News

Report: Caltrain 'modernization' to worsen Alma congestion

Palo Alto raises red flags about traffic impacts, Caltrain's 'omissions' in project analysis

Caltrain's plan to power its trains by electricity rather than diesel is expected to improve service, help the environment and boost ridership and revenues for the agency when its first modern trains roll out in 2019.

But for Palo Alto, which boasts the second busiest train station in the entire system, these improvements come with a bitter pill: a significant and unavoidable worsening of traffic conditions at three already congested intersections of Alma Street.

Even as Caltrain touts its electrification plan as an important way to get cars off the roads, it acknowledges in its environmental analysis that several streets near the 51-mile corridor will see traffic conditions go from bad to worse. Alma is atop this list.

According to the in-depth Final Environmental Impact Report that the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which operates Caltrain, is expected to certify Thursday morning, the problems at the Alma intersections cannot be eased through strategies such as lane reconfigurations and new traffic signals. Because the train corridor is bounded by Alma to the east side and homes and businesses to the west, it cannot be widened. Thus, traffic problems at its intersections with Charleston Road, Meadow Drive, and Churchill Avenue will remain "significant and unavoidable," according to the EIR. The report states that "no feasible mitigations exist" to change this; thus, none are proposed.

Palo Alto's three intersections are among 17 systemwide that could not be improved, leaving each with a "significant" level of delay. (There are 89 intersections along the entire corridor, from Gilroy to San Francisco.)

Another Palo Alto intersection, at Palo Alto Avenue near Sand Hill Road, would also have traffic problems, though Caltrain expects to reduce the delays by widening Sand Hill and adding a traffic lane that would allow southbound cars to turn on red.

Palo Alto, which has in the past supported the $1.5-billion electrification project, raised concerns about the plan in a letter to Caltrain last April. The letter, signed by then-Mayor Nancy Shepherd, requested that the environmental document explore a dramatic option that would fix the predicted traffic problems: grade separation of the tracks and the streets (effectively creating underpasses or overpasses).

In the letter, the city requested that Caltrain establish a fund with which to explore various ideas, most notably placing the Caltrain corridor in a trench. Palo Alto also requested that Caltrain's environmental analysis consider whether the electric equipment and new substations will harm the city's future ability to construct grade separations.

"Grade separations are an important issue in the Peninsula, and not something that can be ignored in this EIR given local traffic and safety concerns," the city wrote in April.

Yet its request has gone largely unanswered. The EIR notes that while grade separations are a "technically feasible mitigation," it is "financially infeasible for Caltrain to adopt a comprehensive program of grade separations as mitigation."

"However, in the long-term where funding becomes available and it is acceptable to local jurisdictions, Caltrain would support grade separations in the long run," the Final EIR states.

In detailing the difficulty of trenching the rail line, the environmental report stated that Caltrain would have to relocate the overhead contact system (OCS) that will connect trains to the electricity infrastructure.

The document says nothing about the cost or the design, engineering and construction challenges of moving the equipment once it's installed to accommodate a trenched system.

Alternately, there would "usually be little to no need to relocate any portion of the OCS" if the roadways were submerged under the Caltrain tracks, Caltrain officials wrote.

Local support for building a trench along the Caltrain corridor has been growing since 2009, when Palo Alto officials and residents began their campaign to stop the California High-Speed Rail Authority from constructing an elevated four-track system along the tracks. The hugely unpopular proposal was ultimately scrapped and the rail authority agreed to pursue a "blended system" with Caltrain, one in which the two train services would share the same set of tracks along the Peninsula. In early 2013, the city adopted the Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study, a planning document that advocates for a below-grade track system and improved east-west connections across Alma Street, the Caltrain tracks and El Camino Real.

Caltrain's EIR briefly acknowledges the document and its recommendation to trench the train, though it points out that the study is "dominated by concerns about the high-speed rail project." But this statement is not entirely accurate. The Palo Alto study makes it clear in its introduction that it represents the city's response "to planned rail investments along the Caltrain rail corridor, specifically the California High Speed Rail project and potential modifications to Caltrain operations."

According to Caltrain's EIR, the three Alma intersections are expected to operate at "Level F" (the worst possible congestion) whether or not the project proceeds, though things would get worse if it does. At the intersection of Alma and Charleston, cars could wait 2 minutes or longer in 2020, regardless of electrification. Having the project in place would add 28 seconds to the wait during the morning peak hour and 9 seconds during the evening peak. On Alma and Churchill, the wait would go from 83.9 seconds (already an "F" level) during the morning peak if the project is not implemented to 108.9 seconds if it is. A similar increase would take place during the evening peak on Alma and Meadow Drive.

In its April letter to Caltrain, Palo Alto had also requested that Caltrain improve bicycle and pedestrian amenities as part of the modernization project, either at the intersections or the Caltrain stations.

"Given the increased traffic identified in the DEIR (Draft Environmental Impact Report), pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements must be addressed in the FEIR (Final Environmental Impact Report); however, any pedestrian and bicycle improvements must emphasize safety," Palo Alto's letter, signed by Shepherd, states.

In response, Caltrain pointed out in the final EIR that there is "no evidence that additional bicycle and pedestrian facilities would meaningfully change the amount of bicyclists or pedestrians using Caltrain or have any meaningful effect on reducing traffic at the affected intersections." The report thus did not propose any bicycle or pedestrian improvements.

Caltrain's decision to include no mitigations at all for the most impacted local intersections did not please Palo Alto officials, who fired off another letter on Dec. 31.

"The FEIR clearly states for the Churchill, Meadow and Charleston grade crossings ... that 'no feasible mitigation was identified.' This response is not acceptable to the City, and at a minimum, the City requests that the Joint Powers Board set aside funds for design and engineering of grade separation solutions along the corridor," the letter states.

Caltrain's analysis makes another argument that Palo Alto officials find troubling: that the long-planned electrification project isn't subject to the California's environmental laws. This argument did not appear in the draft EIR but has been inserted into the final document.

In the Final EIR, Caltrain officials claim that they don't even have a legal obligation to put the document together but are "voluntarily adhering to the strictures of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act)," a law that aims to protect communities from the impacts of new developments and major projects and initiatives. In an apparent reference to a recent ruling regarding high-speed rail, the Caltrain EIR claims that a number of "court and regulatory decisions have held that the construction improvements and operation of federally regulated railroads are exempt from state environmental regulatory laws, including CEQA."

The Final EIR states the Caltrain board "expressly preserves its ability to assert preemption if legal challenges to the EIR are initiated."

This argument, and the fact that it was made just before the document's expected certification, was challenged by city officials, who have been assured all along that environmental law will protect their interests.

"Whether legal or not, this assertion being made at the 11th hour is wrong, creates distrust, calls into question the tremendous amount of time and money our City has invested in what we were led to believe was a true CEQA process, and is reminiscent of action taken by the California High Speed Rail Authority that created so much of the distrust regarding rail on the Peninsula we still deal with today," Shepherd's Dec. 31 letter stated. "In addition, it contradicts the many assurances we repeatedly received from Caltrain throughout this process that CEQA would be honored."

Palo Alto Councilman Pat Burt, who had served on the council's now-defunct Rail Committee, said he does not believe that Caltrain had adequately responded to the city's concerns. Though he acknowledged the need to improve Caltrain service to accommodate increasing ridership, Burt told the Weekly he believes the agency should also consider other alternatives in conjunction with the electrification, including longer trains. He also raised concerns about Caltrain's apparent about-face on the issue of CEQA.

