News

Menlo Park: Council splinters on grade separations

 

The Menlo Park City Council's answer to the nearly $400 million question – "One grade separation, or three, at Menlo Park's Caltrain crossings?" – will have to wait.

About the only thing the council, minus Councilwoman Catherine Carlton, could agree on, following a lengthy discussion at its Oct. 10 meeting, was to table a vote on the matter until she was present.

Grade separations reconfigure a crossing so a road goes over or under rail tracks, improving traffic flow (since vehicles don't have to stop for trains) and safety.

A two-year study has yielded two options, from which the City Council was asked to pick one for further study:

● Option 1: Tunnel Ravenswood Avenue about 22 feet beneath the Caltrain tracks at an estimated cost of $160 million to $200 million and an estimated construction duration of three to four years. Access to Alma Street from Ravenswood Avenue (a popular route to the Civic Center) would be eliminated.

● Option 2: Raise the Caltrain tracks and lower the roads to allow vehicles to pass beneath the rails at three crossings: Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues. The estimated cost is $310 million to $390 million. Estimated construction duration is four to five years. This option would require creating an above-ground berm that the train would travel on. At its maximum, the berm would be 10 feet high at Ravenswood and Oak Grove avenues, and about 5 feet at Glenwood Avenue.

Mayor Kirsten Keith and Councilman Rich Cline favored Option 2 with further provisions; Councilman Peter Ohtaki favored Option 1, and Councilman Ray Mueller favored waiting to move forward with any preferred option until more information is available from Palo Alto about the feasibility of pursuing a trench or tunnel.

The vote was also split when the matter came before two commissions that advise the council.

The Planning Commission favored Option 1 on a 4-2 vote with one commissioner absent. Commissioners cited their opposition to the berm in Option 2 and they noted that Option 1 would cause less disruption to the city during construction.

The Complete Streets Commission favored Option 2 on a 6-3 vote with one commissioner absent. Commissioners said they preferred having more grade separations and they noted that Option 2 would allow easier access to the library on Alma Street.

Working with other cities?

When the scope of the grade-separation study was established, the council agreed to limit the study to Menlo Park's city limits in order to complete the study, ideally in six months or less, according to Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya.

Now, two years later, council members and some members of the public have asked if the study's scope was comprehensive enough and inclusive of neighboring cities.

Ms. Keith said that while she supported moving ahead with selecting the three-separation option, city staff should find out where Atherton's Town Council stands on the concept of elevating the tracks. (City staff members have have met with Atherton's staff, but the matter has not been presented to the Town Council.)

If Atherton were open to allowing an elevated rail track in some portion of its boundaries, then a grade separation at Menlo Park's fourth rail crossing, Encinal Avenue, might be a possibility. That could happen via a viaduct (fully elevating the train tracks over Menlo Park crossings along the entire city) or a hybrid grade separation (raising the tracks and lowering the road to get enough clearance for traffic to flow beneath).

The viaduct idea was not studied formally, but former council members Steve Schmidt and Mickie Winkler, among others, have asked in recent weeks that it be evaluated further.

But pursuing a viaduct or a grade separation at Encinal Avenue could create new problems, according to city staff and consultants.

First, Ms. Nagaya said, separating Encinal Avenue from the Caltrain tracks near Atherton would require acquiring private property, which is why it wasn't pursued further in the study that was presented.

Furthermore, there could be substantial visual impacts to elevating the rail line. A viaduct structure would be about 22 feet high. Poles for an electrified Caltrain would add another 35 feet, which would make the structure nearly 60 feet high.

Councilman Ohtaki compared the viaduct concept to towering BART lines elevated in the East Bay, and noted that, in his experience, elevated trains make more noise and require tree removals.

Although an elevated train might make more mechanical noise, if all four rail crossings were separated from roads, then the city could become a "quiet zone" in which Caltrain wouldn't have to blare its earsplitting horn.

Noise studies haven't been done yet to see exactly what the auditory impacts would be, according to Assistant Transportation Engineer Angela Obeso.

If Encinal Avenue is not separated, then Ms. Keith said the city could consider installing a "quad" gate there instead, which could allow the city to ask Caltrain to make the city a "quiet zone."

A tunnel or trench?

Councilman Ray Mueller told the council he thinks the city should give more study to the option of tunneling the rail line through the city, and perhaps connecting to neighboring cities.

City staff said the tunnel and trench ideas were ruled out in previous studies because they're an order of magnitude more expensive than building grade separations.

"I've been convinced we need to study a tunnel. This is our one shot," he said. He referred to apparent widespread interest in Palo Alto in a tunnel or trench. He said he preferred to postpone a decision until the findings of consultant research in Palo Alto about such a project's feasibility and financing options are available. "I think we have enough residents in the city who would prefer to wait to hear what result of that effort is, (and) see if it's viable."

Councilman Rich Cline agreed he would support a tunnel over the three-separation option – but only if there's a dramatic change in the positions of Menlo Park's neighbors soon.

He called it a "massive mistake" to not tunnel the rail line, but said, "I have softened over time from the position I've had, which is 'bury it or bust,' because it requires multiple jurisdictions to be aligned to do that and none of our neighbors are."

Adina Levin, Menlo Park Complete Streets commissioner and executive director of Friends of Caltrain, speaking as an individual, expressed doubt about there being sufficient will in Menlo Park to commit to an excavation solution.

She told the council she has not seen "any evidence that we are seriously grappling" with the price tag of a trench or tunnel, which is likely to be hundreds of millions of dollars.

"The library makes us nervous," she said, referring to a later agenda item that involves the council trying to figure out how to raise an estimated $30 million to help fund a new library. "What about ten times that amount?"

Another potentially complicating factor with a tunnel or trench option, noted Ms. Nagaya, is that Caltrain may not support it, as it could be more logistically challenging to maintain and operate than an above-ground system.

"There's an outstanding question of liability and who absorbs that liability if someone chooses to move forward with an option that Caltrain doesn't support," she said.

On a deadline

Caltrain spokesperson Liz Scanlon told the council that there's a long list of cities along the Caltrain corridor, between San Francisco and San Jose, that are in different stages of planning for grade-separation projects.

There's a very limited amount of funding that must be split across multiple grade-separation projects in the county and region. Menlo Park's plans are currently behind Burlingame and San Mateo, but ahead of Redwood City and Palo Alto in the many-year process to pursue grade separations.

If the city doesn't pick an option soon, then other cities may overtake Menlo Park's place in the funding line, Ms. Scanlon said.

There have been routine studies of possible grade separations since the 1960s, with the most recent in 2003 to 2004.

Councilman Peter Ohtaki, who was the only council member in favor of the Ravenswood Avenue-only grade separation, said, "My overriding concern is that I'd really like to see this happen in our lifetime."

More questions

One logistical question left unanswered was how a shoofly, or temporary rail setup to keep Caltrain running during the project's construction, would work with space constraints through the city. Only preliminary engineering on that aspect of a potential project has been done, according to AECOM consultant Etty Mercurio.

One Menlo Park resident, who did not provide his name, but told the council he preferred to remain anonymous because of his employer, argued that transportation is changing quickly and many grade separations may not be needed. Within the next five to 10 years, he said, the landscape of transportation and its technologies could change dramatically, due, in part, to some of what's being developed in town, such as self-driving cars. He favored minimal changes.

"Don't build a giant Berlin Wall which makes a huge racket and lasts 100 years if you don't need it in five years," he said.

The matter may return to the council as soon as Oct. 17. The council meets 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center.

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Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Waldo
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 11, 2017 at 11:36 am

Where in the world was Catherine Carlton?


30 people like this
Posted by mary gilles
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Oct 11, 2017 at 11:41 am

After reading this online article, I am struck by the underlying theme that the remaining peninsula cities who have the train at grade are all trying to decide what to do for their particular stretch of Caltrain. Does this not raise the question of why aren't all these cities working together to come up with one regional solution? How does it make any sense that one city like Palo Alto might decide on a trench, its next door neighbor Menlo Park decides on a hybrid and Atherton decides to do nothing? Am I missing something?


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 18, 2017 at 2:09 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
Doing a bored tunnel requires vision and no one city along the right of way has either the vision or the mandate to explore a portal to portal solution.

When all other options are exhausted I predict that a bored tunnel will finally be accepted as the only solution which will not cause massive surface disruptions even though it is clearly the most expensive approach.


8 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 11, 2017 at 1:19 pm

It's clear from the council meeting last night that no one enthusiastically supports either of the two studied alternatives, and despite this unfortunate situation, an elevated viaduct alternative has a been dismissed too easily and quickly WITHOUT equal consideration. For example, the claim "a viaduct structure would be about 22 feet tall, plus electrification poles would add another 35 feet on top of that, which would leave the structure nearly 60 feet tall." is incredibly misleading. The actual rail bed can easily be screened by tall trees like the ones that exist on Alma south of Ravenswood, and the illustrations in the staff report clearly show that the planned Caltrain electrification poles and wires are aesthetically MINOR visual elements NOT offensive "structures" as portrayed last night by our mayor and in this column. Also, the City also does not know how the hybrid (alternatives C) and elevated viaduct compare in terms of expected generated noise with either electrification or high speed rail. Nor does it know how the alternatives differ in terms of expected traffic and city disruption during the construction of either alternative. If the council does not have this essential information, residents do not have it either. So how much confidence can we have in the Council's decisions?


