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This Frequently Asked Questions page is continuously updated. Changes were last made on September 1, 2020.

About Connecting Palo Alto

Connecting Palo Alto (formerly the Palo Alto Rail Program) is a community-based process to address long-standing challenges associated with at-grade crossings in Palo Alto along the Caltrain corridor. This process will inform decisions affecting both community aesthetics and mobility choices for many future generations. Community feedback and collaboration will be a vital part of the decision-making process.

Engagement activities that inform, educate, gather input from, and connect citizens about potential rail design alternatives will help prepare the City for the transit landscape of the future.

There are currently seven roadways where motorists can cross the railroad tracks in Palo Alto. These intersections, called at-grade crossings, differ from other intersections because a train crosses them. Two of the intersections have the road below the level of the tracks (at Embarcadero Road, University Avenue, and Oregon Expressway) and four of them cross the tracks at the same level (at Charleston, Meadow, Churchill, and Palo Alto Avenue/Alma Street). Traffic congestion is expected to get worse at these at-grade locations in the future due to additional trains as part of Caltrain’s electrification effort and potentially high speed rail. This will mean that railroad crossing arms will come down many more times each day – as much as 45 seconds every 3 minutes - impacting traffic and safety. If we don’t do anything, traffic delays will increase and more traffic will divert to existing grade separations like Embarcadero, University, and San Antonio (in Mountain View) as motorists look for ways to avoid the congestion.

Connecting Palo Alto strives to: recognize and build off of the previous rail corridor planning work, improve safety along the rail corridor, reduce the traffic congestion that occurs at existing at-grade crossings every time a train passes by, minimize right-of-way acquisitions and local road closures, improve circulation and access across the rail corridor for all modes of transportation, separate bicyclists and pedestrians from automobile traffic, deliver grade separations and circulation improvements in a timely manner, reduce train noise and vibrations, minimize visual changes along the rail corridor, and support Caltrain service enhancements.

While enhanced rail transit service is important to the City of Palo Alto, the Caltrain corridor creates a physical and visual barrier to east/west connectivity within the City, and is also the source of safety concerns for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists, especially at existing at-grade crossings. The rail corridor also creates issues in surrounding neighborhoods, such as noise, vibration, traffic, and visual impacts. The City of Palo Alto, through Connecting Palo Alto, is seeking to reduce the impact to the community from increased Caltrain services.

Yes. And it continues. The City has maintained a lengthy public community engagement process for this project, and has made a concerted effort to engage community members from the start. The City has held numerous workshops, roundtables, community meetings, a Community Advisory Panel (CAP), Expanded Community Advisory Panel (XCAP), and City Council Rail Committee meetings; built a database of interested stakeholders; sent out a questionnaire that received 800 responses; produced a Connecting Palo Alto e-newsletter; posted extensively on social media; and contacted local media about workshops, roundtables and the process. More information about Connecting Palo Alto can be found on the Connecting Palo Alto website at

The City continues to assess the cost of the grade separations. The current estimate for Meadow Charleston can be found here. The estimate for Churchill are forthcoming. The estimates specifically for Palo Alto Avenue have not yet been conducted. A previous Palo Alto Grade Separation Financing White Paper is available with an overview of costs and potential funding and finance services, though many of the estimates have been updated or the alternatives have changes.

Caltrain is currently in the process of electrifying its trains as part of their effort to increase both frequency and capacity. This increase in trains will increase gate downtime and will cause more delays to all modes of transportation. With the electrification of the Caltrain Corridor, the gates will be down for 15% of peak hour times. Please review the Connecting Palo Alto Fact Sheet for more information. Traffic backups would also become excessive due to the increased gate downtime at all of the at-grade crossings in Palo Alto. Leaving the at-grade crossing as is (no build) will be considered and evaluated as part of the environmental process.

City staff believes the transit decrease associated with the Covid-19 and economic downturn is temporary. Caltrain and California High Speed Rail are moving forward with their plans for increased frequency in the Caltrain corridor. These are long term plans, and economic downturns are relatively shorter than the planning horizon for the grade separation project. the The grade separation program will take several years to build.

The Caltrain corridor-wide grade separation study will look at the Caltrain corridor, including all three counties and grade separations. The Caltrain study will provide additional information that we can build upon into our selected alternatives. However, these are completely independent efforts.

Projects such as grade separations are multiyear long-term projects and involve several steps. Typically, the economic/social impacts of the economic downturn are not as long-lasting as the project timelines. We are expecting that the pandemic related effects will be diminished in 2-5 years which is significantly shorter than the planning and construction horizon for such projects. We are cautiously proceeding with these alternatives while monitoring other regional transportation plans and efforts under consideration. Also, worth noting is that in previous recession, the Federal government enacted grant programs such as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, an infrastructure-related grant funding program. The City will be better prepared to avail of similar opportunities in the future if such grants are offered in the future for projects.

