City struggles to decide on rail redesign | January 25, 2019 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 25, 2019

City struggles to decide on rail redesign

Leaders, public still want to consider expensive citywide tunnel

by Gennady Sheyner

Despite widespread recognition that Palo Alto urgently needs to reconfigure its four rail crossings to accommodate increasing train traffic, the city's elected leaders remain paralyzed by indecision when it comes to identifying a set of preferred designs.

This story contains 1329 words.

Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.

If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.

Log in     Subscribe

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

41 people like this
Posted by A Cheaper Alternative?
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2019 at 4:40 am

When a train crosses Charleston, Meadow, Churchill, and Palo Alto Avenue, those roads close for about 45 seconds. During the busiest hour, we're expecting about eight trains an hour in each direction, assuming high-speed rail fizzles out as expected. So that's 16 trains at most per hour, closing the intersection for just 12 minutes out of 60, assuming trains going opposite directions never cross at the same time. In other words, under the busiest scenario we currently face, these four intersections will remain open 80% of the time.

Why can't we have synchronized traffic lights that take advantage of knowing when trains are coming and ensure that cars cross during that 80% opportunity? Take Churchill. You generally have to wait there already because the light favors Alma, which is far busier. So if that light were simply synchronized with the trains, Churchill traffic would likely move along better than it odes now. No expensive taking of homes or intersection closing is needed.

Busier crossings like Charleston and Meadow could benefit from synchronizing lights with nearby intersections, such as Charleston at El Camino. So the mass of cars going to 101 on Charleston in the evening would arrive at the train tracks when there's no train and be able to get across easily.

There are many benefits to this approach. It can be simulated and even tested at very low cost compared to the massive construction price tags for tunnels, trenches, viaducts, and the rest. Suppose we find that synchronized traffic lights aren't quite as good as say a tunnel, but the latter saves the average rush hour driver only a few seconds a day. When you consider the high cost of a tunnel and the huge delays drivers will experience during construction, those few seconds may not be worth it.

Has this been looked at? One never sees it in the list of alternatives.


3 people like this
Posted by Kya
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 7:21 am

Keep the momentum going. Electrification will be here soon. Let’s not get stuck in the Palo Alto process which will delay decisions indefinitely and Get stuck with grade separations nobody wants. We need a plan we can live with, not the “perfect plan”. Beef up and re engineer existing underpasses —especially Embarcadero. Get Stanford to fund their share! Make safety for our Students a higher priority over car accessibility. Increase bike and pedestrian access over cars. Palo Alto has an opportunity to support a Plan that will beautify and enhance our town, not continue on our current path of drowning in traffic. The future is almost here, let’s create a Plan we can be proud of!


19 people like this
Posted by Wait for palo alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2019 at 8:28 am

It is clear that the palo alto prima Donnas and the nervous Nelly city council exist the entire peninsula to wait until they make a decision that matters everyone in the city happy.
The solution-- have the trains terminate in Menlo park and mountain view and then people can bike through palo alto and reboard the train. No noise in palo alto. No trains. No crossings. And pablo alto is happy


27 people like this
Posted by Aesculus californica
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 23, 2019 at 8:36 am

Aesculus californica is a registered user.

I support further investigation into the traffic signal timings.

I cross the tracks multiple times per day on my bike and am curious to know why the signals give a green light to cars on Alma after the crossing gates drop. It takes much longer for the Alma traffic signal to change to red than it takes the trains to clear the intersection which causes cars to back up on Meadow and Charleston.

I think all signals should stay red during the train crossing and then give preference to the those crossing the tracks.

We can try different signals scenarios for not much cost and monitor traffic impacts.


14 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2019 at 8:55 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Hmm... no surprise in this latest chapter in the Palo Alto History. Our five-person council is in a predictable predicament.

A study session at Promontory Summit, Utah could help everyone reflect on our failing process. The transcontinental railroad was built in six years. Who will drive the Golden Spike for Palo Alto’s grade crossings?

Lacking funds for the junket trip to Utah, our council could convene a joint study session with Mt. View and Menlo Park as soon as staff vacancies are filled. It is hard to imagine how progress can be made with virtually no experienced staff to guide the executive role of the Council.


17 people like this
Posted by Old Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2019 at 9:05 am

This whole debate is stupid.

