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Residents split over Churchill closure at rail meeting

Original post made on Nov 8, 2019

As Palo Alto kicked off on Thursday a fresh phase of outreach in its ambitious plan to redesign rail crossings, city staff fielded concerns from residents who argued that the city's proposed remedies will usher in new problems.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, November 8, 2019, 9:37 AM

Comments (58)

16 people like this
Posted by South Palo Alto
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 8, 2019 at 10:06 am

I live in South Palo Alto. If I want to get to Stanford - hospital, shopping centre, or university, I drive Alma to Churchill and try to do it outside morning school commute time. It is the best way to get to Stanford. Charleston and Meadow are just too slow due to passing so many schools and so many stop signs and lights. The only other possible methods would be to use the loops to get to Oregon or University. I still haven't worked out how to get from Alma to Embarcadero so not sure if that works. However, I have tried Alma to Page Mill and that involves a U turn on Embarcadero.

If (and I hope they don't close Churchill) Churchill is closed then it would be imperative to open the Alma/Page Mill route as an expedient method to get to Stanford.

Crossing the tracks is important and trying to do so without creating more traffic on already busy streets is not going to make it easier for traffic flow.

To sum up, I would prefer Churchill to remain open and to make Alma/Page Mill more user friendly.

Thank you.


1 person likes this
Posted by South Palo Alto
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 8, 2019 at 10:08 am

Typo sorry, I mean that to use Alma/Page Mill it involves a U turn on ElCamino, not Embarcadero. Sorry for that.


12 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2019 at 10:10 am

Is there a schedule for completing this project? Stalling and delaying is just making traffic throughout the city worse.


10 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2019 at 10:46 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

Want to see what "activated spaces" underneath a rail viaduct through neighborhoods look like?

Here's an excellent video (Web Link) showing the 4.5-mile Ohlone Greenway (Web Link) built underneath and along the BART viaduct over a railroad right of way (such as Caltrain's) between Berkeley and El Cerrito.

The video was shot from a slow-moving bicycle, so you can set playback speed up to 2x in YouTube's playback controls to move through it a bit faster.

Things to note besides the human scale and peaceful useability of the space created by putting trains completely up and out of the way of everyday life below: grafitti is under control, the lack of homeless, and how quiet and unobtrusive the brief passage of overhead BART trains is.

By the time a Palo Alto viaduct could be built, Caltrain will be fully electrified using quiet state-of-the-art self-propelled Swiss electric trains (using Stadler's KISS model: Web Link) which are in wide use across Europe — a place where designing and using quiet trains has long been important.

Melbourne, Australia is also grade-separating their Caltrain-like rail lines, putting them up onto viaducts in several areas as shown in the following video: Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Random Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 8, 2019 at 11:11 am

While my aesthetic preference is for a city-wide tunnel, financial and speed of construction considerations make a city-wide viaduct a more attractive compromise option to me. I agree with @RealityCheck that with quiet electric trains the situation should be relatively livable -- I do have an issue with the freight trains, though, which will continue to be run with diesel locomotives. As long as we have grade separation for all trains (not the proposal to run freight unseparated and passenger separated) we'll completely eliminate noisy horns, but the diesels are not all that quiet. I'd guess the chances of the freight companies using dual-mode locomotives is vanishingly small!


13 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2019 at 12:42 pm

I pity the people living along Churchill. If the crossing isn't closed, the road will be turned into a freeway. The Oregon and Embarcadero crossings and intersections are beyond capacity, and University has been a parking lot for a decade.


27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2019 at 12:59 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Most of the roads, esp Oregon and Embarcadero, are beyond capacity and have been for way too long.

Perhaps the city "leaders" can declare a moratorium on their costly, illogical and counter-productive traffic "calming" projects until they and they well-paid consultants come up with a solution to the RR issue. But instead we still hear proposals to reduce lanes on Embaraccero to allow for bike lanes and to reduce the number of lanes on El Camino. Why not just declare the whole area a parking lot and be done with all the nonsense.

Signed,
A Disgusted PIMBY (Prisoner In My Own Back Yard)


25 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:13 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

(PS: After missing a concert s month ago due to gridlock, we crawled up Sand Hill and 280 to the Millbrae BART station which will soon lose 600 -- SIX HUNDRED -- parking spaces to allow for more housing "close to transportation."