6 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 11, 2017 at 1:44 pm

In the Civil War, General Grant successfully defeated the South by concentrating on taking key rail junctions, Corinth Miss. for example. He knew that the South relied on a rail system that was split into a dozen different track gages, so that the junctions/transfer points between the different systems were key to disabling distribution of supplies and troops. The North all worked on one track gage.

It's argued that the South lost because it had too many and conflicting approaches to Rail Infrastructure. Don't let the Peninsula go down the same path! Going our own way with these insular discussions on major projects will be our defeat.


20 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2017 at 2:03 pm

A trench isn't hundreds of millions, it is a couple of billion. The logistics of getting under San Francisquito Creek is enormous, and all three cities have to agree -- possibly more depending on how far the trench goes -- and then the project is several billion. Divide the cost -- even 1.5 billion, into the population. Where does that money come from? Then there is the matter of how one runs freight operations through a tunnel. A trench, maybe, but a tunnel has to be vented, or the operator has to change to electric locomotives, which then requires that all freight leads be electrified at considerable cost, or that a fleet of diesel switchers are employed. A tunnel isn't going to happen, and a trench is little more likely.

In the late 70's, I was working at Kinko's, then past the Round Table, and saw a commute train stopped down from the station during rush hour. It didn't move for well over an hour. After work I went down to the station. Under the train was a little girl's bike, folded in half under the train. Her friend went around the gates ahead of her when the northbound train passed, and she followed her, only to be hit by a southbound train neither little girl saw nor expected. I felt as bad for the friend who had to live with this as I did for the girl who had died.

The entire Caltrain line needs to be grade separated. Leaving one crossing out is insanity. Thinking big money will fall from heaven for a trench or tunnel is insane. The only sane solution is to move forward with a hybrid or viaduct that separates all crossings. I would only support the three-crossing solution if the forth could be added as an addendum, that wouldn't require that the other three be rebuilt. To just separate one only puts off the ultimate solution and causes ultimately a higher overall price tag to do it twice.

Time to get real.


Like this comment
Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 11, 2017 at 3:57 pm

@Mary

Menlo Park received the grant money for this study. They decide which cities get to participate or not participate. From the article, the Menlo Park council wanted to have the study completed in a six month time frame. Adding more cities would have slowed down finalizing alternatives and decision making. Based on that, they excluded participation from other cities and a regional solution. However, it sounds like they are reconsidering.


8 people like this
Posted by I remember her
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:05 pm

The little girl relentlesscactus speaks of was in my class at M-A.

Horrible accident. To this day, I think of her each time I cross the tracks at Oak Grove.

A raised viaduct encompassing Watkins in Atherton and all four Menlo Park crossings is the best option.

It’s a 21st Century solution.

It’s time for some vision and leadership to make this happen.

Digging a hole to push Ravenswood under the tracks just isn’t going to cut it.


2 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:15 pm

Unfortunately, successful coordination with other communities appears unpromising for at least a few key reasons.

Caltrain is striving to electrify its trains by 2023 so communities do not have a lot of time to (a) decide how and where they will create street-track separations, (b) develop detailed plans, (c) apply for and receive government funding, (d) and complete these projects.

Available funding in 2018 and thereafter will remain uncertain until money is allocated from the county and state to these types of projects and to individual communities, AND many communities are competing for future funding. We should expect demand to far exceed supply.

And finally, Palo Alto and Atherton - our closest neighbors - are miles apart in terms of where they are in deciding what types of separations they will use and where AND there is no evidence they will decide the next six months.

So Menlo Park is in the unenviable position of trying to independently pursue its own interests and wishing it was otherwise will not make it so. The funding source would have to demand coordination and that seems unlikely.


8 people like this
Posted by Dr. Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Yeah, I wouldn't give my name either, if I was making histrionic comparisons to the Berlin Wall! No one's shooting anyone in the back just because they want to get from the library to Starbucks.

The elevated tracks in San Carlos-Belmont and San Bruno are FINE. Go with something like that already, and don't pander to people throwing out unproven/unrealistic options.


8 people like this
Posted by some guy from atherton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2017 at 8:45 pm

@Peter Carpenter

I keep seeing you post about digging a tunnel, but do you have any idea how much it would cost?

Let's just say for the sake of argument that we build a tunnel under Menlo Park. That's approximately 1.5 miles of tunnel. How deep is this tunnel? Let's assume a bored tunnel (40 ft. deep), because a cut and cover tunnel would require significant disruptions on the surface, and Menlo Park would never want that. Add another mile for the approaches to this tunnel, and now you've got a 2.5 mile long railway tunnel.

The commonly accepted cost for an underground railway tunnel is a billion per mile, so this tunnel would cost 2.5 billion dollars.

Who pays for this tunnel? The Republican controlled Federal government that just tried to end Caltrain electrification, a project with far higher benefits and dramatically lower costs?

The County? You can't be serious, they don't have that kind of money.

The City? They can't even find 30 million for a library.

Local companies like Facebook? Menlo Park has been trying to make them feel unwelcome for the past 6 years, you really think they'd give billions to the city?

The hard truth is, nobody is going to pay for your tunnel.

I personally think the viaduct idea is the way to go. Maybe Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto can work together to build a 3 mile long viaduct from the Atherton Caltrain station all the way down to the Palo Alto Caltrain station. It would cost far less, separate more tracks from roads than a tunnel, and open up a new space below the tracks that could be turned into parks and trails.

A viaduct could create 7 grade separations and reduce traffic for tens of thousands of commuters per day. It's still a pipe dream, but a much more realistic pipe dream. All we need is for 3 different cities to cooperate in order to solve a common problem, which they will never do.

I'm pessimistic anything will end up being done. Menlo Park doesn't have the willpower to make this happen, other cities *cough cough Atherton* would rather do nothing than confront this problem, and quite frankly, Menlo Park doesn't deserve the money. Why build grade separations in Menlo Park when there are railroad crossings with higher traffic volumes on this line. It's simply not cost effective.

We'll probably end up cursing ourselves in 20 years when CAHSR finally starts running, while waiting at the Ravenswood crossing, wishing that we had the foresight to build a grade separation.


7 people like this
Posted by some guy from Atherton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 11, 2017 at 9:04 pm

also for some inspiration, here are some large scale grade separation projects

Level Crossing Removal Authority (Melbourne, Australia)
Alameda Corridor (Los Angeles, California)

Maybe instead of trying to kill CAHSR every step of the way, we try to work together to get something we all want: more grade separations.

Grade Separations mean less waiting to cross the tracks, fewer delays on Caltrain caused by cars getting hit, quieter crossings(no more train horns and the crossing gate jingle), and an overall more connected community.


3 people like this
Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2017 at 10:29 pm


"Maybe Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto can work together to build a 3 mile long viaduct from the Atherton Caltrain station all the way down to the Palo Alto Caltrain station."

Regarding Palo Alto participating in a viaduct:
Highly unlikely. I've seen the proposals that Palo Alto is considering regarding grade separation. They are focused on *South* Palo Alto. Palo Alto has no interest...and more importantly little need...to consider grade separation in North Palo Alto, because they already *have* grade separation in 2 of the 3 North Palo Alto crossings.

Regarding Atherton participating in a viaduct:
Perhaps you are unaware of the difference in revenues between Atherton and the rest of the communities in which the JPB-owned CalTrain ROW exists. Here are just a few examples from recent budgets:

Atherton Revenue: $15.75 million
Menlo Park Revenue: $56.87 million
Redwood City Revenue: $113.94 million
San Jose Revenue: $861.93 million
East Palo Alto Revenue: 35.06 million (added just for comparison)

How exactly do you think Atherton can participate in paying for a viaduct?????


5 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 11, 2017 at 10:33 pm

Read my lips, NO community expects to pay for the bulk of the cost of grade separations. All will apply for financial grants from either county or state sources. Atherton simply needs to develop a well thought out plan and submit an application, just like every other community.


6 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 11, 2017 at 11:08 pm

I like the Viaduct option. I don't think it needs to be "60 feet" tall with poles for electification...this is a design issue. You can have the electrification provided for the stretch required by a third rail and just alter the design of the electric trains that are yet to go into service.

The noise created by the whoosh of BART in the East Bay is really not that bad. Even a few blocks from the BART, it's just a whooshing sound. I'd much prefer that in our community than the loud horns we hear multiple times every day at all four crossings.

There definitely needs to be coordination between towns on this project, but if any other city needed grade separation, it would be San Mateo. I wonder if they have any plans to do grade separation in their downtown area and if so, whether our cities could join with them in seeking funding options for these projects.


2 people like this
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 11, 2017 at 11:29 pm

All Caltrain grade separations, if they are to be done at all, must be done using the same design. Otherwise Caltrain tracks will look like a roller coaster, and Caltrain will not be able to function at all.

