Group tasked with cutting rail-redesign options instead adds 3 more | Town Square | Palo Alto Online |

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Group tasked with cutting rail-redesign options instead adds 3 more

Original post made on Jan 16, 2020

When Palo Alto established a committee last year to work on a proposed redesign of local rail crossings, the goal was to winnow down the menu of options. Instead, much like the panel, the list of possibilities has only expanded.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, January 16, 2020, 9:37 AM

Comments (63)

19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2020 at 11:19 am

At last. Some innovative thinking. It is about time.

Well done and thank you.


7 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of University South
on Jan 16, 2020 at 11:34 am

Maybe I am missing something, but Alexis's "idea" doesn't sound like a grade separation. It sounds like traffic will still cross the tracks at-grade, thereby making it unlikely that Measure B Grade Separation funding can be used for it. Get rid of it!


11 people like this
Posted by Reality Checkout
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2020 at 1:08 pm

No, Reality check, the Alexis idea is a grade separation.

As the article says, Charleston and Meadow would have "road underpasses with one lane below grade going in each direction". The road goes under the tracks. No traffic would cross on the tracks.

The cars "remaining at grade" are those turning from westbound Charleston onto Alma.


26 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 16, 2020 at 1:12 pm

I was originally hoping for a tunnel, but now I just pray for anything but a viaduct.


9 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:13 pm

So, this would effectively dig a tunnel under existing homeowners' yards? I'm confused by it.


16 people like this
Posted by Tunnel
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:20 pm

When we look at the cost of a tunnel, please remember that these things are typically financed over decades. 1 billion dollars divided by 30 years divided by 70,000 residents is less than $49 per resident per year. We also have significant capacity to tax companies larger than 50 people by a head tax and generate revenue that way. What if we even gave some rights like for a brand of scooters along the right of way a tunnel creates? I realize the land doesn’t belong to PA but if we pay for the tunnel it seems to me we could negotiate something.


10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:32 pm

Interesting ideas, but, they all look bicycle/pedestrian unfriendly. Maybe I'm not understanding the proposals. Is there a link to a website with more/better diagrams?


7 people like this
Posted by To reality check
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:49 pm

I think you misunderstood the Alexis option. If I am getting this right, it would move cars across the rail corridor below grade, keep lower volume eastbound right turns at grade (these cars may have to wait for trains, but there are a lot fewer cars making this turn).

I want to understand better how the turning bay would work, and I want to see the plans for all turning movements. I suspect some info is missing in the article's description. Alexis talks about accommodating all turning movements, but the writer does not describe all of them. We need good analysis of how this works with projected traffic and all turning movements. I also want to understand very specifically how bicycles and pedestrians would be accommodated. A lot of kids (and other people too) bike and walk to schools, parks, playing fields and library, etc. on this street.

When you consider what constructing the current options will cost, and length of the projected construction periods, it may be worth considering this option. At first look, it seems to address the full set of problems, saves money in the long term AND minimizes construction time and related disruption of crosstown traffic. If analysis shows that the Alexis option can deliver all of that, it might be a better solution.


7 people like this
Posted by the Russian's used a pencil
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 16, 2020 at 2:58 pm

These seem like the only viable options. All this talk about trenches, tunnels and viaducts are either too expensive or waste of money with hideous results.

Simply follow the underpass model that already exists at University, Embacadero and Page Mill. The reason why no-one's suggested viaducts or trenches at these crossings is that they work!

Re-use the straight-forward solution with a proven track (sic) record.


17 people like this
Posted by Get real
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 16, 2020 at 3:03 pm

These new ideas, while well meaning, are ridiculous.

This is a 100-year project, much as the University and Embarcadero underpasses were. They’ve been around 80 years so far, and have at least 20 years of life left.

Reducing Meadow or Charleston to one lane in each direction under the tracks won’t handle today’s needs, let alone 20, 40, or 60 years in the future.

Palo Alto needs to build something that will serve for 100 years.

Honestly, a raised berm would best serve the community. It gets the tracks up and out of the way, creates possibilities for a bike path through town, and makes cross-town connections possible.

Fears about noise and privacy are way overblown. Yeah, I get it that people in Southgate who bought homes backing up to railroad tracks don’t like it — but we have to look at what is best for the entire community, not a special interest group.


