News

Rail redesign sparks new ideas for downtown

City officials consider coordinated plan involving Palo Alto Avenue crossing, University Avenue

Watch Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines."

As Palo Alto gets closer to picking its preferred designs for separating the railroad tracks from streets at four intersections, city officials and community members are rethinking key segments of major roadways, including University Avenue and Embarcadero Road.

The city's major "grade separation" project, which was sparked by Caltrain's impending electrification of its corridor and increased train service, is heading toward a key decision point, with the City Council scheduled to take action on potential design options this Monday, its final meeting of the year.

Though the council had originally set a goal of deciding on grade-separation designs by the end of the year -- and won't meet its target -- the city has succeeded in winnowing down options from the initial pool of 34 to about seven. Largely excluded from consideration are numerous options that would require the seizures of private property through eminent domain. The council's Rail Committee has also scrapped the idea of digging trenches or building elevated viaducts at its two northern Palo Alto crossings -- Palo Alto Avenue and Churchill Avenue -- though both of these ambitious options are still in play in the southern crossings: Charleston Road and East Meadow Drive.

Now the city is hoping to choose a design option for each rail crossing by February. Yet even as it gets closer to a decision, new ideas are coming to the surface, including a proposal to create a short tunnel for Caltrain while letting freight trains run at grade and other concepts for redesigning Embarcadero Road to improve traffic conditions.

City staff is also considering evaluating the northernmost crossing, Palo Alto Avenue, apart from the grade-separation discussion. Deputy City Manager Rob de Geus suggested at Wednesday's meeting of the Community Advisory Panel that the grade crossing may be considered more effectively as part of a broader, multiyear plan for downtown, which may include modifications to University Avenue and the city's central transit hub.

"The notion of having a parallel plan for downtown that includes grade-separating Palo Alto Avenue and improvements to University Avenue and the transit center and engaging Stanford in that work we think that's the right way to go," de Geus said at the meeting of the panel, a group of residents who have been gathering regularly to discuss grade separation.

The topic is designated as one of the council's top priorities for 2018. Yet reaching solutions on the complex subject has proved difficult.

The city's discussion of Churchill Avenue is a perfect case in point. In June, the City Council acknowledged neighborhood concerns about property seizures by scrapping design options that include raising or lowering the railroad track. Yet this elimination of several major options also spawned a flurry of new ones, some of which involve closing Churchill Avenue to traffic near the tracks and pursuing various bike and pedestrian improvements. Because such a move would likely drive additional traffic to Embarcadero Road, residents are also suggesting new design alternatives for Embarcadero, with the goal of improving traffic flow and keeping the added traffic away from residential neighborhoods. These include the creation of new exit ramps from Alma Street that would allow northbound drivers to turn left on Embarcadero, obviating the need for drivers to take neighborhood streets, and the installation of a traffic circle on Embarcadero and Alma -- an option that would require the installation of an elevated viaduct for rail.

David Shen, a Churchill Avenue resident and member of the Community Advisory Panel, has been developing concepts with Jason Matloff, a fellow Old Palo Alto resident, and Tony Carrasco, an architect who also serves on the panel. On Wednesday, they introduced these concepts to the citizens panel.

"We just want to stimulate ideas and make sure people are thinking as creatively as possible and think of solutions as a system in Palo Alto and not just a series of intersections," Shen said.

Yet the meeting also highlighted the city's difficulty in getting the broader public engaged in what could be one of the costliest and most transformative projects in the city's history. Megan Kanne, a member of the community panel, said some of the residents in her neighborhood of Professorville have raised concerns about the city getting the needed funds to do any work on the Embarcadero Road underpass.

"We want to make sure the city isn't biting off more than it can chew, and we want to make sure if we study these things, we can have the manpower and money that we need to do it correctly," she said.

Kanne said she organized two community meetings to discuss grade separation, each of which attracted 15 to 25 people.

"I do think it's been a challenge to come up with ways to reach out to folks," Kanne said.

The city had better luck on Nov. 28, when it held a community meeting that brought about 150 people to the Mitchell Park Community Center. That meeting focused on the three alternatives now on the table for the Charleston and East Meadow crossings: a trench, a viaduct and a "hybrid" alternative that combines elevated rail tracks and lowered roads.

While the prospect of putting the train underground, either in a trench or a tunnel, has been the most popular alternative in recent months, the city's consultants highlighted at the meeting the major engineering and financial challenges that these options would entail.

The trench alternative for the two southernmost intersections would cost between $800 million and $950 million, according to an analysis from the city's consultant, Aecom. Etty Mercurio, an Aecom consultant, told the crowd at the community meeting that while the trench option would provide benefits visually and in terms of reducing noise, it would include significant engineering challenges, including the need to divert Adobe and Barron creeks and to relocate utilities. It would also require a high fence along the trench walls, be the most costly to maintain, and exceed Caltrain's design standards by requiring a 2 percent grade (Caltrain generally has a standard of 1 percent).

The "hybrid" option in south Palo Alto would be significantly cheaper than the trench, with an estimated price tag of $200 million to $250 million, according to Aecom. This option also would require less costly maintenance and would not block creeks or require a design exception from Caltrain. It would however, require the city to close portions of Alma near the two crossings and narrow Alma to two lanes during construction.

"We can have some major congestion issues during construction," Mercurio said.

A viaduct, meanwhile, would cost between $400 million and $500 million, according to Aecom's estimates. While it would be visible, unlike the the underground alternatives, it would not obstruct local creeks and its construction wouldn't affect the roadways as much. Unlike the trench and the "hybrid" alternatives, building a viaduct would obviate the need for temporary "shoofly" tracks for trains to run on while the permanent tracks are under construction.

These options, as well as emerging ideas around Embarcadero Road and Palo Alto Avenue, will now go to the council, which is scheduled to consider them in its final meeting of the year. It will also be the final meeting for Councilman Cory Wolbach, who this year chaired the Rail Committee, and Greg Scharff, who serves on the committee.

"There's a lot at stake in terms of the construction that will have to take place, in terms of the money it will take to actually to do it and, most important, the type of grade separation that the community agrees is the best for Palo Alto," de Geus said at the Nov. 28 meeting. "That's what we're trying to figure out."

Related content:

Guest Opinion: Keeping options open, Dec. 14, 2018

---

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

25 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:43 am

As someone who both lost Paly friends to Caltrain suicides and had to navigate around and over these tracks my entire life, I can't wait to see Palo Alto finally grade-separate these intersections. San Carlos did it, and it's such a easier city to navigate around ever since, and they've had near-zero suicides since finishing the project.

Tunnels/trenches seem nice, but really difficult and expensive. I'd take a viaduct any day over what we have today. A viaduct with no horns and electric trains will be WAY quieter than today's noisy trains. And I honestly would feel pretty excited to have top-of-the-line transit infrastructure be more visible. I'd be something to be proud of :)


18 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:44 am

We can rely on Palo Alto to pick the least feasible, most expensive option and then abandon it a decade or two down the line when voters start to notice the cost. A maximum waste of time and money all around!


21 people like this
Posted by Timothy Gray
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:50 am

Has there been any discussions on what kind of sound wall would be installed?

It is a well-established standard that any major transportation project has sound remediation as part of the project. Just look at the expressways build throughout the bay area and you will see at least 10 ft. noise-reducing walls that are installed as part of the transportation project.

Surely Palo Alto will allow our resident at least the minimum standard that has become the minimum standard for the rest of the Bay Area (and even Stockton).
We should at least set our standards as high as Stockton.

Respectfully,

Timothy Gray


23 people like this
Posted by JCP
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:59 am

JCP is a registered user.

[Portion removed.] Shen and company are dead set on making Embarcadero a highway, just to protect their own very narrow interests. People that would be affected by these new plans need to get organized.


1 person likes this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2018 at 12:15 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Dec 13, 2018 at 12:28 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Inote thatfrom what I see is that Elon's Boring Company is not on this list

Web Link

Since he has validate his ability and is set to make a bore in the SF Peninsula, he might barter a deal with Palo Alto.

That 1 to 2 % grade number is one that they pulled out of their butt. Since RTD Light rail is electrified, RTD Light rail pulls trains on a better than a 6% or more grade level. That is an option. This grade separation was done for a level crossing that could not be lowered because of industrial concerns. Maybe Caltrain just does not want to buy new prime movers.

It is still not too lake to get BART to finish the loop. I think you are being misled by the numbers. I would check in with the bosses at RTD that has a working system right now. You may have to hold their feet to the fire to get real numbers, not under bid, then jack up the the price. SOP in Palo Alto.


9 people like this
Posted by spike
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 13, 2018 at 12:41 pm

"Yet reaching solutions on the complex subject has proved difficult."

Duh. We have been trying for 10 years. Don't hold your breath.

I am not a pessimist, I am a realist.


9 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@the_punnisher: While steeper grades are far more easily surmountable for passenger trains, Caltrain's historical and still-preferred 1% maximum grade standard is/was largely dictated by the freight operator UP (formerly SP). Caltrain's own engineering standards now under revision have in the past allowed for possible exemptions up to 2%, subject to their approval.

Regarding your comment about Caltrain being reluctant to get new locomotives ("prime movers" in RR jargon) ... maybe you haven't been paying attention, but Caltrain is in the midst of a $2+ billion system electrification and fleet replacement project. They will need to keep a few diesels around until the CA High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) succeeds (as per their 2018 business plan) in extending electrification from SJ down to Gilroy, but the current plan is to initially deploy 19 seven-car state-of-the-art sleek high-powered Swiss Stadler EMU (electric multiple unit) trains for use between SF and SJ. Barring schedule slips, revenue electric service is supposed to begin in 2022. For additional info, visit Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Nadia Naik
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2018 at 1:39 pm

Nadia Naik is a registered user.