How does encouraging train travel square with making it tougher to take trains??? Seriously.)


2 people like this
Posted by Homer Ave tunnel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2019 at 1:58 pm

Is the $4.1 Million Homer Ave tunnel of any use here?


28 people like this
Posted by Michael H
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 8, 2019 at 2:11 pm

Michael H is a registered user.

Why is the option to temporarily close Churchill for a week or two in order to conduct a brief real life test of the closure concept never considered no less discussed?


25 people like this
Posted by bls
a resident of Duveneck School
on Nov 8, 2019 at 3:02 pm

Embarcadero badly needs bike lanes for the full length of the street as it is already. We all see the increased traffic, aggressive speeding drivers, and meanwhile residents are backing out from their homes, and people driving out of their neighborhoods to merge quickly onto Embarcadero. At all times of the day people on Embarcadero are biking to/from Edgewood Plaza/T&C, kids biking to/from Walter Hays/Casti/Paly/Stanford, and people taking walks to all the amenities we have right on this busy street. By Greer and Embarcadero I've seen a 5 car pileup on Embarcadero, countless accidents at the intersection, as well as a car launched over both the planting strip and sidewalk during a collision and hitting a resident's fence. I'd welcome anything to help calm the traffic and improve safety of bikers/pedestrians.


26 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 3:16 pm

Electric trains are NOT quiet. Electric trans are quieter the diesel trains but that does not make them quiet.

Even if there was no other source of noise from an electric train, just the aerodynamic noise of a blunt object 9 feet wide and 16 feet tall going >50 mph will be quite loud.

To the aerodynamic noise you can add motor noise, bearing noise, steel wheel on rail noise, noise front the electric pick-up scraping along the overhead wires at >50mph, and all sorts of vibration from the trains structure.

Don't be fooled. Trains are inherently noisy, even if they are electric.


2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2019 at 4:52 pm

BART is electric and it is tremendously more quiet than Caltrain. I bet people living along Alma Street will hear more noise from cars on the street than from an electric train.


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 6:38 pm

@Resident,

If you were living within 150 feet of BART you would not think BART is quiet. Within 75 feet of BART you have to shout to have a conversation with someone only three feet away (75dBA?).

BART is 1960's rail technology specially designed to carry passengers and reduce the impact on the surrounding community. Caltrain is basically 1920's freight technology that has been adapted to carry passengers.

BART is very noisy. Caltrain will be even noisier than BART.

It is time for the posters telling us Caltrain will be "quiet" to come clean and give the public numbers (dBA) instead of adjectives.


1 person likes this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2019 at 6:50 pm

I don't see many residences in the video of the Ohlone Greenway.

In Palo Alto, privacy and noise due to proximity to the ROW put the kibosh on a viaduct/greenway.


2 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2019 at 7:00 pm

"Caltrain is basically 1920's freight technology that has been adapted to carry passengers."

Wrong as usual. Caltrain's precursor was built in the 1850's and was intended to carry passengers.


5 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2019 at 9:29 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Ahem: BART is so loud because its engineers inexplicably chise to use a cylindrical – instead of the industry-standard conical – wheel profile ... this leads to chronic rail head “corrugation” (wavy, uneven surface) and an extraordinarily high noise levels emanating from the wheel-rail contact point ... even along straight (“tangent” in RR jargon) track segments. BART has (finally) acknowledged this problem and is converting its fleet to using a conical wheel profile and, using rail grinders, grinding away rail head corrugations. For more info, see: Web Link

Like most all trains, Caltrain’s existing and new electric trains use a conical wheel profile and therefore do not generate the ear-splitting howling noises that have long been associated with BART.

U-shaped viaducts can easily block and greatly attenuate noise from the train undercarriage and wheel-rail interface (contact point), as shown on the excellent Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog: Web Link

@Morris: if you “don’t see many residences” along the Ohlone Greenway in the 30 min. video (Web Link), then you need to watch it again more carefully ... particularly the last 10 minutes.


2 people like this
Posted by Mary Ruth Leen
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2019 at 10:15 pm

Mary Ruth Leen is a registered user.