"We and the cities along the corridor have been promised for years that CEQA would be the backstop that protected us against significant impacts to improvements to the rail corridor that we otherwise support," Burt said. "And now, they are saying that the most significant impacts in our community are unavoidable and won't be mitigated."

Related content:

Caltrain vote paves the way for electric trains

Comments

15 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2015 at 3:14 pm

Why is no mention made here of elevating the train tracks to create grade separations? Caltrain is doing this right now at several locations in San Mateo County. Elevating the tracks is much cheaper than trenching and avoids problems with stream crossings and flooding.


22 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Palo Alto and surrounding cities fought grade separation of tracks tooth and nail, and as a result plans were shelved. Anyone, especially any elected official, who pretends to be "surprised" by this is being completely disingenuous.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2015 at 3:42 pm

elevated transit = urban blight.


3 people like this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 6, 2015 at 3:49 pm

The solution is simple, inexpensive, and elegant. Close all the grade crossings, build condos on the road stubs which remain on the west side of the tracks, and include microstations so we can claim these as transit-oriented development. ABAG and its minions will be thrilled.


14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 6, 2015 at 4:17 pm

Alma Street is already one of the ugliest streets in town, because of all the speeding cars. Elevating the train tracks is not going to make it any uglier.


38 people like this
Posted by Jayme Ackemann
a resident of another community
on Jan 6, 2015 at 4:20 pm

I'm extremely disappointed to see that so much column space spent on an article that quoted liberally from our Environmental Document but failed to contact anyone at our agency for comment, context or response to the concerns being raised by the City of Palo Alto. An important note, Caltrain's environmental document acknowledges that traffic at that intersection will get significantly worse in the future even if Caltrain does nothing to improve service along its corridor.

We are always here to discuss our reports and look forward to when given the opportunity.

Jayme Ackemann
Caltrain
Communications Manager


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2015 at 4:27 pm

One of the biggest problems is the need to cross these tracks on a daily basis. Many commuters could choose an alternate route coming into town, but there is a real problem in that both our high schools are west of the tracks and a large portion (no idea of the actual fraction but it must be fairly high) of our high school students live east of the tracks.

This must be another good reason to open Cubberley as it would prevent so many students from having to cross those tracks twice a day.


7 people like this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 6, 2015 at 5:25 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

"Why is no mention made here of elevating the train tracks to create grade separations? "

Noise. Elevated trains will ensure that you can hear and feel Caltrain all the way to 101. Ok I'm exaggerating, but that's the main issue.


4 people like this
Posted by Oh, Goody
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 6, 2015 at 6:05 pm

And with Oregon Expressway/El Camino about to messed up with the replacement of the VTA lot with high-density, with Embarcadero continuing to be messed up, with University Ave bottlenecked, how are we supposed to cross El Camino??

Will drivers have to go to Menlo Park and/or Mountain View while being sanctimoniously preached to about energy conservation??


14 people like this
Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 6, 2015 at 6:41 pm

We have three underpasses already. Probably time to build 2-3 more. Yes, there will probably be public taking of some private properties, but it is the least problematic of the solutions.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 6, 2015 at 7:30 pm

Elevated but enclosed?


10 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 6, 2015 at 8:06 pm

Seems Palo Alto officials need to engage more on this as it is important to the future of the city. I disagree that elevated transit systems are "bad," in fact enjoy riding the El in Chicago, an excellent transit system, at a reasonable rate...


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2015 at 8:25 pm

Anonymous,

Happy to hear you enjoyed riding the El (and saved some money!). I enjoy riding the El as well, but the "bad" part of the El isn't riding it, it is living in its shadow.

elevated transit = urban blight.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 6, 2015 at 8:27 pm

Crescent Park Dad,

A+ for creativity!


7 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 6, 2015 at 8:39 pm

In a nut shell, Caltrain really could not care less what residents along the Peninsula are concerned about regarding their project. Remember, this is a CA High Speed Rail backed project, Caltrain is the poor cousin coming along for a ride, so to speak. CAHSR made it clear years ago that they were going to build what they want, where they want, and Caltrain, likely, is parroting what ever CAHSR (the partner with the money) tells them to.

In the FEIR, Caltrain says "The ROW [right of way] is not a natural landscape feature. The ROW contains train rails, warning signs and lights, overhead signal bridges, spur tracks, and the frequent presence of passenger trains and freight trains with their attendant visual features, engine noise, and horn noise at grade crossings." ... "The ROW 39 has been an active transportation corridor for 150 years and Caltrain commuter rail operations 40 has been operating for decades. As a result, an intensity of transportation-related infrastructure 41 and operations is the expected aesthetic character of the ROW." This is all true of course, but they make it clear that what ever they build is "the expected aesthetic character" we have no grounds to object to. That's awfully gracious of them, isn't it.

With respect to grade separations, Caltrain says: While grade separations are a technically feasible way to avoid the need for train horn use, it is a highly expensive mitigation strategy. Caltrain has supported prior grade separation efforts, such as the San Bruno Grade Separation project, led by Caltrain, which will be completed in 2014. As shown in the analysis in this EIR, the San Bruno Grade Separation would reduce noise levels by approximately 2 dB compare with existing conditions. Caltrain supports future efforts at grade separation where acceptable to local communities and where local, state, and federal funding can be obtained to fund these improvements. Grade separations can cost approximately $50 million to $100 million per crossing (grade separations can cost much more sometimes), grade separating all existing at grade crossings would cost $2.1 to $4.2 billion. The budget for the Proposed Project is $1.225 billion by comparison. Thus, Caltrain cannot commit to a comprehensive program of grade separations at this time. However, as described in Mitigation Measure NOI-CUMUL-1, Caltrain will work with local jurisdictions, transportation funding agencies, and state and federal agencies to support grade separations over time as funding becomes available.

In a nut shell, Caltrain says, if you pay for it, we may consider it. Gracious of them.

None of this is a surprise. When Hill and Gordon claimed a great success at getting this funding some time ago, it was immediately clear in the text of that legislation that they didn't care about grade separations, or the additional noise and traffic extra trains were sure to bring because there was no funding to mitigate any of that. All they wanted was a happy PR photo shoot about how a magical electric train would save the day, and then they washed their hands of it. Sounds just like a HSR job to me.


14 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 6, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Jayme, here's your opportunity. Have at it, best you can muster, we're all ears....

Here, I'll help. The scammers at Caltrain find a willing parter in the crooks at CAHSR, and birth a baby called the community gets 100% ripped off. Big surprise.


19 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2015 at 2:59 am

Elevated on a berm is the way to go. Urban blight is nonsense.

The other major advantage is that it keeps the street network at-grade ... more bicycle & pedestrian friendly with normal/unchanged sight-lines as compared to underpases -- which are prone to flooding when the pumps can't keep up, get clogged or their electricity fails.

An elevated berm would allow several new at-grade bike/ped-only passages to punch through it in areas which are cut-off from each other today.

With new electrically-powered trains running on a grade-crossing free berm, there will be no horn-blowing and noise should be minimal as compared to today's diesel-hauled Caltrain with its old rattling cars and all its horn-blowing.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2015 at 8:25 am

What I really don't like is all this piecemeal "improvements" where one entity plans without any thought to any other entity.

