28 October 2022

News Roundup, October 2022

CBOSS Dumpster Fire Update: the CBOSS case is still making its way through San Mateo County Superior Court (under case file 17CIV00786). The trial was held in April through June of this year, and closing briefs are due in December. Closing arguments are currently scheduled to be made in court on the 5th of January 2023. The latest kerfuffle is over a post-trial Caltrain/Parsons motion to seek punitive damages from Alstom for intentionally, not just negligently, lying about the status of the project based on testimony given during the trial.

Trains Without Wires: Caltrain held a VIP invitation-only unveiling of the new EMUs in San Francisco on September 24th. Four trainsets (serial production #2 - #5) have now been delivered and will collect dust (graffiti?) for a couple of years because the electrification of the corridor is far from done. The new trains were hauled to San Francisco by diesel power.

New Palo Alto downtown
grade separation

Stirring Things Up In Palo Alto: Caltrain recently briefed the city on their plan to replace the ancient bridge over the San Francisquito Creek. This is precipitating a sudden change to the city's years-long policy of kicking the can down the road on what to do about a future grade separations at downtown Palo Alto. While everybody seems to assume the bridge and grade separation projects are necessarily linked, they are not! The solution is pretty darn obvious: replace the Palo Alto Ave crossing with a new grade separation at Everett Ave, which would connect downtown to El Camino as shown in the sketch at right.

  1. Permanently close and demolish the Alma bridge over University Ave, instead connecting Alma to University via the existing cloverleaf ramps reconfigured as a signalized intersection.
  2. Build a new downtown elevated grade separation viaduct and platforms through the existing station parking lots, along the original track alignment that existed before the University Ave grade separation was opened in 1940. This viaduct would be open underneath, providing station parking, bus platforms, pick-up/drop-off areas, and other station amenities. Bonus: the new straightened track alignment removes a speed-limiting double reverse curve in the tracks.
  3. Cut over the trains to the new viaduct and elevated station. 
  4. Extend Everett Ave under the elevated tracks to the existing intersection at El Camino Real and Quarry Rd, also picking up a new connection to the convoluted and inefficient bus loop. Bonus: bus service is greatly sped up to/from El Camino, Stanford and downtown by avoiding time-consuming looping routes.
  5. Permanently close the grade crossing at Palo Alto Ave.
  6. Demolish the old University Ave rail bridge, remove the old cloverleaf ramps, and bring the University Ave / Alma intersection back up to a grade level signalized intersection.

This grade separation approach is completely decoupled from whatever happens with the San Francisquito bridge.

More CEQA Lawsuits Flying: the recent certification of the HSR San Francisco to San Jose EIR precipitated several new CEQA lawsuits. Brisbane and a private developer are upset about the sprawling HSR "light" maintenance facility planned in the city, and its impact on the planned Brisbane Baylands development. Millbrae also got in on the action due to a clash between its development plans and the planned expansion of the station footprint for HSR. Unfortunately, the Sacramento Superior Court does not allow free access to case files, so details are hard to obtain.


  1. Why file suit in Sacramento and not San Mateo’s court?

    1. I believe Sacramento is the venue for all lawsuits implicating the statewide HSR project.

  2. I like the idea of a 4-track elevated station between Everett and University. Maybe Palo Alto will prefer to spend their $350M in Measure B funds here rather than on the remaining options for Churchill and Meadow/Charlston where NIMBYs have prevailed over any sane solutions.

    For the San Francisquito Creek bridge replacement, I hear that Caltrain is saying it will need to shut down the main line for up to 2 years with a bus bridge. Looking at the ROW map, it seems there should be plenty of space to build a new bridge west of the current one without interrupting service too much, especially if the land marked as UPRR property is available. Does anybody know if UPRR still owns this land?

    1. I'm not sure if this station would ever need 4 tracks, given that nearby Redwood City will definitely have that feature. I think Palo Alto would work as a single, wide island platform flanked by two tracks.

      I don't know if UPRR still owns the strip of land behind the hotel, but it has become recently occupied by a new drainage structure. Could that suggest a change of ownership?

    2. > I hear that Caltrain is saying it will need to shut down the main line for up to 2 years with a bus bridge

      even for caltrain that's pushing it, do you have a source for that?

      it should be perfectly feasible to replace a bridge that size in a weekend. mammoet regularly installs much larger bridges overnight. what does a 30m truss bridge weight, order of magnitude?

    3. @mobert roses the source for that 2 year bus bridge was this <a href="https://padailypost.com/2022/09/29/caltrain-wants-to-replace-san-francisquito-creek-bridge-a-move-that-will-accelerate-other-planning-decisions/>Palo Alto Daily Post article</a>. Presumably they will try to avoid this kind of disruption if possible.

    4. @Clem Caltrains Moderate growth and (especially) High growth plans call for a 4 track overtake in Palo Alto to accomodate HSR. Given the power of the homeowners living by the tracks to block anything in PA, the downtown station is the most likely overtake location to actually happen. A fancy new station like what you propose might actually be appealing to them.