10 people like this
Posted by Carl Jones
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 16, 2020 at 3:25 pm

Re: the Alexis idea. this is my understanding.
Charleston and Meadow are both 4 lanes at Alma and the RR tracks. The proposal is to dig a tunnel for ONLY TWO LANES - one lane in each direction can pass under the tracks. This is cheaper than a 4-lane tunnel and does not require extra property.

The remaining (outside) lanes on Charleston and Meadow would intersect Alma at grade. Only right turns would be allowed - from Alma to the cross street, and from the cross street onto Alma. Cars on the cross street wishing to go left on Alma instead go under, then make a U-turn. Cars on Alma wishing to go left on the cross street instead go right, then make a left onto the cross street and go under.

This is very similar to an "H" intersection between a (major) highway and a crossing road.


5 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 16, 2020 at 3:55 pm

@Get Real: Only a viaduct gets the railroad completely "up and out of the way." A berm keeps it squarely in your face ... the only visibility or connectivity is by punching underpasses through the berm, and, if the berm is not high enough, these must dip down and be equipped with water pumps to keep them from flooding. And if the berm is high enough to permit un-dipped underpasses, you might as well use a viaduct (if you can afford the upcharge) to get new additional visual/physical cross-town connectivity via the usable, activatable linear space created underneath.

Here's an example from Melbourne: Web Link
The Ohlone Greenway is a local example: Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Melbourne?
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2020 at 4:37 pm

How are the elevated Melbourne grade separations going? Aren't there 70+ of them? What I see is not very enthusiastic. Examples: Web Link and Web Link (These are from residents, not the train people, as your video is.) Are we learning lessons from what is going on there? I was surprised to read, for example, that no sound barriers were put in because the "infrastructure" was supposed to handle it (and it's not).


7 people like this
Posted by screedek
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 16, 2020 at 4:43 pm

I like the Churchill idea: I would imagine most drivers crossing east at Churchill want to turn either left or right onto Alma and do not need to continue east. This idea considers that option while allowing pedestrians and bicycles to cross with more safety. I'm sure residents on Churchill east of the tracks would appreciate it as well. Might even work for Meadow too. Not sure it would work for Charleston though. Too many cars.


7 people like this
Posted by Get Real
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 16, 2020 at 6:16 pm

Reality Check - yes, you are correct about viaduct. Pardon me, I misspoke earlier and wrote berm when I mean viaduct.

It gets the tracks up and out of the way.

Trinity Rail Express has a nice double-track viaduct along Rock Island Avenue in Irving, Texas. It also has a nice bike trail underneath.

Here's a look: Web Link


24 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 16, 2020 at 6:27 pm

There could be a nice bike path under a viaduct if we had effective laws and law enforcement. This isn't Texas. We'd have vagrants and muggers. Probably RVs permanently parked under it.

In addition, a viaduct would destroy the privacy and quiet enjoyment of everyone for a quarter mile on either side.


15 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Dad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 16, 2020 at 7:03 pm

this entire project is like an optical illusion... the closer we get the farther we get. How is it possible that we are now adding even more proposals to the existing short-listed proposals that the consultants have told us are the best options. Not to critcize the well meaning citizens but haven't we had consultant experts working on this for years already to the point that it would be baffling to me that a few locals can do a better job of identifying the options.

If i'm correct in that assumption then how is it possible we're allowing thsi to continue to spiral away from making an actual decision?


13 people like this
Posted by Melbourne?
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2020 at 8:08 pm

Fairmeadow Dad - I know that at least one of the people who wrote a new option, Elizabeth Alexis, has been working on this train project for over a decade and is very well informed. I would imagine that the other options are equally so. I can certainly see the need for a third option at Churchill and it's an interesting one. So although it is painful, it may not be as ill-advised as you imagine.


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 16, 2020 at 8:34 pm

Screedek, why do you think people crossing Churchill want to turn either right or left on Alma? I cross Churchill straight (to/from Embarcadero and El Camino Real). School busses used to take this route to the Paly Churchill entrance, too, turning onto Churchill from Embarcadero, don’t know if currently doing that)


7 people like this
Posted by AnExample
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2020 at 9:27 pm

Take a look at Martin Luther King Drive in Oakland between 52nd street and 61st street. It has elevated BART tracks running down the middle. The elevated portion along Alma would look something like that. Here's a street view; you can 'drive' yourself along it.
Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Melbourne?
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 16, 2020 at 10:14 pm

Thanks for the link. Is that viaduct built to support freight trains like we have?


