Palo Alto looks at trenches for Caltrain
Commuting by train may be on the rise in job rich Palo Alto, but when the City Council meets on Monday to discuss the local rail line, its focus will be on burying Caltrain, not to praising it.
Specifically, the council will consider commissioning a study to evaluate the cost of digging a trench for Caltrain between San Antonio Road and Matadero Creek. The study would also evaluate the costs of submerging the roadways at Churchill Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Road as they cross the railroad tracks, while leaving the Alma Street intersection at grade.
The idea of separating roadways from the tracks has been lingering in the background for years but has become more prominent since 2009. The prospect of a high speed rail system getting built between San Francisco and Los Angeles has prompted serious conversations about train alignments, with many local residents and council members urging an underground system for the new trains. The design currently on the table has high speed rail and Caltrain sharing two tracks on the Peninsula.
Yet the prospects of und adidas football boots erpasses and trenching continue to tickle the imaginations of Palo Alto officials and residents, many of whom remain concerned about the dangers of trains and cars both running at street level.
While most experts acknowledge that grade separations would be expensive and complicated, reliable cost estimates have been hard to come by. In 2011, the firm Hatch Mott McDonald estimated that the cost of building a 4 mile, two track trench from one end of Palo Alto to another would cost in the ballpark of $500 million to $650 million. That study did not, however, consider such factors as shoe fly tracks (those set up for temporary use) or temporary road construction and did not look at underpasses.
The new $127,550 study, which the council’s Rail Committee had approved by a 3 1 vote on Aug. 22, with Councilman Larry Klein dissenting, would be more refined and based on a new set of assumptions. The new one will use “current and local construction cost information” based on information obtained about BART and other similar projects.
“The recent and local data is more adidas football boots relevant for Peninsula/South Bay purposes, compared to the CHSRA information which was primarily based on statewide averages,” a report from the adidas football boots Office of City Manager’s Office states.
At the Aug. 22 meeting, members of the Rail Committee emphasized the study would be a useful tool for educating the public about trenching alternatives and for enhancing the city’s ability to lobby for grade separation. Councilwoman Liz Kniss and Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd both cited local anxieties about having trains and cars remain at street level. This could become a bigger issue in the coming years, as the Caltrain system becomes electrified and more trains are added.
The city’s station at University Avenue is already the second busiest in the system, behind San Francisco’s.
Klein argued against the study, citing the earlier study and arguing that the city should not spend any money on a project that is so uncertain. He also argued that studying trenching in only the south end of the city would violate the city’s guiding principle to treat all areas of the city the same (staff is recommending not studying trenching for the entire corridor because of the complexity of burying the tracks around the San Francisquito Creek, at the northern border).
“It just doesn’t make any sense to go further,” Klein said.
Councilman Pat Burt disagreed and joined Kniss and Shepherd in arguing that the study will provide much needed information that would strengthen the city’s ability to seek funds for grade separation.
“I think, like we’ve seen in other projects, there are possibilities long term for much greater funding that we might envision or see available at the present time,” Burt said, citing possible funds to stem major impacts of train projects.
Shepherd said it would also be helpful to provide the community with more information about what it would take to create underpasses or to put the rail line in a trench.
“There still is angst and there is uncertainty in the community,” Shepherd said. “I think this will allow us to get a little closer to certainty and feasibility.”
South PA (which has NO grade separated crossings south Of Oregon Expressway) desperately needs a study to understand how we can solve growing arterial congestion problems caused by trains.
We need to understand this problem set better to inform our discussions with Caltrain. We can rely on Caltrain to avoid trenching because it is challenging and expensive, but trenching may be our best option to solve the problem with minimal impacts on the community as train traffic rises and it WILL continue to rise. That is clear.
I see this as necessary due diligence for a critically important upcoming negotiation.
In my opinion, all the existing grade separations in town (San Antonio Road, Oregon Expressway, Embarcadero Road, University Ave) are huge failures. All of these interchanges are much more dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists than regular at grade crossings.
Grade separations are NOT a safety issue. Grade separations are entirely about speeding up car traffic. Please do not build any more grade separations unless the design can be proven to improve safety and convenience for adidas football boots PEDESTRIANS.
Grade separations without safe and easy pedestrian crossings will just cut our city in half. Remember that all the public high schools are west of the train tracks, so cutting off pedestrian access for east side residents will be tremendously bad for our students.
The grade crossings in South Palo Alto are very dangerous and cause increasing levels of traffic problems as the population in the area grows. Because North Palo Alto and South Palo Alto are different in ways that are relevant to this decision the creek posing greater challenges to burying the tracks in the North, and the current population growth in South Palo Alto it is wrong of Klein to stand in the way of this study. His simplistic interpretation of the policy of treating the North and South Palo Alto the same, means ignoring the practical realities of running a city well. Thank you Burt, Kniss and Shepherd for supporting a reasonable and realistic approach.
This proposed study is based on a number of assumptions which will not come to pass. HSR will not come down the Central Expressway / Alma as it is the most heavily trafficked roadway at major commute times. Central Expressway and CALTran support the purpose of linking the cities from Gilroy to SF. The HSR is not suppose to stop at numerous locations it is a high speed link LA to SF with a probable stop in central valley. HSR cannot assume eminent domain to establish the right of way there is no money available for that. If it tries there will be many law suits. HSR will ride in an elevated line consistent with existing major highways I 5, 101 or 580. That is lowest cost approach to HSR many problems.
The electrification of CALTran is also questionable we need to be able to carry freight / product as well as people on the existing line. We can get modern engines which reduce pollution and noise. The technology is out there now.
Digging trenches will disrupt current daily traffic for the train.
I agree that the digging of an underpass(s) is the way to go best idea. That solves the immediate concern and does not pre empt future plans as better technology and money becomes available.
I don’t understand why “Parent” says the grade separated crossings in town are dangerous. I use them all the time, and they seem to me to be adequate and safe. Not to be critical, but what more do we need?
University Ave has a Tunnel with a separate, elevated, shared bike/pedestrian lane on either side of the roadway.