GENNADY - CORRECTION: The City Council will be considering a design alternative for Meadow and Charleston ONLY which would include a short TUNNEL with freight on the surface. (Not a trench with freight on the surface as you reported).

CARRD made the suggestion because the engineering of the trench is complicated due to the creeks, utility relocation and the need for long temporary passing tracks (shoofly tracks)

CARRD's extensive public comments on the idea are available here:

Web Link

and

Web Link

We are NOT advocating this is a SOLUTION - this is simply an idea for a design alternative that we feel has merit.


26 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2018 at 1:47 pm

Grade separation, like everything that happens in Palo Alto, has to be seen in the context of the Party's corrupt relationship with the real-estate industry.

Grade separation, like zoning variances, and redevelopment grants, is just another giveaway. Just another way for the real-estate industry to liquidate quality of life and convert that common wealth into personal wealth.

We are ten years away from fusion power and a fully electrified automotive fleet. Caltrain electrification and grade separation is all about helping the real-estate industry sell millenial generation suckers stack-n-pack in the soon to be blighted areas along the Caltrain tracks.

The best way to sell swamp land is to advertise it as "ocean view property". The best way to sell blighted real-estate is to advertise it as "close to transportation".


Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:09 pm

The cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park need to explore: a) closing the Palo Alto Ave rail crossing, b) place a bridge over the creek, c) relocating the small park from east of the tracks, to west of the tracks (adjoining with the El Camino park), and d) traffic control to prevent cars entering directly in to the adjacent Palo Alto and Menlo Park neighborhoods.


17 people like this
Posted by Wu Shen
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:09 pm

Too much money to spend. Leave as is.

All trains make noise and cars sometimes have to cross railroad tracks.

No big deal. Just be careful driver and don't argue with train.


13 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:22 pm

>We are ten years away from fusion power and a fully electrified automotive fleet. Caltrain electrification and grade separation is all about helping the real-estate industry sell millenial generation suckers stack-n-pack in the soon to be blighted areas along the Caltrain tracks.


Hahaha! Do you REALLY think any of that's going to happen in the next 10 years? Even if electric cars became cheaper than ICEs tomorrow, there would still be 10-year old fuel-burning cars on the road come 2028. And Fusion's been "10 years away" for more than half a century now. I'm not holding my breath.

You have no evidence behind your ridiculous assertions and I highly doubt you will ever provide any. The idea that the area around Caltrain is "soon-to-be-blighted" is ridiculous. What reason do you have to believe that?

Are you actually going to ever do anything to back up the nonsense you spout? Or will you continue to shout it as gospel? I know what my money's on.


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 13, 2018 at 3:42 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

To see what these new "Prime Movers" are like see
Web Link They can do a 5.5% grade.


@the_punnisher: While steeper grades are far more easily surmountable for passenger trains, Caltrain's historical and still-preferred 1% maximum grade standard is/was largely dictated by the freight operator UP (formerly SP). Caltrain's own engineering standards now under revision have in the past allowed for possible exemptions up to 2%, subject to their approval.

Regarding your comment about Caltrain being reluctant to get new locomotives ("prime movers" in RR jargon) ... maybe you haven't been paying attention, but Caltrain is in the midst of a $2+ billion system electrification and fleet replacement project. They will need to keep a few diesels around until the CA High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) succeeds (as per their 2018 business plan) in extending electrification from SJ down to Gilroy, but the current plan is to initially deploy 19 seven-car state-of-the-art sleek high-powered Swiss Stadler EMU (electric multiple unit) trains for use between SF and SJ. Barring schedule slips, revenue electric service is supposed to begin in 2022. For additional info, visit Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2018 at 4:23 pm

I'm pretty sure that I don't -like- the option, but, I think that closing the Palo Alto Ave/Alma RR crossing probably has to be part of the long range plan. I don't see an alternative.


3 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2018 at 9:01 pm

"The cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park need to explore: a) closing the Palo Alto Ave rail crossing, b) place a bridge over the creek, c) relocating the small park from east of the tracks, to west of the tracks (adjoining with the El Camino park), and d) traffic control to prevent cars entering directly in to the adjacent Palo Alto and Menlo Park neighborhoods."

To be honest, Martin, if I were the city of Menlo Park I would tell Palo Alto to go take a hike. CPA has spun it wheels on grade sep for at least 10 years and has nothing to show for it. I would tell CPA to leave Menlo Park alone to work on its own grade sep. solution and we (Menlo Park) are simply not interested in working with CPA. The plan you described may benefit Palo Alto but there is little benefit in it for Menlo Park. Besides, your idea is about 10 years behind the curve.

It is very revealing that CPA is still grappling with the 1% - 2% grade question. This tells me that no one from CPA has approached Caltrain to get a reading from them on it. Caltrain owns the trains, the tracks, the stations, the right of way, whole rail infrastructure kit and caboodle. We're taking shots in the dark on the issue of permissible grade without any input from Caltrain.

Leave it to Palo Alto to spend millions grade separating a crossing which is already grade separated (Embarcadero).

I'll be selling towels for y'all to cry into over how bad the gridlock has become when you close the Churchill crossing (hint: the trains will still come even if you close the crossing).

You can also cry into my towels when they run shoofly tracks on Alma and there are Caltrains hurtling up and down the street in both directions, not to mention the two cutoffs that will have to be built. It will make the elevated viaduct look like the Disneyland monorail.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2018 at 9:41 pm

"You can also cry into my towels when they run shoofly tracks on Alma and there are Caltrains hurtling up and down the street in both directions, not to mention the two cutoffs that will have to be built. It will make the elevated viaduct look like the Disneyland monorail."

Shoofly tracks would still be required for an elevated viaduct.


2 people like this
Posted by Phill D
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 13, 2018 at 11:08 pm

back in my home state in Australia, they have a program removing 75 level crossings and have already completed 29. might be worth a look for some inspiration! Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 12:25 am

Shoofly tracks would still be required for an elevated viaduct.

Not down Alma street. According to the engineering drawings they would be on the right of way.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 1:21 am

Could we please have more clarity from our rail planners as to the feasibility of a trench/tunnel?

ISTR reading something from AECOM stating that the county water district does not consider a rail trench or tunnel through Palo Alto feasible due to the need to tunnel under or divert Barron and Adobe creeks. Is this true or not?

If the county water district will not allow its creeks to be diverted or tunneled under then a tunnel/trench plan is D.O.A. If this is the case then why is this plan still on the table in Palo Alto?


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 6:32 am

Nadia Naik:

You need to rethink some of your assumptions.

A tunnel has two portals: an entrance and an exit. A shoofly track needs to connect with the main line at two points: one to get from the main line to the shoofly and another to get from the shoofly back onto the main line. You can bypass one portal at a time with a shoofly track as you have suggested, but eventually you will have to bypass the opposite portal. If bypassing one portal at a time, this will require twice as much construction as building a single shoofly spanning the entire length of the tunnel. Each point of connectivity between the main line and a shoofly will require a passageway to be built from the main line to the shoofly.

You also need to make sure your 19' I.D. tunnel can make it from approximately San Antonio Road, under Charleston, Meadow, Adobe and Barron creeks at a grade that is acceptable to PCJPB. You might be able to get away with a 2% grade with an exemption, but any more than that, such as the 3% grade in your proposal, is doubtful. JPB calls the shots here. You also need to know the depth your tunnel will require to go under the roads and creeks, and you need to know whether the county water district will permit tunneling under those creeks. Then you need to calculate whether your tunnel can come back to the surface before it gets to the Calif. Ave. station.

The devil is in the details.


3 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 8:50 am

"Not down Alma street. According to the engineering drawings they would be on the right of way."

Have you seen the space needed to construct a viaduct? It's not just simply putting up an elevated section on the side. The ROW is too narrow in places in Palo Alto to be able to build the elevated sections without having to push shoofly tracks onto Alma.

The only one that minimizes shoofly tracks is the tunnel option that's off the table.


8 people like this
Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2018 at 9:09 am

Palo Alto has been discussing grade crossings for over 40 years. Yet discussing is all we see as a result.Even 40 years age the Embarcadero overpass was too narrow. The Page Mill crossing is similarly top small and the exits to Alma are too tight.
But not to worry--we can continue to discuss the issue until as some foolishly hope all rail transportation goes away. Rail is just about the most fuel efficient way to transport goods and people. We continue to need to do both.
It is now time to stop the push to "get it perfect for your own neighborhood" and protect your own too-close-to-the-tracks home. Why did you buy there? My husband and I recognized that right near RR tracks is a bad place to buy because the town will either grow and need that space or the town will die. Obviously in 40 years Palo Alto has not withered away.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 9:29 am

"Have you seen the space needed to construct a viaduct? It's not just simply putting up an elevated section on the side. The ROW is too narrow in places in Palo Alto to be able to build the elevated sections without having to push shoofly tracks onto Alma."

Argue with engineering firm AECOM. That's what their plans call for.


6 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 14, 2018 at 11:26 am

Has there been any discussion of closing University Avenue (DT portion) to vehicle traffic? Imagine a European-style scene with cafe/restaurant tables in the middle of pedestrian only University Ave, children walking without cars zooming past, and the noise and pollution reduction. I can picture a nice, tree/greenery-lined walkway/ramp leading from the train station to University/High, where vehicle traffic could be diverted away from University. Even if this only stretches to Ramona or Waverley, it would be a unique and beautiful improvement to the city.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2018 at 11:37 am

Posted by Phill D, a resident of Crescent Park

>> back in my home state in Australia, they have a program removing 75 level crossings and have already completed 29.