JUST CLOSE THE CROSSINGS!!!!


13 people like this
Posted by PA rez
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:14 am

Now is the time for leadership. Pick the option that the people of PA will like in 30 years: the trench. It will improve home values, not decrease them, like the viaduct.


7 people like this
Posted by Casey Jones
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:33 am

Electrified trains are much quieter than the current diesel powered ones. There shouldn’t be a need for a tunnel.


22 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:39 am

The wimpy city council is afraid they will get voted out of office if they take any position on this important issue, so they just keep kicking the can down the road until all of the best options are no longer feasible because of the price or construction time.


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:50 am

Annette is a registered user.

Question for those knowledgeable about train lines and grade separation options: is there a functional advantage to coordinating this city's approach with Menlo Park's approach? I read recently that the MPCC decided to raise tracks/lower roads.


2 people like this
Posted by Davis Fields
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:52 am

Wow... the video that's linked from the article is really interesting. Sure, if you could build that tunnel at a reasonable price and do it in a reasonable amount of time, it would be great. But I don't think it's possible. I would guess that before this is all all over, a couple of lesser-used grade crossing will be closed, the others will remain with the latest crossing-gate and signial-timing technology, high-speed rail (if it ever happens) will have to slow down to Caltrain speeds on parts of the Peninsula, and life will go on. And I can live with that.


15 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2019 at 11:03 am

If you do nothing, You are effectively closing all four crossings.
For god sakes, Do Something , even if it is wrong or unpopular/


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2019 at 11:48 am

The struggle is real and will not be easy, there is no easy answer.

Saying that, we have to move around town all the time, no denying that. We have our two high schools on the same side of the tracks and at least 50% students living the other side (guesswork, I admit). There is more Caltrain parking at downtown on the West side than the East side of the tracks. All Caltrain parking at Cal Ave is West side with none East side. The need to cross those tracks is not going away.

Without grade separation this city is going to stop functioning as far as efficient traffic flow is concerned.

Painful decisions are going to have to be made and the decisions and the work is going to have to be done quickly. No several year construction. No Palo Alto process. Work will need to be done 24/7 year round. Not like the work on 101 which was only done 9 - 5 weekdays during the summer.

The priority to get efficient public transportation (improved Caltrain) and efficient traffic flow is paramount.

Not saying this as taking no account of those whose homes or lives will be disrupted, but the necessity of the reality of what must be done should be evident to all.


10 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2019 at 12:25 pm

I sure am glad I bike to work.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 23, 2019 at 1:10 pm

The question of optimizing existing signalized crossings is a fair question. Unfortunately, the problem is not the amount of gate “downtime”, it’s the amount of “recovery time” needed to clear and recover the signal sequence after each gate down. The increase in trains per hour within the next few years will compound that problem to near gridlock.
As part of a complete FAQ, the city should provide a clear explanation of these traffic engineering realities since these sorts of questions are logical and the public will not accept rejecting alternatives without clear explanations.


20 people like this
Posted by Alex M.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Something to consider for those who may not like a viaduct for the potential noise it may make when the train rolls through, is that the train only sounds its horn when it crosses at grade intersections. With a viaduct, the train would no longer have to apply its horn.


6 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2019 at 2:49 pm

Start digging the under passes and get on with it like Mountain View and Menlo Park. Any other choice is equivalent to doing nothing.


1 person likes this
Posted by Member
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jan 23, 2019 at 5:00 pm

Curious. Have not been following this, but do any of the options on the table include one that is most ugly and most noisy, but possibly safer and less traffic snarling ---- elevated train tracks?


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2019 at 5:16 pm

"The wimpy city council is afraid they will get voted out of office if they take any position on this important issue, so they just keep kicking the can down the road until all of the best options are no longer feasible because of the price or construction time."

That time has probably already passed. It will certainly have passed once Caltrain sets up the poles and hangs the wires from them.


"is there a functional advantage to coordinating this city's approach with Menlo Park's approach?"

There's a very big functional advantage to coordinating at city boundaries. Train operations are much smoother when the tracks at city boundaries are aligned and at the same level. There has been remarkably little recognition of that little detail in these forums.


