06 January 2009

Caltrain Right Of Way Maps

The table below contains maps of the Caltrain right of way, with key dimensions like ROW widths and the approximate boundaries of property owned by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (Caltrain), the Union Pacific Railroad, local transit agencies, and others. This information will be useful in discussing the impact of HSR on peninsula communities.

The maps date mostly from March 2007. This public information was provided by Caltrain upon request; thanks to Brian Fitzpatrick (Manager Real Estate & Development) as well as Martha Martinez (PCJPB Secretary). The files are provided as-is; I decided against consolidating a large PDF to spare server bandwidth and allow linking to individual areas of concern along the line.

MilepostCityStationPDF Map
0 to 1San Francisco4th & King00-TCCM-200-B.pdf
1 to 2San Francisco22nd Street01-TCCM-200-B.pdf
2 to 3San Francisco

3 to 4San Francisco

4 to 5San Francisco

5 to 6San Francisco / BrisbaneBayshore05-TCCM-200-B.pdf
6 to 7Brisbane

7 to 8Brisbane / South San Francisco

8 to 9South San Francisco

9 to 10South San FranciscoSouth San Francisco09-TCCM-200-B.pdf
10 to 11South San Francisco / San Bruno

11 to 12San BrunoSan Bruno11-TCCM-200-B.pdf
12 to 13San Bruno / Millbrae

13 to 14Millbrae / BurlingameMillbrae13-TCCM-200-B.pdf
14 to 15Burlingame

15 to 16BurlingameBroadway15-TCCM-200-B.pdf
16 to 17Burlingame / San MateoBurlingame16-TCCM-200-B.pdf
17 to 18San MateoSan Mateo17-TCCM-200-B.pdf
18 to 19San Mateo

19 to 20San MateoHayward Park19-TCCM-200-B.pdf
20 to 21San MateoHillsdale20-TCCM-200-B.pdf
21 to 22San Mateo / BelmontBelmont21-TCCM-200-B.pdf
22 to 23Belmont / San Carlos

23 to 24San CarlosSan Carlos23-TCCM-200-B.pdf
24 to 25San Carlos / Redwood City

25 to 26Redwood CityRedwood City25-TCCM-200-B.pdf
26 to 27Redwood City / Unincorporated

27 to 28Unincorporated / AthertonAtherton27-TCCM-200-B.pdf
28 to 29Atherton / Menlo ParkMenlo Park28-TCCM-200-B.pdf
29 to 30Menlo Park / Palo Alto

30 to 31Palo AltoPalo Alto30-TCCM-200-B.pdf
31 to 32Palo AltoCalifornia Ave.31-TCCM-200-B.pdf
32 to 33Palo Alto

33 to 34Palo Alto / Mountain View

34 to 35Mountain ViewSan Antonio34-TCCM-200-B.pdf
35 to 36Mountain View

36 to 37Mountain ViewMountain View36-TCCM-200-B.pdf
37 to 38Mountain View / Sunnyvale

38 to 39SunnyvaleSunnyvale38-TCCM-200-B.pdf
39 to 40Sunnyvale

40 to 41SunnyvaleLawrence40-TCCM-200-B.pdf
41 to 42Sunnyvale / Santa Clara

42 to 43Santa Clara

43 to 44Santa Clara

44 to 45Santa Clara

45 to 46Santa Clara / San JoseSanta Clara45-TCCM-200-B.pdf
46 to 47San Jose

47 to 48San JoseSan Jose Diridon47-TCCM-200-B.pdf
48 to 49San Jose

49 to 50San JoseTamien49-TCCM-200-B.pdf
50 to 51San Jose

51 to 52San Jose

77 to 78GilroyGilroy77-TCCM-200-B.pdf
78 to 79Gilroy



  1. Clem-

    Great stuff. Thanks a lot.


  2. This raises a number of questions. Is 75' wide enough for four tracks, two being HSR supporting. Will the need to be eminent domain adverse takings both for corridor widening as well as for construction easements? Will construction require shoofly tracks on one side of the existing rail corridor?

  3. Does HSR not require any safety buffer zones whatsoever? For example, today, Caltrain runs down the middle of a 75ft to 100ft wide stip of land. In case of an accident or emergency (earthquake or something) if trains are about 20 ft tall, it still provides a buffer zone of about 30-50 feet of completely blank unused land between the tracks and the people (the cars, streets, houses, schools, parks, etc) on both sides of the tracks. But if they run tracks right up to the outer limits of the Caltrain ROW - no buffer zones remain whatsoever. Are there really no buffer zones around the HSR lines required, especially in earthquake country? Even around schools?

    Another question. The trees on Alma street appear to be on the OUTSIDE of the ROW. Does that mean HSR would have to purchase (via eminent domain) that narrow strip of land alongside Alma in order to cut down those trees? Can't exactly have trees hanging over the HSR lines can we?

  4. I'll do a post on clearance and shoofly issues sometime soon. 75' is tight, but there are a couple of spots in Redwood City where they already run 4 tracks within 75'. Add electrification infrastructure and it might get tighter.