We need a transportation/traffic czar in the Bay Area. Public transit and traffic congestion are only going to get worse in the next decades and the infrastructure won't cope unless a major overhaul of the system as a whole takes place. In the present climate, I can't see that happening. The Bay Area is one region, not a group of counties, individual authorities or competing systems.

One Bay Area region view please.


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2015 at 8:54 am

Re: elevated berm. I think judging the appearance of a berm system will be in the eye of 64,000 individual be holders. Luckily we have a local example to evaluate...just head up to San Carlos and take a look. If you don't like its appearance, what would you do to change it? As suggested above, perhaps enclosing the elevated railway (an elevated tunnel) would work...keeps the noise down and fixes the grade separation issue. The design could include non-reflective glazing so that the journey would not be in the dark 24/7.

I don't think anyone would object to a tunnel or trench. Certainly my first choice.

If you want grade separation, quiet rail lines and something nice to look at...we're going to have to make some trade-offs.

BTW - I'm guessing that the new Congress is going to cut off future HSR funding. The State can't afford to do this alone...frankly, the State can't afford to do it at all! I'm in my mid-50's...I seriously doubt HSR will be running through our town in my lifetime.


8 people like this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 7, 2015 at 9:09 am

SteveU is a registered user.

San Carlos did not sink into the Sea from 'Urban blight' when they raised the rails and made under crossings for cars. A few business properties lost some land, but the business use (mostly service oriented) survived.

There was a time when people did not build houses next to the tracks. They built Warehouses and manufacturing (with rail sidings) in the noisy--low rent districts. For over 40 years, I have watched the area along the tracks (Sunnyvale,Mountain View, Palo Alto) slowly change into Residential from factory and warehousing. Remember the Canneries with the Can plant next door? Greenhouses by the mile? Fruit trees? These all existed along tos tracks.

This is really about driving off the reason they got to buy land cheap and making a big profit.

Real (heavy) manufacturing has almost disappeared along the peninsula with RESIDENTIAL developers grabbing the land for a quick profit.


3 people like this
Posted by dtown
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 7, 2015 at 9:20 am

By far the cheapest option at the Alma (Sand Hill/Palo Alto Avenue) crossing would be a pedestrian/bike-only overpass. This would have the added advantage of radically reducing car traffic on Alma. The current entry-way from El Camino could be converted to parking and possibly a garage - allowing traffic from El Camino to park and walk to downtown via the overpass.

Long term the best overall strategy is moving towards a relatively car-free downtown - favoring mass-transit (electrified Caltrain/rapid bus line on El Camino) and walk/bike solutions over further investments in car-based options.

In the scenario I mention above (the Alma pedestrian over-cross) the University underpass would get more crowded, but doing so would again force more walk/bike-oriented design. One such design option could be a large parking garage off of El Camino in the current University Ave transit area to funnel incoming traffic to park outside of the direct downtown area.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:09 am

Forcing more walking/biking????? You have to be joking.

I would imagine that the majority of traffic using this grade crossing at Alma/ECR is not local which means that they are the most unlikely users to be able to change.

Now Churchill, Meadow and Charleston are probably majority local traffic. We do have a lot of school traffic on these grade crossings and we know that there is a lot of walking/biking school traffic using them.

The fact that both our high schools are west of the tracks and a high proportion of students live east of the tracks means that students have to cross those tracks twice a day. Opening Cubberley is one way of reducing daily traffic on these grade crossings.


12 people like this
Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:48 am

At the end of the day everyone has to give a little in order to improve a 150 year rail corridor which currently operates with technology from the 1950's, if not older. Any effective commuter rails system in the "developed world" operates electrically because trains are faster, more efficient, can carry more passengers, are less noisy etc... I can't believe how noisy and how slow the current diesel trains are. And yes, grade separations will have to be part of it, and yes they will be expensive. But for those who are opposed to that, what's your solution? Adding more lanes to 101, as we have done for years? Create another 280? In my humble opinion electrifying Caltrain is overdue and will be great for our communities on the peninsula.


4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:49 am

Adding bicycle bridges over the Caltrain tracks at various points in town would be a fantastic idea. This is a great way for kids on bicycles to bypass car traffic jams and congested roads in general on the way to school in the morning. A bicycle bridge over the train tracks near midtown would also help adult commuters get to/from the Caltrain station.


Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 7, 2015 at 10:56 am

My my, are we really stupider than europeans?


4 people like this
Posted by 37 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:01 am

Crescent Park Dad is right. The new congress may cut HSR funding and the state can't afford to do this with or without Federal assistance. That won't stop Gov. Brown however. He is hell bent on doing this despite the opposition of the majority of Californians who were sold a bill of goods when the original vote took place. It'll never be finished and will cost billions in taxpayer funds. is anyone surprised. It's how the California legislature rolls. They'll be taxing us to death to pay for this fiasco.


5 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:18 am

I agree with Resident and Reality Check. Elevated tracks like San Carlos & Belmont. Would actually produce less noise. Not unsightly.
I used to live in an apartment by the Fremont BART station, where there is an elevated track over Mowry Ave approaching the station, and I rarely heard any noise, nor was it unsightly.


11 people like this
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:27 am

The article accurately reports the contents, comments, and responses to comments contained in the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR). There is no role provided in the California Environmenal Quality Act for Caltrain's Communications Manager to respond to comments on the Draft EIR that are described in the article. The responses to those comments belong in the Final EIR. I had repeatedly requested the Palo Alto City Council to schedule time to make comments on the Final EIR before Caltrain acts to certify the EIR and approve the project on Thursday, January 8, 2015, but the City Council agendas prepared by the City Manager and former Mayor did not contain any such agenda item, and this week's agenda omitted an agenda item that would have given the new Council an opportunity to direct staff to schedule a meeting on the Final EIR before Thursday. Instead, the agenda for next Monday, January 12, 2015, includes an agenda item for Caltrain Communications Manager Jayme Ackerman to talk to the City Council about the EIR and the project after Caltrain has made its decision, when it is too late for the Council to make additional comments to influence that decision. Litigation concerning issues that have been raised by this Thurday is all that is left for those who participated in the public process and object to Caltrain's decision.


7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:32 am

Palo Alto is getting uglier and uglier. One day we will be a washed up, used up town.


5 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:36 am

What is the percentage increase in Palo Alto population since the last underpass was built? And percentage increase in Palo Alto jobs? It is indeed time to build more under/overpasses.


1 person likes this
Posted by Patrick
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 7, 2015 at 11:54 am

Why not build elevated rail and put sound barriers up to mitigate noise?


7 people like this
Posted by Division
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 7, 2015 at 12:15 pm

The traffic backups at Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston are already insufferably long and slow due to the frequency of the trains. During peak hours, travel in Palo Alto is impaired by the tracks causing a huge, divisive obstruction. SEVERAL grade separations are needed ASAP!


3 people like this
Posted by Senor Blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 7, 2015 at 12:25 pm

Qudos to the Buffoons who didn't do their homework in the first place and Challenged CAHSR on the CEQA basis. The lawyers should be sued for incompetence and req'd to refund the legal fees.
The politicians should be relieved of their duties.
The City employees should should be put on permanent leave without pay.
The citizens of Palo Alto have been duped.


