News

Atherton battling Caltrain over electrification poles

 

It was clear at a Dec. 20 meeting of the Atherton City Council that Atherton and a number of its residents don't want Caltrain, as part of its electrification project, to install 45-foot-tall poles near the tracks that run through some town neighborhoods.

But a letter sent from a Caltrain official to the town before the meeting made it sound likely that Caltrain plans to install the poles anyway.

The debate is over Caltrain's plans to place 45-foot-high poles with cantilevered arms spanning two sets of tracks along a stretch of rail that runs through the Lloyden Park neighborhood. The arms support the wires needed for Caltrain's conversion to electric locomotives. The town and residents have asked Caltrain to replace five planned two-track poles with twice as many 30- to 35-foot-high, one-track poles.

About 40 residents of the Lloyden Park neighborhood crammed the room the council was meeting in on Dec. 20 to make clear their displeasure.

Sharon Hume, the president of Lloyden Park's homeowners' association, said the taller poles create an unacceptable visual impact that "would be impossible to camouflage."

"We do realize it was Caltrain's goal to minimize the impact to trees," she said. But Caltrain has said that replacing the taller double-track poles with twice as many 30-35 foot poles would mean eliminating only one additional tree, and the moderate pruning of 11 more. The tradeoff, Ms. Hume said, is "senseless to us."

"It's going to compromise the quaint character of our neighborhood," she said.

Other speakers protested the aesthetic and safety impacts of the taller, and heavier, poles, saying they would also reduce property values.

Michael Burns, who is Caltrain's planning and modernization interim chief officer, sent a letter to the City Council on Dec. 19. He said the proposed pole height and placement "reflects the considered and reasonable judgment" of the project's design team.

The design, he said, was most influenced by requests from the town and Atherton residents "to minimize the impact on and preserve as much as possible the trees in the area that shield the right of way from adjacent landowners."

"If the design were to be changed in this area to Single Track Cantilever poles, then others in Atherton would be more affected by the reduced tree coverage. It is not wise or prudent to negotiate unnecessary changes that would potentially have ripple effects on other landowners in Town or the design in other cities," Mr. Burns wrote. "Consideration of costs and time also weigh against changing the design."

Mr. Burns' letter ends by saying Caltrain "will continue to work with the Town and its residents to minimize the aesthetic impacts of the poles by implementing measures ... including using colors that are suitable for a residential neighborhood and using pole shapes that minimize impacts."

Zhenlin Guan, a deputy project director for Caltrain, said the town would be given three colors to choose from and the choice of square or round poles.

Town officials do have some bargaining power in the dispute, however. Atherton has not approved an agreement allowing Caltrain to get the permits needed to start working in Atherton. The agreement also repays the town for any costs it incurs related to the project, starting off with a $25,000 deposit. The agreement was on the council's November consent calendar, in which routine items are approved in a batch with no, or very little, discussion.

Councilman Rick DeGolia pulled the item from the consent calendar to clarify that the staff report correctly stated that most of the Caltrain poles would be placed in the center of the tracks, where fewer trees would need to be cut, and that poles would be 25 to 30 feet tall.

But Caltrain representatives at the meeting said that while most poles will be in the center of the tracks and 30- to 35-feet tall, in places where there's not room for center poles, some poles would be up to 45-feet tall.

The taller poles "were entirely new information to us," said Mr. DeGolia. Now, he said, "it's really obvious to me that the community has an opinion about it."

"I'd like to go forward with a collaborative effort," with Caltrain, he said. "We can't eliminate the tracks and they can't eliminate the town," he said. They need to work together, and not against each other, he said.

But Councilman Mike Lempres said he was a little less sanguine. "We have a clear message to deliver," to Caltrain said Mr. Lempres. "The response we've gotten from you is you'll consider it," he said. "I'd like a little more than the consideration."

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis said Caltrain's insistence on not changing the pole design made no sense to her. With either type of poles, "the trains are going to run," she said. "We need some more reassurance that this community is going to be heard," she said.

Atherton has in the past had a contentious relationship with Caltrain, suing it several times over the electrification project. Mr. Burns' letter mentions the lawsuit the town filed over Caltrain's environmental review, saying that successfully fighting the lawsuit cost Caltrain "$250,000 in project funds."

Paul Jones, a member of the town's Rail Committee, which earlier this month unanimously voted to suggest Caltrain put in the shorter poles, said he thinks that history explains why Caltrain won't change the pole design.

"It is my personal belief that Caltrain is trying to punish Atherton for their past activities," Mr. Jones said.

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Comments

14 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Poles!!!
Visual Impact!!!
Property Values!!!

Memo to Caltrain: You're never going to satisfy these people so you probably shouldn't even waste time trying.