Build a viaduct at Churchill!
Signed,
A 30 year homeowner who uses Charleston to get to PAMF and Stanford and Town and Country every day!


13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2019 at 10:51 pm

@RC,

You work in the railroad industry. You have computer programs that model railroad noise. So, why don't you just come clean and tell the residents of Palo Alto just how noisy Caltrain is going to be in dBA at various distances from the rails?


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2019 at 2:07 am

@ "So, why don't you just come clean and tell the residents of Palo Alto just how noisy Caltrain is going to be in dBA at various distances from the rails"

Answer: 2.2 dBA.

Why go to the time and effort of doing Environmental Impact Studies if nobody is going to read them?

Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project, Appendix C: Noise and Vibration Technical Report, page 64: Web Link

The graph shows human annoyance noise levels weighted over a 24 hour period and assumes 114 EMU trains per day vs. 92 diesel locomotives today, both at 79mph.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2019 at 1:34 pm

@TBM,

The graph that you link to is based on the discredited Day-Night Noise Level metric. Snake-oil salesman in the transportation industry love to use the Day-Night Noise Level metric because it is an AVERAGE that hides the actual noise of a noise-event by averaging the noise-event with all of the times throughout the day when there is NO noise-event.

In the case of Caltrain the Day-Night Noise Level is the average of all of the noise made by 114 trains times the amount of time a train is generating noise passing by a particular location (30 seconds?) averaged over the total amount of seconds in a day including all of the seconds between trains and at night when there are no trains!

For example:

Day-Night Noise Level = (114 trains x 30 sec x 85 dBA) / 86400 sec

It is shameful that Wilson Ihrig & Associates is using the discredited Day-Night AVERAGE noise level metric.

Again, why don't you and RC just come clean and tell the public just how loud these trains are really going to be? You have the computer sound models. What are you trying to hide?


Like this comment
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2019 at 1:44 pm

How did they deal with the issues of noise and privacy at the Ohlone Greenway?

How much public/citizen resistance was there?

Could a viaduct be funded in Palo Alto if put to a vote, or would it die at the ballot box (this IS privileged Palo Alto,after all)?

I'm not opposed to a viaduct but you will have these issues to address: noise, privacy, funding and public opinion. Can we assume no residential properties would be taken for a viaduct? That's one component of potential citizen resistance.

My gut tells me PCJPB would be more likely to approve a viaduct than a trench/tunnel.


Like this comment
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2019 at 1:53 pm

"The graph that you link to is based on the discredited Day-Night Noise Level metric. Snake-oil salesman in the transportation industry love to use the Day-Night Noise Level metric because it is an AVERAGE that hides the actual noise of a noise-event by averaging the noise-event with all of the times throughout the day when there is NO noise-event."

So now you're an expert in acoustics? You have a history of bending facts to suit your arguments, so your credibility is shot.

No one else has floated the idea of soundproofing homes near the tracks at city expense. That would mitigate noise from Alma street as well as the trains.

Where is there a comparison of the noise from the new trains vs. traffic noise on Alma street?


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2019 at 3:09 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

If I lived on or near Alma and could eliminate either traffic noise or train noise, that’d be an easy choice!


13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2019 at 4:02 pm

RC said:

"If I lived on or near Alma and could eliminate either traffic noise or train noise, that'd be an easy choice!"

It would also be an easy answer. Much easier than telling the public how much noise the trains are really going to make. It is also not a choice any one will have. The residents living next to Caltrain will have to endure train noise and traffic noise.

If I lived on or near Alma, was concerned about noise, and could eliminate either traffic noise or train noise, I would eliminate the train noise. Within a decade the automotive fleet will be fully electrified and nearly silent.

But it is not my choice. I don't live on or near Caltrain. The people living next to Caltrain should decide and they should be fully informed.

RC, you are in the railroad industry, you have the numbers. They are embedded in the Day-Night average numbers. What are you afraid of? Why not just come clean and tell the public just how much noise the trains are going to make?


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2019 at 4:56 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Ahem: Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not “in” – or even “associated with” – any industry, let alone the “rail industry.” Nor do I have any more numbers than anyone who cared to do research on what figures they can find in papers or studies or data sheets published on the Web.