    Min safe clearance to trackside obstacles varies according to whose standards you follow. It will be somewhere between 8'3" (CPUC legal min to catenary poles, from the 1940's) and 10' (probably more representative of worldwide contemporary standards for the speeds envisioned on the peninsula). These dimensions are measured from the track center line.

    There may be more to it: track maintenance personnel safety clearances, construction clearances and access easements, cable culverts, drainage, maintenance access for tree trimming, etc.

    Today's ROW is so wide only because the Southern Pacific had the great foresight to plan for a 4-track future back when the land was affordable... in most places. It has very little to do with safety clearances.

    As to earthquake considerations, check Rafael's recent post over on the California High Speed Rail Blog.

  5. These maps are really interesting. Caltrain/HSR is actually in much better shape than I'd thought in terms of having a wide ROW for most of the line. That's not to say that they won't have to move/rebuild a lot of structures, but purely in terms of having property on which they can build, things look surprisingly good.

    Going from south to north, the only places in which ROW constriction is a very serious issue appear to be:

    Near Peers Park in Palo Alto. This looks like it could easily be solved by taking a strip of land abutting the park.

    From Oak Grove to Glenwood in Menlo Park. This looks like it could be easily solved by taking a strip of land abutting Garwood Way.

    From 4th Ave to Monte Diablo Ave in Downtown San Mateo. This does not look easy to solve, and the maps seem to confirm my suspicion that this is the most constricted stretch on the ROW. My guess is that the best solution here is to eliminate S. Railroad Ave between Cypress and 5th Ave. This may effectively require some sort of eminent domain takings of a few small businesses between 2nd and 3rd Aves since they will lose road access. Between Cypress and Monte Diablo it might be necessary to convert N. Railroad Ave to one lane (one way) with no parking (requiring negotiations with the city).

    Also, the maps make it pretty clear that the expansion at Millbrae is going to occur to the west side of the current tracks. That's where all the JPB/Sam Trans/TA property is.

    Anonymous: No, there is no need for a special safety buffer other than fencing to keep people off of the tracks. The likelihood of a train derailing and coming into your house is much lower than the likelihood of a car or truck losing control and crashing through your living room (earthquakes notwithstanding). Caltrain currently has 4 tracks in an 80 foot ROW adjacent to houses north of Lawrence; there is no special 30-50' extra safety buffer there. If a train were to crash into your house at 125 mph, it wouldn't be substantially different than if it crashed at 80 mph (either way your house would be wrecked). Anyway, if the tracks are SHHS (most likely scenario), then the outside tracks will only be operating at 80-90 mph anyway (i.e. current speeds).

    I imagine JPB has the right to trim branches of trees that intrude upon its own land.

  6. FYI: 18:20 1.7.09

    Just attended a 2.5 hr. meeting in MP hosted by Mike Garvey who is on the HNTB payroll as liaison.

    Person who spoke the most/answered most questions was Dominic Spaethling, whose card is CHSRA as Regional Manager, but is on the PB payroll. Also present was HNTB assoc. VP John Litzinger, who spoke about technical issues.

    These are the guys who are going to be leading the design/build work on the Peninsula for CHSRA. They will be at the San Carlos meeting on the 22nd.

    Naturally, they gave very little concrete or detailed information, but did offer a specific timeline:

    2009 first stage; Scoping/15% engineering design, including 3-D alignment
    2010 first draft EIS/EIR
    2011 completed EIS/EIR
    2012 construction starts
    2017 construction completed
    (this timeline is best case scenario)

    Since match funds are required for bond funds to be spent, they said that Caltrain property itself constitutes a capital in-kind contribution.

    They also said (please forgive the rambling nature of this information) that minimum corridor width for 4 tracks is 70'.

    They are working, concurrently, on the Altamont non-HSR regional service. They called it "Super-ACE".

  7. Hi Martin,

    Very interesting; thanks for your note. Out of curiosity, what was the context of this meeting? Has the CHSRA started reaching out to abutters or was this a meeting you requested? Was the MP city council / staff involved? Was Tim Cobb there?

    Thank you very much for that information.

  8. So what does it mean when a street is within the PCJPB property? Are they like leasing it out to the city and can revoke the lease?

    Take for example 30-TCCM-200-B.pdf (palo alto). Most of the Alma st / University Ave / whatever's on the other side intersection overpass mess is within the property lines. Since they already own the land can they just tear out the current bridges/roads?

  9. Now here's something odd I'd never noticed before in Mountain View at the Evelyn station. The VTA light rail track connect with the Caltrain tracks, and the connection is labeled "UPRR designated freight trackage located on JPB right-of-way."

    How is that connection allowed since VTA light rail is non-FRA compliant and is now tied into FRA tracks? And I can't imagine that the VTA tracks could support a freight train's weight on it.

  10. The VTA to Mountain View occupies the old freight spur to Moffett Field. There is a connection between the VTA tracks and the main line before it crosses central expressway. Where the VTA tracks pass under 101 there is still a freight spur to Moffett. This spur must have been required by the government airfield even though the Navy has vacated almost all of Moffett.