The Expanded Community Advisory Panel, also known as XCAP, is tasked with reviewing the grade separation alternatives and provide recommendations. In addition, the feedback from the virtual townhall will be considered by the City Council. We are hoping to have the recommended alternative selected by the end of 2020.

Typically, projects such as grade separation infrastructure projects will require a combination of funding sources to fund the construction. In Santa Clara County, voters have approved Sales Tax Measure B which has earmarked funding of approximately $700 Million for grade separation projects. The four of the total eight grade separations on the Caltrain corridor are in the City of Palo Alto and therefore shall be eligible for such funding. The City will also explore other Federal, State, and Regional Funding available as grants for such projects. However, applying for Federal and State Grants can only begin after the project is defined.

The construction timelines are summarized in Row J of the Evaluation Matrix and the order of magnitude costs are in the row just below that. This information is also included in the Fact Sheets for each alternative. For the Churchill alternatives, the construction timelines are approximately 2 years for the Closure with Mitigations and the Viaduct. The Partial Underpass is expected to take approximately 2.5- 3 years to construct. The closure is the least costly to construct at $50M to $65M. There are costs related to the closure because there are mitigations required at 4 intersections to accommodate the diversion of traffic. These improvements are shown in the tabletop map for the Churchill Closure. An animation was not developed for the closure alternative because there are no grade separation structures built for this alternative. The Partial Underpass costs $160M to $200M. The most expensive alternative is the Viaduct at approximately $300M-$400M.

The frequently asked questions received from the community through the Virtual Town Hall were answered in the Question and Answer (Q & A) sessions, scheduled on August 27 and September 3, 2020. These frequently asked questions were also added to the Connecting Palo Alto website the Virtual Town Hall also provides the link to the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). In addition, all comments received through Virtual Town Hall will be tabulated and included in the meeting summary after the Virtual Town Hall wraps up.

A Citywide Tunnel alternative was reviewed and discussed earlier in the process. After evaluating the costs and complexities associated with the Citywide Tunnel alternative, the City Council eliminated this option from further consideration. Therefore, the Citywide Tunnel alternative is no longer being considered.
Caltrain will be soon initiating a corridor-wide study and we are not anticipating Caltrain considering a corridor-wide tunnel due to the significant costs associated with constructing tunnels. Therefore, we don’t believe a long-term tunneling alternative for the entire Caltrain corridor will be considered as part of the corridor-wide study.

The mouse wheel can be used to zoom. While on a mobile device, pinch/drag out can be used to zoom on the materials. The Connecting Palo Alto website also allows for all layouts, profiles, typical sections, fact sheets, etc. to be downloaded. The webpage can be found here:

Virtual Town Hall Q+A Session #1 – Churchill Avenue

The Virtual Town Hall Q+A Session #1 was held August 27, 2020.

The traffic study prepared for the project and available on the Connecting Palo Alto website shows that queue lengths associated with traffic backups that would just about double during peak school hours (when traffic is heaviest on Churchill) due to the increased gate downtime. This means that it would take about 5 signal cycles to make a left turn from Alma Street toward the school in the morning, and the eastbound queue would extend on to El Camino Real. This condition could only be mitigated by constructing a grade separation or closing Churchill Avenue along with making other improvements at Embarcadero Road/Alma Street, Embarcadero Road/El Camino Real, Alma Street/Oregon Expressway, and El Camino Real/Oregon Expressway-Page Mill Road.

Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) and Stanford have been outreached to and have received information about the project and the alternatives. Stanford has not provided any feedback as of yet. PAUSD has provided feedback but has not taken any formal position on any of the alternatives as of yet.

Yes, the traffic study available on the Connecting Palo Alto website includes extensive analysis of the traffic currently using the Churchill railroad crossing and where that traffic would go if the crossing were partially or fully closed. The traffic would go to either the Embarcadero or the Page Mill underpasses. Traffic can get there by using Alma Street. The problem is that the Alma Street/Embarcadero Road interchange does not accommodate all movements without using local streets such as Lincoln Avenue and Emerson Street. Therefore, it would be necessary to modify that interchange in conjunction with closing the Churchill crossing. Details are in the traffic study that can be downloaded from both the Connecting Palo Alto Website and the Virtual Town Hall website.

Yes, the traffic study includes an estimate of the additional traffic that would use Emerson Street unless changes are made to the interchange of Alma Street at Embarcadero Road. The additional traffic would not be workable; therefore, the alternative to close the Churchill crossing would include revisions to the Alma Street/Embarcadero Road interchange to provide new connections. With the new connections, traffic would not increase on Emerson Street. Revisions to the interchange would accommodate bicycles.

Yes, the Embarcadero Road profile indicates that the widening of the bridge will require modification to the existing roadway to maintain adequate clearance for the bridge. 