If you’ve noticed how a Tesla passing by at a steady 40 mph (or more) isn’t noticeably quieter than, say, a comparably-sized gasoline-powered sedan due to the predominance of tire-on-pavement noise, you’d understand why I’d easily choose — regardless of vehicle propulsion in use — to eliminate the constant car & truck traffic noise of a nearby road or highway vs. the occasional passing train.


14 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Nov 9, 2019 at 7:15 pm

They talked about making Embarcadero Road 6 lanes. No Way!!! That is like a freeway and will be close to many, many houses. That is a non starter and believe me, will be starting to make people aware of that.

Guess you have to stay on top of this; other neighborhoods have already been fending off unworkable suggestions and throwing them onto other neighborhoods. This stinks.


Like this comment
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 9, 2019 at 9:58 pm

"Why not just come clean and tell the public just how much noise the trains are going to make?"

Diesel locomotives have been roaring up and down those tracks since the '50s when S.P. abandoned steam. So what's to tell? The electric trains will be quieter. I don't think anyone but you would dispute that.


12 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2019 at 10:53 pm

It's ridiculous to close down Churchill to traffic. It will most definitely divert all the car traffic to oregon and embarcadero. Homes on churchhill were cheap for a reason. To close it down to car traffic and make embarcadero and oregon heavier means taking away property value there and suddenly driving up value in churchill.

To also take a valid road crossing and completely remove it will mean that if there ever is a major disaster or earthquake, there will be tremendous bottle necking and complete breakdown during times of emergency.

Not sure who is making all these road and transportation decisions in Palo Alto, but it seems every new move favors the few who live on those streets, and makes it increasingly terrible for everyone else living in Palo Alto.

The minor few receive benefits whilst the the common good goals are sacrificed and becoming increasingly inconvenienced. WHAT IS GOING ON WITH THIS CITY?


1 person likes this
Posted by Ron Schloss
a resident of South of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2019 at 10:59 pm

Just get rid of antiquated, polluting CalTrain and replace if with a modernized BART that is built avoiding traffic conflicts. We missed the opportunity for political reasons decades ago. Why continue the pain with band aid solutions now.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Ventura
on Nov 9, 2019 at 11:00 pm

If Caltrain is working on electrification won’t Palo Alto's plan mess up all the improvements?


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2019 at 11:11 pm

To take the most cheapest land (Churchill) and make it one of the nicest quietest streets with NO CAR TRAFFIC .. when people bought it knowing it was next to a train track with the highspeed rail that would be coming in soon... it's ridiculous that Churchhill residents are selfishly lobbying to have one of the most essential traffic conduits for cars connect the 2 parts of Palo Alto (on either side of the train tracks) be closed down.

They epitomize NIMBY behavior. Meanwhile they bought relatively cheap homes on a street knowing full well the highspeed rail would be coming in on Alma and there was a set of running train tracks along Alma to begin with.

It's akin to buying a home whose backyard is bordering on the busy 101 for a cheap price, then lobbying to have the 101 closed down and diverting the traffic completely to 280. It's outrageous.

Why is a vidaduct being considered for Churchhill but not for other neighborhoods along Alma? For instance, College Terrace area, the caltrain line becomes grade level and the viaduct disappears.

How much more special treatment do folks along Churchhill demand. The city shouldn't be listening ot the squeaky wheels as so much as making SANE and LOGICAL decisions that BENEFIT THE ENTIRE CITY... not just a self seeking interested group of folks who live and own land on or near Churchhill.


4 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 2:03 am

"Just get rid of antiquated, polluting CalTrain and replace if with a modernized BART that is built avoiding traffic conflicts."

Where do you propose these "modernized BART" trains run that won't cross Palo Alto's surface streets?

How are you going to get three counties to agree to "get rid of" Caltrain and spend the billions needed to replace it with a 50-mile BART line?

How "polluting" will Caltrain be when it is electrified?

