News

Caltrain's proposed four-track station could disrupt Palo Alto's rail-redesign plans

New business plan proposes building passing tracks in high-growth scenario, plausibly at California Avenue stop

For years, Palo Alto leaders have insisted that the city must come up with a plan to separate the railroad tracks from crossing streets to accommodate an expected surge in Caltrain riders.

But as Caltrain moves closer to adopting its own growth plan, the agency is considering two concepts that could require the construction of four tracks over a large section of Palo Alto — a project that could significantly disrupt local plans for what's known as "grade separation."

Caltrain's business plan, which aims to guide the rail system's evolution between now and 2040, projects a significant spike in ridership, fueled by the agency's pending electrification project (which will boost the number of trains) and its planned expansion to downtown San Francisco. The two projects are predicted to boost the ridership numbers from the current level of 62,000 daily riders, to 161,000 in the "baseline" scenario, 185,000 in the "moderate-growth" scenario and to 207,000 in the "high growth" scenario.

While the baseline scenario wouldn't require any major infrastructure upgrades in the Palo Alto area (aside from Caltrain's pending electrification project), the other two scenarios would each require additional tracks to be built either in Palo Alto or elsewhere in northern Santa Clara County, Caltrain's senior policy adviser Sebastian Petty told the City Council on Monday during a study session on the business plan.

The moderate-growth scenario would require the construction of a four-track station somewhere in northern Santa Clara County, Petty said. The agency's plans depict that station at the California Avenue stop, though Petty noted that the facility can also be built in downtown Palo Alto, at the San Antonio Road station in Mountain View, or at the Mountain View station.

The high-growth scenario could have an even more dramatic impact on the local rail corridor. According to the agency, it would need up to 15 miles of four-track segments along the corridor, including a possible segment in Palo Alto or Mountain View. The four-track segments would be necessary to accommodate the state's proposed high-speed rail system, which has been plagued in recent years by funding shortages, critical audits and waning political support.

Given these setbacks, Caltrain is in no rush to come up with design options for the moderate- and high-growth scenarios.

"We would likely not want to advance specific planning for those passing track further until high-speed rail reaches some clear milestones and it's clear they're coming and we'll be planning for their arrival into the corridor," Petty said.

Either option would have a major impact on Palo Alto's plan to separate the rail corridor from local streets, a project that the City Council also discussed Monday night (when it eliminated a citywide tunnel from its list of rail-redesign options) and for which it plans to select a preferred alternative by October.

Councilman Tom DuBois said he has some concerns about the prospect of building a four-track segment in northern Palo Alto or by California Avenue. The city, he noted, has encountered significant constraints in pursuing its own grade separation plans, including the San Francisquito Creek and the iconic El Palo Alto redwood tree. The San Antonio Road station has a wider right-of-way and presents a much better opportunity for infrastructure improvements, he said.

For Palo Alto, Caltrain's evolving plans for infrastructure improvements are both a potential obstacle and a blessing. On one hand, the agency's plans to construct passing tracks or a new station could have significant ramifications on the city's grade-separation plans, with potential impacts on project costs and needed right-of-way acquisitions.

On the other hand, Caltrain officials expressed on Monday a new willingness to help Palo Alto and other cities implement grade separations — an approach that was welcomed by council members.

The business plan considers potential grade-separation projects up and down the corridor and concluded that they would collectively cost between $8.5 billion and $11 billion to implement. Caltrain doesn't currently have the funding to make these projects a reality, Petty said.

Even so, he told the council that grade separations are an important consideration in Caltrain's plans for needed infrastructure investment. The agency, he said, is "on the cusp of a change" in how it looks at grade-separation projects, which in recent years have been spearheaded by local jurisdictions and have largely been limited to San Mateo County.

"We are suggesting that there does need to be a corridorwide look at grade separations," Petty said.

Petty said that by working together, the various cities can be more effective in lobbying for state and federal funding sources. Given that neither Caltrain nor local cities have anywhere close to the needed funding, a "layer cake" approach with multiple sources (such as local, state and federal agencies) would be required to make these projects a reality. He noted that individual grade-separation projects have not had success in acquiring federal funding.

"We hope that by acting as a corridor we'll be able to leverage significantly larger amounts of state funding than currently is available for grade separations," Petty said.

In addition to finding funds for long-term infrastructure projects, Caltrain is also looking for a more immediate revenue influx to support its growing operations. The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board of Directors, which oversees Caltrain, is now considering going to the voters with a tax measure in 2020.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a former member of the Caltrain board, noted that the agency currently doesn't have dedicated funding. Its funding mostly comes from fares and contributions from the three counties that Caltrain serves: San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara.

"Long term, I hope (the measure) goes to the voters and I hope it's structured in such a way that it has a chance of passing," Kniss said.

Related content:

With new plan, Caltrain prepares for ridership surge

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by If HSR then 4 tracks
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 15, 2019 at 4:32 pm

If HSR then 4 tracks is a registered user.

Important to note: According to Petty, the 4 tracks needed at a station in the moderate growth scenario are for HSR.

And the 4 tracks in the high growth scenario are ALSO for HSR.