      Personally, I think 3-tracks running from Meadow to Ravenswood would be enough to support 3-track overtakes at California Ave and Downtown stations which is sufficient for the Moderate growth 8+4 plans. There's plenty of ROW already and the Downtown station already has room for 3 tracks. Modifications to Cal Ave Station would be pretty simple.

      If grade separation is really required by CPUC for 3 tracks it could be done with a new grade separation at Alma (as part of the bridge replacement) and closure/separation of Churchill (which is currently being considered)

    5. Note the high-growth scenario calls for a longer overtake section that encompasses several station stops, to avoid having the slower train wait to be overtaken. Given that the ROW is so wide south of Southgate / Peers Park, I think that is the most likely location for it to begin, extending at least through Cal Ave and San Antonio if not also Mountain View. In my opinion, cranky homeowners won't be a problem when push comes to shovel.

      Note the downtown grade separation entirely avoids the need to grade separate Palo Alto Ave (a.k.a. Alma).

    6. I found the March 1941 issue of California Highways and Public Works with some fascinating details about the University Ave grade separation. In this article, we learn the tracks were shifted 81 feet southwest of their original alignment, and raised 5 feet. Also, the concrete abutments of these structures are built on creosoted timber piles, who knew!

      Also prominent in the speeches surrounding the opening are the constant and repeated references to democracy and democratic institutions, something that seems to be vanishing from today's political discourse.

    7. @jpk122 a prefab single-track bridge dropped in just on the ECR side of the existing bridge and lined up to use the space currently occupied by the nearby set-out track behind the hotel should avoid the need for a ridiculous sounding bus bridge between Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

    8. Shifting the tracks to the west through two successive new spans moves the trains and bridge foundations further from El Palo Alto, potentially aiding the health of the tree's roots. The trees to the west of the tracks look to be nasty eucalyptus, which are intrusive. The new spans can also be longer, with foundations set further back from the creek, to possibly improve the habitat along the creek. Hopefully there's enough ROW south of Alma to eliminate the need to encroach on the park south of Alma.

  3. When there are grade crossings ...
    It was Capital Corridor, not Caltrain, but it was in Santa Clara.


    1. Extra smart driver there. Gate comes down on the car, gets out to try to lift gate, then drives onto track. That person could have as easily been dumb enough to run someone down in a crosswalk. Better outcome here.

    2. Is there such a thing as Darwin Award by proxy? 🤦🏻

      Two police officers face criminal charges for leaving a woman handcuffed in the back of a police SUV parked on railroad tracks and failing to move the vehicle as a train was barreling down the tracks.

      Fort Lupton Police Department officer Jordan Steinke is charged with one count of criminal attempt to commit manslaughter, one count of second-degree assault and one count of reckless endangerment, according to a news release from the 19th Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

      Rios-Gonzalez pulled over just past railroad tracks on Weld 38, but Officer Vazquez, who was pursuing her, parked his police SUV on the tracks. Steinke and another Fort Lupton officer arrived to assist, and, after Rios-Gonzalez surrendered, they handcuffed her and put her in the back of the patrol SUV. But none of the officers moved the SUV off the track.

      Police body camera footage (youtube.com/watch?v=XFYzkIeBk5E) obtained by The Denver Post through an open records request after the crash shows a police officer standing near the patrol vehicle parked on railroad tracks running for safety seconds before the train — its horn blaring — slammed into the SUV.

      Vazquez and Steinke were searching Rios-Gonzalez’s pickup truck for weapons when the train sounded its horn in the distance. It took them at least 15 seconds to react to the sound, the body camera footage showed.

      The Platteville police vehicle’s front passenger-side door was open when the train smashed into it, pushing the car several yards, the video footage showed. The officers immediately called for help, saying a patrol car had been struck by a train.


  4. Clem, how about you writing a piece (your choice of topic) for a new site I put together? Altamont Press has gotten way too raunchy and this site is too limited in its content.

    The site is: https://ultimate-rail.freeforums.net/board/1/general-discussion

    Also, if anybody else here wants to put something together knock yourself out.

  5. You probably don't need a bus bridge, as you could build a temporary platform north of the bridge. The transfer wouldn't be much different than what's needed to connect between SF's Central Subway Union Square station and Powell St stations.

    There's a cross over north of there to get trains into the right track.

  6. Why add an additional grade separation so close to the existing University separation? Will just generate unnecessary traffic via induced demand (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand). And the inverse, reduced demand, is also true. We should just close the Palo Alto Ave and enjoy the reduction in car-miles driven in the walkable downtown area.

    1. I think it's more about reconnecting the street grid than anything, which ultimately ends up helping out walkability far more than anything else could.

    2. Which is to say, it would mostly induce pedestrian and transit demand. Also more flexible access/egress for both, as was said above. For cars, it doesn't connect much, perhaps pickup/dropoff.

    3. Wow yeah those are great points. I can see it now. It would significantly lessen the extent to which the rail line is a barrier to connecting downtown to the proposed mixed-use development area. This would be amazing. Why don't we have more viaduct stations?