2 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2015 at 12:32 pm

This is going to be a Gordian knot of conflicting opinions and agendas. But the issue that Palo Alto should be pushing is children's safety: the crossing at Alma/Churchill is going to be a deathtrap. My understanding is that electrifying the system will allow CalTrain to run more frequent cars, which means more frequent train crossings at intersections, which will lead cars and kids to make risky crossing decisions during the 8 am school/commute hour. Given how poorly drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians currently handle the Churchill crossing and its frustrating traffic flow, I am convinced there will be some combination of car/train/bicyclist/pedestrian tragedy involving multiple victims within the first week of full electrification.


3 people like this
Posted by Gridlock
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 7, 2015 at 12:48 pm

I'm in favor of trenching between the San Antonio station and Cal Ave. The gridlock at Charleston it horrible multiple times a day.


2 people like this
Posted by Rzilla
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jan 7, 2015 at 1:31 pm

HSR should be routed along the center median of 101 rather than along the Caltrain Tracks. (elevated). Leave Caltrain alone. The HSR benefits only SF, SJ and the major stops. Not Palo Alto.


1 person likes this
Posted by South Palo Altan
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 7, 2015 at 1:34 pm

Our city leaders and citizens need be more forcefully push the idea of trench or overpass at three crosses. If we don't do it now along with the Caltrain modernization, the cost to improve the crossing will be even higher when all the electrical devices and OCS are all installed.


1 person likes this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 7, 2015 at 1:41 pm

@ Palo Alto/Crescent Park
You wrote "Palo Alto is getting uglier and uglier"...
I was down 101 in San Jose this morning- hadn't been in that area for awhile - and I was struck by how HORRIBLE and UGLY that area is and we aren't anything like that in Palo Alto, Thankfully. But I agree with the caution as we urbanize to be careful. It is unlikely to look as derelict as N San Jose, though...owing to our high property valuation. Co-existing with modern electrified transit systems must be carefully managed, not opposed...as progress" will undoubtedly occur, at some point, "whether we like it or not," (hat tip Gavin Newsom, famous politician)


3 people like this
Posted by Joe M
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 7, 2015 at 2:40 pm

It is clear that few if any options can solve the tangle of train, car, bike and foot traffic requirements under current constraints. Meanwhile, housing capacity is going up at a rapid rate. Although it may require major time back at the drawing board, maybe we should consider invoking eminent domain and combining the railroad right of way with the Alma Street corridor. We could open up new and exciting solutions involving, for example, a slightly elevated train system down the middle; long, sloping auto ramps for crossing under the tracks, pedestrian and bicycle overpasses, and other features that reflect the growing urbanization of our melded communities.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:27 pm

The self-driving electric car is a trans-formative technology that will soon make local rail obsolete. Within the next decade we will see the first self-driving cars, and the decade beyond that will see the conventional fleet replaced with the new technology.

We should not be investing in local passenger rail. The self-driving car will make any passenger rail system obsolete before it is even completed.

In the long run, the biggest beneficiaries of any public investment in rail infrastructure will be the freight haulers (Ackman, Buffet, Gates).

"Ackman, Buffett, Gates Ride the Rail Boom to Profits"
WSJ ~ October 13, 2014 Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Neil Shea
a resident of University South
on Jan 7, 2015 at 3:48 pm

This is an overdue discussion. It's a real issue and it has festered because the perfect is the enemy of the good. We should ask more leadership of our city officials and be willing to be more flexible ourselves. Even without additional trains and setting HSR completely aside, PA residents already want better access across Alma/RR/El Camino and we have taken no steps for decades.

Caltrain has led in the creation of grade seps in San Carlos-Belmont, 5th Ave in RWC, and San Bruno in partnership with those communities. In all cases autos go under the tracks -- otherwise they'd have to go up 30' because trains are much taller than cars. The SC-Belmont berm came out quite well, reducing noise, eliminating horns. It looks fine, there are no outcries that those towns have been ruined and no stories about any loss in property values. With berms/arches several more ped/bike routes can go through and some cities like Melbourne have coffee shops etc. under the tracks.

Trenches cost far more and if we say we will never accept anything else then we can either help raise the significant required funds ourselves or wait an extra 20 seconds at some of the crossings. Berms would be fine but our city officials should do more to get regional funds such as asking for some of the 3rd BART tax for SC Cty. Or I could pay an additional PA City tax if we want to do that. It's understandable that Caltrain allocates its limited resources to more flexible cities first.

Caltrain ridership is growing fast because it provides a valuable service, and PA is a top beneficiary. Many millennials prefer alternatives to cars, and congestion increases anyway. It's time for us to stop drawing lines in the sand and take some action ourselves.


2 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 7, 2015 at 4:35 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> Article: "In detailing the difficulty of trenching the rail line, the environmental report stated that Caltrain would have to relocate the overhead contact system (OCS) that will connect trains to the electricity infrastructure.//The document says nothing about the cost or the design, engineering and construction challenges of moving the equipment once it's installed to accommodate a trenched system."

The problem of electrification effectively requiring grade separation in Palo Alto and elsewhere was already well known when I first heard of it in the early 2000s. It was also well understood that grade separation needed to be performed before or during electrification because the politics and high costs of tearing out and replacing what had recently been built made it unlikely.

So why didn't it happen? Politics. First, the County's priority for transit money was bringing more employees from the East Bay to sites in San Jose (eg BART to San Jose). Second, the dominant attitude of transit advocates (officials and citizen) is contempt for the needs of drivers. Before transit advocates say that drivers can take the train, remember that many of those drivers have no viable transit option. For example, cross-bay rail was delayed and then cancelled to provide more funding for hyper expensive BART-to-SJ, just as earlier funding supposedly for Caltrain got reallocated to BART-to-SJ.

It would be interesting to hear from those more knowledgeable about the politics of this issue about what they think is possible and likely. Recognize that the past is often predictive.


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Posted by JayEss
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 7, 2015 at 4:41 pm

An electric train elevated slightly with road crossings going under like in San Mateo county would not be as intrusive as the high elevated tracks as in BART. And an electric train would not be as noisy or polluting as diesel. Elevating tracks might make the suicides fewer. It would be expensive to lower the roads crossing the tracks, but it seems like it would be worth it. those tracks have been there before most of the homes were built...it was kind of out in the country 60 or 70 years ago.. It is time to improve them.


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Posted by Neil Shea
a resident of University South
on Jan 7, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Electrification provides benefits independent of grade seps: Quieter, faster and no diesel smoke. Trains were running on these tracks before any of our grandparents were born. PA (and the Peninsula) grew up around the tracks, and we all moved here knowing the tracks were there.

Caltrain and transit options in general are increasingly popular. It keeps cars off of 101 and gets 50,000+ to work and other activities each weekday. Meanwhile cars congest themselves quite nicely and the $Billions in required road improvements are mostly not paid for by user fees/gas taxes.

I support drivers' god-given right to drive and I would hope they support good alternatives so that not everyone has to join you on 101. (BTW I drive 101 to work each day and my wife takes Caltrain to her job in SF. If Caltrain gets just a bit more frequent I'll relinquish my spot on 101 for the rest of you.)

P.S. Dumbarton Rail would be great and BART does cost way too much to expand further.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2015 at 6:20 pm

@Neil Shea: Caltrain average weekday ridership has already soared past 60,000.

@Joe M: as Neil already pointed out, trains (plus clearance for 25,000-volt overhead wires) are tall, and that means the overpasses will have to climb 30 feet or more above grade. Bikes and peds do not like climbing up that high -- it's a lot of work and requires long climbing ramps -- either straight or in a spiral.