Also note, the Caltrain business plan is a JOINT effort between Caltrain and HSR.

Anyone else wondering what would ACTUALLY be necessary if HSR doesn't come to pass anytime soon (with soon being 30-50 years)?

Caltrain should be required to produce INDEPENDENT analysis from HSR's work to verify what Caltrain's future needs are - otherwise, we're overbuilding for a reality that is unlikely to ever come to pass.

We need grade separations for both Caltrain AND congestion and traffic - but passing tracks... that's a whole other story. Would Caltrain/HSR pay for the additional cost of passing tracks? Why should Palo Alto pick up that cost?

Where are our Regional Elected officials on this issue?? Who on our City Council is taking a leadership role on this?


3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 15, 2019 at 5:25 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

If you go up and down the tracks via El Camino the sections that go through commercial areas have a lot of space for parking, any mechanical support, and added tracks. Our track is going through a residential area. That should qualify some distinction to the planners that any residential area is not the place where other functions for the train are going to be put in. If you go south on Alma the tracks are in a separate section and not against houses. Check with Menlo Park - they have cleared all of the space near the tracks and must have some plan as to what they are going to build. If you go up to Redwood City they have new construction next to the tracks so they are done - no one is going to tell them to change up anything. There has to be some distinction between residential and commercial areas. Our section would not be a place where trains are competition with each other for tracks.


2 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 15, 2019 at 6:40 pm

Old Steve is a registered user.

Caltrain has the authority to build any passing tracks wherever the operating and right of way characteristics make the most sense. Lawrence Station already has passing tracks, so you can't go too far south. Belmont and north are already elevated up past San Bruno. Where those tracks are at grade, they are boxed in by BART. Since Caltrain ownes the Peninsula Right of Way, the PUC is who they have to get approval from. Passing tracks on curves are not as efficient as far as Right of Way goes.


8 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2019 at 9:03 pm

I'm not sure why people think this is such an issue. Any high-volume commuter rail is going to need 4 tracks and/or passing tracks for some segments in order to provide the best combination of local and express service at rush hour. Would you rather have a 12-lane freeway?


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 15, 2019 at 9:23 pm

Caltrain's growth projections are pure fantasy fueled by wishful thinking.

BART ridership is down for the third year in a row. BART officials attribute the drop in ridership to the popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. The self-driving car is the disruptive technology that will kill passenger rail for good, and it is only about a decade away.

Caltrain is a dead man walking. PCJPB/Caltrain should be preparing for a dramatic reduction in ridership over the next decade, but instead they are gas-lighting the public in one last desperate attempt to rake in funding and steal private property through eminent domain.

State run industry at its worst.


23 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on May 15, 2019 at 9:51 pm

> The self-driving car is the disruptive technology that will kill passenger rail for good, and it is only about a decade away.

The self-driving car, despite its current status as Silicon Valley fad, does not solve the geometry problem of moving lots of people in not much space without using much energy. That's why Uber and Lyft are doomed even if they do somehow manage to take the driver out of the equation in the next decade.

In one graphic, here is why self-driving cars can't solve a geometry problem by throwing more technology at it:
Web Link

Buses (most especially self-driving buses!) and trains solve the problem of moving large number of people quickly without using much space or energy. Caltrain is key to the future of Palo Alto, and I'm glad the city is finally tuning in to the plans that the agency has for its own property.


2 people like this
Posted by Space Configurations
a resident of Community Center
on May 15, 2019 at 10:13 pm

Would the trains be narrower with a four-track RR configuration?

I was thinking maybe something along the lines of single seats aligned in one continuous row or perhaps a string of individual pods for personal privacy.



8 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 15, 2019 at 10:16 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Bart has a giant problem - it is used by the homeless who spread out all over the seats. I used to go up to take Bart but then the parking was too difficult. The stations are dirty. Lots of strange problems without enough police or security to manage the whole trip. Caltrain is much nicer but the stops are inconvenient for downtown SF. I am not a commuter so only using on off-times. I used to really like Bart but now it is just weird.


15 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 16, 2019 at 12:04 am

@Clem,

Try to think outside the little box formed by your bias. As a thought experiment try to imagine a self-driving automobile that is half the length, half the weight, and requires half the following distance of current automobiles.

Also, try to imagine how much geometry it takes to move people by rail if you account for all of the "geometry" between trains.

Passenger-rail ceased being a transportation technology in the 1960s, but lives on as a state subsidized new-age religion.


12 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2019 at 2:54 am

"a self-driving automobile that is half the length, half the weight, and requires half the following distance of current automobiles."

The Messerschmitt!

These babies have been around for decades. Install some self-driving technology and you've got a brilliant solution to all of the peninsula's transit problems. Think how FUN it will be tooling down Bayshore in a motorized tricycle. Not even Elon Musk could think of something like that. Tear up the train tracks and start building fancy restaurants on the ROW. We don't need Caltrain any more.

Web Link


15 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2019 at 10:49 am

As long as VTA and Samtrans can't fix the last mile problem (i.e. transportation between Caltrain stations and the origin/destination homes and offices), there's no f'ing way that these passenger growth scenarios can come close to being true.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 16, 2019 at 10:54 am

@Clem

Unfortunately, the Bay Area public transportation system has not found a way to solve the last mile problem. Four tracks does address that problem.

