News


Atherton considers lawsuit over rail electrification report

Tuesday closed session set

A letter may not be enough to let Caltrain know how upset Atherton is over the proposed electrification of the Peninsula train service. On Wednesday, Jan. 21, Atherton's City Council approved a letter to Caltrain, but also asked for a closed-session meeting with the town's attorney to discuss a possible lawsuit over the environmental report recently approved by the Caltrain board.

Council members said they want to meet in closed session at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 27, before they meet at noon to interview the two architects who are finalists to design the town's new Civic Center.

The council also asked town staff members to contact their counterparts in Palo Alto to see if Palo Alto might want to join in a lawsuit.

Town officials will also ask Caltrain to extend the 30-day time limit on appeals to the environmental report, which ends Feb. 6, in order to give the town more time to negotiate with Caltrain to avoid a lawsuit. They were told that Palo Alto had already asked for such an extension and was turned down.

But City Attorney William Conners said it was worth a try. "My attitude is, if you don't try, you don't know," he said. The town should ask Caltrain to "give us some time to talk to them and discuss" the issues, he said.

Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said Caltrain believes it has offered plenty of time for discussion of the environmental report. She said that while the environmental report was being prepared, Caltrain gave the public two weeks longer than required to respond to the initial document. When the final report was released "we made it available for public review for 30 days, three times longer than the required 10-day minimum review period," she said. "We took these additional steps to ensure that Peninsula cities and members of the public had ample to review the documents and respond to the findings," she said.

The letter approved by the council, which will be signed by Mayor Rick DeGolia, says the town considers the approval of the environmental documents as putting "high speed rail one step closer to reality in Atherton." It says the town has concerns about the project to transform Caltrain to electric locomotives related to noise, project timing, tree removal and pruning, and locations of wires and poles.

Council members asked to have two points added to the letter, one concerning how often trains will stop in the town. Caltrain had promised that with the increased number of trains that could be run using the electric locomotives, Atherton's train station could reopen. But town officials fear that Caltrain will schedule only one train in each direction for an Atherton stop. They asked that the letter include the statement that "the minimal service level is not sufficient."

They also asked to have a statement added saying they feel the environmental report did not look closely enough at alternatives to the electric locomotives, such as high-tech diesel.

Caltrain's Ms. Ackemann said the California High Speed Rail Authority will have to prepare its own environmental reports "before it can ever operate rail service on this corridor." "Until that time comes," she said, the electrification will mean "a cleaner, quieter system and more frequent service for more riders at more stations, including restored service in Atherton."

"Caltrain is bursting at the seams due to its unprecedented ridership growth and electrification offers the only path for a true expansion in the amount of service Caltrain can offer," Ms. Ackemann said.

The council was urged to consider a lawsuit by several speakers during the time set aside for public comment at the beginning of the meeting.

"If you don't file a suit they're going to laugh all the way to the next step. They'll be thrilled that no one called their bluff and there will be no negotiation," Rail Committee member Jim Janz said. "You might be able to put up with a few negative environment impacts that electrification might cause if they were really going to provide good service."

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by All Aboard
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 22, 2015 at 12:26 pm

If Atherton will accept an upgraded station platform -- outside boarding that eliminates the narrow center platform and allows one train to stop while another continues through the station -- then it seems reasonable to ask for trains to again stop at the depot. Not every train, but enough to make the service useful for residents who wish to commute daily.

An underpass to send Watkins Avenue under the tracks wouldn't be a bad idea, either. It would be a tight fit, but it's more attractive in the long term than keeping the grade-level crossing.

Arguing against the poles and wires is a lost cause. It's just part of the changing railroad technology, much the way diesels displaced steam in the mid-1950s.

In the end, people will be happier with electric trains.


Like this comment
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 22, 2015 at 1:06 pm

@All Aboard: You might have noticed the huge water main that daylights across the creek next to the Watkins crossing. I think an underground crossing there is impossible.

We once did a large workshop on track alignment for HSR and the bottom line is that everyone wants the trains magically buried, but it takes a mile running out at either end to transition from surface to tunnel.

Everyone is very much in favour or electrification for the speed, lack of pollution, noise control, etc. But don't forget that the ROW is still owned by Union Pacific, and they still want their three-times-a-night freight trains to rumble through, no matter what Caltrain or HSR come up with. So as always, it's the worst or weakest link that drives the system.


