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Atherton has little interest in elevating train tracks

Original post made on Dec 7, 2017

Atherton's City Council, responding to a request for input from Menlo Park, offered no hope that it supports elevating train tracks to separate them from the two roadways that cross them in the town. The council also expressed no interest in enabling such changes at Encinal Avenue in Menlo Park.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, December 7, 2017, 6:50 PM

Comments (31)

Posted by resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 7, 2017 at 7:15 pm

Atherton NIMBYs are stuck in the 20th century and want to hold Menlo Park and Redwood City back there with them


Posted by PV Res
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 7, 2017 at 8:52 pm

I strongly oppose Menlo Park and their efforts to push their own agenda over that of their neighbors. It's time to say NO. Good job Atherton. PV, Palo Alto/East Palo Alto, and Woodside need to also make sure Menlo Park does not overstep their boundaries. It's unfair to other communities who are being affected by the decisions of the Menlo Park city.


Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 7, 2017 at 10:43 pm

Brian is a registered user.

PV you sound a little sensative. I find it funny that the same people who complain about trains blowing their horns oppose grade seperation that would allow them to stop sounding the horn at intersections. Menlo Park should leave it as it, let CalTrain blow their horn as often as they like and make Atherton pay for any future Grade Seperation at that location.


Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Dec 7, 2017 at 10:48 pm

"Atherton NIMBYs...want to hold ... Redwood City back"

Huh? The few remaining Redwood City at-grade crossings are miles from Atherton. Atherton does NOTHING to prevent Redwood City from building grade separations.

By all means, Redwood City, separate-away!


"Atherton NIMBYs...want to hold ... Menlo Park back"

Uh, did you attend the council meeting? Menlo Park residents were asking for validation that Atherton was not interested in grade separation.

Menlo Park residents are holding Menlo Park back.


Also, how exactly is Atherton suppose to pay for grade separation? Its revenue is a small fraction of EPAs, PAs, MPs and RWCs.


Posted by Horns
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 8, 2017 at 2:17 am

Atherton has a quiet zone, which is why it doesn't need grade separation to stop train horn noise.

Menlo Park will have trouble convincing outside sources to fund grade separation at Glenwood and Oak Grove. Those crossings don't have enough traffic to justify grade separation's cost. Ravenswood crossing does.

Menlo Park is better off requesting Ravenwood grade separation and quad gating the remaining three crossings for a continuous quiet zone if it wants to get this project done within the next decade.

Otherwise, the county transportation authority will skip our project as too expensive with too little benefit and fund Redwood City's Whipple grade separation ahead of us, even though they are behind us on planning.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2017 at 11:55 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Atherton has a quiet zone, which is why it doesn't need grade separation to stop train horn noise."

Grade separation is not a noise avoidance issue but a safety issue.

Without grade separations there will be:
1 - More crossing accidents even with quad gates
2 - more traffic delays
3 - Huge increases is emergency response times.


Posted by Atherton Resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 8, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Trenching will always be the best solution. Ya, I get it costs a lot, but it's the best solution for noise AND safety. It's also the best 'gift' we could give to future Atherton residents. This should be a requirement for any densely populated area that is contemplating upgrades, and in this case the state should pony up the funds since high speed rail is on their agenda.


Posted by Trench Away
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 8, 2017 at 1:30 pm

@Atherton Resident

Sure, trenching would be the best gift to future generations of residents - and they too would be paying for it. Based on Menlo Park's #'s, grade separating an intersection is around $120,000,000 to $135,000,000 per intersection. Trenching is more costly than that. But let's just look at the $270 million to grade separate - absent grants - of which there is likely to be few - that's roughly $5,400 per household per year for 20 years (excluding interest). Atherton residents are unwilling to pay $750 per household per year for 3 years on something that benefits the whole city versus grade separation or trenching which really only benefits part of the city.

Good luck.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The best long term solution is a bored tunnel. A bored tunnel would involve very little surface disruption during construction, would not require acquisition of adjacent properties and would free up valuable surface space for better uses.

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

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station. And add pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

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

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.


Posted by Horns
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 8, 2017 at 2:19 pm

@Peter
Since a tunnel would greatly improve emergency response times, I would suggest you add this topic for discussion during the fire board's joint meeting with Atherton next week.

I would expect the town council to be in agreement with your idea, but will need more convincing about the funding viability.

The biggest problem with the tunnel plan is that we don't have an agency in our region leading the way besides Palo Alto. But Palo Alto is not looking to extend its tunnel much beyond its borders.

May I also suggest the fire board also join the Managers' Mobility Workshop. This is a group consisting of Stanford, Menlo Park, Redwood City, Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale. They are formalizing cooperation on grade separation.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Since a tunnel would greatly improve emergency response times, I would suggest you add this topic for discussion during the fire board's joint meeting with Atherton next week."


