Stay On Track Blog Series: Rail Grade Separation Design Process in Palo Alto

City of Palo Alto
Oct 3, 2019 · 5 min read

New blog series sharing information about the process to inform and engage the community on Palo Alto’s Rail Crossings

One of the City Council’s 2019 priorities is transportation and traffic and more specific transportation-related City Council priority this year is rail grade separation. As a result, the City continues the critical discussion of Palo Alto’s rail grade separations. The City of Palo Alto is guiding a community-based process to address the increased traffic congestion expected when Caltrain electrifies the tracks and runs more trains through the the region, including the Palo Alto corridor. Caltrain’s expanded service and other changes are outlined in their CalMod Plan and Business Plan. The City’s community-based process, called Connecting Palo Alto, seeks to evaluate the best options to address local traffic congestion as Caltrain electrification begins in 2022.

A ton of work has been achieved to date and more work is planned to gain community feedback as part of the decision-making process that will affect Palo Alto’s future rail crossings. This blog series is one of many ways that the City is sharing information about the process to inform and engage the community as the City Council considers options in spring 2020.

Follow along in this series to learn about the rail grade separation process, share your input and gain an understanding of the options currently being evaluated by a community-based panel. Our first blog answers questions like what is a grade separation, why is this discussion important, how has the community been involved, and how the community can stay informed, learn more and provide input.

What are Rail Grade Separations? Why is This an Important Issue?

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 four that cross the tracks at the same level are at: Charleston Road, Meadow Drive, Churchill Avenue and Palo Alto Avenue. Traffic congestion is expected to increase at these four 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 which impacts traffic and safety.

A plan is needed to keep traffic moving and keep Palo Alto connected. Finding a solution that the community can support, identifying funding sources for construction, and obtaining regulatory approvals are just a few of the issues that the City and community will need to address as part of this process.

Defining the Community-Driven Process

Through an extensive review process, the City Council has narrowed grade separation alternatives from 37 choices to seven with the help of a community-based panel. Earlier this fall, the City Council formalized the structure of the panel tasked with evaluating rail grade crossing alternatives. The group, known as the Expanded Community Advisory Panel (XCAP) is a 14-member group providing updates to the City Council and furthering the evaluation phase of the rail grade separation process by opining areas of interest to them related to grade separation options. The group is expected to finish its work by spring 2020.

For key decisions made on rail grade separations to date, go here.

The XCAP meetings are open to the public.There are two upcoming meetings:

Upcoming XCAP Meetings

Thursday, Oct. 10, 4–6 p.m.
City Hall Community Meeting Room

Wednesday, Oct. 16, 4–6 p.m.
City Hall Community Meeting Room

There will also be a citywide community meeting for the public to learn more and ask questions about Palo Alto’s rail grade separation process. That meeting is scheduled for November 7, 6–8 p.m. in the El Palo Alto Room at Mitchell Park Community Center in Palo Alto.

Click here for a link to all future meeting dates for the Connecting Palo Alto process.

Phases of the Rail Grade Separation Process

The City’s process for rail grade separation includes three phases:

· Understanding the Options

· Community & Regional Conversations

· Decision-making

Currently, the City is in the evaluation phase, which seeks to Understand the Options. During this phase, the City has contracted with AECOM, a contractor to provide engineering analysis. In addition, this phase seeks to ensure clarity in describing the issues and options involved. The community panel established is helping the City in this phase to understand the options that the City Council will consider later next year.

The next phase, Community & Regional Conversations, will include more efforts to gain community-wide awareness and engagement on specific options. In addition, this phase will provide an opportunity to hear stakeholder advocacy on rail options to inform the City Council’s decision.

The Decision-making phase includes assessment of regional funding and the viability of funding available and City Council consideration of specific options.

Hop on Board: Stay Up to Date and Provide Input

The City is encouraging the community to stay up to date and is planning ways to provide input in the months ahead.

Here are ways to stay informed and learn more:

What’s Up Next

Our next blog post will feature the current options being evaluated by the XCAP and other details about the rail grade separation process.

Follow us here to join the conversation and stay up to date on future blog posts.

Other Online Resources

Go to the City’s web page established specifically to share information about Connecting Palo Alto by clicking here.

To learn about Caltrain, go here.

For a map of the Caltrain stops, go here.

The Caltrain Business Plan which outlines the future of rail service in the region, including Palo Alto, can be found here.


Official communications from the City of Palo Alto.


Official communications from the City of Palo Alto. Connect and join the conversation on issues of interest to our community.

City of Palo Alto

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Official communications from the City of Palo Alto. Connect about issues of interest to our community. Follow us on social


Official communications from the City of Palo Alto. Connect and join the conversation on issues of interest to our community.