Nice reference. One big difference I notice is that it looks like there is a Melbourne regional authority, -and funding-, to address the issue throughout the entire metropolitan area in a unified way. Tough to map that to here. Here, we're looking at three counties, numerous independent cities, and two or three (or four) transit rail authorities, depending on what you are looking at. Sigh.


4 people like this
Posted by Nadia Naik
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 1:24 pm

Nadia Naik is a registered user.

@Man Paulafort - I agree with you - the devil is in the details and this idea needs professional evaluation from real engineers - that's why I'm advocating someone take a closer look. I'm definitely not an engineer.

With regard to the steepness of the grade, HSR/Caltrain can operate at a much steeper grade than freight. Caltrain is currently developing the technical engineering specs for a "Caltrain only" tunnel into the TransBay terminal. From HSR's perspective, 3 % is doable: Source: Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Since We're Talking Trains
a resident of University South
on Dec 14, 2018 at 1:44 pm

To reduce traffic and parking congestion in downtown PA, why not eliminate parking altogether and opt for a shortline/small rail train to transport people along the avenue?

University Avenue could then be widened to accommodate additional foot traffic and bicyclists could pedal their bikes parallel to the tracks.

Train speed wold be relatively slow and pedestrians crossing University Avenue could do so at designated areas or while the train was stopped.

It would be fun for kids and adults alike + add a unique downtown experience into the mix.

Another alternative would be to use horse drawn wagons in lieu of small rail trains, the only drawback being horse poop on the street...just watch where you step.


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 14, 2018 at 2:12 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Nadia,
These same Stadler EMUs that we are getting here do a 5.5% grade in Norway. See
Web Link Look for the diagonal signs that are pointing up and say "55", that is telling the train driver that there is a 5.5% grade in this area.
Gary



With regard to the steepness of the grade, HSR/Caltrain can operate at a much steeper grade than freight. Caltrain is currently developing the technical engineering specs for a "Caltrain only" tunnel into the TransBay terminal. From HSR's perspective, 3 % is doable: Source: Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 2:44 pm

"The only one that minimizes shoofly tracks is the tunnel option that's off the table."

You would still need a shoofly with a tunnel as I described in some detail above. I suggest looking at some of the drawings AECOM has prepared to see what they have in mind.

"With regard to the steepness of the grade, HSR/Caltrain can operate at a much steeper grade than freight."

It all depends what JPB is willing to agree to. Again, we're taking shots in the dark because CPA has not sought guidance from JPB on this issue. All I know is that greater than 1% requires an exemption.

The short tunnel idea has some merit, based as it is on a plan in the first Hatch Mott MacDonald study. I don't think it is the best idea as tunnels can and do flood and pumps can and do fail (c.f. Oregon expwy). There is no natural drainage in that area. If a Palo Alto rail tunnel became impassable for whatever reason then all rail service on the peninsula would be paralyzed.

"To reduce traffic and parking congestion in downtown PA, why not eliminate parking altogether and opt for a shortline/small rail train to transport people along the avenue?"

This idea is not as far fetched as it may seem. Something similar has been done at The Grove in Los Angeles.


14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 14, 2018 at 2:48 pm

With any other form of transportation a 3% grade or even a 5.5% grade would be considered pathetic.

Train technology is stuck in the Victorian era. Grade separation is essentially spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create an artificial Victorian preserve for Caltrain's use, because Caltrain's technology is no longer compatible with the modern landscape.

Grade separation is a taxpayer funded Jurassic Park for trains.


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 2:50 pm

Don't forget: Caltrain may continue to run diesel trains to Gilroy after the bulk of the line has been electrified.


6 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 2:56 pm

"With any other form of transportation a 3% grade or even a 5.5% grade would be considered pathetic.

Train technology is stuck in the Victorian era. Grade separation is essentially spending hundreds of millions of dollars to create an artificial Victorian preserve for Caltrain's use, because Caltrain's technology is no longer compatible with the modern landscape.

Grade separation is a taxpayer funded Jurassic Park for trains."

Don't you have any other topic to bellyache about? Take a Bromo Seltzer.

Rest assured: Palo Alto will have flying trains just as soon as they are off Elon Musk's drawing board.


2 people like this
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 14, 2018 at 3:57 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Man Paulafort,

This is a very good point.

1 hour ago
Don't forget: Caltrain may continue to run diesel trains to Gilroy after the bulk of the line has been electrified.


10 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Dec 14, 2018 at 5:48 pm

@Ahem

Unsurprisingly, you show up to spout more untruths with nary a lick of evidence, nor making any attempt to engage or respond to those who call you out on it.

Trains can't climb all grades that cars can, but using that criteria to declare them "outdated Victorian technology" makes as much sense as decrying oceanliners for not being able to fly; i.e. it doesn't.

Trains make up for their lack of hill-climbing ability through their advantages [portion removed], just like oceanliners make up for their lack of flying ability by being able to carry huge amounts of cargo at low cost.

[Portion removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 14, 2018 at 9:07 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 15, 2018 at 5:56 am

I've seen elevators that can handle an infinite grade.


Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 15, 2018 at 10:28 am

@ the_punnisher

Maximum grade isn't for the -trains-, it is for the -riders-. More than 1 or 2 percent would feel like a roller coaster when traversed at HSR speeds, and the intent is to eventually run at full speed all the way to SF at some point.


5 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2018 at 11:41 am

@Rick

No, it is for the trains. Passenger comfort is mainly determined by the vertical curve radius. The reason trains can't take steep grades is because of the low friction that makes them efficient. Steel wheels on steel rail spin easily, but that also makes them hard to stop. The contact area of a train wheel is about the size of a coin; there's not much grip. The reason passenger trains can take steeper grades is twofold. One: they're usually lighter. Two: they can use multiple-unit (MU) design.

An MU is a train where there's no locomotive. Instead, the engines are distributed across the train cars. There are electric and diesel versions of this technology, but for technical reasons electrics are usually preferred. Caltrain's new cars will be electric multiple units (EMUs) and thus will be able to take steeper grades than their existing rolling stock, so the main reason Caltrain would want to retain a 1% grade limit is to allow freight service on the line to continue, or to retain compatibility with their diesel fleet.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2018 at 12:20 pm

In the final analysis it's all about what grade Caltrain will allow, regardless of what Palo Alto wants.


2 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Dec 15, 2018 at 1:32 pm

@Rick: what passengers feel isn’t grade itself, but vertical curvature (the derivative of grade). HSR grades in excess of 4% exist in Germany, and 3.5% is common in 200 mph operations in France.

All that has nothing to do with PA grade sep, which is a mostly flat 110 mph corridor (currently 79 mph, but everything new has to be designed for 110).

The grade constraint on a grade sep is set by (a) freight trains and (b) vertical curvature. With very gentle vertical curves, of radius measured in miles, by the time and distance required to transition from flat to grade back to flat over the top of the grade sep, you’ve risen by more than is needed to clear the road below. This sets a practical limit on the grade. In practice, it’s somewhere over 2% for a quick 110 mph hop over a typical hybrid grade sep.

None of what we are discussing comes remotely close to being a roller coaster, although that’s a popular misconception.


4 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 15, 2018 at 1:47 pm

We still don't have a handle on the issue of creek crossings.

Wake up, rail planners! Is the county water district going to let Adobe and Barron creeks be tunneled under/diverted or not? If not, then all this talk about a short tunnel under Charleston/Meadow is so much pie in the sky and wheel spinning, which Palo Alto seems to be really good at.


8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 15, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Simplest option: Close all grade crossings.

Next simplest: Close all grade crossings and enlarge the existing gradeseps.

Fallback (and most likely): Live with the present situation. It's worked for over 150 years.


3 people like this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 15, 2018 at 11:31 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

Monday's 12/17 Council Agenda: Web Link
Item on Connecting Palo Alto (Grade separation), scheduled for 8:15pm: Web Link
Options for Charleston/Meadow, including cost estimates, pros and cons, visualizations, and movies from their 3D animations are listed under Nov 28, 2018 community meeting at: Web Link

@Me_2, @Man_Paulafort: temporary (AKA shoofly) tracks are not required for the Viaduct option. The Viaduct would be built on the edge of the Caltrain ROW closest to Alma, and one or both of the existing tracks would stay in operation to carry trains during construction. In this way, the trains ulimately are moved further from the back yards of the houses on Park which back up to the tracks, while construction costs, duration, and traffic are significantly reduced. This has been studied and confirmed that the viaduct is the only option which does not require temporary tracks. The tunnel, trench, and hybrid options all require temporary tracks.

@Man_Paulafort: The Santa Clara Valley Water District's letter to the City of Palo Alto in regards to the trench and tunnel options intersecting creeks, and the conditions that would need to be met in order to get their approval, is on page 4 of this document: Web Link, It is the MEMO on interagency Activities for the Wednesday Nov 14, 2018 City Council Rail Committee meeting (agendas, minutes and videos here: Web Link). The city and/or consultants are looking at the issue of how to pump water over or under the trench, an inverted siphon being so far their only solution. I am concerned about whether this could have significant harmful impacts to the fish and other habitat and on whether we could ever restore our creeks to more natural and life-conducive conditions.

@Tim: It appears that a car-free downtown University Ave is one vision being considered, according to the staff report for this item on Nov 17 (see link above), where it is suggested that studying options for Palo Alto Ave crossing be separated from this current grade separation effort and instead considered in conjuctions with a coordinated area plan for the downtown area. Some cities have closed major downtown streets to automobile and had enormous success with this.


2 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 3:05 am

"...one or both of the existing tracks would stay in operation to carry trains during construction"

That effectively makes it a shoofly track. It would not go down Alma street but would stay on the ROW as I pointed out previously and would be used to circumvent construction.

"the viaduct is the only option which does not require temporary tracks."

Palo Altans underestimate the impact of having shoofly track(s) on Alma.