The configuration for Option 1, the goal was to provide the tunnel or separation under the tracks. The L -shaped configuration as requested can be done, however, the proposed L-shape would be a variance to Option 2. If L-shaped ped/bike were provided, it would begin on Kellogg Avenue similar to the Partial Underpass alternative. 

Details regarding the closure or reduction in lanes on roadways impacted during construction are noted in the Fact Sheets under "Neighborhood Considerations". For the Closure, Embarcadero Road, Alma Street and Churchill Avenue will be closed intermittently at night and on weekends. Similarly, for the Viaduct, Alma Street and Churchill Avenue will be closed intermittently at night and on weekends. Impacts to local streets during the construction of the Partial Underpass are more extensive. Churchill Avenue between Alma Street and Mariposa Avenue will likely be closed for the majority of construction (total construction duration is estimated at 2.5-3 years). In addition, Alma Street will be one-way northbound for approximately 6+ months.

A 1.6% grade for the railroad alignment is proposed for the Viaduct. Per Caltrain's design standards 1% is the maximum allowed. Caltrain has indicated that there is an established process for requesting a design variance and that the requestor is responsible for the cost to support the review and analysis of a request. Supporting documentation would need to be prepared to evaluate impacts to operations, vehicle performance, and maintenance. Other site-specific conditions, such as the proximity to stations would also need to be considered. The City would engage Caltrain in evaluating design variances once a preferred alternative is identified. See also “Caltrain Notices” on the Virtual Town Hall for documents and correspondence with Caltrain.

For the Churchill Avenue Partial Underpass alternative, Alma Street will be lowered creating a T intersection; and therefore, lowering the pedestrian and bike pathway on Churchill Avenue is not feasible. Kellogg Avenue is the nearest opportunity for routing pedestrian and bicycle traffic to Churchill Avenue and therefore, it was considered as a bicycle and pedestrian crossing location. Furthermore, it provides the connection to the existing bicycle-pedestrian pathway on the west side of the railroad tracks adjacent to Palo Alto High School. 

In addition to physical constraints, a separate bicycle and pedestrian crossing at a location other than Churchill Avenue will allow the construction of the ped/bike crossing to be performed ahead of the partial underpass grade separation construction at the intersection and therefore be available for bicycle and pedestrian traffic during Churchill Avenue grade separation construction. Other options like Seale Avenue can also be considered and evaluated for bicycle and pedestrian traffic movement alternatives. 

Virtual Town Hall Q+A Session #2 – Meadow-Charleston

The Virtual Town Hall Q+A Session #2 was held September 3, 2020.

It is highly unlikely that City will pursue the construction of Churchill Avenue grade separation at the same time as Meadow Drive and Charleston Road grade separations. These are long-term projects and require significant efforts for design and construction planning. Furthermore, the funding constraints will also limit the City's ability to fund and construct these improvements simultaneously. Also, if Meadow-Charleston grade separation was to be built simultaneously, we will ensure that at least one of the crossing remains open to traffic during construction.

Conceptual private property impacts (full and partial acquisitions) are shown on the Underpass Alternative Fact Sheet, see Figure 1.

Two parcels will require acquisition due to realignment of Meadow Drive to the north. Three parcels require acquisition on Charleston Road; two are due to the roundabout near Mumford Place, one is at the northeast corner of the Park Blvd/Charleston Rd intersection on the west side of the tracks to accommodate the ped/bike path.
Various partial acquisitions, mostly narrow strips of fronting property, are also required through the project site to accommodate the transportation infrastructure of this alternative.

We have not developed costs for the long-term maintenance items, but we have identified the anticipated items. These can be found in Row M of the Evaluation Matrix. Items include pump stations for dewatering for all the alternatives, except the Viaduct. Lift stations/siphons for the creek diversions for the Trench and the Tunnel alternatives are also identified. Caltrain has provided some clarity on who would be responsible for maintenance costs related to the railroad. Caltrain will take on the maintenance responsibility of new infrastructure that will raise or lower the tracks by embankment, viaduct or bridge; however, the City should assume it is responsible for the cost to maintain a Trench or Tunnel alternative.

The box jacking system in question was used on the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) in New York to install a roadway underpass structure. By use of hydraulic jacks, the underpass structure was pushed into place over a single weekend after removal of the tracks and excavation of the soil under the tracks, took place. A time lapse video of this process can be seen starting at 1:35:

The advantage of this method of construction is that it avoids the construction of a shoofly track, which would potentially be less costly and reduce the traffic impacts along Alma Street.
A preliminary evaluation of the LIRR project revealed many engineering challenges and potential obstacles to using this method. For example, pile foundations are typically used on rail bridges in California to resist lateral and vertical forces during a seismic event, but piles could not be used with this construction method. Groundwater at the project sites in Palo Alto will also need to be considered to determine the feasibility of this construction method. In summary, construction methods, such as the “box jacking system” will be evaluated more closely and discussed with Caltrain during the next phase of the project.

