Caltrain board approves $4M to buy rail cars to ease capacity crunch

At today’s Peninsula Joint Powers Board meeting, the Caltrain board approved the agency making a $4million offer on 11 surplus rail cars from Metrolink in Los Angeles.  The cars would ease the capacity problem that Caltrain has been experienced with recent rapid ridership growth. The purchase would allow Caltrain to add a sixth car to 11 trains, providing 20% more capacity on the crowded trains.  The money comes from Caltrain’s surplus revenue from recent growth in ridership.


Metrolink’s board will need to approve the purchase, and will need to negotiate to get out of a lease agreement for the unused cars. Then, according to head of operations Chuck Harvey, it will take a year and another ~$4million to rehab the cars.  Caltrain has nearly enough room on platforms to fit the sixth car, though it will be tight in a few stations including Burlingame and Menlo Park. Some station changes may be needed, including moving where the train stops, and shifting the wheelchair platforms.

Ridership has doubled over the last decade, and continues to grow.  the most popular peak hour trains are standing room only, and the average ride is over 20 miles, which is uncomfortable for standing. Caltrain plans to electrify by 2019, but it is a long 6 years til then. In the most recent monthly results, ridership was up another 10% over the previous year, and there were over 53,000 riders on an average weekday.

If growth continues – and the transportation and land use trends suggest that it will – that capacity may be filled before Caltrain electrify also.   The Caltrain Citizens Advisory Council will be looking at the capacity issue at its next meeting. Caltrain is looking at other ways to ease the capacity crunch, including some additional service, encouraging riders who can to use “shoulder peak” trains, and more ideas they will present at at the CAC meeting. If you’re interested in learning more and commenting on the topic, come on Wednesday, January 15 at 5:40pm at Caltrain HQ, 1250 San Carlos Ave, a few minutes walk from San Carlos Caltrain.  Or send email to, or leave comments and we’ll forward them on to the CAC.