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High-speed rail analysis brings grade-separation anxiety to Palo Alto

Original post made on Aug 3, 2022

As the environmental analysis for the Peninsula segment of high-speed rail nears the finish line, Palo Alto leaders are raising alarms about a feature that is conspicuously missing from the proposed design: grade separation.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 3, 2022, 12:21 PM

Comments (20)

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 3, 2022 at 9:17 pm

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High speed rail trains will never appear in any significant number on the Peninsula, so the whole discussion is really intended to get yet another someone else to pay for Palo Alto's grade separation work.

Posted by anusree
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 4, 2022 at 8:24 am

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The Case against High‐​Speed Rail
High‐​Speed Rail Is Too Expensive. ...
Dedicated Infrastructure Is Wasted Infrastructure. ...
It's an Energy Hog. ...
It's Slow. ...
It Doesn't Go Where You Want to Go. ...
It Won't Get Many People Out of Cars or Planes. ...
There Is No “Sweet Spot” ...
It Won't Help and May Hurt the Economy.

Posted by Consider Your Options.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2022 at 11:25 am

Consider Your Options. is a registered user.

As the state continues to bumble through its convoluted rail process, Caltrain is moving forward implementing electrification and increasing their train service now. Caltrain's project will require grade separation in a more near term to keep city street traffic moving. The possibility of longer term High Speed Rail (HSR) on the same corridor is a real planning problem because it requires different engineering specifications for grade separations that we won't know about until later. Our economy and communities depend on a functional transportation system now AND later.

Make a decision, Governor N. If you are not bringing HSR along the Caltrain corridor, please tell us. If you are going to move forward with HSR along the Peninsula Caltrain corridor, plan for it collaboratively with local communities and Caltrain now and incorporate funding for grade separations in the HSR project NOW, so Peninsula cities can plan for all possible scenarios and not waste billions on grade sep projects for Caltrain that will have to redone to accommodate HSR.

This is poorly conceived process that needs immediate attention. Fix it. Governor N, you are the chief executive. Pay attention to these enormously disruptive and astronomically expensive transportation problems your administration is creating through inattention. The buck stops on the governor's desk with this one. We are watching.

Posted by Art
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 4, 2022 at 11:34 am

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High-speed rail is too long overdue. Traveling to LA, SD, by air takes almost as much time as driving when considering door-to-door travel. Why do Europe, Asia, and even middle eastern countries have superior train services? The forces that choked train service in America 70 years ago (auto, rubber, oil) keep our communities looking like they are in a time warp. Our streets at train crossing are the same as they were 90 years ago. The west was built by grand-scale projects. Cross continental trains, the Hoover Dam, the GG bridge, and the California aqueduct made the west great. Why can't we build a 50-mile train track where train tracks already exist?

Posted by Citizen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2022 at 11:42 am

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I have still never heard an adequate explanation for why the terminus for high speed rail is not San Jose instead of San Francisco. The Peninsula is densely populated and—although state lawmakers seem willfully ignorant of this fact—space limited and built out. This is not a Harry Potter novel where we can just make space out of nothing, despite Sacramento’s perennial belief to the contrary. The safety concerns around crossing impacts are catastrophes in the waiting from foreseeable events.

Money for rail on the peninsula is far better spent on improving the transportation system holistically, so that a terminus at San Jose could feed the region (East Bay and peninsula) more smoothly.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2022 at 11:43 am

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Yesterday Newsom announced huge financial backing to Hollywood and the entertainment industry for movie and tv productions. It goes without saying that this industry brings money into CA coffers as well as providing jobs at all levels in the industry.

However, if CA has so much money and if it values transportation, then investing in transportation infrastructure should be a priority. Regardless whether HSR comes to the Peninsula, we already have the electrification of Caltrain. The work to electrify has been done and any type of grade separation is now going to be much more expensive due not only to the tracks but also the wires that are already in place.

It is ridiculous to expect each individual city to pay for this work. It is equally ridiculous to expect each indivdidual county to pay for this work.

This is a Bay Area regional benefit. At the very least it is the Bay Area as a region that will benefit from improved transit options. Newsom with his history of San Francisco politics understands our region from that alone.

If he can throw money at Hollywood, shouldn't he also be fighting for federal money as well as pushing money to basic infrastructure improvements such as this.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 4, 2022 at 12:23 pm

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“Yesterday Newsom announced huge financial backing to Hollywood and the entertainment industry for movie and tv productions” So Graven Growsome B’s Calif is financially backing Hollywood machine where gruesome violence is the name of the game. Where gun Co’s place thier wares everywhere. Glock, Smith & Wesson, etc. Like BIG tobacco was nixed from movies so should BIG Guns too. Meanwhile those earning $70,000 or less a year in hourly wages are living in near the edge and mass unhoused camps line our Bay Area streets living in deep squalor. Why? Our unhoused reality is a gross symptom of a much more sinister equation. Averting our eyes is no longer an option. Yet clicking, and downloading, uploading, Googling it all away (the Internet is hiding our head in the bay sands) . The medium the monster we’ve created. We are no longer in control. The algorithm and data worth billions of our every key stroke. We are giving ourselves away for “free. While the elite sell the con.

