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The Green Caltrain blog is sponsored by BayRail Alliance, an all-volunteer non-profit organization supporting green rail transit in the Bay Area. This blog and BayRail have no affiliation with Caltrain.

Archive for the ‘Friends of Caltrain’

Menlo Park claims to support electrification but threatens to sue; Atherton votes to litigate

Both Atherton and Menlo Park have sent letters to Caltrain announcing an intent to litigate electrification if their conditions are not met.

Atherton’s issues include fundamental opposition to Caltrain electrification, as stated in its letters to Caltrain. They argue that Caltrain should be considering alternative technologies, although the electrification environmental report analyzed a variety of options and explained why electrification is a good choice for the project.    Atherton also opposes the scope of the environmental review of electrification. Because the electric facilities will eventually be used by High Speed Rail, Atherton contends that the full high speed rail project needs to be studied (even though electrification will serve Peninsula commuters for many years before High Speed Rail arrives).

Atherton has other local demands, including cutting down fewer trees, helping to pay for “quad gates” which are a pre-requisite for a request to reduce horn noise, and a request for more frequent service at the Atherton station.

Atherton is also demanding more frequent service. The town of Atherton has 7000 residents; and probably fewer than 3500 employed residents; the wealthy bedroom community only a few hundred local employees.  If 20% of employed residents commuted by train, the city would still be in the bottom third for Caltrain ridership.  Increasing ridership based on threatened litigation is not how Caltrain should do service planning.

As for Menlo Park, Mayor Catherine Carlton said that the city supports electrification, in her announcement that Menlo Park would consider litigation if conditions were not met.  Like Palo Alto (which ultimately decided not to sue), Menlo Park has not picked up on Atherton’s argument that the environmental review of Caltrain electrification needed to study all of High Speed Rail’s proposed changes, even though the lawsuit was promoted by some local residents who are also long-time opponents of High Speed Rail.

Menlo Park’s letter includes a grab-bag of concerns, some more reasonable than others.  A city with a flourishing tree canopy and a strong tree ordinance, Menlo Park is demanding a 3:1 replacement ratio for larger trees in line with the city’s policy.  Menlo Park is also asking Caltrain to specify which trees will be removed which seems excessive for a 50 mile project.   The city is asking for Caltrain to confirm the mitigation of construction impacts in writing, which seems reasonable.  Menlo Park also has concerns about traffic impacts and other mitigations – unlike Palo Alto, which had specific asks regarding which Caltrain was working with the city, Menlo Park did not specify in its letter what it is asking for.

Menlo Park is also asking Caltrain to provide increased service. Unlike Atherton, Menlo Park has a robust employment base, and is increasing the number of residents and workers in the area near the Caltrain station.  Since electrification will enable more frequent stops within the same travel time, it may well be reasonable to see more service.  However, Caltrain has not yet worked out the service schedule for electrification. Arguably it should have done more to propose and discuss service patterns already.  However, given the fact that Caltrain hasn’t yet worked out its schedule, it seems highly unreasonable for Menlo Park to demand more service, when other cities with lightly served stations and transit oriented development plans are not suing.

With even less realism, Menlo Park is also demanding that Caltrain fund grade separations. Menlo Park is in the process of applying, in a competitive grant application to the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, for funding to grade separate Ravenswood from the tracks.  The money currently available for grade separations in the county was raised by voters with a transportation tax.   As with Palo Alto’s initial demands that Caltrain pay for grade separations, Menlo Park’s demands will not cause hundreds of millions of extra dollars to materialize for additional grade separations in San Mateo County.

To the contrary, the three Caltrain counties are planning ballot measures in 2016, with the potential to raise more money for Caltrain capacity improvements, and potentially for grade separations as well.    Having electrification tied up in litigation, and cities using litigation to compete with each other for schedule service, could make it much more difficult to agree on raising significant funding to increase capacity and service for all.

Hopefully, like Palo Alto, Menlo Park will negotiate reasonable accommodations with Caltrain, and will not engage in a self-destructive lawsuit.



Palo Alto Council decides not to litigate Caltrain electrification, but Atherton might

Near midnight following a brief closed session, Palo Alto Mayor Karen Holman announced that Caltrain was working well with the cities on issues that were of concern to the city, and the city would not be pursuing litigation.

The issues that had been publicly discussed by Palo Alto Council were the location of an electric station (Caltrain included Palo Alto’s new recommended location in its documents, but hadn’t finished the technical approval of it), and additional traffic mitigation measures for intersections that would be affected by the more frequent electric train service.  While some local residents hoped that litigating electrification would help $500 to $1Billion materialize to trench through three at-grade crossings, the Palo Alto Council thankfully did not act on this hypothesis.

