Community Notebook: Roundtable discussions on rail corridor | News | Palo Alto Online |


Community Notebook: Roundtable discussions on rail corridor

Upcoming meetings dedicated to specific intersections

Palo Alto is exploring a variety of options to separate railroad tracks from local streets at four intersections in the city, a project expected to last several years. Map by Kristin Brown.

Connecting Palo Alto, the city's outreach project aiming to address long-term changes to the 4-mile rail corridor, will host several community roundtables in the coming weeks to discuss potential grade separations at Palo Alto's four rail intersections.

As both the state's high-speed rail project and Caltrain's electrification plan loom over the city, Palo Altans are grappling with different options to separate railroad tracks from nearby streets. Connecting Palo Alto has hosted two open workshops to discuss potential options, including a Caltrain trench, submerged roads and hybrid options, but the four upcoming roundtables will address each crossing location more specifically.

According to Claudia Keith, the city's chief communications officer, these roundtables are meant to be part of the data-gathering that Connecting Palo Alto will use to guide its planning process. While the larger workshops engaged people in the general issues of grade separation and Measure B funding, Keith said the upcoming meetings are meant to "narrow the universe of alternatives" of grade separations for each location and hear from residents who have not yet participated in the discussion.

This could mean discussing logistics, monetary constraints; grade separation possibilities that residents want to eliminate from consideration and any other concerns that residents near the tracks may have. On the whole, Connecting Palo Alto hopes to trim the number of options up for debate.

Keith stressed that although the roundtables will have staff in attendance and potentially facilitators, the point is to hear from residents rather than focus on presentational materials from the city.

All meetings are scheduled from 6-8 p.m. The first meeting on the Charleston Road and Meadow Drive rail crossings will be on Tuesday at the El Palo Alto Room, Mitchell Park Community Center, 3700 Middlefield Road.

The second will focus on the Churchill Avenue crossing on Nov. 16 at the Aspen Room, Palo Alto Unified School District, 25 Churchill Ave.

The third on Nov. 28 will cover the Palo Alto Avenue crossing at the Community Room, City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.

A final meeting was originally scheduled for Nov. 30 to garner community opinions on trench and tunnel options, which were widely considered the preferred alternative among past workshop participants despite a $1.15 billion estimated cost. The discussion has since been postponed to early next year.

As an incentive, Connecting Palo Alto is providing city of Palo Alto notebooks and "For the Love of Palo Alto" lapel pins to attendees. Visit for more information and to RSVP.

Related content:

Palo Alto seeks resident input on rail design

Behind the Headlines: Redesigning rail


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13 people like this
Posted by simple math
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Nov 9, 2017 at 10:22 am

The population of Palo Alto is about 67,000. $1.15 billion divided by 67,000 is $17,164 per person (including children). That is almost $70,000 for a family of 4. Is your family and all your neighbor's families willing to pay your share for the $1.15 billion train trench? A tunnel instead of a trench will probably double that price. In comparison, elevating the train tracks would cost a small fraction of the price, in addition to being completed much more quickly.

2 people like this
Posted by Patrick
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 9, 2017 at 11:41 am

I agree with simple math. Why don't they build elevated tracks with sound walls? Or have the roadways tunneled (despite acquiring some nearby properties via eminent domain)? It would be much cheaper than a trench that runs through most of the city.

Grade separation is crucial but there are better alternatives to the super trench

15 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 9, 2017 at 12:00 pm

If O($1B) really is the number, then, yes, I'm willing to pay my share -- over an appropriate length of time-- that is what bonds are for. Below-grade railroad tracks would be a large enhancement to the city.

3 people like this
Posted by EFS
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 9, 2017 at 3:57 pm

Questions, to which I do not advocate any particular answer:

1. Can the proposed grade separations be usefully talked about separately or should this issue be considered a single "package"?
2. Do we need grade separations at all four of the current grade-level crossing? What would be the traffic impact of converting any one or more of them to bicycle-pedestrian overpasses?
3. Can Palo Alto actually build a trench if neighboring communities do not also?

8 people like this
Posted by Not that easy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm

@ Simple Math - Mott MacDonald studied a trench for Charleston and Meadow. By using some design variances, the price dropped from about $1.05 billion to $490 million. That's a big difference - and that is the price of 2 grade separations together.

Here's the reference: Web Link

Page 3, Table 1

The details matter. Caltrain can travel at a 2% grade but we must ask for a variance. Freight trains can also handle 2% and HSR (if it ever comes) can handle even more aggressive grades.

There are no easy answers, but it is important to look at how assumptions drive up the cost.

In 2008 - the High Speed Rail Authority claimed it needed 4 tracks the entire way from SF to SJ. Their assumption was 12 trains an hour in each direction! When the details were probed, it was clear they would never run that many trains and the Authority had to scale back their plans to 4 trains per hour (what is now known as the Blended System).

Always check the assumptions!

14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2017 at 8:42 pm

Does anyone have any imagination?

Try to imagine a 14 foot clearance for trucks. Above that another 5-6 feet of bridge span structure to carry the weight of freight trains. On top of that another 14-16 feet of CalDOT style banal cinder block sound walls.

Sounds like a real winner.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chase
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 13, 2017 at 12:14 pm

By the time this project got the ok, it would be double or triple the cost. Only two options...close the tracks or live with it.

8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 13, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Underground, please.

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2017 at 9:42 am

"close the tracks"

Not an option. The trains aren't going away, period.

8 people like this
Posted by Round Tables to prevent consensus
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2017 at 3:49 pm

If they are going to have people sit at several tables with staff taking up some of the seats, the purpose of such an arrangement is to prevent the attendees from hearing what many of their fellow citizens think.
The purpose is to prevent a consensus from developing.
The staff controls the conversation. The city has used this device in the past.

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