    Once upon a time the Navy received heavy equipment and ordinance by rail and there were tracks all around the airfield. There was even a spur out behind Lockheed to the estuary to receive weapons by barge (maybe from Concord?) The bimp hangar doors roll on tracks and the large airship docking structure rolled on a pair or tracks.

    In the 1990s NASA Ames moved some wind tunnel parts in and out for a renovation. Also there were some loads of contaminated soil from the super fund site. Since VTA was built I doubt any freight has moved on the tracks. So VTA centenaries and ROW can clear freight cars. As for potential operations, maybe they are segregated.

  11. Peter - Good question. In some cases there is a city easement shown which presumably gives them some right to have the road there, but in the case that you show there is no labelled easement. Perhaps JPB could rip up Alma St in theory, but I'm sure they would not do so in practice. Rather they would negotiate with PA to give them additional land in constrained areas (e.g. further south, near Peers Park) in exchange for allowing Alma St to continue to run in some form across University Ave.

    San Diego Trolley Blue Line hosts time-separated freight operations, so I don't see why VTA couldn't do so as well. Also, the only part labelled as UPRR is the short connector from Caltrain to VTA. Conceivably it exists so that UPRR can deliver LRVs to VTA (does VTA have some other connection with the US railroad network that would make this unnecessary?).

  12. "How is that [Mountain View] connection allowed since VTA light rail is non-FRA..."

    One (39-ft?) section of each rail of the connection is disconnected and turned on its side, ready to be spliced back in whenever the connection needs to be activated.

  13. Ahh, ok. So VTA isn't actively connected, but it could be connected back fairly easily. That makes sense. I assume this needed FRA approval but if it's physically disconnected it seems easy enough to get.

  14. So I went and measured on google earth the actual amount of space between catenary masts on four-track electrified mainlines in America (Metro North New Haven Line, ex-PRR New York-Phila, and Amtrak at Attleboro). It's consistently somewhere between 60 and 62 feet. It really seems like a 70 foot right of way should be plenty for four tracks, judging by the design of Attleboro, which was done in the late 90s and has trains running through at 125 mph. You really don't need very much clearance between the edge of the ROW and the outside of the catenary masts, so long as you use single masts or portal structures (rather than headspans) and hang the high voltage cable on the track side (which is recommended practice anyway). Having looked at the ROW maps, it should be possible to build four tracks along most of the ROW, though in some parts you might have to end up putting the catenary poles in someone's back yard, and some parts are just too narrow for four tracks.

  15. These ROW maps show just how sloppy cities are over ownership for streets.

    There are large sections where the railroad crosses streets (at grade, underground, or over a bridge) where the railroad appears to have NO rights -- neither UPRR nor the JPB nor anyone else is marked as having ownership *or* an easement.

    This is also true in highway medians and in what were probably *former* streets. (See 04-TCM-200-B .)

    In some of the more dramatic cases, the railroad appears to own HALF of a road crossing -- one lane but not the other!

    This can only be described as sloppy -- but I'm not surprised. In my hometown there was a dispute over the ownership of a street -- records had to be looked up going back 200 years.

    The ownership maps just *aren't kept up to date* for roads. In fact, they're usually sloppy for anything which is completely exempt from property tax.

    For roads, they keep track of who has maintenance responsibility and who has the right to grant easements to power line companies and so forth, but the name of the holder of the underlying fee title to the land is often completely lost. It may be the neighboring homeowners (split at the road midline, usually), the city, the township, the county, the state, or the federal government, or even a former private property owner. It all depends on historical conveyance documents. If the road is removed for some reason, eminent domain may need to be used just to sort out the ownership status.

    I have no doubt that there are in fact right-of-way rights granted to the railroad in one form or another for all of these street crossings, but that they simply have never been properly researched. There's likely a generic grant from the City of San Fransisco for the "right to cross City-owned streets as necessary to reach location X" or something like that. Whether that right was transferred from SP to UP, from UP to JPB, etc. -- who knows?

    I have no doubt that some of the sections where the railroad seems to own it and the city appears to have no rights are in fact subject to city rights which haven't been researched, too.

  16. VTA has special permission from the FRA in Mountain View. I recall it being an issues when the opened the extention.

  17. Interesting. Searching around a bit I found the VTA's official FRA docket:
    FRA-1999-6254. The latest filing is from last month titled "Notification of Provisional Removal of a Railroad Switch Providing Entry to a Shared Light Rail Line", but for some reason the PDF isn't loading for me. Looks like they're completely segregating the lines.

    Also this federal regulations site is amazingly well laid out (well, other than some PDFs not loading). A search for CAHSR returns about 2,000 filings across the EPA, NHTSA, FRA, DOT, and others.

  18. Peter, thanks for the link. The PDFs loaded OK for me (including the 500-page original application). VTA and JPB now want to remove the switch and leave the components nearby, so it could be reinstalled on relatively short notice (with a service interruption for track work to reinstall the switch). According to them, removing the unused switch reduces maintenance costs and risk.

  19. The "VTA" switch off of Caltrain's main track 1 was removed a couple of weeks ago.