1 person likes this
Posted by New To Town
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 23, 2019 at 5:33 pm

Why are Mayor Eric Filseth and Councilwoman Liz Kniss recusing themselves?


Like this comment
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2019 at 6:34 pm

Where to read up on the Electrified train system they are planning for California?
How extensive will it be on the west coast?


1 person likes this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 6:37 pm

"Why can't we have synchronized traffic lights that take advantage of knowing when trains are coming and ensure that cars cross during that 80% opportunity?"

We already have that. That's how the crossing gates know when to come down and the traffic signals to change.


2 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 6:56 pm

"is there a functional advantage to coordinating this city's approach with Menlo Park's approach?"

If you were the city of Menlo Park would you want to work with the city of Palo Alto which can't make a decision and for years hasn't been able to get out of its own way on grade separation? Menlo Park is well on its way to grade separation. What do they need Palo Alto for? I think that ship has already sailed.

Keeping Churchill just as it has been for decades — not closing the crossing — is the best idea I've heard yet. Just leave it alone. Space is at such a premium there that there isn't enough room to do much of anything without taking residences.


8 people like this
Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 23, 2019 at 6:57 pm

Basically the cities along the rail are being sacrificed (i.e. forced to pay for expansion in services which primarily serve SF), but SF isn't forced to pay for it.

It is a great deal (screw your neighbor to your advantage) if you can get it, I guess.

:(


9 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2019 at 7:59 pm

Best solution is to build a subway tunnel or do nothing. The world will not end if you have to wait a few minutes extra to cross the train tracks. University, Embarcadero, Oregon, San Antonio... there are FOUR ways to cross the train tracks without waiting in this city. If FOUR separate crossings that already exist aren't enough for you then maybe we should stop building offices.


1 person likes this
Posted by @boring
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2019 at 8:42 pm

The video (Web Link) that shows a tunnel solution is excellent and the solution is ingenious. Just stop the video at 00:25 and study the map. First, two temporary tracks will direct the rail traffic away from both ends of the tunnel during the construction. During the tunnel construction, only the Alma traffic at these two diversion points will be disrupted. The rest of the tunnel constructions will happen underground. All the current car surface traffic minus the tracks shall be restored after the tunnel opens; no bridges, no car underpasses, beautiful, and really ingenious! I am sure Palo Alto with the highest home price/square foot of $1800 can afford it. If we don't do it now, it will be 10x more expensive in 10 years.


2 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 8:46 pm

"cities along the rail are being sacrificed (i.e. forced to pay for expansion in services which primarily serve SF), but SF isn't forced to pay for it."

Those cities are the beneficiaries of grade separation. It improves auto traffic throughput of the cities' cross streets at the RR crossings. It doesn't affect rail service one whit. It doesn't affect the train schedule and trains always have the right of way over cars.

Palo Alto or any peninsula city could opt not to spend a nickel on grade separation.


5 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 9:38 pm

The rail-tunnel shills have arrived.

22 full property takings @ $3 million each = $66 million + 9 partial takings @ $1 million each = + $75 million for land acquisition + unforeseen litigation costs.

What happens when the tunnel floods during a heavy storm and becomes impassable, thereby immobilizing rail service on the peninsula? CPA has a less than stellar record of keeping Oregon expwy free of flooding; what makes anyone think a rail tunnel will be any different?

Why pay to tunnel under a crossing which is already grade separated (Oregon expwy)?


5 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of University South
on Jan 23, 2019 at 9:41 pm

Buster is right. It’s also important to note that Palo Alto Station is the second busiest station in the Caltrain system after SF Station. Busier than San Jose and Millbrae (BART connection). I’d say that PA gets quite a bit of benefit from Caltrain.


9 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:09 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

A fully-elevated solid berm (or a much nicer fully open-underneath viaduct) solves the problem of how to grade-separate Churchill with little or no private property acquisitions.

In south Palo Alto, the viaduct does not require a shoofly by cleverly building the viaduct in the space between the existing tracks and Alma, and, as the following video simulation shows, the end result is that the quiet new electric trains and their tracks end up being significantly further (60 feet!) away from the backyards of homes. And no pump stations, no creek disturbances, no increased flooding risk due to clogged or failed pumps!