1 person likes this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 22, 2015 at 1:54 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Everyone wants the trains magically buried, no one has a good answer for how to pay for it. Berkeley wanted BART underground, and they passed a bond measure to pay for it, with help from the Federal government. If people are really serious about wanting a trench or a tunnel, there need to be serious conversations about where that money is coming from.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 22, 2015 at 2:06 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

One thought is the put the trains underground and the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and to use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.


2 people like this
Posted by Mark Simon, Caltrain
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2015 at 2:40 pm

Really?: Union Pacific does not own the right of way. Caltrain does.


5 people like this
Posted by Steve Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 22, 2015 at 3:19 pm

What has been ignored in this discussion and for years are the virtues of an electrified and elevated 3-track Caltrain/UP/HSR solution through San Mateo County:

Improved safety
Elimination of the tracks as a barrier between east and west
Elimination of horns at every street crossing
Reduction of most train diesel pollution
Significant reduction of engine noise
Minimized conflict with existing utilities.

Since the third track would be for the exclusive use of high speed trains between San Jose & San Francisco, there would be a built-in limit on the hourly number of HSR trains on the system, probably no more than two or three per hour. Some trains from LA could terminate in San Jose, allowing more frequent service between those cities.

Residents and decision-makers should have access to realistic cost comparisons between the trench and an elevated alignment followed by a fair evaluation of the virtues and flaws of each alternative. I’ve read that elevated is 1/2 the cost of trenching.
Let’s get the numbers or be reminded of what they are.

Aside from cost, he only downside of elevated tracks might be of perceived aesthetics, adjacent to residential backyards. An elevated structure should easily blend in with the 50’ wall of office & apartment buildings next to the tracks in Menlo Park, that are now guaranteed by the rejection of Measure M.

After 6 1/2 years, Atherton, Palo Alto and Atherton elected officials need to act like leaders and negotiate a resolution to the design issues of HSR so that an electrified system compatible with HSR can be built that serves the interests of the region, their constituents and the State of California.


Like this comment
Posted by thielges
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2015 at 3:54 pm

One action that would help Atherton to get more Caltrain service is to rezone the area around the station for higher density. I know that would be a tough fight though it will eventually increase the usage of the Atherton station and make it more viable.


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Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 22, 2015 at 4:46 pm

@Mark Simon:

My apologies, I was misinformed. It's good news, but then do you need to provide for Union/Southern Pacific or can we all ignore the freight service?


4 people like this
Posted by Wait a second..
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 22, 2015 at 6:32 pm

Why should all of the taxpayers in Atherton pay to fund the lawsuit Jim Janz is demanding be filed, when Janz and other neighbors of his chose to purchase homes next to the railway? This is really all about preserving the value of their homes.


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 22, 2015 at 6:57 pm

really? wrote:
> the ROW is still owned by Union Pacific

This is partially true.

> Really?: Union Pacific does not own the right of way. Caltrain does.

This is completely wrong. (ugh, from an alleged caltrain employee even)

The Caltrain right of way between San Francisco and Tamien stations is owned and maintained by its operating agency, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB).

The Caltrain right of way between Tamien station and Gilroy is owned by Union Pacific.

And to be clear, Caltrain plans for "electrification" are ONLY between SF<->Tamien. It would remain non-upgraded diesel trains between Tamien<->Gilroy. Passengers south of Tamien will have to get off the train at Tamien, wait for an electric train, then board an electric train at Tamien.


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 22, 2015 at 6:59 pm

Small clarification: The 2nd quote was from "Mark Simon, Caltrain".


Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Jan 22, 2015 at 7:05 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board is Caltrain's board of directors.
Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 22, 2015 at 7:16 pm

All Aboard wrote:
> If Atherton will accept an upgraded station platform

Caltrain is the problem here, not Atherton.

Atherton has for years asked that all remaining "hold-out" stations -- not just Atherton -- be upgraded for safety reasons. (they're called "hold out" because other trains that approach a "hold out" station with a train already at the station are required to wait ("hold") until the train leaves the station. This is to ensure an oncoming train doesn't run over boarding passengers).

Hold-out stations can be very, very dangerous. And it's not like they haven't had numerous close calls to remind them of this hazard. Caltrain has NO excuse for not having upgraded them years ago.