21 people like this
Posted by I see both sides
a resident of another community
on Dec 21, 2017 at 6:37 pm

I see the Caltrain perspective:
Atherton does emphasize preserving trees as much as possible, even with residents. And Atherton has made a point of that with Caltrain. It's pretty hard to fault Caltrain for following through. Additionally, the EIR points out that the poles may be as high as 50'. And the poles are going up in the Caltrain ROW.

I see the Atherton (well, Lloyden Park, really) perspective:
The big one is that up until Atherton found out, Caltrain documentation displayed the 30' poles, so it was reasonable to expect that what Caltrain showed in their documentation is what would be installed. Additionally, note that Caltrain made a point of mentioning in discussions with Atherton that they'd be installing center-mounted poles through most of Atherton, yet neglected to mention the 45' poles on the remainder of the ROW. There were never discussions on either side that anything other than 30' poles would be installed; the only topic ever discussed was center-mount vs side-mount (both 30' poles).



While I side with Caltrain on both the technical reasoning and logical reasoning for choosing and staying with 45' poles, I think they're more at-fault on this becoming an issue in the first place. Caltrain chose to disclose that they'd deploy 30' center-mount poles through most of Atherton early on in the process, and they could have easily chose to disclose that they'd deploy 45' side-mount poles in the rest of Atherton...but chose to not do so.

I realize that most people are going to cite the acrimonious relationship between Caltrain leadership and Atherton leadership, and I agree it's a factor. But just to give you all a small heads up, at a staff level these 2 agencies have a quite-civil relationship, and it would have been EASY for Caltrain to have disclosed the 45' side-mounted poles as they did the 30' center-mounted poles.



I know you all like to bash Atherton, and sometimes it deserves it. But in this case, this is a Caltrain fail...though admittedly I think they were trying to do the right thing.


4 people like this
Posted by Try 50’
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 22, 2017 at 10:13 am

The environmental documents specified poles as tall as 50 feet, so it’s not like 45-foot poles are some big surprise.


16 people like this
Posted by Jason
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 22, 2017 at 12:49 pm

So far Atherton is holding up a needed changes that will affects thousands of people up and down the Peninsula.
Next time don't build a home (or buy one) next to the train track and then try to destroy progress for thousands of
other people. That is the very definition of selfishness.


14 people like this
Posted by susan smith
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 22, 2017 at 1:01 pm

It is because of Atherton we don't have BART on the Peninsula. How about letting the poor people have a chance at something once in a while?


4 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 22, 2017 at 3:18 pm

There are those in Atherton that would rave choke on diesel fumes than move forward with technology. It's just sad how selfish some individuals can be.

Frankly, if there's such aversion to metal poles, why hasn't Atherton taken down all the street lights yet? I can see many of them throughout the city.


3 people like this
Posted by Horacio
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 22, 2017 at 3:39 pm

What a group of hipocrites! Everyone of you would be wailing away if a major public works change were occurring in your neighborhoods. Don’t point fingers at others doing what your sorry selves would do under the same circumstances. And no one is suggesting that the electrification not happen so arguments about “stopping Progress” are just whining.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 22, 2017 at 4:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"And no one is suggesting that the electrification not happen"

Wrong. The Town of Atherton has officially opposed electrification.


35 people like this
Posted by Electrification
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 22, 2017 at 9:05 pm

@Peter

Atherton's electrification opposition is more nuanced than straight opposition. The town opposes electrification in furtherance of high speed rail.

Otherwise, Atherton has been supportive of electrification, such as using battery technology or hydrogen fuel cells instead of overhead wires. Overhead wires are a decades old technology, ill-suited for a place as innovative as Silicon Valley. Only a government agency would call that type of electrification progress. Tesla is building batteries for long haul semi trucks with a 500 mile range.

With batteries or fuel cells, Caltrain wouldn't need to spend billions for construction because there is nothing to build. All you need is new trains and you're done. Much cheaper and faster to market than overhead electrification.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 22, 2017 at 9:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 21, 2017 at 3:57 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.
Battery powered train technology has been around for years, is well tested and battery technology has improved dramatically since these units were placed in service:

Web Link

These units could use the existing rails, require no overhead wires and go from San Jose to Francisco without being recharged.


6 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 22, 2017 at 11:21 pm

Modern batteries aren't energy dense enough to last long enough in a train providing commuter rail service before needing to be taken out of service and recharged. Overhead electrical wires and poles are a modern, proven, and off the shelf technology. There's absolutely no good reason not to use them (especially not to keep the "quaint" character of Atherton).

Menlo Park needs to annex Atherton so it can stop throwing wrenches into mass transit infrastructure on the peninsula.


51 people like this
Posted by Electrification
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 23, 2017 at 1:59 am

@YIMBY

The Caltrain electrification project will cost $2B or so when it's all said and done. For that money, Caltrain could buy two fleets of battery powered trains. One fleet would remain fully charged at SF and Diridon stations to relieve incoming trains and there would still be funds left over.