Meadow-Charleston Viaduct video simulation:
Web Link

Full alternatives presentation with scoring evaluation matrix on PDF pages 46-47:
Web Link

Despite the all the FUD being whipped up against "scary viaducts" ... it still looks like a win-win-win for the viaduct!


3 people like this
Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2019 at 10:42 pm

Viaduct AKA elevated freeway for trains is a lose-lose-lose-lose. Neighbors lose because of elevated trains blasting noise, the entire city loses because they have a new Berlin Wall separating the city, pedestrians lose because paths through the elevated freeway will be few and far between, and everyone loses (their lives) after an earthquake and the thing falls down.


7 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 11:03 pm

It is astounding the way the PACC is vacillating on the issue of a citywide tunnel. The vacillating is adding years to the project which doesn't get any cheaper with each passing year. A citywide tunnel is infeasible for a litany of reasons, not the least of which is S.F. creek which forms two political boundaries. It's time to stop vacillating and take this option off the table for good.

"Despite the all the FUD being whipped up against "scary viaducts" ... it still looks like a win-win-win for the viaduct!"

There is a lot of truth to this statement. Until Palo Altans wake up and recognize it, they're either going to wind up with a hugely expensive white elephant or they can look forward to spending hours in their SUV's waiting for the trains to pass.


2 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2019 at 11:14 pm

"Viaduct AKA elevated freeway for trains"

You've sung this song before under a variety of aliases.


4 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2019 at 11:30 pm

@ Reality Check--

I like the open viaduct concept. I'm not a construction engineer, but I question whether it is possible to do the construction work in the space between the existing tracks and Alma. The finished viaduct would fit there, but building it will require a lot of heavy equipment moving around, and I'm sure there are safety regulations about how close to an active railroad you can have workers and equipment. Can someone with actual knowledge of construction processes speak to this?


7 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2019 at 12:22 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@JR like skyscrapers and other structures, properly-engineered and constructed viaducts are extensively used in earthquake-prone areas all over the world ... and do not "fall down." Honolulu, which is also subject to quakes (up to 7.9 thus far!) is presently building an (almost) entirely elevated 21-station rail system on ... viaducts!

Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART): Web Link

Oh, and @JR, you can't have it both ways. A viaduct, by definition, is continuously open underneath — not just "far and few" between — and therefore cannot be "a wall" (let alone one from Berlin; I visited and studied both sides of that infamous wall while it was still in its prime, and trust me, there is not the slightest resemblance ... none whatsoever ... and, incidentally, Berlin has numerous nice viaducts with HSR and other quiet electric trains on them ... right downtown ... and, unlike freeways, they're quiet, and nobody pays them any attention. Try dusting off that passport and do try to learn more about what you're talking about).

Viaducts with low walls shielding the wheel-rail interface of Caltrain's quiet new Swiss electric train fleet will very likely expose homes along the tracks to significantly _less_ noise than they experience today (and that's not counting the four federally-mandated 96-110 decibel horn blasts per train per crossing which will also be eliminated). The predominant source of remaining noise is thus channeled up and away from homes below.

@WilliamR doubts "whether it is possible to do the [viaduct] construction work in the space between the existing tracks and Alma." That's what Palo Alto's contract engineering consulting firm AECOM and its subcontractor/partners (see logos on the alternatives presentation) already took the extra time to figure out. That's what they're being paid to do ... come up with feasible & constructible alternatives to inform the city's decisionmaking. Recall that they initially thought a shoofly would (also) be needed to construct the viaduct. Then they announced late last year to the City Council's Rail Committee that they thought it might be possible to build without one, and that they would need more time to investigate/confirm that. The following presentation (and the animations it links to), suggests they've determined the viaduct can be built while the existing tracks stay in use (so no shoofly needed):

Alternatives presentation:
Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 24, 2019 at 8:54 am

I lived in NYC one summer and was within 1 block of an elevated train (electrified as the trains in NYC are). Within a few days I never heard a train go by at night. In NYC the subways/elevated trains run 24/7, unlike trains here which stop at about 10 pm unless there is a long game on and the trains wait for the game to be over.
Had Palo Alto separated the crossings when I first arrived here in the late 60s, it would have cost a fraction of what now. Better yet if they had done it during the electronics bust when you could have a house for $10k or so.
Basically I think many here just hope that if traffic gets too bad people will start to go away. It will not happen.
Now it is time to just bite the bullet and build the crossings. The tunnel is out of the question as it is too expensive and the area is prone to flooding. Note how often the road under the Embarcadero and Oregon crossings flood.
Please, just quit discussing and get on with building the viaduct.
Get it done now. Whatever you build someone will grouse about it. Personally I do not want to go underground to the train station as those tunnels are often subject to vandalism, bodily emissions and other garbage left by people, bicycles ridden by young people who like to race there. I consider them unsafe. Consider what happened to the tunnel under El Camino near California Ave in Palo Alto until they closed it.