Pete Carpenter and all others who favor putting Caltrain in a tunnel anywhere: Because all of these grade separations absolutely must be of the very same design, how, exactly should the tunnel be designed so that the road-road grade separations at University Avenue and Embarcadero Road and Oregon Expressway and San Antonio Road are preserved?

The onus is on you pro-tunnel folks to answer this extremely important question in detail, so we all can know exactly how this will work. And none of you should try to avoid answering this very important question by saying you are not professional engineers. I am sure all of you know how to find knowledgeable professional engineers who could answer this very important question in detail.

And exactly how will this tunnel be designed so as not to interfere with San Francisquito Creek? That creek drains a very large watershed, and should not be dammed up during tunnel construction. I am sure that no one wants El Camino to flood repeatedly because Caltrain is constructing a tunnel.


3 people like this
Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:18 am

@Dana

With respect to grade separating at Encinal Ave, there shouldn't be a need to coordinate with Atherton. Here's the rail corridor map on the Menlo Park and Atherton border:

Web Link

What you see is the rail corridor wholly within Menlo Park's city limits until you get about 150 feet before Watkins.

The rail corridor distance between Glenwood and Encinal is 1100 feet. The distance between Encinal and Watkins is 1700 feet. Somehow the Alternative C grade separation plan can get the train back to at-grade at Encinal in 1100 feet, but can't do so before entering Atherton town limits when given a few extra hundred feet?!?!

A plan to grade separate all four Menlo Park crossings is possible without having to coordinate with any other cities.


2 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 7:27 am

Mason: Based on the discussion at the Tuesday night council meeting, It appears that coordination with Atherton is needed for Encinal street-rail separation. (Note: you can watch the video of the meeting at the city website.) Simply contact the Transportation Department if you want a more detailed explanation as I am sure they will answer your questions. Then please share what you learn here so everyone can benefit. Thanks for raising this issue.


6 people like this
Posted by Andrew Boone
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2017 at 9:52 am

This article fails to mention an important point that Green Caltrain did report: Encinal Avenue could be closed to car traffic and grade separated with a bicycle and pedestrian tunnel only without needing to raise the tracks within Atherton. Car traffic could still access the area via El Camino Real and Glenwood Avenue. A bike/ped tunnel would cost much less than grade separating Encinal Avenue for car traffic.

From Green Caltrain: "[Encinal Avenue] could be separated for pedestrians and cyclists only with a project within the borders of Menlo Park. For Encinal to be separated for vehicles also, while avoiding major impacts to homes, the tracks would need to descend to grade level in Atherton." Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by frs
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2017 at 10:44 am

Any one who is relying on Atherton to participate or cooperate on Caltrain is dreaming. If every one wants viaduct, they'll push for tunnel. If everyone agrees on tunnel, they will want a viaduct. All they want to do is obstruct!


3 people like this
Posted by Aaron
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 12, 2017 at 12:37 pm

@Andrew Boone

Encinal Ave. is where one of the major Elementary Schools for MP/Atherton and the MPCSD offices are located. It's a major link between Middlefield and ECR, and sees a lot of traffic during school dropoff and pick up hours. I don't think closing it off to allow only bike and pedestrian traffic makes sense, and routing that traffic through Glenwood would cause a lot more congestion. Of all streets crossign the rail corridor, because of the school and the number of school-aged children making the crossing daily, Encinal Avenue absolutely should be on the list for grade separation. Excluding it while we build other grade separations would be a ludicrous failure in planning.


2 people like this
Posted by full separation
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:29 pm

The seventy foot tall viaduct in that linked article is not relevant in Menlo Park. The only realistic option in Menlo Park is for an nineteen foot tall elevated platform supported by pillars, between Oak Grove and Ravenswood, which will open up that plaza and avoids depressing the roads creating negative impacts on traffic and the surrounding property. The visual impact of this elevated platform should not be a concern four our suburban residents as the station is far from Felton Gables and the Atherton border.

With full elevation at the Southern three crossings, it becomes possible to have a hybrid crossing at Encinel without altering the tracks in Atherton, but Encinel Road could be quite depressed. If we assume Atherton owns the Watkins crossing, but Caltrain owns the right-of-way South of that crossing, Caltrain may have the authority to start the elevation North of the border, so we end up with one reasonable hybrid crossing. We could ask Atherton how they feel about Menlo Park's plan to forever silence the horns and bells at Encinel. We can only assume they will be supportive and be open to silencing the horns and bells at Watkins.

The hybrid solution works in San Carlos because it allows for grade separation at all intersections. We need a solution in Menlo Park that will also separate all crossings. Fully elevating Ravenswood, Oak Grove and Glenwood with a hybrid up/down crossing at Encinel will cost much less than the current options, improve traffic flow and improve quality of life in Menlo Park by getting rid of the bells and horns.

Let's take the money we save by leaving the Southern three vehicle crossings at-grade, and design a state-of-the-art station that incorporates a wonderful ground-level plaza and transit center.


1 person likes this
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Hi Aaron: Here is what I found about a third rail ion the Caltrain Electrification Project website. Web Link

The project "EIR considered a third rail alternative, but determined it is infeasible for Caltrain as it is not compatible with current Caltrain service. Due to the much higher cost of a grade- separated third-rail alternative, a fully grade separated system would cost much more than modernizing the existing infrastructure. Self-powered electric trains (such as trains powered from fuel cells or rechargeable batteries) are experimental technologies at this time and not proven for use in a commuter rail system on a corridor like the Caltrain corridor."

Thanks for raising this subject.


4 people like this
Posted by MBA Traveler
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:49 pm

We can learn a lot from Europe. Trains there DO go up and go underground and back again. No problem. Almost always they are underground within a city. That frees up at-grade and above-grade space to be used for other valued (eg pedestrian and bicycle paths, green space) and valuable (eg homes and businesses) purposes.

We can learn a lot from a proper financial evaluation. Those ongoing benefits of undergrounding must be evaluated and weighed at the same time as the analysis of one-time construction costs. Even if in the low Billions, construction costs can be financed over a long period. Interest rates are very low right now. Financial benefits increase over time.

Making a decision based only on estimating short term costs, not costs PLUS longterm benefits, is guaranteed to yield suboptimal results.


4 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

London just spent $21 Billion (with a 'b') on their 26 mile Crossrail tunnel:

Web Link

But it's 26 miles long. Pro-rate it for length as you see fit. Nobody has the money for this: Think of the cost-benefit for a city of 33,000- we're wasting time with all this Popular Mechanics nonsense.


5 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2017 at 2:24 am

Reality Check is a registered user.


Forget about tunneling. Everyone that says it's a never-going-to-happen pipe dream for Menlo Park is absolutely right.

As was mentioned in this week's council meeting, Caltrain is against tunneling as well.

More strikes against a tunnel are:

• constant ongoing water intrusion, pumping and flooding headaches: it will certainly be below the water table and water intrusion via cracks (all tunnels leak ... BART still needs to upgrade the transbay tube pumping system in hopes of keeping up with the extraordinary rate of leaking salt water expected after a major earthquake!)

• San Francisquito Creek (and Palo Alto's adjacent historic namesake "El Palo Alto" tree): if you tunnel under the creek and El Palo Alto at a sufficient depth to avoid those obstacles, there is no way to avoid forcing a complete reconstruction of Palo Alto's historic University Avenue Caltrain station since the track grade would be too great to get back up to the existing platform elevations in such a short distance ... and staying underground would mean the tracks would have to be deep enough to safely clear University Ave. underpass to avoid forcing a complete reconstruction of that ... which means you would need to create a huge underground cavern for the north and southbound platforms to be moved underground where the tracks are.

• Nobody ever talks about what's involved in building an underground Menlo Park Caltrain station with 1,000-foot platforms and a ceiling height — at least over the tracks — of about 20 feet or so. BART is a tiny little train ... Caltrain is 14 feet tall with additional space required for tall freight cars which must have enough clearance underneath the 25kV overhead contact system Caltrain and HSR will both use and require (UPRR continues to retain freight rights, which they vigorously defend and are using to force tunnel clearance work on Caltrain's SF tunnels in connection with electrification).

• Caltrain is later planning to raise station platforms to about 50 inches above top of rail (ATOR), the same height HSRA expects to use for its trains, for level "roll-on, roll-off" boarding at the 2nd higher set of doors Caltrain has specified for their new electric trains; all of this is more complicated (read costly) in an underground station

• Building a tunnel for all-electric operation is one very expensive thing. Doing so for mixed operation with diesel and/or frieght trains is significantly more expensive due to life safety issues connected to hazmat loads and 3,000-gallon fuel tanks on diesel locomotives and diesel exhaust venting and extreme noise in a tunnel and underground station. Due to unacceptable life safety risks of carrying large diesel fuel tanks into an underground station, the SF fire marshall actually nixed an earlier plan Caltrain had explored to run dual mode (diesel above ground, electric underground) locomotive-hauled trains into the underground downtown SF extension to Transbay Terminal.