I need to get into a car to get to Caltrain. When I get off Caltrain, I find another ride to get to work, which could be a bus. Some people do use a bike for the first and third legs, but most people don't feel safe biking on Bay Area streets, not to mention that stolen bikes are a regular occurrence.

In fact, many Silicon Valley employers already have their own buses due to the last mile issue.

Uber and competitors are finding more efficient ways to transport passengers, such as Uber Pool. The next step could be to operate vans and buses to pick up and drop for even greater efficiency. There's certainly a need. Not every company is the size of Google and Facebook, which can afford to run a fleet of buses to run back and forth all day. Smaller companies will want a solution too and will look for transportation providers to fill the gap.


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 16, 2019 at 10:55 am

I meant to say "Four tracks does NOT address that problem."


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Stanford
on May 16, 2019 at 11:04 am

I just returned from China where they have high speed trains that run on tracks above the ground and stop at stations, also above the street level. This would be a great solution for Palo Alto. Cars could drive on streets that go under the tracks and station ... and barriers and cameras could make it difficult for people to commit suicide by train.


21 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on May 16, 2019 at 11:18 am

Jonathan Brown is a registered user.

So they eliminate the tunnel option because there wasn't enough width, and two days later they say the track width needs to be doubled anyway? The rat is starting to smell like a skunk....


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2019 at 8:06 pm

"As long as VTA and Samtrans can't fix the last mile problem (i.e. transportation between Caltrain stations and the origin/destination homes and offices)"

I guess one of the perks expected in Privileged Palo Alto is public transit right to the doorstep of your $3 million McMansion; until people come to Palo Alto Online crying big tears about the noisy commute vehicles rumbling up and down their beautiful tree-line streets.

Walk or bike? That's beneath us Palo Altans!


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2019 at 8:24 pm

"So they eliminate the tunnel option because there wasn't enough width, and two days later they say the track width needs to be doubled anyway?"

The tunnel was eliminated largely due to expense and technical obstacles by the PACC which operates in a vacuum and doesn't talk to PCJPB, the owners of the rail infrastructure.

The subsequent four-track decision was made by that same PCJPB. It was by mere coincidence that CPA had already decided against a tunnel.

Eliminating the tunnel was one of the smartest moves the city could have made. It was a nice pipe dream but ...


7 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2019 at 9:10 pm

"I guess one of the perks expected in Privileged Palo Alto is public transit right to the doorstep of your $3 million McMansion; until people come to Palo Alto Online crying big tears about the noisy commute vehicles rumbling up and down their beautiful tree-line streets."

Oh, give me a break, Maurice. This is not a Palo Alto-only problem. This is a systemwide problem for Caltrain, which is, by the way, the reason why I included Samtrans and not just VTA. That's why the projected ridership numbers are completely bogus.


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 16, 2019 at 9:11 pm

A rail trench having a 2% grade was studied and a report delivered to CPA in 2014:

Web Link

It is a practical idea and would require the taking of NO residential parcels. The trench would extend from San Antonio Road to approximately Matadero creek, separating the train tracks from Charleston and Meadow Drive.

A 2% grade is needed for the trench to fit between San Antonio road and Matadero creek; however, as stated in the HMM report, a 2% grade requires a design exception from PCJPB.

A 1% grade does not require a design exception. The HMM report describes the impracticality and the considerable added expense of a 1% trench.

Now is the time to reach out to PCJPB to determine if an agreement in principle can be reached for a design exception for a rail trench having a 2% grade. If PCJPB refuses to grant a design exception then this option can be eliminated from consideration.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2019 at 2:19 pm

California Avenue is the best place to build a 4 track station.

Caltrain already owns the open land around the station. One platform can be easily moved 30 feet back into the parking lot Web Link .
In contrast, San Antonio station is boxed in by roads either side so putting 4 tracks through there would require major surgery Web Link .
Palo Alto station already has space for a third track and moving a platform to accommodate a fourth is no big deal, Caltrain owns all of the surrounding land Web Link .

Lawrance station already has 4 tracks: Web Link

Station platforms are going to get rebuilt anyway to take advantage of level boarding with the new trains.

The ROW is probably not wide enough for 4 tracks in a trench because the trench walls are 10 feet thick and there has to be a 3 feet gap between the train and the trench wall.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 17, 2019 at 4:04 pm

"The ROW is probably not wide enough for 4 tracks in a trench because the trench walls are 10 feet thick and there has to be a 3 feet gap between the train and the trench wall."

This is where it would pay for the rail committee and PCJPB to collaborate. A committee of amateurs working in a vacuum can only get so far.


Like this comment
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2019 at 3:46 am

@Morice "A rail trench having a 2% grade was studied and a report delivered to CPA in 2014"

That study assumed a maximum Caltrain speed of 90mph, but Caltrain plans to eventually operate the new electric trains at 110mph Web Link, and express trains at potentially 125mph.

Faster trains need longer vertical curves to keep g forces on passengers within federal limits. I suspect it is not possible to pass over Oregon Expressway and under Baron Creek with larger radii vertical curves and a 2% grade between curves.