Yes, Charleston Underpass allows through traffic to cross both the train tracks and Alma without stopping. This is one of the advantages of this alternative. However, note that a traffic signal is proposed in the Meadow Underpass at the "T" intersection with the off-ramp from southbound Alma Street, so Meadow Drive will not always be free-flow.

The eastbound right turn to go southbound on Alma Street is used heavily by vehicular traffic. The 2030 forecast is 500 right turns during the PM peak hour. Removing this ramp at this intersection will cause the intersection to operate ineffectively.

Each intersection has 12 turning movements allowed under existing conditions. At Charleston, all 12 would be retained although some would require traveling through the roundabout. At East Meadow 10 of the 12 would be retained although some would require a U-turn at Alma Village. The two movements that would not be possible would be from either direction on East Meadow to southbound Alma Street.

On the west side of the railroad tracks, there would be some demand to use Wilkie Way although traffic could also use El Camino Real. Traffic could not use Park Boulevard because the connection to Charleston Road would allow only right turns. On the east side of the railroad tracks, there would be a demand to use the streets in the Fairmeadow neighborhood. The turn movements that would not be allowed each comprise about 80 vehicles during peak hours.

Yes, it is likely that traffic would increase on Wilkie Way because it provides a connection from East Meadow to Charleston.

Yes, the traffic study includes an analysis of the Meadow-Charleston underpass alternative. Yes, the streets, including the roundabout, would be able to accommodate the traffic.

Some rounding of the 90-degree turns can be made and this can be refined in the next phase of the project. However, large radii for even moderate bicycle speeds (> 10-15 mph) should not be expected due to right-of-way constraints. Please note that many ped/bike facilities, including the Homer Ave Undercrossing require bicyclists to slow down or walk their bikes at sharp (90-degree) corners with limited sight distance.

The profile exhibits have been updated to show additional vertical clearance dimensions.

Eight feet of vertical clearance is not ideal, but it does meet the minimum standard per the Caltrans Highway Design Manual. The project team aims to achieve at least 10 feet, where possible.
The 8-foot vertical clearance is shown because the descent of the Meadow ped/bike profile cannot begin too far to the west. The elevation of the ped/bike path is governed by the road profile in front of private driveways just east of 2nd St, and the railroad elevation is fixed (it’s same as existing in this alternative). That said, the design of this alternative could be refined in the next phase of the project. For example, a slightly raised rail profile could be a variation of this alternative, which would provide additional vertical clearance.

For the Meadow Underpass, pedestrians and bicyclists must cross onto the south side of the street to traverse under Alma Street and the tracks. Crosswalks will be provided at Emerson St and 2nd St to allow for the “cross movement”. Users will connect to the existing facilities (sidewalks and Class II bike lanes) just east of Emerson and just west of 2nd St at either end of the project.

For the Charleston Underpass, pedestrians and bicyclists must cross onto the north side of the street to traverse under Alma Street and the tracks. Crosswalks will be provided on each side of the roundabout just west of Mumford Place to allow the “cross movement” at the east end of the project. A ped/bike bridge will be provided just west of the tracks to allow users to cross Charleston on the west end of the project. Users will connect to the existing facilities (sidewalks and Class II bike lanes) just east of Mumford Place and just west of Ruthelma Ave at either end of the project.

The City will consider additional improvements in the subsequent phases of the project to determine the appropriate traffic control devices, such as signing, striping, bike/ped crossing signals, etc. at such intersections within the project. The design development phase will include the evaluation and the detailed design of such traffic control devices. The design will be performed in accordance with the California Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices to ensure that pedestrian and bicycle traffic movements can safely occur at these locations. These improvements will eventually become part of the overall construction of the project.

The preliminary evaluation indicates that roadway improvements can be accommodated for the two alternatives at each grade separation location independently, however, it may require adjustment of railroad grade at both locations i.e. Meadow and Charleston
The hybrid alternative raises the tracks by 14 feet at Meadow. The distance required to transition the railroad grade from 14 feet to match existing grade in accordance with Caltrain requirements is greater than the distance between the two crossings. As a result, the railroad tracks may need to be elevated at both grade crossing locations. The project will require a longer shoofly than anticipated for the current underpass alternatives at Meadow and Charleston (no rail raise provided at either location). The grade separation at these locations will therefore require additional design work to elevate the railroad at one (or both) locations to accommodate such improvements.

The premise for adding the Tunnel with At-Grade Freight alternative was based on public feedback that there would be cost savings if the Tunnel did not have to be designed to accommodate freight. While there were some cost savings related to the smaller tunnel diameter, it was not a significant difference. Other design changes, such as reducing the grade and vertical clearance within the tunnel were explored, but ultimately Caltrain indicated that changes to their design criteria could not be assumed. Specifically, Caltrain indicated "any changes to Caltrain’s standards must be considered in a way that is careful, deliberate and fully and fairly weighs both the benefits and consequences; and should be undertaken on a system-wide basis."