Leave it to Palo Alto to decide "it's trench/tunnel or nothing", fund it, then freak out big-time the first time they see great big Caltrains lumbering down Alma street in both directions, and having to stop on Alma at each of the two cutoffs while the trains make it from the main line to the shoofly. Then they'll come here and cry about the inconvenience. That will make a viaduct look like a mighty attractive option but by then it will be too late.

The inverted-siphon arrangement under consideration for a trench/tunnel will require the ongoing removal of accumulated silt and debris. It will not be a low-maintenance option.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 5:05 am

Back-of-the-envelope calculations:

20' creek depth (est.)

15' clearance required

20' diameter of inverted siphon

20' tunnel diameter

75' total depth

2% slope

Distance required: 3,750 feet

There are approximately 2,750 feet between San Antonio Road and Adobe creek.

It doesn't look good for a trench/tunnel. Don't get your hopes up.


1 person likes this
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 16, 2018 at 6:49 am

pestocat is a registered user.

@Man Paulafort

Leave it to Palo Alto to decide "it's trench/tunnel or nothing", fund it, then freak out big-time the first time they see great big Caltrains lumbering down Alma street in both directions, and having to stop on Alma at each of the two cutoffs while the trains make it from the main line to the shoofly. Then they'll come here and cry about the inconvenience. That will make a viaduct look like a mighty attractive option but by then it will be too late.

The train would not need to stop to get from the shoofly track to get back on the main line. It's just one continuous track. Just some extra curves.


1 person likes this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2018 at 8:19 am

I don’t understand how a viaduct can be built over Charleston and Meadow, within the right of way and without the need for a shoofly, but a hybrid embankment can’t. An example of the latter is currently under construction in San Mateo.

As for moving the tracks away from houses, don’t get your hopes up, there will someday be more than 2 tracks. Anything Palo Alto might come up with that precludes the option or otherwise boxes in future growth won’t go far with the owner.


1 person likes this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 16, 2018 at 12:18 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@Clem: Like with you, it was not clear to me why the hybrid could not similarly be built in the same path as the viaduct and thereby avoid the need to build temporary tracks during construction. With the hybrid, the road needs to go down 7', so if the rail alignment is shifted towards Alma then the lowest point of the road is also shifted and Alma would need to lower further, as would the road on the east side of Alma. My GUESS is this possibly causes problems such as more driveways impacted or completely isolated by the elevation drop.

Also I'm not sure why the hybrid is elevated on a wall instead of on a viaduct (pillars supporting the structure with open space underneath) to make it more open and less imposing. Possibly the viaduct construction is more expensive than the wall, which would explain the cost differential between these options, since the hybrid is elevated almost as high as the viaduct, 14' vs 20.5', but is half the cost.

I don't think 4 tracks is as certain as you indicate, but if you have references to recent documents that support this view, please link them here. It is a possibility, and certainly the rail line owner requires the city to preserve the ability to have more tracks if desired in the future. But so far it looks like HSR will stop in SJ and let Caltrain cover the peninsula, or maybe HSR will continue to SF sharing the tracks, but not at high-speed. (I saw this many months ago, i don't readily have that reference handy, but if i have time to dig it up i will link it here.)


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 16, 2018 at 12:18 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

@Clem
I don’t understand how a viaduct can be built over Charleston and Meadow, within the right of way and without the need for a shoofly, but a hybrid embankment can’t. An example of the latter is currently under construction in San Mateo.

As for moving the tracks away from houses, don’t get your hopes up, there will someday be more than 2 tracks. Anything Palo Alto might come up with that precludes the option or otherwise boxes in future growth won’t go far with the owner.



The viaduct would be built between Alma and the tracks. In this case the tracks as they are now would be the shoofly.


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 16, 2018 at 12:19 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Clem
I don’t understand how a viaduct can be built over Charleston and Meadow, within the right of way and without the need for a shoofly, but a hybrid embankment can’t. An example of the latter is currently under construction in San Mateo.

As for moving the tracks away from houses, don’t get your hopes up, there will someday be more than 2 tracks. Anything Palo Alto might come up with that precludes the option or otherwise boxes in future growth won’t go far with the owner.



The viaduct would be built between Alma and the tracks. In this case the tracks as they are now would be the shoofly.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 12:24 pm

"The train would not need to stop to get from the shoofly track to get back on the main line. It's just one continuous track. Just some extra curves."

You're right. The shoofly would need to be designed so that part of Alma is inaccessible to auto traffic.


3 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 1:08 pm

"I'm not sure why the hybrid is elevated on a wall instead of on a viaduct (pillars supporting the structure with open space underneath) to make it more open and less imposing."

The muckrakers in Palo Alto conveniently ignore the fact that a viaduct or a hybrid crossing could be designed as an attractive structure, as any architectural edifice can be. In their fear mongering they paint images of an elevated train becoming a magnet for heroin addicts and doggie-doo, and gullible Palo Altans are going along with it.

There are privacy and acoustical concerns with elevating the trains. These concerns are not insurmountable. Given the practical improbability of a tunnel or trench due to the need to cross creeks as I have outlined above, I don't see a trench/tunnel happening. The numbers just aren't there. That leaves either raising the tracks in some way, or another attractive option which is to do nothing and leave everything as it has been for 150+ years.

The do-nothing option is actually quite attractive for Churchill where there isn't enough space to do much of anything, combined with the fact that Churchill is fairly lightly traveled. Closing the Churchill crossing completely is a ridiculous idea. It will please one vocal homeowner on Churchill but will make gridlock worse as auto traffic seeks other routes.

The HSR picture is likely to change with Cash-and-Carry Jerry Brown out of office. Gavin Newsom has said he would only build HSR between San Francisco and Fresno, an equally absurd waste of taxpayer money. He does not specify whether the peninsula would be the contemplated route. HSR needs to be revoted. John Cox might have done this which is why I voted for him and not Newsom. I would rather see money spent on water management in preparation for California's next drought.


2 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2018 at 1:09 pm

The baseline plan has been and continues to be 4 tphpd (trains per hour per direction) HSR + 6 tphpd Caltrain, operating up to 110 mph. Caltrain is considering higher growth scenarios with up to 16 tphpd combined. Some of these scenarios would require new passing tracks in Palo Alto.

Web Link

Again, boxing in the train with two-track-forever solutions Will. Not. Happen.


2 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 1:22 pm

There also exists the possibility of offering a financial inducement to homeowners whose homes are butted up against the tracks, enough to cover complete home soundproofing and some extra. The elevated-rail plans might take on some added luster with these homeowners if a financial inducement were offered. It would potentially be cheaper than acquiring $3 million homes by eminent domain as contemplated in previous schemes.


2 people like this
Posted by A Thought...
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 2:54 pm

Is it possible to design a 'hover-train' than doesn't require RR tracks? We took a hover-craft across the English Channel once except that it was a boat.

The hover-train could simply lift itself above the cars. No need for traditional RR crossings and VLA (Very Low Altitude) negates any FAA regulation.

As for the freight trains, eliminate them...haul the stuff by truck down 101 or 880 and if a shorter route is needed...transfer to barge in SF Bay out of redwood City or San Mateo.


2 people like this
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 16, 2018 at 3:03 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

A Thought...
"Is it possible to design a 'hover-train' than doesn't require RR tracks? We took a hover-craft across the English Channel once except that it was a boat.

The hover-train could simply lift itself above the cars. No need for traditional RR crossings and VLA (Very Low Altitude) negates any FAA regulation.

As for the freight trains, eliminate them...haul the stuff by truck down 101 or 880 and if a shorter route is needed...transfer to barge in SF Bay out of redwood City or San Mateo."

The Swiss Stadler locomotives have already been ordered. This is what we have to work with.


6 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 4:02 pm

"The hover-train could simply lift itself above the cars."

Um yeah, right. I'm sure Elon Musk has that on his drawing board.

Flying trains and eliminating freight are problems easily solved by waving your magic wand, so get with it and start waving.


2 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 16, 2018 at 4:57 pm

Here are the Stadler units ordered by Caltrain:

Web Link

Note the vibration-damping of the suspension system for reduced noise.


2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2018 at 5:22 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@pestocat: correction, Swiss Stader KISS EMUs (not "locomotives") have been ordered and are now under construction ... with final assembly in a newly-built Stadler US plant in Salt Lake City.

Here's a short video of the first Caltrain EMU car shells arriving at the SLC Stadler US plant: Web Link

Also, the YouTube links you earlier posted did not feature Stadler KISS (double-deck) EMUs. The FLIRT is single-deck EMU.


4 people like this
Posted by Yes to Hover-Train!
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 16, 2018 at 5:42 pm

The same technology used for vertical take-off jet fighters could (in theory) be used to lift the train. Noise might be a problem though.



Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 16, 2018 at 5:55 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Reality Check
@pestocat: correction, Swiss Stader KISS EMUs (not "locomotives") have been ordered and are now under construction ... with final assembly in a newly-built Stadler US plant in Salt Lake City.

Here's a short video of the first Caltrain EMU car shells arriving at the SLC Stadler US plant: Web Link

Also, the YouTube links you earlier posted did not feature Stadler KISS (double-deck) EMUs. The FLIRT is single-deck EMU.


Yes, you are correct, it's an EMU. See the view the train driver sees.
See @pestocat: correction, Swiss Stader KISS EMUs (not "locomotives") have been ordered and are now under construction ... with final assembly in a newly-built Stadler US plant in Salt Lake City.

Here's a short video of the first Caltrain EMU car shells arriving at the SLC Stadler US plant: Web Link

Also, the YouTube links you earlier posted did not feature Stadler KISS (double-deck) EMUs. The FLIRT is single-deck EMU.