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2019 at 5:34 am

"That study assumed a maximum Caltrain speed of 90mph, but Caltrain plans to eventually operate the new electric trains at 110mph Web Link, and express trains at potentially 125mph."

Forget about that 2% design exception.

Why don't you tell us what IS possible instead of what isn't?


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2019 at 7:13 am

"Why don't you tell us what IS possible instead of what isn't?"

Raising the rail 15 feet and lowering the road 7 feet is possible. It is the least expensive option and has 1% grades, 125mph vertical curve radii, no creek problems and can be 4 tracks wide in the existing ROW with minimal or no property takes.

A 4 track berm can be built in two halves, a two track berm can be built on the East side of the ROW while the existing tracks run on the ground on West side. After the tracks are moved onto the berm, the second half of the berm can be built when needed on the West side of the ROW. One advantage of a berm is that it can be built from the inside in a confined space Web Link, minimizing the need for a shoo-fly track.

For the last mile problem, if you don't like to bike, you may soon be able to rent a Renault Twizzy Web Link. One day Americans may even be allowed to own one Web Link Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2019 at 7:42 am

"Raising the rail 15 feet and lowering the road 7 feet is possible. "

Now it's my turn to tell you what isn't possible. Hybrid has already been shown to require property takings.

This isn't going to fly politically.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2019 at 8:05 am

"Hybrid has already been shown to require property takings."

This isn't a show-stopper. The city can offer the home owner 2x fair market value to buy their property, and the city can re-sell the parcel after re-locating the road access. This would still be much less expensive than a tunnel/trench.

If Caltrain asks the VTA to start an eminent domain process, the home owner gets fair market value and not a penny more. CPA would not be involved so political consequences are minimal.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2019 at 8:56 am

"This isn't a show-stopper. The city can offer the home owner 2x fair market value to buy their property, and the city can re-sell the parcel after re-locating the road access. This would still be much less expensive than a tunnel/trench."

This is Palo Alto. The litigation alone would push this project out for years, if not decades.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 18, 2019 at 9:00 am

If this is going to happen, and it appears that this is only recently announced in an official capacity, then it is a much bigger issue than Palo Alto can solve on its own.

We need to have grants, state and even federal help with this. If there is money available for improving transportation in the state or federal budgets, then this is the type of thing it should be used for.

On the bright side (if there is such a thing in this messy situation) if Palo Alto is having to have four tracks it does make us different from the other Peninsula cities. I mean, we always act as if we are different, but in this case we are. No other city is getting the added pressures of having to contend with extra space devoted to track. This is not one of those issues that can be ignored. It is a biggie.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2019 at 10:51 am

@ "No other city is getting the added pressures of having to contend with extra space devoted to track."

Yes they are:
----
Passing Track Needs
• 15 miles of new 4 track passing tracks: South San Francisco to Millbrae, Hayward Park to Redwood City, and northern Santa Clara County (shown: California Avenue to north of Mountain View) Web Link
----
But anyway, Caltrain property is already wide enough for 4 tracks, as originally envisioned in 1864, so Palo Alto does not need to "content with extra space".

What Palo Alto can't do is design a grade separation that blocks future four track operations. A two track tunnel or trench isn't going to happen.


3 people like this
Posted by Ronald
a resident of Downtown North
on May 18, 2019 at 12:32 pm

No surprise to me that the 4 track 'option' is still on the table. Recall that much if not most of the funds for the electrification project came from CA HSR. Caltrain sold credibility to the fraudsters at CA HSR to electrify, now I can not imagine that CA HSR isn't pulling the important strings at Caltrain, hence the perseverance of the 4 track option.


3 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2019 at 1:37 pm

CPA could negotiate with PCJPB to build the passing tracks in a city which ISN'T considering a trench or tunnel. Sunnyvale? Atherton, Menlo Park and Mountain View have grade sep plans but I don't think they involve a trench/tunnel. The problem is, our rail committee seems to be averse to dealing with PCJPB in any way, shape or form.

"The city can offer the homeowner 2x fair market value to buy their property, and the city can re-sell the parcel after re-locating the road access. This would still be much less expensive than a tunnel/trench."

I've sold my home at FMV and have a $3.5 million profit on top of that. I'd have more than enough dollar bills to wipe away the tears.

"I'm a pampered Palo Altan and hybrids are so ugly and they divide the city like a Berlin wall. We need to form a couple more committees and spend another 10 years thinking this over at Mitchell Park coffee klatches."

Fine, then enjoy watching the passing Caltrains at rush hour as you wait in your SUV at a grade crossing which isn't moving.

Hybrids are good enough for San Carlos which had foresight and now avoids this mess. But we're pampered Palo Altans and what's good enough for San Carlos certainly isn't good enough here.


3 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2019 at 5:06 pm

The process for taking property (in the remote event that it is needed) is well worn and nothing new. VTA would do it on PCJPB’s behalf. The conceit that this would somehow be more difficult or drawn out in Palo Alto is laughable. These things get sorted out in court after the agency takes possession.

Caltrain will deal with Palo Alto when the city stops dreaming too big with OPM (Other People’s Money). There is absolutely no rush, and the process of getting to a sane solution is already started with the demise of the citywide tunnel.


