Within days of the February 23, 2015, tragic death of a 35 year-old motorist who found herself facing a commute train on the tracks at Ravenswood, Council Member Keith stated that “It would be a disservice to the residents of Menlo Park to not consider all options” and that the issue of elevating the tracks would be brought to the Council. What has changed since this heart-felt proclamation?
All practical alternatives should be investigated. Menlo Park should not resist a complete planning process for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Why would the City spend tens of millions on a project that will not pass the test of time and will need updating in the future?
Grade separating all four Menlo Park crossings utilizing an open viaduct is a clear value to Menlo Park and to Caltrain.
1. Elimination of Noise - The greatest source of train noise in Menlo Park is the sounding of horns at each at-grade crossing required by federal railroad regulators. This nuisance would be eliminated by grade-separating all four of our existing crossings. Mechanical noise from the rail interacting with the wheels can be buffered with a 18 inch curb along the viaduct edge. The electric propulsion system will be considerably quieter than the diesel engines currently in use.
2. Increased east-west connectivity - A viaduct would offer increased opportunities for auto, pedestrian and bicycle circulation in the vicinity of the Caltrain right-of-way which is now a barrier. An elevated system could utilize the land underneath. Four grade-separated crossings would complete the vision of the Specific Plan and Safe Routes to School. The design of Stanford’s ped/bike under-crossing at 500 El Camino would also be simplified by this approach. With a viaduct design a bike route parallel to El Camino could be included in the project.
3. Increased safety - With increased frequency of Caltrain service, there will be more conflicts with cars, bikes and pedestrians at the three remaining at- grade crossings. Elevated tracks on a viaduct offer less opportunity for those in distress seeking to end their lives or for the inattentive to endanger themselves.
4. Elimination of gates - Warning bells currently associated with at-grade crossings are another source of noise. Back-ups and clogged turning movements of vehicles occur whenever the gates are down and will increase with greater frequency of trains. A viaduct at all four crossings will eliminate this problem in Menlo Park.
5. Protection of property access - The 2003-4 grade separation study concluded that property access impacts are significantly reduced as the Caltrain track elevation is raised: a fully elevated Caltrain viaduct would be of greatest benefit to all adjacent property owners (short of a tunnel).
6. Construction Impacts -The best approach for a project of this magnitude would be to construct all four grade separations in a logical sequential order to reduce the severity of construction impacts that will disrupt the City for years.
The Atherton position that Caltrain remain at grade through their town seems a political one and subject to future negotiation. Menlo Park cannot allow a neighboring town that has rejected Caltrain as a viable transportation system on the Peninsula to make decisions that will prevent our town from choosing the most feasible, affordable and safe option.