Already on the agenda for the Joint Meeting:
2.Town-wide Traffic and Mobility Solutions and the Impact of Regional Growth

Web Link


Posted by Atherton Resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 8, 2017 at 2:55 pm

Time to reach out to Elon. He's looking for showcase projects for his Boring Company....


Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Some useful information from Palo Alto grade separation studies and a recent Atherton Rail meeting:

From Palo Alto
Web Link

(Traffic Impact)

If both of these projects (Electrification and high speed rail) are in place by 2025, the number of trains will rise from the current level of six during the average peak hour (or 10 in the busiest hour) to about 20 per hour. This will require the crossing gates to be closed for 45 seconds every 3 minutes, according to a presentation by Chief Transportation Official Joshuah Mello. In other words, during peak commute hours, gates at the city's four rail crossings would be closed 25 percent of the time. The change is projected to lengthen the vehicle delays by 60 percent during the morning commute. During the evening rush, the already insufferable delays would be about twice as long by 2025, according to Mello.

(Trench Preference)

In fact, if there was one key takeaway from Saturday's workshop it's that this (Trench) remains the residents' preferred alternative, by a wide margin, even if takes the council another six months of meetings, design workshops and consultant studies to officially adopt it as such. Even after hearing about the drawbacks of building a trench — the high price tag, the years of construction, the potential impact on groundwater — residents overwhelmingly picked it as their preferred design for each of the four city's rail crossings, with roughly 90 percent choosing this option over others, according to surveys taken at the event's conclusion.

(Construction Costs)

A trench now comes with an estimated $1.15 billion price tag — roughly six times the cost of going "hybrid" with tracks slightly raised and a road slightly lowered or submerging the road under the rail tracks. The cost of raising roads over the rail corridor is a comparative bargain at $43 million. (Note: this includes four separations)

(Funding Timetable)

Some of those anxieties were quelled on Sept. 5, when VTA board Chair Jeannie Bruins assured the council that the agency does not intend to distribute the funds on a first-come-first-served basis. Bruins, who is a member of the Los Altos City Council, said VTA staff is still putting together the framework for administering the funds. "We're trying to avoid this rush to be the first in line," Bruins said. "This is not about who gets to be the BART of grade separations and consume all the money — and then anyone at the end gets nothing. "Even the VTA funding will not be enough, however, to fully pay for a trench. Ultimately, the project would require additional contributions, potentially from local residents.

From ATHERTON Rail Meeting: (Dec 2017)
1. HSR will not put in quad gates because it is going too slowly to require quad gates.
2. Tunnel is not possible because Union Pacific uses freight trains.
3. Trench is possible, costly, and what about at creek.






Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"2. Tunnel is not possible because Union Pacific uses freight trains."

Look at NYC - most of the fright trains come into the city via tunnels.

Look at Europe - there are fright trains in the Chunnel and in every railroad tunnel in the Alps.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"3. Trench is possible, costly, and what about at creek. "

Tunnels all over the world go under water - BART, Chunnel etc.


Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2017 at 3:44 pm

Peter:

1. Railroads have different requirements; you can ask Caltrain if they will permit UP freight trains in long tunnels.

2. Sure tunnels are built under water, BUT they cost $biliions and it is a pure fantasy to think this kind of money will be available to either Palo Alto, Menlo Park or Atherton.

(Especially with the coming federal tax cuts)

3. I doubt that PA will find the money for even a trench and it does not have forever to build it!

4. And I certainly doubt that Atherton would ever contribute funds for its own underground solution.







Posted by Savvy
a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2017 at 5:10 pm

San Carlos elevated its tracks some years ago. It’s been a good thing. I guess I don’t understand the resistance. Is it just financial? It seems weird since Atherton is such a wealthy area, even by Peninsula standards.


Posted by Chuck Bernstein
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 8, 2017 at 5:15 pm

I am a 49-year resident of Menlo Park who agrees with the Atherton residents arguing to underground the railroad tracks. In my opinion, and I have argued the point for 20 years, it is the ONLY long-term solution:

• It solves the problem relating to the number of trains going up and down the Peninsula.

• It solves traffic backups at grade crossings.

• It solves pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile safety issues at grade crossings.

• It solves the noise problems at all times of the day, especially at night.

• It may help reduce the easy suicide access on grade-level tracks.

• It may facilitate rider safety.

• It eliminates the visual pollution and shadows of elevated structures.

The only OTHER solution to this corridor that should be considered is putting the tracks down the center of US-101. The railroad right of way could then be transformed into lanes for local transportation (buses or trams), bikes, and emergency vehicles.

While we are burrowing, we should consider undergrounding the through traffic of El Camino, too. Imagine if we could get much of Stanford’s traffic off the campus going north or south, underground, to Redwood City and Mountain View. What a relief that would be!