3 people like this
Posted by Location, location, location
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 24, 2019 at 9:44 am

Naturally anyone owning property or residing near the train tracks (who may have gotten a price cut when they purchased) is now fearful about future values - and construction disruption...for years. My property is away from tracks, main road, freeway and I paid a premium for location.
Nevertheless...
I think, in the end, a raised train would be fine (I have knowledge/experience near such routes) and being located in the center/middle of Palo Alto will retain attractiveness.
The construction is another thing...city leaders should press for an accelerated construction schedule.
Continuing to fiddle and delay and fret while other cities take action is showing poor leadership and representation. Which politicians, elected and appointed government officials are moving us forward?


6 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2019 at 10:31 am

@ "I question whether it is possible to do the construction work in the space between the existing tracks and Alma."

Here is an example of a two track berm being built between an active (non electric) railroad and a highway: Web Link Web Link Web Link
The advantage of a berm is that it can be constructed entirely from the inside.

@ "after an earthquake and the thing falls down."

Train viaducts are designed to withstand a fully loaded freight train slamming on the emergency brakes. This would cause a typical highway viaduct's support columns to topple over like bowling pins. High speed train viaducts also need to be super strong to resist the kinetic energy of an emergency stop at 200 mph, so they should have no problem resisting earthquakes.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 24, 2019 at 10:48 am

^ How long did the San Francisco Transit Center's girders last before they cracked?


Like this comment
Posted by gary mahany
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 24, 2019 at 10:57 am

The city council is going to have to find a spine to select any design option that is not championed by the tunnel enthusiasts of south palo alto. The first question on tunnel/trench is who and how is it going payed for.


18 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2019 at 11:10 am

Noise, noise, noise.

While an electrified Caltrain may be a little quieter than diesel powered Caltrain, electric trains are far from silent.

Last weekend I was walking down Solano Avenue in Albany with a friend, when a BART train passed over Solano Avenue on Albany's freeway for trains. From about 75-100 feet away the noise from the BART train forced us to halt our conversation because we did not want to have to shout to be heard over the noise.

I would estimate the noise from the elevated BART in Albany at 75-100 feet away to be the equivalent of a garbage disposal or food blender at 3 feet, so 80-90 dBA. Even from 100-150 yards away you can still hear a distinct whir every time a BART train passes by.

With so many electric cars on our streets we have come to expect electric vehicles to be nearly silent, but electric trains are still very very noisy.


5 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2019 at 11:14 am

Why is there no consideration of a fully elevated berm? That option would be the least expensive and quickest to build. There are examples fully elevated retained-fill rail berms Web Link, so technically no problem.

No need for a temporary diversion track, no need to lower roads, the retaining walls in any color can be bought from a catalog Web Link, and the fill material can be brought in quickly in large quantities from Nevada Web Link.

Also a two track berm next to Alma can be easily widened to a 4 track berm within the ROW.


3 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2019 at 12:26 pm

"Last weekend I was walking down Solano Avenue in Albany with a friend, when a BART train passed over Solano Avenue on Albany's freeway for trains. From about 75-100 feet away the noise from the BART train forced us to halt our conversation because we did not want to have to shout to be heard over the noise."

There's an engineering reason BART trains howl. They were designed in the 1960's by aerospace, not railroad, engineers. They have cylindrical wheels which howl and wear down the rails, unlike conical wheels which are standard on trains. BART is now spending lots of money to replace the cylindrical wheels with specially-designed conical ones which eliminates the howl. In almost 60 years I've never heard a passenger or freight train on that route howl like a BART train.

The trains are going to make the same amount of noise whether they're flat on the ground or 100 feet in the air. If a viaduct has effective sound walls, which Caltrain currently does not, the sound will actually carry less than it does now.