8 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2020 at 6:00 am

I'm skeptical that these designs really fit in the space available. The California Department of Transport Highway design manual Web Link indicates that for a new construction, preferred lane width is 12 feet, a multilane undivided highway should have 8 foot paved shoulders, and a single ramp should have a 4 foot shoulder on the left and 8 foot shoulder on the right.

For the Mike Price proposal those minimum widths add up to: 2+8+12+12+12+12+8+1+4+12+8 = 91 feet, but Alma Street is only ~66 feet wide including sidewalk.

A 2 lane road with > 400 vehicles per day should have 8 feet shoulders on both sides Web Link , this suggest that a two lane underpass would consume most of the existing road width, leaving no room for adequate driveway access.

Perhaps there is a reason the original consultants did not propose these options.


25 people like this
Posted by Tunnel
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 17, 2020 at 7:54 am

Elevated tracks of any kind suck are are being proposed by people who are either ignorant or don’t care about community. Berms and viaducts should be off the table.


10 people like this
Posted by Plan for the future
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 17, 2020 at 9:23 am

The only approaches that are future-proof and fully solve all of our needs are either an elevated viaduct or a tunnel.
We need high-quality, quiet, efficient, modern, green public transportation. We need green through-ways for bikes and pedestrians. Keeping the trains at ground level will not provide either nor eliminate needless deaths.
This is 21st-century Palo Alto. Let's stop wasting time with 18th-century solutions. We need to rethink the whole problem of public transport, and not focus on piecemeal fixes that will improve little.
Absent that, I suggest we do nothing -- these proposals will be a big waste of time and money that will be obsolete very quickly.


15 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2020 at 9:43 am

No one knows for sure if Caltrain will agree to have its trains submerged in a trench/tunnel; the rail planners are making their plans without any outreach to Caltrain.

Caltrain will want to know the slopes involved and how the trench/tunnel will be kept dry during storms. A slope of greater than 1% will require a design exception from Caltrain. If a trench/tunnel in Palo Alto becomes impssable due to storm flooding it will immobilize all Caltrain service. Caltrain will no doubt take that into consideration in evaluating Palo Alto's proposal. The city has a frankly poor history of preventing flooding at Oregon expwy, so why would a train trench be any different?

A 1% trench was studied several years ago by Hatch, Mott, MacDonald and the takeaway was that it would be hideously expensive. There is also the matter of undergrounding one or both stations.

The city of Burlingame reportedly studied submerging the trains and gave up on the idea.

Any proposal which does not involve submerging the trains is worthy of consideration.


19 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 17, 2020 at 10:24 am

Upon more close review of Mike Price's idea, we actually like it. It is clever and would cover many of the concerns of Palo Alto residents. It could be replicated at other crossings too (including some that are currently closed).

Of all of the ideas proposed thus far, this might be the most viable. The viaduct, on the other hand, is the worst idea.


12 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2020 at 10:38 am

"Upon more close review of Mike Price's idea, we actually like it. It is clever and would cover many of the concerns of Palo Alto residents."

Did you read TBM's post? How are you going to make it fit in the available space, given the regulations that are in place?


10 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2020 at 11:08 am

@ "No one knows for sure if Caltrain will agree to have its trains submerged in a trench/tunnel;"

What we do know is that Caltrain is moving forward with it's "Long Range Vision" policy, which, under the "High Growth" scenario imagines a need for four tracks between Palo Alto station and San Antonio station. The existing right-of-way through Palo Alto is already largely wide enough for 4 tracks, so Caltrain is unlikely to accept any proposal that thwarts future quad tracking, such as a trench or tunnel, or any other "permanent encumbrance" to their valuable right-of-way. Web Link

Mountain View and Sunnyvale have both managed to design grade separations that are low cost and don't encumber Caltrain. They each have designed two grade separations for under $200 million the pair, largely within their share of the $700 million VTA funding.


