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Menlo Park: Council opts for Ravenswood Avenue-only rail separation

Original post made on May 9, 2018

When pressed to make a decision – since allocated consultant funding has dried up and then some – Menlo Park's City Council finally bit the proverbial bullet of pragmatism and picked a favored option to separate the Caltrain rails from city roads, even while advising staff to research better options.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 9, 2018, 11:49 AM

Comments (32)

6 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2018 at 1:16 pm

"Staff said that the construction process (for fully elevated grade separations), while it might not require changing road elevations, would likely be similarly EXTENSIVE because it would require a "shoofly" – setting up a temporary set of parallel Caltrain tracks – while it's being built. And stacking 30-foot electrification poles atop a roughly 22-foot elevated rail line would yield very tall structures very quickly, they said."

First, the construction period for the proposed fully elevated garden separation solution might take as long Alternative A - about 3.5 years - but vehicle traffic would be interrupted less frequently by street closings and lane limitations because no streets would not be lowered. The train bridges are installed over streets in a couple of days and usually at night on weekends. Contrast this with Alternative A where Ravenswood - the busiest east-west corridor - will be lowered 22 feet.

Secondly, the 30-foot electrification poles are thin, neutral in color and spaced 180 feet apart. They would sit atop a fully elevated structure that is 22 feet high only between grade separations. Total height would be much lower on the northern and southern grades as the tracks return to ground level. The poles will rarely, if ever, be viewable near residential neighborhoods due to spacing and tree screens.


6 people like this
Posted by Mark L
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2018 at 3:02 pm

Putting it in a trench is the best way to go. They could charge a toll for crossing the bridges over the top and use that to pay for construction. 46,000 crossings a day at a $3 each would be $50 million a year.


8 people like this
Posted by Mark L
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2018 at 3:12 pm

The railroad thru downtown Reno was trenched in 2005. It was 2.25 miles long, 33ft deep, 54ft wide, and had 11 street crossings. Total cost was $282 million. Surely, a shorter trench in Menlo Park with only 4 crossings could be built at a somewhat similar cost.


7 people like this
Posted by Mark L
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2018 at 4:01 pm

The Alameda Corridor trenching project in LA is 20 miles long, 33ft deep, 50ft wide. Cost in 2000 was $2.4 billion. About $120 million per mile. Reno trenching was $125 million per mile. Carlsbad, CA is considering trenching 2.6 miles at $335 million ($128 million per mile). Menlo Park trench would be maybe 1.5 miles and should only cost around $200 million.


9 people like this
Posted by some guy from atherton
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 9, 2018 at 6:17 pm

How could grade separating just one at grade crossing possibly cost 200 million dollars? Are you serious?

This has to be one of the most egregiously over budget or over engineered grade separation projects ever.

How did they manage to build 3 grade separations AND a new station in San Bruno for just 160 million dollars 4 years ago?

How is this project so different from the various significantly cheaper grade separation projects that have been done on this line in the past?

Here's a PDF from the San Mateo County Department of Transportation detailing various grade separation projects since 1996. All of them managed to do far more with far less money. Even taking into account inflation, we are being taken for a ride.

Web Link


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Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2018 at 8:45 pm

1. Would a "partial" raising-lowering that extended to Encinal instead of stopping at Glenwood reduce the adverse effects enough that it should be considered by staff as one of the alternatives.

2. Someone should dig out the 1960 era plans of then City Engineer Ed Smith to show how messed up a Ravenswood only crossing would leave the surrounding area.

Jim Madison


5 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on May 9, 2018 at 9:45 pm

Stan is a registered user.

Gov Moonbeam sez he can build 70 miles of tunnels to move water for a mere $17B.The distance from Hwy 85 to Woodside Rd is ~ 11 miles or about 16% of of 70. Why don't we think big and put the whole blasted, noise making, city dividing thing out of sight. Sixteen % of $17B is about $2.7B. The new Gotthard tunnel in the Alps through EXTREMELY difficult geological conditions is ~35miles and cost ~11B Euros or about $13B. Scaling again 11/35 times $13B would work about to about $4B. If we're not going to have the equivalent of a new Berlin wall dividing our communities we need to have more than 1 grade separation per community. Let's think this through and invite some tunnel experts from Europe to give it a thought. How much would be spent on multiple grade separations from Hwy 85- Woodside Rd? Stop the silly electrification project and cost wise we'd be a long way to covering the costs and save a lot of trees and eliminate a newly concocted eyesore.
There is a better way!!!