You can't make an apples-to-oranges comparison and conclude that the new Caltrains will howl like a BART train which was incorrectly designed by aerospace engineers 50+ years ago.

What happened to your alter ego "JR"?


4 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2019 at 12:35 pm

How does Caltrain feel about having its stations relocated underground for this grandiose only-in-Palo Alto trench/tunnel scheme? They own all of the rail infrastructure along the ROW including the stations, not the city of Palo Alto.

For that matter, how does Caltrain feel about the possibility of a trench/tunnel in Palo Alto flooding and immobilizing their train service? Suppose CPA neglects the pumps as they do which causes Oregon expwy to flood.


Like this comment
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2019 at 1:03 pm

TBM makes some great points about the benefits of an elevated solution, but any such structure in Palo Alto needs to be more aesthetically pleasing than the poured-concrete structures he has posted photos of.

How about some greenery and landscaping? How about a more attractive structure borrowing from Stanford's architectural heritage and faced with brick or spanish tile, not a gray poured-concrete thing that looks like it was designed by a Caltrans engineer in Sacramento?

Attractive rail bridges abound in Europe. Why can't Palo Alto, which thinks the world revolves around it, have something similar?

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2019 at 1:09 pm

Buster,

An 80,000 pound object with a 160 square-foot frontal area going through the air at 60+ mph on steel wheels is going to make a lot of noise and vibration.

Since you know so much about trains why don't you tell us all how much noise an elevated electric Caltrain will make at the source (in dBA) and what is the sound profile through the surrounding neighborhood, with and without a massive cinder-block sound wall?


9 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2019 at 1:20 pm

Buster,

Stop living in the past. The elegant stone viaducts in Europe were built during the golden age of steam when railroads were profitable and spent lavishly on infrastructure. Those day are long gone and will never come back. Where would you even get the stone masons?

If the government builds a "viaduct" it will be an ugly concrete freeway for trains. Nothing more, nothing less.


4 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2019 at 1:23 pm

"An 80,000 pound object with a 160 square-foot frontal area going through the air at 60+ mph on steel wheels is going to make a lot of noise and vibration."

Precisely what you've had with thousands of railroads the world over for nearly 200 years.

"Since you know so much about trains why don't you tell us all how much noise an elevated electric Caltrain will make at the source (in dBA) and what is the sound profile through the surrounding neighborhood, with and without a massive cinder-block sound wall?"

The manufacturer of Caltrain's new EMU's, Stadler, has those figures. Look them up yourself.

Or I'm sure your buddy JR has those figures at his fingertips.


4 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2019 at 1:25 pm

"Stop living in the past."

Stop spreading lies, exaggerations, FUD, cruft and propaganda as you've been doing here for years.


5 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2019 at 1:40 pm

@ "If the government builds a "viaduct" it will be an ugly concrete freeway for trains. Nothing more, nothing less."

The $billions that PA saves by not boring a tunnel can buy a lot of decorative facade for a viaduct. The latest trend is iridescent glazed ceramic Web Link . Graffiti resistant, ez-clean, low maintenance, and light is reflected, illuminating dark corners.

The fist construction on London's new high speed rail is an ivory glazed terracotta ventilation shaft: Web Link


5 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 24, 2019 at 4:25 pm

Here is a whole gallery of European rail bridges; take your pick. I refuse to believe that with all of the brainpower here, Palo Alto is incapable of designing and building an aesthetically-pleasing architectural structure with graceful sweeping arches like in Europe.

They could invent the transistor here but they can't manage to design a pretty railroad bridge? It just doesn't add up.

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by AdamH
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 24, 2019 at 9:52 pm

Just watched the video. It is intriguing, although I don't get why Alma would ultimately need to be narrowed. It seems the current ROW for the track is quite wide through most of PA. With that said, I feel if you want the tunnel solution you are better shallow trenching the entire track (from SA all the way to University) and then reclaiming the land over it as a park/bike path for the entire distance. At least that way the citizens can get something in return. Seems foolish to not also put in a third or forth track at the same time if the high speed rail will ever become a reality.


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 24, 2019 at 10:02 pm

"They could invent the transistor here but they can't manage to design a pretty railroad bridge? It just doesn't add up."