Like this comment
Posted by Coquelicot
a resident of Ventura
on May 18, 2019 at 6:14 pm

Coquelicot is a registered user.

Bury Alma in a trench and put passing tracks above at grade level.


Like this comment
Posted by maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2019 at 7:39 pm

I ask this question of anybody who knows more about the ROW and PCJPB.

Would it be feasible to put these passing tracks in a city which has no plans for a trench/tunnel? Atheron, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Sunnyvale? AFAIK these cities are well along in their grade sep projects and don't plan to dig a trench or bore a tunnel.


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2019 at 7:49 pm

"Bury Alma in a trench and put passing tracks above at grade level."

What about the cross streets (Charleston and Meadow)? How do they traverse the tracks? That is the crux of this problem.

IIRC this option has been studied and driveway access for the sidestreet residences was the fly in the ointment.


3 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2019 at 10:01 pm

With Caltrain only, the most natural overtake point between locals and expresses is at the midpoint between SF and SJ, namely Redwood City. This will be the next four track section and is sufficient for the 8 trains per hour per direction service pattern proposed by Caltrain, in the absence of HSR.

Add HSR express trains and now you need two additional overtaking locations that fall most naturally at the 1/4 and 3/4 points of the corridor. This is why Caltrain wants to preserve the option for four tracks south of Peers Park. You can’t really move this to another city, as the southern part of Palo Alto is the 3/4 point between SF and SJ.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 18, 2019 at 10:32 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Redwood City - have you been up there lately? You have newly constructed condominiums directly next to the tracks as well as new commercial buildings directly next to the tracks. They have done a great job up there. All new - beautiful. That city is rocking and making the most of their downtown. I do not see any part of that being changed because there is no room for any change. The whole downtown is under construction and it is looking great. I would not plan on that changing in any way. Time has passed, opportunities missed. The rest of the world keeps building and upgrading their locations.

As to PA it is a residential area - not a commercial area. Menlo Park has cleared all of the land next to the tracks so where I am sitting they have the space at this time to add any overtaking locations. There is no reason why some of these elements need to be forced down our throats when there is real space elsewhere. And since HSR is not going to be completed think again about any major changes.


Like this comment
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 18, 2019 at 11:01 pm

There is a strip of ROW that comes off the main line in RWC near the 84 and continues on to the Dumbarton rail trestle, near where the RWC tower used to be. Put your cockamamie passing tracks there and call it good.

That said, if CPA commits to a trench it also commits to a shoofly track with hulking Caltrains hurtling down Alma street. Imagine the outcry when the citizenry sees big trains traveling just a few feet from residences on Alma.

"One advantage of a berm is that it can be built from the inside in a confined space Web Link, minimizing the need for a shoofly track."

No shoofly track would be a big win.

Offering homeowners 2x market value seems like a good idea now. It's cheaper than a trench or tunnel. With their $3.5 million windfall the displaced residents can move to Woodside and be far, far away from the trains.


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2019 at 1:40 am

@Resident 1-Adobe Meadows

• "Redwood City - have you been up there lately? You have newly constructed condominiums directly next to the tracks as well as new commercial buildings directly next to the tracks."

Its almost as if they are planning ahead for the day that HSR bring workers living in Gilroy and Fresno to Redwood City and they walk to work from the station.

• "I do not see any part of that being changed because there is no room for any change".

Redwood City has never been in denial about HSR, none of the recent construction projects need to be changed to accommodate passing tracks.

• "Menlo Park has cleared all of the land next to the tracks"

The cleared land next to the track will be where the temporary shoo-fly tracks go when Menlo Park builds its grade separations and new station. Web Link

• "There is no reason why some of these elements need to be forced down our throats when there is real space elsewhere."

There is PLENTY of space in Palo Alto for passing tracks, the Caltrain ROW is 110 feet wide and 4 tracks can comfortably fit in 80 feet. No Palo Altans will be inconvenienced by adding Passing Tracks.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2019 at 3:44 am

"VTA would do it on PCJPB’s behalf. The conceit that this would somehow be more difficult or drawn out in Palo Alto is laughable."

We already went through this. So I'm going to repeat myself again. It depends on how "public good" and "injured party" are defined. It is not clear that grade separation is required for the broader public good - the only benefits are within the city limits of Palo Alto.

It will be challenged in court. Knowing the folks at risk, there will be big money behind any challenge, even before eminent domain proceedings start. And any Palo Alto city council member that even thinks of supporting this effort will not have a position after the next election.

In the end, all this talk about passing tracks is going to lead to no grade separation and closing of crossings.

Let's not also forget that going to court will expose the fraud of the projected passenger numbers, which will torpedo any future expansion projects for Caltrain. Don't think they want to put that at risk.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 19, 2019 at 6:45 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Agree with above. Eminent domain was used to take farm land in valley and nothing is going to be built on it. The state is just confiscating land at dirt prices and then leasing it back at big prices. That is going to stop. Jerry Brown started that and now owns lots of land that is just sitting there. Mr. hedge fund manager Tom Steyer bought a lot of land in Pescadero then put it in name of non-profit so no school taxes for city. What a guy. We have a pattern here that was learned way back when on east coast. From where I am sitting any one who had land taken by eminent domain with nothing done on it for initial purpose should sue the state. This whole racket started with good intentions back when the valley was filled with orchards, but now filled with buildings. Take Caltrain up to SF and you will see a lot of land near the tracks used as a dumping yard. Owned by the RR's, city and state with nothing done on it.