The only argument against undergrounding has been cost, but strangely none of these proposals has ever been evaluated for cost. (By that I mean a real analysis of the costs by people who could do the work, not off-the-cuff estimate of a traffic planner.) The experts seem to “know” that it is too expensive, but they have no idea what the cost is. As a Willows resident experiencing current gridlock problems, which are likely permanent once all the new developments (Bohannon’s Gateway, Stanford Hospital, Stanford office buildings, El Camino offices, etc.) are populated, I believe that the cost is cheap compared to the amount of compromised safety, lost time, and frayed nerves of residents. It is time that we start to value these external costs and asking developers and cities to pay the full costs of mitigation.

Doing a halfway solution now means that we will end up paying twice, once for the temporary fix and later for the real solution. We need our council members and traffic staff to have some imagination and to solve some of these problems once and for all.

--Chuck Bernstein
Oak Court
Menlo Park


Posted by NIMBYNoiseMaker
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 9, 2017 at 8:54 am

One of the comments at Atherton's meeting was that San Carlos and Belmont regret elevating their tracks and creating grade separations. Have there been any studies on the impact to those cities? If so, please share.


Posted by Hold fast
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Dec 9, 2017 at 10:32 am

Good on you Atherton for resisting. This is a fight worth picking. I lived in San Carlos when they raised the tracks and the difference was significant. There is a reason that church bells and air raid sirens are placed up high -- because their sound carries for miles. The same happened in San Carlos. I used to seldom hear the trains when there at street level, but once raised above roof level, there was little to block the noise of wheels, brakes, bells, and horns. A real mess. Doing that here will be a disaster.


Posted by Alex
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 9, 2017 at 11:45 am

Currently, I'm booked into the Marriot Glenwood Inn on Glenwood Ave.,for 2 weeks. I'm checking out after 2 days because it is impossible to get a full night of sleep. Even with some sound proofing, the train whistle blast --lengthy--is impossible to ignore.


Posted by Dizzy
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Dec 10, 2017 at 6:20 am

Let me fix your headline

Atherton has little interest in participating in the greater good for our peninsula

Yeah. That sums it up.


Posted by Dizzy
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Dec 10, 2017 at 6:22 am

I don't hear train whistles in Belmont and San Carlos, fwiw. Elevate!


Posted by Hold fast
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 10, 2017 at 9:54 am

@Dizzy, "I don't hear train whistles in Belmont and San Carlos, fwiw. Elevate!"

I'm not too surprised, there hasn't been a train whistle blown on the CalTrain tracks since 1957 and even then, I doubt they be heard from San Carlos. That's the better part of 8 miles.


Posted by Where is the money?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 10, 2017 at 10:09 am

A tunnel or trench is certainly the optimal solution, and I think that is something most everyone would agree with.

Instead of continuing to beat that dead horse, let's turn the discussion toward how to pay for it.

It would likely cost billions. Perhaps many, many billions.

Aside from vague comments about federal money, who has some specific ideas or plans how to pay for such a project?


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 10, 2017 at 10:14 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Pay for the tunnel with either a voter approved sales tax or a voter approved bond.

A tunnel is a long term capital investment and it should be paid for over the long term.


Posted by PV Resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 10, 2017 at 11:32 am

From an outside perspective looking in, a tunnel certainly would be the best option. I think that it would be fair Menlo Park pay for 90% and Atherton pay for 10%, since MP seems so intent on pushing their agenda forward before everyone else


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 10, 2017 at 11:40 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Sadly nobody is pushing the grade separation solution - this is an issue that should have been addressed years ago.


Posted by Un-dizzy
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 10, 2017 at 11:51 am

I'm with Dizzy. I don't hear whistles, horns or bells in Belmont. Never have to wait to cross the track either. Best thing those towns ever did.


Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 10, 2017 at 5:57 pm

If money (funding) were not a problem then every city could have a trench but funding will remain THE major hurdle.

The estimated cost of the approved San Mateo 25th Avenue hybrid crossing is $180m and the HSR/ Measure A/ State Section 90/City split was $84M/65M/$10M/$12M. I doubt High Speed Rail would fund an expensive underground rail separation - either a tunnel or a trench, so let's assume it contributes $100M to an elevated solution. Note: all Measure A funds have already been allocated.

So who would pay for a $1B +++ underground solution?

Guestimates!

HSR => $100M
County=> perhaps $50M-100M
State => $20M-$30M
Menlo Park => $20-$30M

TOTAL: $190M-$230M





Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 11, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Sadly - this is what happens when local government doesn't do strategic planning and in this case regional planning. MP wants one thing; Atherton and so on.

All options have their pros and cons -- which one makes the most sense now, 10 years from now and so on?

BTW -- do you really think HSR will have the same momentum once Jerry Brown leaves office?


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