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What is Connecting Palo Alto?

Connecting Palo Alto is a community-based process to address the increased traffic congestion expected when Caltrain electrifies the tracks and runs more trains through the corridor. Community feedback and collaboration are a vital part of this decision-making process that will affect future generations to come.

Virtual Town Hall 

The Connecting Palo Alto Virtual Town Hall is an interactive digital forum and exhibit, designed to engage and inform the community on rail crossing alternatives. This is in advance of the City’s next phase when City Council will decide on and select rail crossing options.

The Virtual Town Hall ran from August 19, 2020 through September 14, 2020.

Also, there were two Virtual Town Hall Q & A Sessions: August 27 at 4:00 pm and September 3 at 4:00 pm.

XCAP Meetings:

Please visit the XCAP meetings web page to see meeting dates and meeting materials (agendas, summaries, videos, etc).

Upcoming Meeting

Why is this important?

Who decides?

How is the community involved?

What alternatives are still on the table?

Why is this important?

For over 150 years, Palo Alto has enjoyed regional connections to San Francisco and San Jose via rail. Now known as the Caltrain corridor, it is used by thousands of daily commuters from Gilroy to San Francisco. While it is a convenient connection to the larger Bay Area, today’s rail is a physical constraint to east-west movement in Palo Alto. The current grade crossings create some traffic congestion and pose safety and noise challenges that will worsen as the frequency of train service increases with the modernization of Caltrain’s fleet of trains going from diesel to electric trains. As a result, the City is actively doing long-term planning for the rail corridor to improve east-west connectivity for generations to come.

There are currently six streets where people can cross the railroad tracks in Palo Alto. Two of these intersections, called grade crossings, are above the road and already grade separated, but the other four cross the tracks at the same level. Traffic congestion is expected to increase at all four of these locations as Caltrain begins to use electric trains and run more frequent trains. This will mean that crossing gates will come down as frequently as every 45 seconds to 3 minutes during peak hours impacting traffic and safety.

A plan is needed to help Connecting Palo Alto and keep traffic moving.

What are the challenges?

Finding a solution that the community can support, identifying funding sources for construction, and obtaining regulatory approvals are just a few of the challenges.

Who decides?

City Council is the final decision maker for this project for a preferred rail grade separation for Palo Alto’s rail crossings. Council receives input from the community, from City staff, and from key stakeholders, and makes decisions based on this input. Council has already narrowed down the list of possible ideas from 34 to 7 alternatives plus two new ideas in January. Council is expected to choose the preferred alternatives in Fall 2020. See the tentative timeline with key dates between now and then.

Once the preferred rail grade separation alternatives are selected by City Council and confirmed by Caltrain, City staff will follow steps needed to implement them. Funding opportunities are time-sensitive thus the Council plans to decide by Fall 2020. The tentative timeline with key dates between now and then is below.

How is the community involved?

Connecting Palo Alto is a community-based process. The community is involved in every step of the way.

The Expanded Community Advisory Panel (XCAP) is a community panel that meets regularly to evaluate information related to grade crossing alternatives. They will make recommendations to the City Council. XCAP meetings are open to the public. 

Several community meetings, roundtables, and workshops have already happened, but it’s not too late to join the discussion. Stay up to date with the project calendar to attend future meetings. 

What alternatives are still on the table?

The City Council will decide on a grade separation for Churchill Avenue and Meadow Drive-Charleston Road. Palo Alto Avenue, however, is going through a separate planning effort. As of January 22, 2020 the alternatives on the table are:

  • Churchill Closure
  • Viaduct in the Vicinity of Churchill
  • New: Churchill Partial Underpass
  • Meadow-Charleston Trench
  • Meadow-Charleston Viaduct
  • Meadow-Charleston Hybrid
  • South Palo Alto Tunnel – Passenger and Freight
  • South Palo Alto Tunnel with At-Grade Freight
  • New: Meadow / Charleston Underpass

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