That is one of the most ignorant posts I've seen on this topic.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2019 at 5:40 am

@ "To take the most cheapest land (Churchill) and make it one of the nicest quietest streets with NO CAR TRAFFIC .. when people bought it knowing it was next to a train track with the highspeed rail that would be coming in soon... it's ridiculous"

>> The intelligent potential Churchill home buyer could have done due diligence, researched the history of grade separations, and concluded that the most likely future grade separation option would be a pedestrian underpass which would boost the value of the property. The next most likely option would be a road underpass that would result in the property being purchased by the County for FMV + generous expenses; still not a bad investment. A rail trench at Churchill was never an option due to the proximity to Embacradero underpass.
A viaduct, which would reduce property values on Churchill, is unlikely, at $200 million it would be a very expensive way to grade separate one small 2 lane road and Caltrain would probably object to having its right-of-way narrowed to two tracks. Sunnyvale plans to grade separate a 6 lane road for only $125 million while preserving Caltrain's four track right-of-way.


4 people like this
Posted by Steven
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 10, 2019 at 6:08 am

Morris - first of all calling a comment ignorant is not an intelligent way to have an exchange of ideas.
1) BART in SF and the East Bay has no traffic crossings. Why wouldn't PA be the same?
2) I believe there are just 2 counties involved, San Mateo & Santa Clara both of which already have or have approved BART for other locations in the counties.
3) Cost & construction disruption could be points against. I'd be interested to see a financial comparison between the cost of a tunnel/viaduct and electrification of Caltrain vs. scrapping Caltrain which is inconsistent with and more expensive for the rider than other Bay Area rail systems.


2 people like this
Posted by Steven
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 10, 2019 at 6:13 am

... scrapping Caltrain and replacing it with a modernized BART.


3 people like this
Posted by merry
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 10, 2019 at 7:09 am

merry is a registered user.

And this is how nothing gets done.
Talk, talk,talk..


5 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2019 at 8:10 am

@ "... scrapping Caltrain and replacing it with a modernized BART."

The proposed 16 mile BART extension in San Jose is projected to cost $8 billion, so to extend it another 32 miles thru Palo Alto to Millbrae could cost about $16 billion.
Electrification of Caltrain costs only $1.9 billion and $600 million of that was funded by High Speed Rail. Add a few billion for grade separations.


2 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 10:18 am

"1) BART in SF and the East Bay has no traffic crossings. Why wouldn't PA be the same?"

The question stands: where would you put BART in Palo Alto without crossing issues?

"2) I believe there are just 2 counties involved, San Mateo & Santa Clara"

You would be incorrect.

You need to study the matter more carefully. There are myriad reasons your arguments don't stand up to scrutiny.


2 people like this
Posted by Cafe Hunk
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 10, 2019 at 10:45 am

TBMs astute financial analysis makes clear that Churchill residents get a financial benefit from traffic modifications there. TBM therefore suggests an obvious & fair solution: a special assessment on Churchill residents to finance the construction. Put that in your cost/benefit analyses.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2019 at 10:59 am

Posted by Steven, a resident of Palo Alto High School

>> ... scrapping Caltrain and replacing it with a modernized BART.

Steven,

Your questions are reasonable, but, you clearly are not familiar with all the discussion on these subjects that has taken place. BART has been discussed numerous times before, as well as many other alternatives. In a nutshell, BART has proven to be very expensive. It uses non-standard, custom technology. Caltrain uses standard commuter rail technology. In addition, the Caltrain right-of-way is shared by freight rail, which also uses standard rail technology, and, will be shared by CAHSR, which also uses upgraded standard rail technology. Because of the high speed, the grade and turn radius requirements are more stringent. In the meantime, BART is, and will remain, an expensive, semi-obsolete one-off.


5 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2019 at 11:21 am

Sublimating the individual to the collective is one of the most fundamental distinctions between totalitarian forms of government like fascism and communism, and democracy. Is that really the way we want to roll in Palo Alto?


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2019 at 11:31 am

Anon,

Caltrain uses standard FREIGHT technology which is cheaper but even more antiquated and less well suited for carrying passengers than BART.

San Francisco County and San Jose get 1960s passenger rail technology (BART). San Mateo County and Santa Clara County get 1930s freight technology adapted to carry passengers.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 10, 2019 at 12:06 pm

^ "self loading freight"


4 people like this
Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 12:20 pm

To think that Caltrain will simply vanish in a puff of smoke is unrealistic to the point of fantasy, particularly with electrification and the acquisition of new rolling stock well underway.

