Caltrain plan would fell trees, add substations

Agency's new environmental impact report analyzes the costs and benefits of long-planned electrification

For years, Caltrain officials have been advocating a switch from diesel trains to electrified ones as the the best way to both help the environment and keep the popular but cash-strapped commuter service financially viable.

But a new report analyzing the environmental impacts of electrification indicates that these benefits will come at a cost beyond the project's $1.5 billion price tag. Specifically, it could result in removal of more than 2,000 trees and the addition of poles up to 50 feet high, safety walls built on existing bridges that cross the train corridor, and substations -- including one in Palo Alto -- to support the electrification.

The draft Environmental Impact Report, which the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board released Friday morning, argues that Caltrain's long-planned electrification is a critical project for increasing ridership and for giving the Peninsula an "environmentally friendly and reliable service." More than a decade in the works, the previously stalled project sparked back to life in 2012, when the California High-Speed Rail Authority agreed to adopt a "blended" two-track system along the Peninsula in which the new high-speed trains would share electrified tracks with Caltrain. As part of a 2013 agreement between the agencies, the rail authority would pay for about half of the project's $1.5 billion costs, with the balance coming from Caltrain and other Bay Area transportation agencies.

According to the new report, Caltrain plans to have its new electrified system in place by 2019, at which time about 75 percent of its train fleet would be electric and 25 percent would be diesel. Once the remaining diesel trains reach the end of their service life, they would be replaced.

Caltrain carried about 47,000 riders on a typical weekday in 2013, according to the report, a number that is projected to go up to 57,000 in 2020 and to 84,000 even if electrification doesn't happen. With the project, the estimated ridership would be 69,000 in 2020 and 111,000 in 2040. The overall number of daily weekday trains would jump from the present level of 92 to 114.

The environmental review notes that the project would significantly reduce traffic on regional roads by 235,000 "vehicle miles traveled" in 2020 and by 619,000 in 2040.

Yet the benefits will come with costs. The overhead power lines would be supported by poles with heights ranging from 30 to 50 feet, according to the report. The poles would stand on either side of the tracks, about 10 to 12 feet from the centerline, and would be spaced about 200 feet from each other (with shorter spans between poles on curved track sections). Wires would stretch across the tracks in a cantilever configuration.

The electric infrastructure would also require installation of one switching station, which controls how power is fed within the system; 10 traction power substations, which convert electricity to the voltage trains use; and six paralleling stations, which boost power along the system.

One paralleling station would be in Palo Alto, either near Greenmeadow Way and just south of Page Mill Road, according to the report. But, the report notes, such a station would have some visual impact. Located in a compound that has typical dimensions of 40 feet wide and 80 feet long, the station could be partially screened by trees. If located by Greenmeadow, "roadway users and residents may have limited views" of the site when there are gaps in vegetation.

The Page Mill option would also benefit from screening provided by trees on the Alma Street side and from the new four-story Park Plaza building on the other side, according to the report.

The environmental analysis noted that the Greenmeadow Way option would require trees to be removed, causing "significant" aesthetic impact. Caltrain is proposing to compensate by installing new "screening vegetation" along Alma between the roadway and the new station.

In addition to the electric infrastructure, Caltrain plans to build safety barriers on dozens of existing bridges to prohibit access to the Caltrain corridor and to prevent objects from being thrown off the bridges, according to the document. These barriers would typically be about 6.5 feet above the pavement level and would generally be about 40 feet long. Each barrier would feature a black, red and white signage that reads: "Danger. Live Wire."

The 47 bridges identified in the report include one bridge in Palo Alto (two new walls would be built on the San Antonio Road overpass) and six in Mountain View (Shoreline Boulevard overpass; Stevens Creek pedestrian crossing; Whisman Road; Route 85; and Route 237, both eastbound and westbound).

While the new infrastructure will be going up, hundreds and possibly thousands of trees would be going down. The report estimates that about 2,220 trees would be removed for the project and another 3,616 pruned. This includes 188 trees in Menlo Park, 177 trees in Palo Alto and 284 in Mountain View, which is second only to Sunnyvale's 497.

The report notes that Caltrain is exempt from local regulations guarding tree removal because it is a federally regulated rail carrier and thus benefits from an exemption in the Public Utilities Code. Still, it lays out a strategy to mitigate the loss of trees, including locating poles and alignments to "minimize tree removal and pruning" and removing trees "only as necessary to provide safety clearance." The project would include a creation of a "Tree Avoidance, Minimization and Replacement Plan," which would be developed in consultation with cities and an certified arborist and which would consider best practices for replacing and protecting trees.

The report is subject to modification based on comments from stakeholder communities along the corridor. But Caltrain officials stressed the importance of releasing the document, which Caltrain Executive Director Michael Scanlon called "the next step in a critical partnership between Caltrain and the communities we serve."