In fact, they don't like negotiating such tall overpasses so much that they will trespass and cross the tracks at grade instead unless you build fencing they cannot cut holes in. This already happened with the overpass built after a ped was killed by a train in south SJ. More peds have been killed at the same site since the overpass opened because they'd rather cross the tracks illegally at-grade than climb up and over on the overpass built expressly for their safety!

Bike/peds only need to go down and back up about 12 feet to get under tracks at ground level. If you lift the tracks up on a modest berm only 12-15 feet high, bikes & peds can stay at grade and still fit under the tracks ... and roads for cars & trucks will need only to dip down another 5 feet or so. So elevating the trains just enough to allow tall humans to comfortably pass under without a change in grade is the perfect solution. Trains and the berms are not too high this way (cannot be seen or heard from as far away; less obtrusive), and the community fabric can still be easily connected with only slight dips for roads and no dips for bike/peds.


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Posted by Ed
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 7, 2015 at 7:36 pm

One of the Major goals of electrification of the Caltrain corridor is the ability to run more, and faster trains every hour. Caltrain dismisses the notion that more faster trains combined with at grade auto/bike/pedestrian crossings will result in more collisions and fatalities, whether accidental or otherwise. Of course they dismiss this very real safety issue because the solution is expensive grade separations of some kind.


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Posted by del xE=-dB/dT
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 7, 2015 at 7:55 pm

If the deaths on the tracks are suicides, why should electrification or grade separation change the frequency?

Trains can tolerate only very small slopes, so asking for them to go up or down over short distances is impossible. Raising or lowering the stations and platforms is also very expensive. I think the best solution is to raise the tracks slightly, on a berm, and to slightly depress the roads to cross underneath. If well-designed these undercrossings should not be too difficult for bikes and peds, and the gradients can be acceptable for the trains.

Unfortunately, Palo Alto city officials seem to have ruled out all reasonable and acceptable solutions and compromises and have left Caltrain only the option of ignoring them.


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Posted by Thanks
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Jan 7, 2015 at 9:23 pm

Thank you *Reality Check* and *del xE=-dB/dT*
As someone else said, this is going to require compromise, and the 'slightly elevated berm' seems to me a good but more importantly possible one.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Jan 7, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Of course the 'slightly elevated berm' has become better known locally as the 'Berlin Wall' thanks to the delicate and tactful public engagement process pursued by the high-speed rail authority a few years ago. They poisoned the well so badly that Palo Alto's recent study of grade separations

Web Link

very specifically excluded this option; it was so unpopular that it couldn't even be studied.

I believe Palo Alto will eventually end up with two slightly elevated berms, one at Churchill and the other for Charleston/Meadow. It's just a matter of time before this starts sinking in as the least painful option. Perhaps a few years will have to pass before we can discuss it without getting overly emotional.

As for the concern about reconfiguring overhead electrification infrastructure during the construction of a future grade separation, think of it as just another utility relocation. All civil works like this include a slice of budget for utility relocations. It's really no big deal.


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Posted by Marco
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2015 at 12:18 am

Palo Alto is concerned about traffic, and can care less about the rest of the 51 mile corridor. Only what affects them. Face it, Palo Alto will continue to attract people to work, live, and be educated, which like Caltrain clearly states, traffic will worsen either way. If A few city council members want resolution, then aid Caltrain in the study by hiring an INDEPENDENT auditor who is not a biased resident, council member, or lobbyist.

A big concern I see is the timeline in which Caltrain has set to complete this project, so instead of looking for ways to stalwart, find solutions. Everything sounds like a great idea but consider the delays Caltrain would face during construction if they had to dig underneath where the tracks currently are, consider that cost of literally relocating the tracks. Underpasses for cars would be the only option I see actually happening here, but why should Caltrain foot the bill for something mainly city residents would be using. Hello! This system is bursting at the seems right now, and this needs to happen without further delay. The infrastructure Palo Alto has is a mess on its own, so yes, it's terrible that traffic is what it is, but that's the cities fault for approving all the businesses on the west side where the schools are, and failing to permit housing in densities and locations that focus on decreasing traffic.

Bottom line is, there is a Bay Area that surrounds you Palo Alto, you have a job to resident ratio over 3:1, if the thousands of workers that train to you daily decided one day to start driving, then you would really have a traffic mess on your hands that all the bike lanes in the world couldnt solve, then.


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Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 8, 2015 at 8:28 am

All this fuss over a projected 9 to 28 SECOND delay?
We'll have more time to check social media while waiting!

We aren't thrilled with the idea of the OCS construction behind our back fence but realize how important the train is to the region and expect electrification brings cleaner and quieter operations.

Diesel emissions are not good for air quality and California's electric supply is getting cleaner.


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Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 8, 2015 at 9:03 am

The article states, "Local support for building a trench along the Caltrain corridor has been growing since 2009." But in the Palo Alto Weekly of September 26, 2008, I am quoted with advocating trenching and predicting the traffic results now shown in the FEIR. See Web Link

Instead of focusing right away on costing and engineering the trenching option, the Palo Alto City Council decided to do a *land use* study of the rail corridor. Only several years later did Palo Alto do the engineering and costing study, but too late for it to be effectively considered in the High Speed Rail discussions (where the only word heard was "no") and in the Caltrain electrification discussions.

The Council mostly chose to bypass the Planning and Transportation Commission on rail issues. On the Rail Corridor land use committee, a PTC member was effectively an observer, without the power to speak during discussions but only afterwards with public comment.


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2015 at 9:14 am

SteveU is a registered user.

They call them 'Sound Walls' for reason.
Nearby flat hard surfaces REFLECT sound (which makes it more noticeable nearby).

The raised berm with a open Free Air path, allows the sound energy to dissipate before running into objects. The inverse square rule applies to sound energy.

FWIW BART seems really noisy to me. It is all wheel noise. Spend the money making the train quieter, not trying to contain the noise.





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Posted by Chris K
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 8, 2015 at 9:25 am

"Residential developers grabbing land to make a quick profit?" Hardly. The Southgate neighborhood has been around since the 1920s - my house was built in 1927. Elevating the tracks, whether on a concrete structure or a berm will wipe out homes, not "a little business property".

This is the problem with comparing the San Bruno grade separation to the problem that needs to be solved in Palo Alto - they're completely different!


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 8, 2015 at 10:20 am

Trains cause traffic congestion because they have the absolute right of way at crossings. This tradition began in the steam days, when locomotives couldn't accelerate quickly enough from a stop.

Electric trains change that. They can shoot off the line like dragsters. There is no reason why trains shouldn't be governed by traffic signals like cars, taking their fair turns at crossings.

Problem solved.


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Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2015 at 11:55 am

When using San Carlos/Belmont as an example of an elevated berm solution, be careful to note that the right-of-way in that area is considerably different. It is much wider, permitting some open space alongside the berm to improve appearance; it is adjacent to El Camino on one side, making it more open; and on the Old County (akin to Alma) side, it is more industrial rather than residential. In contrast, the rails in Palo Alto are close to residences on both sides, with no room for these intermediations.


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Posted by coooper
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2015 at 11:55 am

When using San Carlos/Belmont as an example of an elevated berm solution, be careful to note that the right-of-way in that area is considerably different. It is much wider, permitting some open space alongside the berm to improve appearance; it is adjacent to El Camino on one side, making it more open; and on the Old County (akin to Alma) side, it is more industrial rather than residential. In contrast, the rails in Palo Alto are close to residences on both sides, with no room for these intermediations.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

About CalTrain ridership: 60,000 riders doesn't equal 60,000 individuals. This figure includes riders going north and riders going south. In other words, this means 30,000 people going north and returning home in the evening. In an area with a population well over 4 Million (from San Francisco to Gilroy), that represents less than 1% of the population.