5 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2019 at 9:51 am

@Me 2, we are in vehement agreement. The matter would be settled in court and bringing more funding for attorneys would indeed draw things out, but AFTER the parcel is in possession and under construction.

It's hard to imagine a scenario where any property acquisition would be needed; the Caltrain ROW is vast south of Peers Park. So the whole issue is moot. Caltrain will some day build passing tracks on their land, and there is nothing the city can do about it.

Four-tracking the peninsula rail corridor has been planned for more than a century. Take a walk through the University Ave underpass sometime, and look up: you will see not two sets of track support girders, but four!


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2019 at 1:29 pm

So a trench is out due to the 4-track requirement.

Berms/hybrids require some properties to be taken which will result in lawsuits and political resistance.

Where does that leave Palo Alto's grade separation?

Take the properties and hope that the city wins the lawsuits and deal with the political fallout?

It's starting to sound like berms/hybrids + property takings or else no grade sep in Palo Alto.

One wonders if the amateur rail committee is tuned to this wavelength.


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Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2019 at 2:23 pm

Is a 4-track viaduct through south Palo Alto an option?


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2019 at 2:42 pm

The city would not be a party to any expropriation proceedings. That would be VTA v. individual property owners.

Personally, I don’t believe your consultant’s contention that a hybrid can’t be built inside the existing ROW. There may be some subtle sandbagging going on, given how controversial property taking has become among Palo Altans. A sure way to torpedo an alternative is to claim it will result in property takes.

I am almost certain you will ultimately end up with a short hybrid grade sep at Meadow/Charleston with no property taken. It will look exactly like San Mateo 25th Ave currently under construction, down to leaving room within the ROW for future expansion to 4 tracks.

The only uncertainty lies in how long it will take the city to get to that position. Fortunately Caltrain is in no hurry at all... it’s entirely CPA’s job to get its unruly citizenry into line.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 19, 2019 at 4:14 pm

Yes, a hybrid can be built with no property acquisitions, but it may be possible to reduce the cost, by say $30 million, by acquiring a property for $3 million.
If the berm has a 1% ramp at each end, for every additional foot in height, the length of the berm grows by 200ft. Lowering the road will be less expensive than raising the berm, up to the point where too many properties lose their driveway access.

An engineer can do the math to find the least cost sweet spot between raising the berm and acquiring properties.

Since the value of a property in Palo Alto is in the land and not in the structure, the City can buy the property for fair market value, demolish the structure and re-configure the driveway access, then sell the parcel for pretty much the same price they payed, so really property acquisitions don't cost much.

By the time an eminent domain process goes to court, the California Public Utilities Commission will have decreed that the grade separation should proceed.
The Constitution gives the CPUC the "Exclusive power ... To determine and prescribe the manner ... and to prescribe the terms upon which the separation shall be made.", so the County court will tend to defer to the CPUC judgement that the grade separation is a public necessity. Web Link


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 19, 2019 at 6:38 pm

Taking residential property involves not only cost but also political resistance and possibly litigation.

Let them litigate — and lose.

If berms/hybrids can be built without taking property, so much the better.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2019 at 3:02 am

@Maurice "If berms/hybrids can be built without taking property, so much the better."

But a higher berm brings more opportunities for passengers to peep into back yards, which you hate. Better to sacrifice a few properties to keep the berm lower to minimize costs and peeping.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 20, 2019 at 8:11 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

In case you have not noticed funding from the federal government has been terminated due to the comments from our Governor and the bad management of this project. It does not help that the governor in his state of the union address choose to make snarky comments about the President - which were totally bizarre and pointless. And the CA AG which proudly says that he has created 50 law cases against the federal government - so proud of that. It is like digging a hole so deep that you will never get out. The Governor needs to write Dear Abby as to what his best approach is. And we need to write Dear Abby as to what to do with an AG who is a compulsive control freak. None of what the government of this state is doing is going to produce a satisfactory resolution to our transportation issues relative to HSR and it's various funding components.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2019 at 10:08 am

The cost of below-grade and tunnel solutions for Palo Alto alone are just too high. Unfortunately, we will end up with a hybrid solution, so, let's start figuring out how to make it pedestrian/bicycle safe and friendly. Let's also make sure that it scales up to the 4 tracks it all will be eventually without wasting money on re-work.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2019 at 4:19 pm

"But a higher berm brings more opportunities for passengers to peep into back yards, which you hate. Better to sacrifice a few properties to keep the berm lower to minimize costs and peeping."

This problem is starting to solve itself by the process of elimination. No trench, no tunnel. What's left?

I'll say it again. My residence is worth $3.5 million FMV. CPA offers me 2x FMV or $7 million. With that I can buy a new residence and have a very tidy profit left over. What's not to like?