Posted by Save Palo Alto
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 4, 2022 at 1:52 pm

Save Palo Alto is a registered user.

Palo Alto city government has no shame.

After leading opposition to the original peninsula HSR plan over grade separations and forcing the highly compromised “blended system”, Palo Alto is now complaining that HSR should pay for and build the grade separations?

You get what you asked for.

This is ridiculous hypocrisy, and exactly why HSR has struggled.

Uninformed opposition fighting every step of HSR. First it “we don’t want grade separation, it’s too ugly and will ruin the most beautiful Alma corridor”, then after realizing the unfortunate deaths and massive traffic congestion that result from dangerous grade crossings, now Palo Alto wants the HSR to pay for the very thing they had to compromise to remove from the plan.

If Palo Alto originally started working with HSR, rather than suing it at every chance, we likely would have more funding for the project with grade separation.

Also, if you didn’t catch my sarcasm, Alma is not beautiful, it is currently a wall that splits our city, and prevents people from walking between adjacent neighborhoods.

A partially elevated railway viaduct through Palo Alto is what the city now realizes it needs and can be part of an Alma improvement project. This can also add more pedestrian/bide crossings to Alma and the tracks, bringing our city together, and allowing our children to safely get to school.

Posted by mickie winkler
a resident of University South
on Aug 4, 2022 at 2:21 pm

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Don't forget to remember the potentially decade-long impact of construction on local streets and on Alma. Almost every grade sep project has taken much longer than advertised.

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 4, 2022 at 5:52 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

Two points. This article fails to mention the need for a 4th off-grade crossing --- where Alma crosses the tracks to join El Camino and Sand Hill Rd. Not improving this crossing would cause large traffic backup problems at University, Churchill, and maybe even Page Mill during rush hours, when the number of projected commuter trains and also the real volume of surface traffic both peak. Everyone would have to exit Alma to get on either El Camino Real or Middlefield and there probably also would cause a huge increase in diverted surface traffic in Old Palo Alto. And the folks who live there have huge political influence in PA, like it or not, and are determined to protect their quality of life, which includes non-local thru traffic. Aren't you, too???

This article also still assumes the highly economically and politically naive assumption that HSR will go past San Jose (or maybe even Gilroy) and up the Peninsula to SF anytime within our lifetimes. And also anywhere near Los Angeles too. These areas are densely populated and include large numbers of wealthy and/or politically powerful people and special interest groups. And they hold huge sway in Sacramento politics. Power and money talk, to paraphrase a famous saying.

So assuming that we forget the Idealistic Great HSR Myth, there still is are highly compelling reasons for FOUR (not three) below grade crossings in PA and one at Rengstorff in my MV, and two in Sunnyvale, and two (?) in Menlo Park. And that is the electrification of Caltrain, which political advocates say allows up to 100% the number of San Jose to SF commuter trains per day. Since political advocates always deliberately ask for more than is reasonable, I suspect that a 50% increase of longer electrified trains is a more reasonable projection. And that is coming soon.

So stop dithering and get a solid plan. "The lack of action is usually the worst possible option when action is necessary."

Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 4, 2022 at 8:44 pm

JR is a registered user.

The elevated freeway for trains is off the table, it is not an option as residents have repeatedly told you. It is reasonable to run the tracks underground, although the cost is high HSR is already wasting billions of dollars so surely they can spend a few dollars on a project that would actually improve quality of life. "Doing nothing" is also completely reasonable, far too often "projections" are false. So let's wait and see.

Posted by John Page
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2022 at 11:21 am

John Page is a registered user.

The issue with grade crossings has little to do with high speed trains. Just yesterday someone was killed on the Caltrain tracks and it is far from the first time. Regardless of what trains use the tracks these grade crossings are an absurd anachronism that should have been fixed years ago.

And 10 years to build a couple of bridges? Really??

Posted by William Hitchens
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 5, 2022 at 7:06 pm

William Hitchens is a registered user.

@JR: The tracks will stay at grade because it is politically and financially impossible to do otherwise, both above ground and especially below ground. Trains need smooth, flat tracks. Autos, bikes, and pedestrians don't, so they can go under tracks, which is far more affordable and less intrusive than over tracks, also called "traffic overpasses". Got that? BTW, "at grade means in simple jargon "at ground level". For tracks in this case. Got that too? Not elevated, not "underground", but at their present level/grade. Got that?