Now, that doesn't mean that something shouldn't be done. I am surprised that something hasn't already been done. Even though ridership is surprisingly small compared with the overall population and commuter base of the Peninsula and South Bay, I think that it would be much more prudent to electrify and either raise or lower the tracks.

The problem is that Palo Alto has two stations (three if you count San Antonio Rd). Since the stations are so close to one another and the increase/decrease would be gradual, would this mean that some of those crossings (e.g., Palo Alto Ave., Churchill, Meadow, Charleston, etc...) lose any sort of benefit from the tracks being raised or lowered?

Obviously, the stations can't be raised or lowered.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2015 at 12:34 pm

Nayeli, I'm quite aware you want to minimize the importance of Caltrain, but we all know that comparing ridership to total population of the Bay Area (people living in Martinez, schoolchildren in Hayward) is pretty goofy. A better picture would be comparing to the traffic counts on 101-280, which is about 400k a day in each direction.


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Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2015 at 12:39 pm

In San Mateo County, many Caltrain stations are elevated along with the tracks.


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Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2015 at 12:43 pm

SteveU wrote: "There was a time when people did not build houses next to the tracks." Really, when was that?

Back in the horse and buggy days when traveling between San Jose and San Francisco was a difficult journey, especially when the dirt roads were muddy and flooded during the rainy season, there were many advantages to living near train stations. Just take a walk around "old" Palo Alto on High street and the surrounding neighborhoods and you will see several remaining victorian buildings. I'm sure there were many more that were eventually torn down to make way for industrial use and office buildings. Some of the oldest houses (built from 1898 - 1904) in Menlo Park are on Mills street which is next to the tracks. There are still houses on Alma Street and Park Blvd. that were built in the early 1900's. My point is that housing/hotels/boarding houses near the railroad tracks is nothing new.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 8, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Nayeli is a registered user.

@ Robert: Apparently, your "awareness" is broken. I am not attempting to minimize the importance of CalTrain. I am simply trying to point out the FACTS about it. This is not to minimize or inflate its importance. It is simply looking at the facts. In the ridership totals 60,000 both ways (30,000 round trip riders per day), then "it is what it is."

That is not to say that CalTrain is not important or that it should not grow. I am simply analyzing what seems to be somewhat misrepresented ridership. CalTrain has its place in the Bay Area. However, it is still only used by less than 1% of the population of the Peninsula or South Bay. It would be nice to try and find ways to increase ridership. One way might be to electrify the train (which could reduce overall costs per train) and lower prices to where it is undeniably advantageous over the prospect of driving.

It isn't about comparing CalTrain with drivers on 101 or 280. It is about drivers on CalTrain versus drivers on every road in the Bay Area from San Francisco to Gilroy (*including 101, 280, Alma/Central Expressway, Middlefield, El Camino Real, etc...). If CalTrain could increase their ridership by a multiple of two or three (or more), then traffic would be noticeably reduced.

Personally, I favor electrifying the train and determining whether it would be better to raise it, lower it or leave it as is. It seems that raising it would be easier and more cost effective (because loading/unloading platforms can easily built alongside it at existing stations).

Still, I think that ridership needs to be increased if support for CalTrain is going to spread throughout the Bay Area.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 8, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> All this fuss over a projected 9 to 28 SECOND delay?

It is about cumulative effects. And cumulative effects are not just the cumulative time wasted by all the people stuck in the congestion and the Greenhouse Gases generated by all the idling vehicles.

The most problematic cumulative effect is on traffic backup. You have vehicles on Alma doing right and left turns onto the streets crossing the tracks. Increasing the delay here results in too many vehicles for the turn lanes and that backup increasingly blocks the thru lanes on Alma (it already happens at times). And the current backup on Charleston and Churchill can extend almost to El Camino, so a decrease in thruput in that direction will likely result in that backup extending into the travel lanes on El Camino.

Then factor in that the VTA wants to have dedicated bus lanes on El Camino which will further increase traffic on Alma, including additional traffic that needs to cross the tracks.


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Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2015 at 3:18 pm

Neil Shea wrote: "PA (and the Peninsula) grew up around the tracks…"

I've seen similar comments on threads about the train, and it implies that prior to the train track being built there were no thriving communities along the peninsula, which simply is not true.

The Spanish established missions in California in the late 1700's; among these, Mission Dolores founded in San Francisco in 1776 and Mission Santa Clara in 1777. El Camino Real connected the missions and, if you've noticed, the train runs very close to El Camino Real along the Peninsula. Later, when Mexico owned California in 1821, the SF Peninsula was divided into land grants with large ranchos. Just pointing out that many years before the train was built, the SF Peninsula was already inhabited by the Spanish and later Mexicans.

After the California Gold rush, logging towns sprang up along the Peninsula to supply redwood for the building of San Francisco. Mayfield (now Palo Alto), Redwood City, and San Mateo were settlements/towns (?) in the 1850's, mostly built around the logging industry. Wealthy San Franciscans were building large estates in San Mateo County in the 1850's. So, it is likely that the train track was built where communities already existed, otherwise it would not have been profitable. Of course the convenience of train travel did encourage growth, but it is not correct to assume that the peninsula was a desolate wasteland before the train. It is more likely that the train was built to transport people between the thriving cities of San Jose and San Francisco, with stops along the way at the already existing towns.

I support the electrification of CalTrain and grade separation at all crossings.


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Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 8, 2015 at 3:36 pm

The reason grade separations were recently built in San Mateo County is because that County voted to fund them as part of transportation allocated sales taxes. In contrast, the recent measures for sales taxes in Santa Clara County primarily went to fund BART to San Jose.

Dumbarton rail is dead. The $110 million allocated for it in the regional tax measure was reallocated to pay for, you guessed it, BART to San Jose.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2015 at 4:07 pm

> Caltrain and transit options in general are increasingly popular. It keeps cars
> off of 101 and gets 50,000+ to work and other activities each weekday

This is little more than the propaganda of people who are only interested in having the State pay for their transportation. The actual ridership numbers need to be divided by two in order to estimate how many people are actually riding the train. Caltrain has steadfastly refused to provide numbers that are closer to unique people than bordings.

Moreover, there are likely to be about 3.5M people in the Caltrain service area--making this 50K (or whatever the real number) to be very small--and very expensive, particularly on a per-capitia/per-ride basis.

Caltrain is another government-funded disaster!!!


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2015 at 4:14 pm

> It is more likely that the train was built to transport people between the
> thriving cities of San Jose and San Francisco, with stops along the way at
> the already existing towns.

At the time the SJ/SF Railroad was constructed, there really weren't that many people living in San Francisco, San Jose, and certainly not on the Peninsula. People backing these railroads most certainly believed, and actually understood, that the trains would eventually haul produce, and people, here and there, around California.

The financial picture for the railroads was such that passenger traffic never was large enough to pay for the costs of building the railroads .. making freight the major revenue source for the railroads. Most people never understood this--and constantly complained that the cost of passenger service was too high. This same failure by passengers to understand the total cost of service continues on today.