(Aside: phase 2 of the SF Transbay Transit Center project entails extending Caltrain about 1.3 miles into the already-build shell of the underground station there ... and it's almost completely unfunded cost is now well over $4 billion!! ... but a thankfully dwindling few still hope-think Menlo can somehow win the other-people's-money lottery and get handed a cool billion or so for a tunnel and underground station ... all for zero transportation value ... all merely for aesthetics and simple preference!)

Mssrs. Carpenter, Mueller and Cline were/are really causing harm to Menlo Park's best interests in continuing to talk or and/or hold out for the possibility of what will conservatively be well over $1 billion per mile tunneled Caltrain + freight + HSR with underground stations. To hold out for a tunnel is tantamount to pure obstructionism.

So we're down to a split/hybrid solution or viaduct. (Ravenswood only while possibly better than nothing is pure nonsense ... why even bother?) To those for the split/hybrid, why not raise the tracks a few feet more and open up the space underneath for the downtown area between Ravenswood and Oak Grove? Would you rather have useless fill in that space enclosed by a berm or wall ... or open, usable space -- with views and continuous actual & visual connectivity underneath the station and platforms? Note: a viaduct across downtown can easily transition to whatever height is desirable north of downtown ... and if the height is too low for the space underneath to be useful or desirable, then just convert it to a cheaper (landscaped) berm in those areas.

It's a no-brainer. The catenary is thin wire and the 30-35 foot poles are slender and about 200 feet or so apart, so to hyperbolically include the height of the sparsely-spaced support poles and wires in the height of "the structure" as laughable as saying that the at-grade tracks post-electrification will also suddenly be a 30-35 foot tall structure! What nonsense. I guess every Menlo Park street with utility poles and wires is actually 40-60 foot "structure" too then.

OK, so we've been told why we were so short-sighted as not to properly and equally study a downtown street-sparing viaduct, so now the only question how quickly can we get serious about fixing that.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 13, 2017 at 7:59 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Reality - Travel the world and you will see many tunneled train systems that demonstrate the problems you raise are either non-existent or can be overcome.


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Posted by Reality Check Two
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2017 at 9:53 am

I believe Reality has traveled or spent much time in other parts of the world and has seen numerous tunneled and above ground/viaduct train systems. A viaduct can fit nicely into the community without destroying the community, at a fraction of the cost of a tunnel.


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Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2017 at 10:17 am

"...Carpenter, Mueller and Cline were/are really causing harm to Menlo Park's best interests in continuing to talk or and/or hold out for the possibility of what will conservatively be well over $1 billion per mile tunneled Caltrain + freight + HSR with underground stations."

About "obstructionists":
I think the real obstructionists are the ones that obstruct every option EXCEPT the only one they're interested in. While I agree that the pro-tunnel crowd has the potential to obstruct viable alternatives, the same can easily be said for the "VIADUCT-OR-BUST" crowd.

Menlo Park doesn't seem to grasp that it is in a race for funding grade separation, and the dawdling and indecision has the likely result in reduced external funding, leaving a greater and greater percentage of the bill left to Menlo Park residents.


About viaducts:
I'm in agreement with the City Council that going either hybrid or underpass grade separations are the way to go.

That said, I think there MAY be potential in implementing a viaduct through Menlo Park (and Atherton, with the proper design and funding, but that's just my opinion), but the devil's in the details.

That said, I got quite the chuckle from this:
"Would you rather have useless fill in that space enclosed by a berm or wall ... or open, usable space -- with views and continuous actual & visual connectivity underneath the station and platforms?"

Visual connectivity??? Here's an example of "visual connectivity". LOL, hey I hardly notice that viaduct in front of the Ferry Building! :). Web Link

And here's a picture of a BART viaduct. Web Link

A viaduct constructed as Reality Check is describing would be an EYE SORE. All you have to do is look at pictures of...

* the central freeway viaduct,
* the Embarcadero freeway viaduct,
* BART viaducts,
* the Cypress freeway viaduct,

...to know that aesthetically this is a terrible option. Note that when repairing/replacing the above freeway structures was planned, ALL of the communities with those viaducts strenuously objected, for the very reasons people are concerned about a grade-separated structure in Menlo Park.

Objections/concerns about a viaduct are not based on some theoretical concerns; it's based on regional experiences with the aesthetic impact of viaducts, and the history is NOT good.


3 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2017 at 11:00 am

I understand residents are concerned about the potential visual impact of an elevated viaduct. Unfortunately, our city has not done a good job of addressing this concern and council members have sometimes expressed opinions that reinforce fears, especially the potential that it might mar the skyline viewed by nearby homeowners So I will soon publish a short analysis with photos and data that shows the incremental visual impact of a viaduct on the skyline which I believe is NOT significant.

Here are a couple of perspectives to keep in mind.

There are two main elements to the elevated viaduct: physical structure (likely about 25 feet high) and electrification poles with contacts and wire (likely an additional 35 feet).

The viaduct could be very attractive. That depends on design and materials.

The poles could be spaced up to 230 feet apart and neutral in color.

The average height of trees along the east side of the tracks appears to be about 40 feet, and there are larger ones. So these would largely "hide" the physical viaduct.

The train corridor skyline in Menlo Park is already changing. Station 1300 will be 48 feet high and much more massive, and the new hotel at 1400 El Camino is already 52 feet high with 5-foot extensions on the roof. Again this structure has significant mass.

In comparison, the slender and far spaced electrification poles will likely appear relatively insignificant.


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Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 13, 2017 at 4:39 pm

I noticed that none of those who want Caltrain to be in a tunnel have replied in detail to my questions.

I asked above for details about exactly how a tunnel would be designed so as not to dam up San Franscisquito Creek, and I asked exactly how such a tunnel would be designed to keep the 4 road-road grade separations in Palo Alto grade-separated, and none of the pro-tunnel people bothered to give me the details I asked for. Is this because there is no way a tunnel can work and they know that, or because they simply cannot admit to themselves, much less publicly here, that they are wrong?

The sad fact is that there is no way to design any grade separations in Menlo Park or anywhere on the Peninsula that will be practical, will not cost a gigantic amount of money, will not be eyesores, and will not forever change the character of the surrounding areas for the worse.

I am very unhappy with Caltrain's determination to destroy more than 400 old and very tall and beautiful trees, just to be able to install supports for the wires for the new electric-powered trains. Those beautiful old trees will be replaced by little bitty saplings that, if they survive, will take at least 50 years to grow as tall as the trees they are replacing.

Atherton will never recover fro the blight this electrification will cause, and the beauty of the area around the tracks will be gone forever, along with the elegance and exclusivity of that part of Atherton. All you have to do to see what happens to a wealthy area when a large project is rammed through it is to look at what happened to the Rincon Hill neighborhood in San Francisco, which was that city's first wealthy neighborhood. The Second Street Cut of 1869 destroyed that once-elegant neighborhood, which never recovered. This is what I worry will happen to Atherton once those beautiful tall trees are cut down and the ugly poles and catenary for the electrification project are installed.

Have any of the proponents of electrification actually seen how ugly the infrastructure for electric-powered trains that use overhead wires is? Please take a good look at the Northeast Corridor to get a idea of what this area will look like after electrification is complete, then tell me if any of you think that is pretty at all, or as pretty as the way the line now looks.

That is such a pretty area now around the tracks in Atherton....... Oh, well.....


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 13, 2017 at 4:48 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I asked above for details about exactly how a tunnel would be designed so as not to dam up San Franscisquito Creek, and I asked exactly how such a tunnel would be designed to keep the 4 road-road grade separations in Palo Alto grade-separated,"

Simple - a bored tunnel goes beneath these obstacles.


Have you noticed that the Chunnel goes under the English channel or that the Hetch Hetchy tunnel goes under SF Bay?


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Posted by some guy from atherton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 13, 2017 at 6:49 pm

@Peter are you even reading any of the anti tunnel arguments?

> Simple - a bored tunnel goes beneath these obstacles.

For a moment, let's pretend like water intrusion, ventilating an underground tunnel, the expense of building a tunnel to accommodate the high 17 ft (AAR Plate F) loading gauge + the 25kV catenary, and the danger of running diesel powered freight trains in bored tunnels aren't issues. Let's just consider how a tunnel would be built.

I'll assume that riverbed of San Francisquito Creek is 20ft below the Caltrain tracks. I'll also assume that that tunnel would be 20ft tall to accommodate the previously mentioned loading gauge and catenary. Let's also assume that the tunnel's roof would be 10 ft below the river bed. This means that the tracks would be 50 ft. below their current level.

Since Caltrain runs on a freight right of way, the grade would have to be around 1.5%. This means that approximately 3,333 feet of track would be required to elevate the tracks from the tunnel to the current grade.

The Palo Alto Caltrain station is only ~2000ft from San Francisquito Creek, so the station (which is listed on the National Register of Historic places, making it difficult to modify), would have to be rebuilt underground.

Since the University Ave grade separation is an underpass, you'd need to either rebuild the grade separation or dig underneath it. Palo Alto would probably make you dig underneath it, after all, this is Menlo Park's problem, not theirs. They don't need or want this tunnel, they already have grade separations.