NONE.


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 22, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Barbara Wood wrote:
> The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board is Caltrain's board of directors.

Yes, and if your subtle point is that he's not "completely wrong"...well maybe I was a tad harsh and I apologize.

But it's not correct to say the ROW is owned by Caltrain, either.


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 22, 2015 at 7:37 pm

really? wrote:
> You might have noticed the huge water main that
> daylights across the creek next to the Watkins
> crossing. I think an underground crossing there
> is impossible.

There is a massive amount of infrastructure underneath SF that they plan to reroute while digging tunnels. Existing infrastructure isn't deterring the tunneling in SF AT ALL.

In comparison, the peninsula/southbay infrastructure in/under the right-of-way is a pittance.


Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 22, 2015 at 7:44 pm

Tunbridge Wells wrote:
> If people are really serious about wanting a trench
> or a tunnel, there need to be serious conversations
> about where that money is coming from.

It should come from the same pool of money used to dig a tunnel under San Francisco (and tunnelling is more expensive than trenching, especially under/through the massive infrastructure under SF).

If that's not enough money to both trench and tunnel, then all affected towns/cities should add money to the pool to pay for it.



Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 22, 2015 at 7:49 pm

Peter Carpenter wrote:
> put the trains underground and the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and to use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking.

This is a pretty brilliant idea.

I was thinking that solar panels could be installed within the trench (above train but no higher than grade) to supplement the power requirements for the trains. But I suspect your approach is likely the more cost-effective one.


Like this comment
Posted by Caltrain fan
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2015 at 7:33 am

If Atherton sues, Caltrain should present this article as evidence that the claims are clearly not environmental- instead they're just bullying tactics to try and get more train service. Hey, it'd be the first time an Almanac article was useful!


Like this comment
Posted by MBA
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 23, 2015 at 10:03 am

Don't just focus on costs. As Carpenter pointed out, there are potential large revenue sources for some alternatives. Not just bond issues, but also the use of land or air rights for underground or trenched options. With today's very low interest rates, some of the costs can be financed reasonably


Like this comment
Posted by City Dubs
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 23, 2015 at 12:50 pm

What is A-town's re ord on lawsuits? All u remember are the ones for thr PAC and for a couple planters. Both losses, amiright?

Others?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 23, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station, etc.

Let's take the big view and come up with a win-win solution.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 23, 2015 at 2:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Thinking more about how to best utilize the existing right of way I would add a pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And I would include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.


Like this comment
Posted by cw
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2015 at 1:40 am

"Really?" is partially right about the control of the tracks (and Mark Simon doesn't tell the whole truth). Yes, the Caltrain JPB board bought the right-of-way from Southern Pacific in the 1980s, but SP retained certain rights. Among them was the right to continue freight trains and veto anything that threatened the ability to move freight on the tracks. Electrification and HSR can't happen without SP's say so. Which means the JPB will have to write SP a big check.

It's interesting to read that Atherton is contacting Palo Alto to be a co-plaintiff in the suit, but not Menlo Park. I guess after seeing Kirsten Keith's selfie with Governor Brown at the HSR groundbreaking, they figured Menlo Park was now in favor of HSR.


Like this comment
Posted by interesting
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Comments from Dave Price regarding the forementioned "selfie" can only be viewed as ironic comedy, unless Dave Price doesn't read his own paper.

________

One ‘selfie’ is worth 1,000 words (Web Link)
January 12, 2015 -- Dave Price , Daily Post

When I first saw the “selfie” of Menlo Park City Councilwoman Kirsten Keith and Gov. Jerry Brown, I thought it was a hoax. I mean what politician in the mid-Peninsula would go to the groundbreaking of the California High-Speed Rail project and pose with the project’s No. 1 proponent. With all of the anger that project has evoked, nobody would do that, right?
________

THE UPDATE: CORRECTION 2 (Web Link)
January 10, 2015 -- Daily Post

A story Thursday about the groundbreaking for high-speed rail should have said that Menlo Park is no longer suing over the project. The city's case ended on July 24 (2013) when a state appeals court upheld the California High-Speed Rail Authority's program Environmental Impact Report for the route of the train.
________

City told to approve third rail track (Web Link)
January 14, 2014 -- Jeramy Gordon, Daily Post

