16 November 2008

Focus on: Menlo Park

Photo by Adam SporkaMenlo Park is the site of California's oldest passenger train depot, built in 1867. The town has a closely spaced series of four grade crossings near its center, at Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and Encinal Avenues. Trains must blow their horn nearly continuously when they pass through the area.

Menlo Park, along with its affluent neighbor Atherton, is noted for its official opposition to HSR, despite most residents having voted for Proposition 1A. The city also joined a lawsuit to make Altamont Pass the preferred HSR entry to the Bay Area, instead of Pacheco Pass. While this would remove HSR from Menlo Park's downtown, many residents don't realize that the Altamont alternative would still pass through Menlo Park, impacting the Suburban Park and Lorelei Manor neighborhoods instead.

Right of Way Width

The existing railroad land through Menlo Park is narrower than 100 feet along most of its length. Along Stone Pine Lane, it is 75 feet wide. Between Oak Grove and Glenwood Avenues, it is just 60 feet wide, although abutting land is not residential and could be taken with only minor disruption. South of the station, the right of way is 80-100 feet wide. Maps of the existing ROW boundaries are available for mileposts 28-29 (north end of town) and 29-30 (south end of town).

Grade Separations

The existing vertical alignment of the Caltrain tracks is shown in the figure below, created from Caltrain track survey data.


Menlo Park has planned for grade-separating the four crossings since 2001. With the HSR project well underway, at least one design requirement is coming into better focus: the probable need for four tracks. The grade separation study considers the impact to adjacent properties, shows some renderings of a few concepts, and also has some nice illustrations of construction staging. This study already takes into account quadruple tracking.

More recently, the CHSRA's project-level environmental work on the San Francisco - San Jose HSR project resulted in preliminary design alternatives including elevated, at-grade and below-grade variations of the vertical alignment through Menlo Park. These alternatives are highly schematic, and the CHSRA has yet to reveal detailed vertical track profiles.

Any changes to the vertical alignment of the tracks through Menlo Park must be coordinated with neighboring Atherton, which has two crossings just over the city line, too close to allow grade changes to a different elevation.

The figure below shows a split grade separation, with the rails raised by about 15 feet and the roads sunk by about 5 feet. Pedestrian sidewalks would remain at grade.


Alternately, the tracks could be sunk fully into a 30-foot deep trench, as shown in solid red line in the next figure. This would leave roads at grade, although it would likely result in greater construction impacts.


Train Station

The existing Menlo Park Caltrain station was rebuilt in 2000. Rebuilding it with four tracks would require demolishing the new platforms, removing heritage trees on the east side of the station, and considerably narrowing Alma St. The historic depot building (and the baggage building that houses the model railroad) would be relocated to make way for the new southbound track. The grade separation study contains relevant diagrams.

Bike Tunnel

Menlo Park has long standing plans to install a pedestrian and bike tunnel under the tracks to link the Burgess recreation area with Safeway and the neighborhoods on the other side of El Camino Real. This tunnel would be located about here, under the raised berm that currently supports the two existing tracks. Before this project proceeds any further, it should take into account future quadruple tracking for HSR.

Local Opposition

A few vocal residents have vigorously opposed HSR on the grounds that it will degrade the quality of life in Menlo Park. In particular, vocal critics Martin Engel and Morris Brown, who live near the tracks, have advocated against Proposition 1A by founding Derail High Speed Rail, a group that opposes HSR on economic and geopolitical grounds... and, perhaps also, because of their back yards' proximity to the tracks. Another Menlo Park resident, Russell Peterson, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the HSR project usurps the Union Pacific Railroad's exclusive rights to operate intercity passenger trains on the peninsula.

NOTE: This post will be updated continuously, as warranted by additional information or new events relating to Menlo Park.

1 comment:

  1. 1. Headspan structures are a huge mistake.
    Pantograph failure on one train can take out four tracks. Maintenance is made hugely more complicated, both by the extra knitting and by the difficulty of working alongside active tracks.

    The correct solution when ROW is abundant (which it is, by all real-world comparative standards, at Caltrain) on triple/quadruple plain track is to erect stanchions between pairs of tracks and with support brackets to each side.

    2. Central express tracks with flanking local tracks are a huge mistake.

    The fast tracks should flank the locals to the outsides fast/slow/slow/fast (or alternately be paired fast/fast, slow/slow, but that's not applicable for the Caltrain ROW in my opinion.)

    The correct solution at local stations is a SINGLE island platform between the central slow tracks. This has the immense advantages of minimizing station furniture and infrastructure (vending machines, shelters, canopies, stairs, elevators, etc, etc); providing a more secure feeling safety-in-numbers environment for waiting passengers; and most importantly of enabling straight-forward and delay-free rescheduling possibilities to operate trains on "wrong" tracks for whatever operational reason (damage, delay, failure, maintenance.)

    With outside boarding platforms a rescheduled train results in passenger inconvenience and in passenger and train delay for to change platforms.

    3. At major stops, a pair of island platforms situation between the same-direction fast and slow tracks provide extremely convenient transfer possibilities while still, given appropriate track and signalling, allowing flexibility in rescheduling and maintenance.

    99. Caltrain doesn't need ANY -- absolutely NONE -- quadruplication south of Redwood Junction and north of Santa Clara anyway.

    After all, the only sane way to mix different traffic classes (HSR, local) is the way everybody else in the world does it, namely to segregate them ASAP. In Caltrain's case, for geographic reasons, the first available place to do so is at Redwood Junction heading southbound from SF. The situation is much better in San Jose, where HSR tracks can leave the Caltrain ROW immediately after departing San Jose Diridon Memorial Inter-Galactic Terminal for Fremont.

    Nobody would be so utterly stupid and ignorant of basic rail engineering and scheduling principles as to propose to have fundamentally incompatible and independent traffic classes interfere with each other for over 100km of line, would they?

    I mean, that would go against the precedent of every single HSR construction project in every single location on the planet!

    Alternately, perhaps our Kopp/Diridon brains trust could have saved those stupid ignorant French-contaminated British from spending billions building that whacky CTRL2 thing right into St Pancras when running on local train ROW for many tens of miles is so much better. And better for the environment!


    Anyway, lose the four-track, express-central, platforms-outside cross sections. Just because people who don't know what they're talking about (ie America's Finest Rail Professionals) show this stuff in their cartoon planning doesn't mean you have to make the same obvious mistakes.

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