The GESC Association has gone through our archives and has found some important documents regarding the Grade Separation Project.  We have the draft and Final EIR reports and Planning Commission Staff reports from that project.

In digging through these documents,  it is clear that the city went through several possibilities from raising the tracks 22 feet to lowering the tracks 22 feet and narrowed it down to the berm which moved from 16 feet high, down to 12 feet high, and finally to 10 feet high.  This lowering cost the city additional money and the association was told that lowering the berm down to 10 feet was done to help preserve the views of the San Carlos hills for East Side residents at a Laureola Association meeting.

I went out today to take a few pictures and was really struck by this shot:

East Side San Carlos Train Depot

Regardless of how you feel about the berm and train platform whether you feel it was good or bad or necessary or not, one thing that was a significant loss to San Carlos was the obliteration of the east side view of the old train depot.  I have been a daily commuter on Caltrain for many years and have essentially forgotten about the architecture of the depot since the platform obscures and blocks it from view.

I forgot just how lovely it is until today when I took a few pictures of it while underneath the platform.


Here are the relevant sections from the City Staff report dated 12-10-1993 and the sections from the Final Grade Separation project EIR:



The proposed project site is the intersection of Holly Street and the Joint Powers Board – Peninsula Corridor railroad tracks, within the City of San Carlos, San Mateo County, and also includes the railroad right-of-way extending from Brittan Avenue to the south, to approximately Bragato Road to the north. The railroad right-of-way is located between two major northsouth thoroughfares for this area of the San Francisco Peninsula, Old County Road and EI Camino Real.

Traffic circulation problems on Holly Street, the only street linking the City of San Carlos with a U.S. 101 interchange, have existed since the early 1970s. This artery carries over 22,000 vehicles per day. In response to traffic congestion and delays experienced by local auto travellers and residents, the City of San Carlos General Plan calls for a railroad grade separation. The proposed project seeks to provide for this separation by raising and/or lowering either the railroad tracks or Holly Street. The City has not identified a preferred approach for the grade separation and has elected to use the analysis contained in this EIR to understand the implications and tradeoffs of various grade separation alternatives. The objectives of the project include:

  • Improve the safety and efficiency of the Holly Street intersection with the Joint Powers Board – Peninsula Corridor railroad tracks.
  • Maintain continuous operation of the Caltrain commuter rail that uses the tracks during construction.
  • Minimize visual and other impacts to the historic train station listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Minimize and mitigate displacement of and/or disturbance to residential and commercial properties.
  • Integrate/coordinate planning and construction of temporary tracks (shooflies) with other ongoing grade separation projects.
  • Preserve or improve the continuity of city neighborhoods on opposite sides of the railroad tracks.
  • Avoid conflict with future substantive Joint Powers Board rail line improvements.
  • Minimize the cost of providing the necessary improvements to the extent that costs can be avoided without thwarting other project objectives.

The City Public Works Department, working with its engineering consultant Brian Kangas Foulk, has developed eight different combinations of lowering/raising either the railroad tracks Or Holly Street.  These alternatives include:

  • Alternative 1: Lower the tracks 24 feet at Holly Street and raise Holly Street 4 feet over the tracks.
  • Alternative 2: Leave .the tracks as they are and raise Holly Street 29 feet over the tracks.
  • Alternative 3: Leave the tracks as’ they are and lower Holly, Street 15 feet under the tracks.
  • Alternative 4: Raise the tracks’ 6 feet at Holly Street and lower Holly Street 16 feet under the tracks.
  • Alternative5: Raise the tracks 16 feet at Holly Street and lower Holly Street 6 feet under the tracks.
  • Alternative 6: Raise the tracks 12 feet at Holly Street and lower Holly Street 10 feet under the tracks.
  • Alternative 7: Raise the tracks 22 feet at Holly Street and leave Holly Street as it is.
  • Alternative 8: Same as Alternative 2 but with .a ramp loop connecting the Holly Street Overpass with the surface streets.

Planning Department

SUBJECT: Staff Report – Public Hearing on the Holly Street Grade Separation Project and Final EIR


A proposal to separate automobile traffic from train traffic at the CalTrain/Holly Street at-grade crossing has been under consideration for many years. Such a grade separation is one component of an original plan to accommodate the future traffic in the Holly Street/Brittan Avenu.e/Howard Avenue corridor. The Circulation Element of the San’ Carlos General Plan identifies several street modifications and improvements designed. to provide a balanced circulation network with minimal congestion buildup at all signalized intersections.