Like this comment
Posted by comparing tunnel costs
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2018 at 2:30 am

@stan When comparing the cost of tunneling Caltrain to a water tunnel or the Gotthard base tunnel you need to add on the cost of moving every Caltrain station underground.

In the Gottard tunnel's solid granite, a station platform could be excavated from inside the tunnel using explosives and mining equipment.

In the poor geological conditions of the Peninsula, underground stations would be excavated from above, the tunnel would be at least 60 feet deep, a station would be closed for several years while a 700 foot long hole was dug from the surface, a temporary shoofly track would be needed to route the train around the hole, in some places the station platform would be below the water table. Construction would take about 3 years per station, or 30 years to do 10 stations.

You should add at least $300 million per station to the raw tunneling costs.


2 people like this
Posted by Load Calculator
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2018 at 3:01 am

@Mark L >>>>> "Putting it in a trench is the best way to go. They could charge a toll for crossing the bridges over the top and use that to pay for construction. 46,000 crossings a day at a $3 each would be $50 million a year"

If the trench costs $2 billion as per Palo Alto, and the city takes out a 30 year loan at 5%, the repayment would be $128 million per year, or $350,000 per day, or $7.62 per crossing.
A toll would be expensive to collect and almost everyone would drive around, so number of vehicles crossing would drop way below 46,000.


3 people like this
Posted by Stan
a resident of Portola Valley: Los Trancos Woods/Vista Verde
on May 10, 2018 at 8:13 am

Stan is a registered user.

Re comparing tunnel costs
The Gotthard Tunnel is actually 2 parallel tunnels along with multiple access points and emergency "Stations". Total tunneling length is about 150 KM or 100 miles.Instead of thinking why you can't think why you can. An underground station is no more than a parallel tunnel connecting to a wide spot in the main tunnel.You don't need big surface trenches and shooflys you just need occasional access holes.
Think YES rather than NO!


Like this comment
Posted by Ziggy Tomcich
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2018 at 1:29 pm

The tunnel or tench option isn't viable for multiple reasons; the water table is the biggest problem. How to build it without disrupting Caltrain service for years is another. Building a tunnel means building temporary RR track go around the construction site, and building tunnel walls strong enough to keep out water. The logistics involved are so daunting that no contracter would want to touch this project. It would be insanely expensive, way more difficult then Berkeley's decision to pay to tunnel their short Bart section. A tunnel or tench will not ever happen.


6 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 10, 2018 at 1:32 pm

Menlo Park never misses a chance to make the wrong decision on rail issues. But no need to worry, we'll still be here in 10 years with nothing changed.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 10, 2018 at 1:33 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The tunnel or tench option isn't viable for multiple reasons; the water table is the biggest problem. "

Bored tunnels go under water all the time. There is one in the South Bay that was drilled from EPA to Fremont. There is the Chunnel.


2 people like this
Posted by comparing tunnel costs
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2018 at 2:57 pm

>>> "There is the Chunnel"

The Channel Tunnel was bored through a strata of impermeable chalk that just happened to pass under the sea, which is much easier than boring through wet sand.

Tunneling is always possible for a price, millions of gallons of cement can be injected into the ground to solidify it before tunneling starts. In San Jose attempts were made to solidify ground by injecting liquid cement, but a fast flowing underground river flushed it away, so even that didn't work for that location.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 10, 2018 at 3:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The EPA to Fremont tunnel was bored in exactly the same kind of geology that exists under the CalTrain right of way.

That tunnel is a 14-foot diameter bored tunnel through clay, sand and bedrock from EPA to Newark.It is as deep as 103 feet below the bay floor. a 9-foot-high steel water pipe was then placed through the middle of the bored tube.