The one billion (or more) that will be spent on this white elephant is a total waste of taxpayers funds. Sadly, those who ride this mismanaged black hole of public funding will never be asked to pay for the services that they consume.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Caltrain can't expand its ridership until such time as it improves the service by increasing the passenger space. More trains and longer trains will improve this service and then more passengers can be accommodated. At present, the service is very limited by space on the existing trains.

And for every one of us who lives on the Peninsula, we benefit. We benefit because of all the people who ride Caltrain. We benefit as we can use less congested freeways as a result of Caltrain. We benefit because our teachers are able to get to the classrooms on time, our doctors/dentists can be in their offices on time, and our fresh foods can get to the grocery stores for us to buy. Without Caltrain, all these things would be stuck on our highways in the congestion caused by all the extra drivers and cars on the freeways.

The cost to having no Caltrain is the disruption it would cause in all our lives is much more than any of us imagine and more than just a monetary cost.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 8, 2015 at 4:24 pm

For the record--CA Population during early CA Statehood--

Year CA Pop.
1850 92,597
1860 379,994
1870 560,247
1880 864,694

Source: Wikipage on CA Demographics


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Posted by Neil Shea
a resident of University South
on Jan 8, 2015 at 5:25 pm

It seems many of us agree with PA's recent rail corridor study, we want better East-West mobility across Alma/RR/El Camino. We will probably need to nudge our city leaders on this. As noted, San Mateo County used transportation taxes to build several grade separations (including 5th Ave in Atherton/RWC) while Santa Clara Cty has steered most of our funding to BART.

As Reality Check and Clem described above, gently raising the tracks ~12' so pedestrians and bikes can walk under without going up and down stairs, and then depressing the roadway ~5' is cost effective, straightforward, ped friendly, and minimizes property takings. We can open several additional ped crossings and nicely landscape the berm.

Trenching down ~30' and safely accommodating the power catenary is far more costly but as folks have said, if we think we can find the $$$, we should do the engineering and move the project forward.

This is our town and our county, not someone else's problem. Caltrain is just a JPA with SC Cty representing well over 1/3 of the budget and trackage. Before our city and county endorse another tax for BART we should address the long standing need for grade seps in PA. Supervisor Simitian may want to help.


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Posted by Gerturde
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 8, 2015 at 5:49 pm

Joe, my point is that the Peninsula was already inhabited before the railroad was built, not the other way around. There were thousands of people living along the Peninsula from SF to SJ prior to 1864 when the train started running.

In 1860 San Francisco was the 15th largest city in the U.S. with a population of 56,000 - - larger than Pittsburg PA and Detroit MI. The train was built in 1863 to transport freight and people between SJ and SF and was called the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad (SF and SJ) before it consolidated with Southern Pacific in 1870 (thank you Wikipedia.) Prior to train transportation, the journey from San Jose to SF took about 8 hours by stagecoach and steam boat. If SF and SJ did not exist in the 1860's the train would not have been built.

I'm not arguing the huge increase in population after the train, just saying there were already thriving (for the time) communities and cities on the Peninsula before the train. Many people seem to think there were no people here before the train was built.


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 8, 2015 at 7:42 pm

How much were the tracks raised to recently install the Homer Ave undercrossing?
(Okay, rhetorical question...)


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Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 9, 2015 at 8:38 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Musical
As has been pointed out, You do not need large clearances for pedestrians. OTOH a FLAT 14' is needed for Fire and Utility/Service truck access (It is 16' on Interstates)

BTW San Carlos has Ped tunnels at grade level that I have ridden my Bike thru. I would hope that there would be many such crossings provided in PA. Having to go to Cal Av or Meadow to cross is a PITA. Especially when walking.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 9, 2015 at 9:48 am

Why blight the whole city by raising the tracks to eliminate four (including Alma) localized grade crossings. Instead, localize the impacts and lower the expense by underpassing the crossroads. It works at University and Embarcadero. Why not the others?


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2015 at 10:04 am

Underpasses would be the easiest solution. However I believe the issue is the distance required to grade an appropriate slope may be the preventative factor. For example, the slope for the Embarcadero underpass starts approximately 10m before High Street terminates at the underpass. The Oregon underpass also starts at about the same distance.

I'm not a civil or traffic engineer, but I would guess that if they wanted to underpass Churchill, at least 10 residential properties on the Emerson-Alma block would have to be taken under eminent domain (this would also allow grade level access to Alma). On the other side of the tracks you have the issue of the football field on one side of the road and the homes on the other.

I think the Sand Hill intersection could work. I'm not familiar enough with the other two crossings to comment.


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Posted by Neil Shea
a resident of University South
on Jan 9, 2015 at 11:23 am

Crescent Park Dad is right that the slopes required will result in several property takings. It also forces pedestrians to walk down underground and then back up. Keeping ped crossings at grade and making several more of them opens up our city nicely.

Curmudgeon -- I don't know how you picked your screen name, but when you say "Why blight the whole city..." you are reinforcing the kinds of entrenched positions that have made issue so challenging to address. No one has called San Carlos and Belmont "blighted", in fact the property values there are sky high and the residents are very happy.

If we want to continue to entrench, folks can respond "Why cant you wait an extra 20 seconds in your personal vehicle?", "Why do you want to take my property along Churchill/Meadow/Charleston?" and "If you want a nice suburban life with no train or pedestrians to interfere with your driving, have you considered San Ramon?"


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Posted by Write to Caltrain HERE...Now
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2015 at 11:50 am

Send comments directly to Caltrain here electrification@Caltrain.com and copy City Council at city.council@cityofpaloalto.org . The city has limited authority to directly control Caltrain. Maybe they need to hear from some of their local users.

Arthur Keller's points about diversion of money to San Jose BART are well taken. It might be worth your while to send comments to the County Board of Supervisors as well Web Link .

It would be helpful to have these heavily funded transit agencies working collaboratively to serve the community rather than competing. It would also help if Palo Alto were better represented. Presently, San Jose runs the show at the county level, hence VTA's relative disinterest in us. You can see how interested Caltrain is in our community.

If we want key decision-makers to pay attention to these problems, we must make sure they KNOW what the perceived problems are locally and we must help them identify feasible solutions. Grade separation will exceed $70 million per intersection times three intersections. Palo Alto doesn't have the resources to solve this problem on our own. We must find a way to engage the transit authorities in a problem-solving process. Whining won't do it.


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Posted by Neil Shea
a resident of University South
on Jan 9, 2015 at 2:12 pm

@Write to -- you make good points. Notes:

* Caltrain is a JPA (Joint Powers Authority) of the 3 counties it serves. It does not have its own tax stream or taxing authority. As discussed, San Mateo county directed their own transportation tax revenue to building grade separations there. Santa Clara can do the same but we have had other priorities.

* Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian represents the North County, and lives and maintains an office in Palo Alto. Recently in the legislature he was instrumental in negotiating the 'blend' that puts HSR trains on the existing Caltrain tracks without any new grade seps as originally planned, as well as the funds for electrifying Caltrain. He will have to vote on the new transportation tax for BART that SC Cty is discussing. As much as any one person, Sup. Simitian can broker a solution to this. It would be great if Gennady or Palo Alto Online would get the Supervisor on the record on this. His contact info is here: Web Link

* Costs depend on the approach selected for the 4 at-grade crossings. The approach of raising the tracks some and lowering the street some could cost less than $70m per crossing while trenching half the city down 30'+ could cost up to a $Billion. With so many folks saying a trench is the only option we can consider, no wonder our electeds try to avoid this issue.


