At last week’s Local Policy Maker Working Group, Caltrain made its first clear public statements about critical platform height decisions, which will have major impacts on the long term efficiency and capacity of Caltrain and the blended system. Caltrain’s upcoming decisions in 2014 about the design of the electric trains it plans to purchase in 2015 will shape the performance of local and high speed rail service for many decades to come.
Michelle Bouchard, Caltrain’s Director of Rail Operations, declared for the first time clearly that Caltrain has a goal of providing level boarding. This would make the service more accessible for the elderly and disabled, folk with strollers, luggage and bikes. It would also make the service notably faster, more on-time, and easier to make transfers. But there are cost, technical, and regulatory obstacles to overcome.
Bouchard’s presentation was terse in describing the benefits, and lacked a rough estimate of costs. At the meeting, Palo Alto LPMWG representative City Council Member Pat Burt urged Caltrain to provide more detail and quantification of expected benefits, including faster service, on-time performance, and expectation of higher ridership, as well as more detail on costs. In order to gain local and regional support and funding, Caltrain will need to build understanding and enthusiasm about the longterm performance improvements and benefits to operating economics.
The presentation indicated that Caltrain is leaning against choosing a platform height that would be compatible with High Speed Rail, giving examples of other locations where local and long-distance trains have separate platforms. However, the “blended system” on the Peninsula will use a space-constrained Transbay terminal. Because of the space constraints, Caltrain currently
plans is considering running only a third of its rush hour trains to downtown San Francisco, even though there are three times as many jobs downtown.
For more analysis and references, see this post at the Caltrain/High Speed Rail Compatibility Blog.
Come learn more about the benefits and costs, obstacles and opportunities for level boarding and compatible platform height – and ask your own questions – at a Friends of Caltrain forum on October 14, 6:30pm at Mountain View City Hall. The panel discussion will include presenters from Caltrain, the High Speed Rail Authority, and the Transbay project. Please click here to RSVP – we will need a headcount to ensure a right-sized room.