Residents of the Hayward Park neighborhood in San Mateo are urging Caltrain to construct a controversial set-out track away from their homes, but railroad officials say doing so will be too expensive.

The neighborhood has been feuding with Caltrain since June of last year after learning it had plans to relocate a set-out track from behind Ana Furniture to a residential area between 10th and 14th avenues as part of the 25th Avenue grade separation project.  

A set-out track is a roughly 1,000-foot stretch of track adjacent to the main tracks used to store maintenance equipment and sometimes locomotives in emergency situations. Officials anticipate the set-out track would be used one or two times per month with activity occurring during the day and in the middle of the night. 

Worried about noise impacts and their property values, some neighbors were outraged at Caltrain’s plan to construct the set-out track within a stone’s throw of homes and demanded the railroad explore alternative sites. Caltrain officials proceeded to vet 28 sites and found that only the original one between 10th and 14th avenues and another between 14th Avenue and the Hayward Park station were feasible. It was later discovered that the latter location would displace a preschool and therefore lost favor among officials. 

“We’re looking at everything, but our hope is to pick a site that doesn’t displace anything that is of substantial benefit to the community,” said Caltrain spokesman Dan Lieberman. 

Regardless, the neighborhood rejected both of those sites because they are close to homes — though the one between 14th Avenue and Hayward Park would impact decidedly fewer residents — and demanded the set-out track be placed in an entirely commercial or industrial area.

“What makes good sense to our city is to put this in an industrial/commercial area. Caltrain owns miles of track in San Mateo and much of it is commercially zoned,” said Cheryl Dean, a member of the Hayward Park neighborhood association. “[The set-out track] shouldn’t be in a residential area or even a half-residential area if it doesn’t have to be.” 

Dean and her neighbors want the set-out track placed in one of two commercial areas they feel are feasible: between Fifth and Ninth avenues or between 20th and 25th avenues. 

Caltrain officials have since vetted both sites and determined that neither is financially feasible, as the former would cost an additional $11.1 million because it requires the removal and reconstruction of a railroad track switch while the latter would cost $13.7 million because two new bridges over Beresford Creek would have to be constructed and the mainline track realigned. 

If either of those sites were to move forward then San Mateo would be on the hook for those costs.

The various options will be discussed at City Council meetings Jan. 13 and 21. 

Caltrain Board Member Charles Stone, also Belmont vice mayor, applauded both sides for keeping the discussion civil of late and said that while neighborhood concerns are legitimate, he doesn’t want the community to lose sight of the importance of the 25th Avenue Grade Separation project, which includes the relocation of the set-out track.

“I don’t want it to be lost that this is part of a larger project separating grades and allowing for more traffic and pedestrian connectivity in San Mateo and that’s incredibly important,” he said. “While I understand some have reasonable angst on this we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a challenging part of an otherwise incredible project.”

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