10 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 17, 2020 at 12:50 pm

How does the XCAP or anyone else make any decision re Churchill (Do not close it!) or anywhere else w/o knowing what happens with Palo Alto Avenue? If Palo Alto Ave is to be closed, that throws way more traffic onto Embarcadero, which would be relieved if Churchill remained open. Which comes first? How can any decision be properly evaluated without including Palo Alto Ave? Stupidity.

Also, please admit that none of this is actually inevitable. Electrification does not make more frequent trains on the Caltrain corridor inevitable. No it does not. And neither does modernizing the signaling system. Nope. Helpful, but not sufficient to speed up the trains. Only if all or most of the remaining 42 grade crossings are separated along the Caltrain corridor can the trains go faster, electrified or not, because the grades must be separated to meet federal safety regulations for going above 79 mph. Regular grade crossings aren't safe enough to go beyond the 79 mph limit. To separate those 42 remaining grade crossings will cost approximately $8 billion, which no one has. The funding is not there. But they want to get it from us. Also, the last mile into the SF Salesforce Transit Center is not part of that grade separations $8 billion --- and would add another approximate $10 billion in cost to the whole project. The funds aren't there --- except they want to get them out of our pockets. Since increased Caltrain frequency is NOT inevitable, without all the expensive grade separation work being completed, we Palo Altans actually do have a decision to make --- do we actually want any of this to occur, as we do NOT need to finance expensive grade separations that will come out of OUR pockets to make our town less livable and permit more frequent train service. We can say NO, or say no, thank you. And what if RWC (Whipple grade crossing estimated to cost $300 million) or San Mateo or Sunnyvale do not come up with THEIR funds to do THEIR expensive grade separations? Then no increased train frequency, b/c no expensive grade separations all along the corridor. AND, we Palo Altans will have spent our money for nought --- on OUR expensive grade separations. For what? To help other people travel SLIGHTLY faster from SF to SJ or vice versa, and have more frequent trains going that block off half our town from the other half as Caltrain tracks split our town in half and we can't get across the tracks there anymore. All of this is all based on the charade that HSR will occur in the SJ to SF corridor, so that some of the remaining HSR funds can be accessed to make our lives less pleasant. HSR is not going to happen. But they are pretending that it will. BUT we can be comforted to know that the funds we provide will for expensive grade separations will be used to provide high paying construction jobs for construction trade union members and fat profits for the overall contractor. Bully for them, but what about us?


5 people like this
Posted by the Russian's used a pencil
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 17, 2020 at 12:51 pm

@getreal
This is a simple problem with well known constraints. There is no need for viaducts, tunnels or berms.
You're just wasting everyone's time and money by pushing for completely over-engineered solutions.


9 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 17, 2020 at 2:00 pm

"the "High Growth" scenario imagines a need for four tracks between Palo Alto station and San Antonio station. The existing right-of-way through Palo Alto is already largely wide enough for 4 tracks, so Caltrain is unlikely to accept any proposal that thwarts future quad tracking, such as a trench or tunnel, or any other "permanent encumbrance" to their valuable right-of-way."

This is the danger of doing all this rail planning in a vacuum, without interfacing with Caltrain.


8 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2020 at 4:16 pm

@Melbourne? asks how the Melbourne viaducts are going. Here's are some articles about how well the communities/neighbors who had the same concerns that are being raised here are liking their new viaduct (and, yes, it can and does carry the occasional freight train):

More than a year on, has 'sky rail' turned suburbs into ghettos?
Web Link

A unifying act: Caulfield to Dandenong Level Crossing Removal Project
Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 17, 2020 at 8:23 pm

And, yes, in Melbourne — just like here or anywhere — there will always be vociferous and unalterably opposed viaduct foes as discussed in this scholarly article:

Elevated rail is more effective than trenching. So why is it so hard in Melbourne?
Web Link

As for the distances a 20-foot viaduct — as is being proposed in Menlo Park and Palo Alto — can be seen from: any most two-story house is well over 20 feet tall ... so the distance a 20-foot viaduct will be visible from in any neighborhood should substantially be *less* than the distance any two-story house is visible from. Yawn.

Oh, you want to count the height of the widely-spaced thin catenary poles atop the viaduct? ... just compare them to any of the thousands of 50-foot light and/or wire-carrying power poles all through our communities! Dreadful, eh?