You'd also need to dig underneath the Embarcadero Rd. grade separation, which is again too close to the University Ave underpass for the train to have enough space to rise to the current grade.

The tunnel can emerge after Embarcadero Rd.

This tunnel is now 3 miles long, with two new underground stations. As mentioned above, tunneling underground is expensive. Let's assume a cost of 1.5 billion dollars per mile, because the tunnel needs to be ventilated, with huge amounts of pumping equipment to prevent water intrusion, and ventilation towers for the diesel trains. Let's also assume an INCREDIBLY conservative cost of 250 million dollars per station (just look at how much the Transbay Transit Center cost). The total cost for this project is now 5 billion dollars.

Let's add a billion dollars because these projects are always over budget.

The tunnel now costs 6 billion dollars.

Who the hell is paying for this project again?

If you think my estimates are off, here are the costs of some other railway tunneling projects
- Channel Tunnel - $21 billion (700 million per mile)
- 2nd Avenue Subway - $4.5 billion (3 billion per mile)
- Gotthard Base Tunnel - $12 billion (340 million per mile)
- Central Subway - $1.6 billion (1 billion per mile)

Why were some of these projects some much cheaper than others?
- Infrastructure projects tend to cost more in the United States
- Shorter tunnels cost more per mile because fixed costs need to be amortized over shorter distance
- Building underground stations is incredibly expensive (the Chunnel and Gotthard Base Tunnel have no underground stations -ish)
- The European loading gauge is shorter than the American one
- Subway trains are significantly smaller than freight trains

Also note, our tunnel would be far more expensive because of several factors which I listed above
- Water intrusion and flood mitigation
- Ventilation shafts for diesel fumes
- The 17ft tall AAR Plate F loading gauge
- The need for overhead 25kV electrification instead of third rail
- Fire protection systems to prevent diesel fires from spreading throughout a passenger train tunnel

Does the tunnel still seem like a good idea?

Who's paying for this again?



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Posted by some guy from atherton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 13, 2017 at 7:10 pm

Some people have been saying that a viaduct would be ugly (on par with the embarcadero freeway)

This is not remotely true.

The Embaracdero freeway was a double deckered four lane monstrosity, with streets underneath.

A railway viaduct can be significantly smaller (it only needs to be wide enough to accommodate 2 tracks), shorter (only one level of tracks, not two), and we don't need to put concrete and asphalt underneath it.

We could plant trees, and turn the old railway right of way into an urban park with trails and grass.

Here's a link to a video of what could be done with the space below a railway viaduct

Web Link

It's from Melbourne, Australia's Level Crossings Removal Authority, which has been tasked with removing level crossings on commuter railways in Melbourne (wow doesn't that sound familiar)


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2017 at 8:33 pm

some guy from atherton, you are correct. A viaduct can be a beautiful structure that visually integrates the train corridor into its surroundings AND provide useful attractive space beneath. Thanks for the video link. Here is another excellent example Web Link


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Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 14, 2017 at 10:56 am

Everyone is assuming a viaduct will only have two tracks on it? But I thought the high-speed rail system that Caltrain is eagerly embracing will require 4 tracks.

And I still see no detailed replies to my polite questions to the pro-tunnel people.

Caltrain will never be put into a tunnel, unless the JPB or the feds want that, and I don't think they do. The cost would be staggering, and I think Caltrain will choose its preferred design, which probably will be the same as what they did in San Carlos and Belmont, but perhaps with 4 tracks on it, to accommodate high speed rail as well as Caltrain.

I wonder what will happen to the remaining historic depots along the line once construction on the electrification project starts? What will happen to them when grade separations are built? Will any of them survive, or will all of them be destroyed? I really hope not!

We shall see what happens.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 14, 2017 at 11:11 am

Excellent question about the number of high speed rails, Louise68. There is info about this subject at Web Link

Summary: (The Blended System plan will) "enable High Speed Rail (HSR) share tracks with Caltrain. It was first proposed by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, State Senator Joe Simitian and Assembly Member RIch Gordon. In contrast of High Speed Rail’s initial proposal for an elevated 4-track structure the length of the corridor, with separate tracks for HSR trains, requiring expansion beyond the existing right of way, the “blended system” is intended to stay primarily within the Caltrain right of way and use primarily the existing two tracks."

Note HSR is investigating a second set of tracks to allow electrified and HSR to more efficiently share the rail system but these are not planned for Menlo Park.


16 people like this
Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 14, 2017 at 12:03 pm

"Some people have been saying that a viaduct would be ugly (on par with the embarcadero freeway). This is not remotely true."

Oh, really? Please post examples of Bay Area viaducts built within the last 50 years that are even remotely close to beautiful.

Yes, the viaducts built...for example...by the Roman Empire are attractive. And I'll even agree that some of the viaduct drawings and European pictures of some of their viaducts are attractive. But there are no viaducts recently built in the Bay Area that give any confidence an attractive implementation would be built here. It's not that it's impossible to build an attractive viaduct; the issue is that the likelihood of it being built that way here is very low, and the viaduct-or-bust team has given zero evidence it can be made to happen here.

Further, I'll point out that you have the same duty to support your point-of-view as the tunnel-or-bust crowd: please provide details about exactly how a viaduct would be designed so as not to be a similar eye-sore as the viaducts that were TORN DOWN in San Francisco and Oakland. Further, please explain what the cost difference would be between a hideous "BART-style" viaduct vs the attractive (and indisputably more expensive) old-school European style like the ones the viaduct-or-bust team posted earlier (like this one: Web Link )

The City Council has in my opinion made a good call on narrowing the choices between underpasses vs hybrid. Both types of grade separation can be made attractive as well; the potential to make a grade separation attractive is not exclusive to the viaducts you've described here...and in fact based on Bay Area grade separations, the evidence is strong that a hybrid separation can be made reasonably attractive.

I respect your interest in a viaduct, but frankly you need to do more to prove that the proposed viaduct wouldn't look like a hideous BART structure. Sorry, but you own that, and the City Council shouldn't delay their decision while you campaign for one. You haven't offered enough to make waiting for a decision worth it.


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Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 14, 2017 at 1:24 pm

The council and city are well short of a reliable basis for their choice, including:
- Better descriptions and $ estimate for a viaduct, enough to reconsider or put it away. If the latter, that information should exist and be definitive. The latter appears not to exist. On viaduct descriptions, council is relying on their own guesses and intuitions. For a $300M decision this is unacceptable.
- For three underpasses, good estimates of berm height, examples of possible screening and decoration, number and locations of ped/bike tunnels. If the berm can be made acceptable, that's a reason to accept option C. If you choose this option, you're saying this berm can be made satisfactory. Cost is left aside.
- For cost, it's unclear what its status is. Ok to $300M but not higher? Why or why not? Or does this risk an expensive project which won't be funded? That has to be spelled out.
- For Glenwood, Oak Grove and even Ravenswood: Estimates however uncertain or judgmental of congestion and/or gate closings. Why do we believe gates will be down for '40 of 60 minutes at rush hour', or whatever? How do we know Caltrain is allowed that? And why do we care about possibly more modest amounts of congestion at Glenwood and Oak Grove compared to Ravenswood? At some point we can admit we can't build our way out of congestion.
- Safety mitigation: The consultant showed some good video of bad driving at Ravenswood. Right now cameras could be installed there (as they did) with signs saying '$500 fine for stopping on tracks or u-turn'. That would help and it's doable now with no underpass. Are similar mitigations possible at Glenwood and Oak Grove?
- Possible ped/bike tunnels added to option A. Even if cars do not cross with gates down, others could. The price of these tunnels is small relative to the project.
Council members are hopping from one outcome to another, not necessarily based on consultant/staff analysis, but a hash of their partial work (due to council's time pressure) and council intuition. Council members need to be able to justify a hard choice. There's scant basis for that, whether you prefer viaduct, option A or C, or variations on these.
Please council, do a better job. You will not make it through this the way you're going. This is unprofessional.


3 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 14, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Read my lips, It is the responsibility of the City to provide pictures and drawings of attractive elevated train viaducts and allow residents to judge them, not rule a viaduct out without understanding what our community prefers.. This could have easily been done during the past year but the council chose NOT to consider this alternative.

I have know interest in debating what is attractive with you. Our residents get to decide.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2017 at 1:16 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Louise68 wrote: "I am very unhappy with Caltrain's determination to destroy more than 400 old and very tall and beautiful trees, just to be able to install supports for the wires for the new electric-powered trains. Those beautiful old trees will be replaced by little bitty saplings that, if they survive, will take at least 50 years to grow as tall as the trees they are replacing. Atherton will never recover from the blight this electrification will cause, and the beauty of the area around the tracks will be gone forever, along with the elegance and exclusivity [...]"

You will be delighted to know that Caltrain has dramatically reduced the number of tree removals from what was in the EIR.

Please refer to the following July 26, 2017, Almanac story:

Caltrain electrification will remove 18 Atherton trees
Web Link

"Caltrain will replace any tree that is removed or pruned more than 25 percent, totaling 26 trees in the Caltrain right-of-way, 11 on public property and 45 on private property."