"We must work together to ensure the successful delivery of the Caltrain Modernization Program," Scanlon said in a statement. "We are committed to seeking public comment and to make sure the concerns of our communities are addressed directly, collaboratively and transparently."

Caltrain will be accepting comments on the draft EIR until April 29. The document can be found here.


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Posted by Sunshine 1
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 3, 2014 at 12:29 pm

Keep this important fact in mind, Electrification is the main missing ingredient for HIgh Speed Rail on the peninsula. In order for High Speed Rail to run it MUST have electrification. IF-If the current NON electric Caltrain continues that would by definition BLOCK (checkmate) the High Speed Rail (monster).
CHSRA or High Speed Rail is obviously the big--big moving force behind the scenes pushing for this "Caltrain only" electrification project. The Caltrain commuter Railroad does NOT need or require electrification infrastructure to continue running good, proven traditional San Francisco to San Jose passenger rail service. The camels Nose is IN the tent here (Foot IN the door) with the buddy--buddy Caltrain + CHSRA relationship. Ask the next question folks, who stands to benefit financially from this major upheval to our beloved state of California ???? Major shortsighted development + banking interests are obviously at work here ruining what is left of our special and unique small town community in Menlo Park-- Atherton area. It is a real shame that things have come to this point humanly. Why can’t we truly just get along and have a very bright future for everyone ???

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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Mar 3, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Caltrain definitely DOES need this modernization project, part of which is electrification. They have had this program on the drawing board for years, preceding the HSR ballot measure, but they had no way to pay for it. Now Caltrain hopes to use HSR money to improve its service. This is perhaps the best way to spend HSR money, although the legality of it is questionable. This project may be one of many necessary steps for HSR, but it definitely has its own merits. Please don't oppose modernizing Caltrain just because you oppose HSR. That would be throwing out the baby with the bathwater (or cutting off your nose to spite your face, if you prefer that old adage instead).

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Posted by lmftfy
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Sunshine: lmftfy

"Keep this important fact in mind, IMPROVED INFRASTRUCTURE is the main missing ingredient for PROGRESS on the peninsula."

While we're at it: grade separations! Time to improve traffic, increase safety and reduce noise, as much of the rest of the Peninsula has done and learned.

happy to help...

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Posted by Dan Hilberman
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Who will generate the electricity? Is that generation part of the impact report? Coal vs. green generation and are new plants needed?

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Posted by electricity is far greener than diesel
a resident of Ormondale School
on Mar 3, 2014 at 6:33 pm

"Coal vs. green generation"? Red herring, or just unaware.

With CA's ever greening electrical grid, isn't it going to be more green than diesel, and growing far greener than diesel by the year?

Lastly: coal in CA?

Uh-huh. Coal is less than 1% of in-state production, a tenth of hydro alone.

Renewables total 2012 are 17% of in-state production.

Web Link

(excuse the formatting, this blog's formatting features suck)

Fuel Type California
In-State Generation (GWh) Percent of California
In-State Generation Northwest Imports (GWh) Southwest Imports (GWh) California Power Mix (GWh) Percent California Power Mix
Coal 1,580 0.8% 561 20,545 22,685 7.5%
Large Hydro 23,202 11.7% 12 1,698 24,913 8.3%
Natural Gas 121,716 61.1% 37 9,242 130,995 43.4%
Nuclear 18,491 9.3% - 8,763 27,254 9.0%
Oil 90 0.0% - - 90 0.0%
Other 14 0.0% - - 14 0.0%
Renewables 34,007 17.1% 9,484 3,024 46,515 15.4%
Biomass 6,031 3.0% 1,025 23 7,079 2.3%
Geothermal 12,733 6.4% - 497 13,230 4.4%
Small Hydro 4,257 2.1% 204 - 4,461 1.5%
Solar 1,834 0.9% - 775 2,609 0.9%
Wind 9,152 4.6% 8,254 1,729 19,135 6.3%
Unspecified Sources of Power N/A N/A 29,376 20,124 49,500 16.4%
Total 199,101 100.0% 39,470 63,396 301,966 100.0%

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 3, 2014 at 7:35 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


you are skewing your interpretation of the data in my estimation. while in-state production of energy using coal is less than 1%, the total of power used in Ca generated by coal is 7.5%. 61.1% of Ca in state production of power is by natural gas with the overall for Ca being 43.4%. So we're over 50% of our power being generated by "dirty" sources right there. Biomass is 2.3% and while it is renewable it involves burning which produces CO2. Then we have "unspecified." Worst case scenario this could add as much as 16.4% to the "dirty" total. So, sorry, electrified trains aren't necessarily "greener" than diesel trains. In fact, it could be argued they are less green than diesel. Especially when you consider the efficiency loss of converting a fuel to electricity so it can be used to drive a train. Or a car for that matter.