14 people like this
Posted by Comments on New Proposals
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 18, 2020 at 2:52 am

It is about time we see proposals from community experts like Elizabeth Alexis being seriously considered.

Most traffic from Churchill between El Camino and Alma turn on Alma other than bicycles and pedestrians. I'm wondering if there can be a better path for bicycles and pedestrians across Alma and the train tracks than in the new proposal. Mike Price's proposal is creative though.

The proposal for Charleston and Meadow appear to allow turns from and to Alma from and to the east side (the Middlefield side), but the U-turn option is a problem for the traffic from and to Alma from and to the west side (the El Camino side). Through traffic on Meadow and Charleston across the train tracks and Alma is a requirement and must continue for both routes.

I'm not sure why we would want a viaduct over Embarcadero. It's not clear how it would affect the Stanford station. This option would make sense if there were a viaduct over Churchill, which major parts of the community does not like.

TBM's lane width requirements are for *highways* not local arterial streets like Alma, Meadow, Charleston, and Churchill. So the new proposals can be made to work.


16 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 18, 2020 at 8:15 am

Major parts of the community do not want Churchill closed.


10 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 18, 2020 at 3:56 pm

TBM: "What we do know is that Caltrain is moving forward with it's "Long Range Vision" policy, which, under the "High Growth" scenario imagines a need for four tracks between Palo Alto station and San Antonio station. "

Uh, no. What Caltrain *hopes* to do is move forward with its MODERATE GROWTH scenario. No effin' way that they'll need four tracks between PA station and San Antonio Station.

If you're going to play in someone else's backyard, it's best to be clean with the details.


7 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 18, 2020 at 6:08 pm

Are the passing tracks exclusively for Caltrain or will they be used by HSR which will likely never materialize?


4 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 18, 2020 at 7:43 pm

I love to see this new, innovative thinking and thank the people who came up with these. I live near Churchill and the Price concept is the best I've seen yet. I do hope you continue to study it. Did wonder about pedestrians and cyclists - including Paly students - they are still stuck behind the gates for many trains per day.


5 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2020 at 11:46 am

@Much Ado: if and when future HSR and/or Dumbarton Rail begins also operating on the Peninsula Caltrain line, all available track infrastructure (e.g. passing tracks) will be available to dispatchers to keep trains of any type running on (or as close as possible to) schedule. Restricting passing tracks to one train type makes no practical or operational sense.

The latest version Caltrain's Business Plan (approved, but still under refinement) shows "one 4-track station needed in northern Santa Clara County." The accompanying diagram on PDF page 38 shows that to be either Palo Alto, California Ave, San Antonio, or Mountain View: Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2020 at 2:27 pm

@Comments on New Proposals "TBM's lane width requirements are for *highways* not local arterial streets like Alma, Meadow, Charleston, and Churchill. So the new proposals can be made to work."

Palo Alto's street design standards Web Link have nothing to say about street and shoulder widths, therefor the applicable standard is the "State of California, Department of Transportation Standard Specifications". Web Link

The proposals should clarify if/how they fit by including cross sections with standards based dimensions, like: Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2020 at 6:46 pm

"The latest version Caltrain's Business Plan (approved, but still under refinement) shows "one 4-track station needed in northern Santa Clara County." The accompanying diagram on PDF page 38 shows that to be either Palo Alto, California Ave, San Antonio, or Mountain View"

Let's do the math:

24 trains per hour in both directions (16 Caltrain and 8 HSR) times 8 peak hours = 192 trains, plus 18 trains off peak in both directions times 4 hours = 72 trains plus 192 = 264 trains in both directions in a 12-hour period.

I'm sorry, but those figures are not even remotely credible.

Now let's factor HSR out of the equation:

16 Caltrains times 8 hours peak = 128 plus 12 off peak times 4 hours = 48 + 128 = 176 trains per in a 12-hour period. These are trains going in BOTH DIRECTIONS.

Each train requires an operator and one or more conductors. The labor costs will add up and will be exacerbated if the trains are not packed full of fare-paying passengers.

A train to Gilroy every 30 minutes? Those trains will be nearly empty. I very much doubt there is enough demand to make it viable.