It's cheaper than digging a trench and building the attendant shoofly track.


2 people like this
Posted by HerbF
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 20, 2019 at 5:23 pm

HerbF is a registered user.

Tunnels have been built under bays and rivers, through mountains, and under dense urban areas. Eliminates many of the problems than the PA whiners dwell on. Costs big, but its worth it. Tunneling technology continues to advance and become more economical.

This area continues to become more dense to deal with our extreme housing shortage.

Whatever happens is a long way off. Time to think big.


2 people like this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2019 at 5:26 pm

"Tunnels have been built under bays and rivers, through mountains, and under dense urban areas. Eliminates many of the problems than the PA whiners dwell on. Costs big, but its worth it. Tunneling technology continues to advance and become more economical."

Over hill, over dale ...

Read the thread for an explanation of why a tunnel or trench won't work here.


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Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 20, 2019 at 6:20 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

WE are now being told that there will be black-outs of electricity due to problems at PG&E and unresolved issues concerning how electricity is generated in the future. We keep adding people but reducing the infrastructure as to how to support the population. Can you imagine a blackout while BART people are under the bay? While people are on the train and it just stops and you are no where near your stop?
I think we need to maintain the diesel capability - that means proper tracks for a diesel train in the event we have a major electrical outage. You have to have alternative options to cover all of the problems that we are being told will happen.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2019 at 6:29 pm

"I think we need to maintain the diesel capability - that means proper tracks for a diesel train in the event we have a major electrical outage. You have to have alternative options to cover all of the problems that we are being told will happen."

They'll need diesel to go down to Gilroy. A diesel locomotive can also tow an electric train when the power goes out.

The ROW is owned by Union Pacific south of Tamien, so Caltrain can't just go in and start electrifying


2 people like this
Posted by Casey Jones
a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2019 at 6:38 pm

We need nuclear-powered trains. That is the future.


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Posted by herbf
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 20, 2019 at 8:03 pm

BART has backup power in the bay tube. Can be expanded to the entire system.
What's the reason a tunnel won't work if it works in so many other places?
There's a SF outflow tunnel that actually crosses the San Andreas fault.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2019 at 8:07 pm

"What's the reason a tunnel won't work if it works in so many other places?"

Again, read this thread. It's right there.


2 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on May 20, 2019 at 11:07 pm

The reason a tunnel won't work is that with Palo Alto's small population, the assessment per resident would be astronomical. Once the voters are told the price, the vote of the tunnel would be very lopsided against it.

I don't know where tunnel supporters think the money will come from.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2019 at 12:14 am

Where is AECOM in all of this? Articles in Palo Alto Weekly rarely mention them.

The city is paying them money. What are they doing to earn it?


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

"I'll say it again. My residence is worth $3.5 million FMV. CPA offers me 2x FMV or $7 million. With that I can buy a new residence and have a very tidy profit left over. What's not to like?"

If you're leaving Old Palo Alto anyway, sure, take the money and run. But that is just your circumstance. Knowing some of the folks who are in danger of losing their house, they will sue not to have to leave the neighborhood. Especially because very few properties are even available in north Palo Alto, and within OPA, very few are available for that $7M.

Even if they "lose" the litigation, the project costs will balloon out of control, knowing how California runs its capital-intensive projects. It's more than the cost of the properties. This project will be tied up in court for years. Just like HSR, which is essentially dead.

And, if you don't believe that property takings are required for hybrid, you have the diagrams made by professional engineers. It's all on the internet. Feel free to try to come up with a hybrid design that doesn't require property takings. We already went through that exercise. If you lose driveway access, that property is taken.

"By the time an eminent domain process goes to court, the California Public Utilities Commission will have decreed that the grade separation should proceed.
The Constitution gives the CPUC the "Exclusive power ... To determine and prescribe the manner ... and to prescribe the terms upon which the separation shall be made.", so the County court will tend to defer to the CPUC judgement that the grade separation is a public necessity."

All Palo Alto has to do is close all the at grade crossings. Done. Essentially grade separated for free. I guarantee that would happen before any eminent domain proceedings start.


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Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
20 hours ago

@Me 2
@"they will sue not to have to leave the neighborhood"
LOL, under what legal statue can you do that? In American capitalism $ value is all that matters.

@"And, if you don't believe that property takings are required for hybrid, you have the diagrams made by professional engineers. It's all on the internet."
I don't believe it, can you post a link to those diagrams.
The recent AECOM Meadow-Charleston-Hybrid design shows no lost driveway access: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
20 hours ago

"All Palo Alto has to do is close all the at grade crossings. Done. Essentially grade separated for free."

Ah, I see. Solve the problem by making it 10 times worse.

Then you can come back here to Palo Alto Online and cry big tears over the horrible gridlock in Palo Alto.

Brilliant idea! Why didn't our high-priced engineering consultants think of this? We could have saved a lot of money.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
20 hours ago

"The reason a tunnel won't work is that with Palo Alto's small population, the assessment per resident would be astronomical."

There is also the issue of whether the ROW is wide enough for a trench/tunnel given JPB's contemplated 4 tracks.