Yes, you are correct, it's an EMU. See what the view is like for the Train Driver.
Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2018 at 7:13 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@pestocat: as stated, that's the driver's view from a single-deck Stadler FLIRT — not a double-deck KISS — train, as the video title clearly suggests, and as is clearly shown after stopping at Voss station platform 3 starting after 1:13:42. Not that it really matters much, because the driver's view is pretty much the same from most any train.

There are copious videos of the type of Stadler KISS double-deck EMU trains Caltrain will be receiving here: Web Link


22 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 16, 2018 at 7:18 pm

Let's do a thought experiment.

What if the Caltrain ROW was turned into a super-highway, and set aside for the exclusive use of 1% of the Peninsula's population lucky enough to own an all electric Tesla automobile?

All Tesla owners could enter a lottery and 30,000 of them would be selected at random to have exclusive use of a super-highway built on the Caltrain ROW. The speed limit on the super-highway would be 125mph. Cities along the super-highway's path would be required to build hundreds of millions of dollars worth of grade separation so the lottery winners could operate their vehicles at 125mph without endangering pedestrian and other vehicles, but super-highway users would pay a use fee of $5-$15 based on the length of their excursion.

The super-highway would remove 30,000 people from our congested highways, just like Caltrain. Unlike Caltrain it would free up tens of thousands of badly needed, and underutilized, parking spaces in Caltrain parking lots, and eliminate the continuing expense of operating dozens of train station. The train station and/or their parking lots could be converted to badly needed affordable housing. With the Tesla's all electric motors, pneumatic tires, and aerodynamic shape, the Tesla super-highway would generate much less noise, vibration, and harshness, than even an electrified Caltrain.

What's not to like?


2 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2018 at 7:57 pm

@Ahem, using just 30,000 users is low-balling. There will soon be far more users of the rail corridor, with Caltrain growing from the equivalent of a 3-lane freeway today to an 8-lane freeway at full rush hour capacity.
Web Link

Your Tesla super freeway would need many lanes to support everyone wanting to get where they are going at rush hour, especially if the cars have to maintain safe headways at 125 mph which will be much longer (in both distance and time) than the 1.8-second headway in a typical rush hour freeway lane. You would probably be looking at twelve to sixteen lanes of Tesla super freeway to support the same level of traffic as an electrified and expanded Caltrain. The energy efficiency and noise impact would be horrific too.

What's not to like, indeed?


18 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2018 at 8:13 pm

OK, I'm convinced by the comments on this thread and its cousins. The current rail configuration is the one we're gonna have, forever. Forget tunnel, forget trench, forget viaduct, forget berm. Never mind shoofly tracks and other Casey Jones affectations. What you see is what will be.

The most logical crossing option is to close our at-grades. Alternatively, dig Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston straight under Alma and the tracks on their existing ROWs, with no connections to Alma; likewise dig Palo Alto Ave directly under the rails. Zero if any takings required. Tunnel bike/ped UCs elsewhere as desired. Done.


14 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2018 at 6:43 am

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

San Francisco has been systematically dismantling elevated roads and tunneling transit for the last 30 years. They dismantled two elevated freeways after the '89 earthquake and they're building a Central Subway with a plan to tunnel Caltrain/HSR to the new transit center. San Francisco has explored removing the elevated section 280 running through Potrero. And yes, the elevated freeways do provide shelter for homeless camps in San Francisco.

Locally we've taken all serious funding discussion off the table which eliminates serious options. We have major, deep-pocket players relying on Caltrain. Why aren't we tapping them to contribute to the billions of dollars needed to do this right?


3 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm

Let's go over those calculations again.

2750 feet from San Antonio Road to Adobe creek. That figure is immutable.

2% is likely the maximum slope PCJPB will allow. That figure is not likely to change.

The maximum depth that can be achieved given the above assumptions is 55 feet.

Using optimistic figures, let's figure 15 feet for the depth of the existing creek plus 15 feet of clearance required by the water district plus 15 feet for the reverse siphon required to divert the creek under the tracks plus 20 feet for the tunnel bore diameter plus another 10 feet for tunnel walls. Already we're up to a 75-foot depth and have exceeded the maximum possible depth at 2% by 20 feet.

75 feet of depth at a distance of 2750 feet will require a 2.73% grade. You can negotiate with PCJPB or even sue them but they own the ROW. We know PCJPB requires an exemption for a grade of more than 1% so good luck with a grade exceeding 2%. It doesn't matter what the new EMU's are capable of, what matters is what PCJPB will agree to as owners of the ROW.

PCJPB will also consider the possibility of this tunnel flooding. If it accumulates more storm water than the pumps can evacuate, i.e. if the pumps fail to keep up and the tunnel becomes impassable, it will immobilize Caltrain as no travel between San Francisco and San Jose will be possible if the Palo Alto tunnel is impassable. All Caltrain service goes between S.F. and S.J. with some trains going as far south as Gilroy.

A reverse siphon needed to circumvent the creeks will require ongoing maintenance to keep it free of silt and debris. In addition there would be the maintenance and testing of pumps, likely at CPA's expense.

Take these figures to your committee meetings and show them to AECOM, but these simple calculations don't paint a rosy picture for the prospect of a train tunnel in Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2018 at 12:32 pm

"And yes, the elevated freeways do provide shelter for homeless camps in San Francisco."

Whose fault is that?

Nowadays any freely-accessible public space has the potential of becoming a homeless encampment, even a lovely park. Just look at the R.V. campground across El Camino from Paly. Don't tell me homeless encampments are endemic to elevated roadways. Does that mean there should be no more freely-accessible public spaces because squatters may encroach upon it?

Who's to say homeless folks won't find a way to park themselves in the nooks and crannies inside a rail tunnel?


1 person likes this
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 18, 2018 at 2:26 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Man Paulafort
"Using optimistic figures, let's figure 15 feet for the depth of the existing creek plus 15 feet of clearance required by the water district plus 15 feet for the reverse siphon required to divert the creek under the tracks plus 20 feet for the tunnel bore diameter plus another 10 feet for tunnel walls. Already we're up to a 75-foot depth and have exceeded the maximum possible depth at 2% by 20 feet."

Forget the inverse siphon, the depth is too deep for a siphon to work. Remember a siphon can only work with 30 feet or less. This means that pumps will be required to move the creek's flow. This also means back up generators in case the power goes out. Can you imagine the size of those pumps.


Like this comment
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Dec 18, 2018 at 2:48 pm

Man Paulafort and Pestocat--

Sorry, but I'm missing something here. If the tunnel goes under the creeks, why do you have to deal with the creek flow with your siphon?


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 18, 2018 at 3:19 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

WilliamR
"Sorry, but I'm missing something here. If the tunnel goes under the creeks, why do you have to deal with the creek flow with your siphon?"

The reverse siphon came up with the trench option. This is where pumps would be needed to move the creek flow.


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2018 at 6:27 pm

OK, subtract the 20 feet of siphon. Now we're burrowing 55 feet deep, right on the hairy edge.

"This means that pumps will be required to move the creek's flow. This also means back up generators in case the power goes out. Can you imagine the size of those pumps."

Can you imagine if those pumps or their backups fail during a storm? It will immobilize Caltrain up and down the peninsula. How many times has Oregon expwy flooded out in recent memory?

If I were PCJPB I would have real reservations about this tunnel. The only reason to take on this flood risk is because pampered Palo Altans consider an elevated structure "too ugly". If I were PCJPB I'd be telling Palo Altans to go lump it.


Like this comment
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:32 pm

I'm still having a problem with the logic here. If the tunnel goes under the creek, the only water in the tunnel would be rain coming through the openings or groundwater seepage. Yes, it's a little like the Oregon Expressway undercrossing and, yes, there would still need to be sump pumps, but if creek water got in, it would mean that the tunnel had cracked or collapsed.


2 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:36 pm

I think the most practical solution for grade sep at Charleston and Meadow involves elevating the tracks to some degree. No taking of residential properties, no submerging stations underground (Caltrain owns those stations), no complications associated with crossing creeks and no flood risk (there is no natural drainage in that area). If it can be accomplished without Caltrains lumbering down Alma street on a shoofly track, so much the better.

But then, when are Palo Altans practical?

A trench/tunnel is a nice pipe dream but is fraught with complications, mainly involving crossing the creeks and bringing the trains from grade level into an underground tunnel and back to grade again.

The time and energy spent studying unworkable alternatives would be better spent focusing on a raised-rail design that people will find attractive. Any architectural edifice can be designed to be ugly or it can be designed to be attractive. My advice is to concentrate on the latter, perhaps borrowing from the rich architectural heritage found on the Stanford campus. Trees, shrubs and vines can all be used as components in making a structure more green. Arches and pillars can be used to create a more open and less wall-like design.

Neighboring cities are way ahead of Palo Alto in their grade sep plans in part because they recognize that they are building a railroad cossing, not the Taj Mahal.

Europeans can design rail bridges and viaducts which are aesthetically pleasing by any measure; just do some Google earching and you will see.

The transistor and all manner of computer chips were invented in this area. Surely Palo Alto can come up with a pleasing-looking railroad crossing.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 18, 2018 at 10:54 pm

"I'm still having a problem with the logic here. If the tunnel goes under the creek, the only water in the tunnel would be rain coming through the openings or groundwater seepage."

I was following the guidance of a recent post in this very thread:

"The Santa Clara Valley Water District's letter to the City of Palo Alto in regards to the trench and tunnel options intersecting creeks, and the conditions that would need to be met in order to get their approval, is on page 4 of this document: Web Link, It is the MEMO on interagency Activities for the Wednesday Nov 14, 2018 City Council Rail Committee meeting (agendas, minutes and videos here: Web Link). The city and/or consultants are looking at the issue of how to pump water over or under the trench, an inverted siphon being so far their only solution."