This is why I call Caltrain's vision "vaporware".


6 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 3:09 am

More math:

Caltrain's average weekday ridership in 2016 was 62,416 boardings per day:

Web Link

Figures for Caltrain are elusive, but the Stadler KISS double-deck four-car EMU's ordered by Azerbijan have a capacity of 919 passengers, or 229 passengers per car:

Web Link

If Caltrain is ordering 6-car EMU's, that's 1,378 passengers per train.

62,416 divided by 1,378 is about 46 trains, the number of trains required to carry Caltrain's daily passenger load.

46 trains in a 12-hour period equals approximately 4 trains per hour or one every 15 minutes. That figure seems a lot more down to Earth. This is for the TOTAL number of boardings and is assumed to be evenly split between northbound and southbound trains. There would thus be one northbound train every 30 minutes and one southbound train every 30 minutes.

If Caltrain plans to run 176 trains over 12 hours, that's a whole lot of excess capacity, or 382.6%. This confirms my belief that a lot of those trains will be empty because there won't be enough fare-paying passengers to fill them.

Let's ramp it up to one NB and one SB train every 15 minutes. That's still only 92 trains per day — 46 NB and 46 SB. Caltrain's figures are now 191% excess capacity.

Either my math is grossly in error or Caltrain is planning for a whole lot of excess capacity, i.e. trains without enough passengers paying fares to fill them (empty or near-empty trains).

If anyone finds errors in my math, please share.


21 people like this
Posted by Rainer
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 20, 2020 at 3:53 am

For a project of 50 miles with a multi-Billion $ price tag, the first thing to do is to think about some principles.
1. Estimated train frequency in either direction will be 10/hour in 20 years. That means there will be a train every 3 minutes in some locations.
2. Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and if possible other neighboring cities have to work together. It is too late (probably) for all cities between SJ and SF to work together; just look at the berm north of Redwood City. If the “elevate” option is chosen for eliminating at grade crossings, a unified design keeps the costly elevation change of the tracks to a minimum. An elevated train is only good if many cities buy in.
3. There will be the problem of the weight and length freight trains.
4. You must take decision making away from the fragmented local, often incompetent, often corrupt (=trying to get work for local companies) city planning departments. Early on you aim to get a Bechtel-type international company interested. When Bechtel can successfully bid on London’s 26 mile tunnel Cross rail project ….? You get it.
5. You do not use consultants – never. Even if the grade-crossing project is – and stays – fragmented, Palo Alto has to find a different organization set-up from using an ever changing set of contractors, who have no long term interest, and long term intellectual investment, in this project. Yeah, I notice they answer questions, but I have not seem them come up with an innovative solution on their own. In General I am very concerned and suspicious over the large turnover in City Planning.
6. So, I conclude an elevated train is not really the optimal solution. A tunnel, especially if no HSR from SJ to SF (experts say HSR shoulf not be: this leg makes no sense), would have been optimal under nearly any scenario, but it was killed early by outlandish cost estimates. I don’t think anybody in the City Council or city boards ever has built, or been closely involved with evaluating, a tunnel.

7. Separate pedestrians and bicycles vertically from car traffic.
My recommendations would be:
1. Do not touch the elevation of the tracks of the tracks.
1. Put only the cross-traffic across Alma and the tracks underground.
2. Allow only right turns from the cross traffic [the right turn to Alma from the Eastbound Oregon underpass under the tracks and Alma is an example], which then might be partially under existing lots/houses, and only allow a (one) right turn from the north bound lane on Alma,
3. Buy an off-the-shelf Dutch type elevated roundabout for bicycles and pedestrians, off-the-shelf, just like you do for creek bridges. Off-the-shelf purchase was recommended for the Newell bridge, with gigantic savings. For example, Google: "elevated bicycle roundabouts"., a smaller version of Web Link would be my favorite, and would give Palo Alto the so desired land mark traffic architecture.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2020 at 8:56 am

I feel that we can look at statistics and data in as many different ways as we can think. I saw an article that places like Hollister are growing at an enormous rate as people are moving there and commuting to the Valley just a few times a week. Obviously there is no public transport from Hollister, but there is from Gilroy.