The Menlo Park City Council tonight will consider planning for a third set of tracks that can accommodate highspeed rail, in order to get a county grant to build an overpass at the Ravenswood Avenue crossing, Senior Transportation Engineer Nicole Nagaya said. The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally wanted to build two additional tracks for a total of four along the Peninsula, but residents and politicians said that would be detrimental to the area...
________

City ends rail legal fight (Web Link)
May 1, 2013 -- Breena Kerr, Daily Post

The Menlo Park City Council announced last night that it will not continue fighting a legal battle to stop high-speed rail. In late February, a judge threw out a 2008 lawsuit brought by Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, in which the cities challenged the environmental report for the California High-Speed Rail Authority project. Last night, Mayor Peter Ohtaki said the city would not pursue an appeal of the lawsuit following a discussion of the matter in closed session.


Like this comment
Posted by Realit Check
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2015 at 1:15 pm

It would be helpful if "peninsula resident" would explain the difference between Caltrain and the PCJPB, the owners of the Peninsula Caltrain right of way, and what its significance is in his saying Caltrain's Mr. Simon was wrong to say Caltrain owns the ROW.

Secondly, SP (Southern Pacific RR) ceased to exist in the early 1990s, as I recall. Union Pacific bought what was left of SP and acquired SP's freight trackage rights on the Peninsula Caltrain line. The ROW purchase agreement between SP and the PCJPB contains language spelling out that the freight rights can end when and if the line should become incompatible with such. While this may heve been written with BART in mind, it could also conceivably be made to apply in case of electrification and/or HSR-related ROW and/or track infrastructure changes (eg steep grades, impaired clearances, etc.) that make continued freight sevice infeasible/impractical or even impossible.


Like this comment
Posted by Irrelevant
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 25, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Not sure what point @interesting is trying to make. If @interesting is defending Kirsten Keith, then explain where she stands on electrification and high speed rail.


Like this comment
Posted by Edward
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2015 at 3:44 pm

One thing that complicates a law suit is that you can't sue a railroad for non-compliance with CEQA. The relevant law is NEPA, the federal law. This is the result of the house member representing Turlock trying to prevent CHSR construction in the San Joaquin Valley and complaining to the EPA. It referred the case to The Surface Transportation Board. The board agreed that CHSR had to satisfy NEPA but since CEQA was so much stricter they had already done so.

At this point the legal department of CHSR realized they had been offered a gift on a silver platter and requested a ruling of the board as to whether or not that meant that NEPA superseded CEQA because of the commerce clause of the US constitution. By a two to one ruling they agreed. And the representative from Turlock discovered that he had a bullet hole in his foot.


Like this comment
Posted by relevant
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 25, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Dave Price never writes that Keith ever opposed HSR. If you read the Daily Post "selfie" article and come away with that impression, then the joke is on you. The "Blended Plan" was proposed by Eshoo, Simitian and Gordon in April of 2011, and Menlo Park has officially adopted that plan. This all happened years ago, long befor Brown was re-elected to a historic 4th term, to become the most popular Governor in California's history.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert S. Allen
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2015 at 7:19 am

Electric Multiple-Unit (MU) trains are great: faster acceleration, no exhaust, quieter. But "Blended Rail" (e.g., High Speed Rail on Caltrain) brings problems, like commute stations and grade crossings.

After California voters in 2008 approved Prop 1A (entitled "The Safe, Reliable..." HSR bond act), proud San Franciscans saw a gold mine: money to electrify Caltrain and extend it to their new TTC Taj Majal.

Added HSR trains even on Caltrain 79 mph tracks, would prove vulnerable to accidents, suicides, and even terrorist attacks, NEITHER SAFE NOR RELIABLE. They could well see tragedies and train delays, like that at Bourbonnais, Illinois, in 1999. Amtrak there, also on 79 mph track, hit a heavy truck at a grade crossing, derailing two locomotives and 11 of 14 passenger cars, with many casualties.

High Speed Rail needs to be fenced and grade separated. CHSRA should end first at San Jose; it could then follow the UP/Amtrak Mulford route to Oakland and Sacramento. From the site of a new transfer station at the BART overhead in Oakland, BART now runs 16 trains per hour to four downtown San Francisco BART/Muni stations six to ten minutes away.

Trains at up to 125 mph through Peninsula communities? No. Safety trumps a one-seat-ride.


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

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