Similar tree removal reductions are to be expected up and down the line.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2017 at 1:55 am

Reality Check is a registered user.


@Read my lips: The lack or presence of attractive or unobjectionable-looking viaducts is largely in the eye of the beholder. And even if there were dozens of recently-built rail viaducts to choose from (such as those on the VTA LRT Capitol Expy. line), none that come to mind were built in an enviroment where anybody gave a damn or a dollar for aesthetics. The only thing that matters is whether we would specify a viaduct (really an elevated station) whose up-front design (materials, textures, colors, features) even a modicum of effort to look interesting or attractive. Of course we would! ... because we care and it's important to us. The simple fact is that most viaducts are strictly utilitarian affairs, built as cheaply and efficiently as possible by highway departments, with little or no effort or thought given to aesthetics. That's the difference between the old beautiful viaducts seen in Europe and the ones Caltrans builds to carry cars in a freeway or airport context (see the auto, BART and AGT viaducts near SFO ... well, that and that they didn't have prestressed concrete in those days ... which can also be stamped, textured, colored, adorned with artsy features and/or inlaid with tile mosaics, etc. to be far more attractive).

Not excavating and lowering the grade of our streets and sidewalks, and not having a solid berm or wall running from Ravenswood to Oak Grove in itself is hugely desirable.

An elevated station with open, usable space underneath is really what is meant by "viaduct". The bridges over roads such as Ravenswood and Oak Grove are already viaducts. So what ought to be studied is merely continuing the open-underneath viaduct (or open breezeway) the length of the station between these two crossings, "re-uniting" the two sides of our downtown as they never have been, and with an opportunity for "place-making" with amenities, landscaping and maybe some paths with benches instead of building a big physically and visually impenetrable berm or wall.

It might cost a bit more (better things often do!), but for that it has the potential to be much better than the present alternatives which nobody seems too excited about ... and we won't know all the pros and cons and possibilities, particularly the cost differentials, until it is fully and fairly studied. When you're talking about a project that will for all intents and purposes essentially last forever (or at least several generations, as far as we know), it's prudent and worthwhile to make a fully informed decision ... not one based on a rushed and artificially constrained solution domain in the interests of meeting some sort of self-imposed schedule. The extra time and study cost will melt into nothing when compared to the project lifetime and overall project cost.

Simple. Let's get a good study team on it and see what they can come up with!


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2017 at 7:35 am

Reality Check, thanks for your well-reasoned contribution to this discussion. Your right that few residents like the two alternatives now being considered so our City Council should take additional time to study an alternative that could eliminate all the major problems with the existing choices. The additional time should be carefully considered BEFORE the Council concludes it is unacceptable.


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Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 16, 2017 at 7:56 am

@Dana

After watching the video, Menlo Park staff confirmed what I had written. There is no need to coordinate with Atherton to grade separate Encinal. In fact, staff showed a slide with Encinal grade separation that comes back to at grade by the time it hits Atherton's city limits.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2017 at 9:13 am

@ MaSON

You are correct IF the Encinal crossing remains unseparated as proposed in the current study.

I personally do not like that idea. Still lots of noise from train horns and crossing signals for nearby Menlo Park and Atherton residents, and this will get MUCH worse as train electrification will significantly increase the frequency of trains passing through Menlo Park. A hybrid crossing at Encinal which lowers the street and raises the tracks would solve this problem. However, this requires the rail bed grade to extend north into Atherton.


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Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 16, 2017 at 11:57 am

@Dana

You misunderstood what I wrote. You can grade separate Encinal *and* NOT encroach into Atherton.

During the meeting, the mayor asks staff whether it's possible. Ms. Obeso says yes and even has a graphic, which shows exactly that with a 1% grade.

Web Link

See slide 9.

The tradeoff is Encinal would need to be dug a bit deeper to maintain a 20 foot clearance with the rail bed.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2017 at 12:44 pm

@Mason

Thanks for pointing out this slide. I had a different one from the City that did not show the detail about the depths required to lower streets at each crossings and had not seen this presentation. So if I am interpreting slide 9 correctly, if the street were lowered 14 feet, the graduated rail bed grade would extend into Atherton. If it was lowered to a greater depth it would not need to enter Atherton. Is that right? Did the consultant assure the Council no problems would be created by lowering the street beyond 14 feet? For example, how private property along Encinal might be effected. Again, thanks.


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Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 16, 2017 at 5:03 pm

@ Reality Check:
No,I am most emphatically NOT "delighted" that Caltrain will remove "only" 18 very large and old and very tall trees for their completely unnecessary electrification project. 18 trees is a rather high percentage of the trees that are near the right of way i Atherton. And they are on private property. I am sure that if these trees were on your property, where you lived, you would not like having them removed, but your ID says you don't even live in this area (you chose "another Community"), so the destruction of these beautiful old tall trees and the resulting blight on that part of Atherton will not affect you at all.

I did read the plans, and saw, as I expected, that these huge beautiful old trees will be replaced with little bitty saplings, which will, if they even survive, take at least 50 years to grow as tall as the trees Caltrain will cut down that they will replace.

Atherton will never recover from the blight this destructive and unnecessary electrification project will cause. Look at what happened to the very elegant and wealthy neighborhood in San Francisco after the Second Street Cut was done way back in 1869 to see what happens to a very wealthy area when something new and ugly is rammed through it by the powers that be.

And the sad fact is that this whole extremely expensive electrification project is not even necessary. What Caltrain really needs is longer trains, to carry the standing-room-only crowds they are now carrying. They do not need to buy completely new equipment and put up unsightly poles and wires in order to carry more people. All they need to do is buy more cars and locomotives and hire more people to run and staff the trains and clean them and service them, and lengthen many of the platforms to handle longer trains -- that is all they need to do, and doing what I say would be a lot less costly than what Caltrain is doing now.

Oh, well.......


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Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 16, 2017 at 9:23 pm

@Dana

14 feet down is correct. There was no discussion on costs, but I would expect the price to be similar to the other Menlo Park grade separations. There's nothing special about Encinal that would make it an engineering challenge. The main roadblock is political. Once eminent domain was mentioned, the mayor stopped asking about the alternative.

Menlo Park must have done some analysis since Ms. Obeso said about 5 or 6 properties would need to be taken or partially taken for Encinal grade separation that does not affect Atherton. My guess is that the underpass would push the street low enough that existing driveways off Encinal are cut off. Four grade separations are going to cost at least $500M. Another $10M for eminent domain at Encinal adds only 2% more cost.

If they can grade separate Watkins, then Encinal doesn't have to go 14 feet deep. But then the driveway access problem is merely pushed to the Watkins property owners. Atherton is not going to go for that. They want to quiet the trains, but have never had a strong opinion on grade separation. My guess is they would be happy with a Watkins quiet zone, which is 100 times cheaper than grade separation.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 16, 2017 at 10:03 pm

@Mason

I guess I need to understand quiet zones and what it takes to establish one. The fact residents like you in Felton Gables do not enjoy that "protection" suggests the hurdle is not easy to clear. Would you briefly share what you know about this subject? Thanks for continuing the discussion.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@Louise68, 18 is a tiny fraction of the well over 300 trees surveyed along the 0.7-mile of the Caltrain right of way through Atherton. Suffice it to say, you are grossly misinformed about the numerous significant benefits and rationale for electrification which cannot be obtained by merely lengthening the existing diesel trains. I'll suggest you start by reading visiting Caltrain's electric train website: Web Link and also browse the past dozen or so postings on the technically and factually excellent Caltrain-HSR Compatibility blog (just Google it because the Almanac won't let me include "too many" URLs) ... as well as visiting the Caltrain PCEP (Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project) website: Web Link where you can also access the Final Environmental Impact Report.

I'd be happy to answer (or help find answers) to any questions that you have after that.

@Dana Hendrickson: Google is your friend. You can find out more about train horn "Quiet Zones" and how to establish them on the Federal Railroad Administration's website here: Web Link

Atherton last year set up the first and only quiet zone at their Fair Oaks crossing. Read more about that in the following June 2016 Almanac story: Web Link

There were initially some (non) compliance issues, but I believe those have been sorted out. Some background on that in this December 2016 Almanac story: Web Link

Note that every city and jurisdiction along the recently inaugurated 42-mile SMART (Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit) service has, working with SMART, established quiet zones. I believe most if not all crossings on the SMART line are now (or soon will be) quiet zones. This means that train horns are no longer routinely blown for crossings. Instead, horn blowing is on an as-needed basis under the train operator's discretion (i.e. when the train operator sees something out of the ordinary that they feel warrants one or more warning horn blasts).

At the request of residents, Palo Alto city staff once began seriously investigating the possibility of establishing quiet zones ... but, as I recall, got cold feet because they believed the city may have new or increased liability exposure in the event of any subsequent incidents which may occur at quiet zones. Just Google "palo alto quiet zone" for the complete history and a brief Palo Alto city staff presentation on the subject.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:00 am

@Reality Check

Thanks for your clear and well-supported explanation of Caltrain quiet zones. I knew someone who reads the Almanac would know a lot about this subject and hoped they would contribute to this discussion. To clarify, my interpretation of your comment is that a quiet zone is NOT an effective alternative to a grade separation at Encinal. The number of trains will increase significantly over the long term so the City Council should support grade separation.


