As the deadline to submit comments on the Caltrain electrification Draft Environmental Impact Report approaches, Burlingame city officials are relieved to hear its prized eucalyptus grove is mostly out of harm’s way but still has a range of concerns including traffic and noise impacts and wants explicit assurance high-speed rail measures aren’t being approved.
According to a letter to be submitted to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the City Council wants assurance Caltrain won’t use right-of-way acquisition within the city, that the gate downtimes due to increased trains at its busy Broadway crossings are mitigated and find ways to reduce the noise impacts from loud freight trains between midnight and 5 a.m.
For environmental benefits, faster service and the ability to eventually support high-speed rail, Caltrain plans 51 miles of tracks from San Jose to San Francisco to be 75 percent electrified by 2020 and fully by 2040, according to Caltrain officials.
In the worst-case scenario, supporting the electrification infrastructure could require Caltrain to purchase or arrange easements for up to 18 acres throughout the electrified track and the removal of up to 2,200 trees and pruning of another 3,600 to support six trains per hour in each direction and assist in supporting the anticipated doubling of its current 1.3 million monthly ridership in 30 years, according to Caltrain officials.
The public has until April 29 to submit written comments and with Burlingame housing seven at-grade railroad crossings, a bustling downtown and its historic Jules Francard Tree Grove nestled against the tracks north of the Burlingame Avenue train station, the city wants changes made to the final Environmental Impact Report.
The DEIR estimates the project could remove up to 85 trees and prune another 154 in Burlingame. Mayor Michael Brownrigg said he was relieved to see none of the eucalyptus trees from the city’s beloved grove will be removed and only a few will be moderately pruned. However, he still needs to see a final report, Brownrigg said.
“The Jules Francard Tree Grove of eucalyptus are as old as our train station, which itself is on a historic register, the grove is on a historic register. We are one of the oldest and longest continuing tree cities in the country,” Brownrigg said. “We take our treescape extremely seriously and then especially these mature trees, these majestic trees that give Burlingame its character [are] very important.”
Although the grove seems largely out of harm’s way, the council wants the final EIR to specifically list which trees may be affected before the city gets on board, said Councilman Jerry Deal, who also serves as the vice chair of the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. Another concern is the loss of trees will also affect neighborhood aesthetics and decrease noise reduction for surrounding residences, Deal said.
The city has long been against the high-speed rail using an above-grade bypass for the high-speed rail and wants to ensure the electrification EIR will not provide any clearance for the construction of the controversial project, according to the letter.
Electrification is paving the way for high-speed rail and although Caltrain officials have assured this DEIR doesn’t provide clearance for the new rail, it’s important for the city to reaffirm their concerns, Deal said.
“The intent of the letter is [for] high-speed rail and Caltrain to understand our concerns as a city and grade separation is one of our concerns and it’s an issue that’s not going to be addressed for quite a while,” Deal said. “But you always want to reaffirm your concerns so they don’t get lost.”
The DEIR describes increased gate downtime because there will be more trains running each hour, however they will be able to run faster and go through the gate quicker, Deal said.
Another major concern with the increased number of trains on the track is noise impact, Deal said.
“We’d like to see quiet zones as a way of addressing the gate at the crossings so that the train doesn’t have to sound their horn. That’s one of the biggest problems we’re having in Burlingame because we have seven crossings so they pretty much lay on the horn from one side of Burlingame to the other,” Deal said.
Overall, Deal said electrification is a good thing and as the DEIR is still in an early stage, specifics will be narrowed further down the line.
“I’m definitely an advocate for electrification of the system because the benefits it’s going to bring to the Peninsula. An electrified Caltrain is going to be a much much better system than what we have now. We can get rid of the diesel … the [new trains] they’re faster, they’re cleaner,” Deal said. “Right now [the DEIR] is just a draft and it’s a worst-case scenario. So we’re hoping for a best-case scenario.”
For more information about Caltrain electrification visit www.caltrain.com/projectplans/CaltrainModernization.
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