In the midst of preparations for high-speed rail, towns and cities along the Peninsula are lining up to grade-separate their bit of Caltrain track. San Mateo, Burlingame, and South San Francisco are all moving forward with plans, and all are getting county help. But in Menlo Park, the city has put in place such poor policies that it will need to wait for another day to separate their tracks.
According to Green Caltrain:
The City of Menlo Park is being turned down for a $750,000 request for grade separation design funding for the Ravenswood intersection, according to the recommendation of the San Mateo County Transportation Authority Staff for board approval on Thursday.
Menlo Park City Council has adopted a policy to accept only 2 tracks through the city, and Menlo Park is located in the rail segment where Caltrain and High Speed Rail might eventually want a third passing track. Studies indicated that Passing tracks would be needed to run more than two high speed trains per hour. A feasibility study for the Blended System evaluated five options for possible passing tracks – four 4-track options, and one 3-track option. Menlo Park isn’t in any of the 4 track areas, but is in the 3 track areas. Because Menlo Park’s policy excludes the possibility of passing tracks, Menlo Park does not qualify for the grant.
Perhaps it is just as well, because another Menlo Park city council policy to not consider any increase in elevation resulted in the Council’s preferred design to be one that would cut off bicycle and pedestrian access to the station on the two small streets that flank the station. Well over half of Menlo Park’s Caltrain riders get to the station without driving.
In other words, Menlo Park won’t get funding for grade separation because SMCTA doesn’t want to invest in plans or tracks it will need to revisit later. Given the massive expense and disruption of a grade-separation project it makes little sense to do it only halfway right and need to revisit later. Still, one hopes Menlo Park won’t stall for too long. Grade separation is vital to the success of the blended Caltrain-HSR system, and it could take well over a decade for the whole planning and construction process to finish such a contentious and complex project.