinkansen is not elevated in populated areas".

Not true. Ueno is the only underground station for shinkansen. Almost all other shinkansen stations are elevated.

"In populated areas the Shincansen is underground, trenched, or travels at reduced speeds."

Travels at reduced speed is true for large cities, because all trains stop at the station. Not true for small/medium cities not served by express trains. Also, there are more underground sections (tunnel) in the rural area to avoid climbing hills.

Anyways, IMHO, shinkansen is not a good case to follow when the goal is not to have viaduct in Palo Alto. European HSRs is better case to follow.


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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

After 39 years of cakes and pastries, Palo Alto institution Prolific Oven to close
By Elena Kadvany | 54 comments | 15,017 views

What is your climate personality?
By Sherry Listgarten | 30 comments | 1,773 views

Eat Your Values – August 15
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 1,207 views

The Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) Process Explained
By Steve Levy | 2 comments | 1,033 views

Do something about assault weapons, now!
By Diana Diamond | 33 comments | 982 views

 

Early Bird rates end Sunday!

​On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families. Early Bird prices end Sun., Aug 18.

Register now