Now if our primary source of electricity was hydro and/or nuclear you might be able to make that argument. Not now though. To get a true idea of the "greenness" of diesel vs electric one needs to look at passenger miles per CO2 generated among other things. I don't have time to do the analysis, but simple logic will give one the idea.

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Posted by green
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 3, 2014 at 7:57 pm

Natural gas is dirty?

I thought it was MUCH less carbon than oil, diesel, coal, etc.., unless industry and government are liars. If natural gas isn't, we should ban fracking and all the chemicals they pump into groundwater.

And the renewables are obviously cleaner than natural gas. And none of the above are as prohibitively expensive as nukes, nor have terrorism, earthquake or long term storage problems.

Electricity is clearly the way to go. Go ahead and do your numbers - you are going to have to really fiddle with them to say our grid is dirtier than diesel!

CA grid vs diesel? Wow!

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 3, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


you are perfect example of environmentalists that have no scientific knowledge or backing. Natural gas "dirty?" Yes, unless you don't think CO2 is contributing greatly to Global Warming. You know, that thing that environmentalists are constantly screaming about. ANY fuel that produces CO2 is a problem when it comes to global warming. I can guarantee you that there is less CO2 produced per passenger mile by diesel locomotives than electric in California. Your own data shows that more than 50% of the energy used in this state is produced by burning some type of fuel that produces CO2. So sorry, as long as that is the case, electricity in this state is not "green."

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Posted by green
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 3, 2014 at 8:24 pm

"no scientific knowledge" yet "I can guarantee you"

Ha! That's great, but I missed your substantiation or link.

Now, about your moving the goalposts... wow! I said power from the grid is cleaner than diesel, not your shift to "electricity in this state is not 'green.'"

Are you saying diesel is cleaner than CA grid power? I await your numbers. See you later in the week.

Also - I believe the savings are 3.4 million gallons of diesel per year, replaced with California grid. You prefer acquiring 3.4 million refined gallons worth of oil from overseas, refining it, burning it (yes, dirty diesel) over the CA grid of local natural gas, renewables etc..?

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 3, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


talk about "moving the goal posts." I prefer acquiring foreign oil over California grid power? Not what I said and you know it. Yes, diesel in this particular circumstance is greener than the California grid. I know those of you wed to the green religion won't believe it even if I spent the time to run the numbers for you. So, I won't waste my time. By the way you totally ignore the fact that at least 50% of the power in California is produced by a means that introduce CO2 into the atmosphere. And that's "green?" Please.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2014 at 6:10 am

The point of this projects is not to reduce greenhouse emissions. The point is to save money on operations, and to move more people more quickly.

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Posted by Counter
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2014 at 7:24 am

Any counting of emissions would need to consider how many people would be using the train instead of driving, then subtract their emissions. That means knowing what kind of car, how many miles, etc. Probably impossible.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2014 at 8:53 am

Visual barriers to the trains - gone; noise buffers - gone; five story electric towers across the middle of town. Caltain says this will double ridership - plans to double size of Caltrain parking lots?

Half to be paid for by HSR money. Yeah sure, that's not what the bond money was intended for. Likely no HSR money if HSR doesn't happen on the peninsula.

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Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 4, 2014 at 9:54 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Electrification of Caltrain will allow the trains to accelerate to top speed much faster, translating into faster travel times. Electrification also eliminates the diesel exhaust which is itself no friend to the trees along the tracks. Electric trains are also MUCH quieter, which will be welcome. Any discussion of emissions is a distraction- there are plenty of very good reasons to electrify Caltrain, even when you leave the emissions question completely to the side.

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Posted by step away from the dispensary
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2014 at 11:31 am

--- diesel in this particular circumstance is GREENER than the California grid

Importing, refining, transporting and then burning diesel on the Peninsula is greener than using electricity off the California power grid (much of which is from natural gas, nuclear and renewables)?

Man, something "green" is going on!! A 420 post if ever there was one!

I have to see the proof on that one. Oh, wait, the poster can't do that.

Funny that.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Not "can't." Won't waste my time trying to convince those who's religion is environmentalism at all costs.

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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2014 at 12:50 pm

1. HEALTH: Diesel is a carcinogen; a very dirty fuel with particulate in it that is unhealthy and costly to communities and residents in close proximity to it regularly.

2. COST: Caltrain is in a situation now where increases in diesel fuel prices and other costs related to labor, such as health insurance premiums, are outpacing even the healthy growth in ridership. The year is quickly approaching when Caltrain, filled to capacity, will be unable to accommodate additional riders during peak hours. In the near future, Caltrain may be forced to raise fares even more, and cut service. There is a very real danger of triggering a downward spiral of decreasing service, decreasing ridership, and higher fares.