Designing's easy. Getting enough money to build the design is impossible. Be happy with what we got, which is what we're gonna have.

BTW, the transistor was invented in New Jersey.


5 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2019 at 12:07 am

"reclaiming the land over it as a park/bike path for the entire distance"

I hope you're aware that the city of Palo Alto does not own that land. It is not the city's decision to make.

"I don't get why Alma would ultimately need to be narrowed.

For trains to run during construction of the two tunnel portals. Half of Alma would be occupied by a "shoofly track" so trains can circumvent construction on the surface. During construction the portals will be used to get excavated soil out and to get tunnel construction crews in and out. In addition to trains roaring up and down Alma there would be big trucks hauling away the excavated soil.

The video showed the north portal at Churchill but I didn't see a south portal.

"shallow trenching the entire track (from SA all the way to University)"

This has been studied and would require the complete reconstruction of the Oregon, Embarcadero and University crossings which are already grade separated. This would cause the cost of the project to skyrocket. In addition you have creeks to cross and a high water table which must be pumped.

A viaduct or berm, i.e. a solution which does not put the trains underground, can be built on the ROW according to the city's engineering firm. There would be no disruption to Alma street, no shoofly track, no trains running up and down Alma, no excavation, no diversion of creeks and no trucks hauling away excavated soil.

These things have been discussed here for years. Your post shows how uninformed Palo Altans are on this project.


8 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2019 at 1:14 am

@ I don't get why Alma would ultimately need to be narrowed.

With a trench/tunnel-portal in a high groundwater area, the walls of the trench are going to be about 10 feet thick, and for aerodynamic & safety reasons, there should be a 3 feet space between the vertical wall and the train Web Link , so with a trench, 26 feet of valuable ROW is lost in the structure, that is the equivalent to 1½ tracks.
In contrast, with an elevated solution the train can go right up to the edge of the ROW so there is no loss of value for the railroad Web Link .

No matter how much PA spends on fancy videos, Caltrain will instantly reject any plan that precludes the possibility of adding a third or fourth track in the future.


Like this comment
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2019 at 8:18 am

"Caltrain will instantly reject any plan that precludes the possibility of adding a third or fourth track in the future."

So the total width needed for a four-track trench is ... ?

If you know the width of the ROW at any given point, this will tell you how much encroachment there will be on Alma st.


4 people like this
Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 25, 2019 at 9:04 am

A thoughtful investigation, without the mostly useless assistance of a 'consultant', was competed in 2013 by a citizen committee. Their report can be found here: Web Link

While that report was not a comprehensive study, they did concluded that lowering the rails in a trench was the best option for the city to pursue.

After that report was released, the city immediately buried it. Why? Who knows.

Had the city started the most recent rail corridor study with this previous study as a starting point, or even as a resource, maybe we would be further along then we are now in this famously dysfunctional Palo Alto process.

Hiring AECOM as a 'consultant', in my opinion, did nothing to advance this process. A lot of time at each meeting was the BIG reveal to the assembled crowd, ready to discuss specific rail crossing options, that guess what? Palo Alto has train tracks running through it! Did you know that? And, surprise, trains use it, who knew? What should we do about it. Here is a artists rendering of a viaduct... The other options are so expensive. Did you know that a Mello-Roos tax Web Link could be levied on property owners next to the tracks to help pay for this? No, we did not consider whether Stanford should help pay for this. Oops, time's up, see you next month!


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 25, 2019 at 10:15 am

@Alex
You left out that AECOM only started as the city’s consultants in 2018. In 2017 the staff and council leadership claimed that we had one year to make a decision or we would lose our share of the County Measure B dollars. They claimed we didn’t have time to use a citizens advisory group to lead the process toward a concensus design. They hired Mott MacDonald at huge expense to be the consultants. MM was less effective than AECOM. Their work was largely canned by staff and AECOM in early 2018. That is when the staff and mayor claimed we would lose the Measure B dollars if we did not make a decision by the end of 2018.
Now staff is claiming the city is still on schedule for a decision by this March, except that they have removed north Palo Alto from their scope of a decision other than to say they will close Churchill without even studying the traffic ramifications of doing that. Meanwhile, there is no senior staff to run the process or even properly oversee the millions being spent by the consultants.