Today, the town of Atherton will be considering litigation in an 11:30 am closed session. Atherton’s issues are different; the removal of trees, and the concern that because Caltrain electrification will eventually be of use to High Speed Rail, that the environmental report should have studied the full High Speed Rail project.   Caltrain’s reasonable explanation is that the electrification project is a standalone project; it will be operating for years before any high speed trains arrive.

Update: tonight Menlo Park will be holding a closed session on whether to litigate as well. The question is whether to join Atherton’s lawsuit.

South San Francisco station transformation to get funding from South City, San Mateo County TA

On January 14, the South San Francisco City Council voted unanimously to allocate $5.9 million of city infrastructure reserves, to provide a local match for $49 million of San Mateo County Measure A funding, to cover an overhaul of the bleak and underutilized South City Caltrain station.   With the funding project could be completed as soon as four years from now.

The station move is a centerpiece of the city’s Downtown Plan, intended revitalize the downtown and make better use of the station.  The project would add a tunnel connecting downtown to the station, and would add barriers gates preventing passengers from crossing when a train is coming. Currently without the gates, a Northbound and Southbound train can’t be in the station at the same time, since passengers could walk in front of a moving train.  The project would also improve the bus and shuttle dropoff area.

South San Francisco station improvements

Currently to reach the station, passengers need to climb several sets of stairs and cross a major freeway entrance; passengers with wheelchairs or strollers need to traverse a long and steeply banked sidewalk beside a freeway onramp. SSF station


On January 8, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority reviewed about plans to allocate $49.1 million for the project; nearly the full amount of Caltrain funds currently available; the funding will be presented for approval at the TA’s February 5th meeting. 

South City staff said that the station design was complete and ready for Caltrain to bid out for construction; the project could be done as soon as  four years from now, having the new station ready for Caltrain electrification.

The project would use about half of the city’s capital improvement fund. Council Member Addiego asked for the finance committee to review how the funds would be replenished, and other uses of the fund, before he gives the final vote to spend the money.  The city is applying for grant funds that may cover some of the project.


Tonight Wednesday 1/14 – should Muni connect 16th street Mission to Caltrain?

On Wednesday night at 6pm, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is hosting a meeting gathering feedback on transit improvement connecting 16th street in the Mission to Mission Bay. The meeting will be held at Marshall Elementary School, 1575 15th Street.

The proposal would extend the 22 Fillmore to Mission Bay, adding transit only lanes on 16th and 3rd to make the bus up to 25% faster, and creating a safe and attractive bicycle route along 17th street.

The 22 Filmore may take 5 years to build, because of the time needed to add the overhead wires. In the mean time, Muni plans to add a new diesel bus line on 16th, the 55-16th, which follows the 22-Filmore on 16th, and will continue on 16th Street, then North on 3rd Street to UCSF.

In a discussion in comments to the Streetsblog article, several people asked whether the 16th street routes should be connected to Caltrain 4th and King (or 22nd Street). What do you think? Come to the meeting or share your thoughts online here. If you want to see the Caltrain connectivity, leave a comment or send us a quick note at, so we can encourage support.







- Adina


Adina Levin


Friends of Caltrain




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Palo Alto Council members seek Caltrain partnership for grade separation funding

On Monday night, Palo Alto City Council heard a presentation from Caltrain regarding the electrification project.  Council members expressed several concerns with the electrification EIR, and also an intention to work with Caltrain to resolve the issues, including working to secure funding for grade separations. 

There is one issues with the visual appearance of electrical station that seems solvable – community members opposed one proposed location, which hasn’t been taken off the list until an alternative has been verified.

There are concerns that the additional service would add delay at the intersections at Charleston, Meadow, and Churchill. For example, Alma and Churchill, without electrification there would be 84 seconds of delay by 2020, and an additional 25 seconds with more frequent electric service.   Council members and community members spoke in support of grade separations that would improve safety and improve crosstown connections. 

Council Member Kniss, formerly on the Caltrain board, recalled that San Mateo County has funding for grade separations because it was earmarked in a ballot measure, whereas Santa Clara County does not have such funding.

Council Member Burt suggested that increased service at California Avenue and San Antonio stations might mitigate some of the car traffic, since more convenient train service will help more commuters choose not to drive.

While a majority of community members (including this blogger) spoke in favor of moving electrification forward while working on future funding, a couple of commenters recommended holding up electrification, in the hope that this would help $500 million or more to be found for grade separations.

In 2016, Santa Clara County will put a measure on the ballot to fund transit improvements.  Palo Alto residents vote, and so do Mountain View residents.  Palo Alto and Mountain View, and their major employers have leverage to affect what goes into the ballot measure.  Peninsula Cities also have an opportunity to partner with San Francisco and San Jose on funding to increase Caltrain capacity and grade separations, so it can keep up with ongoing growth in ridership.

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