A couple other solutions are to use Tesla's supercharging or fast battery swap technologies to reduce the size of the backup fleet. And if you don't like batteries, use fuel cells instead. Then, you don't need the backup fleet at all.

The Caltrain project's really high construction costs comes from the fact that it takes so long to build anything in California with its EIR requirements, then the high priced labor forced upon us by the state legislature to reward the trade unions for their political support.

If you want off the shelf technology, go with Tier 4 diesel. It's way cleaner and quieter than what Caltrain uses today and much cheaper than electrification. That's what ever other diesel based train service has done.

When BART decided to build the East Contra Costa extension, did they go electric? No, they went diesel despite the fact that the rest of BART runs electric. Diesel was 60% less expensive than a conventional BART extension.

When Caltrain electrification is done, the total number of train systems in the world that *converted* from diesel to overhead electric will be one. Caltrain will be the only one. No other transit agency has been crazy enough to spend so much money on a conversion. That's the good reason all other transit agencies don't make the switch.

And Caltrain probably will be the only one ever in history to conduct such a conversion. In a few years, battery powered trains will be off the shelf technology. Tesla and other companies are making rapid progress in "battering" all ground transportation modes. At that point, diesel train systems will make the conversion to battery powered trains at a much cheaper cost than Caltrain will have done.


2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2017 at 7:55 am

@Electrification

[Portion removed; be respectful of other posters] Everything you're proposing is still in development, there's no guarantee as far as when they'll be mature technologies, and your cost estimates aren't even up to the standard of napkin math.

The whole reason Caltrain is trying to move to electric and not diesel, aside from the environmental benefits, is that electric trains can accelerate faster. That means faster transit between stops and more frequent service.

eBART went diesel in order to do the extension on the cheap and have it at all vs build out the very proprietary current system and likely never find the money for it. There was nothing inherently beneficial about diesel beyond that.

I'm sure all the litigation you've thrown at Caltrain hasn't increased costs either. Not one bit.

[Portion removed; be respectful of other posters] You actively hinder infrastructure improvements on the peninsula linking two major metro areas together for absolutely ridiculous short-sighted and selfish reasons. You guys are in a heavily growing and urbanizing region,[Portion removed; be respectful of other posters]


26 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 23, 2017 at 8:28 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Everything you're proposing is still in development, there's no guarantee as far as when they'll be mature technologies, and your cost estimates aren't even up to the standard of napkin math. "

Wrong.

"Battery technology has greatly improved over the past 20 years broadening the scope of use of battery trains, moving away from limited niche applications. Despite higher purchase and running costs, on certain railway lines battery trains are economically viable as the very high cost and maintenance of full line electrification is eliminated. From March 2014 passenger battery trains have been in operation in Japan on a number of lines. Britain successfully trialled fare paying passenger hybrid overhead wire/lithium battery trains in January and February 2015."

"A number of tramway manufacturers are offering battery tramcars that combine the traction battery with a supercapacitor that will be charged at each stop. The main motivation for the usage of battery-powered tramways is to avoid overhead wires across a city. Using boost charging at each stop allows to lower the size of the required traction battery. "


Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2017 at 8:45 am

Those are all light rail examples on very specific lines. Caltrain is not a light rail system.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 23, 2017 at 9:07 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

No, many of these run on conventional tracks.


2 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2017 at 9:40 am

You're not even looking up the examples you're trotting out. This is the battery powered train example from Japan. It uses overhead electrical wiring for all but a specific 12 mile stretch where it goes onto battery, and it's a two-car train.

Web Link


35 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 23, 2017 at 5:30 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"12 mile stretch where it goes onto battery,"

And just which CalTrain stops are more than 12 miles apart? -"Using boost charging at each stop allows to lower the size of the required traction battery. ""


4 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2017 at 6:21 pm

Are you under the impression that a battery powered train is going to recharge its battery at each stop in under a minute before it finishes offloading passengers and goes on its way again? I don't think you actually understand how the battery is used in these example trains.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 23, 2017 at 6:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Using boost charging at each stop allows to lower the size of the required traction battery. "

The train does not need to totally recharge at each stop but uses boost charging simply to replace some of the energy used since the previous stop.

A diesel powered engine starts with a full tank but ends up with a less than full tank.

Similarly an IEMU starts with a fully charged battery, uses some of that charge enroute and replace some via boost charging and ends up with a partially charged battery.


4 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2017 at 6:53 pm

Again, you're not reading about the example trains. The only ones that are fully battery powered are on very short lines and are light rail. The others that are not light rail are hybrid systems that still use overhead lines and only use the battery over very specific sections of the line.