BART through Palo Alto faces many of the same problems as Caltrain: elevated or underground? If underground, how to deal with the myriad hydrological issues in Palo Alto: creek crossings, aquifers and soft soil? In addition, you'd have to convince voters in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to finance this multi-billion-dollar undertaking through bond sales or increased taxes or both when we already have a functional rail system in place. Good luck with that.

As noted above, BART technology is no blessing. The use of custom, non-standard hardware and track gauges is just the beginning.


2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2019 at 2:42 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Ahem: Caltrain's new Swiss double-deck, electric KISS trains (Web Link) from Stadler (Web Link) have nothing to with "freight technology" (whatever that means). And they're arguably a
more modern, far better, more comfortable, more versatile, more user-friendly/comfortable product that BART's little subway trains.

Here they are in Russia (in some cases with noisy jointed rail):
Web Link

And in Germany / Luxembourg / Switzerland:
Web Link

And for Hungary in the Czech Republic:
Web Link

Stadler promo video showing KISS and other of their trains (even eBART's GTWs):
Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 3:01 pm

The usual suspects are out, including TBM and Reality Check, who really should keep out of our local issues since they don't live in Palo Alto.

Morris - Ahem is correct. The Day-Night measurement is complete nonsense. It's like saying the temperature of Palo Alto is simply 60 degrees, even though the high was 75 and the low was 44. The average is yet another example of "lies, damn lies, and statistics."

This is hilarious - "Etty Mercurio, a consultant with AECOM, said one way is to 'activate' the viaduct through creation of attractive recreational amenities like a linear park or a skate park."

Yeah, a skate park. That's exactly what residents want near their homes.

BTW, I find it hilarious that a resident in Downtown North is worried about the closure of Churchill. Maybe you should be more worried about closing Palo Alto Avenue.

Viaduct at $200M at Churchill is as likely as a trench. If people in Professorville (and other neighborhoods) feel like Churchill residents should pay for an "unfair" benefit from closing Churchill, it would be just as prudent to ask that residents along Embarcadero (and maybe Oregon Expressway) to pay for a viaduct. I hope that the folks at Hexagon are tabulating how much traffic would *increase* on Churchill because of a freer-flowing intersection. That's usually what happens with "traffic improvements."

Anyway, all this money being spent on Caltrain, where ridership levels have leveled off, HSR is dead and the long-term plan full of holes because no strategy for last-mile for a vast suburb is even addressed.


2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2019 at 3:58 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Me 2: Yeah, wouldn't want somebody that knows what they're talking about contradicting any "alternate facts" certain posters habitually (and shamelessly) sling here! While it's completely irrelevant to whether my participation here is appropriate, while I live nearby, I still have family and other lifelong ties to Palo Alto, and also happen to own and manage residential property within easy walking distance of Alma.

Obviously trains will be audible ... but I'll just note that there are lots of videos (such as those I linked above) with audio tracks of essentially the same high-performance electric Stadler KISS trains Caltrain is in the process of replacing its entire fleet with. You'll also note from watching (and listening to) the videos that the track roadbed construction (e.g. jointed vs welded continuous raill, ballasted vs. direct fixation, etc.) has a significant influence on how much noise emanates from a passing train at a given speed.

So AECOM gives a couple examples of what "activation" of the open space underneath a viaduct could include ... and you find it "hillarious" because one of the uses was one that proabably wouldn't be popular within earshot of backyards? The point is that you actually have space that can be activated with a variety of uses ... as shown by the video (Web Link) shot from a bicyclists' perspective riding the length of the El Cerrito-Berkeley Ohlone Greeway built on an old railroad right of way (like Caltrain's) underneath an active rail viaduct with single famiy and multi-unit homes, businesses and various other uses on both sides.

Oh, and while the years-long phenomenal growth rate of Caltrain ridership seems to have plateaued due to peak period trains running at or above their seated capacity despite fare increases, the most recent performance statistics report published to Caltrain's governing board this month states on PDF page 2 (Web Link):

"In September 2019, Caltrain’s Average Weekday Ridership (AWR) increased by 1.3 percent to 72,387 from calibrated September 2018 AWR of 71,479. The total number of passengers who rode Caltrain in September 2019 increased by 5 percent to 1,584,833 from 1,509,524 calibrated September 2018 ridership."

