Stay On Track Blog Series: What rail crossing alternatives are still on the table?

City of Palo Alto
Oct 24 · 5 min read

“Stay On Track” is a 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 a 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 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 answered questions like what is a grade separation, why is this discussion important, how has the community been involved so far, and how the community can stay informed, learn more and provide input.

In the second blog in our series, we discuss the current options being considered for Palo Alto’s rail crossings. If you missed the first blog in this series, read it first and come back to this one.

Current Phase in the Community-Based Process: Evaluation Phase

Currently, the City is in the evaluation phase, which seeks to Understand the Options. During this phase, the City has contracted with AECOM, a consultant to provide engineering analysis.

In addition, this phase seeks to ensure clarity in describing the issues and options involved. The Expanded Community Advisory Panel (“XCAP” for short), established this year, is helping the City in the current phase to understand the options that the City Council will consider later next year.

For more information, go here.

Current Options Being Evaluated

Study Area Map

Through an extensive review process, the City Council narrowed grade separation alternatives from 37 choices to seven with the help of the now-disbanded Community Advisory Panel (“CAP”).

Current options being evaluated include rail crossings at Churchill Avenue, East Meadow Drive, and Charleston Road. The options include the possible closure of Churchill or a viaduct near Churchill; and include a trench, viaduct, hybrid, and two versions of a South Palo Alto tunnel that would start south of Oregon Expressway.

For now, Council has decided to hold off on planning for the Palo Alto Avenue crossing since it will be included in a broader downtown Palo Alto plan.

Evaluating Options: Charleston/Meadow

Ongoing evaluation of the crossings at Charleston and Meadow includes a hybrid approach, a trench, a viaduct, and tunnel options.

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

More renderings, plans, and animations are here.

Evaluating Options: Churchill

The Churchill hybrid and shallow trench ideas were presented to the Rail Commission on June 13, 2018, and the City Council on June 19, 2018. One of the criteria for selecting a preferred solution is to minimize right-of-way acquisition. The potential right-of-way impacts were deemed to be too severe and thus Council motioned to eliminate the Churchill hybrid and the shallow trench from consideration. For additional information, view the City Council agenda and minutes, and the Rail Committee agenda and minutes.

Further study is being conducted and focus to date include closing Churchill and providing a bicycle and pedestrian crossing, and exploring a viaduct.

More renderings, plans, and animations are here.

What about Palo Alto Avenue?

The City 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, 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 needs to be separated from the current citywide grade separation planning project.

To learn more about the specific options, go here.

What’s next?

Come to the next citywide community meeting on November 7, 2019.

City staff will discuss the current design options in more detail, present graphics and mock-ups, and answer questions.

More information can be found here.

Other Online Resources

Stay connected by going here to sign up for our newsletter.

Go to for more information about the rail grade separation effort.

To learn about the Caltrain Modernization Program, 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.

For the first blog in this series, go here.

For other meetings and events go here.


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 media at


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

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