9 people like this
Posted by Kai
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2017 at 8:38 pm

This is what happens when you have more money than you'll ever need in your life. Atherton is a fetter upon the whole Bay Area.


11 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 23, 2017 at 8:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Silicon Valley succeeds because our leaders have the vision to extrapolate to the future.

If you want to live in the past and only apply 20 year old technology then you will never move forward.


21 people like this
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of another community
on Dec 23, 2017 at 8:53 pm

You're not actually interested in doing something innovative for Silicon Valley. You're just throwing up an obstruction to any improvement with Caltrain happening. If Caltrain came out tomorrow and said they were going to magic your fantasy trains into existence you'd find another reason to obstruct it.


12 people like this
Posted by Surreal
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 23, 2017 at 11:12 pm

It doesn't make sense to argue with people who either denounce progress that would benefit the public, or voice intentionally unrealistic propositions for pressing issues
Their goals are obvious.
The tragic is that these people have the loudest and most powerful voices.

"Historic Silicon Valley" may be spurring future progress for the time being (thanks to an always fresh and motivated young work force being trucked in), but this progress will always happen elsewhere.

The fabulous electrified train systems, ranging from environmental friendly trolleys to high speed rail built and running in first world countries on electronics developed in SV, are living testimony to that.

It comes to mind that this small proportion of the populace would love to see everybody else back on steam, horses, wagons or bicycles, preferably in segregated communities and on separate carry-ways.


8 people like this
Posted by Ming
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2017 at 1:37 am

Caltrain initially made up a reasonable plan for electrifying the Caltrain corridor. Atherton sued Caltrain with the made-up excuse that they wanted to "save the trees" and the lawsuit cost everyone hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollars. So Caltrain redesigned the plan to save as many trees as possible but requiring 45 foot poles instead. It might not even be a spiteful thing. In a delicious irony, it's entirely possible that Caltrain's hands are tied because they are now legally required to save as many trees as possible due to the lawsuit. Everyone is now eagerly anticipating Atherton's lawsuit claiming that Caltrain is saving too many trees and then forcing Caltrain to go back to its original plan for electrifying the corridor.


15 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 24, 2017 at 6:58 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"You're not actually interested in doing something innovative for Silicon Valley"

Read all of my posts carefully.

I have always advocated for a better Peninsula transportation system.

I have never opposed electrification.

I have always encourage Caltrain to build the best possible system - not something that would be out of date ten years before it was even built.


35 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 24, 2017 at 1:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"You're not actually interested in doing something innovative for Silicon Valley. You're just throwing up an obstruction to any improvement with Caltrain happening. If Caltrain came out tomorrow and said they were going to magic your fantasy trains into existence you'd find another reason to obstruct it."

This is an allegation without verification - i.e a lie.


61 people like this
Posted by SyncoFants
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2017 at 11:24 pm

SyncoFants is a registered user.

Cost for Caltrain Electrification: 2 billion

Cost for rebuilding the Dumbarton Rail bridge: 1.3 Billion

Web Link

(oh, and note that Dumbarton was on the Regional Measure 2 list of projects. Caltrain Electrification was not)

It's a no-brainer to do work that ACTUALLY ADDRESSES one of the biggest bottlenecks in the area: east-west transportation. And Dumbarton bridge rebuild does it for LESS. Electrification is just an expensive boondoggle in comparison.

Sorry Ming, Surreal, YIMBY and Kai, the issue is not Atherton, the issue is that you are uneducated on public transportation issues. That's not meant to be an insult, that's just your reality. If you had even a modicum of knowledge on the matter, or ACTUALLY cared about public transit in the area, you'd understand how at-risk Caltrain is to an Olympia-Washington-style derailment due to Caltrain's utter incompetence on CBOSS.

But of course, you don't know what CBOSS is...do you. And of course, you're not outraged at all...are you. You don't know what a hold-out station is...do you. And you don't know how dangerous they are...don't you.

The fact that right after you read this, you're going to google.com and searching on 'CBOSS' makes my point.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 26, 2017 at 4:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

For those who are not resistant to facts:

The growth of network electrification has also driven a desire for electric traction on non- electrified routes. In 2015, a single Class 379 Bombardier Electrostar, after the installation of lithium-ion batteries, went into service on the Mayflower line (From Manningtree to Harwich) in Essex. The term IPEMU (Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit) was coined to describe it.

All this development of rolling stock has led to new thoughts on how to recharge units, as there will not always be an installation of contact system electrification to provide charging facilities – particularly not at the remote end of a branch line.

Furrer+Frey and Opbrid (now a Furrer+Frey company) have developed a product known as RailBaar, an ultra-high-power rapid charge station suitable for the exact purpose discussed above – the charging of battery-equipped rail vehicles in service.


Web Link


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