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Changes to the Rail Policy- Council Meeting comments from May 5, 2015 meeting

From: domainremoved <Kathy>
Date: Wed, 6 May 2015 14:57:07 -0400

I want to remind Council that the City of Menlo Park was not required to change their rail policy in order to be awarded the $750,000 grant to study the intersction of Alma and Ravenswood. Though it was attempted to influence the council to do so at the time of the grant discussion more than a year ago, in the end no changes were required. Staff quietly confirmed that fact when the Mayor asked about the changes that were made to the grant application. Staff said none were required. All Menlo Park was required to do was study the third track option, one of the blended system alternatives. It did not say we had to pick it. We only had to study it.

The council should not have been rushed into making decisions based on this most recent tragedy on the tracks. There are many ways to handle the situation. First do the best job with temporary changes. Itís immediate compared to grade separations. Next, complete the study. However Considerations to changes to the Rail Policy should have been postponed until the study is completed and to look at changes only if the council decided to do a particular action that was in violation of the current rail policy. Then meetings should be scheduled at a decent hour since the public does not want to stay up until 11 pm. to discuss an important subject as this. The council themselves is exhausted. I realize the city attorney has a conflict, but let him come later and have this important kind of discussion more available to the hundreds of homeowners effected by changes like this. Immediate changes can be made to help the crossing become safer on a test basis. Grade crossings will take years to plan and build.

So in the end the council decided it was studying two designs at Ravenswood and possibly the other three intersections if there was money to do so. One design is a split configuration with the rail bed being raised 10 Ft. and the road lowered 10 tracks. However it was stated by staff in the meeting that that configuration would effrect all four intersections of Menlo Park and if this split configuration was chosen and there was not the money to do all four intersections, you could not chose that alternative. So youíd be left with lowering the road 20 ft. - the liklihood is that is what youíd be left with. Despite what was said at the meeting, grade separations are super expensive and time has passed by since ďprojectsĒ were completed. There is no way Menlo Park will be given enough money to do 4 grade separations as Peter Ohtaki stated at the meeting. You donít need to change anything about the rail policy if you are dropping the road 20 feet, which may be the most likely outcome because of cost.

Eliminated from discuss was the trench or tunnel configuration since the staff did not consult with Atherton or Palo Alto the possibiliy that they would join in to make one of these options more viable. What Menlo Park decides could well effect the other cities. Palo Alto has already done studies for tunneling and they might have added quite a bit to the conversation. Too bad we chose such an isolated approach. The underground alternative whether in a trench or tunnel is the best solution for the peninsula. It would have prevented accidents, increased traffic flow without most of the damage that occur with other alternatives. This should have been included in the study for sure.

A reminder the blended system as proposed by Anna Eshoo, Senator Simitian and Rich Gordon expressly wanted to stay primarily on the existing corridor, they also expressly stated they did not want elevated tracks, unless the cityís the train was passing through expressly wanted them. Youíve now opened the door to that for High-Speed Rail. As Brian Keating, the Felton Gables Home Owners Association, stated at the council meeting, staff has no skin in the game, they are simply doing their research, doing their job. Staff looked at traffic, cost but not the impacts to the communities other than possible property takings. They did not look at the impact of those who would not have their properties taken.

Absent from the discussion last night was the impact to the communities that a possible raised track would have on the aesthetics of the neighborhood or the effect it would have on property values was not discussed. Note, even HSR fully electrified makes noise, braking makes noise and raised tracks exaggerate the sounds more so than at grade. Absent from the discussion was the seismic impacts which is the most damaging when tracks are raised. Absent from the discussion was Union Pacificís objections to the blended system and how that might impact both the Caltrain project, the HSR project and in fact Menlo Parkís desire for a raised tracks. You still will have a shoofly track during construction and if you are talked into the passing track in Menlo Park there will be four tracks. These are all real tracks that take up enormous amount of room.

While the council eventually voted to keep in the policy that they oppose a 4 track alernative which is on an aerial track, they are silent on other alternatives. It leaves open a raised two track system, which would still have impacts to the communiites. Staff brought up that in the 2003 study Caltrain said they envisoned that eventually a four track system though the communities. That report was 12 years ago. That was Caltrainís wishes for just Caltrain, HSR wasnít in the picture yet. The report was before Caltrain themselves sent in comments to the HSR EIR that they were not in favor of four tracks, way before Jerry Hillís bill was passed limiting the construction to primarily two tracks, way before the HSR authority decided to study only a blended system in the Project Level EIR. Why bring this up now?

If the council ultimately chooses to lower the road at Ravenswood 20 ft. due to costs, will they strengthen the language in the policy and have a geniuine discussion over the quiet zones with an at grade system with quad gates that would insure safety and quiet as the trains came through the communities? Caltrain and HSR should not be running the show for Menlo Park using staff who is paid for by Menlo Park tax dollars. While the council members have good intentions, they should consider a wider scope of issues in the publicís eye before they change a policy that did not need changing at this time. Because time has passed since Menlo Park made a tough stand, people have been lulled into complacency but Iím disappointed watching protective policies unravel and weaken.

And in a totally separate discussion, there are also many changes that could be considered in the realm of traffic and flow of pedestrians as a test case to make Alma/Ravenswood better and safer. Most people do not oppose changes like this for safety reasons and can be done very quickly.

I still care about the community and the people that live in it since I lived here nearly 20 years. My only hope for the public is that you review the study results and change your mind to elevate tracks and look at some other options. Kathy Hamilton
Received on Wed May 06 2015 - 11:53:39 PDT

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