A careful and thoughtful reading of Caltrain's recently-approved 20-year business plan (Web Link) should leave no credible doubt that when Caltrain adds the equivalent of 5.5 to 8.5 _additional_ freeway-lanes-worth of peak-period service capacity on its far more quiet, comfortable and fast-accelerating/braking all-electric sleek new train fleet, that ridership will continue to skyrocket.


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Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 4:25 pm

"This is hilarious - "Etty Mercurio, a consultant with AECOM, said one way is to 'activate' the viaduct through creation of attractive recreational amenities like a linear park or a skate park."

Yeah, a skate park. That's exactly what residents want near their homes."

You know how those Stanford professors in Professorville love their skateboards.

"Hilarious" is a more polite word than I would have used.

I very much doubt JPB will allow any kind of park to be built on its land. A structure that would carry their trains, yes, but a skate park? No.

Etty Mercurio has no business holding out the possibility of a park on the right of way without first having obtained approval from JPB/Caltrain. Based on the news reporting I've read, I'm not seeing much interaction between AECOM and JPB. It makes me wonder what we're paying AECOM millions for.


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Posted by Morris
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2019 at 5:09 pm

I don't see any sound walls in the videos Reality Check linked to. Of course in Palo Alto we would need to have sound walls for privacy and acoustical purposes.

There is also the possibility of CPA paying to soundproof homes near the tracks. I'll keep making this point until it gains traction.

Trains are going to make noise no matter where you put them unless they're in a tunnel, and I wouldn't count on that happening. JPB, who own the rail infrastructure, should be an integral part of the planning process on this project, but of course it isn't, which is why CPA has been at this for over 10 years and has accomplished nothing.

Maybe we need yet another rail committee.


6 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
23 hours ago

"Oh, and while the years-long phenomenal growth rate of Caltrain ridership seems to have plateaued due to peak period trains running at or above their seated capacity despite fare increases, the most recent performance statistics report published to Caltrain's governing board this month states on PDF page 2"

That's not the reason why it's plateaued. I am an active Caltrain rider. The decision to ride or not ride Caltrain is not based on seating capacity at all. People stand on trains all the time. BFD. I've routinely stood all the way from Cal Ave to 4th and King.

That doesn't drive people to choose to drive. People drive because Caltrain is inconvenient for them. Because the peninsula is spread out. If I weren't walking distance to Cal Ave (or Palo Alto Station), I would be driving a lot more.

That's the decision process. Not some fake reason of seating capacity.

Oh by the way, Caltrain self-reported a drop in ridership themselves.

Web Link

"Caltrain’s annual ridership count showed a decrease of 2.3 percent for weekday ridership, with an average mid-weekday ridership (AMWR) of approximately 63,597."

That's hardly "skyrocketing"

"A careful and thoughtful reading of Caltrain's recently-approved 20-year business plan (Web Link) should leave no credible doubt that when Caltrain adds the equivalent of 5.5 to 8.5 _additional_ freeway-lanes-worth of peak-period service capacity on its far more quiet, comfortable and fast-accelerating/braking all-electric sleek new train fleet, that ridership will continue to skyrocket."

Your faith in these ridiculous projections is cute. Adding capacity won't do squat for people who can't get from their origin or to their destination to a Caltrain station more easily than they can today. That's the blocker. Not seating capacity. Caltrain has no control over this issue - it's up to VTA, Samtrans and MUNI to make it better. And I don't see any plans for those transit authorities to support Caltrain 2040 at all. The plan is completely devoid of anything related to the last mile problem they have.

In fact, VTA is actively looking to *reduce* service to Palo Alto.

So, in the vast suburb that we have with the zoning and building restrictions that exist up and down the peninsula, the Caltrain 2040 plan is full of crap.


4 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
20 hours ago

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Me 2: don't try to misunderstand just to make a point; I ride too ... since the late 70s under SP.

I've been a close observer of its growth and political/governance history since that time, and know precisely what I'm talking about; I assure you.