4 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
19 hours ago

@Me2,”the project costs will balloon out of control, knowing how California runs its capital-intensive projects. It's more than the cost of the properties. This project will be tied up in court for years.”

That’s nonsense. Property acquisition is a well-oiled process that is very quick and painless. The way it works is that money and time are spent in court AFTER possession. VTA is doing it right now for a few slivers of land needed for Caltrain electrification. It’s not the big deal you seem to think it is.


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

"Ah, I see. Solve the problem by making it 10 times worse."

Yep. It's the Palo Alto way.

"Property acquisition is a well-oiled process that is very quick and painless."

It won't happen.


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

"The recent AECOM Meadow-Charleston-Hybrid design shows no lost driveway access:"

Hilarious. That's not a hybrid. It's essentially a berm with minimal dropping of the street. Duh. The rail is still over 14+ feet above grade.

Again we already went through this discussion. Sure, if you elevate enough, you don't need to dig that deep. This is practically just a berm.

That shows how slanted the direction AECOM was given. To call that a "hybrid" is laughable.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
15 hours ago

"This is practically just a berm."

So what?


4 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
14 hours ago

You have got to love the way commenters from other communities get a thrill up their leg when they think about evil Palo Alto residents having their property taken by an floundering state industry. It is almost as intoxicating as day-dreaming about the abuses of the Chinese cultural revolution.

And that is really what passenger-rail advocates are really all about. It is not about transportation, because passenger-rail is very expensive by any metric, and door-to-door a very inefficient means of transportation. It is all about using infrastructure construction in a hopeless attempt to achieve equal outcome. Equal outcome by reducing Palo Alto, in any way small or large, to the lowest common denominator.

Meanwhile BART ridership is down for the third straight year in a row and VTA light rail has never even come close to achieving its promised ridership projections.


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Posted by Maurice
a resident of Old Palo Alto
13 hours ago

TBM or Clem might know this better than me, but perhaps they are keeping the cross streets at a shallow depth to preserve the ability to turn on and off Alma, or to avoid taking residential properties near these intersections?

If a hybrid or berm can be built entirely on the ROW, then why is a shoofly track depicted in this illustration?

Web Link

Are the rail committee and AECOM aware of this technique for building on the ROW?

A shoofly track would be highly disruptive.


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Posted by Staying Young Through Kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
13 hours ago

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

How has there been no story in PAOnline or from the PA Post about the loss of $900M in funding for HSR? So much of this discussion relates to potential pitfalls predicated on the enormous increase in train traffic due to both electrification and HSR.

Is electrification counting on money from the state HSR authority?

The needs, justifications, and finances of every part of this are intertwined and hard to follow. Endless finger pointing and misdirection. It would be great if someone could offer some real clarity on the ACTUAL needs, whos in charge of what, and who's providing the funds.

I know this request is a tall order....is there someone out there able to provide real answers based on facts?

As for the loss of funding, a well written and logical editorial in the Mercury News today about why the Fed is right pull future funding, but should not seek early repayment of funds already offered.


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Posted by Staying Young Through Kids
a resident of Old Palo Alto
12 hours ago

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.



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Posted by Six Track Mainline
a resident of Stanford
9 hours ago

Electrification money is unaffected by the current fight between the Trump administration and the state of California. I wonder what the feds argument will be. They let Hawaii keep all their money, and the Honolulu rapid transit system has been a real boondoggle on a scale far greater than HSR.

Any four track segment would be required to be grade separated by the FRA as I understand it. The line should build out four tracks because there is far higher latent demand on the line than is currently being served. Once the transbay transit center is connected to Caltrain it will be a far more appealing commute option for many.


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Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
6 hours ago

The optimum split between berm height and road depth can be calculated in terms of cost. Digging the road lower becomes exponentially more expensive because it runs into constraints. The main constraints at Charleston and Meadow are the junctions with Park Boulevard. There is already 5% slope from the Park Boulevard junction to the bottom of the underpass, to dig the underpass deeper, the junction plus the three streets leading to the junction would all need to be lowered, all of the streets have driveways leading off them, so digging the underpass just a bit lower would create a step change in cost. Web Link

HSR gave Caltrain $600 million towards electrification of the corridor, it came out of the $9.9 billion Prop1A bond fund so is unaffected by Federal moves, and anyway Caltrain has already spent it. Caltrain electrification qualified for Prop1A funding because it is a "portion of high speed train corridor", so the debate is closed about where HSR will run on the peninsula.

Caltrain does not make a profit so all capital improvements like grade separations depend on grants from anywhere they can get them. City, County, State, and Fed. First design your grade separation, then go looking for donations to build it.

Yesterday HSR sued the Feds to prevent de-obligation of $900m, their argument will be similar to the letter they put out earlier Web Link .
Feds have been verifying work completed and paying the contractors bills every month for years, now suddenly they are saying it was all a mistake and they didn't realize what they were paying for!

CHSRA has enough money to finish the segment currently under construction without the Feds $900m.


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

"If a hybrid or berm can be built entirely on the ROW, then why is a shoofly track depicted in this illustration?"

Because it's apparently not true. You will have to do shoo-fly tracks if you build or tunnel anything on the ROW. '

The non-shoofly track scenario is magical thinking.


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