The tunnel animations cover the traffic diversions in detail and can be reviewed for visual aid. Links for animations:
Passenger & freight -
Freight at Grade -

During construction of the Tunnel with Passenger and Freight alternative, Alma Street is reduced to one lane in each direction from south of Oregon Expressway to El Verano Avenue, and is reduced to just one single lane from Charleston Road to Ferne Avenue. All lanes are restored to existing conditions once construction is complete and the shoofly tracks are removed.

For the Tunnel with Freight on the surface (at-grade), Alma Street is permanently reduced to one lane in each direction from south of Oregon Expressway to El Verano Avenue and from Charleston Road to Ferne Avenue.

The permanent alignment for the tracks will be shifted about 45 feet to the east. The edge of the viaduct structure will be at least 75-80 feet to the homes on Roosevelt Circle, Lindero Drive and Starr King Circle, just east of Alma Street. On the west side of the tracks, the edge of the viaduct structure will be about the same distance to the nearest homes on Park Boulevard, no closer than about 70-75 feet to these homes.

Bike lanes are not shown on the renderings; however, the intent is to maintain the existing conditions which means that continuous bike lanes are planned along Meadow and Charleston for the Viaduct alternative. In addition, coordination with the City will be done during the next phase to ensure the striping configuration is consistent with the City's long-term Bike Plan.

The Viaduct and Hybrid alternatives would raise the elevation of the rail line above the current ground elevation by 15 to 20 feet in some areas, and this could slightly decrease the noise reduction provided by the first row of buildings for subsequent rows. However, this would be more than compensated for by the reduction in wheel/rail noise that will be provided by a 6-foot noise barrier mounted on the elevated structure near the train. The Hybrid alternative could also help reduce Alma Street road noise for homes to the west of the rail line by providing a physical barrier between the roadway and the homes.

The Noise and Vibration study, available at the Connecting Palo Alto website and the Virtual Town Hall, provides a comparison of the proposed alternatives in terms of potential noise and vibration benefits and impacts. The biggest reduction in existing noise would come from eliminating horn soundings in the vicinity of the grade crossings. Train operators are required to sound the horn at all grade crossings per the Federal Rail Administration’s regulations, so with the grade separations and/or closures this requirement would be eliminated for all alternatives. This results in substantial noise reductions in areas near the existing grade crossings. Aside from the elimination of horn soundings, the alternatives differed by smaller amounts when considering secondary noise benefits between alternatives, such as changes in elevation of the railroad and the roadway geometrics. A more detailed analysis of noise and vibration will be conducted during the environmental and design phases of the project.

Virtual Town Hall Q+A - Continued

Virtual Town Hall – These are additional Questions + Answers.

Sample photos of pump stations for Fifth Avenue in San Mateo County as well as Paseo Padre Parkway and Mission Boulevard in Fremont are here: pump station photos

Specific required pump types and locations have not been identified at this time. However, as part of the detailed design process, any required pumps would be designed with isolation features so as to not contribute noticeable noise or vibration in the surrounding community.
The pump station system would be designed with sufficient reliability and redundancy to meet code requirements. A backup generator will be provided for each pump station in case of loss of power. An alarm system will be designed to alert maintenance staff to mechanical and electrical issues.

The Extended Community Advisory Committee (XCAP) was created to review the alternatives developed for the rail grade crossings along the Caltrain corridor and to provide a recommended alternative at each location to the Council. City Council is the ultimate authority and makes the final decision.

While the feedback portion of the Virtual Town Hall has closed, residents will have the opportunity to provide their comments and feedback to the City Council when recommendations are considered by the City Council for making the final decision, which is expected to take place in late 2020 or early 2021.

In addition, community members may send their feedback/comments to City staff. Also, residents may send comments or feedback related to any community concern to any member of the City Council. Here is contact information.

In April 2020, Caltrain responded to a similar question regarding the use of Caltrain right-of-way for a bike lane as part of the Churchill Partial Underpass. An excerpt of the response is below.

In February 2020, the JPB adopted the Rail Corridor Use Policy (RCUP), which serves as an implementation policy for the Caltrain Business Plan. The RCUP guides the agency’s decision-making about use of JPB property in support of Caltrain’s Long-Term Service Vision – similar to a City’s zoning code guiding its land use decisions. Caltrain receives many proposals for non-railroad uses on its property, similar to the City’s idea above to use the right-of-way for access facilities. The RCUP will be used to determine if a proposed non-railroad use is compatible with the railroad’s current and future needs for its property. As you know, it is anticipated that significant portions of JPB’s property holdings will be needed to deliver future infrastructure and support future train operations to achieve the Long-Term Service Vision. The RCUP protects those areas that are needed for current and future railroad use by limiting the types and durations of non-railroad uses that can be located in those areas.”