Still, I have factored the siphon out of the depth calculations in a previous post:

2750 feet from San Antonio Road to Adobe creek. That figure is immutable.

2% is likely the maximum slope PCJPB will allow. That figure is not likely to change.

The maximum depth that can be achieved given the above assumptions is 55 feet.

Using optimistic figures, let's figure 15 feet for the depth of the existing creek plus 15 feet of clearance required by the water district plus 20 feet for the tunnel bore diameter plus another 10 feet for tunnel walls. Already we're up to a 60-foot depth and have exceeded the maximum possible depth at 2% by 5 feet.

In another post I have expressed concerns about PCJPB's willingness to take on flood risk just to please Palo Altans.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 8:33 am

"I think the most practical solution for grade sep at Charleston and Meadow involves elevating the tracks to some degree. No taking of residential properties, no submerging stations underground (Caltrain owns those stations), no complications associated with crossing creeks and no flood risk (there is no natural drainage in that area). If it can be accomplished without Caltrains lumbering down Alma street on a shoofly track, so much the better."

You're advocating the hybrid solution. That's already been studied and shown to be taking properties.

As for not having shoofly tracks for viaduct, sounds like Alma will be impacted for construction. Has the same effect as shoofly. Distinction without a difference.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 10:12 am

"You're advocating the hybrid solution."

Don't put words in my mouth.

"sounds like Alma will be impacted for construction. Has the same effect as shoofly. Distinction without a difference."

You need to study the options more closely and get your facts right before you opine about the impact on Alma street. "Sounds like" doesn't cut it.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 10:50 am

"I think the most practical solution for grade sep at Charleston and Meadow involves elevating the tracks to some degree."

No need to put words in your mouth.


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 1:57 pm

"I think the most practical solution for grade sep at Charleston and Meadow involves elevating the tracks to some degree."

"Elevating the tracks" could refer to a structure such as a viaduct, or to a hybrid crossing which you incorrectly assumed and which requires the taking of properties, thus putting it off the table.

If Europeans can design attractive structures to carry trains then Palo Alto should be able to.


13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2018 at 5:19 pm

@Man,

You don't seem to understand that elevated rail causes blight and it is not just because the elevated rail structures are ugly. The blight is also caused by the noise, vibration, cast shadows, the rush of wind around the train and the entrained dust, dirt and litter, the sheer inhuman scale and speed of the whole thing which would dwarf everything around it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 5:57 pm

"noise, vibration, cast shadows, the rush of wind around the train and the entrained dust, dirt and litter, the sheer inhuman scale and speed of the whole thing"

...just like the trains that have been running on those tracks for over 150 years.

I don't know where your imaginary litter problem comes from. Unlike an automobile the windows don't open on a Caltrain car.

Those cast shadows could ruin our way of life.


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 6:17 pm

Just look at this horrible, blighted rail bridge in Scotland. Why, there must be hundreds of homeless heroin addicts living under it — just look at them! You can't see the bridge for all the dust, dirt, litter and debris, and that train is going so fast it will probably go off the bridge. The cast shadows are so bad I can't look at them.

Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 19, 2018 at 7:18 pm

@Man,

Stop living in the past. It is not 1850 anymore and Palo Alto is not a bucolic valley in the Scottish Highlands with a train passing through once a week. No rail system looks like that anymore (one line!). The structure pictured in your link is from the golden age of rail, when rail was profitable and the railroad barons spent lavishly on infrastructure.

How much would it cost? Where would you get the stone masons? Do you also plan to forcibly relocate Palo Alto's 65,000 residents to achieve the bucolic backdrop for your elevated Taj Mahal?

Child-like magical thinking. Stop playing model railroad with the real world.


5 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 19, 2018 at 8:48 pm

What's your solution, Ahem?

Don't give me "close the crossings". That will make automotive gridlock worse. I don't suppose gridlock matters much to someone who never strays far from Channing House.

Build a tunnel? I've given you the parameters. Go ahead and design your tunnel under Adobe and Barron creeks with a 2% grade that conforms to all the requirements.

Leave everything as it has been for over 150 years? That is actually a worthwhile solution for one of the crossings.

Eliminate all automobiles from Palo Alto? Commission Elon Musk to design a flying train? Take up the tracks and build a bike path?

Take a break from your constant fear mongering, exaggerating, lying, whining, complaining and posting useless statistics and come up with something constructive for a change.

Automobile traffic density in Palo Alto is on the rise and Caltrain isn't going away no matter how much you bellyache. So let's hear your plan.


2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 19, 2018 at 11:27 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Double-track electrified viaduct in the median of Great Mall Parkway near Milpitas:
Web Link

New double-track, overhead-electrified viaduct in Denver:
Web Link

Another new electrified viaduct in Denver:
Web Link
Web Link

Honolulu is constructing a new elevated rail transit system (HART), which is entirely on viaducts.

New viaduct in Dubai, disguised (dressed up) as a tree canopy:
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by @Ahem
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2018 at 2:01 am

"Do you also plan to forcibly relocate Palo Alto's 65,000 residents to achieve the bucolic backdrop for your elevated Taj Mahal?"

Can we include Atherton in this plan?


2 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2018 at 2:51 am

Five photos of modern-day rail viaducts and I don't see one homeless person or heroin addict. No doggie doo or any of the other "blight" rail viaducts are supposed to attract such as dust, dirt, litter or those dreaded cast shadows. More lies from someone wanting desperately to prove his point.

The architecture is bland concrete with little greenery but an imaginative architect could make those look a lot better. Hey, we're Palo Alto and we're special.


4 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2018 at 12:53 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Great visual examples of Bay Area communities NOT being divided by a fully-elevated double-track viaduct:
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link

Versus being physically and visually divided by tracks at-grade or partially elevated on a berm:
Web Link
Web Link

As Palo Alto's technical consulting firm s correctly finding, the viaduct is the only alternative that:
• does not require a shoofly (temporary set of tracks which may take one or more lanes from Alma)
• does not require lowering and/or lengthy closures of any Alma intersections
• does not require lowered or fenced roads across or under tracks (best bike/ped experience)
• does not require easements (such as trench tiebacks which require tree removals and prohibitions)
• does not require any private property (home or yard) takings
• does not divide community (allows continuous visual & physical connectivity, landscaping, linear parks, paths, etc.)
• does not require unduly steep grades
• does not leave a fully-fenced community-dividing 3rd freight-only track on the surface
• has the shortest & least disruptive construction period


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 20, 2018 at 1:14 pm

@Check,

They all look like they divide the community to me, and how homes were taken to create the no-man's-land under the concrete freeway for trains in your first example?


2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 20, 2018 at 1:58 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Yeah, nicely built viaducts divide the community about the same way that overhead power lines do: a merely visual linear boundary. And yet we pass under them daily, as those around viaducts do, without a thought.

You can check, but I'm unaware of any homes being taken for the Ohlone Greenway with its playgrounds, paths and landscaping under the El Cerrito BART viaduct. As a Palo Alto viaduct would be, it was built on an existing railroad right of way.

See for yourself:
Web Link
Web Link

Looking forward to Palo Alto's greenway! It will be sooooo much nicer than the "no-man's land" we've been stuck with along there since 1863.


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 20, 2018 at 2:02 pm

"The architecture is bland concrete with little greenery but an imaginative architect could make those look a lot better."

A real shortage of money nullifies any amount if imagination.


8 people like this
Posted by The Waterway Solution
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 20, 2018 at 2:32 pm

(1) How about just eliminating the RR tracks between the Mountain View and Palo Alto train stations?
(2) Install a waterway/canal & have small boats transport passengers from MV to PA where they can then hop back on the Caltrain & continue on to SF. The same would apply for those arriving at MV where they would then embark on a train headed towards SJ.
(3) All that would needed then are three small arched concrete bridges (Charleston/East Meadow/Churchill) to accommodate cars crossing the canal. No more RR signals...just traffic lights for the intersection. Less traffic gridlock when intersections are completely stopped for approaching trains.
(4) No more train-related deaths (e.g. suicides, car/bike/pedestrian accidents).
(5) A waterway would create a relaxing journey from MV to PA and back. Less stressful.
(6) Far cheaper than 1 billion dollars to enact & fiscally responsible.
(7) No more noisy freight trains at 2AM to disturb sleep.
(8) Quieter than regular trains as well...no horns, bells going off anymore. A considerable Palo Alto Db drop-off for those residing in the immediate area.
(9) Adds a European 'touch' to basic local transportation.

Time to think outside the box.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2018 at 4:27 pm

"As Palo Alto's technical consulting firm s correctly finding, a viaduct is the only alternative that:"

To add some important ones:

• does not require tunneling under creeks which may not even be possible given the short distance between San Antonio road and Adobe creek, and PCJPB's limit of a 2% grade

• does not require the installation, operation and maintenance of pumps

• does not pose a risk of flooding during a storm which could make a tunnel impassable, thus immobilizing all rail service between S.F. and S.J.

If Palo Altans would come to their senses and listen to their own consulting firm, the benefits would become clear.

Guess what, folks, the city is already divided by the RR tracks and has been for over 150 years. I grew up near Bowden park and have been through that pedestrian underpass thousands of times since 1961 to get from our house to the other side of town. If anything an open, elevated solution on pillars would enable bikes, peds and cars to freely move from one side of the tracks to the other. Crying about a viaduct "dividing the city" does not carry much sway with me.

Give it a nice stone or brick facade and add some lush greenery and you would have an attractive edifice worthy of privileged Palo Alto, much nicer than those poured-concrete designs I'm seeing in photos.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2018 at 4:50 pm

"Install a waterway/canal & have small boats transport passengers from MV to PA where they can then hop back on the Caltrain & continue on to SF. The same would apply for those arriving at MV where they would then embark on a train headed towards SJ."