2 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2019 at 12:22 pm

It bears repeating:

"'shallow trenching the entire track (from SA all the way to University)'

This has been studied and would require the complete reconstruction of the Oregon, Embarcadero and University crossings which are already grade separated. This would cause the cost of the project to skyrocket. In addition, there are creeks to cross and a high water table which must be pumped."

The 2013 study was prepared by a citizens' committee, amateurs who had no input from professional engineers who know how to design and build these kinds of projects. In addition to disregarding the enormous cost of completely rebuilding the Oregon, Embarcadero and University crossings, the study glosses over non-trivial engineering challenges such as creek crossings, encroachment on Alma street, disruption during construction including shoofly tracks, pumping and the potential consequences of flooding. These things point up the complexity of this project and the need for qualified engineers and the inadequacy of a lay citizens' committee. Occasional coffee klatches at Mitchell park or the Lucie Stern center aren't going to get you grade separation.

"there is no senior staff to run the process or even properly oversee the millions being spent by the consultants"

IMO Mott MacDonald was useless and replacing them was the right thing to do.

As far as I can tell this project is now being overseen by a former parks and recreation guy.


4 people like this
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 25, 2019 at 12:37 pm

"Now staff is claiming the city is still on schedule for a decision by this March"

"The city", staff and city council both, have more than proven themselves incapable of making a decision, so don't hold your breath.

This citywide trench/tunnel scheme has been on and off the table so many times I've lost count, without any consideration of the feasibility of crossing Adobe, Barron and Matadero creeks, or the likelihood of Caltrain approving a plan to submerge the stations they own.


4 people like this
Posted by Logical Luke
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 25, 2019 at 10:11 pm

Close the crossings.

If it's absolutely needed, it's much easier and cheaper to move, trench, tunnel the roads than move, trench, tunnel the train tracks.

For the billions proposed for tunneling the train plus countless headaches from road closures, you could make a new 5 mile 101 - 280 connector tunnel with an exit right the middle of Stanford Shopping center / the circle / PA train station. That would ease the endless traffic with or without this train/crossing debate.






Like this comment
Posted by Buster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2019 at 1:24 am

"Close the crossings."

Think about it. The trains will still come. That will make gridlock worse as auto traffic seeks alternate routes.

Leaving everything as it has been for decades might be the best solution of all.


6 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2019 at 6:27 pm

Annette is a registered user.

Reading all this causes me to ask who or what entity is in charge of logically sequencing decisions and plans. If there's ANY chance that this city will someday need to accommodate HSR through town shouldn't we know that BEFORE tearing the corridor apart for this version of rail design/grade separation? Whatever is decided, it is going to cost beaucoup bucks and be the sort of infrastructure investment that requires decades of use for the investment to make sense. It would be pretty stupid to go through a major upheavel only to have to rip up the finished product and start over in 20 or so years for the then current big plan/need.

It would also be pretty short-sighted to add hundreds of high-density housing units in a transit corridor with an iffy future. They might have to be removed. Then where would we be? That would dwarf the President Hotel displacement.

I wonder if we didn't pass the point of no return some time ago by so assiduously NOT planning adequately for the future. Given our housing conundrum how can a plan that eliminates existing housing even be considered? And given our circulation problems, how can a plan that shuts down major arteries be considered?

The reason we are struggling with the decision may well be that we've boxed ourselves in and there isn't a reasonable or affordable solution. I think it makes sense to put the brakes on Stanford's growth plans and the CASA housing plan until some of these issues are resolved. There's no sense in making matters even more complicated. I am reminded of the expression about "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic".

We need to be careful here. Reality should be given more deference than the "fix one problem at all cost" approach espoused by Senator Weiner, Carl Guardino, and our own Adrian Fine.


Like this comment
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2019 at 8:49 pm

Comparison of rail designs.
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 27, 2019 at 1:22 pm

It was the first commercially useful IC that was built in Palo Alto, not the first transistor. Interestingly enough, that building now houses a self-driving car research facility!


Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 27, 2019 at 11:25 pm

"It was the first commercially useful IC that was built in Palo Alto, not the first transistor."

There's a contention from Dallas--where the first silicon transistors were made--for that distinction.


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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.