27 people like this
Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 11:36 am

Louise68: "this whole extremely expensive electrification project is not even necessary. What Caltrain really needs is longer trains, to carry the standing-room-only crowds they are now carrying. ... All they need to do is buy more cars and locomotives and hire more people to run and staff the trains and clean them and service them, and lengthen many of the platforms to handle longer trains"

Reality Check: "you are grossly misinformed about the numerous significant benefits and rationale for electrification which cannot be obtained by merely lengthening the existing diesel trains."


Louise68 is more right than wrong. Caltrain does need newer trains (not just more of the existing diesel trains as Louise68 stated), one of the few points that every informed person should agree on.

The Caltrain "electrification" project, as a whole, is a project ripe with mismanagement, mis-information and mis-prioritization. Oy, where to begin...

1: Caltrain electrification does NOT add capacity, on its own; EVEN CLEM concedes this point (search his blog for "potential capacity"). Statements to the contrary are just uninformed and false. It's true that electrification does create some potential for added capacity, but there are noteworthy roadblocks to adding per-train capacity:

a: many of the stations do not support the longer trains that that are easier to create with an electrified Caltrain. No additional rail-cars, no additional capacity.

b: Caltrain loses some per-car capacity due to needing 4 doors per-side + per-car (the current cars have 2 doors per car; future cars will have 8). The reason is that Caltrain and HSR have different platform heights, so HSR will have 1 height but Caltrain will need to support 2 platform heights. This means many seats have to be removed to support EIGHT doors.

2: Commute times for the bullet trains will see negligible reductions in commute times. Electric and diesel trains are both currently limited to a max-speed of 79MPH in the ROW. Now, it is true that electric trains can accelerate more quickly, but that advantage becomes mostly moot for the bullet trains since they have fewer stops.

3: With Electrification, Caltrain has to replace the current, proven Constant Warning Time (CWT) system that manages the gate crossings, since electric trains are incompatible with the current CWT. Caltrain has NO SOLUTION FOR THIS. The vendor they've hired for this was forced to have FLAGMEN stationed at every crossing for the affected rail line in Denver.

At-grade crossings will become much more dangerous after electrification.

4: CBOSS is a disaster.


The 2 BILLION dollars being spent on electrification could have solved the following:

* the grade separations in Menlo Park, and even Atherton (at least Watkins, and possibly Fair Oaks);
* longer platforms with at-grade train boarding, which would lower train dwell times, improve commute times and would standardize platform heights resulting in more per-car capacity;
* Add modern trains; hybrid, gas or modern (Lower emission) diesel trains are less expensive than the electrical-infrastructure+electric-trains that Caltrain is pursuing;
* The time-tested and proven-safe Constant-warning-time circuitry would remain AS-IS, keeping the residents and commuters safe, resulting in ZERO COST;
* Add a 3rd track in sections of the ROW that support it without applying eminent domain (though, this assumes train grade stays as-is, not a desirable outcome in my opinion).


Sorry, but those of you who think that electrification is the best way to spend 2 billion dollars just don't know what you're talking about.


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Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm

@Dana

What quiet zones do is quiet the train horn. It is a federal regulation. Grade separations do the same and have additional benefits, but cost 100 times more than a quiet zone. Menlo Park needs to blance what it wants, what it costs, and how long does it want to wait before funding materializes, if ever. If there isn't a lot of congestion at Encinal, just desire to limit the train horn, then put in a quiet zone. We'll get relief in a year, rather than waiting a decade or more to get the funding and construction done for grade separation.

Quiet zones are permitted when a rail crossing is made safe enough so that a horn is no longer needed. One way is to install four quadrant gates. Right now, Encinal has two quadrant gates. For about $1M or so, Menlo Park can add the two additional gates for quad gates. After that, Menlo Park requests the federal government to put a quiet zone on Encinal. After a waiting period, the quiet zone is done.

In terms of liability, train operators can still sound the horn if they see danger up ahead. They keep the train horn quiet otherwise. Quad gates prevent cars from entering the crossing, which is why horns are used when only two quadrant gates are present. I suppose some imaginative lawyer can dream up some way Menlo Park would be liable. Whether a jury would determine Menlo Park liable is extremely unlikely. Quiet zones have been studied by the federal government. They've determined quad gates are as safe or safer than using horns and two quadrant gates.

Certainly, it's safer to also blow horns and have quad gates. It's even safer if the train speed limit is kept at 25 MPH. It's safest to completely shut down the rail corridor. :-)

The safer you make the rail corridor, the more expensive and more inconvenient you make rail service. Quiet zones reflect that the threshold for what the federal government has deemed safe is met with quad gates by themselves.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 2:28 pm

@mason

Thanks for the education; I think all readers benefit.

So, you believe the addition of two additional quad gates at a cost of roughly $! Million would eliminate all train horn noise near the Encinal track crossing.

Has this ever been proposed by Menlo Park? If so, what happened?

One additional issue: "would this satisfy most Felton Gables residents if crossing signal noise remain and increases with more train traffic?"


1 person likes this
Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 4:52 pm

"So, you believe the addition of two additional quad gates at a cost of roughly $! Million would eliminate all train horn noise near the Encinal track crossing."

I can answer this :)

Quad gates at Encinal:

* will eliminate the sounding of the horn...for northbound trains south-of-encinal, but...

* will not eliminate the sounding of the horn for northbound trains north-of-encinal (Watkins xing), and...

* will eliminate the sounding of the horn for southbound trains north-of-encinal, but...

* will not eliminate the sounding of the horn for southbound trains south-of-encinal (Glenwood xing).


By the way, I don't think quad gates are $1 million; I'm pretty confident it's in the $500k-$700k range, depending on logistical issues at the crossing. I welcome correction if that's inaccurate.

And quad gates are not the only option: wayside horns or traffic lane barriers/islands (like at Ravenswood NOW) can be enough to qualify for a quiet zone at that crossing.



1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 6:35 pm

@ Read my Lips

You have raised a new issue on this discussion thread with your claim "that at-grade crossings will become much more dangerous after electrification because Caltrain does not have a compatible Constant Warning Time (CWT) system that manages gate crossings. (And I presume you believe they cannot develop one by the time electrification is in place).

1) Do you have a source that documents this claim.

2) Even with a CWT system vehicles stuck on tracks are struck by diesel trains. Would this not still happen with electric trains equipped with a CWT system?

@Mason

It appears that Encinal separation will REDUCE but not eliminate train horn noise because of the nearby Watkins crossing.So the question is how much of a noise reduction will most nearby residents really experience?

Also, if the number of trains increases dramatically in the next 25 years and vehicle traffic continues to grow as well, there will be much higher demand for crossings at all crossings including Encinal at the same time the crossing gates at Encinal will be down a higher percentage of the time. This sounds like a disaster, especially at commute times.


1 person likes this
Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 6:59 pm

"Do you have a source that documents [the CWT issue]"

Why yes I do :). I have lots of them, here's a recent one:

From the Denver Post: "RTD’s A, B and G lines remain in limbo after state regulators reject commuter rail safety plan" Web Link

Keep in mind that the article soft-sells the impact; here's the important points:
"The unanimous decision by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission came at a morning meeting of the agency’s three commissioners, who concluded that the Regional Transportation District’s at-grade crossing plan did not enhance safety for those driving or biking over the tracks."

"Currey said RTD, along with Denver Transit Partners, will continue working with PUC’s technical committee to come up with a solution to the new wireless signal technology RTD is trying to integrate into its commuter rail lines."

"RTD’s solution to the crossing arm issue...would leave gates in the down position up to 20 seconds longer than federal regulations permit"


Caltrain is using EXACTLY the same vendor as Denver used for their failed CWT project. And as the article states, the Denver crossing all have flagmen at every at-grade crossing for the foreseeable future. Keep in mind that the Denver rail line is more rural than Caltrain.


With the loss of our current CWT due to electrification, this is our future.


2 people like this
Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 17, 2017 at 7:09 pm

"Even with a CWT system vehicles stuck on tracks are struck by diesel trains. Would this not still happen with electric trains equipped with a CWT system?"

CWT is responsible for turning on the bells and lights and lowering the gate arms before a train enters the crossing; there are FRA requirements on the timing of the alarms and gates. CWT does not address vehicles sitting on the tracks.


"I presume you believe they cannot develop one by the time electrification is in place"

Considering the vendor failed to deliver an effective CWT, there's no reason to believe they can do so in the future. And keep in mind the Denver rail line is EASIER than Caltrain.


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Posted by noise reduction
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 17, 2017 at 7:10 pm

Atherton also wants noise reduction at Watkins. Atherton could create a hybrid underpass there.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:39 pm

@read my lips.

Your last two comments were important. Have you considered presenting this to the City Council at their next meeting on grade separation? This could change minds.

