Council eliminates viaduct option for rail crossings

A citizens committee studying rail crossings in Palo Alto included in their report to City Council an illustration of a viaduct at Churchill Avenue.

Daily Post Staff Writer

The Palo Alto City Council tonight (Aug. 23) voted against building a viaduct to separate the train tracks from the street because they said a 20-foot structure would be imposing on views and unpopular with residents.

The decision comes as the council tries to figure out how to best separate the tracks from the Charleston Road and Meadow Drive rail crossings.
The council is pursuing the project because high-speed rail, more Caltrain trips and increased vehicle traffic are anticipated to create significant gridlock at the crossings.

Eliminating alternatives wasn’t on the agenda

City Manager Ed Shikada’s report for tonight’s meeting did not say that the council would be eliminating an alternative; it said they would be reviewing the alternatives, and the scope of additional studies.

The council also voted to perform a preliminary geotechnical study at an estimated cost of $130,000 to $160,000.

With the viaduct option eliminated, three alternatives remain: a road underpass under the tracks, an underground trench for the train, or a hybrid design, with the tracks raised and the streets lowered.

The hybrid design received a lukewarm response because of its height, but it was not eliminated from consideration because questions remain about the other two designs.

Roundabouts possible

The council will further explore the underpass option, which comes with the drawback of sending cars to a roundabout on East Charleston Road near Mumford Place to facilitate turning onto or off of Alma Street.

A roundabout would likely require the city to acquire right-of-ways to build two lanes. Council members asked to make the roundabout smaller, but transportation manager Philip Kamhi said a traffic consultant found that both lanes are necessary.

The trench comes with the heftiest price tag, between $800 million and $950 million, and the longest construction timeline of six years. The council voted to get a second opinion on the cost from a company with experience on trenches, and to use the geotechnical study to see if a trench would be viable.

Only Alison Cormack voted against the motion. The conversation that council was having did not align with the goals laid out in a matrix that committees and consultants have spent years to come up with, she said.


  1. In short: the NIMBYs got their way again.

    Palo Alto has so much money, they can afford to hem and haw and hire consultant after consultant to present interminable options. What is this privilege?

  2. The present tracks are seriously fenced for some time now for security and more so for higher speed trains. They obstruct views and are a real barrier through the middle of the community. The two sides may as well be different towns. Viaducts actually open up the area visually and physically as well if properly designed, even in an earthquake area. There’s no reason to fence them off completely. Some of the space can be used for parking also, helping neighborhood streets. You could even turn local artists loose on them. What is the problem? Trenching is the alternative? That’s a real barrier, as are ground level tracks. Just because the railroad has been there for a long time doesn’t mean that it need always be a city wall down the middle of the peninsula as it is now.

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