2 people like this
Posted by don't forget BART
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 10, 2018 at 3:31 pm

BART goes under the bay!

Trains in Europe go through mountains. The ability to tunnel exists. Elon Musk is trying to create his own way with the Boring Company. What is lacking is political will.
The real challenge is that the financial benefits of freeing up at-grade space go to Caltrain and any developers with which Caltrain might contract whereas the cost must be born by communities and Caltrain. Why not pull the parties together so all benefit? Interest rates are incredibly low. I think many in our community would be willing to "invest" somehow in a long-term solution like trenching or tunneling. Same in Atherton and PA.


4 people like this
Posted by SandyB
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 10, 2018 at 3:33 pm

SandyB is a registered user.

I think strong consideration should be given to a grade separation at Oak Grove. This is a main thoroughfare for school children (note the bike lanes). But even more of a safety consideration is the two perpendicular streets to Oak Grove (Merrill and Alma) that run adjacent and parallel to the train tacks. Take a look on how traffic backs up on the railroad tracks whenever a car wants to turn right or left and is stopped by pedestrians crossing those streets. This is especially true when the passengers disembark from the train. There is little time to have a car clear the tracks. This is a fatality waiting to happen. Both Merrill and Alma have many homes and business along the street, thus, they probably cannot be closed to traffic. This one grade separation at Ravenswood proposal needs to go back into the think tank.



Like this comment
Posted by comparing tunnel costs
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2018 at 4:13 pm

>>> Bart goes under the bay!

No, Bart tube is a cut and cover trench dredged into the mud: Web Link

If you bore deep enough, >100 feet, you can find hard rock, but excavating and operating many rail stations deep underground will be expensive.

USGS says Menlo Park soil is composed of "Weathered, unconsolidated to moderately consolidated gravel, sand, silt, inter-fingering with stream terrace deposits", so not great for tunneling through.

Elon Musk wishes he could bore tunnels for 10x less, but so far there is no evidence that he has any better ideas than the worlds experienced tunneling engineers, however he would be happy to burn through taxpayer money trying.


5 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on May 10, 2018 at 4:53 pm

I'm surprised that there are solutions that leave adjacent crossings at grade without closing them. Given the concerns about long construction associated with split separation, ignoring other crossings seems worse.


6 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 10, 2018 at 6:03 pm

Trench/Tunnel proponents, Get real! The city council has decided to analyze the cost and potential financing options as Palo Alto recently did. And it will show that it is NOT affordable from the perspective off the State and San Mateo County. And Menlo Park has NO real leverage.

1. State and county funding pays for almost all of the costs of grade separations.
2. Only Ravenswood is viewed by the state as a high priority location for grade separation funding.
3. Caltrain HATES the idea of a trench or tunnel because of the cost and it has no experience building them.
4. The cost of three elevated grade separations was about $150M - much less than the billions estimated for Palo Alto.
5. Why would the State and County spend a lot more just to make Menlo Park residents happy?

If you think a parcel tax is a burden, wait to you see the cost property owners would need to bear every year for a tunnel and trench. Palo Alto has thoroughly evaluated revenue options and determined they are insufficient.

Perhaps we are smarter. But there is no evidence to support that assumption.


2 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2018 at 8:36 pm

This is good news. Palo Alto should do the same. Separate Charleston, and install quad-gates on all others.

Let's make Palo Alto and Menlo Park, one large quite zone!!


Like this comment
Posted by Ziggy Tomcich
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2018 at 9:38 pm

"Bored tunnels go under water all the time. There is one in the South Bay that was drilled from EPA to Fremont. There is the Chunnel."

Yes it's technically possible but it's extraordinarily expensive. There's a great blog post about the enormous challenges of tunneling Caltrain. This post goes into incredible detail about why tunneling is not a viable solution:

Web Link

All of us would love to have Caltrain subway. But it can't possibly happen because the costs are insane.