This idea deserves a gold star for out-of-the-box thinking. Have the boats be operated by mustachioed men in colorful uniforms singing "o sole mio" accompanied by conductors playing the mandolin.

"Less traffic gridlock when intersections are completely stopped for approaching trains."

What approaching trains? You've taken up the tracks so there would be no approaching trains.

You could meld Adobe, Barron and Matadero creeks into this canal — transportation and flood control all in one!

How do you think commuters and freight got between S.F. and Oakland before they built the bay bridge?

All you have to do is get PCJPB to give it the OK. How could they not like it; it's so original! Call 650-508-6200 and start negotiating.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 20, 2018 at 5:08 pm

"Great visual examples of Bay Area communities NOT being divided by a fully-elevated double-track viaduct"

I look at the photos posted by Reality Check and I see lots and lots of open space between one side of the tracks and the other, not two railroad tracks which are impassable as we now have in Palo Alto.

And whaddya know! I don't see one homeless person, not one heroin addict, not one wino, not one abandoned R.V. or a mountain of doggie doo as one other poster says with absolute certainty a viaduct will bring. That shoots a big hole right through his fear mongering.

Build the pillars in the shape of an uppercase letter "H" (c.f. Golden Gate bridge) and you could have a bike path and greenway between the legs of the "H".


10 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2018 at 9:41 am

LOL.

You guys are hilariously wasting your time advocating for a viaduct on an internet discussion forum. The real decisions are not made here.

In any case.

"I look at the photos posted by Reality Check and I see lots and lots of open space between one side of the tracks and the other, not two railroad tracks which are impassable as we now have in Palo Alto."

Hah. Another example of searching the internet to support arguments. You sound like you've never lived in the East Bay and have seen the impact of having BART elevated. It's the wrong example to support your arguments. Berkeley made the right investment to underground it.

"And whaddya know! I don't see one homeless person, not one heroin addict, not one wino, not one abandoned R.V. or a mountain of doggie doo as one other poster says with absolute certainty a viaduct will bring. That shoots a big hole right through his fear mongering."

You try sleeping under a screeching BART train. There's no sound mitigation there. But there are plenty of homeless sitting under underpasses in the east bay. You must have not been there recently. Your sample size is too small.


1 person likes this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2018 at 12:13 pm

How are you going to grade separate if a tunnel can't be built and you don't want to take $3 million homes?

Enjoy the gridlock!


2 people like this
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 21, 2018 at 2:15 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Man Paulafort

"How are you going to grade separate if a tunnel can't be built and you don't want to take $3 million homes?

Enjoy the gridlock!"

The latest design for the Hybrid grade separation will not take any property. A few driveways will need modification or redo. The viaduct will not take any property or require new driveways.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2018 at 3:35 pm

"The latest design for the Hybrid grade separation will not take any property. A few driveways will need modification or redo. The viaduct will not take any property or require new driveways."

Do you have a link for that?

At this point we're only discussing Charleston and Meadow.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2018 at 3:41 pm

"The latest design for the Hybrid grade separation will not take any property. A few driveways will need modification or redo. The viaduct will not take any property or require new driveways."

Another important question: will it require a shoofly track down Alma street?


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 21, 2018 at 4:14 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Man Paulafort
"The latest design for the Hybrid grade separation will not take any property. A few driveways will need modification or redo. The viaduct will not take any property or require new driveways."

"Do you have a link for that?

At this point we're only discussing Charleston and Meadow."

This is from the November Community Meeting.
Yes a shoofly will be needed.
See Web Link This is the PowerPoint presentation, you will need to page through to get to the Htbrid option details.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 21, 2018 at 4:52 pm

Found it, thank you.

The lack of separate shoofly tracks on Alma street makes a strong case for option MCV. An Alma-street shoofly would add a great deal of expense to the project and would really put the squeeze on Alma street.

Option MCH does require some driveway modifications as you point out. Don't forget, you would need to construct two cutoffs to get off and on the main line in addition to the shoofly itself. Through what property would these cutoffs be built and would they require eminent-domain takings?


Like this comment
Posted by pestocat
a resident of University South
on Dec 21, 2018 at 6:11 pm

pestocat is a registered user.

Man Paulafort
"The lack of separate shoofly tracks on Alma street makes a strong case for option MCV. An Alma-street shoofly would add a great deal of expense to the project and would really put the squeeze on Alma street.

Option MCH does require some driveway modifications as you point out. Don't forget, you would need to construct two cutoffs to get off and on the main line in addition to the shoofly itself. Through what property would these cutoffs be built and would they require eminent-domain takings?"

There would be no taking of any property. The shoofly would connect to the mainline and then move east onto Alma. No property issues.


3 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2018 at 5:08 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Me 2: the viaduct examples _include_ BART in the East Bay ... see and/or visit the Ohlone Greenway built under and alongside the double-track BART viaduct in El Cerrito. Greenery, paths, playgrounds ... a creek. Very nice!

As mentioned, Honolulu is building HART, a new 20-mile fully-elevated rail transit system linking major destinations (eg. the airport) with downtown, etc.: Web Link

The point is viaducts, like cities and neighborhoods, are not all equal. Far from it. There are many different settings, environments and designs. As for noisy BART, that is in the process of coming to an end. It's technical, but suffice it to say that the know-nothing-about trains aeronautical engineers that designed BART foolishly chose a cylindrical wheel profile that made for railhead corrugations which result in lots of ear-splitting noise — even on straight track, and particularly in tunnels. BART's new "fleet of the future" trains quite sensibly go back to using the railroad industry standard conical wheel profile. And BART is gradually switching the wheels on its legacy fleet to also have conical profiles. As has been reported in technical papers and in popular media, this is reportedly resulting in an up to 20 decibel (about 4x) cut in noise.

Some background reading for you:

BART Howl Becoming a Whisper?
Web Link

The science of the screech: Big progress for BART's efforts to lower the volume of your ride
Web Link

Of course, Caltrain's quiet new 100% renewable/green electricity-powered fleet being a state-of-the-art Swiss train (assembled in the US due to "Buy America" rules) which is already in wide use in Europe (where they care about quiet trains), uses a conical wheel profile (like all reasonable trains), and runs far, far quieter inside and out than BART has ever been.


3 people like this
Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 22, 2018 at 9:35 am

How about PA simply build a station or stations with an empty unbuilt underground area that could someday be used to connect to the underground railway that will be built someday in the future with money no one has any idea where it will come from. Then we can sell naming rights to the station, "Salesforce Station" even. Have a grand above ground park with walkways. That's how it is done in San Francisco. Just do the same here.


17 people like this
Posted by Blimps Are the Real Solution
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2018 at 6:38 pm

Just tear out the RR tracks and have low-flying blimps traveling along the route instead of trains. Then the cars can do whatever they want as there will no longer be any grade crossings to deal with.

Quieter and no more road/train related accidents.


14 people like this
Posted by Say YES to Blimps!
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 23, 2018 at 1:50 pm

A low-flying blimp would certainly solve all of the previously discussed issues and problems pertaining to this RR retrofit.

It wouldn't require much altitude. Roughly a 25'-30' vertical clearance with minor ascents/descents to accommodate the embarking and disembarking of passengers.

Cars could then easily travel below its scheduled path.

The RR tracks could even be left intact for the early AM freight trains. Since hardly anyone is on the road during those runs, car stoppages would be minimal as those freight trains are almost like an express run with no station stops.

The earmarked $1B could then be used for something more productive.


4 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Dec 25, 2018 at 12:32 pm

@Ahem

So what's your solution, Ahem? What would you do? Please share your wisdom with us peons, tell us your plan to solve all our problems with capacity and traffic while sticking within a budget.

Or you can continue to say nothing constructive and farm likes doing it. It's clear you don't actually have much else to say.


6 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Dec 25, 2018 at 12:43 pm

I find it hilarious how out-of-touch the Caltrain opponents are. I mean, flying trains, canals, blimps? This isn't Flash Gordon, folks. Let's talk about things that, you know, actually exist.

I mean, there's not much else to say. The sheer intellectual dishonesty demonstrated by making such ridiculous arguments is astounding enough to say the rest. What next? Will you propose to replace all highways with hot air balloons? ICBM travel? Teleporters?

You can deny reality all you like, but some of us would actually like to find practical solutions to these problems.


6 people like this
Posted by Blimps Are the Real Solution
a resident of another community
on Dec 25, 2018 at 5:00 pm

> I find it hilarious how out-of-touch the Caltrain opponents are. I mean, flying trains, canals, blimps? This isn't Flash Gordon, folks.

Flying trains might be a bit off the wall but we already have the technology for blimps and canals. Why not use it?


3 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 26, 2018 at 10:13 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

Just saw this comment in the "Friends of Caltrain" FB group:

The next time someone natters on about how grade separations will be absolutely necessary before allowing more trains (full of hundreds of riders each) to block cars at crossings, ask them how many trains would have to run before rail crossings are blocked even half as much as the average traffic light blocks cars at any busy intersection for only dozens of single-occupant cars to pass? Why the double standard of "wait for cars: OK; wait for trains: BAD"? And, if anything, shouldn't it be the other way around since it's better to have more people riding in trains than in cars?


7 people like this
Posted by Cars & Trains
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 26, 2018 at 12:06 pm

there is no solution to this issue. too many variables.


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 26, 2018 at 12:40 pm

"You can deny reality all you like, but some of us would actually like to find practical solutions to these problems."

Same here.

Our chronic money shortage dictates that the current rail configuration is the one we're gonna have, forever. Forget tunnel, forget trench, forget viaduct, forget berm. What you see is what will be.

