Stay On Track Blog Series: Materials and Information Available to Help the Community Join the Conversation

Community Conversations Planned in Early 2020

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an at-grade crossing?

An at-grade crossing or train 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).

What is a rail grade separation?

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.

Why is Connecting Palo Alto needed?

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. Three 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.

What problem(s) is Connecting Palo Alto trying to solve?

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.

What is the purpose of Connecting Palo Alto?

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.

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