Click for the full response.

Minimizing right-of-way acquisition is one of the City Council-Adopted Criteria and thus, the impact of the proposed alternative to adjacent properties is evaluated with the development of conceptual plans. The alternatives that were developed and evaluated earlier in the process, such as the Churchill Hybrid and the Citywide Tunnel, identified such impacts and were consequently removed from consideration through City Council review and action in early 2020.

During the same time in early 2020, community members proposed new alternatives (Partial Underpass for Churchill Avenue and Underpass for Meadow-Charleston) that required the development of a conceptual plan and evaluation of its impacts to adjacent properties. City Council directed staff and XCAP to further explore these proposed alternatives. These alternatives have not yet been reviewed by City Council and therefore XCAP or staff does not have the authority to remove these alternatives from consideration at this time. The City Council will be reviewing the new alternatives in late 2020 or early 2021.

The grade separation projects are no doubt one of the larger projects handled by any local/ municipal agency. These projects involve various levels of local, state, and federal government for approval of the design and construction phases. For the grade separation projects on the Caltrain Corridor, however, the final design and construction of the project are typically administered/managed by Caltrain. Therefore, the City will be a partner with Caltrain in design development and community outreach during the final design and construction of the project.

Yes, it is possible that Caltrain could not allow/approve a design variance. In the case of increased grades, a design variance is being requested to significantly reduce a project impact, such as rebuilding the San Antonio Station. If the design variance is not allowed, then the City would have to follow the design criteria and adjust the scope of the project as needed.

A draft of the summary report was provided to XCAP for discussion at the 10/7/2020 XCAP meeting.

A final version of the summary report will be presented to the City Council, at which point the document will be made public.

Meadow Drive has about the same daily traffic volume as Churchill Avenue. However, the volume of traffic at Charleston Road is much higher. If Meadow Drive were closed, the traffic would not have a good location to divert to because Charleston Road does not have any extra capacity. Closing Churchill Avenue works because Embarcadero and Page Mill/Oregon will have enough extra capacity to accommodate the diverted traffic given the improvements that have been proposed. There are no comparable capacity improvements possible at Charleston Road unless property acquisitions are considered.

Outside of acquiring a 3-5 foot strip of property from the homes fronting Alma Street to reconstruct the planting strip, reducing the operating speeds on Alma Street could be considered to increase the safety and comfort level of pedestrians on the sidewalk.

Realignment of the permanent railroad tracks were considered for both viaducts (Churchill and Meadow-Charleston). Realignment to the center of Alma Street has little benefit and complicates the alternative as well as adds construction costs and duration in the following ways:

  • Rail track will be outside of Caltrain Right-of-Way, requiring negotiations between the City of Palo Alto and Caltrain.
  • The viaduct has an elevated retained fill sections of track on either end. At these locations Alma Street will need to conform back to existing alignment on the same side of the tracks, thus introducing curves into the roadway alignment.
  • Traffic intersections will need to be enlarged due to the shifting Alma Street alignment.
  • Noise related to vehicles will be closer to west side neighborhoods and noise related to trains will be closer to the east side neighborhoods.
  • Lastly, existing utilities within existing Alma Street would need to be relocated at a significant expense.

The animations are very helpful to help the community visualize how a grade separation project will be built and what it will look like when completed. For the Churchill Closure, an animation was not developed because there is no grade separation structure being built for this alternative and how it will be built is not as complicated as the other alternatives being considered. However, renderings of how the Churchill Closure will look once completed were provided.

Raising Alma Street would require modification of the driveways of the homes fronting Alma Street. This would naturally introduce a low point on the driveway adjacent to the home, which would require drainage inlets on private properties . If the inlets were to get clogged, this would create a risk of flooding on those properties. So, although it's physically possible to raise Alma Street, this is not recommended because it introduces issues/risks that far exceed any of its benefits.

Although skylights were used for the Homer Avenue Undercrossing, Caltrain has stated that they would unlikely be approved on future projects due to maintenance issues, and it also limits their flexibility of being able to shift their tracks in the future, if desired.


An at-grade crossing is an intersection of railroad tracks with roads and pedestrian/bicycle at the same street level. Vehicles and pedestrians are forced to stop at the crossing while a train travels through the intersection. At-grade crossings or train crossings have a significant risk of collisions between trains and any other road user (i.e., trucks, cars, bikes and pedestrians).

A grade separation is shifting/separating the grade of the train from the grade of the road. It allows for the safe movement of vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians under or over railroad tracks. Generally, these separations come in the form of either an underpass or an overpass structure (bridge). Grade separations eliminate the risks of collisions with trains, which enhances safety and boosts mobility.

