Atherton takes step toward railroad quiet zone | News | Almanac Online |


Atherton takes step toward railroad quiet zone

Town interviewing consultants this week

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Atherton plans to hire a consultant this week to help the town make the stretch of the town's railroad tracks near the Fair Oaks Lane crossing into a "quiet zone" where trains could sound their horns only if they encounter a hazard, City Manager George Rodericks said.

The consultants competing for the job were told that their "primary focus" would be "to achieve a Quiet Zone designation for the Fair Oaks Crossing as soon as possible." The town wants the consultant to start working as soon as mid-January, Mr. Rodericks said.

If the quiet zone is adopted, train horns would not sound at the Fair Oaks Lane crossing, but would still sound at the nearby Watkins Avenue crossing.

According to a staff report, the quiet zone would be the first on the Caltrain corridor. There are 36 quiet zones in California, the report says, with nine of them single grade-level railroad crossings as Atherton is proposing.

The move to make the crossing a quiet zone probably would not have come about without the research of Rail Committee member Nerissa Dexter. In October 2014, the town was told by Caltrain "that FRA (Federal Rail Administration) regulations (on quiet zones) typically require at least a 10 year interval with no nearby fatalities, a situation that could not currently be met."

But Ms. Dexter's research found that the Federal Rail Administration does not count deaths by suicide as casualities and does not consider nearby casualties, and in fact listed no casualities in Atherton.

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12 people like this
Posted by Idea
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 11:20 am

This links into the debate about creating a proper grade separation so that cars don't have to cross the tracks. It seems like there has been some resistance in the past to this idea, but wouldn't it make everyone happier to separate the railroad from street level making it safer and removing the need for cars to stop for trains. Then it should be relatively simple to implement a quiet zone since there would be no way for the train to hit anyone. It's a win win compromise no?

10 people like this
Posted by BJ
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 5, 2016 at 11:26 am

A consultant?

That's funny.

re: grade separation - nah, what works for other common communities on the Peninsula isn't something that would work in A-town.

Quite a blot on our landscape, wot?

6 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 5, 2016 at 11:36 am

I've heard that in other countries, the bells and flashing lights of the crossing gates are considered quite sufficient, so trains do not blow their horns at road crossings.

8 people like this
Posted by Omar
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 12:19 pm

Only in America do we blame accidents on the lack of safety measures instead of the carelessness of the person involved Web Link

14 people like this
Posted by Idea
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Ok, lets go by your rhetoric and stop having empathy for the person hit. Every time someone is hit thousands of people get delayed getting to work or getting home. Would you prefer a cow pusher that clears wreckage from the tracks? Problems don't go away just because you feel you've sufficiently rationalized away the blame.

Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 5, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Re: grade separation. Unfortunately it boils down to cost. Palo Alto looked into trenching south PA and came up with estimates of 500 million to 1 billion. That cost is prohibitive for most cities to even consider, since you can bet that Caltrain won't foot the bill. If HSR is ever built here, they need to grade separate the entire peninsula before they can operate.

4 people like this
Posted by Idea
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 4:23 pm

You're correct that one of the options was $1 billion but there were other options going far lower to $300, and that's not even the whole story. Look up the full report if you're interested.

Grade separation was already implemented through San Bruno which has far less money than Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton. What they did was simply build a raised platform to run the train over the intersections. The difference is that Atherton, Menlo Park, and Atherton decided they would prefer not to have the tracks raised more than 3 feet for reasons of appearance. If the people in the area don't want to pay at least $300m to avoid raising the rails maybe they should look at the other options. If appearance is worth the money to them then they should budget for it otherwise there are perfectly viable solutions that most other cities in the Bay Area use without issue.

18 people like this
Posted by charles reilly
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Fact is, CalTrain should be elevated throughout the Peninsula, as population is getting more dense every year & more traffic. Much of the cost should be provided by new development, as that's whats driving increase in ridership.

CalTrain does not need to blow it's horn every 5 minutes. They blow it in Redwood City at 3:00 am. RR Crossings are well marked - we don't need horns.

14 people like this
Posted by Jeremy
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 5, 2016 at 6:20 pm

The city of San Bruno did not pay for grade separation. The $155M San Bruno project came from SMCTA: $92.4 million; State: $55.9 million; Federal: $6.6 million.

Source: Web Link

You ascribe too much power to the municipalities along the Caltrain tracks. They don't have budgetary nor executive control over what Caltrain does. They don't provide direct Caltrain funding.

If Caltrain wants to grade separate Atherton crossings, that would be up to Caltrain. My guess is there are more congested crossings than either of Atherton's Caltrain would be more interested in grade separating first.

Like this comment
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of another community
on Jan 5, 2016 at 8:10 pm

@Jeremy: Plus Atherton would just sue Caltrain if they ever attempted to build it.

12 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 5, 2016 at 9:05 pm

"Plus Atherton would just sue Caltrain if they ever attempted to build it."

Atherton would not be the only community to fight a viaduct or berm, if Caltrain tried to go that route.

And, it's worth mentioning that Atherton's EIR lawsuit is one of the main reasons Caltrain will be forced to be CEQA compliant if/when Caltrain electrification takes place. You should be thanking Atherton.

You're welcome.

8 people like this
Posted by Jeremy
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 5, 2016 at 10:44 pm

I'm not sure why some think elevating Caltrain tracks as the most likely way grade separation occurs. That is actually an expensive option as Caltrain would need to construct the elevated tracks at the same time as maintaining rail service.

It's cheaper and faster to close the road temporarily, then dig under the current tracks to grade separate. Residents would also be more open to this proposal than any of the other options.

6 people like this
Posted by BJ
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 6, 2016 at 10:01 am

Not just San Bruno, kiddies - San Carlos and Belmont have won the battle over noise and congestion by also raising their tracks.

No clanging gates. No backed up traffic.

Ever notice that only when you are late, you get the double whammy of waiting at the gate for TWO trains?

bad luck, eh wot?

6 people like this
Posted by Petey
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 6, 2016 at 1:58 pm

I would live to see traffic flow improve around the area - especially during rush hours, when they have even more trains than normal hours.

And eliminate all those whistles and clanging gates for good!

2 people like this
Posted by Marina
a resident of another community
on Feb 9, 2016 at 4:13 pm

I'm glad to hear that Atherton is establishing the first Quiet Zone on the peninsula. Does anyone know if this will also affect the Union Pacific freight trains at night?

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