"Skyrocketing" refers to going from ~24k AWR in 2004 to ~70k AWR today: Web Link

Caltrain's bi-directional demand, multi-centric corridor is already the highest performing rail service of its kind in the US ... and has the highest upside ridership growth potential.

Further, as real as it is, and while Caltrain is concerned about it, the "last mile problem" is not really Caltrain's to solve ... and as history shows, increased ridership can, will, and does find its way to the train in spite of it. There is no doubt ... none whatsoever ... among serious and/or professional people who understand Caltrain's market and corridor that ridership will resume its historic, dramatic and steady year-over-year rise when the imminent post-electrification service frequency, capacity and quality improvements occur. Along with numerous approved or planned densifying infill TODs and increased jobs along the line (e.g. Web Link), additional substantial ridership leaps will occur associated with the downtown SF extension (Web Link) and commencement of Dumbarton Rail service (Web Link).


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
19 hours ago

None of your links solves the last mile problem on the peninsula. It may not be Caltrain's to solve, but it is Caltrain's greatest roadblock to actually achieving their growth plan and really solving our traffic issues on 101 and 280. Even Google opening up near Diridon still requires employees to live close enough to a Caltrain station (sounds like a new fleet of buses will still be required). And Dumbarton Rail? It's even less defined than the dead-duck HSR fiasco.

Your use of 2004 is cherry picking of the post-dotcom implosion economic downturn to fluff things up ("lies, damn lies, and statistics"). And given the growing anti-tech backlash (and the increasing power of anti-tech residentialists and NIMBY), there's a economic cliff awaiting us that may return us back to 2004 levels.

Also, highest performing rail service in the US is akin to being the tallest midget.

But I admire your unwavering faith in make-believe projections. It's almost religious.


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Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
19 hours ago

(ironic that I'm having to give a reality check to someone calling themselves "Reality Check")


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
16 hours ago

RC said:

"I... also happen to own and manage residential property within easy walking distance of Alma."

Sounds like you drank the developer cool-aid and forgot the three rules of real-estate investing (location, location, location). Now you are desperately hoping somehow, someway, some combination of electrification, grade separation, and rosy ridership projections can bail you out of a bad real-estate investment next to the rail-road tracks (Park Avenue?).

Fourth rule of real-estate investing: above ground rail = blight.


2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
15 hours ago

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Me 2: if you had bothered to view the linked “skyrocketing” ridership graph (Web Link) you’d see there was no cherry picking. And be sure to think back on this conversation every few years and you’ll see why I go by “Reality Check” :-)

@Ahem: nope, wrong again! An excellent location: easy walking distance to downtown, the station and Alma ... but far enough away that grade seps will have no significant or perceptible effect. Fantastic rental income, choice of excellent and well-qualified tenants. Criminally low Prop. 13 assessed value. Sweet!


5 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
4 hours ago

I live close to Embarcadero. We do not want to absorb additional traffic just to benefit Churchill home owners. We would love to see the crossing be safer for Paly students in some way, but not to the tune of making Embarcadero become 6 lanes!!! NO!!!

And so I'd prefer to see nothing happen --- as the City wants us to pay for all of this! Fine if people have to wait at the train crossings. They'll adjust.


Like this comment
Posted by dbaron
a resident of University South
1 hour ago

dbaron is a registered user.

Caltrain's modernization plans (electrification, purchase of new EMUs, movement towards level boarding and grade separation) are a plan to have Caltrain provide BART-like service. There's no need to pay tons of extra money to change the infrastructure and make it actual BART trains. There's a clear path forward to BART-like service on Caltrain, and some parts of it (electrification, EMUs) are in progress today.

One of the things that plan requires is the elimination of grade crossings. This means Churchill either needs grade separation or closure. Closure (and replacement with a pedestrian/bicycle underpass or overpass) seems like the right option.

This is the right choice from a long-term perspective: we're encouraging the environmentally friendly transport (rail) and discouraging the polluting one (cars) that encourages other forms of pollution (sprawl, separated houses and their excessive heating and cooling costs and harmful land use, etc.). It's one step at a time, but in the long term we should be prioritizing rail over cars, and dense development over sprawl.


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