An embankment is a mound of earth that is built to support a roadway or railroad over an area above the existing ground/terrain. The sides of the embankment can be sloped or they can be vertical if used in conjunction with retaining walls. The construction of an embankment allows for a change in elevation of the  roadway or railroad, which is typically used in the approach to a grade separation.

Caltrain Electrification will electrify the Caltrain corridor from San Francisco to San Jose.

Approximately 75% of Caltrain’s diesel service will be replaced with electric service resulting in cleaner, greener, and better service to the Caltrain community and the communities along the corridor. To have more of your questions answered, visit the Caltrain Electrification FAQ at content/uploads/CalMod_FAQ_1.2018.pdf.

Grade Separation Questions

Since 2017, 34 options have been considered. The City has undertaken an extensive citywide engagement effort to establish a broad awareness of the need and issues associated with constructing rail grade separations along the Caltrain corridor. This has generated roughly 34 discrete ideas for grade separations. The 34 options for grade separations are a result of that process. The list has been narrowed down to 8 options as of May 2019. For more on the alternatives, go here.

At the April 22, 2019 meeting, City Council moved the date for a decision on a preferred alternative from April 2019 to October 2019. The Council has narrowed the 34 options to 8. Council continues to thoroughly evaluate the 8 remaining alternatives. XCAP is providing feedback in this process and the remaining alternatives.

In September 2017, the City Council adopted the following criteria as guidelines in selecting a preferred solution (a preferred alternative for each crossing): East-West connectivity - facilitate movement across the corridor for all modes of transportation; traffic congestion - reduce delay and congestion for automobile traffic at rail crossings; pedestrian / bicycle circulation - provide clear and safe routes for pedestrians and bicyclists seeking to cross the rail corridor, separate from automobile traffic; rail operations - support continued rail operations and Caltrain service improvements; and, cost - finance the project with feasible funding sources. Additionally, the following criteria are also important: environmental impacts - reduce rail noise and vibration along the corridor; visual impacts - minimize visual changes along the rail corridor; local access - maintain or improve access to neighborhoods, parks, schools and other destinations along the corridor while reducing regional traffic on neighborhood streets; cost - minimize right- of-way acquisition; construction - minimize disruption and the duration of construction.

The Comprehensive Plan states the following:

Palo Alto will build and maintain a sustainable network of safe, accessible and efficient transportation and parking solutions for all users and modes, while protecting and enhancing the quality of life in Palo Alto. Programs will include alternative and innovative transportation processes, and the adverse impacts of automobile traffic on the environment in general and residential streets in particular will be reduced. Streets will be safe, attractive and designed to enhance the quality and aesthetics of Palo Alto neighborhoods. Palo Alto recognizes the regional nature of its transportation system, and will be a leader in seeking regional transportation solutions, prioritizing Caltrain service improvements and railroad grade separations.

Beginning in 2009, the Palo Alto rail corridor has been a subject of considerable discussion and community focus in response to planned rail investments along the Caltrain rail corridor, specifically the California High Speed Rail project and the Caltrain Electrification Project. The 2013 Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study, 2014 Palo Alto Grade Separation and Trenching Study, and the 2030 Comprehensive Plan are the three essential planning studies that inform the present Rail Program planning effort, Connecting Palo Alto. The 2013 Palo Alto Rail Corridor Study, begun in November 2010 and adopted by City Council in January 2013, was initiated in response to California High Speed Rail and the Caltrain Electrification Project. The report focused on the rail corridor itself, circulation and connectivity, land use and urban design, and public facilities within a defined boundary on either side of the rail corridor traversing the entire city. A 17-member task force provided ongoing input and recommendations for consideration by City Council. The 2014 Palo Alto Grade Separation and Trenching Study was a conceptual engineering effort that provided preliminary information on the potential impacts and cost of construction for a range of roadway and railway submersion alternatives. The findings in the Palo Alto Grade Separation and Trenching Study were based on conceptual engineering documents prepared for community discussion. The engineering on both the trench and tunnel have since been updated with more existing conditions factored into the study. The alternatives page has the most recent trench and tunnel engineering info. When the 2030 Comprehensive Plan was adopted in November 2017, the following policy language was included: “Pursue grade separation of rail crossings along the rail corridor as a City priority” (Policy T-3.15). Additional policies and programs emphasize the desire to maintain access for automobiles, bicyclists, and pedestrians, address near-term safety and accessibility improvements, and call on the City to “Undertake studies and outreach necessary to advance grade separation of Caltrain to become a “shovel ready” project and strongly advocate for adequate State, regional and federal funding for design and construction of railroad grade separations” (Program T3.15.1).

The City’s goal is to minimize the need for property acquisition, per the City Council adopted criteria. The environmental and preliminary engineering phases of the project will identify any impacts and mitigation measures, including the need for any right-of-way to construct the project.