"Doing nothing" is NOT VIABLE unless PA wants to get itself in a huge traffic jam along Alma once Caltrain is electrified and increases its rush hour trains by at least 50%. My city of MV is so busy turning MV into a high rise ghetto that they haven't even decided what to do at Rengstorff. A simple below grade traffic crossing would be the best option, but they are so obsessed with turning MV into an urban ghetto that they ---- what the hell, they're just another bunch of stupid politicians trying not to offend their voters.

Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 5, 2022 at 7:47 pm

Pat Markevitch is a registered user.

It's long past time to kill this boondoggle. They keep pouring money into it and it hasn't even gotten to the hard part of the construction. It's more money in the politicians pockets.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 5, 2022 at 8:54 pm

Annette is a registered user.

This state would benefit greatly from a Legislature that wasn't so heavily one party. Debate is healthy. HSR, which is great in concept, should never have passed b/c the ballot measure was a concept void of critical details. Like cost. Palo Alto's part in this drama is complicated - and exacerbated by the sorry fact that the City has been talking about grade separation for years but not drawing to conclusions.

Two things to keep in mind: when Governor Pat Brown was leading this state, he was dealing with the equivalent of a blank slate. In the intervening decades, California has been super-developed. Everything is significantly more complicated now and Eminent Domain is a factor that no one wants to mention.

The concerns and criticisms mentioned by posters are valid. We have really screwed this up. One of the reasons for the high cost of HSR is the unrealistic estimates for taking prime agricultural land for the tracks between Bakersfield and Merced. Voters approved a concept, not a reality. Now, we need to assess economics and re-think who should be paying for this. Seems to me continuing office development should bear their fair share. Palo Alto's proposed business tax won't put a dent in this. Revenues are projected at $15M, and the intention is to split that 3 ways. An annual spend of $5M on what this city needs to do to prepare for and eventually support HSR is many multiples of that.

Posted by Samuel Jackson
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Aug 5, 2022 at 10:16 pm

Samuel Jackson is a registered user.

Since so many people in Palo Alto complain about airplane noise, those same folks should come out and support the HSR program. There are many ways to mitigate the potential transportation impacts from changes in the use of the railway. Local policy could discourage car ownership, promote active and small-scale transportation, and promote more and denser housing so that more people could live closer to their work and thus reduce the number of commute trips.

Having successful and faster regional (and inter-regional) rail networks is a critical part of avoiding short-haul flights, as well as reducing the number of car trips, especially single-occupancy trips. Now, is HSR poised for success, given its other challenges? Complex question. But suggesting that the only way to address traffic impacts is with expensive concrete programs -- rather than policy and land-use designations -- is deeply shortsighted.

Posted by JR
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 6, 2022 at 6:55 am

JR is a registered user.

HSR will not reduce noise in Palo Alto, it will only increase it. It is a fairy tale that HSR will reduce flight volume over Palo Alto. The majority of airplane noise in PA comes from SFO international flights which the City and County of San Francisco is (illegally) redirecting two counties over in order to keep their own skies and cities peaceful while Palo Alto noise reaches an excessive level.

Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 6, 2022 at 9:00 am

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"It is a fairy tale that HSR will reduce flight volume over Palo Alto."

As someone else posted, it takes policy to address traffic impacts and that makes Europe different. They make policy choices to disincentivize air travel and to continually improve rail infrastructure. For this reason, you may be right that flight volume will continue to grow. There's already more energy and federal regulatory supports going to flying cars and "unmanned" aviation products.

Federal policy is allowing certification of flying cars with propaganda that call these machines "silent" based on the FAA's "unique" definition of noise (not the kind people actually experience). The businesses that will profit from the public infrastructure needed for these products to function consider this "free" for them - as in how SFO uses Palo Alto as their arrivals infrastructure for airlines for free.

If the airplane noise issue has illustrated one thing, it's how provincial things are. People are happy to get a couple of million here and there for a museum or a bridge. Our policy makers are only as good as our expectations, culture, and what we allow to be used as truth.

Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 6, 2022 at 1:16 pm

mjh is a registered user.

How is our local Sacramento representative, Mark Berman, representing us in the high speed rail debacle?

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 20, 2022 at 7:36 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

08/19/22 - Another "big" story about additional funding for the HSR. They keep talking about this and show a map. The map is from San Jose to San Francisco. They never show how the train is going to get from the valley - Merced to San Jose. No tracks then no train.

The big problem here is that the Water district wants to buid a huge resevoir next to the Highway 156 that goes from 101 in Gilroy to Highway 5 over the hill. Pacheco Pass. So we have two large funded projects that are suppose to occur in the same place with a lot of earth movement for both projects. Both of those are huge projects.
Where is the top level brain that sorts out what is happening here. Each project is running on a single topic discussion with no discussion of project impacts. Someone has to push for full disclosure with maps of how this is all suppose to happen.It is called Project Management with Risk Assessment. Every private company that builds has to have an internal Risk ssessment of the project and how those risks will be mitigated. Since tax payer money is being used here then the public should have the whole picture.

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