3 people like this
Posted by brian
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2018 at 12:13 am

Caltrain is currently building grade separations in San Mateo.
Three grade separation plus an elevated station for only $180 million : Web Link

Why can something similar not be done in Menlo Park for a similar cost?

Presentation: Web Link


1 person likes this
Posted by brian
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2018 at 4:43 am

>>>> "The real challenge is that the financial benefits of freeing up at-grade space go to Caltrain and any developers with which Caltrain might contract whereas the cost must be born by communities and Caltrain."

No, the real challenge is that the financial benefits of freeing up at-grade space does not come close to covering the cost of creating and maintaining the tunnel. If it did Caltrain would have done this already on its own initiative.

Menlo Park can build and own an 80 story high tower block right next to the station. This will create as much revenue generating space as there would be above a tunnel without the cost of a digging a tunnel.


1 person likes this
Posted by Carlton Abstained?
a resident of another community
on May 12, 2018 at 7:19 am

Weak dodge


2 people like this
Posted by Don’t forget BART
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 15, 2018 at 7:22 pm

The financial analysis of trench or tunnel needs to take into account the longterm revenue from use of at grade land and air space. Also consider the value to, say Stanford, of potential additional housing close to campus, the willingness of community members to invest in such a longterm plan. There is potential to raise funds across three communities, issue bonds, etc. aA focus solely on upfront costs is the wrong way to evaluate alternatives.


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of another community
on May 17, 2018 at 5:57 pm

Let's start calling the "viaduct" approach what it really is. The "viaduct" is an elevated freeway for trains.

Nobody would even think of putting an elevated freeway for cars through the middle of Atherton, Menlo Park, or Palo Alto but we are supposed to believe an elevated freeway for trains will be a beautiful addition to the community?

I guess after years of propaganda telling us we are supposed to hate cars, hate suburbia, and hate ourselves we are expected to feel like we deserve to have our neighborhoods blighted.


1 person likes this
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 18, 2018 at 1:48 pm

Ahem: If the short fully elevated rail structure (viaduct) proposed only for the train station area is unattractive even I will oppose it So what are you worried about? Also, as I am sure you know, this open structure for will provide pedestrians and bicyclists many paths to cross between Santa Cruz, Merrill and Alma. This would improve east-west connectivity, a primary objective of our city Specific Plan.

Finally, I suspect you really are not a resident of another community. But since you post anonymously we can never know. So, I and others can simply guess.


17 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2018 at 5:04 pm

Dana,

For the rails to be fully elevated at Ravenswood Station the rails will have to be partially elevated through most of Menlo Park and probably into Atherton since archaic steel wheeled rail-cars can only climb a 2% grade.

The station may be an architectural wonder (not) but the long partially elevated ramps will surely be some sort of standard government issue concrete freeway type structure.

I just have to wonder why this type of blight is so warmly welcomed by many who would roundly condemn the same type structure if it was proposed for cars.


1 person likes this
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 18, 2018 at 9:36 pm

Ahem: (1) the elevated tracks will return to grade entirely within Menlo Park. (2) The graduated rail structures can be and combinations of berms, embankments or viaducts Menlo Park decides. (3) when the study is completed everyone can debate the merits of the design options, and there will likely be several. Why criticize something you and our community have not seen? Fear? Bias? Misinformation? This is exactly how dozens of Felton Gables residents behaved at two recent council meetings. They made outrageous claims and stridently opposed getting the facts? Why?

I will gladly share an obnoxious email I received from one of them. Simply send me a message - dana@rebuildhope.org.


13 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of another community
on May 18, 2018 at 11:11 pm

A combination of berms, embankments, and viaducts is exactly how elevated freeways are constructed.

You want to talk about everything except the question I have raised.

Why do you you support the construction of a freeway for trains through the middle of Menlo Park, when you would be opposed to the construction of a freeway for cars through the middle of Menlo Park?


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 19, 2018 at 8:37 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

Ahem:

I don't know about Dana, but I wouldn't object to an elevated freeway where the
caltrain tracks are. It would take a great deal of pressure off El Camino. Build it.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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