How can we get commuters to use Caltrain is a good question. In another life, I commuted by train for several years. The trains were packed for many reasons. The trains were frequent, the trains were faster, and the trains were cheaper than driving (and paying for parking). This was an area where there was virtually no reverse commute and where the trains were full and emptying at one of 3 stations at the end of the line. We don't have that here, we have people using Caltrain for small parts of its route in both directions. This should be an advantage for Caltrain.

Pricing has to be competitive. First and last mile connections must be improved. Off peak fares, fares for regular riders who are not riding every day but perhaps 2 or 3 times a week, parking for free at Caltrain stations after 3 pm. Weekend and family fares. Better uses of technology.

However, to me the fact that Gilroy and Morgan Hill are afterthoughts to the system. I know that there are reasons for this, but it is time that serious thought was put into sorting out this conundrum. With people moving to Hollister and commuting, there has to be a market for getting more of those people onto Caltrain. Morgan Hill and Gilroy have become large centers of population in the last 20 years. Those people are working in the Valley. They are potential riders. They can make a difference not just to overall ridership but also to overall traffic.

Serious thought has to be done to improve Caltrain and it is not just the number and frequency of the trains on the Peninsula.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2020 at 9:55 am

@Much Ado: If Caltrain is ordering 6-car EMU's, that's 1,378 passengers per train. If anyone finds errors in my math, please share.

Caltrain is ordering 19x 7-car EMUs with about 675 Seats, 72 bike spaces, ADA toilets and double doors for later transition to level boarding: Web Link

12 trains per hour per direction is the theoretical capacity of a prominently two track Caltrain corridor. Caltrain policy is to preserve that capacity just in case it is needed in the future.
What do you want Caltrain to do, allow Palo Alto to destroy Caltrain's right-of-way such that the potential capacity of the corridor can never be realized?


5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 10:21 am

"What do you want Caltrain to do, allow Palo Alto to destroy Caltrain's right-of-way such that the potential capacity of the corridor can never be realized?"

As long as we have our current land-use policies, we are already at the potential capacity of the corridor. Caltrain ridership had a slight decline this past year.

HSR is dead. Any scenario that incorporates HSR estimates is bunk anyway.


6 people like this
Posted by EAlexis
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 20, 2020 at 11:17 am

Here is Caltrain's latest plan: Web Link

They seem well-grounded in facts and data - look for 8 trains an hour in each direction by 2027 (up from 5 today).


14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2020 at 1:07 pm

@Much Ado,

Yes, Caltrain's growth projections are complete "vaporware". Caltrain is exaggerating its growth in an attempt to stampede federal, state, and local governments into spending billions of dollars upgrading Caltrain's infrastructure before the introduction of autonomous vehicles makes it painfully obvious to everyone that passenger-rail is a dead-end transportation technology.


2 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 1:11 pm

"Caltrain is ordering 19x 7-car EMUs with about 675 Seats"

Seats per car or per 7-car train? How many passengers per seat? Are they double seats per train? If so, that's 1,350 passengers per 7-car train, not too far from my original figure of 1,378 passengers per train. Each double-deck car would hold about 192 passengers. Each CAR, not each TRAIN. That's 96 passengers per level. If there are 2 passengers per seat, that's 48 seats per level, not an unreasonable number.

"look for 8 trains an hour in each direction by 2027 (up from 5 today)."

That doesn't invalidate my original figure: 16 trains per hour IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. Multiplying by 12 hours gives 176 trains over 12 hours, peak and non-peak. Multiply by 1,350 passengers per train and we get 237,600 passengers, far in excess of 2016's ridership of 62,416 passengers per day by over 380%.

You can count the number of trains per day but when you figure the capacity of each train you'll see that they'll have far more capacity than past ridership figures would support — lots of empty seats going forward.


4 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 1:19 pm

Replace Caltrain with self-driving vehicles and that's 60,000 more vehicles on the road each day, and you'll be crying for the good old days of Caltrain with 60,000 fewer vehicles on the road.


2 people like this
Posted by EAlexis
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 20, 2020 at 1:28 pm

To Much Ado -

The 675 seats is per trainset - it is not doubled. There is some capacity used up for Caltrain's bikes on board program that is heavily used.

Before Transbay Terminal opens, 8 trains in each direction is very reasonable - many of the trains today are way past capacity and Caltrain is losing potential riders because of crowding.

