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The Green Caltrain blog is sponsored by BayRail Alliance, an all-volunteer non-profit organization supporting green rail transit in the Bay Area. This blog and BayRail have no affiliation with Caltrain.


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VTA saves 15-minute airport service at Santa Clara, but still plans 30 minute Diridon hairpin

After receiving substantial community input, VTA reversed a proposed decision to reduce the frequency of the Route 10 airport shuttle from 15 minutes to 30 minutes.  However, the new proposed line 11 to the airport from Downtown and Diridon Station still has a proposed frequency every 30 minutes.  Also, instead of traveling directly Northwest from downtown toward the airport, the proposed route would pick passengers up at Diridon, then head downtown, and make a hairpin turn back toward the airport, making the proposed transit-airport connection slow in addition to infrequent.

According to community members who attended the VTA information session, the agency proposes to start running the line it its current form, and potentially add service if there is ridership.  Even at 30 minutes, the route is somewhat helpful for people starting in the Downtown area.  However, with the infrequent service and the hairpin turn, the route is highly unlikely to pick up riders from the connection-rich Diridon station.

In the longer term, when BART and High Speed Rail converge at Diridon, the City of San Jose is considering making Diridon the main hub for airport transit connections. It would make sense to start building ridership.  The current proposed route does not do that. If you’d like to see VTA starting sensible airport service from Diridon sooner, send comments to customer.service@vta.org, and the VTA board which considered the schedule changes on Thursday, board.secretary@vta.org

 

VTA Airport

City of San Jose applies for High Speed Rail grant to coordinate, develop Diridon Station

At today’s San Jose City Council Community and Economic Development Committee meeting,  city staff will report information about a grant application to the California High Speed Rail Authority that could create a joint governing body to make decisions about how to develop the area in the Diridon Station with properties that are owned by the City of San Jose.  The grant would also help to develop financing tools to assemble separately owned properties to facilitate development of the Diridon Station Area, in line with the goals of the recently approved Diridon Station Area Plan.

This is excellent news that the City of San Jose is taking steps to move forward the development of the surface parking lots at the Diridon Station Area into the plan’s vision of a lively, walkable place with entertainment/retail, jobs and some housing, and public attractions to make the station area a gateway to the city.

One important question is whether this partnership – which would include the major transit providers to the area – VTA which will also manage BART at Diridon; Caltrain; and CHSRA – can also help refine the station design to facilitate quick connections, along the lines of the best-performing multi-modal stations around the world (the illustration is from Erfurt, Germany, which provides quick transfer between trains and light rail.)

Erfurt, Germany

 

VTA proposes useless airport transit connections

VTA is reviewing a set of service changes, including changes that make transit service to San Jose airport nearly useless.  The good news is that VTA is proposing a new Line 11 that would connect San Jose Diridon Transit Center to the San Jose International airport.  This sounds like a brilliant idea, since Diridon is a major transit hub with full Caltrain service, the Altamont Commuter express, long-distance Amtrak service, light rail, and numerous buses.  Unfortunately, VTA proposes a route frequency of every 30 minutes.  Adding up to a 30 minute transfer to/from the main train or bus means that time-sensitive airport passengers are exceedingly unlikely to use this new route.  If VTA’s goal is to attract airport passengers, the frequency needs to be much higher.

With the added transit connector to from Diridon to the airport, VTA simultaneously proposes to cut service to VTA connector line 10 from Santa Clara Transit Center to the Airport from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes.  So, in addition to adding a useless connection from Diridon, VTA is proposing to make the current connection from Santa Clara useless as well.

Airport passengers are time-sensitive and risk-phobic, wanting to take no chances at missing long-distance flights. If VTA wants these services to appeal to airport passengers, they should be more frequent. If Diridon 11 is intended to be the preferred airport route, the frequency should be at least every 10 minutes. 

VTA SJC

VTA is also proposing that the Diridon 11 should have a standard-priced fare; unlike the free 10 shuttle.  For airport passengers who are paying up to hundreds for the trip, $2 extra is not a major deterrent, but a 30 minute wait is fatal.

If you do not want VTA to make its transit connections to SJC useless, come tomorrow to the community meeting on Monday, March 23, 6:30pm at the VTA Downtown Customer Service Center, 55-A West Santa Clara Street, San Jose, or send email to customer.service@vta.org.

VTA is proposing numerous other route changes, including changes for service to Sunnyvale, DeAnza College, and other locations.   Check out the list of changes, and give VTA feedback if they affect routes you’d use.