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Posted by Neil Shea
a resident of University South
on Jan 9, 2015 at 2:29 pm

About the $Billion trench/tunnel, there are real issues of how to dig through our low water table and the 4 creeks that run through PA (San Francisquito, Matadero, Barron, Adobe), including pumping stations, etc. And how not to harm the El Palo Alto tree's roots.

A less costly trench must prevent things being thrown in on the tracks, or the far more expensive tunnel must ventilate diesel exhaust since freight trains still have trackage rights.

If that is the only acceptable option then let's start on the engineering and raising the $$$.

But if we would stop saying that San Carlos & Belmont are 'blighted' then the solutions may be easier and more affordable then we think. And we could fence the track off from suicides and greatly improve cross-town mobility.


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Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2015 at 3:16 pm

Have we learned anything from Tesla?

"All-Electric Locomotive Has 1,000 Batteries, Runs 24 Hrs on Single Charge"
Popular Science ~ October 7, 2009 Web Link


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Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 9, 2015 at 3:47 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Mr. Recycle

Actually no. the elevated track in San Carlos is much more ugly than the trees next to the tracks I see today, which also filter pollution, which berms do not.

In terms of cost, I've never seen a true cost comparison. Caltrain never included the land acquisition costs required to construct a berm and a below grade crossing, nor have I ever seen any value assigned to air rights if the train was trenched, and buildings and parks were built over half the trench. Both these numbers would change the equation considerably. I would much rather have a apartment building and more pedestrian/bike crossings than an unsightly berm, which would also mean that what noise remained would be spread much wider. While there would be no more horns or engine noise, the actual sound of trains on a track is quite loud. Having been around elevated electrified railways in Chicago and NY, i would only consider them quieter than the current trains, but not at all quiet.

As I have double paned windows, the noise of commuter trains is negligible so I doubt that will change and I've gotten used to the horns. If I'm awake, I still notice freight trains. So I see no real improvement from electrified trains per se for the surrounding neighborhoods.

If we had trenches, I would expect almost no noise at all. What I want is a solution that will improve conditions for everyone, in perpetuity, not a one-sided solution that helps 10,000 additional commuters, and worsens conditions for hundreds of thousands living in neighborhoods surrounding the tracks.


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Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 9, 2015 at 4:59 pm

As I said before...elevated tracks that are enclosed.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 10, 2015 at 10:07 am

One of the main headaches is Charleston Road. Yesterday at 4:00 PM the road was fully utilized by cars parked in the one-lane street from Alma to San Antonio. End-to end car traffic that was not moving - supposedly going east. Having one lane only on a major commuter street was suppose to be an "experiment". From where I am sitting that Experiment has fallen short of the expected goals. We will have a big problem solving the underpass dilemma but we can resolve the surrounding problems that add to the major problem.
Charleston Road should be returned to the two lane street going both ways so that people are not using surrounding neighbor streets to move along, or worse yet the bike lane - which I see traveling west on Charleston as you come up to the Alma and trains have stopped the traffic for a while.
Why in Palo Alto are we confounding common sense regarding the movement of car traffic?

Side note - a group of us were on the Steven Creek Trail which runs through an area from west of El Camino to Shoreline businesses - with many overpasses for bikes going over / under the major thoroughfares. This are has a major set of transmission lines so it is a perfect location for the path.

Mountain View and Sunnyvale have produced the perfect route for bikes that is car-free and it was full of people going to work in the Shoreline area.
Biking to work is great, many people doing it - but it does not have to be on the most well used city streets.


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Posted by Gridlock: It's Official
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 10, 2015 at 11:34 am

(see also all the related stories on Google News)


Web Link

OAKLAND -- The Bay Area freeway commute is moving at its slowest pace in over a decade, as an economy that has shifted into overdrive leaves drivers idling on gridlocked roads.

In its first congestion report card in five years, the Bay Area's transportation planning agency said that average congestion -- defined as traffic moving 35 mph or less -- increased 65 percent in the Bay Area from 2009 to 2013.


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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2015 at 1:48 pm

If there's no grade separation and trains run more frequently, many of these cross streets will be unusable during rush hour.

It will probably be faster to park a car on each side of the tracks and walk across the train crossings.


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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2015 at 12:04 pm

"Curmudgeon -- I don't know how you picked your screen name, but when you say "Why blight the whole city..." you are reinforcing the kinds of entrenched positions that have made issue so challenging to address. No one has called San Carlos and Belmont "blighted", in fact the property values there are sky high and the residents are very happy."

Even after pondering this statement for a couple of days I cannot understand the logical connection between my screen name and reinforcing an entrenched position, nor what preventing the blighting of Palo Alto has to do with calling our neighbors blighted. [Portion removed] But I discerned long ago that this would be a much smaller forum if the censors censored on the basis of faulty or nonexistent logic.

The brutal fact is that our tracks run in a very narrow corridor, right next to residences and the Paly playing fields. There is no room for to accommodate the soil angle of repose that would permit a garden berm; the tracks would be elevated on a concrete structure that would have all the exquisite aesthetics of the old Embarcadero Freeway, with wires and their supporting girders added for that finishing touch of ugly.

It is far less expensive and blighting to entrench the cross streets at the four affected grade crossings without connecting them to Alma, which they would also underpass.

It is cheaper yet to simply close the grade crossings during peak train times and let the commuters find their way around through MP and MV. Maybe that will incent their jobs to move elsewhere and solve our jobs-housing imbalance.


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Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:14 am

Palo Alto has a different set of problems then San Carlos and Belmont. The train tracks in San Carlos and Belmont run through the industrial part of those cities. In Palo Alto the train tracks are running through the residential part of the city and next to the university. Yes we have commercial next to the tracks but not hard industrial sections.

San Mateo is building a new city next to the tracks but takes into consideration the requirement to raise the structures. Redwood City has tracks that are street level but a huge underpass in one section to accommodate the traffic in the downtown. Each city has a different set of challenges but they are not necessarily compatible.


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Posted by ODB
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2015 at 11:07 am

You could dig a trench running the entire length of Palo Alto and put the train in it. Now let's think. How would this trench dovetail with the existing underpasses at Oregon, Embarcadero and University? You would have to completely rebuild them. What about the high water table it will pass through (the Oregon underpass must be pumped 24 hours per day due to the water table)? The train stations at Calif. ave and Palo Alto would need some kind of access built to the underground trains in this trench. What happens when you get to the creek/El Palo Alto? Presumably this trench would go under Alma street near El Palo Alto. Once you get north of the creek you're no longer in Palo Alto but in Menlo Park/San Mateo county. There would still be the problem of venting diesel fumes from the Union Pacific freight trains. How many billions will all this cost and where would Palo Alto come up with the money? The devil is in the details.

Suppose you cover this trench (it is now no longer a trench but a tunnel) and lease the land on the surface. Eventually someone will want to build a multi-story office tower on top of the tunnel and then Palo Altans will have something else to whine about: "the Berlin wall that divides our city". Alternatively, you could put a bike path on top of it and congratulations! You've just built a multi-billion-dollar bike path.

The suggestion that trains stop at the affected intersections is laughable. It would wreak havoc with the train travel times and CalTrain and CAHSR would never allow it. Are you saying the trains would stop ONLY in Palo Alto and nowhere else on the line because Palo Alto can't get it together to do grade separations when the problem is already solved elsewhere along the line? Laughable.


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