Electrification is a proven method worldwide of cutting operating costs, and Caltrain staff have prepared analyses of how many more extra seats they can offer at reduced operating cost if Caltrain is electrified, in their Project 2025 presentation.

Caltrain has a lot of aging equipment that will need to be replaced soon. Since Caltrain has to replace a lot of equipment in any case, now is the time to spend some extra money to do it right and allow Caltrain to grow and sustain service over the next few decades. Electrification of Caltrain will revolutionize transit on the Peninsula, attract tens of thousands of new riders, and set an example in the U.S. of what rail transit can be.

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Posted by step away from the dispensary
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 4, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Burning 3.4 million gallons of diesel a year is cleaner than using electricity, much from natural gas, renewables and nuclear? Man, you are in a different world.

Doesn't even pass the smell test.

Given the opportunity to defend it (you can't, it's indefensible) you essentially blame 'extremism' ('environmental religion'? First time I've ever been accused of that!)

Doesn't even pass the smell test, but something smells.

Besides the diesel.

2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 4, 2014 at 1:26 pm

??? Chopping down thousands of trees and adding another large consumer of electricity to an electrical grid that is so short on capacity that it must import electricity from other states that burn the environmentally 'green' thing to do!

Wow, did someone recently open up a cannabis club in the area? I need to buy what you people are smoking.

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Posted by tree counting for fun
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm

@peninsula resident: there's a million trees in this county, why do you want thousands of gas guzzlers on the freeways?

Here is something for you Web Link

It's a satellite view of San Mateo County. Now zoom in to the highest setting, and start counting the trees. I suggest you start on the thousands on the Santa Clara Border. It's easy, every time you count one, mark it on your screen with a magic marker....

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Posted by Thomas&Friends
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Mar 5, 2014 at 7:33 am

Make no mistake, California Governor Jerry Brown will be much much tougher this time around during his fourth term!

Italy: In January, three members of the movement against the high-speed train line were ordered by a court to pay close to €200,000 ($275,558) in damages for blocking construction work.
Nine activists belonging to the No-TAV movement – accused of blocking high-speed rail construction work with Grillo – were given sentences of up to nine months and Beppe Grillo was given a sentence of four months.

2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 5, 2014 at 9:14 am

tree counting for fun wrote:
> why do you want thousands of gas guzzlers on the freeways?

What an odd statement to make.

1) I did not said or imply any such thing.

2) You have no evidence to support your notion that a diesel motor puts "thousands of gas guzzlers on the freeways". What an odd statement. How on earth did you come up with that???

I believe most people that use Caltrain do it for cost savings, time savings and convenience. The method of propulsion has little to no bearing on their choice between train and car.


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Posted by S Palmer
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 5, 2014 at 9:37 am

peninsula resident "use Caltrain do it for cost savings, time savings and convenience"

All three of which apply in greater numbers by switching to electricity.

Good points for switching.

Thomas&Friends did not post the whole article on the Breaking and Entering:
"Prosecutors had requested the former comedian be put behind bars for nine months for breaking into a sealed-off hut..."

"former comedian"? What, is he part of the bankrupt CA GOP?

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Posted by Ann
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 6, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Ha. All these NIMBY's hiding in environmentalist clothes are so transparent.

2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Mar 6, 2014 at 6:36 pm

S Palmer wrote:
> All three of which apply in greater numbers by switching to electricity.

How so?

Ann wrote:
> Ha. All these NIMBY's hiding in environmentalist clothes are so transparent.

"...hiding in environmentalist clothes are so transparent" is exactly correct. That is the perfect description of the pro-electric, pseudo-greenie-environmental whack jobs that think chopping down thousands of trees and using electricity from out-of-state fossil-fuel power plants is the "green" thing to do.

I couldn't have said it better myself. Thank you, Ann.

> All these NIMBY's

I looked over previous posts and don't see any posts that look NIMBY to me. Objecting to a proposed method of improving public transit that may not be the most effective long-term approach to improvement does not make someone a NIMBY.

I am a proponent of improved Caltrain service. When my family purchased our home, our ability to walk to Caltrain was a selling point. Ideally, I'd like to see from caltrain:

1) more trains, particularly the bullet/express trains;

2) newer rail cars, which are lighter so the trains can get to top speed sooner. Actually this is already happening, even though there's no electric train. See? You can actually get faster service without electric. Imagine that;

3) Modern diesel trains. Keep in mind that all Caltrain reports that compare diesel and electric based the comparison on a report from 1990, 24 YEARS ago;

4) Put the tracks in a trench or partial trench. Caltrain has already stated that they can fit a shoo fly track in the existing right-of-way, so this should be feasible;

5) Provided there was a (partial)trench, add a 3rd track. This would allow the local services to run while not impeding the bullet trains;

6) At-grade boarding. This will also speed up service, and make it easier (and faster) for handicapped boarding;

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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