A revised transit service plan incorporating public comment will be presented to the VTA Transit Planning & Operations Committee on April 16, 2015, as well as VTA’s Board of Directors on May 7, 2015, for review and approval.

 

 

Email: customer.service@vta.org

 

Menlo Park Council may reconsider grade separation limitations

At a Menlo Park Rail Committee meeting on Wednesday March 18 at 6pm in City Council Chambers, the Menlo Park City Council may start on a path to change policy limitations that may make it more difficult to improve safety at the busy Ravenswood crossing of the Caltrain tracks.    The goal is to expedite safety improvements, after a terrible crash on February 23, where a 35 year old woman was killed when her car, stopped on the tracks, was crushed by the oncoming train.

Caltrain Ravenswood

On March 2 Council members convened a community meeting to brainstorm safety improvements.  Ideas included signage to tell drivers further back on Ravenswood when a train was about to arrive, and simplifying the intersection traffic patterns by limiting turns.   The change that would eliminate the risk of rail-vehicle collisions would be a “grade separation” that would put trains on a different level from vehicles, pedestrians, and bicycles.

In 2014, Menlo Park received a grant from the SMCTA to evaluate grade separations at Ravenswood; to prepare to apply for construction funding from the SMCTA.  The study has not yet been started.  At the time that the study was commissioned, the city had a policy limited the options to be studied to choices that would not elevate the railroad tracks, although such options had earlier been estimated as being less costly and having fewer transportation impacts.

The “no-elevation” policy was adopted at the time that Menlo Park was opposing a plan for High Speed Rail that would have added a continuous elevated structure on the Caltrain right of way on the Peninsula, would have provided a set of dedicated tracks for High Speed Rail, and was designed to carry 10-12 High Speed trains per hour between SF and LA. By contract, Paris to London and New York to DC high speed lines offer 3-4 trains per direction per hour.   In the face of community opposition, High Speed Rail and Caltrain created a compromise plan to share the tracks, and to pursue grade separation incrementally.  But policies intended to prevent the original High Speed Rail design remained in place.

Now, with community members wanting to move forward with safety improvements, City Council members will take a fresh look at the design options.  According to the staff report, Wednesday’s meeting  will start by reviewing prior study efforts (2003-2004) which had recommended a design along the lines of the Belmont/San Carlos grade separation, where the tracks were partly elevated, and the road is partially depressed beneath the tracks.  City Council ruled out this option during the HSR battle. Wednesday’s meeting will  discuss current Council policies related to rail and grade separation, and possible modifications to the policies.  Based on the outcomes from  Wednesday’s meeting, the Council Rail Committee will report to the full City Council which will  determine next steps for the grade separation project.

New Caltrain/SamTrans CEO goals include more capacity for Caltrain, choice riders for SamTrans

At the press conference introducing Jim Hartnett as the new CEO of Caltrain, SamTrans, and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, the incoming executive sketched out his goals for the transportation services.

The high level goals were mobility, service, sustainability and safety. Two specifics that he mentioned were the importance of increased capacity to keep up with continuing ridership growth, and the evolution of SamTrans service to attract “choice” riders.  Currently there is little overlap between Caltrain’s affluent commuters, and SamTrans’ customer base of  youth, and seniors, and lower-income workers.   The trend toward “car-light” lifestyles and policy initiatives to reduce driving and parking create opportunities for a more integrated system.

Hartnett

An attorney by profession, Hartnett has most recently served on the board of the High Speed Rail Authority, and prior to that on the Caltrain board, where he played a key role in the plans for High Speed Rail to contribute funding to Caltrain electrification.   Earlier, Hartnett had served on the Redwood City City Council; his wife Roseanne Foust is currently on the Redwood City Council.

The background in regional politics will surely help in the multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional efforts to gain funding for the transit system, including Caltrain electrification, capacity improvements, and grade separations; and the planning for the blended system with High Speed Rail.

Hartnett’s Redwood City background is a plus – Redwood City is experiencing rapid downtown growth, with thousands of new residents and workers coming into new buildings near the transit center. Redwood City will depend heavily on good transit service to be able to adapt to the higher population in a compact area.

Unlike Mike Scanlon, who came up through the ranks in transit management over a 47 year career, Hartnett has transit leadership experience through his board oversight background.   Hartnett will need an excellent team of operations and marketing managers to evolve the transit services he is taking over to meet the next generation of customer needs.

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