After Transbay Terminal opens, ridership will skyrocket - there are more jobs close to that station than all the stations combined today.

This is good news - all the development up and down the corridor that will increase Caltrain demand will also further clog the highways - but we need to get ready.


2 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 1:51 pm

Let's revise our figures then:

"16 trains per hour IN BOTH DIRECTIONS. Multiplying by 12 hours gives 176 trains over 12 hours, peak and non-peak. Multiply by 675 passengers per train and we get 118,800 passengers, far in excess of 2016's ridership of 62,416 passengers per day by over 190%."

You keep quoting "trains per hour" but that only gets you so far if you don't also figure the capacity of each train. There is still a lot of excess capacity, lots of empty seats in those 176 trains per day.


12 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2020 at 2:02 pm

@Much Ado,

Caltrain has 66,000 trips per day. Most users make two trips per day so that is 33,000 users. Over half of the 33,000 users use a car to get to the train station, so at most Caltrain only takes 15,000 cars off of the "roads".

But a railroad is a road, so Caltrain doesn't really take anyone off the roads, it just takes them off one kind of road and puts them on another underutilized type of road called a railroad.




2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2020 at 3:07 pm

@Much Ado "If anyone finds errors in my math, please share."

Humans have an annoying habit of all traveling to work at the same time instead of going to work at random hours of the day and night. Passenger demand is twelve times greater during peak periods than it is during off peak periods. Web Link
Transportation systems like roads are typically optimized to handle peak demand and are therefor underutilized most of the day.


2 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 3:31 pm

"Humans have an annoying habit of all traveling to work at the same time instead of going to work at random hours of the day and night. Passenger demand is twelve times greater during peak periods than it is during off peak periods."

The Caltrain estimates take that into account. Note that there are figures for "peak" and "off peak".

Did you have a point to make?


2 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 3:45 pm

"Caltrain has 66,000 trips per day."

Ha! 66,000 trips in 24 hours is 2,750 trips per hour or 45 trips per minute!

62,416 BOARDINGS per weekday average. I posted a link. Get your figures right. Here it is again. See page 4.

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 4:03 pm

"The 675 seats is per trainset"

The double-deck Stadler KISS trains delivered to Azerbaijan have a capacity of 919 passengers per 4-car train, or 230 per car according to the Stadler web site:

Web Link

675 passengers divided by 7 cars = 96 passengers per car. So how do you square your 96 passengers per car against Stadler's figure of 230 per car? Is Caltrain ordering smaller cars?


2 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 4:14 pm

Here is the answer: the 919-passenger figure for Azerbaijan includes 523 standing passengers. So 675 seated passengers per 7-car train = 96 per car looks about right.


2 people like this
Posted by TBM
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2020 at 4:20 pm

Seating capacity 1st + 2nd class 84 + 312
+ Standing capacity (7 pers./m²) 523
= 919


2 people like this
Posted by Much Ado
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2020 at 4:32 pm

"Seating capacity 1st + 2nd class 84 + 312
+ Standing capacity (7 pers./m²) 523
= 919"

We know that. I was counting only seated passengers.

I have stood on a Baby Bullet from the city to San Mateo. Believe me, I would much rather sit if I'm going all the way to San Jose or Gilroy.


5 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2020 at 10:42 pm

As a thought experiment consider how much better the public would be served if Caltrain ripped up the rails, paved over the ROW, and turned the ROW into an dedicated highway for medium-sized high-speed autonomous buses with supplemental battery power?

It would get us a lot closer to solving passenger-rail's perpetual last-mile failure, create thousands of local high-tech jobs, and help create an product that Silicon Valley could export to the rest of the world.

Wake up Boomer!


Like this comment
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2020 at 11:23 pm

@Much Ado: now that you've set-up and knocked down your own strawman extrapolated from maximum theoretical system capacity at one contemplated level of system-build-out, why don't you find out whether anyone at Caltrain (or HSR) expects they'll actually be running at those frequencies for 8 hours per day (let alone around the clock service covering all 16 of the other hours at your assumed frequencies).


3 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 23, 2020 at 2:30 pm

Lets not forget about the real issue in Palo Alto, the butchering of Ross Rd!


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