There are currently a number of uncertainties regarding the timing and configuration of High Speed Rail implementation. The current High Speed Rail business plan has the initial phase only extending as far north as San Jose, with future plans to extend north along the Peninsula. The project is coordinating with High Speed Rail. The grade separation alternatives include the flexibility to allow for the addition of High-Speed Rail without significantly affecting the proposed improvements.

Ideas Under Consideration and Eliminated

Go Renderings, Plans, and Animations to view alternatives still under consideration and eliminated alternatives.

Impacts to the creek are severe for the trench idea and the City is in contact with Santa Clara Valley Water District to determine if there are any possible mitigations. Lowering or covering of the creeks would require regulatory approval from numerous agencies, such as California State Department of Fish and wildlife, San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The City of Palo Alto is evaluating a range of options for improving the existing rail/street crossing at Palo Alto Avenue. Based on the analysis completed to date, it has become increasingly clear that factors, such as engineering constraints, land use plans and urban design, and access needs, affecting design options as part of the Downtown University Avenue vicinity require a more comprehensive planning effort. Such an effort has been separated from the current citywide grade separation planning project and will be a Coordinated Area Plan estimated to begin in 2020.

The implications to Embarcadero and neighboring streets are being studies through a thorough traffic analysis and possible mitigations related to the Churchill closure alternative.

Incorporating bike and pedestrian facilities will be unique to each crossing location and will consider the City’s Bicycle + Pedestrian Transportation Plan and Safe Routes to School as well and the evaluation criteria to provide clear, safe routes for pedestrians and bikes.

The specific bike and pedestrian connectivity at Churchill is being studied in the Churchill closure alternative.

Animations and renderings are available for the Meadow/Charleston Trench, Hybrid, and Viaduct alternatives. Renderings are available for the Churchill bike/pedestrian undercrossing. It is estimated that by late Fall 2019, all Churchill animations and rendering, plus South Palo Alto tunnel animations and renderings, will be available.

Caltrain Considerations

Caltrain has a standard procedure for design variances. It outlines the approval process and required supporting documentation. The allowable maximum grade takes into consideration factors such as operational impacts, vehicle performance, proximity to stations, other site specific conditions, and maintenance impacts. A comprehensive study including operational simulations is required to support the design variance request.

Additionally, the requestor is responsible for the costs to support the variance review/analysis. City Council has asked Caltrain to clarify the conditions, but Caltrain has not committed to any criteria to date.

Caltrain minimum clearance to the pole and wires is established to meet California Public Utilities Commission requirements such as General Order 95 and SED 2. Union Pacific Railroad also requires minimum clearances for freight.

The Caltrain Business Plan will help shape a long-range vision for the corridor and will address how train service will grow over time and the kinds of supporting infrastructure that may be needed to support this growth. This work includes a significant focus on the issue of grade-crossings and an effort to develop a corridor-wide strategy to support the funding and implementation of grade separations. According to Caltrain, changes to Caltrain’s standards must be considered in a way that is careful, deliberate and fully and fairly weighs both benefits and consequences, and should be undertaken on a system-wide basis. The Caltrain Business Plan should be available soon.

The City of Palo Alto should assume that freight will continue to operate diesel locomotives along the corridor, even after Caltrain electrifies the line. Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) use of the Caltrain Corridor is governed by the Surface Transportation Board. Subsequently, Caltrain has a trackage rights agreement with UPRR that specifies the terms of freight operations. After the electrification of the corridor, it is anticipated that a short-line freight operator will replace UPRR. In addition, the Caltrain Corridor is included in the STRACNET Corridor which specifies additional requirements to allow shipments of military equipment, if needed.

The Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) or CalMod does not include any grade separations. As stated previously, the Business Plan will identify a long term service vision for the corridor and the infrastructure needed to support that service. The Plan will also include a strategy for funding these investments over time. It is anticipated that a variety of local, regional, state and federal funding sources will be needed to support these corridor-wide investments.

Environmental and economic life-cycle assessments should be performed for all alternatives. For a traditional grade separation such as raising and/or lowering the track by embankment, viaduct and bridge, the City of Palo Alto may assume that Caltrain will take on the maintenance responsibility for such new infrastructure. However, the City of Palo Alto may assume it is responsible for the cost to maintain trench and/or tunnel alternatives as they are anticipated to be significantly more expensive to maintain.

Additionally, a mixed operation with freight (diesel powered locomotive) and passenger trains in a tunnel is not desired and requires special attention by FRA under High-Speed Passenger Rail Operations. Ultimately, the specific terms of a maintenance agreement would need to be negotiated between Caltrain and the City.

In general, the shoofly track shall be designed for timetable speed for both passenger and freight trains per Caltrain standards and operating requirements. Except for approved construction windows during cut over operations, the proposed grade separation design shall keep all Caltrain tracks fully operational at all times and shall cause no interruption to train operations during construction. The construction of the grade separation shall not temporarily or permanently reduce the future demand on the Caltrain operating system and shall meet future Caltrain standards and requirements.