The cheapest grade crossing option is no at-grade crossings. Close all of them.

Next cheapest practical solution: dig Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston straight under Alma and the tracks on their existing footprints, with no connections to Alma. Likewise dig Palo Alto Ave directly under the rails. Zero if any property takings required. Dig bike/ped UCs separately as desired. Done.


4 people like this
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2018 at 1:50 am

"Close all of them."

I have asked this question many, many times: How does this solve anything?

Automotive gridlock will get worse as auto traffic seeks other routes because four formerly-passable streets are now closed — not a problem if you never stray far from Channing House.

The trains will still come.

I have asked the above question countless times and no one has ever offered an answer.

Relegate it to the scrap heap of your dumb ideas such as making the trains stop at crossings.


Like this comment
Posted by Flash
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2018 at 7:40 am

Flash is a registered user.

Reality Check: Thanks for providing actual facts about noise from train wheels, but the worst noise from CalTrain is from their federally-mandated, overly-loud, and mostly useless whistles.


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 27, 2018 at 11:31 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Flash: train horn noise can easily (and relatively cheaply) be eliminated. The city needs to establish a train horn "quiet zone". The FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) has for many years now had a formal process available to any local jurisdiction wishing to end train horn noise:

FRA webpage on "The Train Horn Rule and Quiet Zones": Web Link

Every city and county jurisdiction along the entire new SMART rail line from northern Santa Rosa to San Rafael (soon to be Larkspur) has established these, and so train horns may only be used on an "as needed" basis (vs. the otherwise mandatory mindless four 96-110db blasts – 2 long, 1 short & 1 long – per crossing). On the Caltrain line, so far Atherton is the first and only city to establish a quiet zone at its Fair Oaks Lane crossing adjacent to its town center area and Llyoden Park neighborhood:

Atherton's Quiet Zone webpage: Web Link

Here's a (horn-free!) video of it in action: Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2018 at 12:20 pm

"I have asked this question many, many times: How does this solve anything?"

It solves the (perceived) problem of the existence of grade crossings, with minimal financial outlay. IOW, we can afford it. Drivers will solve any resulting gridlock by finding alternative routes. (Think, how much gridlock does the never-opened Loma Verde crossing cause?) I have much more faith in the intelligence of our commuters than I do in the silly mucho-$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ proposals for tunnels, ditches, Berlin Walls, and tracks on stilts I encounter on this thread.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 27, 2018 at 12:55 pm

"It solves the (perceived) problem of the existence of grade crossings, with minimal financial outlay. IOW, we can afford it."

So a town full of $3-million homes and McMansions can't afford real grade separation?

"Drivers will solve any resulting gridlock by finding alternative routes."

That's no solution, it's a half-a** workaround necessitated by the closure of four surface streets.

If you have arthritis in your right elbow you could cut off your right arm and using your left arm for everything would be the half-a** workaround such as you propose.

"I have much more faith in the intelligence of our commuters than I do in the silly mucho-$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ proposals."

Your grand scheme was to make the trains stop for auto traffic which conveniently ignores that a) trains have the right-of-way under federal law, and b) eventually auto traffic would have to come to a halt to let the trains pass.

A "solution" which makes the problem worse (auto traffic throughput) is no solution at all, just the musings of a kook.


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2018 at 8:05 pm

"So a town full of $3-million homes and McMansions can't afford real grade separation?"

What do $3-million homes and McMansions have to do with railroad crossings? Hmmm?


"If you have arthritis in your right elbow you could cut off your right arm and using your left arm for everything ... ."

Whoa there now. What does arthritis in my right elbow (or even my left elbow, or anybody's elbow) have to do with railroad crossings?


"A "solution" which makes the problem worse (auto traffic throughput) is no solution at all, just the musings of a kook."

McMansions and elbows and railroads, all in one posting, wow ... you totally nailed the kook thing.

Look, we just dig the crossing streets straight no frills under the tracks and we're done.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 28, 2018 at 3:05 am

"Look, we just dig the crossing streets straight no frills under the tracks and we're done."

That was studied quite some time ago. You'd have to acquire many of those $3-million homes through eminent domain and throw out the occupants.

Try to keep up.


Like this comment
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 28, 2018 at 10:36 am

How about a tunnel with a canal inside? It could be based on the Venetian in Las Vegas with retail along both sides. Include gambling venues and the budget problem is solved!


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 28, 2018 at 1:13 pm

"That was studied quite some time ago. You'd have to acquire many of those $3-million homes through eminent domain and throw out the occupants."

Nonsense. As I've pointed out in this and prior threads, you stay within each existing x-street footprint and, voila, no takings. Try to keep up.

For a math exercise, how many $3-million properties do you need to take before you exceed the cost of a tunnel plus accoutrements?


5 people like this
Posted by CallingOut
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2018 at 12:50 pm

@Curmudgeon

I don't think closing all the crossings is practical. Not to say that I think the trench, or heaven forbid blimps and canals (I really hope the guys suggesting those are just trolling, but it's hard to tell these days) are practical solutions either, just that I can't see a situation where there's political will to do anything like that. I mean, we're in this mess because people aren't willing to committ to long-term solutions that cause short-term pain, right? What you're suggesting isn't that different.

Part of the problem is the (admittedly understandable) resistance to a viaduct. In Japan, whenever a line needs to be grade seperated from traffic, typically viaducts are their "go-to" solution. They'll build the new line directly above the old one, then switch and dismantle the original once everything's up and running. Of course, this is much easier for them than it is for us for several technical and political reasons, namely that: one, they use EMU trains almost exclusively which can climb steeper grades and therefore have much more freedom in designing viaducts; two, 90% of grade seperation costs are borne by the government; three, Japanese society has very different assumptions about housing and neighborhoods than we do. So their experience isn't really applicable here.

Still, the trench is a fantasy. It's not going to happen. If the council eliminates all the other options because they're too scared of using eminent domain, all they're really doing is guarenteeing nothing will get done. If the trench is chosen, the status quo will persist, because the trench CAN'T BE DONE.

The viaduct probably won't happen either, but unlike the trench, it is actually feasible; just not wanted.

So that leaves two practical options:
A - Leave things as they are and just suck it up and deal with the increased frequency of trains
B - Raise the tracks and lower the road at crossings (which will require eminent domain)

If I was a betitng man, I'd put my money on A.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2018 at 8:31 pm

"If I was a betitng man, I'd put my money on A."

I'm with you on that. And I concur with almost everything else you say.

Almost nobody has pointed out that the solution, if any, must be regional. Like, Palo Alto might tunnel/viaduct from Mountain View to Menlo Park, but how would they get the trains across the interfaces? And no city owns the tracks or the land under them, so all the local notions on this thread and its siblings are meaningless out of the gate, even if real funding existed for any of them.

What we see now is what we're gonna see. Not by design, but by regional default.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2018 at 9:38 pm

Palo Altans have no idea what they're in for. They'll freak out when they see Alma street cut in half with huge Caltrains lumbering up and down shoofly tracks in both directions.

A viaduct can be built keeping the shoofly tracks confined within the ROW. If a viaduct is put up for a vote and fails at the ballot box because of the mythical blight it will bring, then I'm afraid it's option "A", the "suck-it-up" option (which is actually a good option for Churchill).

"you stay within each existing x-street footprint and, voila, no takings."

This, like your other harebrained schemes, omits several important details which make it infeasible. It's been studied already.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2018 at 9:46 pm

"no city owns the tracks or the land under them, so all the local notions on this thread and its siblings are meaningless out of the gate"

San Carlos has been grade separated for years and other peninsula communities are way ahead of Palo Alto, all of them local undertakings.

There goes another of your brilliant notions down in flames.


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2018 at 10:04 pm

These notions of crossing Adobe and Barron creeks with a RR tunnel and inverse siphons must take into account that trains are extremely heavy and the soil around there is quite soft with a high water table.

We would all like Palo Alto to avoid San Francisco's experience of a listing high-rise.

More food for thought.


Like this comment
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2018 at 11:26 am

"A viaduct can be built keeping the shoofly tracks confined within the ROW."

If that is true, then a solid berm (a.k.a. mechanically stabilized earth embankment) can be built keeping the shoofly tracks confined within the ROW.

They are the same width.

You can build a hybrid berm, a full-height berm, a full-height viaduct, and a hybrid viaduct. Pick your own adventure.

It is unlikely that Caltrain will accept a two-track-only solution at Charleston/Meadow. They will not let Palo Alto constrain future capacity in an area where the railroad land is 95 to 115 feet wide.


4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 31, 2018 at 12:58 pm

"These notions of crossing Adobe and Barron creeks with a RR tunnel and inverse siphons must take into account that trains are extremely heavy ... "

Trains are also extremely heavy on the putative shoofly tracks on Alma. Can Alma's roadbed and the utilities buried within it bear the load? Trains are also extremely heavy on the putative shoofly tracks on Alma's overcrossings at University, Embarcadero, and Oregon. Can they bear the load? How would you know?

It is sooo easy to say "shoofly tracks" ...


Like this comment
Posted by Man Paulafort
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 31, 2018 at 1:41 pm

"Trains are also extremely heavy on the putative shoofly tracks on Alma. Can Alma's roadbed and the utilities buried within it bear the load?"

Also, Alma crosses over guess what? Adobe and Barron creeks. Would Alma bear the weight of Caltrains or heavy freight trains where it crosses over those creeks? Another fly in the rail-tunnel ointment.

A rail tunnel is a nice pipe dream until reality butts in.


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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 14 comments | 4,840 views

Troubling safety issues in our fair city
By Diana Diamond | 16 comments | 1,459 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 1,158 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,120 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 0 comments | 805 views

 

Register now!

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.

More Info