@noise reduction

I agree. But our city has reported that Atherton has not done any grade separation planning whatsoever and our Council asked our public works to make sure this is true.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 17, 2017 at 8:57 pm

I encourage everyone who lives near the Encinal crossing to attend the next council meeting that addresses grade separation and express their support for grade separation at Encinal. Every resident can either speak for 3 minutes or simply attend to show support those who do. The more who participate, the more impact your collective voices will have. Once the Council makes a decision you will have no opportunity to influence it and must live with the consequences.


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Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 18, 2017 at 8:10 am

@Dana

Atherton is headed toward quad gating Watkins already. They plan to study the option this fiscal year. Whenever Encinal is grade separated or quad gated, Watkins will already be quad gated thereby allowing for a continuous quiet zone.

The quiet zone will not fix the issue of increased gate downtime post-electrification. Encinal quad gates is an alternative if the funding for four grade separations never comes in. And I don't think there will be enough money for four grade separations in our lifetimes even though it would be more cost efficient to do so. Unfortunately, that's not how the political process works. The county is not going to spend all its grade separation funds on one city. The state has too many other transportation projects it needs to fund.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 18, 2017 at 8:38 am

@Mason

I think safety at an at grade Encinal crossing is also a significant issue. More trains means more opportunities for trains to strike vehicles stuck on tracks. And mitigation measures like quad gates do not prevent these incidentse. What am I missing about safety?


1 person likes this
Posted by Mason
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 18, 2017 at 10:15 am

Quad gates enhance safety as they prevent vehicles from entering in the right of way completely. If they did not improve safety, they would not make the crossing quiet zone eligible.

They don't eliminate the possibility of collisions, but methods to eliminate are an order of magnitude more expensive than quad gates. Or you can cut off road access or stop rail service. That is cheap and 100% safe, but massively inconvenient.

Safety, cost, inconvenience, and implementation time. You can never maximize all four of these key aspects. You just have a bunch of good enough solutions to choose from.


1 person likes this
Posted by Reality Check Two
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2017 at 11:54 am

Quad gates allow for the establishment of a quiet zone as they are designed to prevent vehicles from driving around activated/down gates. Quad gates do absolutely nothing to prevent collisions with vehicles that break the law and enter the crossing WITHOUT sufficient room to clear the tracks. Most train/vehicle collisions are the result of the driver violating the law by stopping on RR tracks (CVC 22451/22526(C)) due to traffic ahead.


1 person likes this
Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2017 at 11:59 am

"What am I missing about safety?"
"Quad gates enhance safety as they prevent vehicles from entering in the right of way completely. "

Exactly. Expanding on this...

Quad gates are an approved Supplemental Safety Measure (SSM) for Quiet Zones (QZ) because they discourage one of the more common unsafe human behaviors: driving around the gates. Statistically, per FRA, crossings with quad gates have fewer collisions in comparison to crossings that are dual-gate+train-horn, which is why the FRA allows the horns to be silent at crossings with quad gates.

Quad gates do not thwart all unsafe human behavior, however. If someone choses to park their car on the rail tracks, quad gates do nothing to stop that. It should also be pointed out that train horns do nothing to stop someone from parking on the tracks, as well.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 18, 2017 at 12:15 pm

Here is an informative study that was just brought to my attention: a consultant evaluated grade separations including crossings in Menlo Park for Caltrain and results were published in June 2017. Web Link.

The presentation addresses many concerns that were raised at the recent city council meeting and am not sure the city council is aware of it.

Please share your reactions.

Thanks.


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Posted by Reality Check Two
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2017 at 12:35 pm

@Dana Hendrickson:

"Here is an informative study that was just brought to my attention: a consultant evaluated grade separations including crossings in Menlo Park for Caltrain and results were published in June 2017. Web Link. "

This would imply common sense, but sadly common sense does not apply in Palo Alto.

The brilliance of William Hewlett and David Packard is lost on Palo Alto.


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Posted by Read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Thank you for the link. A few thoughts:

1: grade separation for Caltrain in southern Redwood City is a bad idea. First of all, Redwood City already has grade separation in the southern part of the ROW; it's unlikely they'd be interested in paying for grade separation when they already have it. Second, grade separation at the southern part of Redwood City complicates future potential plans for adding Dumbarton rail.

2: Small nitpick: train horns are greatly reduced with grade separation but not completely eliminated. Trains passing through (not stopping) an active train station MUST blow their horn. That means that bullet trains (and HSR if it ever happens) will blow their horn thru EVERY train station they don't stop at. With the projected increases in train activity, that means there will be an increase in horns. That's inescapable.

3: Another nitpick (rehashing our prior conversations a bit, but...) viaducts are championed...again...in this document. As I stated before, the devil is in the details with viaducts aesthetically; Menlo Park should IMHO resist going with a viaduct unless the aesthetic costs are included in the proposal. Hybrid-with-a-berm is a known quantity around here and are relatively easy to make attractive.


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Posted by Dana Henderickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 18, 2017 at 1:12 pm

@Read my lips

I believe Menlo Park expects government funding to pay the bulk of the cost of separations in our city. If this is a good assumption, then Redwood City might depend on the same sources. This, of course, would need to be investigated and confirmed.

PS: I love nitpicks. They need to be understood but are usually overcome somehow.


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Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 18, 2017 at 2:04 pm

I want to correct an earlier statement. I do not know that the presentation I referenced earlier was part of a study performed by Caltrain or any government and have contacted the author do understand why he did the study, his credentials and data sources. I apologize for reacting too quickly after finding a document I thought would be help us understand our options. I will be more careful in the future and will share what I learn about this presentation.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2017 at 3:33 pm

@read my lips, one small nitpick to your nitpick: there is no law that requires the blowing of horns through train stations. If there were, you would be able to cite chapter & verse.


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Posted by read my lips
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2017 at 9:52 am

Clem wrote: "If there were, you would be able to cite chapter & verse."

Or...you can just ask for a reference/citation?

So, for starters, lets establish that I'm not alone in asserting that Caltrain has historically blown the horn while passing through train stations, even elevated, grade separated stations (which is what is being considered for Menlo Park). Ah, here's someone...someone else has noticed that Caltrain blows the horn when passing through an elevated, grade separated Caltrain Station...

Some guy named "Clem" :). Look for yourself:

"...horn blowing is still quite common at the [elevated, grade separated] San Carlos station. I would estimate about 90% of non-stopping trains do it. That still makes for a lot less horn blowing than in Menlo Park, but not zero." Web Link

So, based on "Clem"s observation, it appears that grade separation does not spare you from train horn noise, though it likely reduces it significantly (which I stated as well).

Further, I should mention that I frequent the San Bruno station (though not for the past 2 months...which will be important in a minute), and I can assure you they have historically blown the horn through that elevated, grade-separated station.

Additionally, there's significant online documentation that asserts blowing the horn through a train station is a requirement. For example: "Train horns will sound upon entering stations and at at-grade crossings. The bells and horns are required by the California Public Utilities Commission for safety purposes." Web Link

(I'd post more examples, but almanac news has a limit on the number of links per-post)

Further, Caltrain acknowledges that historically it frequently has blown the horn extensively through stations, even elevated and grade separated stations. To partially address noise issues with this behavior, last month Caltrain modified its policy for blowing the horn, to reduce horn noise at elevated and grade separated stations: Web Link


So, while Caltrain's historical behavior regarding horn blowing through stations is not even debatable, it does appear that Caltrain has come around very recently, and has significantly reduced blowing the horn, potentially even eliminating it at the type of station that could potentially be built in Menlo Park, assuming a hybrid or viaduct was the grade separation chosen.

But is it there a "law" that requires blowing the horn through stations? Caltrain's change in behavior 5 weeks ago suggests there isn't, and a search through FRA regulations turns up no mention of requirements for horns through stations. Ditto the CPUC.


1 person likes this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2017 at 1:00 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

@read my lips: to summarize Caltrain's press release Web Link on reduced horn noise at some stations:

• Apart from a short warning toot upon approach, Caltrain will no longer routinely blow horns while passing through stations without pedestrian grade crossings (such as in Palo Alto, San Carlos, Belmont or San Bruno).

Stations such as Redwood City, Menlo Park and Mountain View still require use of grade crossings for people to move across the tracks. A new elevated Menlo Park station would eliminate such crossings.

As for how Menlo Park might fund a city-wide grade separation project, we should note that the HSR Authority is funding the lion's share $84m (or 47%) of the $180m 25th Ave. grade separation project Web Link in San Mateo and has said it is looking forward to similar project funding partnerships up and down the Peninsula.

As this Web Link 39-page project presentation shows, the project might as well be called the Bay Meadows station project, as it also includes a completely new and relocated Hillsdale station and 2 additional new grade-separated undercrossings at 28th and 31st Ave.

Note also that they will be using concrete bridges and little or no road dipping at 25th and 28th and a thinner steel bridge to minimize the greater road dipping depth at 31st.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2017 at 3:20 pm

@read my lips, thanks for the cross-referenced research of what I’ve stated in the past, all of which I agree with. We are now in agreement, with statements like “Trains passing through (not stopping) an active train station MUST blow their horn“ having been properly debunked.


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