A Citizens Advisory Committee was formed to work with consultants and staff on alternative designs for inclusion in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The committee was comprised of business owners, interested citizens, a traffic commissioner, a planning commissioner, a council member and staff. The original committee was augmented by the addition of citizens from the Clearfield Park and Harbor Addition neighborhoods, when it became evident that the neighborhood representative on the Citizens Advisory Committee had not kept the neighborhood adequately informed about the project. The committee’s concerns and deliberations included issues such as improving the safety and efficiency of the Holly Street intersections, minimizing displacement or disruption of residential and commercial properties, preserving the continuity of city neighborhoods on opposite sides of the tracks, minimizing costs, minimizing visual impacts, minimizing impacts to the historic train depot, and maintaining CalTrain commuter service during construction. These and other environmental concerns were addressed by the committee and included in the EIR. Further, the committee evaluated options in addition to the eight alternatives originally presented and extensively evaluated the “No Project” alternative.

The draft EIR (DEIR) was circulated to the State Clearinghouse for distribution to appropriate state and regional agencies for their review and comments. The required 45 day public review and comment period began on August 4, 1993 and ended on September 17, 1993. Responses to Comments received from the agencies and public are included in the Final EIR (FEIR). A revised DEIR has also been included in the FEIR document.

On November 29, 1993, the Citizens Advisory Committee completed its work and made the following recommendation to the Planning Commission and City Council:

The Committee recommends that the project be built in accord with Alternative #5 with the following changes:

  • A. That the tracks be raised 10 feet rather than 16 feet.
  • B. That the Old County Road side of the berm be heavily landscaped, with the project being made the subject of a public architectural review before the full Planning Commission;
  • C. That the City contract with a private firm for the maintenance of the landscaping, establishing an endowment to ensure there are adequate funds in the future.

A total of ten grade separations alternatives have been evaluated in the EIR. They are generally described as follows:


Alternative Railroad Tracks Holly Street Cost($ in thousands)
1. lower tracks 22′ raise street 4′ 98,881
2. remain as is raise street 29′ 10,038 to 11,481
3. remain as is lower street 25′ 19,586
4. raise tracks 6′ lower street 16′ 18,553
5. raise tracks 16′ lower street 6′ 19,426 to 16,539
Mitigated 5. raise tracks 10′ max. lower street 10′ 19,504
6. raise tracks 12′ lower street 10′ 19,504
7. raise tracks 22′ remain as is 20,195 to 24,266
8. remain as is raise street 29′ 13,500

The EIR contains a complete description of each alternative.

Ranking by Impact

The EIR consultant analyzed each alternative by environmental impact and ranked each on a scale of 1 to 9; 1 representing the least impact and 9 representing the most impact (see EIR Table VI-3a). The consultant also compared relative impacts of each alternative to the “No Project” Alternative (see EIR Table VI-3). These analyses were then used to prepare the following table which includes a cost factor and impact ranking of the Citizens Advisory Committee recommended Alternative #5 (mitigated). The cost ranking was based on one point for each one million dollars of cost. The EIR consultant provided input in the ranking of Alternative #5 (mitigated) substantially increase the delay time and congestion along Holly Street. Therefore, Staff believes that selection of the No Project Alternative would not be in the best interest of the community at large and would result in a substantial degradation of the environment due to increased congestion, reduction in air quality, waste of fuel and sacrifice of public safety.

Alternative #5 (mitigated)

This is the alternative recommended by the Citizens Advisory Committee. It involves raising the tracks and depressing Holly Street by approximately 10 feet. It is designed with a maximum elevation of 10 feet higher than the existing tracks. This alternative (as well as Alternative #5) would result in the least environmentally disruptive project of the feasible grade separation options. While this alternative would displace some of the properties and businesses along EI Camino Real, its disruption to land use is minimized when compared to the other grade separation alternatives. There would be an increase in ambient noise levels during construction, but this would occur in all grade separation alternatives. While the FEIR identifies the creation of a significant visual and physical barrier and loss of several prominent views, including those of the eastern facade of the Depot, these impacts have been mitigated to a certain extent by lowering the berm height to 10 feet above the existing tracks and adding significant landscaping along the Old County Road frontage of the berm.